NBA Lord's NBA Blog

NBA Lord's NBA Blog

Wednesday, October 31, 2018 Atlantic Division Preview

Up next in my division preview series is the Atlantic Division, home to the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, Toronto Raptors, and Philadelphia 76ers. This division projects to be the most competitive in the Eastern Conference with three teams that all have a real shot at reaching the NBA Finals.

Of all the teams in the Eastern Conference, I believe the Boston Celtics are the most talented and on top of that, they are the most experienced. Kyrie Irving has won an NBA championship while Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum both got invaluable experience last year, leading the Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals with Irving and Gordon Hayward sidelined. This Celtics team is really good and are the odds on favorites to win the Eastern Conference.

The biggest challenge for the Celtics will be finding a way to integrate all the talented pieces that they have without messing up the chemistry they developed last year. Specifically, finding minutes for Hayward, Brown, and Tatum since they all play the same position. The Celtics didn't expect Tatum and Brown to burst on the scene like they did and now that they have, they have a bit of a problem on their hands. It's a good problem to have, but one that still needs some sorting out.

I wouldn't be shocked to see the Celtics get out of the gates a little slow, but by the end of the season, Brad Stevens will have things figured out and they'll be right at the top of the Eastern Conference. They have too much depth and talent to not be playing deep into May and possibly June.

Many feel the biggest challenger to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference is the Philadelphia 76ers. The 76ers have a talented roster of their own consisting of Joel Embiid, J.J. Redick, Dario Saric, Markelle Fultz, and Ben Simmons. Simmons draws comparisons to LeBron James while Embiid draws comparisons to Hakeem Olajuwon with a better perimeter game. After years of losing games and racking up high draft picks, the 76ers are back and ready to make a serious run for an NBA title.

The biggest concern for the 76ers is health. Simmons, Embiid, and Fultz have all dealt with serious injuries in the past and it's no guarantee that they stay healthy going forward. Brett Brown needs to do all he can to give these guys as much rest as possible. It's a rather unique situation in that they're pretty young but also vulnerable to injury. Usually it's older teams that are more worried about the injury bug.

In regards to their championship chances, I think these guys are a couple years away from being serious title contenders, but the Eastern Conference is up for grabs with LeBron James going to Los Angeles. If they are able to survive the grind of an 82 game season and stay healthy, they will once again make a deep run in the playoffs. They're simply too talented not to with all the pieces they have.

The Toronto Raptors have a new identity after trading DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Pöltl to the San Antonio Spurs for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. The Raptors have had a lot of success in the regular season, but they have failed to do much in the playoffs. Their front office felt a big change was needed and so they rolled the dice on Leonard, who they only have as a one-year rental.

With Leonard as their top player, I do expect the Raptors to be serious contenders in the Eastern Conference. Leonard has an NBA Finals MVP under his belt and knows what it takes to win a championship. The Raptors needed somebody to show them the way and there's no reason to doubt Leonard's abilities.

Like any contender, staying healthy is the biggest key for this Raptors team. Leonard missed nearly all of last season due to a quadriceps injury and was never able to get into a rhythm. The Raptors need him to stay healthy if they are to have any chance at winning a title.

Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas, Serge Ibaka, and Danny Green form a really nice core around Leonard. Even though those guys weren't able to get over the hump, they're still really good. If Leonard is able to stay healthy and be the superstar this team needs him to be, don't be shocked to see the Raptors in the NBA Finals.

The New York Knicks are led by shooting guard Tim Hardaway, Jr., who is averaging 24.4 points per game so far this season and power forward Kristaps Porzingis, who is rehabbing from a torn ACL. So long as Porzingis remains out without a firm return date, it's going to be a long season in New York. Even with him, they don't have a ton of talent, but without him, they really don't have much to lean on.

One bright spot for the Knicks early on this year is rookie forward Allonzo Trier, who is averaging 8.6 points per game. Trier went undrafted out of Arizona, so it has been a real surprise to see him producing like he has. If he continues on playing like he is, he not only will have a permanent spot on the team, he'll also be commanding a lot more money next year, similar to Wesley Matthews, Jr. after his breakout rookie season with the Utah Jazz.

For the Knicks, this year is all about player development and figuring out who belongs on their team for the long-term. Enes Kanter will be an interesting player to keep an eye on as he is very talented but also comes with some baggage. If he can get along with head coach David Fizdale and accept whatever role is given to him, he could be a nice piece for this team going forward.

The frustrating thing for Knicks fans is that their team is forever in a state of "development" without actually yielding any fruit. Hopefully for them things will be different in the near future, but as far as this season is concerned, it's going to be another rebuilding type of situation whether they like it or not.

