Check out my Eastern Conference Rankings here.
Young teams that might be good some day
15) Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers have the potential to be a good team a couple of years from now due to their solid young core: D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle. They also have cap space to spend next season. I’m not sure why they signed Timofey Mozgov to a 4-year $60 million deal, but hey, maybe his slow paced game will attract Russell Westbrook.
14) Phoenix Suns
The duo of Bledsoe and Knight is a good thing for this team, they just simply can’t stay healthy. Even if these guys play 82 games apiece, this team is too raw to sniff the playoffs.
Tyson Chandler is coming back healthy, but he has no place on this team with all the developing pieces. Coach Earl Watson might roll with Alex Len over Chandler as the season progresses.
The Suns should trade Bledsoe for multiple pieces and build for the future. I know Bledsoe is still young, but Phoenix is not winning any time soon; Kevin Durant is on the Warriors for Christ sake.
13) Denver Nuggets
At least the Broncos are good. A lot of Denver’s success/failure will stem from how good Emmanuel Mudiay is. Mudiay is 6’5”, one of the tallest point guards in the league. He can also power down smaller defenders, but his decision making (over 3 turnovers per game) and shooting percentage (36%) might hurt Denver.
The two best big men in the league with crap teams.
12) Sacramento Kings
If Dave Joerger can’t do it, can we just excommunicate this franchise from the NBA? For all the crap we give Demarcus Cousins, he’s been through six different coaches. He’s like a battered puppy going from shelter to shelter.
Last season Demarcus Cousins averaged 27 points and 11 rebounds. We can’t give up on Boogie, he’s just too good.
11) New Orleans Pelicans
Anthony Davis grew another inch. He’s literally that purple guy from the Monstars. I’ve raved about Anthony Davis way too often on this blog, so there’s only so much more I can say about him.
The Pelicans are bad, but Davis makes them a potential playoff team. They have virtually no depth, but Buddy Hield looks like a rookie of the year candidate. Hield is a scorer who can find his shot off the dribble, and the Pelicans need all the offense they can get.
Even if Davis is healthy all season, he can’t do it alone.
The fight to get swept by the Warriors in the first round
10) Houston Rockets
Mike D’antoni and James Harden: a match made in heaven? Maybe. D’Antoni plans to put Harden at point guard. It worked against the Knicks in preseason. It makes a lot of sense to do this because Harden was a distributer in OKC. When Harden came off the bench, he helped out Westbrook when it came to running the offense.
Mike D’Antoni will not hold Harden accountable for defense, or anyone for that matter. This is where the loss of Dwight is a lot bigger than everyone thinks.
9) Oklahoma City Thunder
Russell Westbrook and Victor Oladipo are without question the most athletic backcourt in the league.
The loss of Durant is going to hurt OKC and might make them lottery bound, but if Westbrook can get some help from OKC’s young athletic players, they could surprise a lot of people, including me.
Westbrook can’t make the playoffs alone though, even if he averages a triple double, which might actually happen.
8) Minnesota Timberwolves
Forget about “potential”, Karl-Anthony Towns is already a top ten player at age 20. For all the reasons we love our friend Kristaps Porzingis, Towns does it better. He’s a much better defender at the rim, he can switch onto any position (even point guards for limited time) and he even shot the three better than Porzingis (Towns 34% from 3 // Porzingis 33% from 3)
Kris Dunn might start over Ricky Rubio due to his ability to score. Rubio has been a great distributor, but with a career field goal percentage at 37%, there’s only so much you can do until defenses are completely ignoring you and encouraging you to shoot.
The duo of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns is too lethal. The two former rookies of the year are going to wreak havoc on the league. This season is their coming out party.
First Round and Out
7) Dallas Mavericks
Goodbye Kobe, goodbye Timmy, goodbye Kevin. It seems that Dirk is the last man standing. He was supposed to fall off last year, considering he’s 100 years old, but he still averaged 18 points per game.
The Mavs added Bogut and Barnes, so their defense should improve. However, Bogut’s health is always in question, and their depth is not great. With that being said, coach Rick Carlisle always gets the most out of his players, and they surprise the doubters every year.
6) Memphis Grizzlies
Talent-wise this team is diminishing. Marc Gasol is probably past his prime after his foot injury, Zach Randolph is definitely past his prime at age 35, and although Tony Allen is still a first all-team defense caliber player, he’s not number 1 anymore. However, they’re still going to beat up everyone.
DeMarcus Cousins reported on a Bill Simmons Podcast that the Grizzlies are his least favorite team to play because they beat the shit out of you.
The offense/defense combo of Chandler Parsons and Tony Allen should be intriguing to watch.
The success from this team will depend on the health of Memphis’ $134 million man, Mike Conley. Although Conley has never made an all-star team, he’s one of the best point guards out there, and he is vital to the Grizzlies’ offensive rhythm.
5) Portland Trail Blazers
Blazers general manager Neil Olshey focused on acquiring players near Damian Lillard’s age when LeMarcus Aldridge and friends jumped ship. The theory is that they will grow into their primes at the same time and be scary to face in the playoffs.
The Blazers made the second round last year, but many believe that Chris Paul and Blake Griffin’s injury led to this achievement.
Damian Lillard is a top offensive player. He is a tough guard because he can get to the rim as well as anyone, but has Curry-like range and is not afraid to pull up from anywhere.
This team might be young, but they proved everyone wrong last year. They are going into this season a year older and with more chemistry, so we should expect a rise in their quality of ball.
4) Utah Jazz
This might sound crazy at first, but just look at their depth chart:
This is the Boston Celtics of the West: athletic defensive team with unlimited depth. There is no all-star on this team, but no one wants to play these guys in the playoffs.
There’s no particular weakness you can exploit against the Jazz. They play big, with Rudy Golbert and Derrick Favors, but still have the speed to make proper rotations on defense.
3) Los Angeles Clippers
Welcome to year six of Lob City. This is an interesting year, because Chris Paul and Blake Griffin will be free agents at the end of the season.
Chris Paul still remains the best pure point guard in the league. Even with his top speed diminishing, he still finds ways to punish opposing defenses with his ridiculously high IQ.
DeAndre Jordan’s defense improved tremendously last season. Instead of trying to block everything like Hassan Whiteside, he tried to actually get stops and make the right rotations like Marc Gasol.
If this team is healthy, they are championship contenders.
Western Conference Finals
2) San Antonio Spurs
If you’ve been following football, the New England Patriots went 3-1 without Tom Brady, and are at the top of every power ranking. This is because the players on Patriots are not necessarily the best players in the NFL, but the best players for their system. The Spurs are basically the same exact thing.
The loss of Tim Duncan may sting, but this team is still a championship contender. With Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge down low, this is a offensive front court who can do just about everything offensively, including the ability to stretch the floor.
Guys are going to sit throughout the season, and the Spurs will coast through and be a top seed. They are the second best team in the NBA.
The main concern here is defense. Even with the best defensive player in the league, Kawhi Leonard, it’s going to be difficult to hide old man Tony Parker when he’s on an island of young athletic point guards. Also, Gasol is a huge downgrade from Duncan defensively, even when Duncan was at his worst.
1) Golden State Warriors
It’s probably not fair that a team that went 73-9 last season is even more unstoppable, but we shouldn’t expect them to break 70 wins this season.
Expect Steve Kerr to do his best Gregg Popovich impression and rest guys in order to be fresh for a Western Conference Playoffs massacre.