This wasn't originally going to be a series, but this ended up being quite a long post, so go check out Part II after you're done with this one!
Unrelated, but I always love this guy. When I get tickets, they're usually a few rows behind his. He's often more entertaining to watch than the halftime show. Am I the only one who feels like he should team up with the Numa Numa guy?
It's getting close to the time
where we start breaking down projections for the season, and how teams will stack up. So I wanted to give my own predictions for not only our team, but the whole league. Obviously, it is near impossible to predict the outcome of a season, so this projection is subject to change, just as every other sports news site's power rankings change. An injury, unexpected breakout, or unexpected bust could change everything for a team. But that's what makes following basketball so interesting.
First, I'd like to break down the Eastern Conference. I will then move on to the Western Conference. Finally, I'll finish off with an overall Power Ranking.
#1 - Cleveland Cavaliers
Obviously, Cleveland won the championship, and not much has changed with their roster this offseason. LeBron is aging, but he's still a beast, and while he's slowly declining, Kyrie is blossoming into a superstar in his own right. Personally I think Kyrie is a top 3 point guard in the league. And if I were building a team, I'd take him over Steph Curry, because I think he'll have a longer, more productive career. Whereas I think Steph will constantly have a battle with those ankles.
I believe they still have yet to re-sign J.R. Smith, but I think the chance at another championship will be enough to get him to ink another deal with the Cavs.
There aren't many in the East that will be able to challenge the Cavaliers, assuming they stay healthy, and the LeBron/Kyrie combo can still keep putting up elite numbers. However, there seem to be more challengers this year than there were last year.
Strengths: Superstar talent, depth, extreme versatility-able to play big, small, fast, slow, etc.
Weaknesses: While other positions have good depth, do you really want Channing Frye to be your only legitimate backup PF?
Team Grade: A+
#2 - Toronto Raptors
This is another obvious choice. Toronto was #2 just behind Cleveland this year. They've also been able to keep their core, and potentially added a little depth this offseason. They re-signed DeMar DeRozan, who could potentially be in the superstar conversation coming up soon (he's only 26), and brought in big men Jared Sullinger and Jakob Poetl. These additions will hopefully make up for the loss of Bismack Biyombo, who was huge for them in the playoffs. Valanciunas is supposedly supposed to take a step forward this season as well, from the information I'm gathering. If Cleveland dips at all, look for the Raptors to make the most of the opportunity.
Strengths: Great finishers at the basket, very solid defense, youth who can still develop.
Weaknesses: 3pt shooting is good, but not great. Depth may prove to be lacking. When will Kyle Lowry start declining?
Team Grade: A-
#3 - Boston Celtics
I'll just say that the Al Horford pickup was huge. A core of Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, and Avery Bradley is not one to scoff at. They are a strong defensive team with the Eastern Conference version of Quin Snyder in Brad Stevens, and look to make a strong argument for winning the Eastern Conference Championship this season. They are slightly an underdog, but I think they are hungry enough to achieve more than is expected of them. Even if they end up in a 5-8 seed in the playoffs, the Celtics are a team you can never rule out completely. This current roster seems to harbor that same playoff-competitive heart that always seems to be on this team.
Strengths: Defense, a mixture of youth and experience, star talent, great coaching.
Weaknesses: This part is hard to predict. Rebounding may actually prove to be a weakness, if Al Horford plays at the C position. They have enough solid defenders to make up for the guys who aren't quite as good, and they have enough solid offensive players to do the same on the other side of the ball. Their depth may not quite cut it. But it depends on how well their #3 pick plays off the bat, and how well their young squad of bigs continue to develop.
Team grade: B+
#4 - Detroit Pistons
Detroit is a well pieced-together team. I love their addition of Ish Smith and Boban Marjanovic. And with the league moving in an anti-"Hack a Shaq" direction, the stock of powerhouse players like Andre Drummons should be on the rise. I like their coach, Stan Van Gundy, and the fleecing they were able to do last trade deadline in acquiring Tobias Harris. This will be the year that they either click, or find out some pieces don't fit. But on paper, which is how we're judging these teams, they look positioned to be a very solid team. They probably won't be quite good enough to beat the best teams in the playoffs, but the "Detroit Bad Boys" might start to be a thing again.
Strengths: Very solid starting five. Good rebounding. An uncommon style of play that will be a good matchup against many other teams' small ball trend.
Weaknesses: Obvious lack of depth. Chemistry needs to click more before I can consider them elite.
Team Grade: B-
#5 - Atlanta Hawks
I don't think anybody is ready to give up on this team quite yet. They may have lost Jeff Teague and Al Horford. They may have aging Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver. Yet, they were able to pull of some very solid signings, bringing in Dwight Howard, Jarret Jack, and re-signing Kent Bazemore. Tiago Splitter should be coming back from injury to make this a very interesting team to watch.
Strengths: Experience, good coaching, and a very solid 3pt shooting lineup.
Weaknesses: Possible hole in depth at PF. This may well be a team that is plagued by injuries. They also lack a true star, especially after the loss of Al Horford. That is, unless Dwight Howard is able to revive his career at the ripe age of 30.
