Roundball Soundoff – 2015-16 NBA Preview

2015-16 NBA Preview

Welcome to our 2015-16 NBA preview.

In 1993, I was entering my senior year in high school and the Golden State Warriors had just traded for Chris Webber that summer. That was going to be the year when the Warriors finally stomped with the big dogs. They had their power forward for the next 12 years and things were going to be great. For some reason, I decided to write an entire NBA preview by hand that year. I had my dad make 20 copies and I handed them to my classmates who were also NBA fans. I’m sure I had Eddy Zucko read it. Now, 22 years later, I’m writing another NBA preview.

But this one won’t be about how Michael Jordan had just retired and Chris Webber and Penny Hardaway were the future. Thankfully, it won’t be by hand. And those same Warriors fans who hitched their wagon to Chris Webber are now the defending champions. What a time to be alive.

By the way, even though the Warriors won the championship, I’m still upset about Chris Webber and how his petulant ways set the franchise back 22 years. Chris Webber, get over yourself.

Rather than do a normal NBA preview where I rank each team in each division, I’m simply going to give a top 20. Even though it worked out that 10 teams came from each division, I didn’t attempt to do it that way. I just wanted the 20 best. Whoever I rank at 19, I believe is a better team than the one I rank at 20. I’ll also throw a few predictions in there.

One thing to note is that I might have a team ranked higher who I actually think will have a worse record. This is because the West is much harder than the East and thus, they’ll have a harder road and might lose more games overall.

One of my goals this year is to watch every single team in the NBA at least once for a full game. With NBA League Pass, it’s possible. In 1993, it wasn’t possible. So I really owe it to my 17 year old self to do this. Thus, I’ll also add who I’m excited to watch on League Pass. Hey, I have to pump myself up to watch some of these games right?

Without further adieu, here’s the top 20.

20. Dallas Mavericks

I considered the Sacramento Kings, Orlando Magic, Denver Nuggets, and Detroit Pistons for this spot. I think all four teams have the ability to figure it out in the second half and win some games, similar to the Utah Jazz last season. But instead, I went with an old favorite. Why would I go with a team in the dreaded Western Conference who lost out on DeAndre Jordan and signed a shooting guard who tore his Achilles tendon?

Two reasons: Dirk Nowitski and Rich Carlisle. With those guys still there, I think they eek their way to within distance of that 8th and final spot in the West, though I don’t think they’ll make the playoffs. Deron Williams should receive a shot in the ass simply by playing in front of his hometown fans, though, let’s hope they don’t ask for too many tickets. They’re going to miss Tyson Chandler for sure and Zaza Pachulia won’t make them forget about him. By the way, did you know Zaza has his own website, though I’m not sure it’s been updated in the last two years.

By the way, should we hold Chandler Parsons accountable for losing out on DeAndre Jordan? Should we take him off Jalen Rose’s champagning and campaigning all-star team?


Who I’m looking forward to watching on League Pass

Of course, it’s Dirk Nowitski. You never know how much longer he’s going to play. And it does seem that he’ll be forever underrated when it comes to the pantheon of great players. Hell, Chris Webber was ready to fight Kenny Smith in an outtake on NBA Open Court when Smith had Nowitski higher on his rankings than CWebb. Man, CWebb needs to chill out.

I now model my pick-up game after Dirk Nowitski’s one foot fadeaway. Notice that I didn’t say that I model my pick-up game after Dirk. Nope, just the fadeaway. All the space I try to create offensively is simply to get off a one-foot fadeaway.

19. Portland Trailblazers

A lot of people are down on the Trailblazers. And I’m not blaming them. When you lose three of your four best players, it’s very easy to figure that the team is simply going to tank. But I don’t think that’s going to happen. I like their young bigs. Ed Davis is completely serviceable and Noah Vonleh is 20 years old. Hell, he’s already been traded once and wasn’t alive when I wrote my NBA preview in 1993.

I’m not sure I like their wing players, but who I do like is Damian Lillard. While he struggles on defense far more than he should, I think he’s built to be the number one option on the team. Whenever you lose LaMarcus Aldridge, who is a top 10-15 player in the entire league, it’s going to hurt. But this is where Lillard has to take that leap. He’s already proven to be a clutch scorer, but now, he needs to continue to be a leader and someone becomes the man. The team is depending on him to do so.