Similar to their crosstown rivals, the Brooklyn Nets are also in a state of rebuilding and figuring out an identity. D'Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Caris LeVert are doing an admirable job of leading this team for being so young. LeVert in particular as he is having a breakout season, averaging 18.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per game.

For the Nets, what they need to hope for is that this young trio can mature and grow into something special. As an extension of that, they need to hope they can find the right pieces to put around them to help make that happen. It's going to be a long season in Brooklyn in terms of wins and losses, but hopefully for them they'll start to figure out an identity and get a feel for who belongs on their team for the long-term.

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Monday, October 22, 2018 Southwest Division Preview

Up next in my division previews is the Southwest Division, home to the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies, and New Orleans Pelicans. This division once again projects to be highly competitive and very interesting. 

The Houston Rockets were a healthy Chris Paul hamstring away from reaching the NBA Finals last year and will look to finish the job this year. The addition of Carmelo Anthony is aimed at giving them more offensive potency off the bench and another veteran in the locker room. Anthony will be coming off the bench for the first time in his career and will have to adjust to this new role. 

Another key piece on this Rockets team is big man Clint Capela, who is one the most talented big men in the league. He runs the floor extremely well and is becoming a pretty versatile player, capable of scoring, rebounding, and blocking shots. With him anchoring the middle, the Rockets have one of the better front courts in the NBA. 

While Anthony and Capela will have big roles on this team, the success of the Rockets ultimately hinges on the success of James Harden and Chris Paul. When healthy, these two guys form one of the most dangerous backcourt in the NBA, capable of putting up points and making plays for others. When they're not at full strength, this team suddenly becomes very beatable. 

The key thing for Mike D'Antoni to do this year is to manage his minutes effectively and keep Paul and Harden as rested as possible for the playoffs. That won't be easy, but it's essential that he finds a way to keep these guys fresh. If he's able to do that, these guys just might reach the NBA Finals. 

It's a new era in San Antonio. Manu Ginobili has retired, Tony Parker is now with the Charlotte Hornets, and Kawhi Leonard is now a member of the Toronto Raptors. Despite these changes, the Spurs have a very talented team led by DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Rudy Gay

Of course the main guy to watch this year is DeRozan since he is the main new face on this team. Coming up short in the playoffs dogged him during his entire time in Toronto, so he'll be eager to show that same reputation won't follow him in San Antonio. 

I don't see the Spurs coming out of the Western Conference this year or anything along those lines, but I do expect them to make the playoffs and compete to win an opening round series. What really hurt this team last year was the drama surrounding Kawhi Leonard. With that now behind them, these guys can get back to focusing on playing Spurs basketball. I expect this renewed focus to do them a lot of good and make them a sneaky good team. 

The New Orleans Pelicans are led by double-double machine Anthony Davis, who is arguably the best player in the NBA. His 32 points, 16 rebounds, 8 assists, and 3 blocks in their opening night win over the Rockets speaks for itself. When you have a guy like Davis on your team, you are automatically going to be a tough team to beat every night you step on the floor. 

In addition to Davis, the Pelicans have some other talented pieces in Nikola Mirotic, Jrue Holiday, and Elfrid Payton. Holiday and Payton form a really dynamic backcourt while Mirotic is one of the better stretch forwards in the game. They're starting to put together a talented core around Davis and that should put the rest of the Western Conference on notice. 

Like every team, health will play a big factor in the success of this team. If they are able to remain relatively injury free and develop some cohesion, they should be another team vying for a playoff spot. 

With Dirk Nowitzki in the twilight years of his career, it is a new era in Dallas led by Dennis Smith, Jr., DeAndre Jordan, and rookie sensation Luka Doncic

Doncic will be the one to really watch on this team. There was talk of him possibly going #1 overall in the 2018 NBA Draft and many feel he's got the chance to be really special due to his unique blend of size, shooting, and play making. While I think Deandre Ayton will win rookie of the year, Doncic should put himself in the conversation. 

If there's one other guy to really focus on, it would be DeAndre Jordan, who is looking for a fresh start after spending a decade with the Los Angeles Clippers. For the first time in his career, Jordan is expected to be the top dog on an NBA team, which puts more pressure on him than ever before. I expect Jordan to have a solid season with the Mavericks, but he's not enough to make these guys competitive. 

It will be a long season in Dallas, but hopefully one where they are able to develop their young talent and start to build an identity. The future could be bright for this team, but we are at least a couple of years away from finding out what they really have. 

The Memphis Grizzlies still have their one-two punch of Mike Conley, Jr. and Marc Gasol and they added a really talented rookie power forward in Jaren Jackson, Jr. out of Michigan State. It's a bit of rebuilding situation in Memphis, but the hope is they'll be back to playoff form sooner rather than later. 

Conley is coming back from a left Achilles injury and might take a little while to get back to full strength. So long as he's not 100 percent, it will be hard for this Grizzlies team to be competitive. As good as Marc Gasol is, he can't shoulder the load all on his own. 

