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 bottom 10 teams or as they are known here: The Bottom of the Barrel.
#30 Chicago Bulls
Over/Under Wins: 21.5
Last Season Result: 41-41, 8th in the East, Lost in 1st round to Celtics (4-2)
Coach: Fred Hoiberg, 3rd Year
2016-17 Best Player: Jimmy Butler, 23.9ppg, 6.2rpg, 5.5apg, All-Star (3rd time)
Off Season Moves: Traded Jimmy Butler to T’Wolves for Zach Lavine/Kris Dunn. Waived Rajon Rondo. Drafted Lauri Markkanen (Drafted #7 by T’Wolves, included in Butler trade). Bought out Dwayne Wade.
Synopsis: Only one option: Tank. If the Butler trade or the recent buyout of D-Wade didn’t confirm that the tank is fully on, I don’t know what will. The NBA recently amended their draft lottery system to discourage tanking for a higher pick, however the rule change does not go into effect until 2018. This is the best news for Chicago, a team with no superstar, or even all-star to build around. People have compared the 7’ Markkanen to Dirk (as they do with all tall white European players), however I personally don’t believe he’s the piece to build your franchise around. The Bulls will most likely chalk up the 2017-18 season as a year to develop the young players they have while hoping to steal the top pick and potentially add another European prodigy in Luka Doncic from Slovenian, who turned heads at this year’s Eurobasket Championships. If you are a Bulls fan, you are better off watching old Jordan highlights than following this year’s team.
#29 Atlanta Hawks
Over/Under Wins: 25.5
Last Season Result: 43-39, 5th in the East, Lost in 1st round to Wizards (4-2)
Coach: Mike Budenholzer
2016-17 Best Player: Paul Millsap, 18.1ppg, 7.7rpg, 3.1apg, All-Star (4th time)
Off Season Moves: Drafted John Collins (19th Overall). Signed Dwayne Dedmon (28 year old journeyman) and Marco Bellini. Lost Paul Millsap, Dwight Howard and Tim Hardaway Jr in free agency.
Synopsis: It’s hard to believe this team won 60 games just three seasons ago. With a roster filled with mostly unrecognizable names it’s hard to have any positive outlook on this season. Losing Millsap, Howard and Hardaway Jr in free agency essentially removes any hopes of being relevant (even in the weak Eastern Conference). Even if those three were on the roster and paired with the two other starters, Dennis Schroder and Kent Bazemore, this team would not be a lock for the 2018 playoffs. In light of that, I think there are going to be a lot of long nights sitting through sloppy game film for Coach Budenholzer. But who knows, maybe Schroder continues his hot play from last post season (24.7ppg) and becomes a center piece, or more likely a solid tradable asset as they look to rebuild.
#28 Sacramento Kings
Over/Under Wins: 28.5
Last Season: 32-50
Coach: Dave Joerger (2nd year)
2016-17 Best Player: DeMarcus Cousins, pre trade: 55 games, 27.8ppg 10.8rpg, Allstar (3rd time)
Off Season Moves: Signed Vince Carter and Zach Randolph. Drafted D’ Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson and Harry Giles (5th, 15th and 20th respectively). Lost Ben McLemore in free agency.
Synopsis: The Sacramento Kings have been in rebuild mode since the Chris Webber days and the DeMarcus Cousins trade to NOLA for Buddy Hield and a draft pick was an indication that the rebuild continues. However, and I may be crazy for thinking this, but this team could be fun to watch. With a good young core of Willy Cauley-Stein, Hield, Justin Jackson, D’Aaron Fox, and Harry Giles mixed in with some entertaining vets like ageless Vince Carter, George Hill and recently-wrongfully-arrested-for-felony-drug-possession-and-distribution-charges Zach Randolph, this team has a lot of allure for a team that hasn’t won over 40 games in 11 straight years. Though I think their roster has improved from last season, I think the western conference has improved as well, meaning another sub 40-win season is not only likely, but more of a guarantee. Keep an eye on D’Aaron Fox and his blazing quickness, it could be the brightest spot for the Kings this season.
#27 Brooklyn Nets
Over/Under Wins: 28.5
Last Season: 20-62, 15th in the East
Coach: Kenny Atkinson, 2nd year
2016-17 Best Player: Brook Lopez: 20.8ppg, 5.4rpg, 1.7bpg
Off Season Moves: Traded away Brook Lopez. Received D’Angelo Russell, DeMarre Carrol and Alan Crabbe via Trades. Drafted Jarret Allen (22nd Overall)
Synopsis: After coming off a season where you lose over 3x as many games as you win and finish last in the conference, the outlook is never good. Brooklyn decided to let Brook Lopez out of the land of forgotten players and acquired D’Angelo Russell in the hopes that he is as good as predicted when he was selected 2nd overall just two years ago. Surrounding Russell with some athleticism and shooting will give him a fair shake at proving he can run a team and put the snitching on Nick Young days behind him (though at least he laughs about it now). The most interesting storyline for the Brooklyn Nets this season is whether or not they will give the Cavs yet another #1 overall pick which Cleveland acquired the rights to from Boston in the Kyrie trade (who Boston acquired from Brooklyn in the Pierce/Garnett fire sale). You would like to say that the only direction for Brooklyn to go is up, but unfortunately there is a chance they stay right where they are, the bottom of the weak East.