They won 51 games last year and while I can see them losing 10 wins, I can’t see them losing 20. I think they compete for that last playoff spot in the West.

Who I’m looking forward to watching on League Pass

Of course, it’s Dame. I want to see how he treats the end of games when his team needs a bucket. He’s going to be draped by more than one guy and it could open up possibilities for teammates to get buckets. I also want to see how their young bigs play in the shadow of Aldridge. I think they may surprise folks.

18. Milwaukee Bucks

I’m lower on the Bucks than most. I think some see them as a top five seed in the East, especially after being the 6th seed last year. But there’s a few things about the Bucks that I don’t like (I’m sorry Ben Miller).

1. I’m not quite sure Jabari Parker is going to be ready to play strong minutes right away. Many think that because he’s young, he’ll be able to come back and contribute right away. But I think there’s going to be inconsistent play right away and maybe a lack of minutes until he is much healthier.

2. I am just not a fan of guys who can’t shoot and Michael Carter Williams (Holy Grail) can’t shoot. There are some interesting things about his game, but I think teams start defending him like they do Rajon Rondo. Guard against the drive and leave him wide, wide open.

3. While I love the addition of Greg Monroe offensively, teams are going to treat him as barbecue chicken defensively.

All that being said, I think they still compete for the playoffs and maybe I’m wrong on them and they are easily in the playoff situation in the East. I have them just missing out.

Who I’m looking forward to watching on League Pass

Um, Giannis? I mean just look at this dude.

Jason Kidd says he’ll play every single position this year. Talk about your swiss army knife.

17. Indiana Pacers

The Pacers’ season will go as far as Paul George will take them. If George can return to his toe-to-toe with LeBron James status as a top player, the Pacers could be sneaky good. But if he returns tentative and it takes a little while for him to get going, they could go in the opposite direction. And the Pacers have absolutely tied their season to him in this way. They shed David West and Roy Hibbert and their all-big everythang for a run at small ball. I’m sure we’ll know early on if it’s going to work or not as I don’t expect Frank Vogel to stick with something that’s not working for a long time. It’s also going to be interesting how he deals with Monta Ellis, someone who can be dynamic offensively (and sometimes frustrating as well), but is often so careless defensively.

I’m expecting a small learning curve and then for Vogel to figure out what this team is. Is George going to play well as a small-ball power forward, or will he be a little apprehensive to mix it up? Hell, LeBron doesn’t really enjoy playing the four and he is built like a tank.

Who I’m looking forward to watching on League Pass

Of course, the idea is to watch George closely to see how he comes out of the gate. But, I’m excited to watch Monta Ellis. He’s now 30 years old and has a good amount of mileage on the odometer. He’s still quick and can use his quickness, but he’s going to need to transition his game a bit as he gets older. I think he has the basketball smarts to do it. I’d also actually prefer him to be the 6th man on this team as I think that’s the future for him as he gets older.

Monta have it all.

16. Phoenix Suns

Last year was a disaster as their roster was loaded with point guards. And while I’m not sure they were left with the best possible situation as Gordon Dragic and Isaiah Thomas were traded away, they still have the guy with the best chance to turn into a star in Eric Bledsoe (though, he is in year 5 already). His fellow Kentucky Wildcat Brandon Knight will play alongside him. If you’re worried about the backcourt, which should be athletic as all hell, it’s in their shooting. Bledsoe is a subpar 3-point shooter, but Knight is upwards of 39%, so he should offset that.

But the team should be able to defend. And you always like the addition of a Tyson Chandler at center. Will Markieff Morris go off the deep end without his brother who was moved to Detroit? That’s a possibility. But I think this team is athletic enough offensively with their backcourt and good enough defensively to go toe-to-toe in the West. I have them losing out on the 8th seed to Utah, but it’s not by much, and they could easily switch positions.

Who I’m looking forward to watching on League Pass

It has to be that backcourt. But I’m looking at everything. I want to see them get after it, but I also want to see how they co-exist. How will they match-up against long teams? Will Bledsoe shoot well enough to keep defenses honest? Can you bring in Devin Booker and make it all Wildcat wings? It should be fun.

Prediction #1

Last year, two teams with 45 wins, fought tooth and nail for the last seed in the Western Conference. The New Orleans Pelicans pulled it out by beating the San Antonio Spurs in their last game of the season and they edged out the Oklahoma Thunder. However, this year, I don’t think it will take 45 wins to make the playoffs. I think the West will be more top-heavy than normal, leaving teams with near .500 records competing until the last week of the season. I think 40 or 41 wins may win the last seed in the West.

