NBA Preview: Part I (with Week 7 picks!)

Today we’re going to get started on the lengthy NBA Preview. We’re gonna do the Eastern Conference today and then cover the Western Conference within a week or two. Let’s go reverse order of predicted standings, starting with the worst team in the NBA, the…

  1. Philadelphia 76ers

Sam Hinkie did absolutely NOTHING to improve their team this year. In free agency, they did nothing past signing minimum wage players to serve as warm bodies to fill their roster this year. In the draft, with their two first rounders they managed to get one guy who’s injured and will be out for most (if not all) of the season (Joel Embiid) and another who’s got a contract with a team in Turkey until 2016 (Dario Saric).

On the bright side, their exploits gave us two of the funniest moments of draft night. First, when they drafted Embiid, ESPN had a camera trained on him where he was in Los Angeles. As Adam Silver announced the pick, ESPN showed Embiid staring at his TV in a kind of stunned silence. Yeah, that’s how everyone feels about playing for the Sixers these days. Oh, how they must long for the days of Dr. J tearing it up with Moses Malone. Anyways, as it turns out, the “live feed” was on a slight tape delay which kind of ruins the story.

The second funny draft moment involving the Sixers is when Philadelphia drafted Elfrid Payton (to trade to the Magic, but we didn’t know it at the time) and ESPN interviewed MCW about the pick. Now, both MCW and Payton are PGs and by drafting Payton, Hinkie was signaling that MCW was no longer the point guard of the future. This led to a hilariously awkward interview with MCW doing his best not to say anything insulting. Moving on…

  1. Detroit Pistons

This isn’t hard. Obviously no one can come close to the Sixers in the Scale of Sucktitude (SoS, which is what their fans have been saying for years) but the Pistons are pretty dang bad. They’ve got three big men (Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe, Josh Smith) who they’ve got to play a lot (respectively, because he’s the centerpiece of the future, because he’s young and can improve, and because they paid him a ton of money) killing their spacing. They’re forced to play one of those three players at small forward which means that unless they want to have three guys all standing within eight feet of the basket, one of them is going to have to stand behind the arc and try to shoot threes. That’s bad as it is, but it’s made even worse by Smith, who chucks threes and seems to take pleasure in killing possessions with horrendous shot after horrendous shot. Despite Stan Van Gundy taking over as coach and president and presumably implementing more of a system than his predecessor, Maurice Cheeks, it’s not looking pretty this year in Detroit. Still, they have a shot at reaching the playoffs, just not a very good one.

Amusing note about the Pistons: they barely avoided the indignity of paying four guys as head coaches for them this season, between Stan Van Gundy, John Loyer, Cheeks, and Lawrence Frank.

  1. Orlando Magic

It’s getting sunnier in Orlando, just not sunny enough. Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton join Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris, and Nikola Vucevic in the next iteration of great Magic teams, but it’s still too far away to become a reality this year, especially with the recent injuries to Oladipo and Channing Frye. They have an outside shot at being this year’s Raptors/Wizards/Blazers/Bobcats and miraculously jelling into a bona fide playoff team (at least in the East) but I don’t think that these Magic are going to be that team.

  1. Boston Celtics

The Celtics have followed a five step plan for the past year or two:

  1. Piss off Rajon Rondo, a notoriously temperamental superstar, by shopping him around the league while lying and saying they weren’t
  2. Trade away Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce along with any semblance of respectability to piss off Rondo
  3. Refuse to trade Rondo for anything less than the world, showing loyalty, but pissing of Rondo because he wants to go to a good team
  4. Piss off Rondo again by drafting James Young and Marcus Smart, two young guards, to compete with Rondo for the two starting guard spots
  5. Hope that Rondo doesn’t strangle Young or Smart

Yup, Danny Ainge is a genius…

  1. Indiana Pacers

This is my first truly surprising pick, but it’s warranted.

Last year the offense was absolutely atrocious but they managed to survive on the strength of an incredible defense. Of course, they completely sucked the latter half of the year, barely got by an under-500 Hawks team in the playoffs before eventually falling to the LeBrons in six games. That’s not too good.

Now, on top of that, they’ve lost two of their three best players (including their only two decent offensive players) to injury and free agency (Paul George and Lance Stephenson, respectively). Now, without George and Stephenson, what’s going to become of a team that was already an offensive morass with them? Not anything good, I’d bet, and that’s why I’d be surprised if they managed to get anything higher than 9th or 10th in the East.

  1. New York Knicks

They’re on the right track, at least. Hiring Phil Jackson, trading veterans for picks, and using their financial clout to buy late second rounders? That’s showing that maybe the Knicks are turning over a new leaf. However, the Triangle offense will take awhile to implement properly and the Knicks don’t even have the adequate personnel for it yet, so the timetable for a potential return to relevance is next season, not this one.

  1. Brooklyn Nets

*gasps of horror from all the Nets fans out there*

Yeah, I went there. The Nets, plain and simple, just aren’t very good. It feels like they’ve got no one younger than 35 on their team, between Deron Williams, KG, and Joe Johnson. Everyone’s overpriced so they’re paying a huge luxury tax. They don’t have any cap room for the foreseeable future and they’ve traded away every draft pick they can, so they have no avenues for improving their team. There’s going to be a couple of big injuries, be it from Williams, Brook Lopez, KG, or someone else entirely, and it’s gonna derail their season—if it weren’t derailed already. The only reason they’re this high is because everyone else in the East sucks. The future is bleak in Brooklyn.

