NBA PREVIEW: IN-DEPTH LOOK PART 3

dirk_aggy_game3_568The third part of our team-by-team NBA season previews features teams ranked between the 18th and 13th spots.

 

#18 WASHINGTON WIZARDS

TEAM ROSTER:

Jan Vesely, John Wall, Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza, Nene Hilario, Al Harrington, Martell Webster, Kevin Seraphin, Garrett Temple, Otto Porter, Glen Rice Jr., Trevor Booker, Eric Maynor, Chris Singleton, Marcin Gortat.

PRE-SEASON SUMMARY/PREDICTIONS

Since picking John Wall in 2010, Wizards fans haven’t witnessed a greater build-up to a season than the one experienced this past summer.  The signing of John Wall to a five-year $80 million extension, the drafting of backyard stand-out Otto Porter, the trade for Marcin Gortat, and an impressive EuroBasket from presumed bust Jan Vesely, are gradually transforming the losing culture that has shaped this franchise for the past years.

For this team to have a satisfying season, head coach Randy Wittman will have to find a way to let his young stars showcase their talents without them stepping on each others toes. John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, and Jan Vesely, are all expected to make some kind of statements this season.

For now, Washington will have to lean on their two young stars, John Wall and Bradley Beal, to make sure that people’s attentions will be turned to the US capital and not elsewhere.

OFF-SEASON GRADE: B

Extended John Wall for five years, Marcin Gortat, Al Harrington, Eric Maynor, Otto Porter (draft), Glen Rice Jr. (draft).

WHAT TO LOOK FORWARD TO: 

Their backcourt. John Wall and Bradley Beal form perhaps the best unproven backcourt in the NBA. If their on-court rapport becomes elite, they will be a deadly threat for years to come.

Marcin Gortat will provide much-needed assistance on both ends of the floor. Him and Nene should complement each other very well.

WHAT NOT TO LOOK FORWARD TO:

Otto Porter’s negative summer league campaign is causing people to expect a likewise rookie year.

 

#17 ATLANTA HAWKS

TEAM ROSTER:

Jeff Teague, Elton Brand, Lou Williams, Al Horford, Dennis Schroeder, Mike Scott, John Jenkins, Shelvin Mack, Paul Millsap, Pero Antic, Gustavo Ayon, Kyle Korver, Jared Cunningham, DeMarre Carroll, Cartier Martin, Eric Dawson.

PRE-SEASON SUMMARY/PREDICTIONS

For six straight seasons, Atlanta has relied on its frontcourt potency to become a relevant force in the East; but while their playoffs ambitions were successfully met, the Hawks never managed to accrue to championship level heights.

A year ago, we saw Joe Johnson, and his bizarre contract, walk out Philips Arena never to come back. This summer, it was Josh Smith’s turn to wave goodbye, as he signed a multi-year deal with the Detroit Pistons.

At this rate, would it be amiss to predict an Al Horford’s departure?

The resigning of Jeff Teague to a multi-year deal safely gives us the green light to lebel him and Horford as the linchpins of this franchise, so they should both see themselves embracing bigger roles for the Hawks.

Thanks to the impressive reputation as an assistant to Gregg Popovich, it seems certain that new coach Mike Budenholzer will do a great job in orchestrating this team. Some even argue that this year’s Hawks will somewhat resemble San Antonio…

Despite Smith’s departure, I can’t think of a reason to why their playoffs chances would decrease, but then again, I wouldn’t argue with you if you had them out of the top eight.

OFF-SEASON GRADE: B-

Hired Mike Budenholzer has head coach, resigned Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, DeMarre Carroll, Jared Cunningham, Pero Antic, Elton Brand, Dennis Schroeder (draft), Mike Muscala (draft), Lucas Nogueria (draft), Gustavo Ayon, Cartier Martin, Eric Dawson.

WHAT TO LOOK FORWARD TO:

Paul Millsap’s shaky ending in Utah should work as extra motivation for him to have his best year yet.

Jeff Teague isn’t close to elite, but if those flashes of stardom show more consistently, his street rep should skyrock.

Al Horford is an All-Star level big and one of the most under-appreciated players alive. The absence of a trigger-happy Josh Smith will rightfully regain him his authority.

Atlanta is a team that experts would mention when listing the deepest squads in the NBA. With Schroeder, Jenkins, Korver/Williams, Carroll, Brand, Ayon, just to name a few, Budenholzer has the luxury to try various different line-ups without having to worry about losses in productivity.

WHAT NOT TO LOOK FORWARD TO:

As I mentioned in the pre-season summary, Horford could be the next name out the door. Lots of teams, especially contenders, could come up with an enough tantalizing offer to lure the Dominican big man out of the A.

