NBA Season Preview: Part 2
Written by: Hashaam Jamil
20. Brooklyn Nets (37-45)
Lionel Hollins has the chance to make this team reach the level they were supposed to last year. Only problem is, this is not the same team as last year. Paul Pierce is now a Wizard, Kevin Garnett looks like he’s just about to retire, and the best players on this team are all older and even more susceptible to injuries. If Deron Williams and Brook Lopez can pull off moderately healthy seasons, this team could be much higher on this list, but it hasn’t happened yet and it doesn’t look like this is the year it all changes. Brook Lopez is this team’s best player when healthy, but he has yet to be. Joe Johnson was an All-star last year, but it was one of the weakest cases for an All-star in years and he’s also getting into the worst part of a player’s decline. The Nets will still challenge teams because of their veteran leadership, intelligence, and what’s looking like a revamped offense. The young guys are going to get to fly around the court, to leave space for the veteran stars, but without Shawn Livingston as the back-up point guard, who should have started alongside Deron Williams more often than he did, the bench is going to struggle. Jarret Jack was a great backup for the Warriors but struggled with the Cavs last season, and the Nets have no idea which player they are going to get this year. This is another team that can make the playoffs if they still healthy, ad could even make a run for the title of best in the East if Brook Lopez, Deron Williams, and Joe Johnson can all be the all-stars they once were. It’s hard to see that happening, but as the NBA has shown in recent years, anything can happen.
19. New York Knicks (39-43)
Phil Jackson is making his presence known in the Big Apple. While the Derek Fisher signing was not the safest choice, it is expected that Jackson will have a hand in many of the Knicks’ coaching decisions. Besides that, the trade that acquired Jose Calderon, Shane Larkin, and Samuel Dalembert was an impressive transaction. It rids the team of the black hole that is Raymond Felton, while also adding a great point guard in Jose Calderon. His defense is not something to write home about, but the way he manages an offense is going to be a huge help for the team that had little in the way of ball movement. Ranking 28th in assists last year was not what New York wanted and this year should be a whole new story. Losing Chandler hurts this team a lot in terms of defense, not just in the post. Chandler prevented guards from attacking the rim in a way few centers can; and Dalembert is not one of those centers. The biggest problem for this team is going to be their interior and the lack of reliability. Stoudamire still has the legs of a fifty year old man, and the Knicks would be better off leaving the defending big men alone than having Andrea Bargnani on them. Carmelo Anthony is going to have to play a lot of minutes at power forward and that will tear on his body like it has the last two years. Still, Carmelo looks leaner, faster and smarter than he has in years. He’s going to have a great year as he tries to prove he is one of the NBA’s elite. And with that should come a playoff berth and possible MVP consideration.
18. Atlanta Hawks (44-38)
Every year, the Atlanta Hawks are discounted as a team that can challenge in the East. And every year they always surprise everyone by making the playoffs, despite the injuries and the lack of a superstar. This year, things should be a little different. Al Horford looks healthy, Paul Millsap has established himself as one of the best power forwards in a league, and the team has a lot of great role players. Kyle Korver is now a name all NBA fans know, Jeff Teague is now a reliable starter with a scary second gear and the bench is only getting better. Pero Antic, Thabo Sefolosha, and sophomore Dennis Schroder represent a second unit with an impressive array of skills. This team has the ability to fit any spot in the East from the eight seed all the way to the third with the potential of the young players and their reliable big guys. Horford and Millsap should both be All-Stars thanks to their talent and the weak East. Jeff Teague should take another step into towards being a great point guard in the league and the Hawks should only get better from here on out. The only thing this team is missing is a reliable all-around perimeter scorer, which is going to kill them in the playoffs, just like the rest of the post-Joe Johnson era. As a team, the Hawks are very cohesive and have great team chemistry. Add in the mix of youth and veterans and this team should be great. But just like most of Atlanta’s history, something is missing. The Hawks haven’t had a true star since Dominique Wilkins and the fact that they still lack one is the main reason they are not any higher. But that still doesn’t mean you should count out the birds of the east.
