Eastern Conference standings
Atlanta Hawks Projected record: The Hawks are playing the long game, which means they'll be short on wins for the foreseeable future.
But hitting on draft picks and managing their cap might just be the fastest path back to respectability. Golden State Warriors Projected record: Boredom was probably the Warriors' biggest problem last regular season, and the signing of All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins definitely adds some excitement. It isn't clear when Cousins will make his Golden State debut, but when he does, the opportunity and challenge of implementing another dominant scorer should command the Warriors' attention, along with everyone else watching the NBA.
Houston Rockets Projected record: A projected drop of eight wins -- which is more optimistic than the Las Vegas oddsmakers' over-unders -- reflects the perception of replacing versatile defensive stoppers Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute with aging Carmelo Anthony and journeyman James Ennis III. However, it's worth noting that Houston went in games Ariza missed last season, with the lone loss coming when the Rockets sat all their regulars in the regular-season finale.
Utah Jazz Projected record: The Jazz made continuity a priority this summer, banking on internal development as the path to improvement after advancing to the second round for the second consecutive season.
The Jazz went from Jan. Watch out if Rookie of the Year runner-up Donovan Mitchell makes strides as a pull-up shooter Oklahoma City Thunder Projected record: Massive luxury-tax implications made dumping Melo's salary a must, but the move might also make the Thunder a better team. Oklahoma City was minus in Anthony's playoff minutes and outscored the Jazz by 32 points in the 94 minutes Melo sat during that series.
How well Dennis Schroder , acquired from Atlanta in the Melo deal, adapts to his new sixth man role could determine whether OKC has home-court advantage in the first round. Denver Nuggets Projected record: After Denver came up one win short of the playoffs last season, we're projecting the Nuggets to end a postseason drought that stands at five years. Denver deserves to be mentioned among teams that have the most promising young cores. The Nuggets had three of the seven players in the NBA last season who averaged at least Los Angeles Lakers Projected record: This would be the fewest wins for a LeBron James team in a full-length season since the Cavaliers went On the previous occasions when James made a move in free agency, his new teams jumped 11 and 20 wins the next season.
New Orleans Pelicans Projected record: The Pelicans went in regular-season games during which Anthony Davis and February trade pickup Nikola Mirotic played together, outscoring opponents by That momentum carried over into a first-round sweep of the Trail Blazers.
Can the Pelicans, who played at the league's fastest pace, keep running successfully with reclamation project Elfrid Payton replacing Rajon Rondo? Minnesota Timberwolves Projected record: There haven't exactly been warm, fuzzy vibes coming from Minnesota, despite the Timberwolves making the playoffs for the first time since Kevin Garnett was just entering his prime.
There have been persistent rumors and speculation about whether Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns , the team's two All-Stars, are a tandem suited to last long term, with the former being a Tom Thibodeau loyalist and the latter seeming to butt heads with the head coach.
San Antonio Spurs Projected record: The Kawhi Leonard saga is over in San Antonio. Will the Spurs' historic playoff streak come to an end next? San Antonio's 21 straight postseason appearances is tied for second in NBA history.
The Spurs managed to squeak in last season despite Leonard playing only nine games, and DeMar DeRozan -- the centerpiece of the package the Spurs received from the Raptors -- has been the leading scorer of a playoff team in Toronto each of the past five seasons. Portland Trail Blazers Projected record: This projection will probably be perceived as disrespectful in the Pacific Northwest.
Davis, a valuable, rugged role player, ranked third among the Blazers in win shares last season, behind only Portland's high-scoring guard duo. Portland likely needs Zach Collins to improve significantly to make the playoffs for a sixth straight season in the loaded West. LA Clippers Projected record: The departure of DeAndre Jordan , the last of the Lob City cornerstones, is a major reason the Clippers are projected to finish under.
The Clippers had a net rating points per possessions of minus Montrezl Harrell , whose role could expand significantly this season with Jordan gone, had the best net rating plus Memphis Grizzlies Projected record: The Memphis front office firmly believes the Grizzlies can compete for a playoff spot with a healthy Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. They are when both of their remaining Grit 'n Grind cornerstones have played over the past three seasons.