Is this a make or brake season for the Hawks?? Is a rebuilding process looming?? It’ll all depend on their record come April.

 

#16 DALLAS MAVERICKS

TEAM ROSTER:

Dirk Nowitzki, Jose Calderon, Shane Larkin, Monta Ellis, Ricky Ledo, Samuel Dalembert, DeJuan Blair, Wayne Ellington, Gal Mekel, Shawn Marion, Bernard James, Devin Harris, Jae Crowder, Brandan Wright, Vince Carter.

PRE-SEASON SUMMARY/PREDICTIONS

It is safe to say that losing the Dwight Howard race to Houston predicated the Mavs’ irrelevancy in the West for the foreseeable future. Presently still built around Dirk, Dallas still possesses the veteran power to demand respect, but not enough skill power to make any real noise in a conference that seems so get tougher by the year.

Headline losses (OJ Mayo, Darren Collison, Elton Brand, Chris Kaman, Rodrigue Beaubois, etc.) have been recovered with the additions of Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon, Wayne Ellington, Samuel Dalembert, Dejuan Blair, Devin Harris, Gal Mekel, and Shane Larkin.

You could argue that they’ve over-boarded on guards, but we know better than to doubt Rick Carlisle astuteness, don’t we?

OFF-SEASON GRADE: C

Monta Ellis, Samuel Dalembert, Wayne Ellington, Jose Calderon, Dejuan Blair, Devin Harris, Shane Larkin (draft), Gal Mekel (draft), Ricky Ledo (draft).

WHAT TO LOOK FORWARD TO: 

Their backcourt power could turn out to be a revelation this upcoming season: Ellis can score at will, Calderon is an excellent floor general and shooter, Devin Harris is back in Dallas, Wayne Ellington is an elite shooter, and Shane Larkin has all the tools to have a solid debut year in the pros.

WHAT NOT TO LOOK FORWARD TO:

Dirk’s absence last season turned out to be fatal in the weeks leading up to the playoffs. In the case of such episode, Dallas’ playoff odds would slimmer in a flinch.

 

#15 MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES

TEAM ROSTER:

Ricky Rubio, Chase Budinger, Kevin Love, Alexey Shved, Nikola Pekovic, Chris Johnson, Corey BrewerDante, Cunningham, Shabazz Muhammad, JJ Barea, Derrick Williams, Kevin Martin, Ronny Turiaf, Gorgui Dieng, Bojan Dubljevic, Robbie Hummel.

PRE-SEASON SUMMARY/PREDICTIONS

Minnesota finally possesses a playoff team. Despite the bad management from David Khan, the Wolves have managed to put together a solid core of players that will put them in contention for he post-season for the foreseeable future. Their playoff ambitions depend on the kinship between Rubio, Love, and Pekovic.

While I didn’t quite agree with the figures involving the Pekovic extension, a powerful inside presence like “Pek” complements Love’s inside/outside game beautifully. Kevin Martin will also bring much needed scoring contribution on a consistent basis, feeding off of the attention Rubio, Love, and Pekovic will attract to find the basket more easily.

As far as Kevin Love goes, from what I’m hearing around the league, the upcoming year should be his finest so far. Hopefully, flashbacks of his 20/20 games will be displayed more regularly.

OFF-SEASON GRADE: C

Extended Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer, Ronny Turiaf, Shabazz Muhammad (draft), Gorgui Dieng (draft), Lorenzo Brown (drafted then waived), hired Flip Saunders as Team President.

WHAT TO LOOK FORWARD TO:

Like I mentioned in the pre-season summary, if Kevin Love manages to play a full season to the levels he is known to reach, Minnesota could turn out to be one of the most electrifying teams this year.

Derrick Williams has to break out the tweener wall and find an identity from himself. If he does that, a breakout year could be on the horizon. Looking back to his stout reputation as a draft prospect, his current identity as a tweener is headsctratching.

It wasn’t long ago that draft boards had Shabazz Muhammad ranked in the high lottery. What happened from then onwards was a result of immaturity and bad judgement, but as a freshman at UCLA, Muhammad was a sight to see. Seen as a poor mans’ James Harden, if the rookie can turn around his shaky start, look out.

WHAT NOT TO LOOK FORWARD TO:

Last year, Love, Rubio, and Pekovic combined for over 100 missed regular season games. If they are hoping to play in April, health in Minnesota is imperative.

