The Late But Massive NBA Preview

Welcome back, NBA!  Its good to have you.  The NFL season sucks and no one is excited about hockey.  At least the MLB playoffs have been ridiculously entertaining!

I’m so excited for this NBA season.  The Warriors might win 73 games (or more!) again, but at least there’s other storylines.  And a lot of really interesting teams!

This column is pretty straight forward.  I’m building MY rotation for each, then evaluating how good they are.

Lets go!

Again, these are my starting lineups.  Not all will match what the coach is putting out there.

Boston Celtics

  1. Isaiah Thomas-Terry Rozier-Demitrius Jackson
  2. Marcus Smart-Avery Bradley
  3. Jae Crowder-Gerald Green-James Young-Jonas Jerebko
  4. Jaylen Brown-Amir Johnson-Jordan Mickey
  5. Al Horford-Tyler Zeller-Kelly Olynyk

This is the year this young, talented Boston team takes the next step.  They finally got a star in Al Horford, who’s going to be the anchor down low they have coveted for years.  This forces less-skilled players like Tyler Zeller and Kelly Olynyk to the bench, which is a good thing.  Isaiah Thomas is a more-than-capable point guard, and has plenty of raw but talented depth behind him.  I’d expect Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley to split minutes at shooting guard; they’re both so good at that position.  Bradley is the better scorer, which is why I can see Brad Stevens giving him more starts, but Smart is an elite defender, which is what this team is going to make it’s name off of.  I’m not a huge Jaylen Brown fan.  He’s super raw, can’t shoot, and is someone who’d fit perfectly with the Bucks.  I have him starting because he spaces the floor, unlike Amir Johnson, who’s a power forward who’s losing his role in the league.

The Celtics’ depth is ridiculous, and they have plenty of ammo incase they wanted to pursue a trade for a third star.  However, I think they’ll be just fine without.

Brooklyn Nets

  1. Jeremy Lin-Grevis Vasquez-Isaiah Whitehead
  2. Randy Foye-Sean Kilpatrick-Joe Harris-Caris LeVert
  3. Bogan Bogdanovic-Rondae Hollis-Jefferson-Luis Scola
  4. Trevor Booker-Anthony Bennett-Chris McCollough
  5. Brook Lopez-Justin Hamilton

I was trying very hard to limit my crude remarks of the Nets during the preseason, but as I now examine this roster, its time to dig in.

Jeremy Lin may or may not be a competent point guard.  At this point, he’s more of a celebrity playing basketball.  Randy Foye seems like he is six years older than he is.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the young guys behind him assume some starts.  I loved Sean Kilpatrick in college.  I also really liked what I saw from Bogan Bogdanovic in the Olympics.  His shooting impressed me, but those hoops were much close than usual.  I’m not sure he can be an effective scorer in the NBA.

Trevor Booker was a massive pickup for this Nets team, and their quest for competency.  He’s a good rebounder and provides some leadership for this young team.  Oh, and the Nets need to trade Brook Lopez before he breaks his foot again.

New York Knicks

  1. Derrick Rose-Brandon Jennings
  2. Courtney Lee-Ron Baker-Justin Holiday-Sasha Vujacic
  3. Carmelo Anthony-Lance Thomas-Mindaugas Kuzminskas-Maurice Ndour
  4. Kristaps Pozingis-Kyle O’Quinn
  5. Joakim Noah-Marshall Plumlee-Willy Hernangomez

I’ve gone back and forth on how good this team can be.  I’ve had people make both cases to me, and I’m landing somewhere in the middle.

The Knicks have two ways they can play.  1) The triangle, where the ball is moving and Carmelo Anthony is draining shots and Derrick Rose is making layups.  Or 2) An iso-filled offense where Melo is taking bad shots after dribbling too long and Rose is missing layups.

Both were evident against the Cavaliers on opening night.  In the first quarter, the game was close, because New York was getting good ball movement and taking good shots.  But towards halftime, they fell back, due to Melo going into “I got this.” mode a little too early.

Jeff Hornacek claimed the Knicks would run a combo of the triangle and whatever else.  That “whatever else” is iso-ball.  And thats not the way to win.

This is going to be key for the Knicks this season.  If they play a more efficient offense, they can sneak into the playoffs.  If not, its gonna go off the rails fast.

Philadelphia 76ers

  1. Sergio Rodriquez-T.J. McConnell-Jerryd Bayless (Starter when healthy)
  2. Gerald Henderson-Nik Stauskus
  3.  Robert Covington-Jerami Grant-Timothe Luwawu-Richaun Holmes-Ben Simmons (Starter when healthy)
  4. Dario Saric-Nerleans Noel
  5. Jahlil Okafor-Joel Embiid

I really, really wanted to say this team could blow everyone away and win 35 games or something insane, but injuries have derailed the high expectations I had for them.

Jerryd Bayless was signed to be this team’s true point guard, but he’s gonna be out a month, and that might be long enough to derail what this team had going for them.  Sergio Rodriquez didn’t figure it out in the NBA six years ago.  If he’s gonna get back into it, he should have plenty of better guys around him.  Not the case here.  I think T.J. McConnell is quickly going to earn more minutes with this team.

Gerald Henderson is the only true leadership this team has.  But on the court, he’s nothing special.  He can assume some ball-handling, but isn’t going to score much.  The small forward position is a real mess for the 76ers.  Ben Simmons’ injury is killer.  He was the one playmaker they had, and now there’s a chance he doesn’t play at all this season.  Instead, Robert Covington takes back his starting spot, which isn’t a bad thing.  He’s a very good player, but has been hindered by this bad team.  If Simmons comes back early, I think Covington could be a trade target by a team like the Clippers.  There’s plenty of other depth if Simmons returns.  I’m in love with Timothe Luwawu.  He’s everything I wanted Chandler Parsons to be, but he also has great ball-handling.  Plus, Jerami Grant is a young scorer who needs more minutes.

