8th Seed: Portland Trailblazers Last year the Trailblazers relied way too heavily on their starters (to the point where their stud rookie Damian Lillard led the league in minutes). Granted their starters are all very good players, using them that frequently is risky over the course of a long season. Fortunately, things have changed drastically this year as the Blazers were active in free agency and drafted a capable combo guard in C.J. McCollum. They even traded for college star Thomas Robinson who actually boasted one of the better rebounds per minute rate when he did get playing time. In my opinion, Portland scored big when they signed Mo Williams, a quality point guard who can shoot and give Lillard extended rests. Other key additions include Robin Lopez, someone who could be a defensive presence in the key (where they struggled heavily last year) and Dorell Wright, another shooter from the wing.
7th Seed: Minnesota Timberwolves Could this finally be the year where Kevin Love makes the playoffs? After many years of being forced in the lottery it finally looks like the Timberwolves have a team that can succeed. With added wings in the forms of Corey Brewer and Kevin Martin the Timberwolves have added scoring and improved their very weak bench. Also, keep in mind that Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio only played one game together last year. With a healthy Kevin Love, who happens to be the best power forward in the game, the Timberwolves can compete with anyone.
6th Seed: Houston Rockets A healthy Dwight Howard can go a long way. Although I’m not a big fan of his, he is arguably the best center in the league. As long as the big man is motivated to play hard, the Rockets can win on any given night. Couple Dwight Howard’s dominant inside game with James Harden’s prolific scoring ability and you already have a dangerous team. Quality role players that they already possess will only add to that. All have adequate defensive skills and can do other things on the court to help their team succeed. Parsons is becoming a fan favorite around the league because of his well rounded and smart basketball plays. Omer Asik already proved that he can matchup with even the toughest centers of the league and make them work every possession.
5th Seed: Memphis Grizzlies It pains me to have to put the Grizzlies as a fifth seed when they’re such a good team. It just goes to show how stacked the West is. They have not made any significant changes other than adding Kosta Koufos, who I think will be a pretty good backup, and Mike Miller (but he is getting older). Their gritty defense and elite rebounding could easily get them a better seeding and deep playoff run. They still lack a player who can sufficiently score in isolation from the perimeter but their superb ball movement should make up for that. Do not sleep on this team.
4th Seed: Golden State Warriors The Warriors gave the Bay Area much to be proud about with a successful season and strong playoff run last year. While the team lost its two best bench players in Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry, the additions outweigh their losses. These key additions include Jermaine O’ Neal (until Festus Ezeli returns from injury), Marreese Speights, Toney Douglas, and Andre Iguoadala. People often forget how well rounded Andre Iguoadala is as his impact can be seen all over the box score. Additionally, his perimeter defense is elite and will help the warriors win a lot of games. The loss of Iguodala and George Karl are actually the main reasons I have Denver missing the playoffs. More than what he brings onto the court, Iguoadala shows superb leadership skills and creates for a good locker room presence. The dynamic of this team is well shaped and could give any team troubles. It starts with the fantastic outside shooting from the “Splash Brothers” but follows in the post as well with David Lee’s well-rounded half court offense and Bogut’s stringent interior defense that can launch him into Defensive Player of the Year conversations. With all these positives to look at it, it’s hard not to give them home court advantage in the first round. Warrior fans will look a little something like this all season
Warrior fans will have a lot to celebrate about this upcoming season.
3rd Seed: Oklahoma City Thunder With Westbrook’s injury more serious than many have originally thought, the Thunder’s record could be at harm. It’s really odd putting a talented team like the Thunder as a third seed but four to six weeks is a long time to miss and can really hamper a team in the competitive Western Conference. They probably won’t lose a ton of games due to the injury because of how good Kevin Durant, the handful they do can be just enough to cost them a top two seed. In terms of winning a championship the Thunder still pose a legitimate threat but more needs to be done to improve the center position than drafting Steven Adams (although I do like this draft pick).
