You Really, Really, Really Should Watch the NBA: Eastern Conference Preview
I get it. You’ve just come off a weekend of finalizing your Halloween costume, carving pumpkins, and feasting on fantastic football games (Sorry #FSUTwitter). The last thing you’re thinking about is the fact that NBA basketball tips off on Tuesday, and (gasp!) you’re not sure exactly what to watch for. Never fear…here is a simple rundown of every team, what to watch for, what to ignore, and a crazy stupid prediction for each Eastern Conference team. Let’s rank them from worst to first, ok?
15) Brooklyn Nets
The Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce experiment didn’t work out as planned in Brooklyn, so now their left with a roster that will make you fall asleep just reading over the names. Not only is this roster void of star power, there isn’t even much talent, save for a few Joe Johnson flashes from his past and some quality interior play from Brook Lopez.
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Purely for the sideline sightings. You’re guaranteed to see former part-owner Jay-Z and Beyonce attend several games, which should make for some good memes.
WHY YOU SHOULD CHANGE THE CHANNEL: Seriously, this is the yawniest roster in the league. You should change the channel every time unless Hova and Bey are giving each other the cold shoulder.
CRAZY STUPID PREDICTION: As bad as the Nets will be, they’ll still last longer than Jay-Z’s terribly overpriced music streaming service Tidal, which will shut down service by the end of 2017.
14) Philadelphia 76ers
Whenever my six-year old daughter plays with Legos, she works for 10 minutes to piece together a castle or airplane or tower that looks cool with different colors and oddly shaped pieces. Then a few minutes later she rips it apart to build a farm for invisible tiny animals, and I think to myself “of she’s creating using the 76ers team management model”. Have you ever seen a team that seemed so directionless? A team that acquires insane amounts of young talent, only to trade it all away for God knows why? That was 2014-15 for the 76ers. How will they handle this season’s wealth of whippersnappers?
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: The talent on this team is legit. Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Carl Landry, and the currently injured Joel Embiid. Watching these future stars will be fun, even if it is on a haplessly terrible team.
WHY YOU SHOULD CHANGE THE CHANNEL: Like I said, the 76ers are bad. They’ll gut out some wins along the way, and should avoid another 0-16 start, but they’ll still struggle to score and, worse, find an identity.
CRAZY STUPID PREDICTION: Feeling like they’ve got a ton of young talent, the 76ers will trade away at least one member of the trio of Noel, Embiid, and Okafor, leaving analysts scratching their heads just like last year’s mid-season sell-off.
13) New York Knicks
A few years ago, Phil Jackson was brought in to help get the Knicks turned in the right direction. For some reason, however, he wasn’t hired as a coach, and thus the team has floundered. Last year, only the Timberwolves finished with a worse record. And nobody in the league was worse offensively than the Knicks.
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: The biggest news for the Knicks in the offseason (other than Coach Derek Fisher’s alleged altercation with Matt Barnes) was the drafting if Kristaps Porzingis. Porzingis comes with questions, but his raw ability should find him as a star in the league sooner rather than later. Coupled with the selfish-but-still-talented Carmleo Anthony, the Knicks will be interesting enough to watch most nights.
WHY YOU SHOULD CHANGE THE CHANNEL: These are still a bunch of the same Knicks as we’ve seen in recent years, and even with the addition of Arron Afflalo and Robin Lopez, don’t expect things to turn around quickly. The big question is whether or not Phil will stick this thing out to see the rebuilding through, or will he threw in the towel midseason?
CRAZY STUPID PREDICTION: Porzingis will develop well on both ends of the court, prompting a tagline from Knick fans on every successful defensive effort to say “You got Kristaped!” Porznigis will be the first Knick to win the Rookie of the Year award since Patrick Ewing won it in the 1985-86 season.
12) Charlotte Hornets
Sigh. Just as us Hornets fans were getting excited about the upcoming season, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist gets injured and is basically done for the year. Now it’s up to draftee Frank “The Tank” Kaminsky and other new additions like Nic Batum, Jeremy Lamb, and Jeremy Lin, who Michael Jordan called the most important acquisition for the Hornets in the offseason.
WHY SHOULD YOU WATCH: This team, if nothing else, has intrigue. The loss of Kidd-Gilchrist hurts, as he is a top level defender. But this team has been overhauled in many aspects. The disastrous experiment of Lance Stephenson is over, and unknown quantities of Batum and Lamb will fill in and provide a much needed offensive punch. The Hornets could be anything from a potential 6 seed to a dumpster fire by season’s end.
WHY YOU SHOULD CHANGE THE CHANNEL: Zach Lowe from Grantland recently ranked the Hornets dead last on his League Pass rankings column. They are conservative on defense, and frankly if Al Jefferson is hurt much, and if Kemba Walker misses time, the games won’t be worth watching even from Jordan’s luxury suite.
