1. Boston Celtics - A White, Holiday, Tatum, Brown, and Kristaps closing 5 (since it seems the Celts are messing around with Holiday off the bench) is the best in the league. They should once again sport a top 3 defense on the backs of their devastating backcourt. Their bench has some unproven names, and frontcourt depth may warrant a deadline trade. I like Houser and Pritchard to step up. Look out for Walsh.
2. Denver Nuggets - They'll challenge Boston for the best starting unit league-wide. The Jokic-Murray two-man game is borderline unstoppable. They lose some bench vets, and need Braun, Watson, or one of their 3 rookies to step up to return to the Finals.
3. Milwaukee Bucks - Giannis. DAME. Middleton. Brook is back. So is his brother. Again. The big two will have to carry this team far, but you have to have serious questions of a team relying on Beasley for wing defense. They'll have to forge a new identity and have Middleton return to form to hang another banner.
4. Phoenix Suns - Should be the best shooting team in the league. KD will miss his games, but they have enough OK depth to remain afloat. Will have to find a way to defend, and solve the Jokic problem, to get back to the finals. A playmaking Nurkic and Eric Gordon's bench scoring will prove vital.
F*lynn the Regular Season
5. Los Angeles Lakers - LeBron and AD are still elite. But not the cream of the crop anymore. Instead they'll lean on their impressive supporting cast. Reaves should be a borderline All-Star, and Vando, Rui, Vincent, Prince, and Russell can all swing games. They'll need to defend well to buoy an offense that may be just average.
6. Golden State Warriors - CP3 is old and can't be counted on in the playoffs. The core isn't getting any younger. Are Kuminga and Moody actually going to do something? Maybe. But for all the questions this team can shoot as well as anyone and defend at a decent clip. They need a wing (Wiggins...Kuminga?) to play well to succeed.
7. Miami Heat - They once again had a horrible offseason. At least on paper. Despite their miraculous finals run, they look weaker than ever. But it somehow never seems to matter come playoff time, as a tenacious defense, Spo's coaching, and JIMMY rise up.
Crusading to Conquer Playoff Demons
8. New York Knicks - The Knicks may lack in upper echelon talent, but they may sport the deepest team in the Association. If they consolidate for a star (KAT?) look out.
9. Minnesota Timberwolves - Continuity has to mean something. Right? Please!? The Pups will need Ant to ascend to All-NBAdom to make a deep run. That could certainly be in the cards. But eventually, the Two-Towers will have to produce at a high level for this team to be taken seriously.
10. Cleveland Cavaliers - Maybe overshadowed by bigger stars, the Land still has 2 young stars who will get better, a superstar in Spida, and high quality role players in Jarrett Allen (and a lesser extent) Strus. Will still need to solve their wing rotation to make noise in the playoffs.
11. Memphis Grizzlies - Marcus Smart was born to be a Grizzley. Taylor Jenkins is an elite coach and the Grizz out compete and out hustle their way to regular season wins. But they need JJJ to rebound with Adams out, and have to hope Ja figures it out. Their depth, always seemingly shaky, seems to turn out. Is this the year they make their big trade? Bane will be an All-Star.
12. Philadelphia 76ers - Impossible to truly gauge until the Harden situation is resolved, but I'd bet he isn't moved until the deadline, or at all if he plays well upon return. Maxey will look to take the leap, but they will have to hope Nick Nurse can help Embiid overcome his playoff shortcomings.
One Year Too Early?
13. Oklahoma City Thunder - Every self-proclaimed "NBA expert's" favorite team. Unfortunately, it appears to be for good reasons. "Jdub" partners with Dort to form two fire hydrants attacking the rim and defending at a high level. Timothee Chalamet, er Josh Giddey, is a consistent jump shot away from stardom. And Mark Daigneault is one of better innovators in the league. Will the bench hold them back?
_efense is for Suckers
14. Atlanta Hawks - All lies on Quinn Snyder's shoulders and frazzled hair. Can he scheme the Hawks back to the top of the offensive leaderboards? It's a decent bet. While Trae Young may never truly buy in to playing off ball with Murray, this team has real talent. Look out for a midseason trade involving one of their bigs and/or Deandre Hunter.
15. Sacramento Kings - Much has been made of their unsustainable health record, but this team was legitimately good last year and should have the depth to not completely sink once the injuries do come. A Keegan Murray ascension to an All-Star level player is the key to raising their mediocre ceiling.
16. Indiana Pacers - I am here for the rise of Tyrese Haliburton. The pacy Pacers will go as far as he will take them, and with Carlisle pulling the strings opposing nets may be made threadbare. Can Myles Turner, Bruce Brown, and Jarace Walker provide enough defense to give them a chance when the shots won't fall?
17. Dallas Mavericks - Behind Kyrie and Luka lies a heap of good to OK role players who need to make open 3s and defend at a high enough level to support their leaky backcourt. Lively and OMP will be given heavy expectations that may be too high for rookies. A trade for a proven rim protecting big (Capela? Rudy???) seems in the cards should Lively struggle as much as rookie 5s traditionally do.
Call the Ambulance
18. New Orleans Pelicans - A sneaky good defense in the 2nd half of the year will have to prove real. Trey Murphy, Alvarado, and Nnaji Marshall are all impactful loses. Their best shooter may be a rookie. A theoretical ceiling remains tantalizingly high, but this team is a Zion injury (or coin flip) away from being in the deep lottery.
