2016/17 NBA Season Preview

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Following the stunning and unprecedented capitulation by the Golden State Warriors in the NBA finals, many fans view the 2016/17 season as merely an arms race between two superpower teams: The defending World Champion Cleveland Cavaliers (who ever thought we’d be saying that!) and the record setting Golden State Warriors who look unbeatable on paper with the addition of Kevin Durant. But is this a two-team league? Not by any stretch of the imagination. So what are we waiting for? Let’s rank every team in this NBA Season Preview, starting at the top:

1.Cleveland Cavaliers

Cavaliers Season Preview

The defending world champs get this position almost by default. A lot of fans are expecting huge things from the Warriors with Durant, but the Cavs did improve their roster by adding shooting (Mike Dunleavy Jr) and rebounding (Chris Anderson) without losing much. It’s true, cheap-shot king cult-hero Matthew Dellavedova is gone, but he wasn’t even in the rotation during the finals during the Cavs surge in the last 3 games. But is that enough to warrant the top spot over Golden State? No. But despite the incredible performance by Lebron and Irving in the championship round, we haven’t seen their big 3 truly connect. I expect Kevin Love to finally get comfortable in his role, and Irving to emerge as a legitimate MVP candidate.

2. Golden State Warriors

Golden State Warriors Season preview

I made the argument recently on the iStillLoveThisGame Facebook page that the Warriors, despite adding Durant, have a weaker roster than last season. Their biggest vulnerabilities last season were defensive rebounding, rim protection, and perimeter defense, The addition of Kevin Durant gives them an incredibly potent offensive squad, but it does absolutely nothing to help those weaknesses that were painfully exposed in the playoffs. What makes it worse is the loss of Bogut (their best rebounder and shot-blocker) was allowed to walk to make way for Durant. This Warriors team will blow weaker teams out of the water, but when they face bigger squads that are capable of hurting them in the paint, the Warriors can do very little to slow them down.

And now that I’ve said that, watch them go 77-5 in the regular season and 16-1 in the playoffs.

3. San Antonio Spurs

spurs

It kind sounds sacrilegious to say the Spurs will be better without Tim Duncan, but last season, Duncan wasn’t even a shell of his former self last season; he was more of a ghost. Pau Gasol brings championship experience, along with good rebounding and rim protection, and a variety of offensive skills to the Spurs. His outside shot should be a perfect compliment to LaMarcus Aldridge in high-low situations. Plus he’ll be able to play pick-pop with Parker or Mills. He’s a very underrated addition. But there are some grumblings in the Spurs organisation regarding Aldridge’s production last season. Don’t read too much into it. The Spurs have a culture of players (both stars and role-players) over-achieving. That won’t change with Aldridge, but the Spurs are at a genuine crossroad in the direction of their franchise. Parker and Ginobolli are slowing down significantly, so expect more offensive responsibilities from Leonard and Mills. Should those guys step up, they’ll remain contenders. But if they don’t, we could see a fairly dramatic rebuilding process.

4. Los Angeles Clippers

clippers season preview

Yeah yeah, I know; it’s the Clippers. Over the last few seasons it’s become must-watch TV to see how they become a trainwreck in the playoffs. But for the first-time since, well, forever, I’ll make excuses for them. Up 2-1 on Portland, the Clippers lost both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin in game 4, and went on to drop the next 3 straight games. No team in NBA history could have recovered from that, so yeah, they get a pass. And given how OKC and Cleveland punished the Warriors inside, Griffin and Jordan could have really given Golden State a run for their money. I think they’ll realise what a wasted opportunity last season was (and the previous two playoff losses) and we’ll finally see a focused Clippers team. If that happens, they can contend with any team in the league.

5. Boston Celtics

celtics

At what point do we give Danny Ainge credit for being an incredible basketball mind? He brought in Garnett and Ray Allen to play alongside Paul Pierce last decade (a move that resulted in two finals appearances and a championship), and has now been the architect of one of the more impressive rebuilding jobs in recent history. His most recent move was the signing of Al Horford, and that was nothing short of a home-run. Horford, despite being undersized, is known for making his teammates better on both sides of the ball and he has the passing ability along with the vision to have an offense ran through him. This is perfect because their point guard, Isaiah Thomas, is more of a scorer than a traditional point. If this team clicks, they can really challenge Cleveland in the East.

