NBA Season Preview
By Tarun Sathish
The Cavs are the clear favorite in the East, but how healthy will they be this year? Kyrie Irving (knee) might not be back until January, Kevin Love is still recovering from his shoulder dislocation, and Iman Shumpert will miss some time early on as well. This is still the most talented team in the East, mainly because of LeBron James, so I’d imagine this team coasts through the regular season while giving LeBron as much rest as possible so that they are healthy for the playoffs.
Record prediction: 54-28
After back to back second round outs, the Wizards seem ready to take a leap forward. Coach Randy Wittman changed the offensive strategy completely during the playoffs, changing from tons of mid range jumpers to emphasizing threes, which directly led to the Wizards playing great basketball in the postseason. This could be the year Washington breaks through in the East. John Wall is a legitimate superstar, and Bradley Beal showed flashes that give reason to believe he’s ready to break out into a strong shooting guard. Not to mention that Otto Porter might have developed into a real starting forward.
Record Prediction: 51-50
The Hawks shocked the league last year, winning 60 games, but fizzled out in the playoffs after some key injuries. While they lost wing Demarre Carrol, they gained a good center in Tiago Splitter, and Thabo Sefolosha will be healthy again after missing the playoffs last year. This team still has a roster full of talent, a great coach, and a scheme that elevates the talent to create open shots. While the team is often criticized for not having a superstar, they do have four legitimate all stars (two of whom are borderline all-NBA players) and should still be a strong team in 2016
Record Prediction: 50-32
After firing Tom Thiboedeau last summer to hire Fred Hoiberg, the Bulls might be a drastically changed team this year. Hoiberg will lead a different offensive scheme, and likely won’t play his stars for as many minutes, which often led to Chicago being a broken down team come playoff time in the past. Health will be the main question for the Bulls again, with Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose having real durability concerns, not to mention Pau Gasol being yet another year older. Luckily they do have depth, and Jimmy Butler has began blossoming into a superstar.
Record Prediction: 48-34
The Heat are the obvious choice to be much better this season than last. Chris Bosh is healthy after a heart scare last season, Goran Dragic will get to play with the healthy Heat instead of the banged up version, and mid season discovery Hassan Whiteside will be part of the roster from day one. There’s no reason to have injury concerns about Bosh or Dragic, or rookie Justise Winslow, but Dwyane Wade will always miss about 20 games for a combination of rest and injury. I imagine this team will focus more on staying healthy than regular season wins.
Record Prediction: 48-34
The Raptors stumbled down the stretch last year, getting swept in the first round of the playoffs, and left a bad taste in most mouths. But adding Demarre Carrol is a big move, Kyle Lowry has gotten into better shape, and DeMar DeRozan should be healthy all year. It’s hard to see this team being any worse than last year, but it’s also unclear if they will be significantly better.
Record Prediction: 47-35
The Celtics were secretly a good team after the trade deadline last year, and have added more to their front court with Amir Johnson and David Lee. Marcus Smart should be better this year after having a rough start to his rookie year due to injuries, and another year in coach Brad Stevens’ scheme should make the offense more efficient. Isaiah Thomas is a killer sixth man as well, and this team may be better than expected.
Record Prediction: 45-37
After a hot start to last year, the Bucks started to fall off after the trade deadline. The acquisition of Michael Carter-Williams hurt the offense significantly, while also not improving the defense at all. They also lost key veteran Jared Dudley. However, the Bucks will get Jabari Parker back, and they added Greg Monroe to their front court, plus Giannis Antetokounmpo should continue to grow as a player.
Record Prediction: 43-39
Every year there is a young team that upgrades coaches, and drastically improves. Last year it was the Jazz, and it feels like this year it’s Orlando. Going from Jacque Vaughn to Scott Skiles is a huge jump, plus it’s fair to imagine almost every player on the roster should improve as well. Victor Oladipo could become an all-star this year, second year players Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon should progress, and rookie Mario Herzonja might be the massive offensive spark plug the team needs.
Record Prediction: 42-40
Losing Greg Monroe may hurt, but Stan Van Gundy is still a great coach who will keep developing the young talent on the roster. Rookie Stanley Johnson should help the wing, while Andre Drummond keeps growing into a strong center. Reggie Jackson had an up and down season after coming over in a trade last year, but he finished strong.