The front court is another rough patch for this Philly, but in a different way than the rest of the team.  They’re just too crowded down there.  This is going to be Dario Saric’s first year in the NBA, which will limit his minutes more.  Thats the last thing the Sixers need, since Saric is the one guy who can space the floor and shoot from behind the arc.  Instead, they’re gonna have some combo of Noel/Okafor/Embiid out there, which is a whole lot of slow.   A trade of one of these guys seems likely still, and it needs to happen if the Sixers want to improve.

Toronto Raptors

  1. Kyle Lowry-Norman Powell-Fred VanVleet
  2. DeMar DeRozan-Cory Joesph-Delon Wright-Terrence Ross
  3. DeMarre Carroll-Bruno Caboclo
  4. Jared Sullinger-Patrick Patterson-Pascal Siakam
  5. Jonas Valenciunas-Jakob Poeltl-Lucas Nogueira

Nothing really changed with the Raptors.  They have the same players and the same issues, and thats the problem.

Kyle Lowry is really good, but his shooting is becoming a problem.  And the Raptors don’t have other trustworthy scorers.  Thats where the issue of DeMar DeRozon comes up.  He’s a sketchy shooter and doesn’t do anything else.  And now he’s been paid, which isn’t the greatest thing for any player.  DeMarre Carroll is a good perimeter defender and can shoot, but hasn’t stayed healthy.

You move to the front court, and issues are still present.  The Raptors didn’t do anything to address them.  The power forward position was their biggest problem last season, and Jared Sullinger thinks he can shoot.  Its pretty disturbing watching him take a three.  You almost wonder if Patrick Patterson is still a better option.  Jonas Valenciunas is good, but is constantly hurt to, and isn’t very versatile.  Toronto had a chance to add some atheltism to their front court in the draft, but settled on Jakob Poeltl, who’s basically the exact same player as Valencuinas.  Yikes!

Toronto has a lot of issues, but at the same time, they still have talent, and that gets you places. I think they’re gonna fall a bit in the East, probably ending up at the 4th seed.  But in the end, they’ll be fine.

Chicago Bulls

  1. Rajon Rondo-Isaiah Cannan-Michael Carter-Williams
  2. Dwayne Wade-Jerian Grant-Denzel Valentine
  3. Jimmy Butler-Doug McDermott-Paul Zipser
  4. Bobby Portis-Nikola Mirotic-Taj Gibson
  5. Robin Lopez-Cristiano Felicio

This team, like the Knicks, is very, very confusing.  Its like Gar Forman and John Paxson are still stuck in the 80s.  They built a team made to get to as close to the rim as possible, which isn’t where the league going.  You have to be able to shoot.  This team can’t.  Rajon Rondo is here to redeem his competence as a point guard.  Dwayne Wade is gonna play like 60 games and shoot 35% in them.  Its not a great situation in the backcourt.  However, they do have depth. Isaiah Cannan is alright (MCW is not).  And I loved the Jerian Grant acquisition from the Knicks.  Plus, Denzel Valentine has the potential to become a really good shooter in this league.

As you get bigger, it gets better with this team, which isn’t the best thing in this league.  Jimmy Butler is a star, and is their 2nd best shooter.  Doug McDermott is lights out.

Power forward is a little crowded.  I think Bobby Portis earned a starting role.  He’s not gonna shoot threes, but he’s versatile and spaces the floor more than say, Taj Gibson (He needs to go).  I love Nikola Mirotic, but he’s too erratic to start.  The guy thinks he can hit any shot!  Literally!

Robin Lopez is fine.  Fine is pretty much this team in one word.  They’re gonna hang around in the East, and based on how other things play out, could very well sneak into the playoffs.

Cleveland Cavaliers

  1. Kyrie Irving-Kay Felder
  2. J.R. Smith-Iman Shumpert-DeAndre Liggins-Jordan McRae
  3. LeBron James-Mike Dunleavy-Richard Jefferson-James Jones
  4. Kevin Love-Channing Fyre-Chris Andersen
  5. Tristan Thompson

There’s not a whole lot to touch on here.  I think the biggest question for the Cavaliers will be once again Kevin Love.  Watching that game Tuesday against the Knicks, Love had close to a double-double at halftime.  But its still just not the right role for him.  He didn’t stand out.  I’m hoping that finally changes this year, because he and the league deserves so much better.

Detroit Pistons

  1. Ish Smith-Ray McCallum-Beno Udrih-Reggie Jackson (Starter when healthy)
  2. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope-Michael Gbnije-Darrun Hillard
  3. Stanley Johnson-Tobias Harris-Reggie Bullock
  4. Marcus Morris-Jon Leuer-Aron Baynes
  5. Andre Drummond-Boban Marjanovic

I can’t believe a Reggie Jackson injury could mean so much to an NBA team.  He’s gonna be out two months, which is a long time.  Ish Smith is gonna take the reins of this team, which could be good or could have disastrous results.  However, if it doesn’t go smoothly, the Pistons have other guys who can make things happen.  I think this could be a breakout year for Stanley Johnson.  My UofA homerism may be leaking out though.  Andre Drummond is beast.  They could just lean on him for two months, but thats not the best way to win in this league.

Personally, a big move in the rotation or a trade sounds like the best thing for this Pistons team.  Marcus Morris is just kinda there on the court.  He doesn’t do a whole lot.  Putting Tobias Harris into the starting lineup could be the key.  He can shoot, unlike Morris, and spaces things out more.  That opens it up for playmaking, which is something the Pistons need more of.  Thats where a trade would improve them greatly.

Reggie Jackson’s injury hurts.  The Pistons have to figure out what works best in his absence, or else they won’t be returning to the playoffs.

Indiana Pacers

  1. Jeff Teague-Aaron Brooks-Joesph Young
  2. Monta Ellis-Rodney Stuckey-C.J. Miles
  3. Paul George-Glenn Robinson lll-Rakeem Christmas.
  4. Thaddeus Young-Lavoy Allen-Georges Niang
  5. Myles Turner-Al Jefferson-Kevin Seraphin

I don’t like this team as much as I thought I was going to.  A Jeff Teague-Monta Ellis backcourt sounds like a problem in the making over ball control and shot volume.  But the talent as you move into the front court increases, and since this Pacers team can space the floor, its not an issue.

