2015 NBA Western Conference Preview

Written by :
Published on : October 19, 2015

 

For my second installment of the 2015 NBA Season Preview, I’ll be going through the Western Conference. As with the Eastern Conference, several stars will be making their return from season ending injuries. The most anticipated return is Oklahoma City small forward, Kevin Durant. There is concern that Durant’s foot injury will be a chronic ailment for the rest of his career. Nonetheless, with free agency looming and a new coaching regime intact this will be a season where he must stake his claim as the best player in the world. The Los Angeles Lakers are in transition mode as they prepare to enter life without shooting guard, Kobe Bryant. Bryant is in the final year of his contract and he is also returning from a torn rotator cuff injury. With a few coaching changes and notable key additions to rosters, the West looks to continue its championship dominance. Seven of the last ten NBA Championship teams have come from the Western Conference. Six of those ten years the Eastern Conference team has been led by current Cleveland Cavalier LeBron James. Without James, it is safe to surmise that the Western Conference would have more teams hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

 

15. Utah Jazz

Can the Jazz get the band playing in tune?

 

There’s not much to like about this team. A young coach with a young team and no sense of direction for the future. The team has not been successful since parting with former head coach Jerry Sloan. Also, the team is frugal in terms of spending money on free agents, not to mention Salt Lake City is not an ideal free agent destination. Former first round pick, point guard Dante Exum was hurt late last season and must take a leap in production for this team to be competitive. Power forward Rudy Gobert is a fascinating player but must put all his athletic gifts together with improved shooting and shot selection. It is an ideal situation for 2015 NBA Draft pick PF Trey Lyles to get significant minutes as a rookie. Head coach Quin Snyder has to teach this team fundamentals before they can contend for a playoff berth.

 

 

14. Phoenix Suns

Here’s another team with a plethora of young talent, especially at the prized point guard position. Head coach Jeff Hornacek employed a three guard set last season, with mixed results. PG Eric Bledsoe was given a hefty contract after playing sparingly with Los Angeles Clippers. He is now the leader of a young team and must co-exist with PG Brandon Knight, who is also a ball dominant guard. The addition of Center Tyson Chandler is a great pick up for the defense as well as the locker room. I’m interested to watch the maturation of SF T.J. Warren. Warren has a good inside-outside game and can complement the two PG backcourt of the Suns.

 

 

13. Portland Trailblazers

It’ll be the Damian Lillard show in Portland this year.

 

The Trailblazers 2015-16 season will be an individual showcase of PG Damian Lillard. The team lacks a secondary scoring option and depth. PF Noah Vonleh is a player that could benefit from a change of scenery after playing little minutes with the Charlotte Hornets. PG C.J. McCollum can score in bunches, but will he get lost in the shuffle while Lillard is forced to play hero ball? Lillard is one of the leagues best fourth quarter scorers, and with his team set to be behind in many games, that will have his teammates missing valuable touches. Lillard will have MVP numbers but this team will take a giant step back in the Western Conference hierarchy.

 

 

12. Los Angeles Lakers

For one of the storied franchises in the world, this will be another year of rebuilding. The return of Bryant will make them a tough team to beat but they will also feature several rookie players at key positions. PG D’Angelo Russell is being groomed to become the face of the franchise. However, he is in a conference with some of the elite point guards and will struggle mightily in his first season. The return of PF Julius Randle will bolster a suspect front line but he is undersized compared to his positional peers. C Roy Hibbert has the opportunity to resurrect his career after two subpar seasons with the Indiana Pacers. Overall, head coach Byron Scott has to manage Bryant’s minutes and ego, Metta World Peace, and a roster full of young talent. Can he survive the season unscathed?

 

 

11. Denver Nuggets

This is Faried’s team.

 

The Nuggets would be near the bottom of my list if not for the return of SF Danilo Gallinari. He’s a great shooter and a willing slasher. He was missed last year as the team floundered under former head coach Brian Shaw. The team drafted PG Emmanuel Mudiay and he has the physical makeup of a NBA all star. His ability to get to the rim as well as his length will allow him to have a better transition to the pros than most guards. PF Kenneth Faried is the unquestioned leader and will benefit from having more structure under new head coach Michael Malone. This team is a SG and a capable C away from sneaking into the playoffs.

