By: Jake Mattleman
Hello, selfish gunners. The NBA season starts in less than a month. Now would be a good time to preview it. You can look forward to seeing NBA Preview articles and podcasts all October, starting with Jake’s predictions for the Western Conference based on the over/unders set by Vegas. Look out for his Eastern Conference predictions on Wednesday 10/12!
– Scott Levine (The Editor)
Golden State Warriors (Over/Under: 66.5 Wins) – OVER
Draymond Green has already stated that he doesn’t want to win 74 games this season. They could easily lose more than eight games, but it’s hard to find a case for them losing 16.
Yes, this team will struggle early at center; they struggled without Bogut as a rim protector in the NBA Finals, and they also lost Ezeli to free agency. While not defensive stalwarts like a healthy Bogut, Zaza and Varejao are decent replacements.
I foresee a few bad losses early as Klay, Steph, Durant, and Draymond work on their chemistry, but they’re too smart not to work through these challenges quickly. They can also rest any of these four every few games and still win.
Player to Watch: James Michael McAdoo
The Warriors are hoping McAdoo will make the jump to a full time rotation player in his third year. It’s taken awhile to convert the former UNC player from a 4 to a combo forward, but with Iguodala showing signs of aging and the Warriors getting thinner on the bench, McAdoo has a great opportunity to make a difference.
Los Angeles Clippers (Over/Under: 53.5 Wins) – OVER
Will somebody help Doc Rivers get his head out of his ass and start thinking about the future of his franchise instead of a short-term desperation heave? This team simply does not work. Blake and DeAndre don’t play well together. Chris Paul’s genius is wasted when supported by a rotation of mediocre and aging 3s and little changes from year to year. Thank god they retained irreplaceable personnel like Austin Rivers and Paul Pierce to ensure their doom. While the Clippers most certainly won’t make it past the second round of the playoffs, they still boast a top of talent and play in a bad division. Expect the normal above-average but not-good-enough Clippers season.
Player to Watch: Brice Johnson
Brice is oozing with natural gifts and we will learn pretty quickly whether they translate to the NBA game. After a disappointing performance in the National Championship game and rumors of an attitude problem, Brice slipped to the back end of the first round. Let’s see if he plays with a chip on his shoulder and can contribute.
Sacramento Kings (Over/Under 32.5 Wins) – UNDER
Who cares about this team anymore? There’s really nothing to analyze. I just feel bad for Willie Cauley-Stein, who might actually be decent. Keep pounding away, Vlade.
Player to Watch: Boogie Cousins
Will the team get smart and deal him? Will the antics continue? My money’s on two yesses.
Phoenix Suns Gorilla (Over/Under 26.5) – OVER
This team has a ton of young talent and doubled down at the 4 with draft choices Bender and Chriss. Also don’t forget about proven scoring guards Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight, along with the baby-faced Devin Booker. If they can get anything out of Tyson Chandler and Jared Dudley, they could put together a few wins.
However, the team has no motivation to win, and could trade some veteran players before the deadline, leading to a drop off. But as the team stands now, they can put points on the board.
Player to Watch: Tyler Ulis
Ulis is such an interesting prospect, and he showed us why in the summer league. His skills are perfect for a point guard. He controls the game, plays pesky defense, and can score if necessary. He’s a bit undersized, but has good core strength and I believe he will eventually be successful. Ulis, Booker, Warren, Bender, and Chriss could be the starting lineup as soon as next season.
Los Angeles Lakers (Over/Under 24.5) – UNDER
Similar story, minus the veteran presence. This team has a decent looking future, especially if they can add another top pick in future years. The core of Russell (underrated rookie season in my opinion and only 20), Clarkson, Ingram, and Randle is potentially threatening, assuming they learn to play defense. They won 17 games last year, and basically returned the same team. I’m not buying Ingram, the aging Deng, and Mozgov adding eight wins. This team still lacks an identity.