15. Utah Jazz

I’m all in on Gordon Hayward. My 14-year old son has adopted him as his favorite non-Warriors player as well as favorite white player (we’re counting Kristaps Porzingis as a Euro) in the entire league. I keyed on him in my Fantasy basketball auction and didn’t throw him into it until a lot of guys spent a lot of their money. His Jazz are even the team my avatar was drafted to (Handsome Cologne who looks like an extra on Narcos) in NBA 2K. I just wish Trevor Booker would stop shooting so much.

I’m a little afraid that everyone is so high on them as the 8th seed in the playoff team out West. They don’t have a good point guard which should mean BBQ chicken (Shaq voice) for all the great point guards in the conference. And they play more conventionally with two long bigs in Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert which could leave them vulnerable to teams going super small on them. And they lost Dante Exum, who could’ve helped in their backcourt, to injury for the season.

But you have to be excited about how they ended last year. They were a really good second half team and turned it up defensively. Gobert may not ever be great offensively, but can he be Tyson Chandler and continue to send away 3 shots a game? I think so. Maybe even better.

It’s either Phoenix or Utah for the last playoff spot in the West, but to me, it’s a coin flip. I chose Utah mostly because Hayward is probably the best overall player on both teams.

Who I’m looking forward to watching on League Pass

Take your pick. Do you want to watch Favors and Gobert play long or Hayward do his thing?

14. Boston Celtics

I’ll say this before we get into the next three teams, who are all in the East. The Celtics, Toronto Raptors, and Miami Heat are all in the same boat to me. I think the Heat are the best of the three, but they’re also the team that will depend on being healthy the most. I have them all super close.

The Celtics are the hardest to figure out because they have no true star. Their go-to is a 5’9 point guard who may very well be keyed on by the other team’s best and long defender late in games. Their best shooter might be a March Madness dandy who may not play all that much early on (RJ Hunter). And two of their best players aren’t offensive dynamos.

It’s quite the puzzle that head coach Brad Stevens will need to solve. I think relying on David Lee to help you win games may be an overestimation of David Lee, which has happened throughout his entire career. He’s not going to help on the defensive end and if his midrange jumper isn’t working, teams are just going to sag badly on everything. I’d imagine that Amir Johnson starts to get more run than Lee, though it’s not like Johnson is the most perfect player either.

I do like that they’ll have the ability to go with the hot hand (if there is one) such as Jae Crowder who played nicely for them in the playoffs. Evan Turner is also the swiss army knife and he played good minutes for them last year. Stevens will have options. And hey, if Kevin Love starts getting hot, just put in your muscle-guy Kelly Olynyk in there!

Who I’m looking forward to watching on League Pass

Their ball movement in the preseason was fun to watch, so Thomas is natural pick, though I think what I want to see mostly is Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley trying to stop other guards from getting across half court and fighting through every screen.

13. Toronto Raptors

Skinny Kyle Lowry! If there can be a MVP of the preseason, it was probably skinny Kyle. Lowry is always going to be their most important (and maybe most volatile) player. He dropped weight and seems to be ready to be the best skinny Kyle there can be. But is his supporting cast ready in the same way? DeMar DeRozen will never be efficient enough to truly be super valuable, but he can still score the necessary baskets when you need them and that is valuable. He also gets to the free throw line.

I may like DeMarre Carroll more than most, but it’s probably because I watch the Warriors most and see how valuable long guys who can do multiple things are. But they’re not the most valuable on teams who don’t know how to use them correctly. Carroll was used perfectly in Atlanta and the hope here is that he becomes the ultimate utility in Toronto. He can be a great small-ball four in bunches, but I’m not sure Toronto has the type of wings necessary to really make it work.

They have a traditional big in Jonas Valanciunas who allows them to run some conventional stuff, at least early on. But he’s not really a shot blocker and I can see him getting pulled down the stretch. He only played 26 minutes a game and doesn’t really get to the free throw line. Still, with Carroll and Lowry, I think they play as well as they did last year, though it’s probably not good enough to bump into the top three in the East.

Who I’m looking forward to watching on League Pass

Who doesn’t want to watch skinny Kyle? But I’m also super interested in how Carroll blossoms.

