NBA Preview Pt II

#19: New York Knicks

2017 record: 29-53 (11th in Eastern Conference)

2018 Vegas Over/Under: 28.5

2018 Slogan: “Down with Dolan”

Notable Additions:

Kevin Knox (R), Mario Hezonja, Noah Vonleh, Alonzo Trier (R)

Lineup of Death:

Ntilikina/Hardaway/Knox/Porzingis/Kanter

Offseason Highlight:

Enes Kanter vs Recep Erdogan

What 2 Watch 4: Get Dolan Out

After years of desperate flailing and tanking the Knicks are finally starting to look like a team that has their feet under them. Assuming KP comes back healthy, they have a nice core of Ntilikina, Porzinging, and Knox to build around. Knox looked like the explosive and smooth wing scorer they had drafted and should compliment Ntilikina and KP nicely. Joakim Noah is on the verge of being waived/stretched (and probably signed by Minnesota), bringing them one season closer to being out from his horrible, awful contract. I think they have enough wing and frontcourt scoring to put together a respectable season in the East. They should beat up on all the bottom dwellers but struggle against the more talented teams. I think they are still a starting point guard away from being a true contender. If they are serious I could see them packaging a pick and a salary filler guy like Hardaway to upgrade at the position. Hometown boy Kemba Walker is rumored to be out there, and I am confident they could extract assurances he would resign. The larger problem with the franchise is that the Knicks, the media at large, and their fanbase remain fixated on the idea that New York is a free agent destination. They tout the massive media market, the “history”, and the Mecca of MSG as magnets for free agent interest. The reality is that the Knicks have been a dumpster fire for the better part of 20 years and during that time have never had a significant free agent sign and work out long term. They signed Amare Stoudemire in 2011 and he immediately fell off after a run in with a fire extinguisher. JR Smith signed in 2012 and partied himself out of town within two years. Jason Kidd played his last season in the NBA for the Knicks in 2012, a shell of his former self. Tyson Chandler was actually good when they signed him after the Mavs won the title in 2011, and was unceremoniously shown the door once Phil Jackson blew into town. KD didn’t even give them a meeting! That’s all you need to know. I find it kind of hilarious that many Knicks fans have deluded themselves into thinking Kyrie will leave his literal perfect situation in Boston for the Knicks next season. The fact is that the history and The Mecca and the city life don’t mean shit when you have a completely inept owner, management is a revolving door of NBA has-beens, and you have zero coaching continuity year to year (4 coaches in the last 4 years). On the bright side, I think David Fizdale was among the best coaches available and they made the right call signing him long term. His players go to bat for him and he has the fire and the personality to keep the New York media chomping at the bit. The franchise needs to first and foremost lance the cancerous boil that is James Dolan. He is unequivocally the worst owner in the NBA and their staff and personnel issues all stem from his ineptitude. Then they need to focus on building a player development and scouting foundation and develop a roster construction strategy that isn’t just “Overpay Players 3 Years After They Were Good”. In short, the Knicks have a lot to be excited about between KP and Kevin Knox and cap flexibility on the horizon. However they have alarming and pervasive systemic issues that need to be addressed if they expect to contend any time soon.

2018 Best Case Scenario:

The Knicks put together a solid season in the weakened Eastern Conference, advancing to the second round of the playoffs. Kristaps is healthy as every. Kevin Knox is the real deal. James Dolan and his entire band, JD & The Straight Shot, is killed in a tragic helicopter accident. Former Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg purchases the team and as a first order of business hires Sam Hinkie as President of Basketball Operations.

2018 Worst Case Scenario

Kristaps doesn’t look quite right coming off the knee injury. Frank Ntilikina takes a step back and Kevin Knox is just another overachieving Kentucky wing who couldn’t hack it in the NBA. James Dolan is successfully administered a secret immortality serum from the US government, a la Wolverine, which ensures his dominion over the Knicks franchise for eternity.