Paul George is freaking awesome.  There’s no other way to say it.  However, I’m still bummed Glenn Robinson lll won’t get a minutes raise.  He deserves it.  Thaddeus Young was a huge get for this team.  He can stretch, which great for a guy his size.  Myles Turner is the type of player everyone wants these days: A rim protecter who can shoot.  He’s similar to Kristaps Porzingis in that way, and is a huge asset to this Pacers team.  Turner has to play well though, because the depth situation is no fun with Al Jefferson and Kevin Seraphin.

Indiana may have some chemistry issues early on, but I think they will be solved.  And if they don’t, Aaron Brooks is a very capable point guard who can contribute.

Milwaukee Bucks

Playmakers/Ball handlers/Shooters

  • Jabari Parker
  • Khris Middleton
  • Tony Snell
  • Steve Novak
  • Michael Beasley
  • Malcom Brogdon
  • Jason Terry
  • Mirza Teletovic
  • Rashad Vaughn
  • Matthew Dellavedova

Big guys

  • Miles Plumlee
  • Greg Monroe


  • John Henson


  • Giannis Antetokoumpo
  • Thon Maker

This team is so unique, confusing, and fun that it was just easier to categorize their players instead of putting guys at a position.  Because as we see above, 75% of their players don’t have a position.  They’re just guys who do a bunch of things.  Versatility is huge commodity in this league, and the Bucks have the most of it.  The only thing they can’t do is pull five guys from the top category and put them on the court together.  However, Thon Maker is the guy, that if he’s the real deal, can make that possible.  Maker is a question mark, but thats not necessarily a bad thing.  If he’s not what we thought he was, then he’s an elite defender who can guard anyone.  Thats still a pretty nice thing to have.  All I know is, keep an eye on this Bucks team.  They’re gonna be fun.

Atlanta Hawks

  1. Dennis Schroder-Delaney Malcolm
  2. Kent Bazemore-Tim Hardaway
  3. Kyle Korver-Thabo Sefolosha-Mike Scott-DeAndre Bembry
  4. Paul Millsap-Taureen Prince-Kris Humphries
  5. Dwight Howard-Mike Muscala-Walter Taveras-Tiago Splitter (Backup when healthy)

This Hawks team had quite a bit of turnover this offseason.  Jeff Teague is in Indiana.  Al Horford is in Boston.  Those are two main contributors from last season, and their replacements are not nearly as valuable.

I want to like Dennis Schroder.  I’m just not sure I can put trust into him yet running an offense.  Maybe this is the year it happens.  The Hawks were confident enough in him to trade Jeff Teague.  Maybe they know something I don’t.

Kent Bazemore got paid, which is usually a negative for anyone, but Bazemore just doesn’t seem like the type of guy who’s going to decline majorly.  I think he’s too determined, and will prove everyone wrong.

The small forward position for the Hawks could be subject to some change this season.  Kyle Korver is 35, and had one of his worst shooting years ever last year.  If that continues, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him moved to a bench role.  Thabo Sefolosha is a guy who’s gonna do good things on the court, especially if he is given a bigger opportunity.

Paul Millsap is still awesome, but if this collapses on Atlanta, then he could be subject to a trade.  He’d rack in a ton of assets for Atlanta, but losing Horford, Teague, and Millsap in a year would be a hard pill to swallow.

The Dwight Howard signing wasn’t my favorite this Summer.  Howard is on the decline and is a pain to play with.  He’s coming in with the “This is my team.” attitude.  I worry about the chemistry with the Hawks.  There’s too many guys who have something to prove on this team.  I can already see the headlines in mid-December about Howard being upset.

The East is very cluttered once you get past the 4th seed.  Atlanta could find themselves at No.5, or in the lottery.  Its going to be a wait-n-see with this team.

Charlotte Hornets

  1. Kemba Walker-Brian Roberts-Ramon Sessions
  2. Nicolas Batum-Marco Bellinelli-Jeremy Lamb
  3. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist-Aaron Harrison-Treveon Graham
  4. Frank Kaminsky-Christian Wood-Marvin Williams (Starter when healthy)
  5. Roy Hibbert-Spencer Hawes-Cody Zeller

This Hornets team offers some pretty depressing questions.  Is Roy Hibbert better than Al Jefferson?  How much will Marvin Williams’ injury hurt them?  Is this the record for most really tall white dudes on one team?

Roy Hibbert is the one offset from the other big guys they have.  He’s the closest thing they have to a true big guy who can provide an anchor down low.  But to what quality?  Hibbert’s declined for quite awhile now.  Nothing suggests its gonna get better.

Marvin Williams’ injury is a killer.  Those are words I’d never thought I’d say.  His injury forces Frank Kaminsky into the starting lineup, who does deserve a chance.  While Kaminsky can space the floor and open things up, he doesn’t offer the shooting Williams does.  He’s still figuring out the three-ball.  Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum are gonna have to carry the shooting for this team, because we know Michael Kidd-Gilchrist won’t help.

Another thing on Hibbert:  The depth is an issue behind him.  Spencer Hawes is barely playable (Hawes is another athlete who’s played a role in my social life.  Not sure why some of the worst players in sports have this impact).  Cody Zeller is still figuring it out, and so will Christian Wood, the rookie out of UNLV.

Charlotte will be a fringe playoff team this year.  There’s too many concerns for me to have a lot of confidence in them.  However, a big injury in the East could lead to them sneaking in.

Miami Heat

  1. Goran Dragic-Tyler Johnson-Rodney McGruder
  2. Josh Richardson-Dion Waiters-Wayne Ellington
  3. Justise Winslow-James Johnson-Luke Babbitt
  4. Josh McRoberts-Derrick Williams-Willie Reed
  5. Hassan Whiteside-Udonis Haslem

Chris Bosh’s injury is enough to drop this team from a sneaky top three seed in the East to a fringe playoff team.  The Heat have multiple questions now.  Goran Dragic has struggled since he came to the Heat.  The reason?  Miami just doesn’t play fast enough for Dragic.  Look at his career.  He’s always been a guy who needs the ball in his hands when he’s flying up and down the court.  Miami doesn’t offer him that.