Record Prediction: 37-45
Paul George being back will be huge for the Pacers, but Roy Hibbert’s defense and David West will be tough to replace. Rookie Myles Turner certainly won’t be able to replicate Hibberts’ play, and it’s unclear how well Monta Ellis will play in Frank Vogel’s system. The Pacers will still be a competitive team, but it’s hard to say if their record will be strong.
Record Prediction: 34-48
New York Knicks:
The Knicks managed to add some actual NBA players to their roster over the summer, so by default they should be much better than they were last season. The elephant in the room will be if they trade Carmelo Anthony at some point this season (I think they will) to clear some cap space and add more depth. While the team should be stronger, they are likely still far from being a good squad, lacking much depth or above average talent.
Record Prediction: 32-50
With stud defensive wing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist likely out for the season with a shoulder injury, the Hornets are suddenly very weak. It’s still unclear if Kemba Walker can be an above average point guard, they have a lack of outside shooting, and their forward rotation is very weak. The Hornets could be the surprise awful team this year, but I think Steve Clifford is a good enough coach to keep them out of the basement.
Record Prediction: 26-56
The 76ers are still tanking, but they have some talent on the roster now and a really good coach in Brett Brown. Nerlens Noel is a legitimately good forward, and the pace and space Philly offense keeps creating open looks that occasionally will go in despite the Sixers’ lack of talent. A trade for Nik Stauskas was a great buy low move on a young player, and Jahlil Okafor will likely become a very good offensive big in a few years.
Record Prediction: 20-62
It’s hard to find something to get excited about for the Nets this year. Joe Johnson is actually still a pretty good player, but this team is a Brook Lopez injury away from being completely horrible. They lack depth and scoring outside of those two players.
Record Prediction: 17-65
Golden State Warriors:
After putting together one of the all time great seasons last year, Golden State brings back the same roster (except for David Lee, who barely played) for this year. Odds are they won’t have as great luck with avoiding injuries this year, but it might not even matter (Coach Steve Kerr also is recovering from an offseason health scare and it’s unclear when he will return to the sideline). Despite all of these potential concerns, they are still the most talented team in the league and play extremely well together. It’s hard to not see this team being the best in the regular season again.
Record Prediction: 60-22
Lost in all the noise of the offseason is how fantastic this Houston roster is. Not only do they have a star in James Harden (and hopefully a healthy Dwight Howard), they have an absurd amount of depth, and just added a star in Ty Lawson to be their 6th man. Not only is this roster loaded, they have the ability to make another move to bring in another piece. This team was secretly strong defensively last season, but they might also be a great offense again now that some of the load has been taken off of James Harden’s shoulders.
Record Prediction: 58-24
Oklahoma City Thunder:
Kevin Durant is hopefully healthy. Serge Ibaka is hopefully healthy. Russell Westbrook is hopefully healthy. If those three things happen, this team is as good as any in the league. The Thunder also replaced coach Scott Brooks, who had done poorly, with Billy Donavan who seems to be putting in a much better offensive gameplan. There are still some weaknesses in the back end of the rotation, but when you have two of the five best players in the league, it might not even matter.
Record Prediction: 58-24
Los Angeles Clippers:
The biggest issue the Clippers faced last season was a lack of depth, but that’s been solved for this year. Blake Griffin may be the most underrated player in the league, and he put together an excellent season last year, and Chris Paul is still great. This team should be a better version of last year’s squad, which should be horrifying for the rest of the league.
Record Prediction: 55-27
New Orleans Pelicans:
The coaching on this team will improve drastically, going from Monty Williams to Alvin Gentry, but lost in the shuffle is the addition of Darren Ehrman as a defensive coach, which should make the Pelicans defense much stronger. If Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday are healthy, this team is really good, but there are already questions about Jrue’s ability to stay healthy all year. Then again, Anthony Davis is so out of this world fantastic, that it may not be that big a loss.