If the Grizzlies are going to have any success this year, they're really going to need major production from their first round pick Jaren Jackson, Jr. There are high hopes for him and with a really young roster, the opportunity for a lot of minutes are there to take advantage of. If he can have a big rookie year, the Grizzlies could exceed expectations. 

Similar to the Mavericks, this will be a year for the Grizzlies to really focus on cultivating their young talent and figuring out who they want to be a part of their franchise for the long-term future. One such example is Ivan Rabb, who got some minutes for them in the front court last year and showed some promise. If they can get a feel for Rabb's future along with their other young players, the Grizzlies will have a productive season regardless of their record. 

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Sunday, October 14, 2018 Northwest Division Preview

Up next is my preview of the Northwest Division, home to the Utah Jazz, Minnesota Timberwolves, Oklahoma City Thunder, Denver Nuggets, and Portland Trail Blazers.

One year ago, the Utah Jazz were worried about the departure of Gordon Hayward to the Boston Celtics. One year later, the Jazz seem to have forgotten about Hayward thanks to the breakout rookie campaign of Donovan Mitchell, who averaged 20.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game last season. With Mitchell at the helm, the Jazz are one of the most dangerous teams out west and appear poised to wreak some havoc in the playoffs.  In addition to Mitchell, the Jazz have some other quality players in center Rudy Gobert, power forward Derrick Favors, point guard Ricky Rubio, and rookie shooting guard Grayson Allen, giving them a nice blend of scoring and defense.

The most valuable member of this Jazz team is head coach Quin Snyder, who has implemented a really good system predicated on cutting, motion, and ball movement. The Jazz aren't the most talented team in the league, but they make up the difference with their execution and unselfish play. When you add a budding superstar like Donovan Mitchell to such a system, you suddenly have something really special.

The Jazz should win the Northwest Division and put themselves in a position to possibly reach the Western Conference Finals. While the Warriors, Rockets, and Lakers are getting most of the press in the Western Conference, do not sleep on the Jazz.

The Oklahoma City Thunder lost Carmelo Anthony to the Houston Rockets but were able to hang onto Paul George, giving Russell Westbrook one other superstar to take the pressure off of him. With George and Westbrook alone, the Thunder have a team that is capable of beating a lot of teams out west. When those two guys go off, they are very hard for even the best of teams to stop. 

The problem for the Thunder is their lack of depth and lack of a good system. Billy Donovan doesn't seem to know how to get Westbrook and George to play in a system and instead allows them to play street ball. I don't now how much of that should fall on Donovan given that Westbrook and George would be hard guys to coach, but that notwithstanding, the lack of a system in Oklahoma City appears to be holding this team back. 

Due to their raw amount of talent, the Thunder will be competitive and probably make the playoffs, but I do not see this team winning a series. In the playoffs, they become too predictable and aren't able to mix things up. It'll be more of the same in Oklahoma City, which isn't a bad thing but also not a good thing, either. 

Led by Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokic, and newly acquired point guard Isaiah Thomas, the Denver Nuggets have a very solid team. They almost made the playoffs last season and will once again be in a dog fight to sneak in. The potential to be really good is definitely there if they can get rookie Michael Porter, Jr. to become everything he was hyped up to be before his injury. Given that Porter is not expected to do much this year, it'll be hard for them to make significant strides from last season. 

A good season for the Nuggets would be to make the playoffs and give someone a bit of a scare in the first round. I don't know if that will happen, but if they can stay healthy, they'll at least give themselves a shot. 

The Minnesota Timberwolves are in a very weird spot right now. They're coming off their first playoff appearance since the 2003-04 season and have a lot to be excited about. However, the drama surrounding Jimmy Butler and his desire to get out of Minnesota has overshadowed all of that. As presently constituted, the Timberwolves have a very good team consisting of Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Jeff Teague to go along with Butler. I understand why Tom Thibodeau wants to keep Butler given the pieces he has around him. At the same time, you cannot let distractions like a disgruntled player distract your team. 

If the Timberwolves are going to trade away Butler, which looks foggy at the moment, they'll want to make sure they get something good back in return. If they trade him away, they can still be a playoff team, but it would really help to get something of value in return. Assuming the drama around Butler can resolve itself one way or another, it should be another exciting season in Minnesota. 

The Portland Trail Blazers are once again led by the backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, who combined for nearly 50 points per game last season. On top of those two dynamic guards, the Trail Blazers also have a gifted big man in Jusuf Nurkic, who averaged 14.3 points and 9.0 rebounds per game last season. Lillard, McCollum, and Nurkic form a nice trio that gives the Trail Blazers outside shooting, inside scoring, and penetration from the wing.

