15) Minnesota Timberwolves (Last Season 16-66)

First of all, aside from basketball; I want to personally to extend my thoughts to Head Coach Flip Saunders currently battling Hodgkins Lymphoma. I wish you a speedy recovery. As for the team, I’m just not sure yet if I can be completely sold on the T-Wolves not only winning 30+games this year, or improving their all around needed aspects. There is Karl Anthony Towns to provide some around the basket play and rebounding, and Tyus Jones in the backcourt fresh off a championship win at Duke. What’s holding me back however is the injuries this team has dealt with over the past few seasons: Nikola Pekovic, Ricky Rubio, Shabazz Muhammad, the guys that actually contribute. Reigning Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins will continue to impress, but someone in this article has to be last, and for now, this is their place.

 

14) Sacremento Kings (Last Season 29-53)

There isn’t quite a name to describe the nightmare that the Kings went through last season. Well actually in the past 10 years considering this franchise hasn’t seen the post season since 2005-06. Maybe that has room to change though; The Kings did make a lot of offseason additions like Willie Cauley-Stein, Marco Bellinelli, and most notably Rajon Rondo. Does that mean playoff contention? Absolutely not, but not emphatically yes either. Rajon was a nightmare in Dallas last season for Rick Carlise and his club. Consistent turnovers, inability to sync with the coach, and the simple stuff, you name it. All of this does not exclude Demarcus Cousins, who “supposedly” couldn’t get along with George Karl when he took over last season. They say things are fine. Even with the pieces added Sacremento will definitely look better, now its just a matter of improving 3 point % (20th in the league last year), as well as well as keeping opponents from scoring 105 ppg.

 

13) Denver Nuggets (Last Season 30-52)

There is a few things in Denver to actually be happy about; Emmanuel Mudiay is one of them, and granted the fact the West is already a tough place to play, Denver does a good job at keeping up with the pace of faster teams, and Centers Nikola Jokic, and Joffrey Lauvergne will be able to provide a presence at center. If Danilo Gallinari can stay healthy, that will be a scoring threat to other teams. Vets Will Barton, Jameer Nelson, and Randy Foye will keep the backcourt in check, while “The Manimal” Kenneth Faried, and Wilson Chandler will provide the intangibles in the frontcourt. Now the big question is what Mike Malone can do with all of this in a post Brian Shaw era.

 

12) Los Angeles Lakers (Last Season 21-61)

Would you believe me if I said the Lakers look a little better this year? Lou Williams is around to help provide scoring, and only scoring, and Roy Hibbert is around to “hopefully” help around the basket rebounding and playing clean up off the misses of either Kobe Bryant or Nick Young. Julius Randle returns from the horrific leg injury suffered last year, and if you have seen him in his play during the pre-season so far, there is much to be excited about. Let’s not forget about the number 2 overall pick D’angelo Russell and his ability to slash and score. For me, it’s the role players that give LA a shine like a new penny, Jordan Clarkson (11.9 ppg and 3.5 assists), Brandon Bass will score and rebound as he always does, while Ryan Kelly provides stretch play at the 4 position. Watching LA this year will definitely not be as unbearable as last season. With the role players Byron Scott has to work with, this team should go from 21 wins, 35 hopefully. Scoring is not so much the issue, it’s the 105 oppg they allowed the rest of the League to average on them.

 

11) Utah Jazz (Last Season 38-44)

The Jazz couldn’t necessarily score a lot last season, (almost 94 ppg) but the best thing to note is that under Quin Snyder, the Jazz stopped opened at almost 95 ppg to emerge as the number one team to do so. Part of that may have a lot to do with trading away Enes Kanter, and making Rudy Gobert a starter, rebounder, scorer and rim protector. Derick Favors also had a career year last year and should provide the same again. Gordon Hayward led the team in scoring, and despite not being deemed a starter anymore, Trey Burke led the team in assists. Rodney Hood also had a strong season in points averaged, field goal percentage and proved value at the charity stripe. The rookie Trey Lyles will get time at the 4 than the 3. With Dante Exum hurt out for the season with a torn ACL, will this hold Utah back from competing for the 8th seed at the very least?

10) Phoenix Suns (Last Season 39-43)

One thing cannot be taken for granted; that the Phoenix Suns are getting better, and closer and closer to the playoffs. I would love to make a two- way tie for the 9th seed because despite trading away the productive Marcus Morris, and letting go of their best bench player in Gerald Green. With that though, the suns added Defensive minded Tyson Chandler, former Nets big and stretch player Mirza Teletovic, and Sonny Weems who returns from Moscow after a well played season. P.J. Tucker will remain a contributor on the wing as a savvy defender. Jeff Hornacek dealt with injuries, player issues, and trade requests all while going 39-43 with a team just barely missed the playoffs. In what is already a crowded 8th seed, and a battle to 9 and under, I’m just not sure how things will pan out for the Suns even with the seeding being reformatted.

 

9) Portland Trailblazers (Last Season 51-31)

LaMarcus Aldridge, gone. Nicholas Batum, gone. Wes Matthew, gone. Robin Lopez, gone. These are the trials and dark times that await the Blazers, a team whose starters played 83 more minutes than the bench last season. That being said, that’s where the majority of the scoring came from. Now, you go from a rotation that had a complete starting 5 and 2 all-stars, to 1 starter and 1 all-star. Damian Lillard. Mason Plumlee, Gerald Henderson, Noah Vonleh, Ed-Davis, Al Farouq-Aminu and Mo Harkless have come aboard. Athletic players in some of these guys yes, but what do you say if you ask these guys if they can play the starting role? Terry Stotts is good with X’s and O’s and firing his teams up, but what will he do with the pieces he has after coming off a 51 win season? Production will have to be equal on both sides in order for the franchise to hopefully see 40.