 

 

10. Sacramento Kings

I think most NBA fans are looking for drama more than basketball with this team. With new head coach George Karl, C Demarcus Cousins, PG Rajon Rondo and SF Rudy Gay, this team has too many egos to co-exist for an entire season. There are already reports of a rift between Cousins and Karl. Rondo’s game has deteriorated over the past few seasons, yet he is a good fit as a guard that’s not ball dominant. His ability to get the ball to open players such as Gay and SG Ben McLemore will lead to more wins than projected for this team. The team drafted C Willie Cauley-Stein and I believe that moving Cousins to the PF position could elevate this team to a playoff berth. If the Kings can come together and co-exist this could be the surprise team of the NBA, especially playing Karl’s style of offense.

 

 

9. Dallas Mavericks

Can Carlisle shout his team into the playoffs?

 

The victims of Deandre-gate will miss the playoffs this season after making a great effort to improve their roster in free agency. SF Chandler Parsons will become the number one option after PF Dirk Nowitzki. Parsons is an all around polished offensive player and will be able to provide balance for the offense. The acquisition of PG Deron Williams adds a veteran presence as the floor general but his contribution will depend on what type of player he will be. Will he be the Williams that was once in discussion as the best PG in the league or the injury riddled player that toiled away on the Brooklyn Nets? With the healthy return of SG Wesley Matthews, head coach Rick Carlisle has a team that could sneak into the playoffs but does not have the depth to escape the first round.

 

 

8. Minnesota Timberwolves

I really like this team. It has depth at every position. It also has a great mix of both young talent and proven veterans. Being in a stacked western conference is the lone factor placing this team at #8 in my rankings. Not long ago, the team started rebuilding after they gifted the Boston Celtics a championship hungry PF Kevin Garnett. Soon after, they took PG Ricky Rubio and also drafted Jonny Flynn and Ty Lawson. It is still remembered as one of the bizarre draft nights in NBA history. Should I mention that they passed on PG Stephen Curry, twice in the same night? Nonetheless, this year’s Timberwolves team may sneak into the playoffs and give a top seed some problems. Second year SF Andrew Wiggins will look to improve on a stellar second half of the season last year when he averaged 20 PPG. Combo guard Zach LaVine became an overnight celebrity after a sensational performance at the 2015 NBA Dunk Contest. If he can provide relief for SG Kevin Martin, I believe they have enough scoring to match their opposition. Garnett will be an on court mentor for #1 draft pick C Karl Anthony-Towns. He is a gifted defender and his rim protection will help this team begin its rise in the tough Western conference.

 

 

7. New Orlean Pelicans

Will Anthony Davis continue his meteoric rise through the ranks of the NBA’s best?

 

Despite a horrible name change, the Pelicans have arguably one of the best players in the league in PF Anthony Davis. In new head coach Alvin Gentry’s system, Davis will be able to roam near the 3-point line more and he will be the focal point of the offense. Combo guard Tyreke Evans will be asked to facilitate the offense which suits his skill set best and will hopefully bring him near the production from when he was named Rookie of the year. PF Ryan Anderson will get plenty of opportunity to shoot in this offense as ball movement and spacing is paramount to the success of Gentry’s scheme. With PG Jrue Holiday and C Omer Asik the team has enough tools to compete in the West.

 

 

6. Memphis Grizzlies

As much as head coach, David Joerger tried to get away from the “Grit and Grind” mentality the team has adopted over the years, it’s what allowed them to remain in the hunt in the West last year. The team acquired SF Jeff Green last season to help incorporate some offensive firepower. The team is constructed to wear teams down in the paint with C Marc Gasol and PF Zach Randolph, and they didn’t make any significant changes this offseason. In a league where every team is trying to win the possession and pace war, the Grizzlies look set to slow the game down and chip away at teams. This approach will keep them in the championship hunt at least one more season but it would be wise to address the lack of depth and offensive talent.

 

 

5. Oklahoma City Thunder

Will the return of Durant be enough for a team with other holes?

