NBA Season Preview: Part 1
NBA Preview 2014-2015
Written by: Hashaam Jamil
With the NBA season less than a month away, it’s time to breakdown the 30 NBA teams and see just what this upcoming season has in store for fans. Following what was probably the greatest first round of NBA playoffs ever, an incredibly dominant performance by the veteran Spurs, and an offseason that changed the very shape of the NBA, the league looks primed to have one of its greatest seasons in recent memory. With LeBron back home in Cleveland, the East has the potential to be significantly better than it was just a year ago. Although that shouldn’t be difficult with what was one of the worst conferences in NBA history. With rising teams like the Hornets, Wizards, and Raptors, it should no longer be a cakewalk for the title favorites. And it seems like the West only improved with teams like the Pelicans, Suns, and Mavs all looking to battle with the best of the West. In what should be a great year of hoops, it seems only fair to breakdown each and every team, 10 at a time, over the next three weeks. Today starts with the bottom feeders; teams looking forward to trying again next off-season to change the course of their franchises.
Which brings up the problem with tanking in the NBA. It seems the association is taking the right steps to get rid of this problem, but that won’t matter for this particular season. Case and point is the first team on the list and the clear favorite to be the worst team in the league.
30. Philadelphia 76ers (15-67)
No team deserves to lose more than this year’s 76ers. The starting lineup is headlined by Michael Carter-Williams, the Rookie of the Year in what was an atrocious draft class last year, and Nerlens Noel who has yet to play a minute of regular season basketball. The other three players on that starting line are not NBA starters. They may not even be role players on one of the more established teams. And the 76ers seem to be perfectly content with that. Failing to get the draft picks they tanked so hard for, Philadelphia is bringing out one of the worst NBA teams on paper in history to guarantee they have the best shot at the number one pick. It must be a struggle to be Carter-Williams and have to deal with this “talent”, but it must be worse to be a fan. However, there is some hope for the City of Brotherly Love. The 76ers have stashed talent whether on the injury report or overseas that should develop into quality talent. Joel Embiid was considered the best prospect in this year’s stacked draft class and if he can stay healthy should eventually dominate in this league. Add him with Nerlens Noel, Carter-Williams, and insert-next-high-draft-pick-here and that’s a young, athletic and potentially great team. It seems like the only positives that can be said about the 76ers are about their future since right now, it seems like 15 wins may still be too many. The infamous 9-win season has some strong competition.
29. Utah Jazz (22-60)
Utah looks like a team with a plan, the only problem being that plan will probably take a few years to come to fruition. Young talent like Trey Burke, Daunte Exum, and Gordan Hayward are all solid pieces to build off of, but none of them have the look of a franchise superstar unless Exum plays like a few scouts say he can. Hayward is the leader of this team and while he’s a very good forward he’s proven that he can’t be relied upon to keep carrying this team to wins. It would help if the coveted young bigs would also play up to expectations, but it doesn’t seem like that’s happening anytime soon. Derrick Favors hasn’t played like a top-5 pick and Enes Kanter maybe one of the worst defensive big men in the league. These two players who were supposed to replace the duo of Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson haven’t give Utah anything to cheer about. But thanks to the guard play of Trey Burke and the potential of Daunte Exum, the Jazz could surprise a few teams this year. Add another All-star to this team and they may make some noise in the future. But as of now, the Jazz are going to have to rely on pure athleticism and quick development of their young guys to even try to break 30 wins.
28. Orlando Magic (26-56)
Another young and athletic team, the Magic have made the right moves following the Dwight Howard era to put themselves in position to be legitimately good in a few years. Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton look to be one of the better defensive guard duos in the league and both have the potential to develop into above-average starters. First pick Aaron Gordan is joining a frontcourt with the likes of Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic that should become a tough matchup for any team in the league. Yet the team traded their most trustworthy scorer in Aron Afflalo and didn’t fill the void he leaves outside of the veteran Channing Frye. The Magic have the pieces in place for a solid core that could surround a star. Problem is that star has yet to reach Orlando and it is unknown when exactly that will be. The post-Dwight Howard may be going well, but no one on this team outside of possibly Oladipo and the two new draft picks have a chance at being that go-to-guy. For now, high-paced offense and strong perimeter defense are the names of their game and the Magic will look to beat the veteran teams with their youth and hunger.