#26 Phoenix Suns
Over/Under Wins: 28.5
Last Season: 24-58, 15th in the West
Coach: Earl Watson (3rd Season)
2016-17 Best Player(s): Eric Bledsoe: 21.1ppg, 6.3 apg, 4.1rpg. Devin Booker: 22.1ppg, 3.2 apg, 3.1rpg.
Off Season Moves: Drafted Josh Jackson, Devon Redd, Alec Peters (4th, 32nd, 54th respectively).
Synopsis: For a team that finished last in the West, this team has far more upside than downside. With bright spots like Bledsoe, Booker, Marquese Chriss and rookie Josh Jackson, this Phoenix team is young, talented and poised to be a league stronghold in a few years. However, with the NBA trending towards superstar’s city hopping every time free agency rolls around, if these prospects develop they will have some tough decisions to make. Booker is establishing himself as a top shooting guard in the league (jumping from 13.8 to 22.1 ppg over his first two seasons, including a 70-point performance this past season), however advanced metrics have him as one of the worst defenders in the league (third to last in Defensive Points Saved). For someone who has drawn Kobe Bryant comparisons this is an issue that needs to be addressed. For Phoenix this season, in a loaded Western Conference, the best outlook is to develop their young core, position themselves for another top pick or trade/signing and focus on 2018-2019. Their time is coming, just not quite yet.
#25 New York Knicks
Over/Under Wins: 30.5
Last Season: 31-51, 12th in East
Coach: Jeff Hornacek (NOT Phil Jackson), 2nd year
2016-17 Best Player: Carmelo Anthony: 22.4ppg, 5.9rpg, All-Star (10th time).
Off Season Moves: Drafted Frank Ntilikina, Damyean Dotson (8th, 44nd respectively). Signed Tim Hardaway Jr, Michael Beasley and Ramon Sessions in free agency. Traded away Carmelo Anthony. Traded for Doug McDermott and Enes Kanter.
Synopsis: The Knicks have about as sloppy of a professional franchise as I can remember. Between physically removing Legends from their stadium, an old man with dementia trying to shove an out of date offense down the throats of players and coaches who don’t want to run it, and treating their star of the future as if he was a one night stand they were trying to get to leave without explicitly saying it, there is little to no hope for this team. In the draft they passed on freak of nature Dennis Smith Jr and decided to gamble on a young, unproven foreign player yet again. In free agency they paid exponentially more money ($71M/ 4 years) than necessary to get a guy in Hardaway Jr that they gave up just two years ago. They finally got rid of Melo after taking all his good years and surrounding him with garbage. In return they received Doug McDermott and Enes Kanter (who is inexplicably pumped to be in NY). In a league that is trending toward small ball the Knicks have decided to stockpile bigs with Kristaps Porzingis, Willy Hernan-Gomez, Joakim Noah, Kanter and Kyle O’Quinn. If all of this resulted in high draft picks that would be one thing, but the Knicks have continuously messed up tanking by finishing 9th-12th in the east and missing out on the playoffs and a good draft pick. This year doesn’t seem it will be much different, the only interesting thing about the Knicks is that they have the potential to roll out an all-international line up, as they lose by 28 to the Celtics.
#24 Indiana Pacers
Over/Under Wins: 31.5
Last Season: 42-40, 7th in the East, lost to Cavs in 1st round (4-0)
Coach: Nate McMillan, 2nd year
2016-17 Best Player: Paul George: 23.7ppg, 6.6rpg, 3.3apg, All Star (4th time)
Off Season Moves: Traded away Paul George. Traded for Victor Oladipo, Domantis Sabonis, Corey Joseph. Lost C.J. Miles and Jeff Teague in free agency.
Synopsis: With Paul George leaving, the Pacers will be looking for a new leader and new direction. The answer? Myles Turner and a top pick in the 2018 draft. With prospects like Michael Porter Jr, Marvin Bagley III, and the previously mentioned Luka Doncic (three players that would be a great complimentary player to Turner) all available at the top of the board in next year’s draft, the Pacers would be stupid not to try and grab one of the top spots. This is the last year that tanking almost guarantees you a top 3 pick, which in a draft that has 3 special prospects, seems well worth going for. The addition of Oladipo is intriguing, more for his return to Hoosier country than his on the court production. Though with him and Turner at least we can expect a few highlight dunks, but I don’t think the Pacers will be making any noise in the East this year, besides maybe if Oladipo drops an album, which I would be the first to buy. If you haven’t watched him sing his own entrance song at his freshman year Midnight Madness, you need to. Can’t imagine he did too poorly with the IU women.