 

On paper having two top ten NBA players at their disposal would leave most fans scratching their head at why I have this team ranked so low. PG Russell Westbrook and SF Kevin Durant have become the top duo in the league. The problem with this team is the transition from former head coach Scott Brooks to new coach Billy Donovan. Donovan is coming straight from the college ranks. It will be interesting to see how quickly he acclimates to the pro game with numerous egos and contract disputes (see David Blatt). C Enes Kanter gave the team an another offensive option when Durant was injured. How will all these pieces mesh now that Durant is back in the fold? Defensively, I believe this team will struggle to stop some of the top teams in the West. PF Serge Ibaka is a help defender but was exposed last year by several opponents for suspect individual defense. Overall, this team will be in transition and with Durant’s free agency looming, there are changes on the horizon before this team can stake a claim as championship caliber.

 

 

4. Houston Rockets

The Rockets are a good team but they fade in clutch moments. SG James Harden was sensational last season, narrowly missing his first MVP title. C Dwight Howard recently admitted he played last postseason with a torn MCL. The team also lost starting PG Patrick Beverly to a hand injury which placed too much ball handling responsibility on Harden. Head coach Kevin McHale has the players at his disposal to challenge for the right to represent the Western conference in the NBA Finals. His star players must be available and able to deliver in key moments. The team drafted SF Sam Dekker and he will provide a similar game to former Rocket, Chandler Parsons. This team will go as far Howard and Harden will take them.

 

 

3. Golden State Warriors

It’s going to take a lot to repeat but the Warriors have the talent.

 

The 2015 NBA Champions will have a target on their back as they didn’t make many friends on their journey to the championship. The team boasted the best record in the NBA last year with 67 wins. The team also benefited from an odd season in which some of the top stars on rival teams were injured. The Warriors coaching staff did a phenomenal job in managing minutes and constructing a roster with players that complemented each other. 2015 NBA MVP PG Stephen Curry had a healthy season and averaged only 33 minutes a game. Curry is considered one of the most humble players in the league but his contract may become an issue as he is the 5th highest paid player on his team. The obstacle this team must overcome is staying motivated after a great season last year. SG Klay Thompson had a pedestrian performance in the final two rounds of last year’s playoffs. He is one of the best two way players in the league and if he can continue to thrive next to Curry this team will make another run at a championship. It will be interesting to see how much last year’s success was due to the the tutelage of former associate head coach Alvin Gentry or the innovative style of head coach Steve Kerr.

 

 

2. Los Angeles Clippers

On paper this team is loaded at every position and it has one of the best head coaches in the league. This team pulled an O.J. Simpson on Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. Cuban appeared to have stolen C Deandre Jordan from the Clippers. Then out of nowhere Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and Paul Pierce alongside head coach Doc Rivers “broke” into Jordan’s home. From there they held Jordan hostage until he agreed to sign a contract with the team, leaving the Mavericks in crisis mode and Cuban allegedly driving around Houston looking for Jordan’s house. After retaining Jordan’s services, the team acquired combo guard Lance Stevenson in a trade, signed PF Josh Smith to a one year deal, and signed Paul Pierce. With this collection of talent to pair alongside Paul, Griffin, and J.J. Redick the question now becomes is it too many good players? Although he is terribly erratic, Stevenson plays better with the ball in his hands as a facilitator. Smith has an awful penchant for shooting 3’s even if his low 30 shooting percentage suggests he should play near the paint. Pierce has never been a quick player but he is extremely crafty. Will he slow down Lob City? This is why Rivers is the President of Basketball Operations. If he can get players to buy in to less minutes and more importantly less points (see Golden State Warriors) he has the artillery to win the championship.

 

1. San Antonio Spurs

It’s all about Tim and Gregg.

 

Tim Duncan. Gregg Popovich. The narrative of why this team is number one in my preseason power ranking could end here but they’ve added some great pieces to an already formidable group. PF Lamarcus Aldridge is the bridge between the past decade of Spurs dominance and life post-Duncan/Popovich. Aldridge will benefit being in a system that will allow him to stretch the floor and let other bigs do the dirty work in the paint. Playing with Lillard must have pushed him closer out the door as there is no guarantee on how long Popovich will remain head coach. The opportunity to be in championship contention the next few years landed Aldridge in San Antonio. PF David West gives the Spurs depth at both front court positions in a league where quality big men are scarce. PG Tony Parker and SG Danny Green will benefit from pick and rolls leaving them open for 3’s or a clear lane for layups. SF Kawhi Leonard will continue his charge up the NBA superstar hierarchy as the clear defensive ace of the Spurs. The Spurs are flawed in terms of depth at the PG and SG positions but as a whole this team will be tough to beat in June.