The re-signing of Tyler Johnson was one I loved, and he could see expanded minutes if Dragic’s struggles continue.

Josh Richardson is a crafty two-guard who can ball-handle and get to the rim.  But I’m more interested in Dion Waiters, who’s on the bench where he belongs.

This is practically a restoration project that Miami is taking on.  But if anyone is going to turn it around for Waiters, its Pat Riley and Erik Spolestra.

This is going to be Justise Winslow’s year.  I can smell it.  He’s probably not gonna be an elite scorer for them yet, but will shut practically anyone down on the wing.  This is his chance and he’s going to take it.  Also, why is Luke Babbitt on a NBA roster?

The downgrade from Chris Bosh to Josh McRoberts is, well, if you know basketball, this doesn’t need much explanation.  Its not great, and makes the whole situation between Bosh and the Heat so much worse.  I honestly think Derrick Williams, who had a nice year with New York last season, could be in the starting lineup later in the year.

Hassan Whiteside got paid, and that concerns me, but chances are he’ll still continue to block an insane amount of shots and grab a ridiculous amount of rebounds.

The Heat, like many teams in the East, have a lot of issues.  They need big, unexpected contributions from a lot guys this year.  If they get them, they can sneak into the playoffs, but its extremely unlikely to occur.

Orlando Magic

  1. Elfird Payton-D.J. Augustin-C.J. Watson
  2. Evan Fournier-Mario Hezonja-Jodie Meeks-C.J. Wilcox
  3. Aaron Gordon-Jeff Green-Damjan Rudez
  4. Serge Ibaka-Bismack Biyombo
  5. Nikola Vucevic-Stephen Zimmerman-Arinze Onuaka

There is so much potential here, but unfortunately the Magic have built a team that makes no sense.  It starts with the big guys.  I guess Orlando just completely ignored the fact that the league is going small, because Aaron Gordon playing small forward is not going to fly.  Yes, he has that length and height that a SF would, but he’s not a good shooter, and is a rebounding machine.  He doesn’t belong on the wing.

Thats why the Serge Ibaka trade didn’t make a ton of sense.  They didn’t really need Ibaka.  Sure, the trade made sense in the “This guy is gonna be our best player” view, but besides that, the trade essentially made the team less-modern.  Even if the Magic got a clue and put Gordon at the 4, they’d still have two guys who’s games are fading in this league.  Its brainless management.

Evan Fournier is really good, and I’m still in love with Mario Hezonja.  The guards on this team aren’t in bad shape.  I think this is the make or break year for Elfrid Payton, and if its break, D.J. Augustin is capable enough to assume minutes.

Orlando is gonna struggle and find themselves pretty much at the bottom of the East, but they could be a fun watch here or there.

Washington Wizards

  1. John Wall-Trey Burke-Tomáš Satoranský
  2. Bradley Beal-Marcus Thornton-Sheldon McClellan-Daniel House
  3. Otto Porter-Kelly Oubre
  4. Markieff Morris-Andrew Nicholson-Daniel Ochefu
  5. Marcin Gortat-Jason Smith-Ian Mahinmi-(Out 4-6 weeks, starting situation explained below)

What a confusing team.  They’re talented, but do the pieces fit?

John Wall is great.  We know that.  But the issues with Bradley Beal could come to the forefront this season, that is, if Bradley Beal is healthy.  Wall and Beal have both acknowledged that their chemistry isn’t great, but now there’s a new wrinkle.  Beal is now making much more than Wall per year, and Wall in the past has been known to compare his contract to others.  This seems like a real issue in the making, but its all conditional since we can’t trust Beal’s health.

I think Otto Porter is going to take a step forward this year, which will be much appreciated since this team lacks depth on the wing.

I’ve kinda hopped off the Morris’ brothers bandwagon.  It may or may not have to do with the ending(s) in Phoenix.

Then there’s the center position, which is a complete cluster right now.  The Wizards signed Ian Mahinmi in free agency, which wasn’t a terrible move.  Unless you already have a competent center!

Marcin Gortat isn’t great, but he’s a more than capable center who can do some positive things. The difference between Mahinmi and Gortat is slight, and thats why this is an issue.  Who starts?  Who plays more?

I’ve been waiting for the Wizards to trade Gortat, and it hasn’t happened.  Nothing leads me to believe its gonna happen either, unless Washington blows this thing up at the deadline and ships many others out too.  Its a conundrum, and is a true testament to how incoherent the Wizards’ front office, and is probably a good representation of how this season is gonna go for them.

East Seeds:

  1. Cleveland
  2. Boston
  3. Indiana
  4. Toronto
  5. Detroit
  6. Milwaukee
  7. New York
  8. Charlotte
  9. Chicago
  10. Atlanta
  11. Washington
  12. Miami
  13. Philadelphia
  14. Orlando
  15. Brooklyn

Dallas Mavericks

  1. Deron Williams-Jose Barea-Devin Harris
  2. Wesley Matthews-Seth Curry
  3. Harrison Barnes-Justin Anderson-Dorian Finney Smith-Nicolas Brussino
  4. Dirk Nowitzki-Dwight Powell-Quincy Acy
  5. Andrew Bogut-A.J. Hammons-Salah Mejri

The Mavericks are a confusing team.  There’s two ways you could see this going:

  1.  Deron Williams backs up last year, Wesley Matthews finally returns to himself, Harrison Barnes provides some scoring, Dirk is Dirk, and Andrew Bogut fills a massive hole at center, being an anchor and rim protecter.
  2. Deron Williams falls off, Wes Matthews battles injuries again, Harrison Barnes has a bad shooting year, Dirk is Dirk, but starts to show age, and Andrew Bogut battles injuries.