27. Milwaukee Bucks (26-56)
The Bucks made a splash in the off-season both with the drafting of Jabari Parker second overall and with taking new head coach Jason Kidd away from the Nets. While Kidd doesn’t have the best track record, he is still an improvement in terms of coaching and can offer valuable experience the Bucks young guards are in dire need of. The Greek Freak looks like a stud, and should only get better with experience. Add Parker, John Henson, and Larry Sanders and the Bucks have a very tall, very athletic core that are going to make up for Parker’s current struggles on defense. Continuing the trend of teams without a clear number one, the Bucks are hoping Jabari Parker can fill that role soon. He should hover around 20 points per game for the season thanks to the lack of scoring on this team and is the favorite for Rookie of the Year. While Jason Kidd may not be the best coach, he should be able to work well with this team thanks to the youth and guard-play, and he will have a larger room for error than in Brooklyn. It’s going to be hard to score against the Bucks thanks to their length, but it’s also going to be hard for them to score. Outside of Parker there isn’t a reliable scorer unless OJ Mayo counts and OJ Mayo never counts.
26. Sacramento Kings (29-53)
The Kings’ two best players were on this summer’s USA basketball team and that should mean something. Rudy Gay may have been the last guy added thanks to injury and Cousins may not have played significant numbers, but playing with those players and that coaching staff never hurts. Still the Kings make little sense in terms of spacing and schemes. There are no true 3-point shooters outside of rookie Nik Stauskas and no great defensive big men. Cousins is a star, but is still not reliable especially on defense. Rudy Gay is a solid scorer when he takes smart shots, but he is average at best when it comes it everything else. The team is young and waiting on high draft picks Ben McLemore and Derrick Williams to mold into the stars they are supposed to. Many people would say that this team should be ahead of Lakers and the Timberwolves, but those teams each have something the Kings do not. The Lakers, while not as deep as the Kings, have a man named Kobe Bryant and have a veteran in Carlos Boozer who are both proven veterans with the leadership the Kings are lacking. The Timberwolves are younger than the Kings and have a lot more athleticism in their starting lineup. Add in the fact that they have a set system, albeit a very obvious one, and Minnesota has more defined identity than the Kings do. And as the playoffs showed last year, a team’s identity can make or break them in key matchups.
25. Boston Celtics (29-53)
The next two teams on this list are still not used to being at the bottom of the food chain. First up is the slightly worse of the two legendary franchises. The Boston Celtics have the potential to be one of the worst offenses in the league. With the drafting of Marcus Smart, Boston continued their trend of guards who defend and do little to nothing else. Smart can be a good player, but it will be difficult with a backcourt featuring Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley and even Evan Turner. In all likelihood, Rondo is going to be traded to a team desperately trying to improve immediately, and chances are the Celtics aren’t going to get equal value back for their star point guard. Another player that is going to be fished around the trading pool is Jeff Green. Supposed to be the go-to scorer on the team, Green has struggled to assert himself on defenses consistently and never established himself as a dangerous scorer. On a team with no other scoring options Green failed to step-up and he will likely have to pay for it in the future. Still the Celtics have a great young coach and an organization players want to play for that always finds its way to the top of the East eventually. This may be a period of downs for the Celtics but like the team that follows them, their history almost guarantees they’ll be title contenders sooner rather than later.
24. Los Angeles Lakers (30-52)
The Lakers struck-out in the off-season, something they are not used to. None of the big stars wanted to join Kobe in Laker-land and in the end the Lakers ended up with Carlos Boozer and Jeremy Lin. Not the best haul for a team used to getting all the big names, but still an improvement. Hopefully this year the Lakers won’t have to rely on Robert Sacre to play significant minutes for the team thanks to the healthy return of Jordan Hill and the addition of rookie Julius Randle. The team still won’t be able to defend and they won’t have the speed to match up with the younger teams in the league, but they will be better than last year. Only problem there is the rest of the West seems to have improved as well and that leaves the Lakers almost guaranteed to be one of the worst teams in the conference. But Kobe Bryant is back and looks like he is using this year to silence the critics. He is old and he is hurt, but if anyone can come back from significant injuries it is Kobe. While the playoffs and that elusive sixth ring don’t seem to be possible this season, Bryant still has scoring records to catch and if there is one thing Kobe does well, it is get buckets. Bryon Scott is an improvement when it comes to coaching and Nash has the ability to play at a starting point guard level if he can stay healthy. Add those factors in with the irrationally confident Nick Young and you have a tea that is going to win a few games in ways that will probably make no sense at all. But at this point, the Lakers will take those wins any day.