2nd Seed: Los Angeles Clippers The revamped Clippers have looked good on paper and are oozing with confidence. Newly acquired head coach Doc Rivers seems to have a lot of faith in his team as he declared that he plans to rest Chris Paul by “blowing teams out” and that DeAndre Jordan should be a defensive player of the year candidate. Furthermore, it seems as if DeAndre put a lot of work into improving his shot to help his miserable free throw percentage. It should also be noted that Blake Griffin has been enhancing his post game as he gets more experience. While he has been criticized for “only dunking” in years past, Griffin acknowledged his problem and put in the work to prove critics wrong. Big men usually take a few years to develop so chances are that Blake has big things to show us this upcoming season. The team has struggled in years’ past in the half-court but added perimeter shooting in the forms of J.J. Reddick and Jared Dudley should fix that.
1st Seed: San Antonio Spurs It’s pretty self-explanatory for why I put the Spurs as the first seed. This team has it all. The best head coach (possibly of all time) in Gregg Popovich, a Hall of Famer in Tim Duncan, a perennial All-Star point guard in Tony Parker, developing young core in Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter and Danny Green, and a solid bench. While they have not made any moves that will blow away the average fan this off-season, I still think the acquisition of Marco Bellinelli will pay off huge dividends. This team has almost no holes to expose making it very tough to defeat them whether it be a regular season game or lengthy playoff series. They will be knocking on the door of winning a championship again just as they were last year. Maybe this year a couple of free throws won’t cost them.
Age and lack of hair shouldn’t be a problem for this team.
8th Seed: Atlanta Hawks The Hawks have had a solid off-season although it went largely unnoticed. Despite that, the moves made should be able to keep them in the playoffs and GM Danny Ferry should be commended for that. Horford and Milsap are really skilled big men and can rebound well even though they are a bit undersized. In the guards department, the underrated Jeff Teague can run the offensively effectively and the potent Louis Williams can provide scoring off the bench. Additionally, Kyle Korver’s abilities shouldn’t be overlooked. He can shoot the three well and has good size on him. I’d recommend him as a sleeper for any fantasy basketball teams in need of additional three point shooters (if you’re playing category that is).
7th Seed: Washington Wizards The Wizards have made many admirable moves this off-season. It began with the drafting of Otto Porter whose game I absolutely adore. Following that they signed Glen Rice, Eric Maynor and gave extensions to Martell Webster and fan favorite John Wall. The Wizards have done a great job in building a team around the electrifying point guard and should be praised. I don’t think there is another player on the planet that compliments Wall’s game as much as second year guard Bradley Beal. This team managed to pull off a lot of wins when the two were healthy and against good teams as well. If they could land another quality big man this team could be a big force in the near future.
NOTE: This was written before the Marcin Gortat trade. He should block shots in the paint and get easy buckets because of Wall’s superb passing ability. Additionally, Shannon Brown should be a nice spark off the bench with a fast paced game and athleticism to further compliment John Wall.
Look for this deadly backcourt to do big things this season.
6th Seed: Cleveland Cavaliers Can I just say that General Manager Chris Grant is a genius? After every draft he leaves me scratching my head but always seems to have made the right moves. His hard work has paid off and brought together a Cavaliers team that has enough talent to make the playoffs barring injuries. Key players like Kyrie Irving, Anderson Varejao, and Andrew Bynum have earned themselves the “injury-prone” title to the general public but the Cavaliers have made solid moves to fill that potential weakness. They sought out the best available backup point guard in Jarret Jack and drafted a big that has a ton of upside in Anthony Bennett. The small forward position has always been a problem for them ever since Lebron had that one hour special so they signed Earl Clark, someone who can shoot the three and defend well. There are going to be a lot of fun things to “witness” this season in Cleveland including the development of Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters, both of whom possess the potential to be All Stars. A player I’m taking particular interest to is Sergey Karasev, the nineteen-year-old Russian. He’s a 6’ 7” left handed sharpshooter with above average passing skills and a solid understanding of the game. He reminds me a little of Klay Thompson with less athleticism and defensive prowess, but makes better use of his body when attacking the rim and posting up.