 

 

 


2015 NBA EASTERN CONFERENCE PREVIEW

Written by :
Published on : October 13, 2015

 

Fall is by far my favorite time of the year. We get football, the October Classic in baseball, and now NBA Basketball. What’s more is that we’re only about 2 weeks from Opening Tip Off! Last season was great in terms of team play and the evolving spread-the-floor/”3 and D” tactics. Although there was no major shifting of power between the two conferences, the Eastern conference hierarchy changed with the relocation of LeBron James from South Beach to Cleveland. The conference was also hit hard with injuries to their stars in comparison to the West. Assuming everyone is coming back at full health, here are my preseason Power Ranking for the Eastern Conference.

 

*Note: This is not an indication of playoff seeding

 

15. Philadelphia 76ers

Coach Brett Brown has his work cut out for him but will be given time to make it work.

 

“Trust The Process” is the slogan in the City of Brotherly Love. The team began that process roughly three seasons ago, trading away All-Star PG Jrue Holiday. Since then the team has drafted big men in three consecutive drafts, while acquiring draft picks to build their team cheap, while staying away from free agency. With Joel Embiid on the mend, the team drafted Jahlil Okafor 3rd overall in the 2015 Draft. Paired with Center Nerlens Noel, Okafor stands to see significant time at the power forward position. With a “replacements” cast around him and Noel, they will be a sub-20 win team for yet another season. Coach Brett Brown has a long leash that many coaches don’t get due to the rebuilding process. Hopefully, the process ends sooner than later for all parties involved.

 

14. Orlando Magic

A lot of young talent on this team with no coaching to spearhead their development. Shooting guard Victor Oladipo came out of college with Dwayne Wade comparisons. He is a good player but has to take his game to the next level for the team to crack the top 8. Elfrid Peyton meanwhile has the make up of a young Rajon Rondo, sans the attitude. This team will be competitive in many games and may even win 30. However, coach Scott Skiles must take advantage on his 3rd opportunity to lead a team. With no veteran presence I think this is a bad fit.

 

13. Brooklyn Nets

Will the Nets continue to squander Joe Johnson’s talent?

 

The fire sale is just getting started. With PG Deron Williams gone, the team must decide what to do with SG Joe Johnson. He has thrived in great offensive systems in Atlanta and Phoenix but has struggled in Brooklyn. He is not a clutch player and is too mild mannered to lead a team. Center Brook Lopez has struggled to stay healthy and most of his work comes underneath the basket. Coach Lionel Hollins of Isley Brothers fame (ok, I couldn’t resist! He does look like he will do a spin and sing ‘For the loveee of you!’) is a good coach but he needs his own players. When in doubt pass the ball to Andrea Bargnani, said no one ever.

 

12. Charlotte Hornets

When an injury to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist during the preseason is breaking news it says a lot about the lack of talent on your roster. Think about this; the Hornets acquired Jeremy Lin this summer. I could end my analysis there but I digress. Center Al Jefferson has been a solid player in the league since coming out of high school. He is an offensive force and I would argue that if he had not gotten hurt last season, the Hornets would have made the playoffs. I do like the addition of Nicholas Batum and the draft pick of Frank Kaminsky. It does not help to have Kemba Walker as your starting point guard and I think that will keep them out the postseason.

 

11. New York Knicks

With Carmelo at the helm, this ship will continue to sink.

 

I’ll make this one brief. Unless Phil Jackson can turn water into wine, make that roster into the 12 Disciples, and make Carmelo Anthony into a person slightly interested in defense, this team will be taking trade inquiries for Anthony by Christmas. There’s no way this team, as currently constructed, will make the playoffs with Anthony as the primary player.