But staying healthy has been tough for Conley in particular; he missed 70 games last season due to a heel injury that required surgery. Dallas Mavericks Projected record: Dallas, which has missed the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since Dirk Nowitzki 's first two seasons in the league, has dual goals. Signing DeAndre Jordan to what amounts to a one-year trial period addresses both agendas, giving the Mavs' young playmakers a lob threat as Dallas hopes to fight for a playoff spot.
Phoenix Suns Projected record: Devin Booker 's scoring average That earned Phoenix the No. A good first step would be getting out of the West cellar, where Phoenix finished the past two seasons. Sacramento Kings Projected record: The Kings have gone 12 years -- and nine head coaches -- since their last winning season.
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If he can figure out how to remain engaged for longer periods of time, his efficiency should improve. Further, if he embraces the challenge of becoming a lockdown defender — a challenge he is perfectly capable of succeeding at — he will receive additional accolades for being a true two-way player, much like Butler himself.
And the Wolves will certainly need that level of production from its only committed star this season and beyond. Despite the injuries and the dramatic fall from grace, Derrick Rose is still a big name in the basketball world. He is incredibly polarizing: Regardless of what you think of him, Rose can still contribute, albeit in a lesser capacity than he once did.
Rose should not be inserted into the starting lineup, nor should he be relied on to play too many minutes on a regular basis. But last we saw, he can still accelerate and finish around the rim better than most NBA players. He actually averaged He can enter the game and prop up an otherwise stagnant offense for a short period of time.
Assuming realistic expectations are in place, Rose can be an effective piece of a competing team — so long as he remains healthy. Superstars are traditionally viewed as foundational pieces for NBA teams. In the modern NBA, a team needs more than one superstar to be competitive.
The way teams rank players is subjective, but its generally thought to be better to have more widely-considered great players than not. They all complement each other nicely. They are all athletic and versatile. Sure, Butler and Wiggins are a bit redundant. But if they can get on the same page, they are the closest thing to a present-day Michael and Scottie.
On paper, the team should be competitive with most teams in the league. They kept most of their talented players and added in two serviceable rookies. The roster should have no problem propelling the Wolves back into the playoffs, but unfortunately the games are not decided on paper.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are top heavy. Towns and Wiggins are both young. Butler is 29, which means he is likely in the middle of his prime. Beyond those three there is very little youth on the roster, discounting the addition of the two rookies. And its only serviceable backup center is Gorgui Dieng 28 , an athletic, but limited, player.
The Wolves do not have a backup shooting guard other than rookie Josh Okogie. Hopefully it holds up for at least one more year. If not, the Wolves will need to rethink its philosophy on the fly. The Minnesota Timberwolves find themselves in a precarious situation. On the one hand, the Wolves just completed its first winning season since , ultimately posting its best season in years.
And two of its franchise players, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins are only 22 and 23 years old, respectively. The Wolves should theoretically be in great shape to continue improving this season. On the other hand, the team enters the season with drama surrounding its core. Further, Sean Deveney of The Sporting News reported last season that Butler had problems with Wiggins, his work ethic and his approach on the defensive end of the floor.
Further, Butler becomes a free agent following the season. Minnesota can go in one of two very different directions: This season and next offseason carry massive implications for the franchise. The three stars do not have to become friends with one another, but they need to co-exist on the court for the Wolves to be successful. Can the Spurs re-make themselves into legit title contenders again? Legacy-wise, the Spurs lost so much this summer. Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and Kawhi Leonard, all of whom were among the best Spurs of all time, are now off the team.
Ginobili and Parker were basically rotation players last season who, at their age, were impressive. As for how they resolved that bizarre Kawhi situation, the Spurs may have lost an elite player but at least they got a more than proven commodity back for him in DeMar DeRozan.
No matter what his roster may look like, Coach Gregg Popovich should never be doubted. Anyone that tunes into the NBA knows that he can make a playoff team out of just about anything. That is precisely why people should really keep their eye on San Antonio this season.
I have predicted the regression of the San Antonio Spurs once or twice over the last couple of years and the team always makes me look foolish for it. However, this might be the year to again predict regression for this proud franchise.
I am a fan of DeRozan and am excited to see what he can do under the tutelage of Gregg Popovich. However, DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge are going to be tasked with leading this team without the cornerstone players that Popovich has relied on for nearly two decades. If there was ever a year to finally bet on the Spurs underachieving after what seems like a decade straight of doing more with less, it might be this year.
