Basketball

2017-18 NBA Preview

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After four months of waiting, along with the NBA Draft, the Summer League, and especially a whirlwind free agency market that saw several former Eastern Conference players heading west, it’s time to cue up Andy Williams’ The Most Wonderful Time of the Year as the 2017-18 NBA season looms over the horizon. This upcoming season surely looks to be one of the more promising, if not the most intriguing season as the Golden State Warriors look to defend their championship against a stronghold of Western Conference teams, while the Cleveland Cavaliers look to emerge out of a very weakened Eastern Conference in order to reach the Finals and face their foes for a fourth time.

Let’s start off in the Southeast Division. The Miami Heat’s offseason was blemished by lucking out on Gordon Hayward, Kyrie Irving, and Dwyane Wade during the free agency period, but in their defense, they came up big when they drafted Bam Adebayo (pronounced Ah-de-buy-yo), retained their core of Dion Waiters, James Johnson and Josh Richardson, while also acquiring Kelly Olynyk (pronounced Ol-lin-nik), A.J. Hammons, and Jordan Mickey, to play alongside Udonis Haslem  The Miami Heat’s plan is simple, build upon the second half of last season where they went 30 wins and 11 losses, en route to a 41-41 record and missing the playoffs, while still maintaining their Shut Down Crew like mentality on defense. The Heat will strive for improvement, especially in a weakened Eastern Conference. Speaking of improvement, this is a make or break season for Justise Winslow, who missed last season with a shoulder injury. Winslow has sights on being an all-star, but in reality, he could also be shooting for Most Improved Player of the year.  The Heat will make the playoffs, but chances are, they won’t have home court advantage. Expect Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside to be in all-star conversations for the East come January.

The Orlando Magic continue their rebuild for the future. In the draft, they selected Jonathan Issac from Florida State and in the free agency market, they acquired Marresse Speights from Golden State and Jonathon Simmons from San Antonio. The Magic’s core of Elfrid Payton, Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier (pronounced Four-nair), and Nikola Vucevic (pronounced Voo-ce-vich), should continue to improve from last season, but they’ll need one more piece to their puzzle in order to make some headway into the playoffs conversation. For now, Orlando is on the right track, and will continue to improve their core, plus Bismack Biyombo (pronounced Bee-yom-bo), and Mario Hezonja (pronounced He-zone-ya).

The Atlanta Hawks were always a playoff fixture in the Eastern Conference since 2008. Jump to now, and their former stars Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard have new homes in Denver and Charlotte respectively. In addition, Tim Hardaway Jr. also left the team for the New York Knicks and Jose Calderon heading to Cleveland. This leaves the Hawks in a rebuild phase, and having to focus on making Dennis Schroder (pronounced Schro-der) as their go-to star. The Hawks are most likely to miss the playoffs in the East, but then again, it’s the East, they may have a chance to make it, though it would be a long shot for them.

The Charlotte Hornets missed the playoffs last year, but they should be more than poised to make it this year, albeit with some competition challenging them. With the Hornets selecting Malik Monk from Kentucky and Dwayne Bacon from Florida State, and acquiring the aforementioned Dwight Howard, Charlotte looks to bolster some depth, while helping out Kemba Walker. If all goes according to the Hornets’ plans, Walker could be an all-star, that is, if he can remain in the Eastern point guard conversation more than the likes of Kyrie Irving, Kyle Lowry, Isaiah Thomas, and John Wall. Also, keep an eye on Nic Batum. He could have a breakout season.

The Washington Wizards are primed to take the Southeast Division for the second time and even a home court in the playoffs. This season is one where John Wall could elevate himself into more than just an all-star. Wall could definitely be a superstar for the Wizards and even a long shot in the MVP conversation. Bradley Beal will also look to step up for the Wizards in a big way, too. Beal could not only be an all-star, but can also be in the conversation for the scoring title as well. Along with improvement from Marcin Gortat on both ends of the floor, the Wizards will definitely take the Southeast Division crown.