 

10. Detroit Pistons

Coach Stan Van Gundy is making this Pistons team in the image of the Orlando Magic team that he led to the NBA Finals with a young Dwight Howard at center. Andre Drummond has unlimited potential as a defensive force in this league. Whereas Howard had limitations offensively that were masked by putback dunks, Drummond will have time to develop as Van Gundy places offensive weapons around him. Van Gundy still has to acquire more 3-point players to create the spacing needed to have the team where he would like it. PF Marcus Morris is capable of shooting mid range shots but Van Gundy must get a true stretch 4 in the mold of a Ryan Anderson. This team is on the cusp of being in the playoffs this season with some more roster movement.

 

9. Indiana Pacers

Can Paul George coexist with Monta Ellis?

 

There’s a lot to like about this team. Small forward Paul George will come back a more efficient player after that devastating leg injury. Although there’s speculation that he will play more 4 this year, he is best suited to defend the 3 position, as well as facilitate the offense from the perimeter. The team drafted Myles Turner but it will take time for him to develop into a solid center. I have never liked George Hill as the primary ball handler and point guard. He is not remotely close to a competent point guard and the team has failed to address that position. The addition of SG Monta Ellis will give the team another scoring option but how will that mesh with George’s touches? This team can be supplanted by The Pistons or Hornets if it fails to address the point guard and power forward positions.

 

8. Toronto Raptors

Despite having one of the best fan bases in the league this team will take a fall in the hierarchy of the East, but I still feel it’s a good team. The problem is that all their star players have reached their ceiling. PG Kyle Lowry is what he is now, a pitbull defender and an emotional leader. There is no improvement on the offensive end of the floor and I think the ball is glued to his hands at times. SG Demar Derozan is another player that has reached his peak far too early in his career. He is a solid 20 point per game player but does not offer much more than that. Outside of a 51 point game last season, SF Terrence Ross is merely a slasher. Collectively, this team has had chances the past two seasons with injuries on opposing teams to make a charge for the Finals and failed to do so. Coach Dwane Casey has to be exasperated with the lack of talent he has to work with. Anytime you trade one number 1 bust pick (Bargnani) with another (PF Anthony Bennett) you are in a world of hurt.

 

7. Milwaukee Bucks

Jason Kidd has a very young and talented team. Now he just has to lead them.

 

Coach Jason Kidd has to be the luckiest son of a gun ever. He walked in to an abundance of riches in talent and potential. His starting lineup last season had an average height of 6’6″, best in the league. The average age of his team is 25. This is without having arguably his best player in SF Jabari Parker. With his team intact, I think they can land from 3 to 8 in playoff seeding. They’re scary good. In a league where offense is the focus, his team was near the top in several defensive rankings. The length of his team starting with PG Michael Carter-Williams, SG Giannis Antetokounmpo (6’11”), and the addition of C Greg Monroe will make this team a tough matchup. Monroe is an underrated low post passer who will create more opportunities for the offense. Overall, if not for inexperience I’d have them in my top 4. They’ll be that good this year.

 

6. Boston Celtics

This team’s ranking is because of one man, Brad Stevens. Making the playoffs last year, albeit with a losing record, says a lot about the coaching of this young team. Whereas the Bucks have a talented roster and sufficient coaching, the Celtics have great coaching and decent talent. Acquiring PG Isaiah Thomas was a good pick up and the ongoing development of PG Marcus Smart will make for an interesting pairing in the back court. I am curious how Stevens will foster a good front court between PF Jared Sullinger and C Kelly Olynyk. SG R.J. Hunter is an intriguing draft choice and he fits Stevens profile for a scorer. If this team makes the playoffs it will be a credit to the coaching staff as there is no Alpha Dog on the team speak of. Maybe Evan Turner can truly blossom this year and live up to his 2010 2nd overall draft pick status.

 

5. Chicago Bulls

Jimmy Butler is making the Bulls his team.

 

I prefaced this article by stating my rankings depended on players remaining healthy. At time of publishing, former league MVP PG Derrick Rose will be on the mend from an orbital fracture injury. SG Jimmy Butler benefited most from former head coach Tom Thibodeau’s tutelage and he’s a hard nosed two way player. There’s reports that Butler is not enthralled with Rose’s work ethic. Butler is primed to become the unquestioned leader of new head coach Fred Hoiberg’s team. Center Joakim Noah is the same kind of grit and grind player and will eventually become his counterpart over Rose. Hoiberg will allow young players to do what they do best. SF Doug McDermott and PF Bobby Portis will get enhanced roles on the team and will likely lead to the departure of fan favorite PF Taj Gibson. This team will go as far as Butler will take it. Hopefully, Rose will follow.

