NBA Preview Part Two: The 2018-2019 Eastern Conference Preview

Here’s the 2nd part of the 2018-2019 NBA Preview.  I went through every team’s rotation and projected their record off of it.  The Wizards do not play until tomorrow night.  A mini-write up on them will go up tomorrow afternoon.

Atlanta Hawks 

  1. Trae Young-Jeremy Lin
  2. Kent Bazemore-Tyler Dorsey-Vince Carter-Kevin Huerter
  3. Taurean Prince-DeAndre Bembry-Justin Anderson
  4. John Collins-Alex Poythress-Omari Spellman-Dwayne Dedmon
  5. Alex Len-Miles Plumlee

Welcome to the Eastern Conference everybody!  It’s a crapfest over here!

It’s amazing how we’re kicking this crappy conference off with possibly its worst team.  This team is awful.

They’re kinda fun though.  Trae Young is gonna be entertaining whether he sucks or not.  John Collins is a springy big man who can do a bunch of things.  Taurean Prince really came on last season as a legit three-and-D guy.

The young guys go on and on.  Tyler Dorsey, Kevin Huerter, DeAndre Bembry, Justin Anderson and Omari Spellman give the Hawks a boatload of young, stretchy wings.  With the Hawks all-in on youth, we should see even more minutes from Dorsey this year.  The Hawks like Trae Young as their go-to guy, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Dorsey gains a bit of that edge.  He was a baller in college.  Huerter is strictly a shooter and needs work on the defensive end.  They see him as a future star; a Klay Thompson like player if Young turns out to be Curry.  But the defense is not close to there yet.

Bembry will help out on the defensive end, along with the prospectus of Omari Spellman.  He was great at Villanova and has a three point shot that should translate.

The center spot is being overcomplicated.  Get rid of Alex Len and Miles Plumlee and just play Collins.  He’s a fine rim protector.  Len’s bad and Plumlee’s been on how many teams now?

The Hawks have a core and a plan.  That’s better than some teams.  But I just hesitate to believe this is the guys that’ll bring it to life.  There’s gonna be a lot of Trae Young this year.  That may be a good thing or a bad thing.

I believe they’re at least one piece away.  I don’t see Young as the best player on this team ever.  That’s why tanking and trying to get a RJ Barrett-like player is the best way to go.

Projected record: 27-55

(Boston’s preview can be found at the bottom of this column.)

Brooklyn Nets

  1. D’Angelo Russell-Shabazz Naiper-Spencer Dinwiddie
  2. Allen Crabbe-Treveon Graham
  3. Caris LeVert-Joe Harris-Rondae Hollis-Jefferson-Dzanan Musa
  4. Jared Dudley-Ed Davis-Kenneth Faried-DeMarre Carroll (injured)
  5. Jarrett Allen-Alan Williams 

I like this team!

They’re not really good but they’re not bad either.  It’s somewhere between average and solid.

The basis for projecting the Nets a little higher than we probably should is due to the fact that they have a lot of dudes I like.

I love the guards.  D’Angelo Russell isn’t going to be the superstar some projected him to be, but he’s a fun player to run things through on a bad-to-decent team.  Shabazz Naiper did really good things in Portland during the second half of last season, and I’m all in on Spencer Dinwiddie.

The Nets are a modern team with decent-to-solid players.  None of their wing guys are stars or are taking big shots in crunch-time, but they can theoretically hit enough threes and be good enough on the defensive end.  Allen Crabbe’s contact isn’t great, but the Nets don’t care about that right now.  Caris LeVert is a do-it-all player who can pass, shoot, play D and essentially do anything you want him to.  They have Joe Harris off the bench, who is one of the top 20 shooters in the league and should probably just start until DeMarre Carroll is back and healthy (Which will probably be sometime around Christmas).  It was a good call by them not to trade him at the deadline last February; this team is a lot closer than people think.

They have depth on the wings too.  Treveon Graham is worth the flyer, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is a fine option for limited minutes.  Dzanan Musa could be really fun if he’s careful; I’m going all-in on him like I did Mario Hezonja (Hopefully I’ll be right this time).

