After watching each team a little bit thanks to the free NBALP preview, I thought I'd post my projections for the season and invite you to do the same. Projections below the fold:
1. Lakers: mainly because I can't think of a team good enough to win more games in the regular season than them. They've been remarkably consistent at the top of the conference for the last few years
2. Portland: good enough due to their perimeter depth, size, veteran leadership, and system, they know how they want to play and are winning close games, which will make the difference record-wise
3. San Antonio: their vets will bounce back due to health and their depth has improved (who's Gary Neal? a good player)
4. Oklahoma City: it's tough to move up, but Durant is a huge weapon at the end of games
5. Dallas: their vets and depth keep them in
6. Phoenix: I think they'll figure out how to use their 4 small forwards to their advantage, and if they could win 60 w/o Amare in 05-06, they can make the playoffs w/o him
7. Utah: I don't like how they've looked, but I'm not going to bet against Jerry Sloan turning it around. One prediction: the Wolves fans who were okay with the Jefferson trade will be able to chuckle about these predictions of "Jefferson is a steal" and "he's the most underrated player in the league" when they finish worse than last year. Putting him in the Jazz offense? Square peg, meet round hole (black hole?).
8. New Orleans: Their first few games have led me to think that if CP3 stays healthy, they'll be in because their perimeter depth is much better and because CP3 is still one of the 5 best players in the league. The difference between the Hornets and the Jazz right now has a lot to do with why Paul is better than Williams.
9. Denver: I have no idea what to do with them. If 'Melo plays the whole year, they're in and the Jazz is out; if he's traded, they probably also move K-Mart and Chauncey and finish out of the playoffs but still close to .500.
10. Houston: They'd be in in the East, but the Hornets look better and can actually play their best player more than 24 minutes per game.
11. Memphis: Statistically, they don't have enough defense if the opponent doesn't hand 30 turnovers to them on a platter.
Sure Lottery Teams
12. Sacramento: They've had a good start, but I don't see them keeping up the same level of focus the entire year. They've been fortunate that they could push around teams that didn't push back; what do they do against the more physical teams?
13. L.A. Clippers: Unless Baron Davis steps into the 06-07 time machine, they'll be on the outside looking in. Their depth is suspect; when the Rhino is still your best bench guy, it indicates a team lacking depth.
14. Golden State: I like this team, but they're not as good as the others and probably lack the focus of the rest to pull out some close games
15. Wolves: They'll improve, but they have a few more games of 20-plus turnovers in them, and they could use a vet leader to keep guys focused and help guide them through adverse situations, which might make a difference in games like the one against the Kings.
Playoffs: Lakers over OKC, Portland over San Antonio, Lakers over Portland
1. Orlando: new arena, a lot of depth, a defined style of play that the Heat don't have, and a true MVP candidate if Howard learned some things from Hakeem
2. Miami: they'll lose enough road games to slip to #2, and the general minor injuries that have caused Wade to miss games in the past will cost them some Ws
3. Boston: they'll be more focused due to the regular-season issues last season, but replacing Perkins and 'Sheed with the O'Neal tandem is a big downgrade and they need to straighten out Delonte West and figure out how to maximize the productivity of Nate Robinson, who needs 20-plus minutes
4. Atlanta: the coaching change won't be a significant difference either way; Boston will just be better this year
5. Chicago: losing Boozer puts them behind Atlanta when it comes to regular-season wins
6. Milwaukee: I'm not crazy about them, but the alternatives are meh
7. New York: I don't like their style of play right now, but having Stoudemire and the potential impact of Randolph bring the playoffs back to MSG
8. Indiana: Collison, an improved Hibbert, and more depth sneak them in
9. Detroit: they look better, and it looks like Stuckey and Daye have improved enough to keep them in the hunt for the whole year
11. Cleveland: the vengeance against LeBron tour will keep them from imploding (and I like what Ramon Sessions brings to them), but they're not talented enough to seriously contend
12. New Jersey: let's see what they do on the road before anointing them as playoff contenders; technically, they haven't proved any more than the Wolves have to this point, and their bench isn't that deep
13. Philadelphia: this team is tough to read, but Doug Collins hates young players, and Evan Turner will be a disappointment in the first year
14. Washington: their bigs are too streaky, and Flip Saunders doesn't have a team that fits the way he likes to play
15. Toronto: they have some depth but lack anyone even as good as Love or Beasley
Playoffs: Orlando over Chicago, Boston over Miami, Orlando over Boston
Finals: Orlando in 6