Player to Watch: Larry Nance Jr
Nance showed us a bit in an extended look with the starters last season. He’s got explosive dunks at the rim and shot well from mid-range. He’ll need to take a leap this season defensively and working to create his own offense. Look for Nance to challenge Randle’s starting position from the beginning.
Utah Jazz (Over/Under 47.5) – OVER
Really excited about this team and love what they did in the offseason. They added a proven, reliable point guard in George Hill, and Joe Johnson, who adds a much needed shot creator. Do they have the star-power to win a championship? Probably not, but they are decent sleeper title bet at 80-1. They are deep, have rim protection, and many players who could get a lot better this year (starting with Rodney Hood).
Player to Watch: Dante Exum
High draft pick a few year ago, had a torn ACL last year when the team had high hopes for his progression. They reluctantly turned to Raul Neto and Trey Burke, certainly not quality starters, thus leading to their moves this offseason. Exum is a high flyer, with great potential if he can develop a jumpshot. Think of a Ricky Rubio who’s more explosive and who we’re not sure cannot shoot yet.
Portland Trail Blazers (Over/Under 46.5 Wins) – UNDER
Really disliked their moves this offseason, beginning with overpaying for Evan Turner. Why does this team need another player who is only successful with the ball in his hands? I understand they didn’t have much choice after striking out with Whiteside and Parsons, but that doesn’t mean Turner is the answer, especially since most of their questions are in the frontcourt. Additionally, the Allen Crabbe situation was unfortunate and resulted in an overpay for a scorer who has averaged seven points per game for his career. I’d almost rather spend the money of Matt Barnes and Mozgov (I said almost). Look for a down year as other teams begin to gameplan for the “your turn-my turn style” of Blazer ball.
Player to Watch: Allen Crabbe
Time to prove you’re worth the 75 million young blood! Have we seen the pinnacle of Crabbe, or can he develop into a reliable 3 and D guy? If the latter holds true, look for a midseason trade for Tyson Chandler.
Oklahoma City Thunder (Over/Under 45.5 Wins) – UNDER
Forget the devastating loss of Kevin Durant. We should be thankful, after all. Our reward is Russell Westbrook unleashed, although I’d be surprised if he makes it through all 82 games without collapsing. I like the Ibaka trade by Presti and I’m a believer in Oladipo, especially with the freedom he’s about to receive. Adams and Kanter are still around, but this team has zero depth. We’re going to be seeing too much of Singler and Roberson for my liking. They will be outmatched most nights.
Player to Watch: Russell Westbrook
Does anybody else on this team really matter? Yeah we want to see what Domantas can do, and blah blah blah, but these guys will be must see TV each game. I cannot wait. What’s the over/under on Westbrook triple doubles this season? 35?
Minnesota Timberwolves (Over/Under 41.5 Wins) – UNDER
The T-Wolves are a trendy postseason pick with the addition of Thibs and promising rookie Kris Dunn. But how much better will this team actually get this year? Are these additions worth 13 more wins? I’m not buying it. Wiggins needs to show me more aggression on the offensive end, and I can’t buy any team to have a winning record with worst shooter of all time Ricky Rubio running the squad. The arrow is pointing up, but the T-Wolves are still a few pieces and development years away from competing.
Player to Watch: Shabazz Muhammad
After struggling his rookie season, Shabazz began to take NBA life more seriously, beginning with offseason training headed by Navy SEAL trainer Frank Matrisciano. His new regime has resulted in steady progress. He began to take on a bigger offensive role, averaging 17 PPG over the last month of last season. Assuming Wiggins plays the 3, this leaves a huge gap at shooting guard. Shabazz will need to improve his defense under Thibs, but he’s got the inside track to start. Expect a season-long competition for time with Dunn.
Denver Nuggets (Over/Under 34.5 Wins) – OVER
Pretty much the same team returning this year with a bit more experience. We’ll quickly learn about Mudiay’s work ethic. But regardless, he, Harris, Jokic, and Nurkic should all be better. Combine that with a healthy Gallinari and I think that account for at least 2 more wins, right?