So yeah, there is issues here.  Issues arise when there is doubt, and I have doubts about this team.  They’re probably gonna be entrenched in mediocrity.  If they make the playoffs, it won’t be by much.

Houston Rockets

  1. James Harden-Tyler Ennis-Bobby Brown-Patrick Beverly (Backup when healthy)
  2. Eric Gordon-Corey Brewer
  3. Trevor Ariza-K.J. McDaniels-Sam Dekker-Kyle Wiltjer
  4. Ryan Anderson-Montrezl Harrell
  5. Clint Capela-Nene-Chinanu Onuaka

The move to make James Harden point guard of this team was very, very smart.  He practically did that last year.  Critics would say “Oh, he doesn’t have the game of a point guard.”  Thats true, but is also traditional NBA talk.

Harden’s move to point guard opens up room in this lineup for another shooter.  That shooter is Eric Gordon, which is troublesome, but hey, its a shooter.  Who else are you going to start in that position; who has a skill set that fits?

Trevor Ariza is another shooter, and he’s actually good!  Park him on the wing and he’ll make shots.

The Ryan Anderson signing was atrocious, but they needed someone to play four for them.  I guess Anderson spaces the floor, unlike other guys who were available.  He fits the need.

Clint Capela is an upgrade chemistry-wise over Dwight Howard, but I worry about him protecting the rim.  And Nene isn’t the greatest backup either.

The Rockets need James Harden to have a MVP-caliber year if they want to make the playoffs.  I don’t think there’s enough around him to get them in.  If Harden wants to make his case for being a top five player in this league, the time is now.

Memphis Grizzlies

  1. Mike Conley-Wade Baldwin
  2. Tony Allen-Vince Carter-Troy Daniels
  3. Chandler Parsons-James Ennis-Andrew Harrison-Troy Williams
  4. JaMychal Green-Zach Randolph-Jarell Martin
  5. Marc Gasol-Brandan Wright-Deyonta Davis

The Grizzlies haven’t changed too much.  They resigned Mike Conley, who’s part of this team’s soul.  Tony Allen is still a defensive wizard.  Marc Gasol needs to stay healthy.  But they’re doing their best to become a more modern team.

The Chandler Parsons signing was a great idea, but I worry about his health.  He already didn’t play in the season opener against Minnesota (more on that later), and has battled injuries his whole career.  He can shoot, something Memphis has lacked for years.

The other change was moving JaMychal Green into the starting lineup, who’s a versatile 4, but can’t shoot the deep ball.  It’d be better to have him learn how to shoot, since Memphis is still lacking, but he helps the physical aspect to this team.

The Grizzlies, even with their changes, are still gonna win in that grind-it-out way.  Look at their opener againist Minnesota (I know, its one game, the first game, and I’m overreacting).  They played physical, which something that Minnesota just isn’t used to, and doesn’t have ability to defend.

So yeah, the Grizzlies have made some changes.  But if that style persists, they’re gonna have trouble against better teams than the Timberwolves.  Thats an issue, especially in this conference.

New Orleans Pelicans

  1. Tim Frazier-Langston Galloway-Jrue Holiday (Starter when he returns from leave)
  2. Buddy Hield-E’Twaun Moore-Lance Stephenson-Tyreke Evans (Starter when healthy)
  3. Terrence Jones-Quincy Pondexter-Dante Cunningham
  4. Solomon Hill-Chieck Diallo
  5. Anthony Davis-Omer Asik-Alexis Ajinca

Okay, so there’s obviously a lot of clutter and messiness here.  This team is not great.  They’re probably gonna be close to (if not at) the bottom of the West.  The Jrue Holiday/Tyreke Evans backcourt needs to go ASAP (And yes, I understand Jrue Holiday’s current circumstances).  Its too unreliable at this point, and even when they are playing, its not like anything is being produced.

This is why you have Langston Galloway.  I believe in my guy, and think he can be a capable point guard.  Its not like you’re asking him to do a lot with this team.

Evans is more easy to harp on, since he’s really been a mess since he’s been in the league.  Nothing has gone right, and if I’m New Orleans, I’m looking for any way to dump him.  This is why you have Buddy Hield.  Hield is probably gonna be one of those guys like Kyle Korver, who’s a catch and shoot, park-him-on-the-wing type of guy.  But the Pelicans need that.  And Hield is gonna make those shots, unlike Evans.  I liked the E’Twaun Moore signing too.  He’s crafty and can ball-handle.  And Lance Stephenson, well…  Stephenson would be one of the guys I’d suggest New Orleans should try and dump.  The only problem is that they signed him this Summer.  Yeah, little bit of an issue there.

I was unaware Terrence Jones was on this team, but I think he can provide some much needed scoring.  Solomon Hill fills another hole at power forward, although I’m much more excited to see what Chieck Diallo can do.

And there’s Anthony Davis, who I was worried about until his season opener performance.  Look at this stat line!  50 points, five assists, 16 rebounds, seven steals(!), and three blocks.  This guy is a center!  He’s not supposed to get steals!

The Pelicans still lost, which isn’t surprising.  Anthony Davis is amazing, but he can’t do it by himself.  I’ll let The Ringer take it from here.  Oh, and why is Omer Asik starting on a professional basketball team?

San Antonio Spurs

  1. Tony Parker-Patty Mills-Dejounte Murray-Byrn Forbes-Nicolás Laprovíttola
  2. Kawhi Leonard-Manu Ginobli-Danny Green (Replaces Kyle Anderson at 3 when healthy)
  3. Kyle Anderson-Jonathan Simmons-Davis Bertans
  4. LaMarcus Aldridge-David Lee
  5. Pau Gasol-Dewayne Dedmon

Newsflash!  This team is still really good!  I doubted the Spurs in some preseason talk with friends.  I thought the loss of Tim Duncan would be much bigger than people would think, and that the LaMarcus Aldridge trade rumors would generate some questioning.  But this roster is still really freaking good.  And their opener againist Golden State proved that (I know, its only one game).