No matter what they lose in the off-season, the Spurs should never be counted out. As long as they have Gregg Popovich calling the shots, the Spurs will always be in the conversation.
This season, however, has a unique premise. With Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili all off the team, the old days are officially gone and in comes a new era. Still, there is plenty of reason to think this team will be fine. The Indiana Pacers went through a similar situation as San Antonio last year when they needed to trade their best player, and like the Pacers this time last year, the Spurs may come out of the situation with not only a star, but a star that might fit better in the big picture.
The big knock on Leonard was his reluctance to be a vocal leader, something DeRozan has proven to be more than capable of being and with Gregg Popovich in his ear can DeRozan become an MVP caliber future of the franchise guy? The smart money would be yes. DeRozan has a long way to go defensively, but it hard not to see him evolving in that area, mainly because of how good the Spurs staff and process has been with other sub-par defenders.
There is no question the Spurs are a different team, but as the league trends more to offense, the Spurs may be better equipped to compete in a loaded Western Conference.
Boy, that sounds weird to say remembering where the man was a year ago. After his numbers took a slight, albeit noticeable hit in his first two years with the Spurs, Aldridge appeared ready to move on from San Antonio. After meeting with Popovich to work out all the kinks, Aldridge changed his mind, got a nice extension and had himself quite the resurgence last season.
At 33, there will be questions as to how much time LaMarcus has left as an elite offensive option. His 6-foot-5 inch height combined with his absurd 6-foot wingspan made him an all-around menace on the defensive end last season. His efforts showed themselves through advanced metrics. Keep in mind that players who usually are at the top of Defensive Real Plus-Minus are mostly bigs and occasionally wings. Murray is the only point guard in the top ten, and the next point guard after him is Tyus Jones, who was No.
His role is bound to expand even more for the Spurs this season. Tony Parker led the Spurs in assists per game with 3. This is a good thing. Maybe somebody will eventually stand out, but for now, the team itself is the top playmaker. DeRozan has a track record for hitting clutch shots in the regular season. Seriously, last season he won a game off a buzzer-beating dunk.
In 41 games that featured clutch-time minutes, DeRozan averaged 4. The truth is, when teams are playing in crunchtime against DeRozan, they strategize to stop him primarily. Expectations for Gay were quite low, especially since he was coming off of a devastating Achilles injury. Gay was by no means spectacular. His averages of The man is only 32 years old! Also, when you take into account all that the Spurs lost, Gay should expect a more prominent role on the team. Add in his year of experience playing under Pop, and this should be a good year for Rudy Gay.
Their offensive rating of As evidenced by their diverse playmaking, the Spurs hope to implement DeMar in their pass-heavy offense. Luckily for them, DeRozan made great strides in his passing game last season. Even without Kawhi, the Spurs managed to win 47 games and snag a playoff spot in a tough Western Conference.
The man is simply a basketball guru. As long as he runs the plays, his team will always be in the conversation no matter what he has to work with. People can doubt the Spurs. The man deserves league-wide respect. Even at 37, the future Hall-of-Famer is still chugging away. In his eighteenth year in the NBA, Pau averaged a solid Most impressive of all, Gasol has proven himself to be a positive contributor on defense despite his reputation as a defensive liability.
He should be expected to decline more this season, but Pau Gasol should be revered for both his perseverance and his adaptability. A shout-out needs to be made for the now longest-tenured Spur on the team.
In other words, he was doing exactly what a backup point guard should do. On a team that lost a good chunk of its identity this summer, Mills is one of the few remaining remnants from the Duncan-Parker-Ginobili days. As Pop figures out who deserve minutes, he still has a dependable option in Mills.
Plenty have said it already and it needs to be repeated: Jakob Poeltl was a sneaky good acquisition by San Antonio. Pau Gasol will do what he can, but his further decline is inevitable. Should his impact continue to dwindle, Poeltl can pick up the slack. The Spurs could have waited out the situation hoping Leonard would change his mind or they could have started a rebuild. Instead, they went for the best player offered to them so they could try and continue competing in the Western Conference playoff race.
DeMar DeRozan by himself was an impressive haul all things considered. With him on board, the Spurs will still be in the playoff conversation. Hats off to Spurs management for making the best of a serious predicament. Their key ingredient to their success has been and still is Pop.