Southeast Division standings predictions: 

  1. Washington
  2. Miami
  3. Charlotte
  4. Orlando
  5. Atlanta

In the Atlantic Division, the Philadelphia 76ers have trusted the process for quite some time. Now that Markelle Fultz has come to Philadelphia, that process will now take the second step, which is making the playoffs. Granted, the Eastern Conference is bare minimum, but that doesn’t mean the Sixers are going to get a ride at the top of the East right away. They will have to prove that they belong. With much talent in Joel Embiid (pronounced Em-beed), Ben SimmonsJahlil Okafor, and Amir Johnson, who was acquired from the Boston Celtics, the Sixers are primed to be a team to take notice of in the East, let alone the Atlantic Division. Embiid will definitely be an all-star this upcoming season as the East look to make new stars.

In the case of the Brooklyn Nets, it’s a matter of scratching your head and trying to figure out who this team is. Outside of Jeremy Lin, D’Angelo Russell, and maybe DeMarre Carroll, there’s not much to go ooh and awe over, unless you like Timofey Mozgov (pronounced Tim-o-fay Moz-gov), Tyler Zellerand Quincy Acy. No one isn’t sure what to make of this Brooklyn Nets team, but the New York Knicks are a much different story, though similar in structure.

With Carmelo Anthony finally leaving the Big Apple, among other anomalies, it leaves the door open for Kristaps Porzingis (pronounced Por-zing-is), Joakim Noah, and draft pick Frank Ntilikina (pronounced Ni-lee-kin-a). The Knicks also picked up Tim Hardaway Jr. from Atlanta, Enes Kanter from Oklahoma City, Ramon Sessions from Charlotte, and especially Michael Beasley from Milwaukee, who will look to pick up the scoring load. Despite the delusions Knicks fans still have about their team, New York isn’t going to make headway into the playoffs scene, but since this is the East, anything is possible, in the realm of fantasy that is.

The Boston Celtics were not only winners in the draft when they selected Jayson Brown and a deep playoff run from last season, they also came up big when they acquired Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving in free agency. The Celtics could be the only team capable of challenging the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Eastern Conference crown and then some. The Celtics are scheduled to face the Cavs on opening night, which should make for great TV as we get to see the clash between former teammates in Kyrie and LeBron. This will also be a preview of a possible Eastern Conference Finals rematch would look like too.

The Toronto Raptors managed to keep their core talent of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Jonas Valancinuas (pronounced Val-lan-joon-nus), and Serge Ibaka (pronounced E-ba-ka). In addition, they selected OG Anunoby (pronounced Ah-noon-obi) in the draft and acquired C.J. Miles from Indiana and K.J. McDaniels from Brooklyn, in order to bolster their small forward depth. Toronto will compete in the East and will definitely finish as a top four team, but as for the Atlantic Division crown, they’ll have to contend with not only a loaded Celtics team, but also a rising Sixers team.

Atlantic Division standings predictions:

  1. Boston
  2. Toronto
  3. Philadelphia
  4. New York
  5. Brooklyn

In the Central Division, if not the Eastern Conference, all roads lead to and through Cleveland. The Cavaliers lost Kyrie to Boston, but they reloaded by adding Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Derrick Rose, and recently Dwyane Wade. The Cavs will no doubt look to make a strong statement throughout the league that they will take the NBA crown from the Warriors, but with the talent mentioned on this list, some would say that the Cavs are running the title race of 2011 or 2012. No matter what race they are running, the Cavs are still poised to go for another deep playoff run, regardless of who’s in their way in the East or if Golden State stands in their way once they emerge out of the East. As long as the Cavs have LeBron, they should be fine either way.

The Milwaukee Bucks are still primed for the future as evidenced by the continuing rise of Giannis Antetokounmpo (pronounced Anteto-koom-po). Though the Bucks did lose Jabari Parker due to injury, expect Parker to bounce back and have an improved season. With a core consisting of Matthew Dellavedova (pronounced Della-va-do-va), Malcolm Brogdon, Thon Maker, Khris Middleton, Greg Monroe, and Tony Snell, Milwaukee will certainly finish as a top five team. Many will continue to sleep on the Bucks, but with as much depth, length, and athleticism that they possess, the Bucks will creep up on a lot of teams when they least expect it, especially down the stretch come playoff time.