6. Portland Trail Blazers

blazers

Had I had a vote in last year’s MVP, I would have given very strong consideration to Damian Lillard. Following Aldridge’s decision to go to San Antonio, The Blazers completely rebuilt their roster and Lillard was the only remaining starter. His leadership and ability to distribute the ball or go into scoring mode saw Portland emerge as a surprise team in the West. Now, with some experience and confidence behind them, The Blazers are poised to take the next step and become contenders. The only problem is how will they respond to such expectations?

7. Oklahoma City Thunder

thunder

No Durant? No worries. I’m serious. Everyone talks about the “sacrifices” Durant went through playing with Westbrook, but have we ever stopped to think that maybe it was Durant who was holding this team back? Durant was/is a scorer only; he doesn’t create for anyone else. He’s also an enigma in his aggression, and that often left Westbrook to assume that responsibility. Like Lillard last year, let’s see how Westbrook responds with the team completely centered around him. My money is on him to be the MVP this season.

8. Indiana Pacers

pacers

Most people mocked Larry Bird for not resigning Frank Vogel, but I understood it completely. Bird has a very specific vision for this team, and Vogel simply does not fit into the equation. The additions of Thaddeus Young, Al Jefferson, and Jeff Teague are all massive, and suddenly Paul George has some veteran firepower around him. If Indiana stays healthy, nobody will want a piece of them.

9. Utah Jazz

They turned heads last season, and with Dante Exum returning along with the addition of George Hill and Joe Johnson to go along with Gordon Haywood, their perimeter game will be competitive. But I’m excited to see how their inside players (Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert) emerge in a league that seems to be infatuated by perimeter scorers. The Jazz could do some real damage here.

10. New York Knicks

knicks

What! Yep. The Knicks. Yes, yes, I know, Derrick Rose has bad knees. Don’t email me and remind me. But you’re lining up Rose (bad knees and all) with Courtney Lee, Porzingas, and Carmelo (who showed incredible leadership last season). On paper it sounds good, but there are question marks. Will New York be the safe-space that Hippy Joakim Noah needs to find his confidence again? Is Brandon Jennings going to be able to run this team if Rose goes down? Will Hornicek be able to keep these veterans in check? This team could finish anywhere from missing the playoffs to making the conference finals.

11. Washington Wizards

wizards

When healthy, the Wizards have one of the top 3 backcourts in the league with Wall and Beale; but health remains a legitimate concern. It came down to this team or Toronto, and yeah, the Raptors made the conference finals last year, but boy did they look shaky. Give me this backcourt over the Raptors’ any day of the week.\

12. Minnesota Timberwolves

twolves

Yep, they were horrible last year. But don’t you think that the passing of Flip Saunders had a pretty big impact on such a young squad? Wiggins and Towns look to be a unique duo, and there is no question the talent is there for them to be a competitive team with just those guys alone. I think they’re ready to take the next step (or 10) with Thibbs creating a defensive identity.

13. Toronto Raptors

As mentioned earlier, yes, they were in the conference finals. But it took them two 7-game series to get there (one against a severely flawed Pacers’ roster outside of Paul George, and one against an injury depleted Heat squad who really only had Wade). The East has gotten significantly better, and I think the Raptors will be lucky to be competitive in the first round.

14. Detroit Pistons

pistons

In the entire Eastern Conference, it was Detroit that played Cleveland the best despite getting swept. But at some point, their best player (Andre Drummond) has to do something to not be such a liability at the foul line. They have good depth with a great coach, and they’ll make the playoffs, but unless if they get a more consistent scorer in the half court, this is where they’ll stay.

15. Charlotte Hornets

hornets

This team surprised the hell out of me last season, and with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist returning, they should be much better defensively. They have lost some veterans in Lin and Jefferson, but they still have Kemba Walker (who in my opinion, is the most underrated player in the league. Like Detroit, they are still one big-time scorer in the half court away from truly competing, but they really aren’t that far off.

16. Memphis Grizzlies

grizzlies

Mike Conley for 30 mil a season? Geeze! No wonder Kwame Brown wants back into the league. This Grizzlies team has some warhorses, but their window has closed. They can be competitive against any team, just don’t expect them to do it on a consistent basis.