They have tons of backcourt depth, which is good since Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli are up there in age, and seem to battle at least one injury each per year.  Patty Mills is one of the most underrated guys in the league, and though he probably won’t play much, I’m excited to see what Dejounte Murray can do.

Jonathan Simmons was someone I was intrigued by last season, and his performance against the Warriors made me very excited.  He has an interesting skill and an interesting body.  The two don’t really mesh, but sometimes that creates the most unique players.  And keep in mind, this guy is coming off the bench for the Spurs.

LaMarcus Aldridge had a very good opener, somewhat putting to bed the trade rumors that have been floating out there.  Aldridge did a nice job spacing out against the Warriors, and I think its partly due to Pau Gasol replacing Duncan.  Gasol is versatile, and so is Aldridge.  Playing two versatile big men together allows one to be more creative and daring.  Hopefully thats Aldridge this season.

San Antonio has everything going for them, besides the fact that the Warriors play in their conference.  They’re gonna be fine.  I can’t wait for the West Finals.

Denver Nuggets

  1. Emmanuel Muiday-Jameer Nelson-Jamal Murray-Malik Beasley
  2. Will Barton-Gary Harris
  3. Danilo Gallinari-Wilson Chandler-Mike Miller
  4. Nikola Jokic-Kenneth Faried-Juan Hernangomez-Darell Arthur
  5. Jursuf Nurkic-Jarnell Stokes

I like this Nuggets team!  Probably a little too much, but I like them!  Emmanuel Muiday is in his second year and should take another step.  Will Barton broke out last year, and is a crafty swingman who does really good things.  Danilo Gallinari is a good shooter, but doesn’t do a lot else.  If Denver falls apart this year, I can see a team like Boston or the Clippers going after Gallinari.  Its not like the Nuggets don’t have someone to replace him.

The Jokic-Nurkic frontcourt is one of my favorites, and I’m going to only fall in love with it more throughout the year.  Nikola Jokic is the type of big-man everyone wants now, and is what every GM wished their foreign big guy that they took high in the draft turned out to be.  And NURKIC.  Talk about an anchor.  He’s a big boy.  And he’s gonna be the rim protecter for the Nuggets.  But he has to stay healthy.  If not, then the small-ball lineups they’re gonna have to turn to are not gonna be pretty.

This is a super frisky team.  They’re gonna be a fun watch, and will go on some runs.  I think they can also make a run at the 8th seed, but it will be close.

Minnesota Timberwolves

  1. Ricky Rubio-Kris Dunn-Tyus Jones-John Lucas
  2. Zach Lavine-Brandon Rush
  3. Andrew Wiggins-Shabazz Muhammed-Nemanja Bjelica
  4. Karl-Anthony Towns-Jordan Hill-Adreian Panye
  5. Gorgui Dieng-Cole Aldrich

They’re already the internet’s darling, and based on the small sample size from the Memphis game, they’re only going to impress more.

The point guard situation has been the subject of much conversation.  I’ve been on Ricky Rubio’s bad side forever.  I’ve been insistent that they trade him as soon as possible.  But I’ve kinda backtracked on that position.  A report came out a couple weeks ago that the Timberwolves are gonna hold onto Rubio until they know Kris Dunn is the guy.  Thats a smart thing to do.  But how soon will we know that?  Do we already know that?

The hype for Dunn has been there since the draft, and based on the limited amount of time I spent watching him against the Grizzlies, the hype should only get greater.  Dunn just looks like he’s in command on the court, and his stature helps greatly.  His 6’4 body is tall for a point guard, but it also adds this dynamic element to the offense when he’s out there.  And when Karl-Anthony Towns and him are out there together, the athleticism and dynamism of this offense is going to be close to unguardable.

Zach Lavine will continue to do his thing on the wing.  Andrew Wiggins will still be an elite defender.  But there’s more questions about Wiggins than we think.  There’s concern about the development of his offensive game.  I get it.  This is his 3rd year and he should improve, but I have doubts that it will.  Thats okay though.  There’s plenty of other talent on this team, and its not like Wiggins has been known for his offense.  He’s a defensive specialist.  Thats what he is, and there’s a good chance that won’t change.  And thats okay.

I have concerns about Gorgui Dieng as a rim protecter, but the guy does get boards and is extremely talented as a big-bodied ball handler.  He has great moves before his shot.  Minnesota added Cole Aldrich this offseason, a move I’m not stoked about, but he’ll be taking on a larger role this year, being the main rim protecter for this team.

I’ve said to Wolves friends in preseason talk that I wasn’t sure about their playoff chances.  I’ll be sure by the end of this column, but I feel like if Minnesota makes, then Denver does too.  The Wolves have enough talent, but a good amount of it is still very raw and inexperienced.  I mean, they blew a 17 point lead that they had in the first quarter, and struggled finishing it out.  Its why they lost.  Thats the only real concern with this team, and it could be enough to keep them out of the postseason if its too severe.

Oklahoma City Thunder

  1. Russell Westbrook-Cameron Payne
  2. Victor Oladipo-Anthony Morrow-Semaj Christon
  3. Andre Roberson-Kyle Singler-Alex Abrines-Josh Huestis
  4. Domantas Sabonis-Enes Kanter-Ersan Illaysova-Nick Collison
  5. Steven Adams-Joffrey Lauvergne

This team isn’t a top contender anymore now that Kevin Durant has left, but they’re still interesting!  We’ll get to Russell Westbrook later, because I want to touch on the rest of roster.  Victor Oladipo was an offseason addition from Orlando; many, including me, have not given up on him.  I think he’s finally in the right situation, and is ready to flourish.  Andre Roberson is Andre Roberson.  He can’t shoot but is a good defender on the wing.  I’m pumped about Domantas Sabonis.  He’s a talented four who can space the floor a bit, and occasionally hit the three.  If he struggles, they have plenty of depth to make for his minutes reduction.

Steven Adams is going to continue to be a beast.  The guy is an animal and a matchup night.  He matches up with practically any center in the league.

