Southwest Division Preview

Dallas Mavericks

Dallas just went from Championship team to mediocrity without any pressure to do so in just one year. Feeling for Nowitzki, who will have to play his one of his final seasons without any chance to do anything meaningful. Will fight to stay in the play-off hunt or for a bottom seed, with the slim hope of having a free agent sign for them in the next offseason. Which makes this season absolutely meaningless.

Player to watch:

Dirk. Enjoy while he still plays.

Houston Rockets

Where the hell is this supposed to go? Harden is good, but franchise player? Hell no! Lin will sell some merchandise, but not win many games. Asik is just a horrendous offensive player. Break the bank and compromise all future cap space for these three just doesn’t make any sense to me. Have some talent, but not elite. Can only hope to package a couple of their prospects for an impact player.

Player to watch:

Donatas Motiejunas. Has looked serviceable in his time on the court and should be in the League for a long time.

Memphis Grizzlies

Haven’t really gotten better in the offseason, but maintained their core. Since they made the playoffs the last years, it can be assumed that they will be in the running. Appear to be more of a challenger, though, since they seem to lack something to be championship caliber. Biggest hole is lack of backcourt scoring, abysmal three-point shooting and not really a deep bench. Will look good against all teams with weak frontcourts.

Player to watch:

Rudy Gay. He will have to be the one to take the team on his back.

New Orleans Hornets

With Eric Gordon back after “injury”, which netted them Anthony Davis, the Hornets look forward to a hopeful future, but they near future might not be so successful. The season might look like a 30 wins and some entertainment. Davis will have to show why he was picked as the first in the lottery with quality minutes and leadership. Big question marks remains on what Rivers will offer and if Gordon can live up to his fat contract.

Player to watch:

Gordon: Showed some promise 2 years ago in LA that he could be an elite Shooting Guard.

San Antonio Spurs

Well, they have Popovich. They essentially bring back last years roster, making them, on paper, likely to repeat as one of the Wests top teams and making another deep playoff run. All hinges, as usual, on the health of their Big Three. One of the few teams in the league that have a realistic shot at the title, most likely battling out the West with the Lakers and the Thunder.

Player to watch:

Kawhi Leonard. Stays making every other team except Cleveland look stupid for passing on him in the 2011 Draft.

Northwest Division Preview

Denver Nuggets

Will be extremely fun to watch. Have a lot of young, athletic, versatile, explosive players, will be an uptempo, high-scoring team that will be able to hang with everyone. Also, they have George Karl. Probably also the tallest team in the entire League with just two players under 6’6” (1’98m). The team chemistry also appears great right now with the arrival of Iguodala and the veteran Miller as their new leaders. Will be a top 4 seed.

Player to watch:

Tough to decide. They have a lot of players who will do amazing things on any given night.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Without Rubio and Love for a while, Derrick Williams, Kirilenko and Barea will have to step up and keep them in contention for the playoffs for a while. Their bench got a lot better, all the previous holes were adressed in the offseason. Pekovic has all the tools to be one of dominant centers in the league, Roy still can provide a lot things and Kirilenko will be unspectacular, but very, very efficient. Coaching is also very solid. Make the playoffs for the first time since forever.

Player to watch:

Nikola Pekovic. Will hopefully build on his incredible output of the last half of last season.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Will be a powerhouse. The trade of James Harden has shaken things up a little, but it also gave them flexibility. Presti absolutely made the right move. The former Seattle franchise still has one of the best teams in the League in defense and in crunch-time, what allows them to repeat the running-up. The rookie quota will bring fresh winds. A very good team that is not at the top of the developmental peak yet. Will be one of the top contenders. After the progression they made in the last seasons, anything but a return to the finals could be considered a failure.

Player to watch:

Perry Jones III. After having just about every team pass on him in the Draft, he showed flashes of what made him a lock for a Top 10 pick in preseason. Could be the heist of the century.

Portland Trial Blazers

Damien Lillard was the MVP of Summer League and has impressed so far, he could be Anthony Davis’ biggest rival for the Rookie of the Year Trophy. Aldridge is one of better big men in the league. Apart from that, there aren’t many bright lights and they will have problems against almost every team, especially in the paint. A high pick in the upcoming stacked draft should be the priority.

Player to watch:

Lillard. Portland hasn’t had a nice Point Guard prospect in a while.

Utah Jazz

Please, dear GM of the Jazz: Please trade Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap to make room for Kanter and Derrick Favors, who could form the frontcourt of the future for the Jazz with Gordon Hayward. In it’s current state, the team has holes in the backcourt and a crowded frontcourt. Need more experience, which means play the youngsters and not the bunch of role players they brought in during offseason.

