NBA 2017-2018 Preview, Part 2: The Middle of the Pack

After an off season that was arguably more entertaining than the season itself, the NBA is back. Summer league is over, pre-season is underway and we are a few days away from our first look at the new landscape that is the 2017-18 NBA. With surprising free agency signings, a top heavy draft, and can-you-believe-the-best-two-teams-in-the-Eastern-Conference-swapped-superstars style trades, there are many questions about where teams will place, though it is unanimously agreed who is the favorite to win it all (spoiler: it’s the team with two NBA MVPs under the age of 30). Haven’t followed the NBA in months? Don’t worry, TCC is here to catch you up with our 2017-18 NBA Preview. Using the over/under for total wins set by the Westgate Las Vegas Sports Book we will split the league into 3 parts: the top, middle and bottom. Below is #11-#20, or as they are known here: The Middle of the Pack.

#20 Memphis Grizzlies

 Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Over/Under Wins: 37.5

Last Season: 43-39, 7th in the West, Lost to SA Spurs in 1st round (4-2)

Coach: David Fizdale, 2nd year

2016-17 Best Player: Marc Gasol 17ppg, 7rpg, 5apg, All-Star (3rd Time). Mike Conley 27ppg, 7apg.

Off Season Moves: Signed Tyreke Evans and Mario Chalmers. Lost Zach Randolph and Tony Allen in free agency.

Synopsis: A team who has made a living on toughness and grit now finds itself at a crossroads. With their new roster being without Zach Randolph and Tony Allen the logical analysis would say that they are going to move away from the grind-it-out mentality that is now more often seen at a blackjack table than an NBA court. With the two proven stars in Gasol and Conley they have a chance to piecemeal the rest of the lineup and produce a team capable of surprising the West with a new up-tempo style of play. Lead by former Spoelstra assistant David Fizdale, who engineered the offense during the Lebron years in Miami, it is likely we see a more run-n-gun Memphis than we’ve seen in recent years, however the question becomes: can they compete with teams who have been running this style for years? My bet is no. Defense and grit make up for lack of talent, moving away from this identity will only keep Memphis one step behind the best of the West with no stifling defense to fall back on.

 

#19 Detroit Pistions

Over/Under Wins: 38.5

Last Season: 37-45, 10th in the East

Coach: Stan Van Gundy, 4th Year

2016-17 Best Player: Andre Drummond 13.6ppg, 13.8rpg

Off Season Moves: Traded for Avery Bradley. Drafted Luke Kennard. Lost Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris and Aron Baynes in free agency.

Synopsis: For a team that missed the playoffs in the lackluster East, the outlook is never good, especially when no monumental moves were made in the off-season. This team’s coach, when not doubling as Ron Jeremy’s brother, has instituted a style of play that has led to bottom of the league production in 3FGs. Adding shooters like Kennard and Bradley are the start of the solution but unfortunately 3 point shooting is not the only hole in this leaking ship. With combo guard Reggie Jackson having an injury plagued season and not producing the way he thinks he should be and their max player, Andre Drummond scoring less than 15ppg it’s hard to be optimistic about the offensive production this season. Last season Tobias Harris sneakily averaged 16+ ppg, it is possible that if he keeps improving, Jackson breaks out and Drummond learns to hit a FT some of their woes will be fixed, but it is unlikely. However, what will work in their favor is that the atrocious East has plenty of non-guaranteed playoff spots open. So who knows, maybe come playoff team we will see the Pistons sneak in, just to be run off the court by the Cavs/Celtics.

 

#18 New Orleans Pelicans

Over/Under Wins: 39.5

Last Season: 34-48, 10th in the West

Coach: Alvin Gentry, 3rd Year

2016-17 Best Player: Anthony Davis,

Off Season Moves: Signed Rajon Rondo, Tony Allen, Ian Clark. Traded away Tim Frazier.

Synopsis: They have one season to figure out if you can survive in this league with a bigs-driven offense. After trading for Boogie Cousins last year, the Pelicans only managed to win 7 of 17 games with him in the lineup. To be fair, their offense looked more like two guys not trying to step on one another’s toes than the dynamic duo they had hoped. These chemistry issues were most likely ironed out over the summer, unfortunately that was the only positive thing to come from this summer. After being handcuffed to PG Jrue Holiday and overpaying him ($126M/5yrs) they went out and signed PG Rajon Rondo. You remember Rondo? Ya know, the guy who lead the Boston Big 3 and averaged a stupid number of assists for a few years, then became injury prone, a locker room problem and bounced around serving short stints with each team he graced his presence with? Well for some weird reason the Pelicans decided getting another dribble heavy PG was smart despite rumors that they will let Cousins run the offense from the high post. If the Pelicans can’t figure it out there is a very real chance they lose AD to the Celtics, Cousins walks in free agency and they watch Jrue Holiday cash those checks for their remaining years before the franchise is moved to a more basketball friendly city.