Skinny Kyle Lowry

Skinny Kyle!

12. Miami Heat

I really, really love their starting five. But I’d also love it even more if some of the guys on their team were a few years younger in their career. This should’ve been the post-LeBron roster if Pat Riley was able to get things near perfect last year. Health will truly be the biggest factor in how well they do. Chris Bosh missed a lot of last season with a health scare that he’s back from. And you have to account for the 20 games that Wade is going to miss.

Their bench is a mix and match of interesting veterans with Justice Winslow as a rookie who could get some major run since he’s backing up Wade. While I like Josh McRoberts and Gerald Green in spurts, if Amar’e Stoudamire plays a lot of minutes down the stretch, they may be in trouble.

How will Goran Dragic and Wade play together? Will Bosh be back to full healthy? And can Hassan Whiteside put it all together for a full season? This is an older team with a closing window. They need to win now.

Who I’m looking forward to watching on League Pass

I’m going to appreciate Chris Bosh for the terrific player that he is.

11. New Orleans Pelicans

All aboard the Anthony Davis train! How exciting is it going to be to watch this guy take it to the next level?

If I were a Pelicans fan, I’d be content knowing that I had Davis for future years and wouldn’t really care about winning it all right now. Because I’m not sure the pieces are all there yet. Jrue Holiday hasn’t truly fit. Tyreke Evans is an important piece, though he’s not the perfect player next to Davis because he has to have the ball in his hands so much. You need to see another year of good Eric Gordon in order to believe that he’s back and ready to be a possible number two guy on this team. Last year was the first time in which Gordon played back-to-back 60 plus games since his rookie and sophomore years.

But I think they have a really good guy leading the charge in Alvin Gentry. He’ll put Davis in places to continue succeeding and also be inventive. My one question is more about Davis’ health than anything else. Davis has never played more than 68 games in one season so far. In year four, they’ll need him to play just about every single one if they’re a team who can make a leap in the West. I think they’ll continue to improve, but don’t think they’re ready to crack the top five in the West.

Who I’m looking forward to watching on League Pass

Duh. Though, I do want to see how Gordon bounces back. Oddly, his three-point percentage was at a career high peak, though his overall shooting was down. He’s going to need to correct that.

Prediction #2

Even though these teams won’t be good, they will be exciting. I’m definitely watching a few games of the Minnesota Timberwolves (Andrew Wiggins), Orlando Magic (Mario Hezonja), New York Knicks (Kristaps Porzingis), and Denver Nuggets (Emmanuel Mudiay). Well, at least until the Nuggets blow it up.

But the team to watch who may be good, but also have the chance to be bad are the Sacramento Kings. Boooogiiiiieeeeeee!

10. Atlanta Hawks

It’s easy to dismiss what the Hawks did last season because of how their season ended. I don’t think most thought they were as good as their record indicated anyway. Losing DeMarre Carroll is huge and the hope is that Thabo Sefolosha can come back and help, especially defensively. Because you know what, as much as I enjoy him as one of the best bench celebrators in the league, Kent Bazemore isn’t the starting wing on a team that goes deep in the playoffs.

But I like the pedigree. They won 60 games last year, got deep into the playoffs, and brought most of their nucleus back. They added Tiago Splitter who also has that pedigree coming from San Antonio. Maybe, just maybe Tim Hardaway Jr. and Justin Holiday can help them spread the floor and whip the ball like they did last year.

I think they can be anywhere from the 2nd to 4th best team in the conference. But they’re not going to be the number one team in the East again.

Who I’m looking forward to watching on League Pass

Jeff Teague, who quietly makes this team run on all cylinders.

9. Chicago Bulls

The Bulls, much like the Golden State Warriors last year, have made a big change to their starting lineup. This one isn’t injury related, but it is related partially to keeping Joakim Noah healthy. Nikola Mirotic moves into the starting lineup, much like Draymond Green did, as power forward and Pau Gasol slides over to center. Noah goes to the bench. Offensively, it’s a dynamic change. Mirotic gives them another shooter/scorer and Gasol gets more space to manuever.

But defensively? This change may be disastrous at times on that end. But, head coach Fred Hoiberg is offensive-minded and he understands that they simply need to be better on that end. They can still bring Noah in for 25 minutes, both saving his legs a bit, and strategically creating matchups on both ends of the court. It’s going to be fun to examine that all year long.