I can’t believe I’m praising DeMarre Carroll this much, but I like him in this rotation more than any of their power forwards.  Ed Davis was a great signing, but he’s not a floor spacer despite his versatile defense.

The Nets are gonna hang around in the East.  They’re definitely better than Detroit, who most people have penciled in as the 8th seed.  We’ll get there soon, but I just don’t see it.  The Nets are far better.

Projected record: 35-47

Charlotte Hornets

  1. Kemba Walker-Devonte Graham-Tony Parker
  2. Nicholas Batum-Jeremy Lamb-Malik Monk
  3. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist-Miles Bridges-Dwayne Bacon-JP Macura 
  4. Marvin Williams-Frank Kaminsky-Bismarck Biyombo
  5. Cody Zeller-Willy Hernangomez

The Hornets ran it back since they’re capped out and can’t really improve.  They entertained the thought of trading Kemba Walker last year, but couldn’t get the right deal.

It’s hard to rebuild with this team.  The Nicholas Batum contract is an albatross; same with Cody Zeller and Marvin Williams’s.  They’re capped out and average, so it’s probably better to just better to continue on the path they’re on and try to make the playoffs rather than relinquish assests to get rid of the contracts.

Their assets are good!  Malik Monk is in a horrible situation, but I’m still on the bandwagon.  He’s got star potential and just didn’t and won’t get enough minutes to show it.  They added to their core of wings with Miles Bridges, who is an excellent defender.  Same with Dwayne Bacon.  Oh, and Devonte Graham is someone to keep an eye on.  He was one of the best players in college basketball for three years straight and can flat out score.

The front court isn’t great.  Charlotte would be best off playing as many wings as they can, and let Hernangomez play five.  He’s the most agile and most competent defensive player they have for rim protection.  Frank Kaminsky is close to bust status, and Biyombo just isn’t strong enough.

The Hornets are just fine.  They’re competent enough to hang around toward the back of the East.  They should make the playoffs, but they’re nothing special.

Projected record: 40-42

Chicago Bulls

  1. Kris Dunn-Cameron Payne-Tyler Ulis-Ryan Arcidiacono
  2. Zach Lavine-Antonio Blakeney
  3. Jabari Parker-Justin Holiday-Chandler Hutchinson-Rawle Alkins-Denzel Valentine
  4. Lauri Markkanen-Bobby Portis
  5. Wendell Carter Jr.-Robin Lopez-Cristiano Felicia-Omer Asik

We’re back in the bowels of the East.  Like the Hawks, the Bulls are very young.  They’re at least working on a core and have some nice pieces, but it’s flawed and/or isn’t there yet.

Kris Dunn was someone I was really high on out of his draft.  The defense and craftiness with the ball was what I was keened in on with him.  But a couple of issues have arisen.  He battled injuries during his rookie year and was buried on the Minnesota bench.  He was then traded with Zach Lavine, who dominates the ball when they share the court together.  Dunn’s offense hasn’t come around besides the facilitating; he literally can’t shoot.  Playing him with Lavine not only hinders his development, but highlights one of the biggest issues with this Bulls roster in general:  There’s too many guys who need the ball, and no one good enough to be the guy.

That doesn’t totally matter considering they aren’t trying to win, but it does matter for development.  Lavine and Jabari Parker’s tendencies to hold the ball too long, isolate and take bad shots doesn’t bode for what’s actually a decently modern and fun roster.  If Lavine and Parker buy in, the Bulls could run some fun stuff on the offensive end.  Dunn’s a great passer, and rookie Wendell Carter Jr. has amazing passing skills for a big man.  The Bulls could get really crafty with their offense and run complicated motion off Dunn and Carter’s passes, but the tendencies of Lavine and Parker to do too much could derail that.

And even if they do that offensively to help muster some wins, the defense could suffocate its benefits.  Chicago is a train wreck on that end.  Lavine, Parker and Lauri Markkannen are all minuses who either don’t care or aren’t skilled on that end.  The three are collectively so bad that it’ll probably make up for the good that comes out of Carter Jr. and Dunn.

The Bulls have some nice, young players.  Chandler Hutchinson, Bobby Portis and Tyler Ulis are all solid bench guys for a young team.  But I just don’t see anyone on this roster who has star potential.  I hope the Bulls realize this and tank, but I have concerns that they think that guy is Lavine.

