Here we go, time to put the kiss of death on some teams, and try ever so hard to hide my bias. And to be so historically wrong when revisiting this post in April next year.
This season is shaping up to be really interesting. The West is stronger again, and the East is potentially more even with LeBron heading to LA.
We are going to see a lot more of last year’s rookies, not to mention this years rookie class – albeit on the surface a little weaker than last years class.
Who will thrive? Who will tank? Remember that 2 amazing prospects will be waiting for next years draft in Barrett and Williamson.
Lets start in the East.
I believe 1st in the East is a three way race between the Celtics, 76ers and Raptors, probably in that order..
The Celtics were amazing when it mattered last season, without their two best players. So good, that I am no longer sure Gordon Hayward would be their second best player anymore. For his sake though, I really hope he stays injury free this time around. Their line of Irving, Brown, Hayward, Tatum and Horford sounds pretty good, and they are deep with standouts Smart and Rozier off the bench among others, including Aussie Baynes.
Philly will be strong again. Their woeful exit from the playoffs last season must provide enough motivation for this group. It’s only preseason, but the Fultz-Simmons-Embiid floor looks like it is going to work, and this team has so many solid pieces like Covington, Redick, Saric and a couple of promising rookies. They will be there in the playoffs, either the 1,2 or 3 seed.
Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard are both needed for the Raptors to maintain their position at the top of the East (regular season), and they need Kawhi for the playoffs as they are perennial chokers. It isn’t unfair to say that their entire season hinges on Leonard’s fitness and attitude, but if both are good, they could be anything. In my opinion, he is still the second best in the game.
It gets a bit murky after the top three. To put them in position is a bit of a lucky draw, but here goes:
Milwaukee: This is a big year for Giannis, he wants to be the MVP, and he has the perfect scenario to do it. He is the standout in his team. But for him to be considered in the leagues elite, he needs to elevate this team into at least a conference semi, and a serious contender.
Indiana: They lose a bit this season, but Oladipo is an out and out star, and the most underrated player in the league. They have recruited a decent mix of experience and youth, and I see this team making the playoffs, but I feel a round 1 exit is on the cards if they come up against any of the aforementioned teams.
Chicago: I know, right? And I hate the Bulls. But I think this is their year to return to the playoffs. A fit Zach LaVine, I’m a big fan of Lauri Markkanen, and the addition of Jabari Parker (who is also fit) says to me they have enough pieces to contend in the East. They have decent depth as well, when you consider Lopez, Holiday and Dunn.
Washington: They’ll be there. Wall and Beal don’t seem to be working well together, so I’m not confident they’ll feature, but I assume they’ll make the playoffs. They could potentially win a lot early and slowly work their way down the ladder late as other teams start to gel and improve.
The New York Knicks: This is a stretch, but much like Giannis, Kristaps needs to lead this team to their first playoffs in forever. Being New York, it wouldn’t be surprising that their front office totally screws him on a chase for a good draft pick, but I really hope they support him with good pieces and he can become a winning star in NY.
My east top 8:
Celtics; 76ers; Raptors; Bucks; Pacers; Chicago; Wizards; Knicks.
At the other end, I can’t see much hope for the Cavs, Hawks or the Magic. I think the Pistons just miss out, or could sneak in, and the rest make up the rest.
Now to the ridiculously stacked West…
So lets get this out of the way first, the Warriors will finish first in the West. You know why, I don’t have to go into it, they inexplicably got stronger in the offseason – and you can’t blame them for that, adding Cousins on a minimum deal because no one else offered him a gig – are you serious?
After them, it gets interesting. I preface my list by saying I can only assume the players in these teams will stay in their teams, even though I doubt that will happen. I foresee some pretty big trades mid year, as teams have to make the tough call on players with short contracts if they are falling out of contention. And remember, ‘out of contention’ in the west is a .500 team, so these are good teams in a tough predicament. There is no glory finishing 11th in the west with a .500 record, because all you get for your good season is the 15-18 pick in the draft.
I can’t see anyone catching Houston in second. They may have a chance finishing at the 1 seed if the Warriors rest players again, but even if they do, they are the firm second best team in the conference in my opinion. It is hard to follow the logic of their offseason, trading defensive strength for offensive strength on a team that is the strongest offensive team in the league, but even still, they are strong. Expect a lot of games won where the opposition scores 120+ points.
Denver: Don’t underestimate Isaiah Thomas. What a pick up for an insanely deep team. I just keep thinking about IT working with Jokic and how amazing that will be. The performances of Murray, Hernangomez and Millsap will be crucial, but expectations are high for Denver, and in a stacked west, they may take out the 3 seed by a game or two.
Utah: I really hope Mitchell doesn’t have second year syndrome, and if he doesn’t you are looking at a top four team again. He unlocks every player on this team, and they somehow continue to get stronger. They could potentially sneak into the Conference finals this season.
Lakers: The LeBron factor is real. The young guys will be better and they have bought experience. What seemed strange 3 months ago has seemed to have calmed LeBron. He always looked stressed in Cleveland, where he looks very relaxed in LA. Could be dangerous.
OKC: It’s hard to keep a team with Westbrook and George off this list, but I am not too confident, they may miss this season. Certainly on the downslope. Their time has passed.
Phoenix: I really like Ayton, and Booker. If they don’t make the playoffs, they will go close. It’s a bit of a stretch for a team to improve so much in one year, but I believe they will be a force this year, and a big force in years to come.
Portland: Much like OKC, they could miss, but it’s hard to keep them out given their roster. I expect them there this season, and then out for the next few.
So that means I don’t think a Popovich coached team makes the 8. In some eyes that is enough to say my list is awful, but I just can’t see their roster staying strong this season. They would make the 8 in the East, but that’s not how it works unfortunately.
With all that said, I don’t have them 9th either. That spot is reserved for the Pelicans. They should be higher, but the club showed in the offseason that they don’t expect to keep Davis, which means they will give him no support this year, possibly trade him, tank and go for Zion Williamson in the draft. IF they support him, they could finish anywhere in the 8, but I can’t see them doing that. Randle is solid too.
My West top 8:
Warriors; Rockets; Nuggets; Jazz; Lakers; OKC; Suns: Blazers
As mentioned, Pelicans 9 and Spurs 10. All 10 of these teams will finish above .500
As for the other end, I can’t see any outcome that doesn’t have the Clippers finishing with the worst record in the league. I also think that is what they want, so that next season they can open their new arena with a number 1 draft pick, some free agent pieces and a competitive squad.
The Grizzlies, Mavs and Sacramento will improve, but I can’t say the same for the Wolves, who look set to lose Butler before the season begins.
As far as individual honours go, it’s hard to go past LeBron for MVP if the Lakers feature in the playoffs. I like that Embiid and Giannis are hungry for that title, but I can’t see them beating the king.
Rookie of the year is tough to predict before they play a game, but on the strength of the preseason, I imagine it will be between Doncic, Ayton and Bagley.
Most improved – Brandon Ingram. All signs point to him, and with LeBron and Ball feeding him, he will become an elite player this season.
Defensive player – Kawhi, Gobert or Davis
Sixth Man – Isaiah Thomas.
Now, to watch the next 6 months and see how wrong I am. What do you think, what gaffe have I made, and why?