Tony Snell also slides into the starting lineup and he’ll have to grow up quickly. He played less than 20 minutes a game last year in his rookie season. I watched Doug McDermott in summer league and they were trying him at power forward and I imagine he’ll play some there this year as well.

Who I’m looking forward to watching on League Pass

The backcourt of Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler has a little Tim Hardaway and Latrell Sprewell to it. When Hardaway was hurt in 1994, Sprewell came into his own. When Hardaway came back, they didn’t gel like they were supposed to. The hope here is that Rose and Butler co-exist and do what Hardaway and Spree couldn’t.

Derrick and Jimmy

Derrick and Jimmy

8. Washington Wizards

Here’s a wrinkle: I have the Wizards ahead of the Bulls and the Hawks. Now, I think all teams will be close together all season long. But if there’s a team that can make that move, I do think it’s the Wizards. They lost Paul Pierce who was a key cog, especially at the end of games. But they signed the perfect replacement for him in Jared Dudley. While they lose Pierce’s leadership, Dudley’s a true professional who will give them a lot of what Pierce did offensively. And they’ll still be able to stretch teams out with him at the four.

What they’re counting on is for John Wall and Bradley Beal to continue improving. They can offset Pierce even more by doing so. More on that in a bit.

They’re experimenting with Kris Humphries spreading it out on offense (and shooting threes) while still being able to gobble up rebounds defensively. And we’ll see if Otto Porter can play. He’s going to need to with everyone and their mother talking about Kevin Durant’s impending free agency.

Who I’m looking forward to watching on League Pass

Specifically, I’m looking to see if John Wall is taking the fines for turnovers seriously. He averaged nearly four a game last year and they want him to be more careful. Overall, I think it’s the right idea, but you don’t want him to start playing scared either.

Prediction #3

John Wall makes the leap. I think he is the next young player to take his game to the next level. There were instances last year where he looked upper echelon. He makes that jump this year.

7. Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies are the one team resistant to the pace and space and small-ball phenomenon. In fact, their one glaring hole for years has been that consistent deep shooter. But they don’t seem to be all that worried. They brought in Matt Barnes to hopefully help in that area, but he’s really only a 34% career shooter from deep.

Instead, they doubled down on what they do best. They signed Brandan Wright to replace Kosta Koufos.

I’d hate to say that we’re near the end of the Grizzlies’ run because when they are on their game, it is excellent basketball, but they’re one of the older teams in the league. Tony Allen, Matt Barnes, Vince Carter, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, and Courtney Lee are all at least 30 years of age. And Mike Conley is already 28. The Grizzlies, as they are currently constructed, are running out of time.

But you know what, they’re still going to be good. I’m just not sure how they beat any of the teams in front of them.

Who I’m looking forward to watching on League Pass

Marc Gasol had his best season of his career last year, statistically. He also played in 81 games after just playing in 59 the season before. With the league trending toward small ball, it’s still a joy to see one of the best centers in the league do his thing.

6. Cleveland Cavaliers

This is the highest I have an Eastern Conference team ranked. I do think this is the right pick to represent the East in the NBA Finals. They are definitely the most talented team with the best player in the conference. LeBron James has been in the finals since his first year in Miami and I don’t see a reason for that to change.

At some point, you have to start worrying about how many games LeBron is playing each year and how to keep him fresh, but that’s not now. (That would be at least 20 extra games in the last 5 seasons thanks to Finals runs).

There are things not to like about this team. Outside of Kevin Love, they don’t have true sharp shooters on the team. Kyrie Irving, JR Smith, and Mo Williams can all get hot and shoot deep, but neither is a true spot-up. Irving may be getting there though. They can play overly big and slow with Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson and sometimes, that’s to their detriment. And there are times when James Jones and Richard Jefferson have to play. This is 2015.

Flaws and all, they’re still talented. It’s up to David Blatt (and probably Coach LeBron) to put the pieces together. Last year’s run was no fluke. Down the stretch, they played near perfect ball.

Who I’m looking forward to watching on League Pass

Nope, it’s not LeBron. And it’s not Kyrie either. I want to see how Kevin Love fits in with this team. He seemed like he was on the outside looking in at times last year, but it’s necessary that he gets to do Kevin Love things.