5th Seed: New York Knicks The Knicks have made a couple of free agent signings this past summer but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee improvement. Metta World Peace obviously isn’t the same player he was back when he first joined the Lakers and Andrea Bargani is a power forward who think he’s a shooting guard. I swear he just hovers around the three-point line, hoping to launch shots from deep. With that type of play the Knicks will have to rely too heavily on Tyson Chandler to rebound every missed shot. On top of that, the former first overall pick always seems to be hurt. Carmelo Anthony put pressure on the front office to do something by saying he wants to become a free agent and quite possibly decline his player option. If the Knicks want to have a legit shot at winning a championship they will need to hope for internal development from Iman Shumpert, improved consistency from J.R. Smith, and find a way to have Carmelo and Amar’e succeed on the floor together. (How long have we been saying that now?)
4th Seed: Chicago Bulls While there may not be much improvement from the Knicks, this Chicago Bulls team is the exact opposite with the return of former MVP Derrick Rose. They managed to accomplish a lot this past season without their superstar, which goes to show you how deep that team is. Last year immense pressure was put on Joakim Noah to lead an active defense and he performed admirably. Expect that to be alleviated a little with their leader coming back to run the show. Other things to watch out for is the possible trades of Carlos Boozer and/or Luol Deng. With the emergence of youngster Jimmy Butler and the always tough Taj Gibson, the two players mentioned earlier have become more expendable. It will be hard to move Carlos Boozer because of his declining productivity and messy contract (especially with the new luxury taxes being installed), but one should almost expect Deng to be traded. It is the final year of his contract and there have been no reports of the two sides talking about a possible extension. Deng is owed a lot of money at $14.3 million and I severely doubt the Bulls want to bring him back when they already have three players making over 8 figures next year (Derrick Rose at $18.9 million, Carlos Boozer at $16.8 million, and Joakim Noah at $13.2 million).
3rd Seed: Brooklyn Nets I was always taught not to judge a book by its cover but it’s so hard for me not to when looking at this Nets teams. Their roster is stacked from top to bottom and it shows in the depth chart. Big names like Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Brook Lopez speak for themselves, but it’s the reserve players that get me really excited for this team. For those paying attention last year, Shaun Livingston did a good job filling in for Kyrie Irving whenever he got injured. He’s a big point guard, standing at 6’ 7”, and possesses a great understanding of the game. Everyone knows that Jason Terry is capable of scoring and could be a candidate for being sixth man of the year if put in a suitable system (although I doubt that will happen this year). Andrei Kirilenko can play either forward position and his versatility can help in a lot of areas of the game. Reggie Evans rebounds like a monster and Andray Blatche has always shown flashes of brilliance. Mason Plumlee should also be NBA-ready with all the seasoning he has gotten at Duke. The only thing holding this team back is a rookie head coach in Jason Kidd and the team not gelling with each other, but to me, the players on the Nets have too high of a basketball I.Q. and experience for them not to overcome these problems.
2nd Seed: Indiana Pacers The tough Indiana Pacers are going to give Miami a run for their money again as this Pacer team is big and rebounds like crazy (facets of the game where Miami significantly struggle in). In fact, they were the best rebounding team last season with Roy Hibbert and David West leading the charge. Even their starting wing players were averaging a combined fifteen rebounds a game. That number competes with other teams’ bigs! The team only looks to get better with a healthy Danny Granger and free agent acquisitions C.J. Watson, Louis Scola, and Chris Copeland. All the players just listed are significant upgrades to their bench and have shown much promise in the past. Their gritty defense, superb rebounding, and strong bench could be the difference.
1st Seed: Miami Heat I have gotten so accustomed to the Miami Heat winning that the only interesting storyline that I can come up for them this season is whether or not Greg Oden can have a successful comeback. Maybe he can help Miami overcome their rebounding woes where they were ranked thirtieth last season. As everyone knows, they managed to win the championship last year, making it two in a row now. Pat Riley decided to come back with an identical team to see if they can make it a threepeat.