CRAZY STUPID PREDICTION: Jordan may have finally gotten an offseason right in Charlotte, though the Kaminsky pick needs to be proven. Looks Hoops Habit suggested, Jeremy Lin will win the 6th Man Award and average near 14 PPG coming off the bench.
11) Detroit Pistons
Few things fit the blue collar city of Detroit like the blue collar work approach of Coach Stan Van Gundy. This works well when you’re winning, which last year the Pistons didn’t do much of. But with only 4 players on the entire roster boasting more than 6 years of NBA experience, Van Gundy has a chance to mold young minds to his schemes and, more importantly, his work ethic.
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Many have suggested that rookie Stanley Johnson will not only become a regular starter at power forward, but that he’ll be a Rookie of the Year candidate. The core of this team is extremely young, and watching them develop around a hard-nosed coach will be fun.
WHY YOU SHOULD CHANGE THE CHANNEL: The Pistons have finished last or next-to-last in their division in each of the last 6 seasons. The youth of the team may be fun to watch, but this still isn’t a great team by any stretch of the imagination.
CRAZY STUPID PREDICTION: The non-tangible prediction would be that 2 guard Kentavius Caldwell-Pope continues making vast improvements in his game, enhancing his reputation around the league. The tangible prediction is that the Pistons’ front office sees the value in the young nucleus they have, and offer center Andre Drummond a max contract rather than risking him walking in free agency.
10) Toronto Raptors
Oh Canada. Home of the Toronto Raptors, a team beloved by all Maple Leaf Flag Wavers and the somewhat bewildering face of hip-hop, Drake. This is a forgotten team, partly because where it plays but mainly because there’s no big name talent in Toronto, just a group or relatively unselfish players.
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: If you value solid point guard play (and I know you do), then you’ll tune in just to watch Kyle Lowry. He finally made his first All Star game last season, and is averaging right around 17 PPG and just under 7 assists per game over his past two seasons with the Raptors. Along with high-scoring 2 guard DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors boast one of the best backcourts in the league.
WHY YOU SHOULD CHANGE THE CHANNEL: Toronto lacks a flashy superstar. DeRozan could be that guy, but plays so well into the system that he doesn’t feel the need to stand out creatively on offense. That’s not a bad thing at all, but it makes the Raptors into a not overly entertaining team. The big men are sound defensively, but if Bismack Biyombo eventually takes over the reigns as starting center, be prepared for ugly basketball.
CRAZY STUPID PREDICTION: This team is good enough to make the playoffs again, but I see them going a different route. Starting center Jonas Valanciunas was signed to a 4 year extension last year, but close to the trade deadline the Raptors will see the opportunity to move him with a capable big man in Biyombo. Valanciunas gets dealt for a high draft pick so the Raptors can add an inside presence with better offensive capability in the offseason.
9) Orlando Magic
I really like the Magic. It may be irrational, but everywhere Scott Skiles has gone he has turned the team around. And in Orlando, the young talent is just waiting to explode, and where better to do so in a much watered-down Eastern Conference?
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: The Magic are fun. They’ve got a wild haired kid running the point (Elfrid Payton), a center loaded with potential (Nikola Vucevic) and a two-guard with a name you can sing in the style of this Jay-Z song (Victor O-la-dip-o!). Rookie sensation Mario Hezonja only adds to the intrigue.
WHY YOU SHOULD CHANGE THE CHANNEL: The Magic are an up-and-coming team. They’re not where they want to be yet, and the growing pains may be tough to watch. They need to get more aggressive in the paint. The Magic were dead last in free throw attempts in the league last season. If you enjoy watching potential stars make mistakes as they learn to become a playoff contender, maybe you won’t turn the channel.
CRAZY STUPID PREDICTION: Orlando had the 9th most turnovers in the league last year, coupled with one of the lowest PPG outputs in the league. I expect the buttoned-up coaching style of Scott Skiles to improve both areas and get the Magic somewhere between 6-8 more wins this season, and a lock to make the playoffs in 2016-17.
8) Boston Celtics
If you had to pick one coach in the NBA to go play for, who would it be? I would have to choose Brad Stevens. He proved certainly at the NCAA level he knew what he was doing, and seeing him guide a group of pros to unlikely success is fun. The Celtics play smart, and are one of the best teams in the league at controlling the ball.
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: The Celtics don’t have the best backcourt in the league, but they might just have the deepest. Marcus Smart and Isaiah Thomas are the point guards, Avery Bradley and James Young are the shooting guards. Because the talent in the back court is so rich, the front court doesn’t have to be great, though bringing in David Lee at power forward is a big boost. Boston is rarely blown out. Of their 42 losses last year, only 14 were by double-digits, and 5 came in overtime. No matter who they play, the C’s are never out of the game.