 

8) New Orleans Pelicans (Last Season 45-37)

I think it should to no surprise that the Pelicans managed to squeeze in the 8th seed in the playoffs last year. The talent to come ahead in Anthony Davis (24 ppg, 10 rpg, and almost 3 blocks), Tyreke Evans coming into his own, Eric Gordon boosting his 3 point percentage, Alexis Ajinca being an inside presence with the ability to finish around the basket, alongside Omer Asik really adds a lot of depth and dependability for this ball club and new Head Coach Alvin Gentry. Fresh off a championship run with a team that beat MANY other teams in MANY statistical categories (Golden State), this should say a lot about what’s to come for this squad. The only reason I sit them at 8, is because of the team ahead.

7) Oklahoma City Thunder (Last Season 45-37)

You can say that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are without a doubt a one-two punch that the rest of the league fears and respects. Even though Serge Ibaka had a knee injury in March, he will be back, and if he’s healthy, it will do a lot of good for rim protection and “help defense” for Enes Kanter. Yes. Help Defense. Steven Adams has proven a valuable asset on the inside with toughness and rebounding (7.5 rpg). Billy Donovan has a task however, and that’s to revamp the defense. The Thunder were 24th in the league last year in Opponents Points Per Game (almost 102 to be exact). I do believe however, there will be a lot that has to be fixed before making the assumption that the Thunder can make it any higher in the standings, and as I said, injuries, sharing the ball (20 apg), and that leaves a lot to be concerned about.

6) Dallas Mavericks (Last Season 50-32)

The Mavs have always been pesky. Winning 50 games last year, but got bounced first round. Maybe the Rajon Rondo to Rick Carlise relationship dragged the team. J.J. Berea, John Jenkins, Wes Matthews, Derron Williams, Zaza Pachulia, nice pieces, but is it enough? Dirk Nowitzki, will no doubt be a Hall of Famer, but no Monta Ellis, loss of Monta Ellis, and Amar’e Stoudamire will sting a bit, but as said the Mavericks are pesky. 3rd in the league in ppg (105), one of the top 5 teams in least amount of turnovers per game (13), even with their made free throws (15 pg) they show the ability to get to the line and sink the big buckets. Whats is the identity of this team is the question, as well as how long can they stay middle of the pack.

5) Houston Rockets (Last Season 56-26)

Win a series after being down 3 games to 1. Shocking. Josh Smith did an excellent job in half a season with the Rockets and helped propel them into the Confernce Finals, and even with him gone there are still other players to be excited about. Trevor Ariza still has a bit left in the tank. Dwight Howard will continue to develop down low and be dominant, while potential MVP candidate James Harden will carry the team with big buckets. Time is running short for Kevin Mchale and this squad to deliver. However, after last years playoff run, there is no doubt the Rockets will not put themselves in the same position to lose early.

4) Memphis Grizzlies (Last Season 55-27)

Defense wins games and championships. Number 2 in Opponent Points Per Game, forced teams to cough up the ball 14 times, and even top 10 in Opponent Rebounds allowed. Dave Joerger has done an excellent job maintaining what Lionel Hollins left before him. However, who will provide the points? Memphis didn’t even average 100 points last season. The saying goes the best offense is a good defense. Brendan Wright and Marc Gasol signed multi-year contracts to stay on board, but for Marc, on a team without a scoring identity, can you get over the hump?

 

3) Los Angeles Clippers (Last Season56-26)

I’ve decided to give the Clips one more chance. I to this day am not sure if they completely imploded last year in the second round, or if the Rockets were just that good. Poor defensive rotations and miscues, inability to get the offense going at troubling times have sank the Clippers in many ways. Josh Smith can provide some scoring, but his focus will be rim protection and help defense. Lance Stephenson had such an abysmal muck last season in Charlotte that we won’t even talk about it, and Paul Pierce is old, but might still have some clutch moments left in him. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin don’t deny that the team hasn’t done anything, and they know this. One thing that I hope they know, is that the window for them to bring a title to “Lob City”, is slowly closing.

2) San Antonio Spurs (Last Season 55-27)

LaMarcus Aldridge? Deal! Veteran Forward David West? Steal! It shouldn’t go without mentioning of Pop trying to develop 7’3 Serbian Center Boban Marjanovic to hopefully take the reigns of the inside. After all, euro players are his specialty. The only reason I feel like they belong here is because there are teams that just play a faster game, and Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and Tim Duncan can only keep up for so long. Granted they stay healthy.

 

1) Golden State Warriors (Last Season 67-15)

What more does this team need? Any team that boasts the league top percentage against opponents field goals, assists, 3 point percentage, and rebounds, its amazing! Klay Thompson and Steph Curry are a one-two punch for the ages, with Draymond Green, Andre Igoudala, and Andrew Bogut continuing to contribute as always. Steve Kerr is smart, and his small ball offensive/defensive call saved the Warriors from losing the Finals. News flash for those of you who don’t think it, but they are without a doubt the favorite to come out the west

SOURCE & pix – http://cleatgeeks.com

 

 

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