NBA 2017-2018 Preview, Part 1: The Top Dogs

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 the top 10 or as we call ’em, the Top Dogs.

#10 Washington Wizards

Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

Over/Under Wins: 47.5

Last Season: 49-33, 4th in the East, Lost to Celtics in Conference Semis (4-3)

Coach: Scott Brooks, 2nd Year

2016-17 Best Player: John Wall: 23.1 ppg, 10.6 apg, 4.8 gang signs thrown per game.

Off Season Moves: Lost Brandon Jennings and Bojan Bogdanovic in free agency.

Synopsis: Last year’s Eastern Conference Semis between the Wizards and the Celtics was arguably the best series of the playoffs. It had all the grit and grime of school yard hoops but happened to feature some of the most electric scoring guards in the world. The Wizards were knocking on the door of the conference finals before Kelly Olynyk decided he knew how to play basketball. Kelly f**king Olynyk. Though now the Wizards have gotten a taste for winning and with a solid returning core they have a solid chance to upset the Celtics/Cavs as they work out roster issues. With a backcourt of Wall and Beal leading the charge they doubled down on swingman Otto Porter in the hopes that he reaches the heights once set out for him when he was selected 3rd overall. In a faltering Eastern conference being a team with a solid core coming off a successful albeit not the way the wished it ended season, they should be able to take care of those beneath them while fighting to let those above them know that they are not that far ahead.

#9 Milwaukee Bucks

Over/Under Wins: 47.5

Last Season: 42-40, 6th in the East, Lost to the Raptors in 1st Round (4-2)

Coach: Jason Kidd, 4th Year

2016-17 Best Player: Giannis Antetokounmpo: 22.9ppg, 8.8rpg, 5.4apg, 1.9bpg, 1.6spg

Off Season Moves: Lost Michael Beasley in free agency.

Synopsis: In a league trending quickly towards relying on length and mobility over height, the Bucks have assembled a young talented roster to stay ahead of the curve. This being led by Antetokounmpo, the once in a lifetime combination of length, athleticism and coordination that is rapidly scaling the precipice of the League’s best player. If the Greek Freak can continue to progress and impress, this young lengthy roster will continue to climb the Eastern table. The biggest hurdle for the Bucks will be keeping their core healthy as their second in command star Jabari Parker has now torn the same ACL twice in just over two years. With a breakout rookie year by Malcolm Brogdon (including a reverse hammer on Lebron’s head) and flashes of brilliance by the 7’1” Thon Maker (who may be 20 years old but rumored to be 25 or older) this team has been the definition of “built not bought” by drafting all of their 4 young players. However, this built not bought mentality will have to become a rallying cry going forward as contract extensions to Tony Snell and Greg Monroe have left Milwaukee with limited flexibility to go out and add another blue chip star. This season won’t end up in any sort of championship run but there is still an outside chance (currently 7-1 odds in Vegas) that Giannis Antetokounmpo ends the season as a League MVP (he was projected as the #1 overall selection in most fantasy leagues).

#8 Minnesota Timberwolves

Over/Under Wins: 48.5

Last Season: 31-51, 13th in the West

Coach: Tom Thibodeau, 2nd Year

2016-17 Best Player: Karl Anthony-Towns 25.1ppg, 12.3ppg, 1.5bpg

Off Season Moves: Traded for Jimmy Butler. Traded away Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and Ricky Rubio. Signed Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson and Jamal Crawford.

Synopsis: Coming off falling miserably short of expectations last year, this reloaded Wolves team will look to silence critics by boosting their defensive efforts and funneling the offense through their new Superstar import Jimmy Butler. Butler, who was an All Star last year and a borderline top 10 player in the league has followed his former coach Tom Thibodeau to Minnesota to try and quell some of the youth mishaps of last season. Also coming over to the Wolves were former Bulls Taj Gibson (’09-’17) and Jamal Crawford (’00-’04). So on paper, this team had issues with inexperience and defense and, once again on paper, they seemed to have addressed those issues by adding several players born in the 80s and defensive minded vets in Butler and Gibson. However, as they learned last season (where they were supposed to win 50 games), on paper calculations does not equal on the court success. One thing that is certain is that their young big man, Karl Anthony-Towns, will be a star for the next decade. His numbers were incredible last season but what is more impressive is the way he gets it done. He is a versatile big in an increasingly small ball league that can stretch the floor, pass and still go up and hammer on you. If he (or Jimmy Butler) can teach Andrew Wiggins to play some defense, this team has a solid Big 3 in a conference where having three stars seems to be the price of entry to the playoffs.