WHY YOU SHOULD CHANGE THE CHANNEL: This isn’t really the most exciting team to watch. There’s no consistently great shooter and no big superstar. Drafting RJ Hunter from Georgia State will help that some, but most people won’t sit and watch a Celtics game for long if they’re not playing an exciting opponent.
CRAZY STUPID PREDICTION: The Celtics will keep improving, simply because they have one of the top 5 coaches in the league, and Stevens doesn’t seem like the type that would just at a big market gig should one open up in New York or LA. Look for Boston to improve from 40 wins a year ago to no worse than 44 this year guaranteeing them a winning record and a spot in the playoffs. Also, don’t be shocked if they pull in a big name via free agency in the summer.
7) Indiana Pacers
We can officially turn the page on mourning the horrific Paul George injury that essentially nailed the coffin closed on the 2014-15 Pacers. The question is, now that George is back, are the Pacers back too? They’ve brought in scoring specialist Monta Ellis to team up with George Hill in the back court. The glaring weakness in the post is what will hinder the Pacers from being a legitimate threat.
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Paul George, if he returns to what he was before snapping his leg, should carry the Pacers in close games, especially with the addition of Ellis. The combo of those two will be fun to watch.
WHY YOU SHOULD CHANGE THE CHANNEL: The Pacers lost two key veterans in the offseason: center Roy Hibbert and forward David West. This leaves Ian Mahinmi in the middle, which is a certain downgrade. If 1st round pick Myles Turner doesn’t catch on quickly at the power forward spot, the Pacers will get absolutely crushed in the paint, a place where they thrived with Hibbert, especially rebounding. The Pacers will win a good bit, but won’t be terribly exciting in doing so.
CRAZY STUPID PREDICTION: Some experts act as if it’s shocking to predict the Pacers as a playoff team. Remember, this is the Eastern Conference we’re talking about. Not only do the Pacers make the playoffs, but they’ll make it to the second round in stunning fashion.
6) Washington Wizards
This will be a hurry up and wait year for the Wizards. Coming off a 46 win season a year ago, Washington boasts a tremendous backcourt, and looks to make noise they didn’t make in the playoffs last year. None of this really matters though. The biggest part of the Wizards’ year will come in the offseason when they throw out all the stops to lure free-agent-to-be Kevin Durant.
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: The Wizards’ starting 5 is well-rounded and solid in every facet. John Wall is one of the best point guards in the league. Bradley Beal is young but can shoot lights out and his game is still improving. Otto Porter is great in the small forward spot, and Nene and Marcin Gortat do well clogging the lane. The Wizards are talented, and even losing Paul Pierce won’t sting them too bad. They’ll maintain a strong offensive presence.
WHY YOU SHOULD CHANGE THE CHANNEL: There is little reason to not watch the Wizards, unless the John Wall dance drives you nuts. They do play in the East, so many of their games will feature lackluster opponents. If Wall and Beal aren’t in the game however, it’s worth switching around to something else.
CRAZY STUPID PREDICTION: The Wizards have a young nucleus in the backcourt to build around, and feel confident that they can lure a big name free agent. After pitching a strong case to Kevin Durant, the Wizards are unable to land the former MVP and will settle for signing a lesser quality big man as they work to develop Kelly Oubre into a true threat.
5) Chicago Bulls
It may not be fair to call Derrick Rose injury-prone or fragile, but it is fair to say this: the title window for the Bulls is closing quickly, so now is the time to push all the chips to the middle of the table. Especially with the youthful upstarts in Milwaukee and Orlando, the Bulls need to stay healthy in the worst way.
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: The Bulls big 3 now consists of Jimmy Butler, Rose, and Pau Gasol. Joakim Noah is being relegated to the bench as a 6th man, news that should concern any Bulls fan. None the less, this is still a team that is always dangerous on both ends of the court. New coach Fred Hoiberg should make things interesting in how exactly he uses Butler and Rose and how he divides their minutes. Rose is still as exciting to watch as any other player, even if every drive leaves Bulls fans holding their breath.
WHY YOU SHOULD TURN THE CHANNEL: If the injury bug hits this team, the wheels could fall off fast. There is an abundance of unheralded talent led by Nikola Mirotic, but you’d be lying to yourself to think this team goes very far without Rose, and especially without Butler. If there is any fire to the smoke we’ve seen in Chicago regarding the relationship of Rose and Butler, things could go south during the season.