23. Minnesota Timberwolves (30-52)
Minnesota knew Kevin Love was leaving and made sure they got the best possible deal for him. Adding the first overall pick from this year’s and last year’s drafts aren’t bad acquisitions. Adding a stud of player in Thaddeus Young also doesn’t hurt. The team will be worse than last year, but they might turn out to be more fun. Andrew Wiggins has the look of a defensive star and has the potential to become a lethal scorer. Anthony Bennett should not have been the first overall pick in the terrible draft class two years ago, but that doesn’t mean he is a bad player. In the right system with the right players around him, Bennett could become a double-double everyday player, something the Wolves are hoping for. But the problems of last year still remain. The lack of depth and shooting are going to prevent this team from coming back against good teams or keep leads in the fourth. This is epitomized by Ricky Rubio who seems to be on his way to an undeserved massive contract. Rubio is a phenomenal passer and an above average perimeter defender, but his atrocious shooting overshadows all of that. Rubio has excellent pick-and-roll skills, but when defenders have no problem stepping back and breaking the pick, he is unable to do anything with those skills. Being unable to shoot makes the pick-and-roll virtually impossible for Rubio and that is something a pass-first guard is going to need in today’s NBA. Still with highflyers Andrew Wiggins and Zach Lavine and Rubio throwing his beautiful passes, this team will at the very least have some great highlights this season.
22. Detroit Pistons (33-49)
The Pistons have the individual talent to make the playoffs in the East. Only problem is those individual talents always seem to get very confused when they are on the court together. The frontcourt is the most crowded in the league with Josh Smith struggling to find any space with both Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. To make matters worse, the guards in Detroit don’t seem to be any more consistent than the bigs. Brandon Jennings can have one great game and then one that will leave Stan Van Gundy on the floor crying. Jodie Meeks has never been a reliable option and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope still has a lot of room to develop in his sophomore year. Still all of the players are talented especially the big guys. Andre Drummond had a learning experience over the summer with Team USA and looks closer to being the star player Detroit is expecting. Greg Monroe is in a contract year and will be looking to show off to potential suitors as he looks to get paid this upcoming offseason. Josh Smith does have talent and if he can’t fit in with his teammates will be a valuable trade asset. The biggest upgrade from last year is having Stan Van Gundy in control of this team. Van Gundy has worked with big guys including Shaq and Dwight Howard and is a tough coach with a lot of experience. The Pistons have the talent, but will need to make some moves before they can contend.
21. Indiana Pacers (33-49)
The last of the bottom-tier of the NBA, was near the top of the league just a year ago. But as history shows us, one summer can change everything. The Pacers let Lance Stephenson go to a conference rival and didn’t do enough to fill the void he leaves. Rodney Stuckey is a slid offense player, but is nowhere near as good as Stephenson was for this team on both ends of the court. While that loss hurt, the loss of Paul George was catastrophic. The gruesome injury to George has left him out for this season at the very least and it doesn’t look like the Pacers will recover. C.J. Miles will have to start for this team and take on a bigger role than he’s ever had to before. The Pacers are going to be worse on the perimeter this year and don’t look like they’ve improved in the frontcourt either. David West, the heart of the team, took a beating last year and is now contemplating retirement. Roy Hibbert is coming off of the most perplexing season in recent memory and nobody knows which Roy Hibbert is going to show up this season. Frank Vogel will have his work cut out for him in terms of coaching, but after signing an extension with the team it seems the front office has full trust in their head coach. It is possible that this team gels really well and absolutely lock down opponents as Roy Hibbert carries this team to the playoffs, but it is equally likely the best day of the year for the Pacers will be the draft lottery for next year. The Pacers are one of the biggest question marks of the season and that is what will make them one of the league’s top storylines this year.