The Paul George era has come o an end for the Indiana Pacers, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make a new star of their own. They can build around Myles Turner and draft pick T.J. Leaf from UCLA, but with their new core of Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis (pronounced Sa-bo-nis), Cory Joseph, Bojan Bogdanovic (pronounced Bog-don-no-vich), and Darren Collison, the veterans will have do more of the assisting for their young big duo. Don’t expect Indiana to compete for a playoff spot. They’ll need another piece to the puzzle in order to get back to the playoff chase.

The Detroit Pistons missed out on the playoffs once again, but with playoff fixture teams like Atlanta and Indiana giving way, the Pistons have a bright chance of reaching the postseason. The only teams that will stand in Detroit’s way are the Sixers and the Hornets. If Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson become an all-stars for the Pistons, then there will be no doubt that the Pistons will squeeze their way in the playoff spot, even if it’s the seventh or eighth seed.

Finally, the Chicago Bulls went from having their ducks in a row, to finally hitting the reset button after not only their postseason defeat at the hands of the Celtics, in which Rajon Rondo fell to injury. In addition, they also let go of Jimmy Butler in a trade with Minnesota during the draft and bought out Dwyane Wade. So where does this leave the Bulls? For one thing, they acquired Zach LaVine from that Jimmy Butler, along with Minnesota’s draft pick of Lauri Markkanen (pronounced Mar-ka-nen), plus Diamond Stone and Cameron Payne from Atlanta and Oklahoma City in the offseason respectively. Chicago are downsizing, but they have an upside with Zach LaVine, which should be someone to build around for the future.

Central Division standings prediction:

  1. Cleveland
  2. Milwaukee
  3. Detroit
  4. Indiana
  5. Chicago

Heading into the Northwest Division, the Minnesota Timberwolves have another big upgrade, not from the draft, but from a shrewd trade to acquire Jimmy Butler. With Butler on the Wolves, they should be poised to return back to the postseason for the first time since the Kevin Garnett era. With a core of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng (pronounced Gor-gee Dang), plus new acquisitions Jamal Crawford, Jeff Teague, and Aaron Brooks, Minnesota have a good mix of young players and reliable veterans that can make some noise this season. The Wolves will have to fight for a playoff appearance, but the teams that will most likely be in their way are the Memphis Grizzlies and the Portland Trail Blazers.

The Oklahoma City Thunder hit the jackpot not once, but twice after acquiring Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. The Thunder hit even bigger when league MVP Russell Westbrook signed a five-year extension on his contract, keeping him through 2023. The Thunder are looking at a deep playoff run and could be one of the few teams, if not the team in the West, to challenge the Warriors. Throw in Steven Adams, Andre Roberson, plus Raymond Felton, and the Thunder will definitely secure a top playoff spot.

The Denver Nuggets are still an athletic anomaly when it comes to their opponents. They came up big with the acquisition of Paul Millsap from Atlanta. Millsap is in a position to mentor Nikola Jokic (pronounced Yo-kich), Kenneth Faried (pronounced Fa-reed), and Emmanuel Mudiay (pronounced Mu-di-ay), and Wilson Chandler. Denver can benefit from Millsap’s leadership, but they can also benefit from having another piece to their puzzle, mainly a shooting guard, unless Gary Harris and/or Malik Beasley show some improvement this season. It will be a fight for Denver to make a playoff spot, but the Nuggets will be just as athletic, if not fun to watch.