 

#17 Utah Jazz

Over/Under Wins: 40.5

Last Season: 51-31, 5th in the West, lost to the GS Warriors in the Conference Semis (4-0)

Coach: Quinn Synder, 4th Year

2016-17 Best Player: Gordon Hayward: 25ppg, 5rpg, 4apg, All Star

Off Season Moves: Lost Gordon Hayward and George Hill in free agency. Drafted Donovan Mitchell (13th Overall). Signed Thabo Sefolosha and Jonas Jerebko. Traded away Trey Lyles, Traded for Ricky Rubio.

Synopsis: A team that was already middle of the pack in offensive production lost its two most productive players in Hayward and Hill. They did not add any scoring firepower but they did add the sneaky Spaniard Ricky Rubio who knows a thing or two about dishing the rock. Within an offense that will look to pick up points from any and every one, having a point guard who is amongst the best in pure distribution is key. Utah will look to expand on their defensive minded play by relying on Rudy Gobert to continue to alter anything within his insane wing span. Gobert is their only All-NBA caliber player, however Rubio is no slouch on defense and they added Thabo Sefolosha who is known to guard 2 through 4 effectively. With the recent shoulder injury to Dante Exum, rookie Donovan Mitchell will get his chance to prove that he is the steal of this year’s draft (him and LAL’s Kuzma are the front runners). It will be tough for the Jazz to make the playoffs in the reloaded West, but defense tends to level the playing field so there is still some hope, even if there is still no #NightLife in Utah.

 

#16 Portland Trailblazers

Over/Under Wins: 42.5

Last Season: 41-41, 8th in the West, Lost to the Warriors in the 1st Round (4-0)

Coach: Terry Stotts, 6th Year

2016-17 Best Player: Damian Lillard 27ppg, 5.8apg, 3rpg, All Star

Off Season Moves: Traded away Allen Crabbe. Drafted Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan. Did not get Melo.

Synopsis: The Trailblazers are the equivalent of the guy at the park who is clearly less talented and out matched but finds ways to win anyway, and tells you to go f**k yourself while doing it. Being led by the highest scoring back court in the league in Lillard and CJ McCollum, the Blazers have now had a full summer to institute Jusuf Nurkic into this flame throwing offense. If Nurkic can stay on the court and Lillard and McCollom continue to play with that small-school-big-chip-on-the-shoulder fire this team will be amongst the most exciting to watch. However, that will have to be the consolation prize for a team that despite massive heart and fight is destined to fall short to the top tier of the West. It is great to see this team to move away from its knee injury demons of selecting Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan, Greg Oden over Kevin Durant, and losing Brandon Roy (a player Ron Artest said was the best player he’d ever played against, except Mike from Queensbridge of course) early to injury. Missing out on the Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes was unfortunate for a team missing that last big piece, but they can continue to scrap in the West and hope for that piece to come next off season. If all else fails, DLill just dropped his second album, so they got that going for them.

 

#15 Philadelphia 76ers

Over/Under Wins: 42.5

Last Season: 28-54, 14th in the East

Coach: Brett Brown, 5th Year

2016-17 Best Player: Joel Embiid, 31 Games Played, 20.2ppg, 7.8rpg, 2.5bpg, 3 reckless tweets per night.

Off Season Moves: Drafted Markelle Fultz (1st overall). Signed J.J. Reddick, Amir Johnson. Ben Simmons returns from injury.

Synopsis: Trust the Process. For a team that has been stockpiling draft picks and young talent for years, it is finally time to lay the cards on the table and see how they stack up. With Ben Simmons returning from injury for his “rookie” season and #1 overall pick Markelle Fultz joining the team, these young guns have a shot to put up some wins. Fultz has been shaky in his summer league/preseason debut but he is definitely still an upgrade from TJ McConnell who I am not completely sure isn’t a fan who found a jersey and wandered on to the court. The story, as it always is with the 76ers, is whether or not they can stay healthy. Mainly this applies to the once in a generation talent in Joel Embiid who, even though he only played 31 games, was in serious talks to be selected as an All Star. Also the dude is a legend on twitter so him having a healthy season will only lead to more off the court greatness as well. The 76ers are still leaps and bounds away from the Iverson years of greatness, but they are closing that gap and if Simmons and Embiid stay healthy, could be a threat in the East.