#7 Toronto Raptors

Over/Under Wins: 48.5

Last Season: 51-31, 3rd in the East, lost to CLE Cavaliers in Conference Semis (4-0)

Coach: Dwane Casey, 6th Year

2016-17 Best Player: DeMar Derozan: 27.3ppg, 4rpg, 4apg, All Star (3rd Time)

Off Season Moves: Signed C.J. Miles. Drafted OG Anunoby (23rd Overall). Lost Patrick Patterson and Corey Joseph in free agency.

Synopsis: It’s all about the 3 ball. That statement rings true for the entire league but especially for the Toronto Raptors of 2017-18. A team typically takes the lead from its Superstar. For the Raptors last season this meant that they would take a lot of mid-range shots early in the shot clock as their front man DeMar Derozan does quite effectively. This season, it appears that they are nixing that method and starting to launch bombs like the rest of the league. As per Kevin O’Connor from The Ringer, the Raptors shot 40.8% from 16-24 which equates to 0.82 points per shot. To equal this, they would only need to shoot 27.2% from 3 instead. With a team of only a few proven 3 point shooters it will be an interesting season-long experiment to see if others, mainly their Star, step up and shoot the long ball at a consistent clip. Unfortunately for the Raptors, this experiment will be occurring parallel to other top teams in East who have already worked out the kinks as well as teams like the Bucks and the Wizards who are eager to lock up a home playoff spot. We’ll see the Raptors in the playoffs but it is unclear if they can maintain a top half of the table spot as they did last year.

#6 Oklahoma City Thunder

Over/Under Wins: 51.5

Last Season: 47-35, 6th in the West, Lost to HOU Rockets in 1st Round

Coach: Billy Donovan, 3rd Year

2016-17 Best Player: Russell Westbrook: 31.6ppg, 10.7rpg, 10.4apg, All Star, League MVP.

Off Season Moves: Traded for Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Traded away Victor Oladipo, Enes Kanter, Domantas Sabonis and Doug McDermott. Signed Patrick Patterson.

Synopsis: Coming off a year where their superstar won an MVP and set a NBA single season record for triple doubles yet they still exited early from the playoffs, the OKC Thunder knew they needed to go out and get some additional pieces. They did more than that by pouncing on two teams looking to rebuild by off-loading Superstars at a discount. Adding Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to the lineup gives the Thunder a big three of their own and with defensive role players Steven Adams and Andre Roberson rounding out the starting five the Thunder have a lineup that can compete with anyone. Granted a lot needs to happen before this lineup will mesh, like Carmelo being a pop up shooter in screen-n-roll situations and Paul George playing second fiddle. However, their games are compatible theoretically but only time will tell. If Coach Donovan can’t get the best from George and Anthony and they Thunder see another early exit from the playoffs, there is a very real chance they both walk in free agency and the Thunder are left all alone with Russ again (since he just signed a $240 Million contract extension). On the flipside if they can pull it together we may see a couple years of battling for a title in OKC.

#5 Cleveland Cavaliers

Over/Under Wins: 53.5

Last Season: 51-31, 2nd in the East, Lost to Warriors in the NBA Finals (4-1)

Coach: Tyronn Lue, 3rd Year

2016-17 Best Player: Lebron James

Off Season Moves: Traded away Kyrie Irving. Traded for Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder. Signed Derrick Rose in free agency. Signed Dwayne Wade and Jeff Green.

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Synopsis: Kyrie is gone. Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Dwayne Wade and Derrick Rose joined. Guess what? They still have Lebron so none of that matters. Yes, picking up IT and company to replace Kyrie is crucial, but when you have the best player on earth for the last decade you can be confident that you will at least have a chance at a title. As was the case last year, the regular season does not matter too much for the Cavs but will more act as a time to mesh as a unit and hopefully revive the Minnesota version of Kevin Love before they gear up for the playoffs. Though the top of the East is more competitive, the rest is still as poor meaning Lebron will get to rest and they will most likely sweep their way to the Eastern Conference finals yet again. One big storyline to keep an eye on is how bad the Nets suck. The Cavs have the Nets first round pick next year and if Brooklyn is as bad as some think they will be, then there is a fair chance the Cavs snag the top pick in next years talented draft. What will be interesting to watch unfold is whether or not the Cavs deal this pick in the hopes to enticing Lebron to stay after this season, though all signs are pointing to an exit towards LA. If the Cavs can figure it out they will undoubtedly battle the Golden State Warriors in the finals for a fourth straight year. Unfortunately for Cleveland it seems as though this won’t end favorably for them, which most likely means they will watch LBJ walk out the door and on to the Lakers.

#4 San Antonio Spurs

Over/Under Wins: 54.5

Last Season: 61-21, 2nd in the West, Lost to the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals (4-0)

Coach: Gregg Popovich, 21st Year

2016-17 Best Player: Kawhi Leonard: 25.5ppg, 5.8rpg, 3.5apg, All Star

Off Season Moves: Signed Rudy Gay. Lost Jonathon Simmons in free agency.