 

4. Atlanta Hawks

Owners of the conference’s best record last year, the Hawks will take a step back to familiar territory this season. The Hawks have been a perennial playoff team but not contenders. Coach Mike Budenholzer impact has San Antonio Spurs written all over it. The team spreads the floor and plays unselfish ball. They were the first team to lead the conference in wins without a 20 PPG scorer. Absolutely amazing results last year. This year they’ve added some role players to a team of role players. PG Jeff Teague and C Al Horford will lead this team to playoffs again but there’s no player that can match wits with the top three teams of the conference. Coach Bud caught a lot of teams by surprise last year sadly by just playing team ball. This year with several roster changes and players coming back from injury the Hawks will go back to what they know best, a team that’s good but not good enough to win it all.

 

3. Washington Wizards

John Wall and the Wizards will pick up where they left off last season.

 

The back court of this team can rival any in the league. PG John Wall and SG Bradley Beal are growing together and I think will come to fruition this season. Beal was hurt for an extended time last year which led to some losses that otherwise would have propelled them to a better seeding in the playoffs. SF Otto Porter is turning the corner from being a potential bust to a solid contributor on this team. Having former teammate Paul Pierce for a year seems to have stoked his competitive fire and may lead him to a better role on this year’s team. Coach Randy Wittman has to demand more front court depth. The East isn’t deep with prominent front court players but having the depth may put the Wizards over the hump. Definitely keep an eye out for SF Kelly Oubre Jr as he gets minutes behind Beal and Porter.

 

2. Miami Heat

The Heat are by far the deepest team in the Eastern Conference. They’ve kept most of their team intact from their championship run. This year PF Chris Bosh will be healthy after a life-threatening blood clot ailment. PF Josh McRoberts is coming off a season ending injury. C Hassan Whiteside has gained nearly 15 pounds of muscle over the summer. PG Goran Dragic signed a new contract over the summer and the team still has SF Luol Deng, C Chris Anderson, and PG Mario Chalmers. Add the addition of draft pick SF Justice Winslow and you have a very deep roster. The success hinges on the health of SG Dwayne Wade. He showed flashes of “Flash” last year while playing a good number of games. If he can remain healthy and if there is any slippage of the #1 team in my ranking, the Heat will advance to the NBA Finals. They have one of the most underrated coaches in the league in Erik Spoelstra. He has done a phenomenal job of working with the talent he has regardless of the circumstances. If he has a healthy team come June then he has the tools to shock the world.

 

1. Cleveland Cavaliers

It’ll be Lebron’s conference to lose once again.

 

The Cavaliers returning to the Finals has everything to do with one thing, chemistry. The same core players are set to return. The competition shouldn’t differ much from last year. The underlying issue at hand is the chemistry and cohesiveness of it’s Big Three. LeBron James, PG Kyrie Irving, and PF Kevin Love have been great when on the floor together. Although Love has griped about his role in the offense, he can contribute in other ways than he’s accustomed to. Love is an excellent spot up shooter. When LeBron played with Bosh, Bosh was better when he expanded his game outside the paint. It provided LeBron more opportunities near the basket and allowed Bosh to pick and pop for easy 18 footers. It would behoove Love to follow that model. Irving simply has to remain healthy. Many people are quick to write him off as injury prone. Those detractors said the same about PG Stephen Curry when he battled ankle ailments early in his career. Irving must also facilitate the offense and not hog the ball. LeBron is better as a primary decision maker but Irving is a better ball handler. Add in PF Tristan Thompson, SG J.R. Smith, and PG Mo Williams and you have a championship quality team. They have a championship caliber coach in David Blatt (albeit with only international experience) and would be wise to trust in his in-game strategy. If James and Blatt can marry their philosophies they will win the championship this season.

The Eastern Conference will go through Cleveland, Ohio again. Maybe some Heat and Wizard-ry can derail a James 7th Finals appearance.

 

 


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