17. Toronto Raptors (45-37)
Kyle Lowry is leading this young Raptors team to a very good place. Lowry and Demar DeRozan make one of the best guard combos in the league and with Amir Johnson playing at the level he was expected to when he came into the league and you have a very good team with a very good bench. Mr. “Hey guys I scored 51 points” Terrence Ross is in the top half of starting shooting guards in the league and with backups like Greivis Vazquez and Louis Williams, the Raptors will be fine in terms of their backcourt. The frontcourt, while still impressive, has a lot more questions. Amir Johnson, Patrick Patterson, and Jonas Valenciunas are all good players, but each have holes that are going to be exposed against better bigs. Johnson is a great defender but has no post moves and limited offensive game. Patterson has a midrange jumper and athleticism, but no defense or post presence. And Valenciunas has the potential to be the best all-around big man on this team, but he still doesn’t do anything particularly well. But still, this a good team. With speed, athleticism, and a good mix of offense and defense in a plethora of players this team has the potential to make more noise than they did last year. While they didn’t add any major players, well besides the least known first-round draft pick in history Bruno Caboclo, the team kept the form they had last year and will grow faster thanks to the familiarity of the players, coaches, and front office.
16. Denver Nuggets (45-37)
This team is going to run and they are going to run fast. Athleticism and speed are the foundation of the Nuggets and in a league that is built on transitions and passing, the Nuggets are right there with the best of them. Only problem is they still can’t shoot and the bench needs a lot of help. With Aaron Afflalo back in Denver and potentially a healthy Gallinari, the shooting woes should not be as bad as they were last year. The two of them will stretch the floor for Ty Lawson to manage the game and get it to the big guys. Kenneth Faried looks like a much-improved player who should challenge Lawson for the title of best player on the team. Brian Shaw is coming into his own as a coach and the Nuggets are going to be better for it. But the lack of depth is going to hurt them, especially in the loaded West. 45 wins is a good record, but in the West, it is nowhere near enough. Luckily this team can challenge every team in the league thanks to their size and speed. Timofey Mozgov, Javale McGee, and JJ Hickson can all start in the NBA, and together with Faried they make a very formidable frontcourt. Ty Lawson is one of the better point guards in the league, the same goes for Afflalo, and with the star potential of Kenneth Faried this team can be a title contender very soon. The only problem: soon is not soon enough in the loaded West.
15. Miami Heat (45-37)
The Heat are going to look a little different this year. LeBron is gone, and so is a majority of the Heat’s gameplan from last year. But Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are still on this team and adding Luol Deng and Josh McRoberts will help Miami recover. Wade may have regressed since LeBron came to Miami, but a big portion of that was the fact that he had to take a step to let the best player in the game take over. This year should be much different for him, unless he’s knees completely give out. He’s become a more efficient scorer and doesn’t need to drive to the hoop to score as much as he used to. Expect a comeback season from a player that was at one point one of the best players in the league. Wade may be a huge part of what the Heat do, but Chris Bosh is at least as essential if not more so. After disappearing for the second straight postseason, Bosh now has no choice but to take over this team. He still has the ability and is still in his prime athletic age to make an impact. Watch out for his improved three-point shot now that McRoberts is there to help spread the ball around. Erik Spoelstra is still and innovative and intelligent coach and the Heat have the arsenal to make an impact in the East. They may not be as young or fast as these other teams in the East, but that may end up working in their favor. Slowing the game down and allowing Wade, Deng, and Bosh to beat their defenders one-on-one could be the key to this team perhaps meeting LeBron in the playoffs.
14. New Orleans Pelicans (46-36)
The Pelicans have a lot of talent, but a lot of injuries to go with them. The good news is Jrue Holiday is healthy and so is Anthony Davis meaning their stars are ready to play. And Anthony Davis is definitely a star despite being just 21. Already one of the best defensive players in the league, Davis continues to improve his offense to the point where he is nearing almost unguardable. Despite the likely injuries this team will suffer, as long as Davis plays to the level he is predicted to this team could challenge in the West. One of the Pelicans biggest problems last year was their defense particularly in the post. Even with the unibrow, the Pelicans struggled, stretch-fours would move Davis towards the perimeter leaving the centers to have to deal with the lackluster Ryan Anderson. But that was only when he was healthy, a saying that the Pelicans were all too familiar with. Holiday, Anderson, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, and Davis all missed significant amounts of time each. This resulted in a lack of cohesion and chemistry that a new and young team needs to improve and develop. This year should be different, but there are no guarantees. No player on this team played more than 75 games last year besides Al Farouq Aminu and Anthony Morrow, both of whom are no longer on this team. Davis is a once in a generation talent, but he is still fairly skinny for a big man banging against giants night in and night out, although he did add weight this offseason. Eric Gordon is the highest paid player on this team and when he does play he is probably the worst player on the starting lineup. But that isn’t a bad thing considering how good Gordon once was. Each player on this starting lineup can have a great game especially Davis, and that is why this team is going to challenge for a playoff spot. The only problem is the there are a lot of teams in the West who are just a little better right now. But with a top 5 player in Anthony Davis and a former all-star in Jrue Holiday, every team in the league has been warned about the Pelicans.