 

#18: Detroit Pistons

2017 record: 39-43 (9th in Eastern Conference)

2018 Vegas Over/Under: 38

2018 Slogan: “We have Blake at least!”

Notable Additions:

Bruce Brown (R), Glenn Robinson III, Zaza Pachulia

Lineup of Death:

Jackson/Brown/Johnson/Griffin/Drummond

Offseason Highlight:

Blake Griffin snubbed for “Blake of the Year” by Pardon My Take

What 2 Watch 4: Point Blake Unleashed

Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond present an interesting frontcourt pairing. The evolution of Griffins game has been fascinating to watch as he has added range to his jumpshot. I think this season will be the first real showcase of PointBlake. He has a rim-running, defensive minded center behind him with Drummond and a point guard able to take some pressure off with Reggie Jackson, despite being severely overpaid for a middling point guard. However the roster, as it’s currently constructed, is limited. Outside Griffin, Drummond, and Jackson the team is lacking talent at all positions. Frankly it’s not a great sign that your third best player is Reggie Jackson. Stanley Johnson has been just ok thus far in his career. His jump shot hasn’t quite come around, shooting less than 30% from three in each of his first three seasons. Defensively he’s been good enough to hang around but he should be on a short leash going forward. Reggie Bullock was a nice surprise last season and I like the Bruce Brown pick. Van Gundy was perhaps the least qualified person to receive the eminent “basketball czar” Head Coach/Basketball Ops title, and the team suffered on both fronts. I think he was basically set up to fail with the Head Coach/President of Basketball Ops dual responsibility, an arrangement that has yet to work out for any team anywhere. Adding the pressure of the organization moving to a brand new stadium certainly didn’t help, and was most likely the impetus for trading for Blake. It was kind of a hail mary on Van Gundy’s part, recognizing his job was basically on the line and needing to make a big splash with a roster that was thoroughly unexciting. Fortunately, they managed to sign probably the best coach available, Dwayne Casey, in a market bursting with excellent coaches. A top to bottom shakeup of this nature seems like the shock to the system needed for an organization that has become increasingly stale. I think Casey will get the best out of both Blake and Drummond, who are both talented enough to take the team to the playoffs in the top-heavy Eastern Conference. He was able to shake up a Raptors team that had grown similarly stale, and Detroit will be an even more ambitious rebuild/retool/remix project.

2018 Best Case Scenario:

Point Blake is fully unleashed! Andre Drummonds free throw shooting continues to improve. Stanley Johnson spent the summer shooting 3s. Dwayne Casey gets the most out of their fringe players and the Pistons barely miss the playoffs.

2018 Worst Case Scenario

Blake can’t stay healthy and Drummond regresses. Pistons end up in tank mode by December and are stripped for parts before the All Star Break. They are resigned to a lost season and must pray for lottery redemption.

 

#17: Washington Wizards

2017 record: 43-39 (8th in Eastern Conference, lost in first round to TOR 4-2)

2018 Vegas Over/Under: 44.5

2018 Slogan: “Dwight Howard is just misunderstood and totally not an asshole”

Notable Additions:

Troy Brown Jr (R), Austin Rivers, Dwight Howard

Lineup of Death:

Wall/Beal/Porter/Morris/Howard

Offseason Highlight:

Dwight Howards trainer: Dwight is going to evolve into his own version of KD

What 2 Watch 4: Chemistry Lesson

The Wizards struggled with chemistry issues last season as the feud between star point guard John Wall and forward Marcin Gortat made it’s way from the locker room to the media. They spent the season subtweeting and sniping each other in the media as the Wizards struggled. The two reportedly squashed their beef in the spring, however the Wizards shipped Gortat to the Clippers in exchange for Austin Rivers. Team chemistry is uniquely important in the NBA and the Wizards recognized the need to keep their star happy. Which is why it’s baffling they decided to bring in Locker Room Ebola Virus Dwight Howard. Howard has become a fascinating personality in NBA lore for all the wrong reason. On paper, he is a sure-fire Hall of Famer. There were like 4 years between 2007-2011 that he was the most dominant force in the NBA. Yet he is also probably the most unpopular player in NBA history. He has alienated and worn out his welcome for every single team he’s played for. He was salary dumped by CHARLOTTE and immediately waived by BROOKLYN last summer. BROOKLYN! I’m not sure what his angle is. He tries to be this mercurial, Shaq-like personality, sarcastic and self-aware and seemingly “in on the joke”. He desperately wants people to like him. However he just comes off as an asshole. Honestly, we shouldn’t be surprised considering he is a snake person, and as we all know, the only people who keep snakes are cocaine dealers, people who own more that 5 guns, and people with gauges. I find it puzzling that the Wizards, in an effort to alleviate their chemistry issues, bring in the biggest chemistry saboteur in NBA history. Chemistry issues aside, the Wizards are reaching a make or break point with their roster. They might have been the biggest losers from the Summer of ‘16. They have gone all in on their core of Beal, Wall, and Porter, who they have $70 million committed next season and beyond. Plus, Walls Supermax contract kicks in at the end of the season, his salary skyrocketing from $19 million to $37 MILLION next season to $46 MILLION by 2022. Holy shit! That’s Christiano Ronaldo money. They are going to be in salary cap hell for the foreseeable future, and I’m not convinced that their core is built to compete long-term. Beal and Porter kind of do the same things offensively, and I’m worried Porters $26 million from the infamous Summer of 2016 is going to become an overpay. I see a lot of similarities roster-wise with Portland, with their overcommitment to a backcourt that kind of tops out their potential. I’m still holding out hope for a John Wall/Boogie Cousins reunion, however it’s becoming less likely by the day. Even if they can unload Ian Mahinmi and his Summer of ‘16 salary and let Rivers and Dwight expire, the cap room they can create is immediately cannibalized by Walls supermax. He’s basically making Steph Curry/Russell Westbrook/James Harden money and I don’t really see a scenario where he can produce at that level. Even though Wall is probably one of the NBAs top 5-10 point guards, his contract has the potential to become one of the NBAs worst.