Player to watch:

Enes Kanter. We demand more playing time for the Turkish Terminator.

Pacific Division Preview

Golden State Warriors

On paper, they have a good starting five that should match up well against anyone. In reality, their two best two players have long-standing injury issues. Their defense has never been one of the better ones in the league, so if a full season by Bogut, which is highly questionable, will change that isn’t very probable. Milwaukee is happy right now, not having to deal with the type of day-to-day injury updates Warriors fans will have to read all season long. Possibly a fringe playoff team.

Player to watch:

Klay Thompson: Will form one of the best shooting backcourts with Stephen Curry and has that old-school-style à la Clyde Drexler or à la Reggie Miller. Potential breakout year.

Los Angeles Clippers

Same shit, different toilet. Didn’t get any better in the offseason. Will fight for a playoff spot. If they had a different coach, they might really do some damage against the Western powerhouses. Not with Vinny though. Their bench additions (Barnes, Hill, Odom) will not make much of a difference, either.

Player to watch:

Of course, Chris Paul. The best.

Los Angeles Lakers

The evil empire strikes back. It will be totally weird for me to watch Steve Nash in a Lakers jersey for an entire season. If this team plays as well though, as it might play, a potential dynasty might be on its way. All-Stars at every position of the Starting 5 is just unheard of. How it will pan out, with Mike Brown at the helm and Kobe potentially freezing out his teammates in crunchtime, will be interesting to see. There is just one ball.

Player to watch:

Metta World Peace. The last of a dying breed.

Phoenix Suns

Have signed a bunch of role players with obvious flaws in the summer. Still baffled at their decision to ship their franchise player to their fiercest divison rival for some burritos and a Lakers jersey. Beasley will have unconscious nights, Dragic will make some highlight reels, Scola and Gortat will be fundamentally sound, but in the end it will be hard to compete for this team in a stacked Western Conference.

Player to watch:

The Dragic and Beasley tandem.

Sacramento Kings

Our sleeper team in the West. Have multiple talented players at all positions and a potential perennial all-star in Cousins. They just have to put the pieces together, play a consistent season, especially on defense. Biggest questions are what plans they will have for Tyreke Evans and, even more importantly, will the looming departure to Seattle or somewhere else poison the atmosphere all season long?

Player to watch:

DeMarcus Cousins. A center with special abilities in a depleted landscape of skilled big men. Could be absolutely dominant.

Southeast Division Preview

Atlanta Hawks

The breakthrough is the arrival of GM Danny Ferry, who wasted no time revamping the Hawks’ roster and getting financial freedom. Have signed a bunch of players that make the team more solid, dynamic and balanced. And now they build it around hometown star Josh Smith. Can he become the superstar Atlanta needs? Horford, Lou Williams and Teague will help him out. Stability, toughness and energy inside with Pachulia and Johnson. Snipers outside with Morrow, Stevenson and Korver. In theory it’s a transition season, but in reality, winning is the goal.

Player to watch:

Josh Smith. With Johnson traded, Smith is now looking to become an All-Star for the first time.

Charlotte Bobcats

After failing to land Brook Lopez or any other big free agent during the summer, the Bobcats haven’t gotten substantially better. After posting the worst winning percentage ever last season, the only hope they have for this season is winning the Draft Lottery and potentially having the right to pick Nerlens Noel or Shabazz Muhammed. Tanking wars start now.

Player to watch:

Kidd-Gilchrist. Next to Biyombo maybe the only real building block this team has.

Miami Heat

The overwhelming favourite to win the East, coming off a championship run and probably becoming even better during the off-season. They added long-range marksmen Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, providing even more weapons for LeBron to kick out to on his penetrations. Barring a devastating injury to one of their core guys, it’s doubtful any team can stop them in a series.

Player to watch:

LeBron. Will probably win MVP, Defensive Player of the year and every other award there is this season.

Orlando Magic

After ending a year of Dwightmare with being on the wrong end of the worst trade in recent memory, they guaranteed themselves of being terrible for the foreseeable future. Will be Charlotte toughest contender in the Tanking War, but definitively have a few more NBA-caliber players on their roster.

Player to watch:

Aaron Afflalo. Has to spend some of his better seasons on one of the worst teams in the league.

Washington Wizards

After having established a losing culture during the last years, getting out of this hole seems to be harder than imagined for the Wizards. With John Wall out for the beginning of the season, it appears to be another lost season. Maybe the full offseason and training camp with the veterans they added during last season has helped them gain some chemistry, but its hard to predict them to be better than a bottom-feeder.

Player to watch:

John Wall. Can he break out and finally show some improvement on his outside shooting?