19. Los Angeles Clippers - Ty Lue is getting fed up. The tolerance for not suiting up seems to be dwindling, and the CBA should only add fuel to this fire. The George-Kawhi duo is still one of the best in the league. But the depth has taken it's hits over the years. Batum, Covington, and Marcus Morris Sr. could be out of the league next year. If more injuries hit, this could be the end of the vaunted wing duo in LA.
What do We Really Have Here?
20. Orlando Magic - Might be WAY to low. A Paolo-Wagner wing duo should be one of the best in the NBA for the next 5 years (although Paolo may move to the 5 in time). Fultz stirs the drink as a better defending and worse-playmaking Giddey. WCJ remains perpetually underrated. While they still have to figure out their guard rotation, this team is a move away from solving their rotation and making a Play-In, and if all goes right, Playoff push.
21. Utah Jazz - Could this be a facsimile of the 2022 Kings? Transition buckets will be plentiful, John Collins lobs would be beautiful, and Jordan Clarkson will be a sought after piece at the deadline. Will Hardy may receive some down ballet COY votes. This team can, and will score. Kessler will need some real help to defend, and Lauri needs to prove last year wasn't an anomaly. They look like giant killers to me.
22. Toronto Raptors - Is Masij... losing it a little? Really are betting a lot on a 3rd year leap from Scottie Barnes, who struggled to keep up with expectations his sophomore year. The Raps remain long and lanky, but halfcourt offense still looks to be an issue. They need to keep up their excellence in turnover differential and offensive rebounding to tread water.
23. San Antonio Spurs - It may already be Wemby's world. I wonder if he is as good on his home planet. Popovich is already scheming like MojoJojo, deploying massive Sochan-Vassell-Johnson-Collins-Wemby lineups. Top 10 defense incoming? They have a real shot of claiming a play-in spot if Vassell proves a true bucket and the vets on the bench can produce.
24. Houston Rockets - We can like the Rockets young talent of Jabari Smith, Jalen Green, Sengun, Eason, Whitmore, and Thompson. They will likely improve. VanVleet and Brooks should give this team a backbone and a floor that isn't below sea-level. But the biggest addition of the offseason was Ime Udoka. The coaching upgrade over Silas, and the improvement of their ghastly defense, should lead to mid 30s wins as this team is desperate at shelling out a meaningful pick to OKC.
25. Brooklyn Nets - The Nets are fun, anonymous, and plucky again. They are also without some bucket getters. Can a roster full of 3 and D wings produce an offense good enough to compete. They need Spencer Dinwiddie and Mikal Bridges to score at a high level. The front office is motivated for this team to win, and thus a trade may be on the horizon.
26. Charlotte Hornets - Brandon Miller is already deemed worse than Scoot. We'll see if that is the Ivey-Murray take of 2023. Even with Jordan gone, dysfunction still seeps out of the organization with Miles Bridges and Kai Jones providing negative distractions. Steve Clifford will somehow scheme up a half decent defense. This squad is a little forgotten about due to last year's fall due to injuries, but I'm still not convinced they are anything more than play-in fodder at best.
Should be Embracing the Suck
27. Chicago Bulls - We are witnesses to the rise of Coby White to an above-average starting PG. Is he a foundational piece to build around. That will be for Chicago's front office to decide, as Patrick Williams will continue to tease more than succeed and the teams vets will likely be up for sale at mid-season.
28. Detroit Pistons - Is Cade the guy? That's all that matters. If he isn't this team will be in the lottery for the next 2 years. They still might be in it this year if he is. Ivey needs to show he can fit in this team, Ausar and Beef Stew need to shoot, Duren needs to defend a damn pick-and-roll, and Killian Hayes... needs to prove he's an NBA player.
Embracing the Suck
29. Washington Wizards - Last year's generic brand Jazz. I'm not seeing any MIP campaigns from this group, even though Coulibaly could prove to be the guard version of Kessler, menacing opposing wings and guards on the defensive end of the court. Kuzma, Tyus, and Delon Wright should be traded at the deadline, bottoming out this roster after they hover around .350 before they do.
30. Portland Trail Blazers - Scoot, Sharpe, Simons, Grant, and Ayton is probably an 8 seed in the 2016 East. But this looks like the deepest Western Conference since Jimmy Butler was on the Wolves. They have an upside that shouldn't be dismissed, but they have no incentive to win, they have little experience, vets are likely to be traded, and Chauncy Billups has much to prove. I won't be surprised if they are feisty for the first 30 games or so.
FINAL STANDING PREDICTIONS:
15. Trail Blazers
15. Trail Blazers
(8) Orlando over (7) Miami
(9) Indiana over (10) Toronto
(7) Miami over (9) Indiana
East 1st Round
(1) Boston over (8*) Miami in 6 games
(2) Milwaukee over (7*) Orlando in 6 games
(3) Knicks over (6) Hawks in 7 games
(5) Philadelphia over (4) Cleveland in 6 games
East 2nd Round
(1) Boston over (5) Philadelphia in 4 games
(3) Knicks over (2) Milwaukee in 6 games
East Conference Finals
(1) Boston over (3) Knicks in 5 games
(9) Pelicans over (10) Jazz
(7) Memphis over (8) Sacramento
(9) Pelicans over (8) Sacramento
West 1st Round
(1) Denver over (8*) Pelicans in 6 games
(2) Lakers over (7) Memphis in 7 games
(6) Warriors over (3) Phoenix in 6 games
(4) Timberwolves over (5) Thunder in 7 games
West 2nd Round
(1) Denver over (6) Warriors in 6 games
(2) Lakers over (4) Timberwolves in 7 games
Western Conference Finals
(1) Denver over (2) Lakers in 5 games
Denver over Boston in 7 games