2018 Best Case Scenario:

Dwight Howard has finally turned over a new leaf and is an upstanding member of the Wizards. Wall continues to add to his game, extending his range to three and punishing defendings hedging under screens, thus making the Howard/Wall pick and roll virtually unstoppable. Beal and Porter enjoy the most immediate benefits, feasting on a diet of corner and catch-and-shoot threes. The Wizards finish 5th in the East, carried by Wall, and storm through the Eastern conference playoffs culminating in an epic 7 game showdown against the top seeded Celtics in the East Finals.

2018 Worst Case Scenario

Dwight Howard reverts to the cancerous, selfish, obnoxious clown we all knew he was, torpedoing the already delicate locker room situation. Tensions between Beal and Wall begin to boil over and the franchise needs to choose between their two superstar guards. Other teams recognize the dire chemistry situation the Wizards are faced with, and they are forced to trade Wall for cents on the dollar.

 

#16: Minnesota Timberwolves

2017 record: 47-35 (8th in Western Conference, lost in first round to to HOU 4-1)

2018 Vegas Over/Under: 44.5

2018 Slogan: “Make The 2012 Chicago Bulls Great Again!”

Notable Additions:

Josh Okogie (R), Derrick Rose, Luol Deng

Lineup of Death:

Teague/Butler/Wiggins/Gibson/Towns

Offseason Highlight:

WELL DAMN!!!

What 2 Watch 4: ZOMBIE 2012 BULLS

Tom Thibodeau has gone batshit crazy and turned the 2018 Timberwolves into the 2012 Bulls. In addition to Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson, they have signed Derrick Rose and Luol Deng. I can’t decide whether this is an absolutely genius move on Thibodeau’s part or utter insanity. Oh wait, yes I can. It’s unequivocally idiotic. The 2012 Bulls, led by MVP Derrick Rose, were the favorites coming out of the Eastern Conference before Rose’s knee imploded during game one of the first round. The 2012 Bulls are one of the NBAs greatest “What-ifs” and we will finally be able to see what could have been… 6 years later. Rose is a shell of his former self and is a fringe NBA player at best. Luol Deng was buried on the Lakers last season. The LAKERS. Joakim Noah has been eating peyote and smoking blunts in Brazil for the past two years and it’s only a matter of time before the Knicks waive/stretch him and Thibodeau gobbles him up. The Wolves went from having one of the most exciting young rosters in the league with Wiggins, KAT, and Butler to a novelty and an NBA Twitter punchline. In the two years since hiring Thibodeau as Head Coach/President of Basketball Ops they have gone from contender of the future to a huge question mark. Wiggins development stalled almost as soon as he signed his huge extension and Thibodeau’s coaching philosophy has only exacerbated it (he only likes veterans). KAT is getting exposed defensively and Thibodeau seems to be grinding him down. Jimmy Butler continues to alienate all his teammates by just being kind of an asshole. Thibodeau has consistently failed to surround them with complimentary role players and has essentially resigned themselves to improving their roster via free agency after giving up the farm for Butler. A move which is all the more baffling considering the only players Thibodeau thinks to bring in are washed up veterans from a “pretty good” team he coached almost a decade ago. He also notoriously rides his players hard physically over the course of the season, reportedly much to KATs chagrin, which is basically the exact opposite of what science and trends and common sense suggest in today’s NBA. This team is good enough to win on raw talent alone but I expect them to vastly underachieve.