 

#14 Charlotte Hornets

Over/Under Wins: 42.5

Last Season: 36-46, 11th in the East

Coach: Steve Clifford, 5th Year

2016-17 Best Player: Kemba Walker: 23.2 ppg, 5.5 apg, 3.9rpg, All Star

Off Season Moves: Traded for Dwight Howard. Traded away Marco Belinelli and Miles Plumlee. Signed Michael Carter-Williams. Drafted Malik Monk (11th Overall)

Synopsis: Michael Jordan recently threw shade about the Super Team era the NBA is in by saying that 28 teams are going to suck. Seeing as though his Hornets are not Golden State or Cleveland/Boston he is blatantly stating his team will be part of the trash pile that is the rest of the NBA. Things are not as bleak for the Hornets as MJ has made them seem. With acquiring Howard, formerly of the Rockets, Hawks and Lakers (just in the past 3 years), they are looking to add some rim protection and rebounding. While Cody Zeller has provided useful, this team won’t be relying on him or Howard to light up the scoreboard. Everything will run through Kemba Walker, who has the most classic NY game I’ve ever seen. Drafting Malik Monk should prove to bump up the low three point numbers from last season, but his ability to be an NBA shooting guard is long from proven. Batum going out for 3 months with an elbow injury eliminates the versatility at the 3 spot. With limited shooting and play making elsewhere, it will come down to whether or not Walker can facilitate and put players like Howard, Kidd-Gilchrist, Zeller and Monk in positions to score. If they make the playoffs it’s a win for the season, if they can keep Dwight from having any more kids it’s a miracle.

#13 Miami Heat

Over/Under Wins: 43.5

Last Season: 41-41, 9th place

Coach: Erik Spoelstra, 10th Year

2016-17 Best Player: Goran Dragic: 20.3 ppg, 5.8 apg

Off Season Moves: Signed Kelly Olynyk. Drafted Bam Adebayo

Synopsis: For a team that ended up with as many wins as they did losses, the Miami Heat were far from average. The Heat finished the year winning 30 of their final 41 games, which if you can do basic math you understand that means they started the season losing 30 of their first 41 games. They seem to be doubling down on their second half success by giving out contract extensions to their roster like they were audience members at an Oprah Winfrey give away show. Dragic is always solid (remember when he finished 6th in MVP votes? Yea that happened.), Hassan Whiteside has rocketed from D-League player to NBA superstar big and they have the best player on earth (in his mind) in Dion Waiters. Add in James Johnson who finally started playing like he should and a fleet of other competent players and the Heat have long since put the Lebron years behind them and are looking to compete in the East. With adding Kelly Olynyk and his disgusting neck beard, the Heat have a chance to snag a home playoff advantage in the first round. Only time will tell if they can stay hot from last season or cool off and be stuck betting on red when everything is coming up black.

#12 Los Angeles Clippers

Over/Under Wins: 43.5

Last Season: 51-31, 5th in the West, Lost in the 1st Round to UTA Jazz (4-3)

Coach: Doc Rivers, 5th Year

2016-17 Best Player: DeAndre Jordan: 16ppg, 14rpg, All Star

Off Season Moves: Traded away Chris Paul. Traded for Patrick Beverly, Lou Williams, Danilo Gallinari (sign-n-trade). Signed Milos Teodosic. Lost J.J. Reddick and Jamal Crawford to free agency.

Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Synopsis: The Clippers still haven’t shaken the funk that collapsing in Game 6 against the Rockets in 2015 has put them in. Trading away Chris Paul, and letting Reddick and Crawford walk in free agency are signs that they are taking steps to move away from the identity of the past while still keeping centerpieces Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan around. Adding Danilo Gallinari answers their prayers for a versatile 3 man but unfortunately continues the theme of needing injury prone players to stay healthy to compete. While losing the best point guard of a generation in Paul hurts, filling the role by committee may actually improve the Clippers. Patrick Beverly, who they acquired in the Paul trade is, as my former assistant coach who used to play against him in college put it “a f**cking dog who will do whatever it takes to beat you and make sure you know he did.” Pair that with the reincarnation of all of Pete Maravich’s character flaws but supreme passing ability in Milos Teodosic and the Clipper will be able to get guys like Griffin and Jordan going without missing a beat. The Clippers will fall short of Western conference supremacy, but if you can still be top half of the table after losing a hall of famer, there is nothing to hang your head about. Especially when your 31-year-old import rookie point guard is chain smoking cigarettes at half time.

#11 Denver Nuggets

Over/Under Wins: 45.5

Last Season: 40-42, 9th in the West

Coach: Michael Malone, 3rd Year

2016-17 Best Player: Nikola Jokic 16.7 ppg, 9.8 rpg

Off Season Moves: Signed Paul Millsap. Traded for Trey Lyles. Drafted Tyler Lydon. Lost Danilo Gallinari in free agency.

Synopsis: Two rankings stand out when characterizing last year’s Nuggets: 2nd in the league in offense, last in the league in defense (over the last 4 months). This nuggets team will continue to put up numbers as they run their offense through Jokic, who looks more like a body guard for an eastern European DJ than a versatile basketball talent. Adding everybody’s least favorite All-Star game participant, Paul Millsap gives the Nuggets a dangerous front court that can hurt you in multiple ways. With Gary Harris adding to the mix in whatever way the team needs him and solid players like Wilson Chandler and the less talent Hernan-Gomez, the Nuggets will continue to put up explosive offensive numbers. With the lack of experience this young but talented roster has, they will either take swings at the kings of the West with fearless ignorance, or will prove to be another young team not ready to take their shot. Either way, they’ll be worth the watch.

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