Prediction #4

I believe the top five teams in the Western Conference will all win at least 58 games. In 1997-98, there were five teams in the entire league who won at least 58 games, but going back to 1980 (that’s as far back as I researched), there hasn’t been a season in which 5 teams in the same conference all won 58 games. Yes, I think the West is going to be super top heavy with the Spurs, Thunder, Clippers, Rockets, and Warriors all winning at least 58 games.

5. San Antonio Spurs

Most are probably surprised at this ranking for the Spurs. They added LaMarcus Aldridge to an already stacked team, with Kawhi Leonard coming into his prime. So why only fifth here?

I think their backcourt will be their downfall. Now, the fifth best team in the NBA is still a really excellent team. You’ll notice that I have them ranked higher than the Cavaliers, meaning if they met in the finals, I think the Spurs would still win. Tony Parker is trending downward in just about every meaningful statistical category and top point guards in the West have already passed him by and younger point guards are starting to catch him. And it gets worse for Ginobili.

But I’m going to contradict myself here slightly. Depending on how fresh Pop can keep Parker and Ginobili, they could very well swing the West. But did a good job with that last year and it didn’t quite work. If Parker and Manu can be better than last year, they very well may be a top two rather than a top five team. But when you do predictions, you can’t overlook health and trends. You can’t say, “Well, if everyone is healthy,” because it doesn’t usually work that way. And they’re going to miss Tiago Splitter and Aron Baynes at some point right?

All that being said, how fun is it going to be to watch Kawhi ballhawk, LMA nail wide open jumpers, and Duncan continue to age so gracefully.

Who I’m looking forward to watching on League Pass

Who Kawhi Leonard really is, is Scottie Pippen in disguise. There might not be a player in the league on the wing who can control the outcomes as much as Leonard can. Don’t throw it in his vicinity and don’t come near him and dribble in front of him or it’s going the other way for a dunk.

4. Oklahoma City Thunder

This is tough because if I believe what I just said above about having to make predictions based on the possibility of injuries and trends, then ranking the Thunder here is questionable. Why? Well, how many games is Kevin Durant going to miss? How many games is Russell Westbrook going to miss? Of course, I’m less worried about Russ than I am KD, but Russ plays so dang hard that injuries are often inevitable.

But what have we learned about foot injuries like the one that KD sustained? They are sometimes misdiagnosed and the timetable is up and down. Why am I confident that we’ll see the KD we’re used to seeing? Well, I trust Stephania Bell.

I can’t say that I understand completely what she’s saying, but the main part of her analysis is that his last surgery should clear up the issues he had after the other surgeries. Stephania might be the smartest person at ESPN, so thus, I listen to her.

Where are their issues as a team? They really haven’t solved the off-guard spot. Andre Roberson is a defensive player. Anthony Morrow is a 3-point specialist. Put them together and you probably have the perfect off-guard for their team. Dion Waiters doesn’t seem like a true fit for them, but he might not be a true fit for most good teams. They paid a lot of money for Enes Kanter and again, if you were to merge him with Steven Adams, together, they’d make a helluva big, but separate, they’re not as well rounded as you’d like them to be. Adams could be an Andrew Bogut Jr., though. He should get the majority of the minutes just for his ability to piss off the other team.

One last thing about these guys: KD is a free agent after this year and Westbrook is after next. The front office (new head coach Billy Donovan included) is sort of auditioning for Durant and Westbrook to stick around. Zach Lowe believes that KD signs a one-year extension, hitting the market at the same time as Westbrook and that seems to make some sense. But really, this is on OKC the organization to make sure these guys stick around. If not, how quickly does one of the coolest basketball towns lose their, well thunder?

Who I’m looking forward to watching on League Pass

KD, all day.

Prediction #5

Blake Griffin will make a run at the MVP trophy. Soon, the Clippers will become Blake Griffin’s team rather than Chris Paul’s team. I’m not sure it’s this year, but the time is coming.

MVP rankings for 2015-16: 1. Kevin Durant 2. Stephen Curry 3. Blake Griffin 4. LeBron James 5. John Wall

(Super MVP sleeper? Kawhi Leonard)

3. Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers’ biggest deficiency on paper last year was their bench. But, what their actual biggest deficiency might be is an inability to close out games. With this specific roster, they’ve lost games in the playoffs down the stretch that they should’ve won, including last year’s full-on collapse against the Houston Rockets. What’s the reason? Is it a roster thing? Is it a leadership thing? Are they not prepared to handle tough situations? It’s a hard thing to figure out and you’ll continue picking against them in the playoffs until they can overcome it.