2018 Best Case Scenario:

Wiggins becomes efficient, KAT buys in, and Jimmy Butler becomes a little bit less of an asshole. Thibodeau resurrects his 2012 Bulls holdovers and transforms them into top tier role players. Deng becomes a reliable wing stopper who can score when needed. Rose is the steady backup to Jeff Teague. The physical and spiritual healing of peyote is evident with Joakim Noah, who’s back is miraculously healed and plays like it’s 2012. Minnesota finishes at the top of the Western Conference and puts together an impressive playoff run, eventually losing in the semi-finals to the eventual champion Warriors.

2018 Worst Case Scenario

The 2012 Bulls time-warp is an utter failure. Rose, Deng, and Noah are not only completely washed up, but Thibodeau somehow gives them minutes because they are “tougher” than his star young players. Wiggins continues to shoot inefficiently and his max extension becomes a serious financial albatroos. Jimmy Butler fully alienates KAT, who quits basketball to pursue a professional Fornite career. Butler opts out of his deal and goes to New York. Thibodeau is the latest Head Coach/President of Basketball Ops to fall by the wayside and is shown the door. The Wolves are now without a coach, lost their two star players, and are basically back to square one of their rebuild.

 

#15: Miami Heat

2017 record: 44-38 (6th in Eastern Conference, lost in first round to PHI 4-1)

2018 Vegas Over/Under: 41.5

2018 Slogan: “Waiters Island OPEN FOR BUSINESS”

Notable Additions:

Wayne Ellington

Lineup of Death:

Dragic/Waiters/Winslow/Whiteside/Adebayo

Offseason Highlight:

Dwayne Wade CLAPS BACK

What 2 Watch 4:

Once again the Heat will go as far as Spolestra let’s them. He is another one of those coaches able to get the absolute most out of his players. He turned guys like Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson, Bam Adebayo, and Hassan Whiteside into solid starting caliber NBA players. Dion Waiters is a solid scoring guard and pairs nicely with the pass-heavy Goran Dragic, and they have enough backcourt depth with Johnson and Richardson for Spolestra to play around with lineup-wise. They have a nice balance between scoring, playmaking, and perimeter defense that will hide their lack of wing depth. If Bam Adebayo and Whiteside can squash their beef, I am intrigued by the uber-big lineups they can rollout along with Kelly Olynyk. Whiteside and Adebayo played together only sparingly last season and their ability to coexist, given Whitesides massive contract, has become an issue. They can go big with Whiteside and Adebayo or stretch the floor with Olynyk. I would love to see a ultra big lineup featuring all three, flying directly in the face of the conventional, small-ball wisdom that has taken over the NBA. Or, if the Whiteside/Adebayo situation becomes untenable, Whiteside becomes a salary dump candidate which wouldn’t be great. Justise Winslow is showing more improvement and his solidifying himself as an excellent 3 and D guy, shooting 38% from three and generally taking on the toughest defensive assignments. However he and the aging James Johnson are really their only true wing players that deserves meaningful minutes, so Spolestra will have some tinkering to do with matchups and substitutions. He’s shown that he’s among the NBAs best in that regard and I expect the Heat to put together a nice season despite an obvious lack of star power.

P.S.: Dwayne Wade is still weighing retirement or one more year with the Heat as of the writing of this preview. Frankly I don’t think a 36 year old Wade is going to move the needle much either way for this team, however he deserves at least mention. He’s retiring as probably the 3rd best SG in NBA history with a Hall of Fame resume: 3 NBA titles including a 2006 Finals MVP, 12-time All Star, 2 All-NBA 1st teams, and married to Gabrielle Union. Not bad!

UPDATE: As of 9/16 Wade has resigned.

2018 Best Case Scenario:

Spolestra is able to capture the magic once again. Bam Adebayo and Hassan Whiteside are able to coexist, and present a machup nightmare when paired together in the frontcourt. Dwayne Wade accepts his role as mentor/benchwarmer, mentoring Dion Waiters and transforming him into a premier perimeter scorer. The Heat beat up on the weak Eastern conference and cruise to the playoffs, ultimately losing in the Eastern semi-finals to the eventual NBA champion Boston Celtics.