Projected record: 29-53

Cleveland Cavaliers

  1. George Hill-Collin Sexton
  2. Rodney Hood-JR Smith-Jordan Clarkson
  3. Cedi Osman-David Nwamba-Kyle Korver-Sam Dekker
  4. Kevin Love-Larry Nance Jr.-Channing Fyre-Billy Preston
  5. Tristan Thompson-Ante Zizic

It’s part two of the “LeBron leaves you in shambles” saga.

Yikes, there is a lot going on here.  There’s a odd mirage of young guys and veterans on bad contracts that the Cavaliers don’t really want.  These aren’t the type of guys you keep around in year one of a rebuild.  Maybe later on down the road, but not in the beginning.

Reports have already been out there that Cleveland wants to trade Kyle Korver.  He makes the most sense to go first, since there will actually be a market for him (George Hill?  Maybe not so much!).  Hill and JR Smith off this roster would be nice, but no one is taking either contract.  They’re just kinda stuck there for now.

It’s possible though that Cleveland flips this the other way and attempts to make the playoffs.  The Kevin Love extension signaled that could be their plan.

And at this point, it might make sense to do that.  You can’t really kick off a rebuild until all the contracts are off the books, so the Cavaliers thinking was to try to be competitive until JR, Hill and Thompson are up.  Love is most important if they are trying to make the playoffs, and his extension will be up about the same time as the bad ones are.

There are two problems with this though:  1) Even the competitive roster may not be enough to get them in.  2)  This is going to be a much longer process than we think.  If the Cavaliers are somewhat competitive for the next couple years, then they won’t have the best draft picks to get real impactful players.  So the tanking process to gain picks won’t start until the contracts are up, which is somewhere between 3-4 years from now depending on whose you’re looking at.  So 3-4 years of being competitive, 3-4 years of tanking after that to gain a core, then development, which would be another 2-3 years.  That’s at least eight years from now!

This is what happens when LeBron leaves.  It’s great while he’s there, but the situation he leaves you in is not great.  Especially when you’re Cleveland.

The Cavaliers’ plan to be competitive is cute.  I don’t think this roster is there, even for the 8th seed in the East, which is the arm-pit of the league right now.  They get worse defensively with LeBron gone; which is somehow possible.  The front-court is a blackhole; Thompson’s rim protection is scary at best, and Love doesn’t possess that skill.

Their best bet offensively is to turn K-Love back into his Minnesota self by posting him up and running everything through him.  Even in today’s league, that has to be worth something, right?  They’re basically a much worse Denver that way; Love can make some passes from the elbow to shooters and cutters.

But how much are they gonna move?  George Hill and JR Smith love to dribble the ball, and Tristan Thompson’s complaining about not getting enough touches is coming (He can get away with saying that not that LeBron is gone!).

Cleveland’s best option for an efficient offense to play Love with Cedi Osman, Sam Dekker and Rodney Hood.  And even that is… yikes.

The Cavaliers are so bad that they’re going to try to be the 8th seed and won’t get it. Even the best version of this offense is awful; I’d expect them by Christmas to be turning things over to Collin Sexton, and let the whole thing burn to the ground.

Projected record: 25-57

Detroit Pistons

  1. Reggie Jackson-Ish Smith-Langston Galloway-Jose Calderon
  2. Reggie Bullock-Luke Kennard-Bruce Brown Jr.
  3. Stanley Johnson-Glenn Robinson-Khyri Thomas
  4. Blake Griffin-Henry Ellenson-Jon Leuer
  5. Andre Drummond-Zaza Pachulia 

Incase you’re bored, the quality of the East improves as we move through alphabetical order.

Thank God.

A lot of people have the Pistons slotted as the 8th seed in the East.  I need some explanation there.

I guess the case is that an offense running through a passing big man with shooters is worth at least 35 wins.  Like the Cavaliers above, Detroit is essentially a worse Denver.  But the pieces on this offense aren’t nearly as good as on the ones Denver.  I mean, one of the “shooters” on this Detroit team is Andre Drummond now; I guess that’s a thing.