In them, San Antonio has two guys who they can go to when the going gets tough and who should make the offense more dynamic. Also, an underrated strength the Spurs have is their youth. Anderson and Green played big roles for the Spurs, producing their third-best defensive rating last season at Losing them could spell disaster for San Antonio on the defensive end.
Again, the Spurs did a fantastic job in how they handled their fallout with Kawhi. Getting someone as good as DeRozan for a disgruntled player that was leaving one way or another is impressive, epecially when you consider that Kawhi may leave Toronto after this season.
The Denver Nuggets might be the deepest team in the NBA, but in a division in which every team might make the post-season, are the Nuggets good enough to be more than first-round fodder? Despite missing out on the latest installment of the NBA playoffs, there is almost too much to like about this Denver squad. Throw in the fact that they are one of the younger teams in the league and it becomes clear why so many people are high on their potential.
An important thing to note with this Nuggets squad: Obviously, the Nuggets lost, missed out on the postseason and found themselves yet again in the lottery. But the future for this young core has never been brighter. Assuming players like Paul Millsap can avoid the injury bug as well, Denver should be considered a playoff contender as we approach opening night. However, while I like the talent on this team and think their offense will be a matcup problem for most opponents, their defense will likely be an Achilles heel.
Players like Jokic and Murray are not impact players on defense and are often targeted by opponents. If Denver can put together a league average defense, I think they have a good shot of making the playoffs. After missing the playoffs by just a game last year, the Nuggets will bring back much of the same crew — only with hopes for a full season of health from Paul Millsap, a potential small boost from signee Isaiah Thomas, and most importantly, some solid development from young pieces like Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray.
Oh, what this team could do! One of the strongest young cores in basketball resides in the Mile High City. Jamal Murray and Gary Harris Jr. Nikola Jokic heads into his fourth year with plenty of hype surrounding him. The Nuggets fell one game short of making the NBA playoffs last season. The division is that good. For Denver specifically, how can you not like their roster? The West is going to be brutally tough, so its not a given for anyone, but one this is as close to a lock as they come, the Nuggets look like a formidable cover every night.
Sure, there are multiple guards on this roster that could claim this spot. But Jokic not only averaged the most points per game He led the team in both three-point percentage He also led the team in assists, assist percentage, and usage. Did we mention he plays center? But make no mistake, this guy can play basketball. He just got inked to a nice, big contract.
If there is one thing Denver has struggled with, it is their defense. Paul Millsap has been one of the better defenders on this roster. Standing at 6-foot-8, his elite wingspan at 7-foot-2 allows him to guard players taller than him, yet his quickness helps him stick with more athletic guards on switches.
He boasts the second highest block percentage on the roster at Another thing to note, when Millsap is on the floor, the team boasts their lowest defensive rating of When off, it goes up to This was an easy choice.
Although he plays the five, the offense essentially runs through Jokic. Like I mentioned previously, he leads the team in assists per game at 6. He had mild success playing alongside Jusuf Nurkic a few seasons ago, but we really saw his playmaking abilities flourish as soon as he was placed next to a true stretch four in Paul Millsap. He remained on the floor thanks in part to his veteran presence.
He averaged the most clutch points, had the second highest field goal percentage and the highest plus-minus out of anyone who played in more than 10 clutch games. No player on this roster has quietly improved his game the way Gary Harris has. He finished last season with a deadly clip of He turned in 1. On a team that is so explosive offensively, yet lacking on the defensive end of the court, Harris is a player that stands out.
Not only is he a main contributor on the offensive end, he does plenty on defense as well. The Nuggets have a positive 3. There is not a single player in the NBA that has had a rougher go than Isaiah Thomas in the last few years. He played highly admirable basketball in Boston, got dealt to Cleveland while he was trying to overcome an injury, and ultimately ended up with the Lakers after another string of trades.
His final year with Boston, he averaged It was clear the Nuggets viewed him as the point guard moving forward after dealing Emmanuel Mudiay to the Knicks. In just his second year in the league, he started in all but two games and played in all but one, averaging He has incredible range from beyond the arc, and is a superb free throw shooter, finishing last season at Once considered the top high school prospect in the country, a back injury caused him to miss almost his entire college season.
He still entered the draft, and luckily for the Nuggets slid all the way to No.