But I really like this team. They won the DeAndre Jordan battle even if his original word wasn’t worth a damn. In one sense, Jordan should play where he’s most happy and going back on his word ultimately is the right move for his future. But in another, the wishy washiness doesn’t bode well for what I discussed in the above paragraph.

Paul and Griffin are superstars and you need at least two of them to contend for that ultimate prize. I think their addition of Paul Pierce was the right kind of move that can get you closer to your goal. Though, how are Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson going to fit in? This is where having Doc Rivers helps. Could he be the Lance Stephenson whisperer?

Ultimately, I think the only thing that holds back the Clippers is the Clippers. They have everything you need to be a champion. But if they don’t do it soon, who gets the blame?

Who I’m looking forward to watching on League Pass

I’m really excited to see how Paul Pierce blends in with these guys and how soon he takes over a lot of the leadership responsibilities.

2. Houston Rockets

And I’m the Franchise like the Houston Rockets, Yao Ming – Jay Z

As a Warriors fan, I desperately wanted the Clippers to close out the Rockets so that the Warriors could avenge their loss to the Clippers the previous year in the playoffs. But it didn’t happen like I described above.

But secretly, I didn’t want to face James Harden. I was convinced the Warriors were an overall better team than the Rockets, but James Harden provided the hardest match for them outside of LeBron James. There are some guys who are just unguardable. Harden is one. Now, because of how well the Warriors swarm, Harden had to do everything and eventually, they wore him down. But now, he has help.

Not everyone was impressed with the Rockets pickup of Ty Lawson and I can see why. He supposedly has issues with alcohol and that should be a concern. But he had near All-Star numbers last year playing for a bad team. As long as he’s average Ty Lawson, he should be a major improvement over Patrick Beverly. Kevin McHale will have to figure out the ball handling situation as Harden’s best work is when he has the basketball in his hands. And Trevor Ariza is still a really good basketball player.

On this team, Dwight Howard is no longer a big scorer. But he still rebounds like a madman (up to 14 per game in the playoffs). Even though doesn’t block shots as much as he used to, the real concern with him is health. In two out of his last four seasons, he’s played less than 55 games in the regular season.

They have young exciting bigs and again, McHale will have to figure out who to use and when. I think the Rockets can be just as good or even better than last year.

Who I’m looking forward to watching on League Pass

James Harden is going to be a Hall Of Famer. His game can be frustrating if you’re a fan of the other team because of how he gets to the free throw line, but it is pretty masterful.

Prediction #6

The Warriors will repeat as champions. Some may think repeating is hard, but the NBA’s top teams often repeat. Go back to the early NBA and the Minneapolis Lakers and Boston Celtics repeated more than once. It didn’t happen in the 70s, but from 1987 to 1999, it was nothing but repeat champions. Most recently, the Lakers and Heat were repeat champions. When teams figure it out, they really figure it out. I think the Warriors have figured it out.

1. Golden State Warriors

Sir CharlesJust about every relevant team in the West made championship aspiring additions. The Rockets added Lawson. The Clippers added Pierce and bench depth. The Spurs made the biggest splash with LMA. And the Thunder added a new head coach.

What did the Warriors do? Well, for one, they brought everyone back. And secondly, they added Jason Thompson after trading away David Lee. Thompson is a much better fit for the current Warriors’ structure and he doesn’t have to play a lot of minutes to be able to help the team.

For once, the Warriors are being hunted and will have to learn how to take everyone’s best. That means less off nights from Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes. That means Festus Ezeli will have to be far more consistent in backing up Andrew Bogut. You’re getting everyone’s best game.

But thankfully, the Warriors have Steph Curry the giant killer. As long as he’s on the basketball court, they have a chance to win. Will they match the 67 wins they achieved last year? Probably not, just because the top teams are so much better. But I’m not going to be surprised if they go 60-22 and run the table again.

Who I’m looking forward to watching on League Pass

They’re my local team so I don’t have to watch them on League Pass. But when I watch, there are a bunch of different guys to follow. The obvious one is Steph. I tell my kids to play like Draymond. But the guy I like watching best is Andre Iguodala. He might be the smartest player on the entire team.

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