Shooting coaches always point to making free throws before you become a good shooter.  Drummond can’t even do that.  This whole thing is hilarious.

Maybe the Pistons think that just his presence on the perimeter will draw defenders out and open up space for Griffin and cutters, but if I’m an opposing defense, I have a 5-on-4 advantage in that situation.  I’m leaving Drummond as open as I possibly can if he’s on the perimeter.  Please, Andre Drummond, shoot threes.  Take as many as you’d like.

And that’s only one issue with this offense.  I’m sure Reggie Jackson is gonna be thrilled watching Blake Griffin take the ball away from him, and he’ll certainly be pleased with watching Andre Drummond brick threes instead of him.  But it’s okay, because once Griffin gets hurt and is out for at least 20 games, it’s the Reggie Jackson show.  And the Pistons are no better or worse that way.

Dwane Casey is the new coach here, and this has all the makings of his Toronto offenses prior to last season, with a bunch of weird isolations from players who didn’t deserve it.

The Pistons are just as bad defensively.  Playing Griffin and Drummond doesn’t only kill your spacing, but allows offenses to space you out.  They’re screwed against five-out teams, and will struggle with rim protection.  Drummond’s effort on that end fluctuates, and there’s an odd belief that Griffin is able to play small-ball center.

No matter which way you craft it, the Pistons are not good.  It feels like there should be no way they make the playoffs, but with how low my projected records are for most of the East, it’s unfortunately possible.

Projected record: 34-48

Indiana Pacers 

  1. Darren Collison-Cory Joseph-Aaron Holiday
  2. Victor Olidipo-Tyreke Evans-Edmond Sumner
  3. Bojan Bogdanovic-Doug McDermott
  4. Thaddeus Young-TJ Leaf-Alize Johnson-Ben Moore
  5. Myles Turner-Domas Sabonis-Kyle O’Quinn-Ike Anigbogu

Our first good East team!  Lets go!

I was slightly disappointed with the Pacers offseason though.  Their biggest need was some firepower around Victor Olidipo, who broke down in the playoffs and couldn’t handle the massive offensive loaded he was tasked with carrying.

They did a little bit.  They signed Doug McDermott and Tyreke Evans.  McDermott was in the right idea of what I wanted them to do, but he’s not gonna be impactful enough.  Evans I have multiple concerns about.  I mean, there’s no way he’s as good as last season, right?  (What was that by the way?  Did that actually happen?)  Secondly, whether he is good or not doesn’t have anything to do with chemistry.  There’s a lot of overlap between his and Olidipo’s game.  Evans won’t start, but if he was added in the thinking that him and Olidipo would play off one another and create a more dynamic offense, then I’m betting against that working out.  Evans needs the ball, and Olidipo is a good shooter, but in that scenario you’re taking the ball out of the hands of your best player.  With expected regression from Evans, he doesn’t really count as firepower.

But that’s the worst case scenario for the Pacers; that they’re just as good as they were last year and that’s it.

Improvement for the Pacers comes in Victor Olidipo taking another step forward and the rise of some young guys.  Indiana is really high on Ben Moore and Alize Johnson, and I think TJ Leaf can be much more effective with more minutes this year.

The Pacers are fine.  They aren’t in the top tier of the East; some more splashy offseason moves would have helped with that, but Olidipo’s rise will be fun to watch once again.

Projected record: 45-37

Miami Heat

  1. Goran Dragic-Tyler Johnson
  2. Josh Richardson-Dwyane Wade-Dion Waiters
  3. Rodney McGruder-Wayne Ellington-Derrick Jones Jr.-Duncan Robinson
  4. Justise Winslow-James Johnson-Kelly Olynyk-Yante Maten
  5. Hassan Whiteside-Bam Adebayo-Udonis Haslem

This Heat team is just waiting for a trade to be made.  They’re one guy away from contending in the East (Hello Jimmy Butler!).  But for now, they’re just a fun team with a bunch of stretchy dudes who play defense, shoot threes and can’t score in crunch-time.

Right now, the Heat are relying on some combination of Dwyane Wade, Dion Waiters and Goran Dragic to get them buckets down the stretch.  Yikes.