CRAZY STUPID PREDICTION: The Bulls will pull their usual in the playoffs, winning a series or two before losing out to the Cavs. In the offseason, the team will see opportunities to unload Rose’s contract and trade him away for some younger role players to begin building the team around Jimmy Butler.
4) Milwaukee Bucks
The most compelling tagline for any NBA team will not compare to the one for the rejuvenated Milwaukee Bucks. “Fear The Deer” has gotten so big the team is even going to include it on their court floor. It seems a tad odd to so wildly promote an animal easily wiped out by an obese man with a rifle, but these are no ordinary deer folks. These are a team on the verge of upsetting the status quo in the Eastern Conference.
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: The Bucks feature two of the brightest young stars in the league: Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo, otherwise known as the “Greek Freak”. Watching those two alone is worth the price of admission. The Bucks also grabbed the biggest offseason free agent not named Lamarcus Aldridge when they signed Greg Monroe. Add to that former Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams, and Milwaukee has a team that is young but talented enough to make some major waves.
WHY YOU SHOULD CHANGE THE CHANNEL: Only if Parker or the Greek Freak or Monroe get injured and are out for months at a time should you turn the channel. This is one of the most exciting teams in the league, and have the chance to build an Eastern Conference power.
CRAZY STUPID PREDICTION: When the Bucks lost Parker for the season and Larry Sanders quit early on, you could have figured they wouldn’t go far. They still made the playoffs and played well before bowing out against the Bulls in the first round. If everyone stays healthy, this year’s team has potential to make a deep run. If the seeding falls just right, the Bucks won’t lose until the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cavs.
3) Miami Heat
There may not be a more intriguing team in the East than the Heat. They’ve got a team stocked with star veterans and talented young guards. As they enter season 2 in the post-Lebron era, can they become a threat to Lebron’s current team?
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: It’s the Heat. They still have Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh who, though aging, still provide a strong balance of offensive explosion. Hassan Whiteside has proven himself to be one of the better centers in the league. Miami fans can rejoice that this is a team that doesn’t need Lebron to be successful, they just need to be healthy.
WHY YOU SHOULD CHANGE THE CHANNEL: Because Wade plays with knees made of glass, he’s always a threat to miss multiple games. Chris Bosh’s health scare last year was hopefully an anomaly, but if those two miss any considerable time, the Heat will be in serious trouble.
CRAZY STUPID PREDICTION: The Heat are good enough to be the 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Whether their tentative health allows that to happen remains to be seen. By the middle of the season, rookie Justise Winslow will overtake Luol Deng as the starter at small forward and will become a long-term fixture in the Heat’s roster planning.
2) Atlanta Hawks
Were the 2014-15 Hawks the most surprising team in the NBA? I’d say so. If you had told anyone they would win 60 games, you would have been laughed at like Chris P. Bacon was. Entering the 2015-16 year, the Hawks have most of the same pieces that made the run last year. Can they tackle the Cavs this year?
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: It really is incredible what the Hawks did last year. To show just how balanced they were, no player averaged more than 16 PPG, but 6 different players averaged at least 10 PPG. They spread the floor well, rebound well, and shoot well. They only lost Demarre Carroll, so they shouldn’t fall off much if at all from those numbers.
WHY YOU SHOULD CHANGE THE CHANNEL: This is still a team without any real superstar. Paul Millsap was their leading scorer last year, but no one outside of NBA nerds and legit Hawks’ fans would know who he is. If you don’t enjoy “team basketball”, the Atlanta Hawks are not for you.
CRAZY STUPID PREDICTION: The Hawks will once again be regular season overachievers, but bow out even earlier in the playoffs, losing in either the first or second round.
1) Cleveland Cavs
We know two things after last year’s NBA Finals: Lebron James really can carry an entire team on his back and win a game and, the city of Cleveland is cursed. How else do you explain a torrid title drought capped off by two of the three best players on your team getting knocked out with injuries within a week of each other in the thick of the playoffs?
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Simple. It’s Lebron James. He isn’t always the flashiest player, but he is certainly one of the smartest. And now that he’s back in Cleveland, he is more likeable than ever. Kyrie Irving is one of the best finishers in the game, and if you like eccentric players for off the court entertainment, J.R. Smith is your guy.
WHY YOU SHOULD CHANGE THE CHANNEL: If you’re one of those mouth breathers that still hate Lebron, I guess you might not watch. Maybe just go watch some WWE or something?
CRAZY STUPID PREDICTION: The key to this year’s Cavs team may be from their bench. Signing veteran point guard Mo Williams was huge. The Cavs could’ve used him last year when Kyrie went down rather than trying to make Lebron the de facto point guard. Williams will maintain that position well until Kyrie is fully healthy. Even then, the Cavs will lose in the NBA Finals to the Clippers in 7 games.