The Utah Jazz lost Gordon Hayward, but they went on to acquire Ricky Rubio from Minnesota, Jonas Jerebko (pronounced Jer-reb-ko) from Boston and Thabo Sefolosha (pronounced Sef-fo-lo-sha) from Atlanta. The new additions for Utah could definitely fill the void that Hayward left, meanwhile they still have length and power in Rudy Gobert (pronounced Go-bear) and Derrick Favors. Utah can still be a solid playoff contender, maybe as a top five team in the West or as the sixth seed. Don’t undermine Utah just because they don’t have Hayward anymore, there’s still Gobert and Favors, who are still a problem in the post.

The Portland Trail Blazers are most likely going to fight for a playoff spot, much like the Denver Nuggets and Memphis Grizzlies, but they wouldn’t have it any other way. Damian Lillard is always used to having to fight to reach the top, same can be said for C.J. McCollum. Their secret weapon lies within Jusuf Nurkic (pronounced You-suf Nor-kich), who they acquired from Denver last season. If Nurkic continues to be the X-Factor that Portland needs, then they will be just fine. However, the Blazers will need more help from their frontcourt outside of Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless.

Northwest Division standings prediction:

  1. Oklahoma City
  2. Minnesota
  3. Utah
  4. Portland
  5. Denver

In the Pacific Division, The Sacramento Kings selected a star for the future in De’Aaron Fox in the draft, while adding some veteran presence during their offseason with Vince Carter, George Hill, and Zach Randolph. This doesn’t mean that the Kings are going to make some headway in a very loaded Western Conference, but the addition of Fox is a building block for them, one far more stable compared to the DeMarcus Cousins years. It will be a while before Sacramento would be on anyone’s list in the playoff conversation, if ever. At the very least, Sacramento should continue building their team through the draft. It could be time for them to trust the process like the Sixers did.

When it comes to the Golden State Warriors, the rich continue to get richer. That can be easily said for Kevin Durant, who signed a contract to remain with the Warriors. In addition, the Warriors also added Nick Young, Omri Casspi (pronounced Om-ri Cass-pi), and Georges Niang (pronounced Nee-ahng)There’s no doubt that the Warriors will  make another championship run, and with all the former Eastern Conference all-stars heading west to stop them, who can blame them?

The Los Angeles Lakers usher in the Lonzo Ball era, and for the first time, the Lakers will play more as a team, rather than just one person carrying the load in the final years of the Kobe Bryant era. Don’t expect Lonzo Ball to completely get the Lakers to the postseason in one fell swoop. Ball will be a building block for the Lakers to work around, especially when he has a core that consists of Brandon Ingram, Luol Deng (pronounced Lu-all Deng), Julius Randle, Ivica Zubac (pronounced  EE-vi-tsa ZU-bats), and Andrew Bogut, Ball will have work cut out for him. Also keep another eye on three-point shooter and fellow rookie Kyle Kuzman. Speaking of rookies, adding a big man rookie for next year’s draft wouldn’t hurt the Lakers either.

If you though the Los Angeles Clippers’ Lob City days were over when Chris Paul left for Houston, then you are quite mistaken. The Clippers acquired Euroleague superstar Milos Teodosic (pronounced Teo-do-sic) to play alongside Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Teodosic averaged 11.3 points per game and 4.8 assists during his tenure in Euroleague, playing for Greece’s Olympiacos and Russia’s CSKA Moscow. Another key addition, or additions, for the Clippers are Danilo Gallinari from Denver, Willie Reed from Miami, Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, and Montrezl Harrell (pronounced Mon-trez) from Houston. The Clippers will definitely have a lot of weapons on offense, but their main defense will come from Jordan. The Clippers will definitely be a top five team in the West, or even the sixth seed.

The Phoenix Suns continue to improve their roster, especially with the addition of draft pick Josh Jackson from the University of Kansas. Devin Booker, Marquese Chriss, Alex Len, Eric Bledsoe and Dragan Bender will look to continue such improvement, especially in Booker’s case, who scored a career high 70 points. It’s going to be another long season for the Suns, but they will secure a draft pick that would get them another building block to help Booker and Josh Jackson, perhaps a rookie guard that plays defense and can possibly be a sixth man.