Besides that, the Heat are good.  Josh Richardson, Rodney McGruder and Justise Winslow form a lockdown perimeter defense; all three can switch between multiple positions and have great athleticism.  They’re unselfish offensively, except for Winslow, who isn’t selfish but still can’t really do anything with the ball in his hands.  The contract the Heat gave to him was stunning for someone who hasn’t shown a whole lot on one side of the ball.  His defense might be worth it, but for a team that needs scorers as bad as this one does, it was a lot to pay up.

The Heat are deep too, which makes a possible 3-for-1 trade hurt less.  Miami will bring James Johnson off the bench as an offensive cornerstone.  He can do a bunch of things on offense and defense: Stretch floor, make passes, score inside, switch on D and can even protect the rim decently if it’s from the help side.  When he’s in, the Heat can get easy buckets if they move the ball around Johnson, like how Denver uses Nikola Jokic or how the Pistons plan to use Blake Griffin.  That type of offense would be a pain to guard, and Johnson could set some nasty elbow screens to have guys cut around him towards the rim.  Playing Johnson a bevy of minutes while also using the current starters in crunch-time might muster enough offense, especially against bad defensive teams.

Hassan Whiteside is frustrating, but his inconsistent defense and constant demanding for the ball shouldn’t have too much of an impact.  The Heat have guys who can make for the defense, like Johnson or Bam Adebayo, who was incredible last season under the rim and has shown the ability to guard the perimeter thanks to his lengthy, bouncy frame.  Johnson can also make up for Whiteside’s misses, but both of them playing together has been an issue in the past; it’s hard to run a Point Johnson-like offense when Whiteside, a lumbering big man, is out there.

The Heat have a move to make, and when they do, watch out.  They could make a run in the East.  But for now, they’re just another fun team that’s not quite there yet.  They’ll make the playoffs comfortably without a big move, but before long time is gonna run out on this group.

Projected record: 46-36

Milwaukee Bucks

  1. Giannis Antetokounmpo-Matthew Dellavedova-Treveon Duval
  2. Eric Bledsoe
  3. Malcolm Brogdon-Tony Snell-Donte DiVincenzo-Sterling Brown-Pat Connaughton-DJ Wilson
  4. Khris Middleton-Ersan Ilyasova
  5. Brook Lopez-John Henson-Thon Maker-Christian Wood

I am so excited this team is finally competent.

The hire of Mike Budenholzer cannot be understated.  The Bucks had the worst coach(es) in the league last year between Jason Kidd and Jay Triano.  The offense was a disaster; Eric Bledsoe had the ball way too much, taking it out of Giannis Antentokounmpo’s hands and leading to a lot of isolations and bad possessions.  The defense was even worse.  Neither John Henson or Thon Maker could provide rim protection, leading to Giannis having step in whenever he could.  That wasn’t easy; the Bucks hardly switched under Kidd/Triano when they have one of the most plentiful supplies of length in the league.  And finally, the Bucks were just dumb.  They committed a ton of turnovers, dropped passes, didn’t execute anything particularly well.  It was a mess.

This year, all of that should change.  Budenholzer is completely revitalizing the offense so that shooters can get open shots via the process of ball movement, which was a completely foreign idea to the Bucks last year.  I mean, look at the things he’s doing already.

Ahhhhhhhhhh it’s glorious.  You could watch every quarter of Bucks basketball last season and can’t find one possession like that one.

The problem is that the shots have to go in.  The Bucks ranked 22nd in three point percentage last season, and had the 6th lowest percentage of three pointers taken out of all their shots.  They’ll shoot more, which is a plus no matter if they go in or not, but whether they go in could be the difference between the Bucks being the 4th or 6th in the East.  They just have to go in.  A lot of their core rotation guys shot between 35 and 38 percent from deep last year, which isn’t a number suitable for today’s league.

But Bud is gonna do all he can to make sure those shots go in.  There’s also one other guy who could help out the Bucks offensively.

I, like everyone else, expect Giannis to be on a different level this season.  It’s time.  The offense is in his hands now.  No more Eric Bledsoe dribbling, or bad mid-rangers by Khris Middleton.  None of that.  It’s all Giannis.  He’s the most unstoppable player driving to the rim in the league.  He can pass and kick out, score on tip-ins, and rebound.  This is the year he dominates.  You’re gonna have to stop him every time in every game.  Good luck.