Central Division Preview

Chicago Bulls

Lost Rose to injury, have been cheap with their bench players and replaced them with significantly worse players. But still, Bulls were the top defensive team last season and there is no indication that they won’t be one again. That in itself is an almost-guarantee for a playoff spot. Best thing they could do is just tank, sit Rose for the year, win only 20 games, amnesty Boozer and draft Shabazz. Nikola Mirotic might also join the gang. As constructed, it is hard to believe they can ever beat the Heat.

Player to watch:

Joakim Noah. Just for his shooting motion.

Cleveland Cavaliers

One franchise player, but very few other NBA-caliber players make this season look more like another developmental year for the Cavs. Missed out on drafting a franchise big man by taking Dion Waiters over Drummond. Bench is absolutely awful and one of the worst in the league. Will win some games, playoffs seem to be out of the question.

Player to watch:

Kyrie Irving. Is one of the most exciting players right now. Amazing handle, clutch ability and showing this type of leadership quality at a young age.

Detroit Pistons

Have a potential Twin Tower duo with Monroe and Drummond to build around. The rest of the roster is filled with mediocrity. Especially from the backcourt, there has been little consistency. Will be looking for improvement from within and might have a chance to compete for a playoff spot. The team will have more opportunities to seek help after Villanuevas and Maggettes contract.

Player to watch:

Andre Drummond. Impressed in the preseason and seems to be the rare combination of athleticism and length. Reminds me of a young Stoudemire.

Indiana Pacers

Will probably finish in the upper echelon of the East once again since they maintained their core with a few marginal moves here and there. They play hard and can score from every position. Could be one of the perennial playoff teams, but might be lacking the one superstar that can push them over the top.

Player to watch:

Paul George. A high flyer, potential face of the franchise.

Milwaukee Bucks

This is the year they will have to make it work. Skiles has only one playoff appearence going into his 5th season, and Ellis could be one of the most coveted free agents next summer. If this team does not make the playoffs, it will be time to break it up and reboot. The team made some additions to fix that awful interior defense, but it still all starts and ends with efficient backcourt play on both ends. It was just incredibly easy for opposing teams to score against the lack of size of Jennings and Ellis. Jennings has to start leading his team by being a more traditional point guard and taking less ill-advised shots.

Player to watch:

Monta Ellis. One of the best players around which still haven’t been named to an All-Star Team.

Atlantic Division Preview

Boston Celtics

Once again, the veterans are searching for a final shot at a trophy. Doc Rivers, one of the better coaches in the league, will make sure that Pierce and Garnett will be ready for the playoffs, sit them whenever he thinks its necessary and not care about the seeding. Some interesting rookies and a deep, deep bench will maintain the competitive tradition of this franchise. Have the potential to do some real damage come playoff time.

Player to watch:

Jason Terry. Guaranteed another championship for the Celtics this year, and we all know what happened the last time he did that.

Brooklyn Nets

The Nets are better this season, despite the thin bench. The backcourt of Williams and Johnson is a terrific one. Beyond putting up numbers, Humphries and Lopez need to play defense. If they stay healthy, they will win lots of games, but the starters would have to log heavy minutes to do it. If they are a championship level team remains to be seen. Middle-tier eastern conference team.

Player to watch:

Deron Williams. After two mediocre seasons, one of the alleged top 15 players in the league has to step up. If they struggle, he will be blamed.

New York Knicks

The Knicks went out and signed every 40-year-old around and then topped themselves by adding a player in Prigioni who will be a 35 year old rookie this season. With Stoudemire out for a while, all the pressure is on Anthony (again). Taking this team to the Finals will be an impossible task though. Maybe even getting to playoffs will be a struggle.

Player to watch:

Rasheed Wallace. The comeback of one of the most hilarious and likeable players in NBA history.

Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers traded Iguodala for Bynum, signed Nick Young and lost some bench guys. Made some noise early last year, mostly due to their good defense, especially inside the paint, then fell off pretty hard during the second half of the season. Won a playoff series against a team which lost their best player. Hard to predict where they will land this season, but Doug Collins has been doing a good job with making this team play fast, tough and gritty basketball.

Player to watch:

Evan Turner. Has been given more responsability with the departure of Iggy and has to make use of it.

Toronto Raptors

With a full season by Bargnani on an all-star level and some added production by additions Valanciunas and Kyle Lowry, the Raptors could well be in the hunt for a lower playoff spot in the East. Casey made the team look pretty good during stretches last season, but many things have to fall in place in order for them to be competetive. Seem to be doomed in NBA mediocrity hell for a while.

Player to watch:

Valanciunas. After being touted as one of the best big men to come out of Europe in years, he hasn’t exactly overwhelmed so far. If he produces, Raptors could be a problem.