13. Washington Wizards (47-35)
Bradley Beal getting hurt puts a damper on this team. The bets pure scorer on the team, Beal was developing into one of the most dangerous scoring guards in the league and losing him for what will likely be two months will hinder this team’s growth. But it can also be a good thing for the leader of this team, John Wall. Wall will have to take on more of a scoring load without Beal and that could help him get that illusive second gear all great scorers seem to have. And once Beal comes back, Washington could have one of the best scoring combos in the league. Add in the reliable frontcourt of Nene and Marcin Gortat and you have a fast-paced offense that can defend at each position. The only thing this team was missing last year was a true veteran leader, and that fixed the problem right away. Paul Pierce may not be the star he once was, but he has more experience than anyone else on this team. His influence is going to be huge for last year’s top-5 pick Otto Porter Jr and this year’s pick Glen Rice Jr. who have each shown promise in the Summer League. The team still has Andre Miller and Dejuan Blair on a very solid bench that should be very useful when Washington gets into the grind of the NBA season. The Wizards may not be ready to dethrone the Cavaliers or the Bulls in the East, but they will at least make things interesting.
12. Phoenix Suns (48-34)
The Suns kept every key player from last year’s 48-win team besides Channing Frye and added a very good point guard in Isaiah Thomas. Yet the team will again be stuck looking at the playoffs from the outside. The West is just that good. Adding Isaiah Thomas to an already talented and crowded backcourt was a bit of a head-scratcher but it looks like it could be a very good move. His scoring off the bench is going to provide a lot of relief for Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. And when he comes in for one of these starters who are struggling the offense is likely to get a nice spark. Something this team is going to need against the deep West. Losing Channing Frye will hurt this team’s shooting and spacing and also the stability he offered. Frye has been on this team since the Nash-era and losing him will be weird for Phoenix fans. The team misses Marcin Gortat in the middle but with the Morris twins and Miles Plumlee, this team has plenty of size. The biggest problem for the Suns is their lack of a star scorer in their offense. While they have plenty of decent scorers, there is no one who can consistently take over the game on offense. Dragic can have a great scoring game once in a blue moon, but he is not a Carmelo Anthony-level offensive threat. Still, Jeff Hornacek has the ability to make this team even better than they were last year. He’s good enough to get this team near 50 wins, but it will take a lot to beat the teams ranked ahead of them. But like the league learned last year, you can’t count the Suns out.
11. Houston Rockets (49-33)
When Daryl Morey brought James Harden and Dwight Howard to Houston he was not expecting that this team would be stuck fighting for the eight seed. This was supposed to be a title contender, but the lack of depth and leadership has killed any hope of that. Howard is still great on defense, but terrible on offense and Harden seems to be the exact opposite. Getting rid of Chandler Parsons also isn’t going to help this team improve, as he’s taking his youth and offensive talent to in-state rival Dallas. There’s also no more Jeremy Lin and while that may not be the worst thing to happen to this team, they will miss the spark he supplied once every few games. Houston’s attempt at wooing Chris Bosh cost this team a lot in terms of respect and actual NBA players. Still this team has enough talent to make the playoffs and scare any team they play. Parsons may be gone, but Trevor Ariza is there and he offers a much better defensive presence. Add him with Beverley and Howard the Rockets will be a lot tougher to score on despite having Harden on the court. But the bench is not trustworthy and has no names outside of Jason Terry and Donatas Motiejunas and Jason Terry is a very old man. The starters are going to score a lot of points, but they won’t be able to handle the other offenses in Texas. At the end of the day, the Rockets are going to be good and very fun to watch, but they won’t be good enough to make a huge dent in the West.