There are some concerns with this team though.  With the new responsibility and spotlight, Giannis could struggle a bit.  I mean, he’s still only 24.  No coach has ever given him the chance to be the guy.  That’s especially true in crunch-time, where Milwaukee was horrifically bad in last season.  Shouldn’t we expect some deer-in-the-headlights?

And what happens when Bledsoe tries to wrestle the ball from him?  That’ll create inefficiency between the two with Bledsoe wasting seconds and Giannis standing there awkwardly, not being preparing to spot up at all.  They could use Giannis as a slasher in some sets, but again: There should be no possession where it’s not in his hands at some point.

Brook Lopez should do a lot for the Bucks, and that adds about half the wins Bud does.  The defense down low was so horrid last season that even those sour on Lopez should see him as an upgrade.  We can’t forget that he was on the Lakers, one of the few worse defensive teams than Milwaukee last season.  When the whole team is bad, it can make the individual look worse than they are.

The Bucks were already awesome and just needed a facelift.  They got one in Bud, and I expect him and Giannis to propel this team to a new height.

Projected record: 55-27

New York Knicks

  1. Frank Ntilikina-Emmanuel Muiday-Trey Burke-Ron Baker
  2. Tim Hardaway Jr.-Allonzo Trier-Mario Hezonja-Courtney Lee
  3. Kevin Knox-Damyean Dotson
  4. Lance Thomas-Isaiah Hicks-Luke Kornet 
  5. Enes Kanter-Kristaps Porzingis (Injured)

The East gave us three good teams in a row.  Now we’re here.

I think I knew this team was gonna be bad, but I didn’t think it’d be this bad.

Kristaps Porzingis went down at the worst possible time last season.  It was early February when Porzingis tore the ACL.  At that time, it seemed like the earliest he’d be back was Christmas.  Now it looks more and more likely that Porzingis might be looking at a full year for recovery; there’s a chance he doesn’t play at all this season.

That means that New York has all the incentive in the world to be as bad as they possibly can be this season.  Tanking and getting another top pick makes the Knicks decently appeasing to a free agent or two.

This season the Knicks should concentrate on two things.  The first is to try to develop Ntilikina’s offensive game.  He’s still super raw on that end despite being an excellent defender.  The only skill he’s got offensively is the passing, but he doesn’t ever seem to have total control of the offense.  Part of that is system-based, and other parts are Tim Hardaway Jr-based.  He’s not a dangerous driver, and is still working on kicking out and slashing.  You’re basically playing 4-on-5 with him on offense.

The second is getting Kevin Knox the ball.  The rookie blew me away in Summer League; he was a dominant scorer who could get any shot he wanted.  Granted this was Summer League, but the confidence I saw him display was not there at Kentucky, where he disappeared during games on the offensive end.  If the Knicks can make him their No.1 option, then he’s going to be really good fast.  Ride that confidence he has coming out of the Summer into the beginning of the season.

Besides those two things, don’t watch the Knicks.  They’re going to be horrendous defensively.  Honestly, they’d probably be more entertaining the worse they get.  Then, we’ll start to see larger roles for guys like Allonzo Trier (Who I really liked in college) and Isaiah Hicks.  Trier, Hicks and Knox is a fun three-man lineup we should see at some point this season.  But that’s a ways on.  For now, avert your eyes!

Projected record: 24-58

Orlando Magic

  1. DJ Augustin-Jerian Grant-Isaiah Briscoe
  2. Evan Fournier-Melton Frazier Jr.
  3. Aaron Gordon-Jonathan Simmons-Terrence Ross-Wesley Iwundu
  4. Jonathan Issac-Jarrell Martin
  5. Nikola Vucevic-Mo Bamba-Khem Birch-Timofey Mozgov

I don’t even know what to say about this team.

For someone who was a fan of John Hammond in Milwaukee, I’m disappointed.  Hammond was onto the next big things with the Bucks; he knew the league was going to embrace long, stretchy players who could play perimeter roles.  But now that he’s in that league, his moves have been odd.