17. New Orleans Pelicans

pelicans

I understand the skepticism when it comes to Anthony Davis and injuries, but when he is healthy, he’s a top 5 player in the NBA. It’s just that simple. But what really undid them last season was replacing Monty Williams with Alvin Gentry, along with the injuries obviously. They’re still more than capable of making the playoffs though, but perhaps they should consider hacking into the emails of the Phoenix Suns Training staff…

18. Atlanta Hawks

hawks

Losing Teague hurts, but in order to see how good Dennis Schroder can be, he had to go. Dwight Howard is still an uncertainty, which is incredible when you take into account how long he’s been in the NBA for. Keep in mind though that this Hawks roster is made up very similar to the one that Howard took to the finals in Orlando. It could get interesting in Atlanta if they come out of the gates early.

19. Houston Rockets

rockets

I don’t even know what to say here. Why don’t they just have James Harden play all 5 positions and make everyone happy? And by everyone, I mean James Harden, because he’ll take ALL the shots. Ryan Anderson will spread the floor with his shooting, but F.F.S., have they completely lost their mind? There is another side of the ball called defense which has been completely wiped out this off-season. Insane. But it’ll be fun to watch.

20. Chicago Bulls

bulls

Speaking of train-wrecks, remember when Chicago fired Thibbs because they wanted to increase the tempo? Then they get rid of Rose, and bring in ball-dominant half-court players such as Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. LOL. Wade won’t last a season here, and will probably end up in Cleveland and the Cavs vs Warriors rematch will be the nWo vs DX feud that we never got during the attitude era.

21. Dallas Mavericks

mavs

Everyone is talking about how Dirk Nowitzki and Deron Williams are nowhere near the players they once were, but they’re forgetting the fact that this team still has Wesley Matthews and just added Harrison Barnes. These guys could easily emerge as a formidable duo on the perimeter. They won’t go anywhere though, and it’ll be sweet to watch Mark Cuban confused as his team sits in mediocrity for the next 5 seasons.

22. Milwaukee Bucks

Shooting and spacing are such vital pieces of today’s game, and the Bucks have none of that. What they do have, however, are a lot of young players that many teams could use. Expect quite a few trades between now and this time next year.

23. Denver Nuggets

The best thing this team did this off-season was nothing at all. They didn’t go out there and sign washed up free agents like the Lakers. Instead, they continued to rebuild via the draft. What they do with Faried and Gallinari will be worth keeping an eye on though. Both those guys could help a team become a contender.

24. Phoenix Suns

suns

So much talent with Devin Booker, Bledsloe, Lin, etc; but no real idea of what to do with it. They’re probably about 3 years away from making any real noise.

25. Sacramento Kings

kings

It’s hard to get my head around the fact that the Kings have arguably the best big-man in basketball, but are ranked 25. This roster is an absolute mess, and counters everything that Cousins does well. They can’t even rebuild around him, it’s that bad. They need to blow this whole thing up and start fresh. If you were Sacramento, would you offer Cousins for Klay Thompson? If you were Golden State, would you say no?

26. Los Angeles Lakers

lakers

I love their young core of Russell, Randle, and Ingram (especially if they play him at the 2 early on). But I hate the signings of Mozgov and Deng. Let your future develop with Luke Walton guiding them rather than going for the short term fixes all the time.

27. Orlando Magic

magic

Talk about logjams at one position (Jeff Green, Bismack Biyombo, Nikola Vucevic, Serge Ibaka), but they do have Aaron Gordon. I still don’t know why they gave up on Oladipo, but hey, I trust the Magic with their proven history of making excellent trades and free-agency moves (Shaq, Penny, Ben Wallace, T-Mac, Dwight Howard, etc.)

28. Brooklyn Nets

I like their signing of Jeremy Lin. I really do. But that’s it.

29. Miami Heat

heat

As good as he is defensively (not on the ball, but protecting the rim), any team with Hassan Whiteside as their second option offensively is headed for a disaster. They would be the worst team in the league if it wasn’t for…

30. Philadelphia 76ers

76ers

If you’re having a bad day, check out the 76ers roster and remember that somewhere (probably not in Philly, though) there is a fan of this team.