By: Kento Kato
1. Warriors (68-14)
The Warriors added Kevin Durant, which easily made them the championship favorites. That being said, they still have to figure out how to incorporate him and they did lose some key pieces, especially in the frontcourt. Between the hit they may take on defense and in depth, and the time it will take to be playing their best basketball, the Warriors will probably win fewer games.
2. Spurs (61-21)
The Spurs should continue to do what they have always done, win. They will fly under the radar again with the Warriors taking the spotlight. They lost Tim Duncan to retirement, but Pau Gasol should help them make up for what they lost in the sure hall of famer. We should also expect to see LaMarcus Aldridge be even more aggressive now that he is used to the system and Kawhi Leonard should only keep improving.
3. Clippers (55-27)
The Clippers will have another strong regular season behind one of the best starting lineups in basketball. Chris Paul and or Blake Griffin may miss some time again but they always seem to figure out a way to play well enough even without them. The question for them, as it always has been, will be how the bench can hold up. If they’re bench can give them depth, then they can compete with any team in the league on any given night.
4. Trailblazers (50-32)
The Blazers were able to keep most of their team in tact while bringing in Evan Turner and Festus Ezeli. Turner should help take some of the playmaking pressue off of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum while Ezeli will bring them some rim protection and inside scoring. The young role players on the Blazers should continue to improve and all eyes will be on the recently resigned Allen Crabbe as his play could be a major factor in how well the Blazers end up doing.
5. Grizzlies (44-32)
With Mike Conley and Marc Gasol coming back from injuries, and newly signed Chander Parsons having injury problems in the past as well, health will be the deciding factor on how well this team does. But with those three, and a roster filled with hardworking, unselfish players, the Grizzlies should be able to play good enough as a team to stay in the middle of the pack.
6. Mavericks (43-33)
Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs added Harrison Barnes, and Andrew Bogut among others. Deron Williams had a solid season and Wesley Matthews should only be better in his second full year removed from his Achilles injury. With one of the most underrated coaches in Rick Carlisle, and a myriad of role players for him to play around with, the Mavericks should be back in the playoffs once again.
7. Jazz (41-41)
This should be the year that the Jazz finally get back in to postseason action. They have been improving every year and a lot of that is due to their tenacity on defense. Wings Gordon Hayward, Alex Burks, and Rodney Hood can guard multiple positions, and Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert are both elite defenders. While they are still a very team minded offense, they have a rising star in Gordon Hayward who could vault in to the All-Star game this year.
8. Rockets (39-43)
The Rockets will score. Alot. James Harden leads an offense that can now stretch the defense out more than ever before. They brought in one of the best stretch-forwards in the league in Ryan Anderson and kept what looked to be a rejuvenated Michael Beasley. They will still probably play some awful defense, which is why I have them barely sneaking in.
9. Thunder (36-46)
I thought about sneaking the Thunder into the playoffs but two things stopped me. They missed the playoffs last time they were without Kevin Durant for much of the season. The other reason was because they may end up getting rid of Russell Westbrook before the end of the season since they probably do not want to let him walk for nothing like they did with Kevin Durant. I say they still have enough talent around Westbrook to keep it interesting though.
10. Timberwolves (33-49)
Youth will keep this team from being a consistently good team. But with their ability to switch at almost every position, athleticism, and hunger, the Timberwolves will have the makeup to beat any team on any given night. They still lack some outside shooting and there seems to be a cloud looming over Ricky Rubio’s future in Minnesota. But overall, there is no reason why this team shouldn’t continue to improve and make a late season playoff push.
11. Kings (32-50)
DeMarcus Cousins alone will keep the Kings interesting for one reason or another. But with Rudy Gay’s name consistently on the trading block, no more Rondo, and uncertainty around the front office and the coaches, the Kings will probably be stuck in limbo until they figure out what direction they want to go in.
12. Suns (31-51)
The Suns have a fun backcourt with Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe but it has still yet to prove to work full-time. On top of that, they still lack inside scoring and the small forward position remains a question mark even after the acquisition of Jared Dudley. The biggest part of the season will be the continued improvement of Devin Booker and to see if the Suns end up dealing either Bledsoe or Knight because of that.
The Nuggets now have a bright future with their backcourt of Emmanuel Mudiay and Jamal Murray. But with a logjam in the front court and a possible move to get rid of Danilo Gallinari, the Nuggets will still have a hard time competing for a playoff spot. It will be interesting to keep an eye on the return of Wilson Chandler and to see if Will Barton can surprise people once again. If they can do that, then they may be able to climb the standings up a bit or even trade some of those pieces for a better chance next year.
14. Pelicans (29-53)
The Pelicans seem to always be injury plagued and unfortunately, it starts with their all-star, Anthony Davis. Even if they stay healthy, they lack depth and enough scoring, but add injuries, and this looks like a team that will struggle to win games consistently, even with Davis putting up some ridiculous numbers.
15. Lakers (28-54)
The Lakers will struggle this year. They have some really nice pieces in Jordan Clarkson, D’Angelo Russell, and Brandon Ingram. But they are still very young and Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov can only do so much. This will be a year in which they rebuild and just look to develop their young core for the bright future.