I wasn’t a fan of the Jonathan Issac pick.  He had the potential to do a lot of things, but didn’t actually do any of them.  We’re still at that point.

And now he’s forced to play with Mo Bamba, Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon.  That’s three guys who do the same things: Protect the rim, post-up, rebound and don’t shoot threes.

It’s kinda impossible for the Magic to not play a lineup that features two of those guys.  I doubt the Magic play Khem Birch much, and Timofey Mozgov is… well… Timofey Mozgov.  Jarell Martin isn’t really a rim protector, and since he can’t protect the rim as well, I’m sure the Magic will find a spot for him since he’s a mediocre three point shooter on top of that.

Besides those rare scenarios, it’s gonna be hard for the Magic to find modern lineups without benching all their bigs they’re trying to develop.  It’s too bad Evan Fournier is on this team; he could be a really nice piece somewhere else.

The Magic are gonna be horrible and I have no idea how they’re gonna sort out this lineup.  I’m glad it’s not my job.

Projected record: 23-59

Toronto Raptors

  1. Kyle Lowry-Fred VanVleet-Lorenzo Brown
  2. Danny Green-Norman Powell-Delon Wright-Jordan Lloyd
  3. OG Anunoby-CJ Miles-Malachi Richardson
  4. Kawhi Leonard-Serge Ibaka-Pascal Siakam-Chris Boucher 
  5. Jonas Valanciunas-Greg Monroe 

Throughout this preview we’ve called out multiple teams who refused to do anything significant this offseason.  Now we’ve approached the one team who grew a pair and did something about their stagnant situation.

Kawhi Leonard may leave after this season, and even then the trade for him was still worth it.  The Raptors got someone to take on the DeMar DeRozan contract and split up their backcourt which was the root of all their issues.  They landed one of the seven best players in the league and now have one of the most modern, stretchy and defensive oriented teams in the league.

This Toronto Raptors team is dang good.  Kyle Lowry might be getting old and might be unreliable, but he’s perfect for this team.  He can facilitate and play well off the ball.  The heart of the Raptors issues was figuring out to split the ball between Lowry and DeRozan.  Now, that issue is gone, as Kawhi Leonard doesn’t command it nearly as much as DeRozan did.  The Raptors can run three wings along with Lowry, including Kawhi.  Danny Green was a sneaky good throw in to the deal, and will see a ton of minutes within this wing rotation.  OG Anunoby should take a step forward, given this will be his first healthy year.  He can’t be much better defensively, so some aggressiveness on the offensive side would be much appreciated by Toronto.  And don’t forget CJ Miles, who was on fire toward the end of last season from three.  He rounds out one of the best stashes of wings in the NBA.

The Raptors can change their look too.  With Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell off the bench, the Raptors can play fast and get explosive offensive outbursts if they need it.  VanVleet has a good Sixth Man of the Year case heading into this season, and I’m still on the Powell bandwagon.

Center is the one fallback the Raptors have.  Valanciunas takes away their ability to switch through all five positions, but when your wings are this good, it may not matter as much.

Toronto took a swing this summer and they’re at least getting on base.  If they end up in the Finals, it’s a home run.  If they don’t, oh well, but even if Kawhi leaves, they’re in better shape than they were a year ago.

Toronto is built to match up with a Boston or Golden State.  Whether they beat either depends on health and how the season develops.  But I wouldn’t be shocked to see them face both next May and June.

Projected record: 58-24

A write up on Washington will come tomorrow afternoon

Eastern Conference Standings:

  1. Boston Celtics, 63-19
  2. Toronto Raptors, 58-24
  3. Philadelphia 76ers, 56-26
  4. Milwaukee Bucks, 55-27
  5. Washington Wizards, 48-34
  6. Miami Heat, 46-36
  7. Indiana Pacers, 45-37
  8. Charlotte Hornets, 40-42
  9. Brooklyn Nets, 35-47
  10. Detroit Pistons, 34-48
  11. Chicago Bulls, 29-53
  12. Atlanta Hawks, 27-55
  13. Cleveland Cavaliers, 25-57
  14. New York Knicks, 24-58
  15. Orlando Magic, 23-59