Ah, Russell Westbrook.  The guy is a joy, no matter who he plays with.  He’s also a maniac, and thats a bit concerning.

This roster is fine.  As I went through above, it has it’s strengths and weaknesses.  But those strengths aren’t always gonna show up and be there.  This is when Westbrook is gonna takeover, and we can’t totally be sure thats a good thing.  Two seasons ago, when Kevin Durant hurt his foot and missed the rest of the year, Westbrook was phenomenal.  But the Thunder weren’t winning.  They missed the playoffs that year.  You can’t tell me part of it wasn’t cause of that takeover-mode.  Its not efficient basketball to do what Westbrook does when he’s in “I got this.” mode.  Unless Westbrook changes his ways (unlikely), this Thunder team is going to hit rough patches.  The MVP talk for Westbrook has flaws to it too.  Statistically, he’ll be in the conversation.  But the Thunder have to be winning if he is to be considered.  Thats the way the MVP race works.  I’m not sure Westbrook’s insane stat lines will be enough for the MVP and a consistent year.  That said, I still think the Thunder will make the playoffs.  But it might be a rough ride there.

Portland Trail Blazers

  1. Damian Lillard-Shabazz Naiper-Pat Connaughton
  2. C.J. McCollum-Evan Turner-Tim Qaurterman
  3. Moe Harkless-Allen Crabbe-Jake Layman
  4. Al-Farouq Aminu-Noah Vonleh-Ed Davis
  5. Mason Plumlee-Meyers Leonard-Festus Ezeli

The Trail Blazers starting lineup is a bit confusing to me, but they have a lot of talent and depth.  My personal lineup would be Lillard-McCollum-Crabbe-Aminu-Leonard.  Its easy to foresee some changes later on in the year with the rotation order because of the talent they have.  Damian Lillard is my MVP pick.  If Portland makes the playoffs, he’s gonna be a huge reason why.  Shabazz Naiper has yet to figure out the NBA, but his college fame still has me convinced he’ll straighten things out.  Pat Connaughton too!

The Trail Blazers are stacked on the wing.  C.J. McCollum is awesome, Evan Turner not so much.  But the small forward position is loaded with Moe Harkless and Allen Crabbe, who are both good defensive players who can score when needed.  Turner and Crabbe got overpaid, but Neil Olshey is smart, and probably knows more than I do about these guys.  Plus, it provides them good depth.

The frontcourt, center especially, is full of quality players, besides Noah Vonleh.  Vonleh’s another guy who hasn’t figured it out yet in the league, and he’s one of those who probably won’t, unfortunately.  Its just not there.

I never thought Festus Ezeli and Meyers Leonard would end up on the same team but they are, and its magical.  They can’t play together, which makes me question why they’re on the same team, since they’re both starter-quality.  But yay for depth I guess!

Utah Jazz

  1. George Hill-Dante Exum-Alec Burks
  2. Rodney Hood-Raul Neto-Shelvin Mack
  3. Joe Johnson-Joe Ingles-Gordon Hayward (Starter when healthy)
  4. Derrick Favors-Boris Diaw-Trey Lyles
  5. Rudy Gobert-Joel Bolomboy-Jeff Withey

This team is so good that even if Gordon Hayward wasn’t missing all this time they’d still be in the current playoff spot I have them at.  This team is awesome and I cannot wait to watch them.

The only real issue I see is at the top.  George Hill isn’t bad, but I think a lot of people in the league tend to overrate him.  The people in the league who do overrate him would say that I underrate him.  Its one of those things.  Hill will be fine for this Utah team.  I think his minutes will start to decline throughout the year, as Dante Exum works his way back from injury.

I love Rodney Hood and the depth at two-gaurd.  Raul Neto is competent and I’ve always had a thing for Shelvin Mack.

They only get deeper too.  Joe Johnson, Joe Ingles, and Gordon Hayward at one position is ridiculous.  And then Derrick Favors, Boris Diaw, and Trey Lyles next?  Good Lord!  Its like you’re playing a starting lineup all the time.  Oh, and don’t forget about Rudy Gobert, who’s ready to grab any rebound in sight and swat the ball out of your hands.

I’ll spoil it:  I have the Jazz grabbing the 3rd seed in the West, ahead of the Clippers.  The Clippers are coming up soon, and I’ll explain there why I think they’re due for a setback.

Golden State Warriors

  1. Stephen Curry-Shaun Livingstone-Patrick McCaw
  2. Klay Thompson-Ian Clark
  3. Kevin Durant-Andre Igoudala-James Michael McAdoo
  4. Draymond Green-David West-Kevon Looney
  5. Zaza Pachulia-Anderson Varejao-JaVale McGee-Damian Jones

Is this an All-Star team?  How is this possible?

The Warriors are really good!  There’s no point in breaking them down.  We know how good they are.  Yes, they lost to the Spurs.  The opener wasn’t pretty.  But worst case scenario, they end up like Cleveland did the first year Lebron came back.

Los Angeles Clippers

  1. Chris Paul-Jamal Crawford-Raymond Felton-Austin Rivers
  2. J.J. Redick
  3. Luc Mbah a Moute-Paul Pierce-Wesley Johnson-Alan Anderson
  4. Blake Griffin-Brandon Bass-Brice Johnson
  5. DeAndre Jordan-Mareesee Speights-Diamond Stone

I’m not a huge fan of this Clippers team and here’s why:  They have the same problems they’ve had for years:  No perimeter guy.

The Clipper are gonna be starting guys like Luc Mbah a Moute, Wesley Johnson, and Paul Pierce at small forward this year.  None of those are viable options.  This issue has killed them for years, and it looks like it will do the same this season.

I also worry about the chemistry of this team.  Its becoming acceptable to question the core.  They can’t escape the 2nd round of the playoffs, and always seem to have someone getting hurt.  Chris Paul is great, no doubt.  Its the frontcourt where the issue is.  Blake Griffin is talented, but his style is on the way out.  Where’s people making the point that if he could stretch, the Clippers SF problem wouldn’t be as big of a deal?  Thats the hole in Griffin’s game.  Plus, he’s always injured these days.