  1. Milwaukee Bucks

I think the Bucks will do exactly what Herb Kohl wanted all along before he sold the team: get the eight seed and get slaughtered in the first round by the top seed. They’re my token lottery team that vaults out of nowhere to make the playoffs as they’ve got a ton of young talent that could coalesce to make something pretty good, or at least not too bad, which, as we all know, is enough to make the playoffs in the East. The Greek Freak, Jabari Parker, and Larry Sanders, as well as a couple of other players, could make the Bucks, if not good, at least pretty interesting this season.

  1. Miami Heat

Despite losing the best player in the league over the offseason, they’re still okay enough to make the playoffs in the East, although they’d lose 50 games in the West.
LeBron gets replaced at small forward by Luol Deng and with the extra cap space Miami freed up, they signed minor contributors who can play a specific role like Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger as well as drafting the LeBron-approved Shabazz Napier, shoring up their weak rotation at the point.

I feel like this season for Miami could be a lot like how it’s been for the Bulls the past two years. Both teams don’t have their best player and are counted out because of it. Both teams have a strong team philosophy and a very good coach. Chicago managed to put together a pretty good team despite all its tribulations and Miami will be able to do the same.

  1. Atlanta Hawks

Atlanta’s season is a very important one for the statheads. Every single one of their starters (including the center, Al Horford) can shoot threes. Even Houston, with all the threes it shoots, has Dwight Howard always down low. Will the Hawks be able to just have all five guys stand beyond the three point line and just keep on bombing threes, destroying the enemy from long range?

The past couple of years, Houston has taken three-point-shooting to an extreme, by shooting a ton of threes. Now Atlanta is taking it to a different extreme, having all five guys shoot threes. Will it work? Time will tell, but it should work well enough to get a six seed.

  1. Washington Wizards

The Wiz had a surprising run last year to a five seed and the second round, before falling to the Pacers in six. From there it can only get better. John Wall and Bradley Beal are young and improving, they resigned Marcin Gortat, the Polish Hammer, a big part of their postseason run last year, and they signed Paul Pierce, who’ll provide veteran leadership to this young team while also being a half-decent player. Also, the Wiz did the most un-Wizard thing ever by not resigning Trevor Ariza to a cap crippling contract that’d cap their upside at a five or six seed. Maybe Washington has turned over a new leaf. Never mind, I just thought about Otto Porter Jr., drafted third overall last year, who’s played about eight minutes with the team, Jan Vesely (6th overall in 2011), whose career highlight was being kissed by a hot girlfriend when he got drafted, and JaVale McGee (18th in 2008) whose main traits are being big, having long arms, and being crazy. So never mind about that new leaf thing.

  1. Toronto Raptors

For the record, I think the Raps will finish with a worse record than the Wizards but I have them here because they’ll win the Atlantic Division and winning a division guarantees a team a top four playoff seed. Toronto is very similar to Washington, though, because they were both surprises last year who made the playoffs last year after years of being complete and utter crap. We’ve already discussed how the Wiz managed to avoid destroying their team through foolish signings in free agency, but the Raps did the same thing. Rather than either letting their best player go or resigning him to a max contract that he didn’t deserve, they got him on a very reasonable four year, 48 million dollar contract. Anyways, with the expected improvement from all their young players, they should hold steady with about the same record as they had last year. Their main regret after this season will be drafting Bruno Caboclo, the physical freak from Brazil, 20th overall when they could have gotten him in the second round. Caboclo won’t be ready for four years and they could have used another player who could have helped them out this year. Alas.

  1. Charlotte Hornets

I’m a lot higher than most on the Hornets (it feels so weird to say that) this year. They’ve got a great defense that got even better with the addition of Lance Stephenson. They’re offense was passable last year and it should improve like the defense with Stephenson’s chaotic driving strategy adding to Al Jefferson’s post up game. They added PJ Hairston and Noah Vonleh, their two first rounders, as well as Stephenson, to Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bismack Biyombo, and Cody Zeller to create a stellar under-24 core of seven players. The Hornets should continue their rise this year and for years to come.

  1. Chicago Bulls

I’ve got Chicago this high, yeah, but not for the reason you might think. Sure, Derrick Rose is back, but there’s no guarantee that he’s good, or even remains healthy. The real reason why I like the Bulls this year is because of the three main additions they acquired this offseason. Doug McDermott, Pau Gasol, and Nikola Mirotic should combine to give the Bulls a big offensive boost—and that’s without factoring in whatever contributions Rose will provide. Combine that with Thib’s customary top five defense, and you’ve got a recipe for a good season. Unless Rose gets all the way back to his pre-injury form then they won’t be in the top tier of the NBA but they’re good enough to be the second seed in the East.

  1. Cleveland Cavaliers

In the most underwhelming prediction since way back with the Sixers, the Cavs will take the first seed in the East. Between LeBron, Love, Irving, and a very good supporting cast, Cleveland should dominate this year. There’s really not much else to say after that.

Quickie playoff picks:

Cavs over Bucks, Bulls over Heat, Hornets over Hawks, and Wizards over Raps. Bulls over Hornets, Cavs over Wizards, and Cavs over Bulls. And yes, I know I’m original picking the higher seed in almost every series.

Onto the Week 7 Quick Picks:

(Home team in caps)

NEW ENGLAND -9.5 over New York Jets

Cincinnati +3 over INDIANAPOLIS

WASHINGTON -5.5 over Tennessee

CHICAGO -3.5 over Miami

Cleveland -5 over JACKSONVILLE

Seattle -7 over ST. LOUIS
Carolina +7 over GREEN BAY

Atlanta +7 over Baltimore

BUFFALO -5 over Minnesota

DETROIT -3 over New Orleans

SAN DIEGO -4 over Kansas City

DALLAS -6.5 over New York Giants

Arizona -3.5 over OAKLAND

DENVER -6.5 over San Francisco

Houston -3.5 over PITTSBURGH

This Week: 0-0-0

Last Week: 6-9-0

Season: 41-48-1

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