#23 Orlando Magic
Over/Under Wins: 33.5
Last Season: 29-53, 13th in the East
Coach: Frank Vogel, 2nd year
2016-17 Best Player: Elfrid Payton: 12.8ppg, 6.5apg, 4.7rpg
Off Season Moves: Drafted Johnathon Isaac (6th Overall). Signed Johnathon Simmons. Lost Jeff Green and Jodie Meeks in free agency
Synopsis: If you caught any Magic games last year, you know just how boring they can be. With no real big name leading the charge they are a team operating on the expectation that one of their young guns will become a star. Aaron Gordon has yet to become the Blake Griffin 2.0 that some predicted him to be, Elfrid Payton was so bad he was relegated to the bench only to return and average an impressive 13.5ppg, 7.5rpg, 8.4apg after the All-star break, and Mario Hezonja went from hammering on dudes in NBA summer league to averaging less than 5 ppg. Also, when your leading scorer (by 5 points) is Evan Fournier you have a problem. Evan f**king Fournier. While things have been grim, if you got a look at Johnathon Isaac in summer league or preseason you know that he could be something special. In a preseason game the other night he hammered one and then sprinted down the court and gloved a shot, considering I probably won’t watch any more Magic basketball the rest of the year, I am going to make a judgement off that play alone that Isaac has the potential to dominate at the big man position. Unfortunately, potential in Orlando is about as reliable as Greg Oden’s knees.
#22 Los Angeles Lakers
Over/Under Wins: 33.5
Last Season: 26-56, 14th in the West.
Coach: Luke Walton, 2nd year
2016-17 Best Player: D’Angelo Russell? Lou Williams? Julius Randle? Brandon Ingram? Me?
Off Season Moves: Traded away D’Angelo Russell. Traded for Brook Lopez. Drafted Lonzo Ball (2nd overall), acquired Brooklyn’s draft pick Kyle Kuzma (27th Overall). Signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Synopsis: Lonzo. Lonzo. Lonzo. Coming from the family that sets the new standard in over hype, Lonzo Ball is a very polarizing player. I will be honest, living in Ireland last year and not seeing any UCLA games, I was rooting for him to fail because I was tired of constantly hearing about the Ball family, mostly from the mouth of his outspoken Dad, Lavar. Though, after watching his summer league and a few interviews, I am fully on the Lonzo bandwagon. However, even if Lonzo is as brilliant as he was in summer league, that does not mean the Lakers are back to reigning supreme anytime soon. Trading away Russell clears up some of the positional battles at the guard spot, but that doesn’t mean that the equation is solved just yet. Will Ingram have a breakout year? Will Kuzma carry his shocking summer league/preseason dominance to the regular season? Is Julius Randle going to step into his own and dominate? There are a lot of questions surround this team but I can guarantee I am not the only one interested in watching them figure this out. There is a chance their youth keeps them towards the bottom of the West but, and more interestingly, there is a chance things click and they sneak in as an 8 seed (only to be run out of the state of California by the Warriors). Either way, you know you’ll be seeing more of Lavar Ball’s face than ever.
#21 Dallas Mavericks
Over/Under Wins: 35.5
Last Season: 33-49, 11th in the West
Coach: Rick Carlisle, 10th year
2016-17 Best Player: Harrison Barnes: 19.2ppg, 5.0rpg, 3.2apg
Off Season Moves: Drafting Dennis Smith Jr. That’s it.
Synopsis: In Dirk’s 20th year, the best hope the Mavs have is to ride out the Nowitzki legend with a fun filled yet losing season, reminiscent of when you know you are going to fail an exam so you just go out drinking anyway. Adding Dennis Smith Jr brings some hype since he has that make-you-stand-up-when-he-dunks type athleticism. However, relying on Harrison Barnes as your star player when he was a role player for the Warriors just a few years ago just shows that the pieces just aren’t there. With other athletes like Nerlens Noel, Justin Anderson and Dwight Powell as well as the entertaining, off the bench pit bull in Yogi Farrel, this team has the chance to give some of the top teams a competitive match up. That’s about all they will do though as they are just simply out matched in the dominant West. Biggest challenge they face is that their coach is notorious for not trusting younger players, which could be a big issue for a fairly young team. So let’s just let Dirk hobble up and down the court for 21 minutes, hit a few knee-up fade aways and enjoy the final chapter in a legendary tale. We’ll focus on the Mavs being a contender in the West next year.