Team Grade: B-
#6 - Indiana Pacers
I'm not a huge fan of what the Pacers have done this offseason. It seems Larry Bird is trying to get all of the inefficient volume scorers onto one team. They have Monta Ellis, and newly signed players Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson. Paul George and Jeff Teague have been fairly efficient, but how far can George take this team? My guess is not very far. There is some major clicking that would need to happen to get this set of talents to work well together. But if it works, it could be extremely successful.
Strengths: Paul George. Offense.
Weaknesses: Defense. Rebounding. The prospect of having to start the molding rind of Al Jefferson or the unproven, young Myles Turner.
Team Grade: C
#7 - Charlotte Hornets
I'm a huge fan of Kemba Walker. Giving up Jeremy Lin and Al Jefferson may hurt, and they are most likely of all of these teams to drop the time I make another power ranking (in fact, they dropped two spaces simply after I finished writing this paragraph). However, they should have Michael Kidd-Gilchrist coming back, which could be a big asset to this team going forward. Well, he'll have to be, because there isn't much wing depth. They have Nicolas Batum and Marco Belinelli at Shooting Guard, and Jeremy Lamb listed as backup SF (according to Rotoworld's NBA Depth Chart). It's possible that Marvin Williams could start at SF, if Kidd-Gilchrist has a slow start to the season, or if Frank Kaminsky breaks out. Roy Hibbert was a silently solid signing for their backup C position, and could potentially jump start his career this season if the team does well in the playoffs. I think lack of wing depth will be their downfall.
Strengths: Fantastic PG play. Good defense, and an overall solid team.
Weaknesses: Lack of depth, lacking a true superstar (unless Kemba breaks out even further).
Team Grade: C
#8 - Washington Wizards
I think last season was a good learning year for the young Washington team. They should continue to improve this year, as long as they aren't too hurt by injuries. They have some solid depth with a bench of Trey Burke, Marcus Thornton, Kelly Oubre, J.J. Hickson, and Ian Mahinmi, though I don't predict the bench will be good enough to push them a few spots higher in the playoff seatings. John Wall and Bradley Beal need to start putting up the numbers that actually matter - wins. Both are stat sheet stuffers, but it hasn't translated to much as of late. If the team is able to stay healthy, and the players begin to gel, I could see them being as high as the 5th seed. Yet, if things continue how they were last year, they may be missing the playoffs by a few games.
Strengths: So much potential.
Weaknesses: So much potential. Potential doesn't win games, reaching your potential wins games.
Team Grade: C-
For the projected lottery teams, I'm going to write less, and drop the strengths and weaknesses part.
#9 - Orlando Magic
I think Orlando looks poised to be in the same position we were in last year. They have a lot of youth, but finally got some solid vets in Serge Ibaka, and Bismack Biyombo. Jeff Green could be a solid piece to the puzzle, but that's what we've been saying about him since he was drafted. Overall, I think they could be the 8th seed, but it's more than likely that they will be having a lot of "learning experiences" and "morale victories" this year as the team grows together.
Team Grade: C-
#10 - Milwaukee Bucks
They are a solid developing team. I picture them just below Orlando, because Orlando is slightly deeper, and with some better pickups in free agency. This is certainly a learning year for them. They need their youth to really start to develop and learn how to win games. Matthew Dellavedova was an under-the-radar free agency signing that should give some solid playoff experience to the team. They have a lot of potential, but a huge lack of depth in the wings, which suggests to me that Antetekounmpo may see some time at SF, while Michael Carter-Williams and Matthew Dellavedova take care of the point guard position.
Team Grade: C-
#11 - Miami Heat
The Miami Heat have a bunch of promising youth players, and some proven stars. The loss of Dwayne Wade could hurt, but I think they will still win a lot of games this upcoming season. As far as I'm concerned, numbers 8-11 will all be within a few wins of each other, and any of them could make the playoffs by a slight advantage, or even a tie-breaker. I like Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic, but I don't see them having the same success they saw last year, with how many critical pieces they lost in the offseason (Wade, Deng, Johnson).
Team Grade: C-
#12 - Chicago Bulls
This team should be at least better than the Knicks, but I put them in the same category. There's a chance that things could go well and they could make the 8th seed. But more than likely this is a rebuilding year, while the players try to figure out chemistry. It's hard to place them below some of the unproven teams, but I just don't think that Dwayne Wade, Jimmy Butler, and Rajon Rondo are enough to fuel a playoff run.
Team Grade: D
#13 - New York Knicks
Anybody on the hype train? The Knicks are the team that everyone wants to be good, but I don't think washed up scrubs from another lottery team will make much of a difference. Kristaps Porzingis is a guy to always keep an eye on, but Carmelo keeps getting older, and they traded away Robin Lopez. They have absolutely zero depth, besides Brandon Jennings at the PG position.
Team Grade: D
#14 - Philidelphia 76ers
The future looks bright for this team. They netted their potential superstar in Ben Simmons. But things should be slow for them. They still have a few years to go before we can talk about them making the playoffs.
Team Grade: F+ (but with a light at the end of the tunnel)
#15 - Brooklyn Nets
I think the state of this team is well described in this picture:
They're tanking, except they're doing it the wrong way, as Boston can swap their 2nd rounder with Brooklyn's 1st rounder this year. Was that predictable one year of making the playoffs, and subsequent falling-apart worth it?
Team Grade: F-
This post is getting long, so I will cut this, and make it a two part series. Western Conference and Overall Power Ranking will be in Part II!