2018 Worst Case Scenario

The rift between Adebayo and Whiteside completely boils over, and the Heat are forced to trade Whiteside at a discount to Los Angeles. Wade becomes disgruntled, demanding more of a role during his swan song season. The season becomes a lost cause slash farewell tour for Wade, a la Kobe Bryant’s last season, who puts up 25 PPG on 35 shots per game. They barely miss the playoffs thanks to Spolestra and Reilly’s disdain for tanking, resigned to a middling lottery pick and another season in the quagmire.

 

#14: Denver Nuggets

2017 record: 46-36 (9th in Western Conference)

2018 Vegas Over/Under: 47.5

2018 Slogan: “The only thing higher than our fans is our pace”

Notable Additions:

Michael Porter Jr (R), Isaiah Thomas

Lineup of Death:

Thomas/Murray/Harris/Millsap/Jokic

Offseason Highlight:

Two Small Men In Ice Tubs

What 2 Watch 4:

The Nuggets are in one of the more interesting situations in the Western Conference. Michael Porter Jr, the nations top recruit only a year ago, fell to them at #14 in the draft after concerns about his ongoing back issues hurt his stock. It’s unlikely he plays this season, however it was a gamble the Nuggets could afford to take. Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic are among the NBAs most skilled frontcourt duos and will present matchup nightmares offensively. Both can score, handle the ball, rebound, and run the offense. Jokic possesses a unique blend of court vision, passing skills, and interior toughness that compliment Millsaps elite inside-out scoring capabilities. Couple their playmaking abilities with the slew of competent shooters they have and this team starts to look dangerous. Adding Isaiah Thomas to the mix for the minimum was a no brainer. If healthy, he can add an elite scoring punch to a backcourt that was already loaded, featuring Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, and Will Barton. The biggest question will be whether this team can hang with the Western Conference elite. I don’t love the way they match up with some of the more guard heavy teams like Portland and or the forward heavy teams like San Antonio and New Orleans, let alone the powerhouses like Golden State and Houston. Murray is still limited defensively and Thomas’ defensive shortcomings (no pun intended) even when fully healthy are at this point well documented. Jokic isn’t quite the defensive anchor his size might suggest and they are lacking a serious interior presence outside Mason Plumlee. I can envision them getting bullied down low by the likes of Anthony Davis or shredded by slashing guards like Damian Lillard. Ultimately I think Jokic is just too much of a matchup disruptor offensively for most teams to cope with and will prove to be the catalyst for this team. He’s pretty much the first true Point Center of this small-ball era and the Nuggets have surrounded him with enough talent for him to succeed.

2018 Best Case Scenario:

Isaiah Thomas and Michael Porter fly to Germany and come back mid-December totally healed. A Christmas miracle! Porter plays like the nations top recruit and IT is back to his 2017 Celtics form. Nikola Jokic: Point Center proves to be a matchup nightmare and opponents don’t know how to defend it. The Nuggets score enough that their defensive deficiencies don’t matter and roll to 3rd place in the Western Conference. They lose in the Western semi-finals to the Rockets in the highest scoring seven game series in NBA history.

2018 Worst Case Scenario

Porter’s back only gets work, and it becomes clear his back was never ok and his who recruitment was a massive scam. Isaiah Thomas can’t get healthy and is just a 5’ 9” point guard who can’t defend. The Nuggets defensive woes and offensive inconsistency compound, they simultaneously can’t defend and can’t score. Jeff Sessions cracks down on legalized marijuana and players no longer have any desire to play in Denver.

 

#13: New Orleans Pelicans

2017 record: 48-34 (6th in Western Conference, lost in second round to GSW 4-1)

2018 Vegas Over/Under: 46

2018 Slogan: “We have renamed the Smoothie King Center to the ‘Anthony Davis is Handsome and Cool Center Please Don’t Leave’”

Notable Additions:

Elfrid Payton, Frank Jackson (R), Julius Randle, Jahlil Okafor

Lineup of Death:

Holliday/Payton/Mirotic/Randle/Davis

Offseason Highlight:

AD Hires Rich Paul

What 2 Watch 4: AD

Anthony Davis is obviously the player to watch for this team. No team is as reliant on their star player, outside of wherever Lebron might be playing, as the Pelicans. On both ends he covers up so many of the Pelicans deficiencies. He can score from basically anywhere on the floor and last season blossomed into the defensive stopper we all dreamed he would. The question with Davis has always been how long would be be willing to stay in New Orleans. The Boogie experiment was largely a failure, even before his blown achilles, and the team walked away with basically nothing after giving up a Buddy Hield and Tyreke Evans, two guards I’m sure they would love to have back now that they are so thin at guard. New Orleans has mostly failed to surround him with any kind of help for the duration of his career. Jrue Holiday was a pleasant surprise last season and finally started to perform at a level warranting his $26 million price tag. Mirotic was a nice pickup at the deadline last season, and his floor stretching abilities allow Davis more opportunities to work in the low post with less double teams from the weak side. Signing Julius Randle should achieve the same goal after they signed him away from LA. However outside Holiday, this team is devoid of much offensive firepower, and is again expecting to lean heavily on Davis. Rumors continue to swirl about where Davis might be heading once he becomes disgruntled. The fact is that the price tag for Davis will be a true kings ransom, and is the most likely reason he hasn’t already been move. He’s a generational talent and New Orleans expects to be compensated as such. Boston is always in the mix, however it would most likely take parting ways with Horford and one of their young wings, plus a slew of first round picks, to make it work. I’m not convinced the consummate swindler Danny Ainge would be willing to part ways with his war chest of assets so easily. The Lakers have also popped into the conversation now that Lebron is in town, however the same problem persists. Moving him to the Lakers would probably take Ingram plus Ball or Kuzma, plus a shitload of first round picks. Lebron teams in the past have shown a propensity to exchange long term security for short term success. However I think this time around I think Lebron and the Lakers are playing the long game and perhaps are willing to hold out for Kawhi or another star coming down the river in 2019 or beyond.

2018 Best Case Scenario:

Anthony Davis puts together his first legit MVP season. Jrue Holiday continues the stellar play that started in the playoffs last season. Julius Randle and Nicola Mirotic prove to be excellent compliments to AD in the frontcourt. Elfrid Payton’s new haircut breathes life back into his game, and he becomes the backcourt stopper and distributor the Pelicans need. They storm their way to the playoffs, riding AD in his first MVP season. They are eventually eliminated in the Western Conference semi-finals, however they have given AD and Rich Paul enough optimism to lock him into a long-term deal.

2018 Worst Case Scenario

Davis struggles out of the gate and the Pelicans are tanking by January. Davis is dealt before the trade deadline. The Pelicans are looking down the barrel of another long rebuild without the backstop of AD. As soon as AD is dealt interest in the team reaches crisis levels of disinterest, and the team is moved to Seattle in 2020 after the late owner Tom Benson’s children sells the team to Jeff Bezos.

 

#12: Milwaukee Bucks

2017 record: 44-38 (7th in Eastern Conference, lost in first round to BOS 4-3)

2018 Vegas Over/Under: 47.5

2018 Slogan: “Giannis might be a virgin but he still fucked your gameplan”

Notable Additions:

Donte DiVincenzo (R), Brook Lopez, Ersan Ilyasova

Lineup of Death:

Bledsoe/Middleton/Antetokounmpo/Maker/B. Lopez

Offseason Highlight:

Giannis is getting fucking YOKED

What 2 Watch 4: JACKED Giannis

The biggest thing holding back the Bucks in the Giannis era has been coaching. First, they had Jason Kidd, who basically told Giannis not to shoot. Then once they fired him, they installed Ned Flanders doppelganger Joe Prunty as interim head coach. Prunty was seemingly in way over his head in the playoffs last season and was thoroughly outcoached by Brad Stevens in the playoffs last season, most notably in game 7. This summer they brought in Mike Budenholtzer, which should alleviate most of those frustrations. Their biggest issue in the playoffs were at center. They lacked a center able to play away from the basket, clogging the lane for Giannis and drawing double teams from the weak side. Bringing in Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova should solve this problem immediately. Lopez can bang inside on defense and has extended his shooting range beyond three, and Ilyasova is a true stretch 4. Thon Maker also emerged as a viable forward option in the playoffs. They could deploy some interesting lineups with length on defense and shooting around Giannis. They lost a disgruntled Jabari Parker to Chicago in free agency, however they should still have plenty of scoring punch between Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton. Middleton solidified himself as a premier scorer in the playoffs last season and I expect the Bucks to lean heavily on him. They also picked up Donte DiVincenzo in the draft, whose athleticism and shooting profile as another reliable 3 and D wing option alongside Malcolm Brogdon. At the end of the day, the NBA is a league of stars, and its the stars who dictate how far a team might or might not go. Giannis has solidified himself as a perennial MVP candidate, and the Buck finally have the personnel to fully unleash him. They have surrounded him with a plethora of shooting that will afford him more room to operate inside on dump offs, kick outs, and his legendary Euro step. Giannis’ Euro step might be the most unstoppable move in the NBA today. He’s too skilled and too fluid to be guarded by forwards, and he is so long that he can just go over and around any guard. Giannis is perhaps the least physically guardable player in the NBA, and him getting absolutely jacked this offseason will only make him the more unstoppable. The Bucks should run through the East and will be a major thorn in the side to the likes of Toronto and Boston. It’s not inconceivable that Giannis wins MVP this season and leads the Bucks to the Eastern Conference finals.

