With the 2018/19 NBA season less than two months away, we must begin the annual process of predicting which teams will succeed, and which will not. Then once the 2011 Mavs win the championship we all look like fools.
Nobody truly knows who will strikeout looking, and who will get on base before the season, but we can do our best to guess. Before we get into it, this would not be fun if I said the Hawks, Kings, and Suns will disappoint this season. I know I said ‘nobody truly knows’, but let’s be honest, with those teams, we do. That being said, here are my top five teams to not bet on in Vegas.
Portland Trail Blazers
The three seed in the West from a year ago, don’t be shocked if the Blazers start to stumble this season. The two biggest flaws from the Lillard/McCollum teams have been a lack of wings and poor defense from their guards. So what does Portland do after getting swept in the first round by Anthony Davis? Go out and get more offensive guards! Portland drafted guards Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent Jr, both good shooters, but will struggle to see the floor due to the logjam that is the Blazers backcourt. Simons actually has good defensive potential, but is still pretty raw, as he skipped college to play at IMG Academy.
After drafting two guards, you’d think they would focus on wings or bigs during free agency. Nope! They brought in Seth Curry and Nik Stauskas, two elite shooters, but nothing else. Curry missed the whole ‘17/’18 season recovering from a fractured tibia, and Stauskas hasn’t averaged double-digit points in his career.
The Blazers have seven guards on their roster (the four I just mentioned, Lillard/CJ, and Wade Baldwin IV), essentially fighting for two spots, as Lillard and McCollum have locked up the starting spots. Of the seven guards on the team, only two are taller than 6’4 (Trent/Stauskas). A bunch of undersized guards trying to guard the likes of Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, and other All-NBA guards doesn’t bode well, even if they can score 115 a game. The wing spots are still splotchy, as Evan Turner, Mo Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu does not scream Western Conference Finals. As good as Lillard and C.J. are, the Blazers didn’t improve this summer, and in the loaded West, they might be the odd one out come April.
The Pistons finished ninth in the East last season, finishing four games out of a playoff spot. Now with a full year of Blake Griffin, the Pistons should improve this year, especially in a weak East. The key word is should. Blake needs to stay healthy, first and foremost, which is a tall task considering he hasn’t played 80 games since the ‘13/’14 season. The roster is more or less the same as last year; they added Zaza Pachulia, Glenn Robinson III, and Jose Calderon while losing Anthony Tolliver, James Ennis, Jameer Nelson, among other fringe NBA players.
More of a reshuffling of the average role player deck then a vast improvement. Still, on paper, a team with Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond should at least be an eight seed in the East. As soon as the trade happened last January, it was always kind of a wonky fit.
Drummond can’t shoot (although he supposedly added a three-point shot), and Blake can’t stay on the court. It will surely be a challenge for new head coach Dwane Casey, who is fresh off a Coach of the Year award, and a sweep in the second round. Nobody jumps out on this roster; Reggie Bullock, Langston Galloway, Luke Kennard, etc. If all goes according to plan this year, I can’t see the Pistons getting higher than the seventh seed. And that’s if both Blake and Reggie Jackson stay healthy, Drummond improves his shot, and Kennard can try to make Pistons fans forget he was taken one pick ahead of Donovan Mitchell.
I think a 9-10 seed finish is much more likely than a playoff berth, and considering the Pistons are gung-ho on making the playoffs, a 10th seed will surely cause stress in the Detroit front office.
The Timberwolves had a strange season last year; on one hand, they made the playoffs for the first time since 2004, but on the other hand, they squeezed into the 8th seed by winning a wild-card game against Denver on the last day of the regular season, subsequently losing in five to Houston. Karl-Anthony Towns did not have a good postseason, averaging just 15 points on 46% shooting and an abysmal 27% from three.
The Wolves didn’t improve over the summer; they brought back Anthony Tolliver. Whoopee. Keita Bates-Diop is looking like quite the steal of the draft, considering he was taken 48th overall. He’s probably going to be a good player, only rookies under Tom Thibodeau struggle mightily. Just ask Kris Dunn. Andrew Wiggins hasn’t taken that leap that many expected him too, and is certainly not looking like the $148 million player that Minnesota thought he would be. As good as an offensive player Towns is, he is a poor defender who often seems lost on that end.
Both Towns and Wiggins have unlimited defensive potential, but both have been disappointing on that end of the floor. In an incredibly deep Western Conference, I find it hard to see the Wolves in the top 8 at the end of the season.
This is a do or die year for the Hornets. With Kemba Walker set to hit free agency after this season, a playoff berth seems necessary if they want any chance of re-signing him. He still could leave regardless, but given Charlotte’s roster, that might be a tall task, even in the weakened East. They swapped Dwight Howard for Bismack Biyombo; and while the locker room might be improved, the product on the court will not.
Biyombo averaged 5.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.4 blocks last year, while Dwight averaged 17.4, 12.7, and 2.0. While Biyombo is not known for his offense, they sure will miss Howard’s offense. Granted this trade got them off Howard’s $23.8 million contract, although Biyombo still has 2yr/$34mil left. Both bad contracts, but I’d rather pay $23.8mil for one year of 17/13/2 then $34mil for two years of 6/6/1. Rookie Miles Bridges is a promising young player, but it’s hard to see him contributing in a substantial way this year.
New head coach James Borrego will struggle to find offense on this team outside of Kemba. If Malik Monk can bounce back from an awful rookie year, and Nic Batum can stay healthy, they could provide some help to Walker. Borrego and former All-Star Tony Parker will bring some stability to this team, as both were taught under the tutelage of Gregg Popovich in San Antonio. Still, it’s hard to see this team being successful. Kemba is the only offensive threat on this team, and while they should be alright defensively, they will struggle to score, especially when Kemba sits.
Even in a filtered down East, I don’t see them making the playoffs. Charlotte fans may be watching the last season of Kemba in teal.
The Wizards are an extremely weird and interesting team this season. If everything clicks, I can see them finishing 4-5 in the East, and giving Toronto or Boston a run for their money in the second round. But a lot of things have to fall into place in order for that to happen. The most important one is the health of John Wall. He missed half the season last year recovering from knee surgery; an injury that has troubled him his whole career.
If Wall is healthy, then the Wizards have a good chance of success. The Wall-Beal backcourt is a fantastic one, but both players have had serious injury concerns in the past. Beal played in all 82 games for the first time last season and finally was named to an All-Star team. If one of them miss significant time, the backups are shaky. Austin Rivers is a nice third guard, he is not a good playmaker or defender, whereas Wall excels at both. Tomas Satoransky and Tim Frazier will simply not make up for the lack of Wall and/or Beal in the slightest. The Wizards bench has been a question mark for years, and while Kelly Oubre, Ian Mahinmi and Rivers are nice pieces, none would be in a rotation for a title contender.
Moving on to the frontcourt, Washington decided to clone Otto Porter by signing Jeff Green to a one year deal. Cue the Spiderman pointing meme, as both players are long, tall forwards, who are incredibly inconsistent, and drives coaches crazy as to why they aren’t All-Stars.
While productive on the court, the locker room presence of Dwight Howard isn’t a particularly strong one by all accounts (Hawks players apparently cheered when he was traded from Atlanta). It should be noted that one of the reasons the Wizards traded Marcin Gortat for Rivers was because he didn’t get along with Wall. A locker room with Wall, Howard, Oubre, and Markieff Morris is a prickly situation; all the Wizards need to do is break Javaris Crittenton out of jail, (for murder, I should add) and call up Gilbert Arenas and the Wizards locker room might be the biggest mess in D.C. Well, the second biggest.