The problem for the Trail Blazers is their lack of depth. Outside of Lillard, McCollum, and Nurkic, they really struggle to get other guys going. Evan Turner, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Zach Collins will need to be the ones who provide some production off the bench in order for this team to be dangerous. If these guys are able to combine for 25 points per game, the Trail Blazers could be a team that maybe wins a series in the playoffs. If they are not able to produce, the Trail Blazers at best will be a playoff team with a first round exit.

My prediction is the Trail Blazers will more or less be the same team we saw last year. They'll win around 47-49 games and be decently competitive in the regular season, but come playoff time their lack of depth will come back to haunt them. I like their top three players a lot, but without getting enough help, there's only so much that they can do.

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Thursday, October 4, 2018 Pacific Division Preview

I was debating about whether or not to preview the conferences as a whole or if I should do it the old school way by divisions. Since I wish the NBA placed more of a premium on divisions for the purpose of creating more rivalries, I'm going to preview the NBA season by divisions. Up first is the Pacific Division, home to the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angles Clippers, Sacramento Kings, and Phoenix Suns.

The Golden State Warriors are the defending NBA champions and are the odds on favorites to win it all again. Their core is back and on top of that they've added DeMarcus Cousins, who is coming back from a torn Achilles injury.

The bottom line with the Warriors is that so long as they stay healthy, they're going to be almost impossible to stop this year. They simply have too many weapons for any other team to deal with. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are the greatest shooting backcourt in NBA history, Kevin Durant is one of the best pure scorers in NBA history, and Draymond Green is one of the most underrated players in NBA history. When you then add a defensive specialist like Andre Iguodala and a supremely gifted big man like DeMarcus Cousins to the mix, you have a team that is virtually unstoppable.

The main thing to look for with this Warriors team is how Cousins fits in and how productive he can be coming back from such a serious injury. The good news is they don't really need him until May and June and if he becomes a headache in the locker room, they can always cut him. It's a low risk high reward move that could pay off handsomely.

The Los Angeles Lakers have a new lease on life after landing LeBron James in free agency. Joining James in Los Angeles is Lonzo Ball, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Brandon Ingram, Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Michael Beasley, Kyle Kuzma, and JaVale McGee. The Lakers may not be favored to win the NBA championship this year, but they have a very interesting squad nonetheless.

Personally, I believe the Lakers are going to be very good this year and have the chance to make a deep playoff run. If you have LeBron James on your team, you should never be counted out. LeBron has reached the NBA Finals with lesser talent around him, so they definitely should be feeling confident.

The major question mark is how the surrounding pieces will work together. Rondo, Stephenson, Beasley, and McGee make any team they're on more interesting by themselves. Together, they could form one of the most entertaining teams we've ever seen. Entertaining isn't always a good thing, though. What I'm particularly curious to see is what the Lakers' roster looks like after the trade deadline. I wouldn't be surprised to see a couple of these guys shipped out before the season comes to an end.

The Sacramento Kings are in rebuilding mode, but hopefully for them they finally have a core they can build around in De'Aaron Fox, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Marvin Bagley III. Fox had a solid rookie year, averaging 11.6 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per game and looks to have an even more impressive sophomore year. I think he'll prove to be a really good point guard in this league.

The big question is whether or not Bagley is the real deal. He looked like a men among boys in college and has the tools to be an elite player in the NBA. It is imperative for the Kings that he has a big year. If he does, the future will look bright. If he struggles and has an underwhelming season, the future will look murky.

The Los Angeles Clippers don't really appear to have an identity right now. Blake Griffin is in Detroit, Chris Paul is in Houston, and DeAndre Jordan is in Dallas. It's a totally new team led by Lou Williams, Avery Bradley, Patrick Beverley, and Tobias Harris. It's unclear what this team is with them as their new core. Rookie point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is an intriguing talent and could prove to be the next star of this franchise, so it's not like the cupboard is totally barren here.

The change in direction was necessary, but not if it comes with lacking an identity. The Clippers need to find an identity this season if they want to feel good about this change in direction. Otherwise, they'll just go back to being the Clippers of old and that's definitely not a good thing.

DeAndre Ayton is looking like the real deal so far and with quality wings in Devin Booker and Josh Jackson alongside him, the Phoenix Suns finally have a team to be excited about. Actually, outside of the Warriors and Lakers, the Suns have more long term upside than anyone else in this division. The key for them is to keep these pieces together and get everyone to buy into their long term future. Locking in Devin Booker to a five-year, $158M extension helps a ton in that regard.

As far as this season is concerned, if the Suns can win 30+ games, that will indicate significant progress from last season's 21-61 record. They need to look at this as a retooling season and a chance for everyone to get comfortable with one another. If their core has fun playing together and is able to develop some chemistry, it will be a successful season in Phoenix.

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