Griffin’s not a rim protecter, and that leaves DeAndre Jordan down low.  He’s fine, and gets the job done as a rim protecter and rebounder, but doesn’t add any athleticism to a roster thats lacking it.  This is one of the least-dynamic offenses in the league.

Thats why I think Los Angeles could regress.  An injury is going to occur that leaves them scrambling, and they will struggle to (once again) find that perimeter guy.

Los Angeles Lakers

  1. D’Angelo Russell-Lou Williams-Jose Calderon
  2. Jordan Clarkson-Marcelo Huertas
  3. Brandon Ingram-Luol Deng-Nick Young-Thomas Robinson
  4. Julius Randle-Larry Nance-Metta World Peace
  5. Timofey Mozgov-Tarik Black-Ivica Zubic

This Lakers team has the potential to be really fun this year.  They’re super young and have tons of raw talent.  About that starting lineup though…

The starting lineup against Houston was Russell-Young-Deng-Randle-Mozgov.  I was a little taken back by Luke Walton doing his Bryon Scott impression, but I think based on the way crunch-time went during the Houston, that Walton will slowly become comfortable with starting all these young guys.

This is finally D’Angelo Russell’s chance to show that he was shuttered by Byron Scott, and he started the season nicely against Houston.  The guy made big shot after big shot, and looked in control on the court.  Thats exactly what you need from a point guard, and for him to show those skills already says something.

Jordan Clarkson also had a great night versus Houston.  He’ll eventually start this year, because Nick Young should not be in anyone’s starting lineup.  Clarkson is gonna have an expanded role, and thats going to be very enjoyable.  The guy can get to the rim, and its magical to watch.

I wasn’t very high on Brandom Ingram before the draft.  I think he should have stayed another year in college.  Ingram is super raw offensively and we’re gonna see that this year.  I’d expect Ingram to be more a defensive guy this season, while working on his offense in practice and with trainers. There’s just not enough substance there yet.

I’m not a fan of Timofey Mozgov’s contract still (Who is?), but he’s going to serve as an anchor and rim protecter for this young Lakers team.  He can get some easy buckets low too.  Maybe it won’t be as atrocious as we all thought!  Maybe this Lakers team won’t be atrocious for once!

Sacramento Kings

  1. Ty Lawson-Darren Collison-Malachi Richardson
  2. Arron Affalo-Ben McLemore-Garrett Temple
  3. Rudy Gay-Matt Barnes-Anthony Tolliver-Omri Casspi
  4. Willie Cauley-Stein
  5. DeMarcus Cousins-Kosta Koufus-Georios Papagiannis-Skal Labissiere

Speaking of atrocious…

This team has way too many issues to be competent.  We need to send in the Navy Seals on a rescue mission to save Boogie Cousins in Sacramento.  I can’t handle this anymore.

They have no point guard, no playmakers, and four or five centers, depending on how you judge Boogie and Cauley-Stein position-wise.

Ty Lawson is done in this league.  Darren Collison is suspended for domestic violence, and though I liked Malachi Richardson in college, he’ll probably never be a starting point guard.  So if Minnesota trades Ricky Rubio at some point this season, they should call the Kings first.

The Kings have decent players on the wing, but no one can create their own shot.  Arron Affalo is the closest thing they have to a playmaker and shot creator.  Not great!  Ben McLemore, Rudy Gay, Matt Barnes, and Anthony Tolliver are all good shooters, but aren’t gonna dribble much and get their own shot.  And its not like they have a point guard to get them the ball either!

Sacramento has a cluster in the frontcourt.  They have five rim protecters and no power forwards.  Mid-rangers are bad, sure.  But you have to have someone who can at least space out within the three point line and take a couple!  I mean, they’re gonna be missing them anyways; same with threes.  Threes are a lot worse to miss than mid-rangers!

So yeah, this Kings team has problems.  A lot of them.  These problems are probably good enough for last in the West.

Phoenix Suns

  1. Eric Bledsoe-Brandon Knight-Tyler Ulis
  2. Devin Booker-Leandro Barbosa-John Jenkins
  3. Jared Dudley-P.J. Tucker-T.J. Warren-Derrick Jones
  4. Marquese Chriss-Dragan Bender-Alan Williams
  5. Tyson Chandler-Alex Len

Its not gonna be pretty, but I can’t wait to watch this team develop.  There’s so much young talent, like really young talent.  Tyler Ulis, Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss and Devin Booker are all babies.  This could be the year of Devin Booker; many people are going all in on him.  I’m lenient, mostly because I don’t want him to get jinxed or something.  However, he’s probably gonna be the leading scorer for this offense, which has a lot of guys, but not scorers.

The point guard situation is going to be dicey throughout the year.  I expect Brandon Knight or Eric Bledsoe to be gone by the trade deadline, which would expand minutes for Tyler Ulis.  Devin Booker can assume some ball-handling too.

P.J. Tucker is another guy I’d expect to be out of here by February.  He’s not very effective anymore, and we have plenty of depth on the wing.  Jared Dudley and Leandro Barbosa were awesome homecoming pickups, and add some much needed leadership to this roster.

I hope Marquese Chriss gets a chance to shine this year.  That guy adds dynamism to this offense, something that is a huge need.

The center position is an area of concern.  Tyson Chandler is on the decline, and Alex Len isn’t quite what we hoped he’d be.  Maybe Dragan Bender can surprise us and help out in the paint.

I expect the Suns to be one of the worst teams in the conference, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be a bad team to watch.  They have plenty of talent to keep an eye on; talent that has a ton of potential.

West Seeds:

  1. Golden State
  2. San Antonio
  3. Utah
  4. Los Angeles Clippers
  5. Portland
  6. Minnesota
  7. Oklahoma City
  8. Memphis
  9. Denver
  10. Dallas
  11. Houston
  12. Los Angeles Lakers
  13. Phoenix
  14. New Orleans
  15. Sacramento