Player to Watch: Jamal Murray
You’re reading words written by one of the biggest Murray haters on the planet, so you bet I’ll be watching to see if my suspicions will be confirmed. I don’t believe he has the quickness or skills to play point guard or the run all day Rip Hamilton-ness to be that kind of shooting guard. What’s left? Basically a glorified Steve Novak. This might be a bit harsh, but I’m going all in on this one.
San Antonio Spurs (Over/Under 56.5 Wins) – OVER
Never bet against the Spurs. Kawhi and Aldridge are only getting better together. Add in the veteran presence of Pau to replace Duncan, and this team should plow through the regular season similar to last year. The age of Parker and Ginobili is concerning, but the team has proven they can exist without consistent performances from their antiques. Danny Green should rebound from an off shooting season and Pop is still Pop.
Player to Watch: Dewayne Dedmon
Who? Perhaps you haven’t had the pleasure of watching him, but finally we get to talk about him! In limited time with Orlando he proved to have little control of his limbs, but the potential to anchor a defense if his athleticism could be harnessed. Think of a 27-year old version of a 21-year old DeAndre Jordan (their numbers are actually pretty similar). This smells like a classic Spurs reclamation project.
Memphis Grizzlies (Over/Under 43.5 Wins) – OVER
The Grizzlies always seem to find a way to win. I expect no dropoff with Fizdale sliding in as Head Coach and the signings of Conley and Parsons were key to the continuation of the Grit and Grind era. Gasol will be back, so expect this team to be a tough out in the playoffs. There’s a bit of concern regarding their depth, but perhaps this will be remedied by an in season trade (Phoenix perhaps).
Player to Watch: Zach Randolph
Entering his 17th season, can he keep up with the small ball lineups? Does he still have the legs? Their success may hinge on his ability to be effective.
Houston Rockets (Over/Under 41.5 Wins) – OVER
Another tight call, but I’m going to predict 42 wins for this newly branded Rockets squad. Out with Howard and in with D’Antoni, who keeps getting jobs despite years of failure since Phoenix. However unlike his other escapades, Houston has built a roster that should thrive in his system. Heck, they might average 120 points per game. Harden at point guard, surrounded by shooters in Gordon and Anderson should make for a fun ride.
Player to Watch: Clint Capela
I’m not as sold on Capela as the next guy, especially as a replacement for Howard, but he’ll be the anchor to begin the season. His hands will certainly be full making up for the mistakes of Harden and Anderson on defense, two of the league’s worst. Capela might lead the league in blocks simply due to the number of attempts he’ll be contesting at the rim.
Dallas Mavericks (Over/Under 39.5 Wins) – UNDER
I flip-flopped on this pick a few times, but really only because I have so much respect for Rick Carlisle. Having said that, everything about this team points to a disappointing season and an uneventful exit for Dirk Nowitzki. Bogut will be injured within 20 games, who knows if Wes Matthews will ever be the same, Harrison Barnes will continue to miss open jumpers and struggle with increased responsibility, and J.J. Barea must have run out of energy by now, right? A healthy Mavs team could yield something like 45 wins, but any issues could bring this team as low as 30 wins.
Player to Watch: Justin Anderson
Big fan of Justin Anderson coming out of Tony Bennett’s defensive system in Virginia. He should compete for more playing time this year after playing well in the postseason. He needs to improve his outside shooting, but he should be a plus defender. In many ways I like him better than Harrison Barnes.
New Orleans Pelicans (Over/Under 36.5 Wins) – WAYYY UNDER
Shaking my head at you, Pelicans, for wasting so many years of Anthony Davis’ brilliance. The guy has never had healthy or competent teammates, and the team enters this season having lost their best secondary scorers in Anderson and Gordon without adding anything. But hey, maybe Tyreke Evans will play like he did his rookie year again. This might be the worst team in the conference.
Player to Watch: Buddy Hield
C’monnnnnnn, Buddy! We’re all rooting for you, so let’s prove that you’re a legit scorer! We were all fans of his breakout performances in college last year, let’s keep that train running.