2018 Best Case Scenario:

The new and improved Greek Freak is an absolute monster. Budenholzer unlocks the potential of Giannis and his newfound bulk. The Bucks frontcourt length creates matchup issues offensively and defensively. Giannis cruises to his first MVP and the Bucks finish atop the Eastern Conference.

2018 Worst Case Scenario

Budenholzer proves to be no better than Joe Prunty. Bledsoe is complacent and Middleton starts to show his age. Giannis regresses. Brook Lopez and Ilyasova are ineffective and, in a moment of panic, the Bucks make an ill-advised trade and end up slipping away Malcolm Brogdon. The Bucks finish at the bottom of the East and are swept in the first round.

 

#11: San Antonio Spurs

2017 record: 47-35 (7th in Western Conference,, lost in first round to GSW 4-1)

2018 Vegas Over/Under: 44.5

2018 Slogan: “Knock Knock…. Who’s there?….Kawhi…..Kawhi who?…. My uncle said I want to be traded”

Notable Additions:

DeMar Derozan, Lonnie Walker IV (R), Jakob Poetl, Marco Bellineli

Lineup of Death:

Murray/Derozan/Gay/Gasol/Aldridge

Offseason Highlight:

FAREWELL MANU 😥 …. here’s Manu pimp slapping a bat out of mid-air

What 2 Watch 4: Pop

The Kawhi saga is finally over. I think the situation was more a testament to Kawhi actually being a psycho than a referendum on the Spurs organization and infrastructure. Gregg Poppovich is still the best coach in the NBA, and as long as he is there, the Spurs are going to be good. Demar Derozan is going to be fantastic with Pop. He’s a methodical scorer and Pop will find ways to get him easy buckets. LaMarcus Aldridge was surprisingly good last season after a rocky start that reportedly caused him to request a trade. He and Pau Gasol are a formidable, albeit rapidly aging, frontcourt duo that blends skill, interior defense, and floor stretching shooting. Lonnie Walker should provide some athleticism and scoring punch off the bench and should benefit immensely from the tutelage of Pop and Derozan. The biggest question lingering over the Spurs is Pops imminent retirement. He is coaching Team U.S.A. at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, and many speculate he will retire after the games. Perhaps the most important ingredient to the Spurs dominance over the past 20ish years has been the stabilizing presence of Pop. He has a battle-tested system and infrastructure in place that has stood the test of time, and he has created a culture of winning that players seem to respond to. Everyone except Uncle Dennis, anyways. The proof is in the pudding. Pop has a Belichickian ability identify talent and get the absolute most out of players in his system. I think the Spurs go all-in for the next two seasons and try to put together one last championship run while Pop is at the helm.

2018 Best Case Scenario:

Demar Derozan was the best player in the league for the first two months of the 2017 season, and he continues that scoring output. Derozan thrives in the new system under Pop getting easy baskets and displaying his ever-improving shooting stroke. Aldridge and Gasol show no regression and Lonnie Walker proves to be the cerebral scorer he was touted to be. The Spurs put together yet another 60+ win season and nobody remembers the Coward and Traitor Kawhi Leonard.

2018 Worst Case Scenario

Pop begins to lose his touch and the cracks begin to show in the Spurs. Aldridge and Gasol show their age and can’t stay healthy, and Derozan can’t adjust to the Spurs system. Still, they are the Spurs, so even in a down year they manage to get into the playoffs. However a toothless offensive attack and hobbled frontcourt offers them an early exit.

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