Synopsis: For a team that has set the standard for consistency in the NBA, this is the least certain the Spurs have been at the beginning of a season in recent memory. They signed LaMarcus Aldridge to an extension despite both parties being relatively indifferent toward the relationship (basically being the NBA equivalent of marrying the girl you are dating just cause you’ve been dating for a bit and have no better options). Kawhi Leonard was the best player on the floor in game 1 of the WCF before rolling his ankle. His health will continue to keep it unclear whether he will be a top 3 player like he should be. Tony Parker is old and coming back from quad tendon surgery. Manu Ginobili is also old but has a great old man’s game so that might actually work to his advantage. Danny Green and Paddy Mills can affect games with 3 and D, but will they? And they also signed Rudy Gay who is still searching for the Monstars who took his talent last year. Point being this, the Spurs have the players, they have the coach but they also have a lot of unanswered questions. If there was anyone to handle this uncertainty well it would be the Spurs, so you can still expect them at the top half of the Western Conference Playoffs, it will just be a matter of whether they lose to Houston or Golden State.

#3 Houston Rockets

Over/Under Wins: 55.5

Last Season: 55-27, 3rd in the West, Lost to SA Spurs in Semis (4-2)

Coach: Mike D’Antoni, 2nd Year

2016-17 Best Player: James Harden 29.1ppg, 11.2 apg, 8.2rpg, All Star

Off Season Moves: Received Chris Paul in trade. Lost Patrick Beverly, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell to trade. Signed P.J Tucker, Luc Richard Mbah A Moute, and Tarik Black.

Synopsis: The Rockets have the most up tempo and proficient offense for any team not named the Warriors. They traded for Chris Paul, which on paper said this will only increase their offensive firepower but the addition begs the question of whether or not the ball dominant Chris Paul can coexist alongside the equally ball dominant James Harden. It may not make sense but I think the addition of Paul will take the right amount of pressure off Harden to facilitate. Harden is one of the best in the league at distributing the ball, but also set a NBA record in turnovers last season, adding a future hall of famer in Chris Paul will allow Harden to still get his assist numbers but not have to take as many chances. The roster is filled with plenty of usable pieces like Eric Gordon, Nene, PJ Tucker and Luc Richard Mbah A Moute and in any years of the past this would most likely be enough for them to have a solid chance at a title. Unfortunately, Houston is in the Western Conference and will have to go through the reigning and future champion Warriors to get that title. Even if Paul and Harden have a happy marriage the Rockets don’t have the fire power to take out a healthy Golden State, but there is no doubt they will be an explosive team that is fun to watch.

#2 Boston Celtics

Over/Under Wins: 56.5

Last Season:

Coach: Brad Stevens, 5th Year

2016-17 Best Player: Isaiah Thomas 28.9ppg, 5.9apg, All Star

Off Season Moves: Traded away Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley. Traded for Kyrie Irving. Signed Gordon Hayward. Drafted Jason Tatum.

Synopsis: Ok I had a whole write up about how the new look Celtics were poised to dethrone the King. Then I turned on the opening game of the NBA season and saw Gordon Hayward gruesomely break his ankle in a way that will likely put him out for the season if not his career. So now I’m thinking the worst; the season is over, they don’t have a chance, etc. etc. However, watching the rest of the game has made me happy to see how strong their younger players in Jaylen Brown and Jason Tatum and how well the rest of the line-up worked with the offense running through Kyrie. Sadly, even if this season ends with 60 wins or a late playoff run it will always be a “what if” story about Gordon Hayward’s health. I hope, for the sake of league if nothing else, that the C’s still are able to challenge the top of the east, which with a killer like Kyrie and a strong group around him is definitely still a strong possibility.

#1 Golden State Warriors

Over/Under Wins: 67.5

Last Season: 67-15, 1st in the West, Champions

Coach: Steve Kerr, 4th Year.

2016-17 Best Player: Kevin Durant: 25.1ppg, 8.3rpg, 4.8apg. Steph Curry: 25.3ppg, 6.6apg, 4.5rpg.

Off Season Moves:Signed Nick Young. Drafted Jordan Bell (38th Overall).

Synopsis: The Warriors have lost only 39 regular season games in the last 3 seasons. They have won 2 of the last 3 NBA championships. They have 2 MVPs in their prime. They have the best off ball shooter in the game (Klay Thompson). They have the reigning defensive player of the year who can stretch the floor and guard all 5 position (Draymond Green). They have everything you could want in an NBA team, which is why Vegas has them at a -160 money line.  Barring injury or the state of California sinking into the Pacific a Warriors repeat is almost certain, especially after adding Nick Young who will undoubtedly get buckets in this run and gun offense. Every other team did their best to bolster their rosters to try and compete but unfortunately they will all be competing for 2nd place. It’s pretty cut and dry, I got nothing else.


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