Pacific Division standings prediction:

  1. Golden State
  2. L.A. Clippers
  3. L.A. Lakers
  4. Sacramento
  5. Phoenix

Finally, we come to the Southwest Division, where the San Antonio Spurs have ruled for the majority of its inception. Yes, they have Kawhi Leonard, Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker, Danny Green, and Manu Ginobili, plus new addition Rudy Gay, but the Spurs will definitely have more than their fair share of competition from not just Golden State, but also Oklahoma City and Houston. This will certainly test the Spurs’ mettle as one of the top teams in the West, if not the league, especially having been a playoff fixture in the West since 1998 under the tutelage of Gregg Popovich. Make no mistake, the Spurs are going to be dominant this season, but not without quarrels from various and divisional rivals.

Speaking of divisional rivals, the Dallas Mavericks are gearing up for Dirk Nowitzki’s 20th season with the team. They could also be gearing up for a look into the future with their draft pick in Dennis Smith Jr., who has received a lot of praise, mainly for his three-point shooting and even being hotly tipped for Rookie of the Year honors. The Mavericks have a decent core of players like Seth Curry, Harrison Barnes, Yogi Ferrell, Wesley Matthews, and J.J. Barea that can change the game at any moment, but that won’t mean they will make a splash in the playoff chase. As admirable as Mark Cuban’s players are, another draft pick could help them out, maybe a power forward that will pick up where Dirk left off.

The Houston Rockets came up big in the free agency market when they acquired Chris Paul, but lucked out on wanting to acquire Carmelo Anthony. Nevertheless, a Chris Paul-James Harden backcourt should be very exciting on the offensive end, but the defensive end will be more of Chris Paul than Harden. The Rockets also kept their core players such a Nene, Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson, Clint Capela, and Zhou Qi (pronounced Jo Ki) while adding P.J. Tucker from Phoenix. The Rockets are definitely going to be challenging the Spurs, the Thunder, and especially the Warriors for the top spot in the West.

The New Orleans Pelicans added a free agent in  Rajon Rondo to their team to play alongside DeMarcus Cousins, Jrue Holiday (pronounced Drew Holiday) and Anthony Davis. The Pelicans also acquired Ian Clark from Golden State, to make use of his three-point shooting. It’s unknown what the Pelicans should do with their big man duo of Cousins and Davis, but if they are more than committed to making it work, who knows what good things can come out of it, besides adding a small forward in next year’s draft.

Finally, the Memphis Grizzlies may have lost a leader in both Zach Randolph and Vince Carter, but they are still a force with Marc Gasol at the helm. Though the team suffered an injury-riddled season, they have some bright spots with Mike Conley, Chandler Parsons, JaMychal Green, Ben McLemore, and James Ennis. The Grit and Grind Grizzlies will definitely be fighting for a playoff against the Blazers and the Nuggets, but in the rough and tumble Western Conference, it’ll be more of rush to the finish line.

Southwest Division standings prediction:

  1. San Antonio
  2. Houston
  3. Memphis
  4. New Orleans
  5. Dallas

That was look at all 30 teams heading into the 2017-18 NBA Season. Here are some of my predictions as to who will make the playoffs come next April.

Western Conference:

  1. Golden State Warriors
  2. Oklahoma City Thunder
  3. San Antonio Spurs
  4. Houston Rockets
  5. Los Angeles Clippers
  6. Minnesota Timberwolves
  7. Utah Jazz
  8. Portland Trail Blazers (Memphis Grizzlies or Denver Nuggets as alternates)

Eastern Conference:

  1. Cleveland Cavaliers
  2. Boston Celtics
  3. Washington Wizards
  4. Toronto Raptors
  5. Milwaukee Bucks
  6. Miami Heat
  7. Philadelphia 76ers
  8. Detroit Pistons (Charlotte Hornets as alternate)

The NBA Offseason starts tonight and runs through Friday, October 13th. 2017-18 NBA Season starts October 17, when the Cleveland Cavaliers host the Boston Celtics, followed by the NBA Champion Golden State Warriors hosting the Houston Rockets on TNT.

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