Record Prediction: 53-29
San Antonio Spurs:
The Spurs won the offseason with the addition of LaMarcus Aldridge, and being able to keep both Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard. The talent on this team is insane, but I’m not as high on this team as others because durability became an issue last year. Surprisingly, it wasn’t a problem for 39 year-old Tim Duncan, who remains an All-NBA caliber player, but for Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. If Parker is injured, this team’s championship hopes take a drastic hit, despite the talent elsewhere. I’d guess that Greg Popovich makes sure to give all his stars plenty of rest to keep them as healthy as possible this year.
Record Prediction: 52-30
This could be the last real run for the grit n’ grind Grizzlies, with Zach Randolph’s free agency soon to come. Mike Conley is a free agent soon as well, and the team collectively is another year older. However, old or not, they are still excellent defensively, and when healthy the offense is at least good enough. Remember, this team seriously challenged Golden State in the playoffs last year. They’re still pretty good.
Record Prediction: 50-32
Changing coaches last season was a godsend for Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors, who have grown into legit stars. But the biggest move was trading Enes Kanter away, which slid Rudy Gobert into the starting lineup, and turned the Jazz into a historically great defense. Gobert will be a favorite for defensive player of the year, while Hayward will fight for an all-star bid, and this Utah team could ride a great defense into the playoffs.
Record Prediction: 47-35
The Suns roster has changed a lot in the last eight months, but the one they have currently is a fairly good one. Tyson Chandler will be huge for the defense, and there still are a lot of talented pieces here, not just Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight, but also Markieff Morris, PJ Tucker, and TJ Warren. The question is if this collection will be good enough to be in a playoff race in the loaded West.
Record Prediction: 41-41
Poor Dallas, but this just doesn’t feel like their year. Dirk Nowitzki is another year older, they lost Tyson Chandler, both Chandler Parsons (knee) and Wesley Matthews (Achilles) are coming off of major injuries, and Monta Ellis left in free agency. I’m not sure if this team has any real talent on it, and Rick Carlisle’s brilliant coaching can only salvage a season so much.
Record Prediction: 39-43
Denver completely fell apart last season, culminating in a pregame huddle with the cheer “6 more weeks”. After the firing of coach Brian Shaw and the trade of Ty Lawson, this team does have a fair amount of real talent and a solid new coach in Mike Malone. Danillo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler are healthy and really good, Emmanuel Mudiay could be a stud rookie point guard, and Jursuf Nurkic might take a huge leap this season.
Record Prediction: 36-46
DeMarcus Cousins is an absolute beast, and there is some talent on the roster around him. Rudy Gay is still really good, Rajon Rondo might still have something left, George Karl is a good coach…but there are so many internal issues here that it’s hard to buy in. I still think Cousins may get traded midseason, because there just seems to be too much conflict on this team to really have major success.
Record Prediction: 30-52
Los Angeles Lakers:
The Lakers have slowly added talent to the roster. Julius Randle is essentially a rookie – he only played one game before breaking his leg last year. Jordan Clarkson was a steal in the draft last year, and they’ve now added DeAngelo Russell in this year’s draft in addition to signing Roy Hibbert in free agency to anchor the defense. It’s hard to imagine Kobe Bryant staying healthy, and it’s tough to see how this offense works with so many guards who need the ball, but at least the vision is now there for a future Lakers team.
Record Prediction: 25-57
Portland Trail Blazers:
The Trail Blazers lost four of their starters in free agency, and even with moves of their own, they have now downgraded at every position except starting point guard, where they have their star, Damian Lillard. Portland played their starting lineup more minutes than almost any other team in the league, so losing four pieces is a massive blow. Terry Stotts is a good coach, and Lillard is a very good player, but there’s only so much they can do to save this season.
Record Prediction: 23-59
The good news for Minnesota is that their young talent looks to become a great core down the road. Andrew Wiggins is already showing flashes of the great defender he can become, Karl Anthony Towns might be an absolute monster, Ricky Rubio is still just 25 years old, and Zach Lavine is growing his game. However, this core is still young, and the rest of the roster still weak. They are still a year or two away from being a great team. Losing Coach Flip Saunders to cancer earlier this season (RIP Flip) won’t help either, but the future is bright.
Record Prediction: 20-62