 

#14 PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS

TEAM ROSTER:

Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, CJ McCollum, LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Will Barton, Meyers Leonard, Robin Lopez, Dorell Wright, Maurice Williams, Thomas Robinson, Earl Watson, Victor Claver, Joel Freeland, Allen Crabbe.

PRE-SEASON SUMMARY/PREDICTIONS

Barring CJ McCollum’s foot injury, Portlands’s off-season was nothing short of magnificent. Robin Lopez, Mo Williams, Dorell Wright, and an ultra-motivated Thomas Robinson, were all brought in during the summer to solve Portland’s evident bench issues; not to mention their two formidable draft picks: CJ McCollum, and Allen Crabbe.

The Aldridge trade rumors have been circulating enough to be retained untrustworthy, so I don’t see him getting shipped anytime soon. The Blazers should continue to build around their two anchors – Lillard and Aldridge – while also preserving and developing their borderline stars – Matthews and Batum.

The worst case scenario for this team would involve a grueling, late run at the playoffs resulting in them barely sneaking in. The best case scenario, would see them seriously contending for any position in the 5-8 range. Either way, they’re making the playoffs.

OFF-SEASON GRADE: B+

Robin Lopez, Mo Williams, Dorell Wright, Thomas Robinson, Earl Watson, CJ McCollum (draft), Allen Crabbe (draft).

WHAT TO LOOK FORWARD TO:

The season hasn’t started yet, but most people would agree that Portland ranks pretty high among the deepest team in the NBA. A possible second unit of Williams, an eventually healthy McCollum, Wright, Robinson, and Leonard could easily contend for title of league’s best bench.

Damian Lillard is the best player the city of Portland has seen since Brandon Roy. His arrival has revived an organization that almost went numb following a series of saddening injuries. Judging from his outstanding play in Year One, I wouldn’t be surprised if he became an All-Star in Year Two.

WHAT NOT TO LOOK FORWARD TO:

On paper, Portland has all the indispensable requirements to be playing post-April. Whether that will actually happen will depend on the contribution of the various new faces and, of course, health.

Some say that Aldridge’s days in Portland are numbered. If that’s really the case, he’ll be gone for sure if Portland doesn’t make the playoffs.

Thanks to the deep bench, Terry Stotts could be in contention for Coach of the Year. You heard it here first.

 

#13 DENVER NUGGETS

TEAM ROSTER:

Ty Lawson, JaVale McGee, Quincy Miller, Andre Miller, Damion James, Jordan Hamilton, Danilo Gallinari, Evan Fournier, Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, JJ Hickson, Nate Robinson, Wilson Chandler, Anthony Randolph, Randy Foye, Timofey Mozgov.

PRE-SEASON SUMMARY/PREDICTIONS

I don’t believe there is a person alive today that could come up with a good enough explanation for Denver’s ludicrous summer. In less than a month, they saw George Karl, Masai Ujiri, Andre Iguodala, Kosta Koufos, and Corey Brewer walk out the Pepsi Center never to come back. In less than a month, they went from a deservedly 5th-8th seed, to now being a questionable playoff contestant.

Nate Robinson, Randy Foye, Darrell Arthur, and JJ Hickson are more or less good recoveries for their losses, but the real pressure this season will lie on new head coach Brian Shaw, who finally gets a shot at a head position.

OFF-SEASON GRADE: D-

Hired Brian Shaw as new head coach, Hired Tim Connelly as new GM, Nate Robinson, JJ Hickson, Randy Foye, Darrell Arthur.

WHAT TO LOOK FORWARD TO:

Kenneth Faried is evolving into one of the league’s most potent inside presences so rapidly that this upcoming season should be a breakout one for the ‘Manimal’.

While Wilson Chandler’s 41% from the arc should fall, his 13 ppg should increase into the high teens.

Is the city of Denver ready to unleash a new All-Star? Since Melo’s departure, no Nugget has taken part in the East vs West showcase. Lawson and Gallo came close last season, but didnt enter. Can it happen this year?

If All-Likeable teams existed, Nate Robinson would be listed on the first team. He becomes a fan-favourite wherever he goes.

Last but not least, a ‘Shaqtin’ a Fool’ JaVale McGee edition.

WHAT NOT TO LOOK FORWARD TO:

Sad news for Nuggets fans: word on the street is that the Nuggets’ front office is gauging a trade for Kenneth Faried.

While Nate Robinson can at times be uncontainable and win you the game, he can also resemble an inexperienced high school freshman playing with All-State seniors. Not a pretty sight to witness, especially if you’re the coach.

Last season’s third place finish in the West standings will look very different at the end of this season.

Masai Ujiri is a top three GM in the NBA. His absence will be heart felt waaaaaaay beyond this season.

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