The National Basketball Association (NBA) is the premier collection of basketball talent around the world. Each year, 30 teams compete for the ultimate prize: the championship, battling the other 29 through a grueling schedule of 82 games as the weak and the willing are separated, dramatically changing the balance of the league from year to year. The Campanile has compiled a comprehensive NBA preview to share with everybody– from the casual fan to the hardcore fanatic –a taste of what’s to come this season.
The best team ever assembled since the creation of professional sports, the Warriors are far and away the favorites to win the NBA title. Adding Kevin Durant to an already loaded roster with all-stars Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green has created a superteam better than anything Miami could have ever hoped for. The Warriors will blow away the rest of the league in a quest for redemption after a painful loss to the Cavaliers.
With the retirement of Tim Duncan, the Spurs will begin a new era under their franchise cornerstones: Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge. The team will retain its key contributors from a 60-game playoff team last year, and will only improve with a more experienced Aldridge and the addition of rookie guard Dejounte Murray. The Spurs appear to be the clear front runner in the West behind Golden State.
One year off of their magical run to the second round of the playoffs, the influx of new talent in former Warriors’ backup center Festus Ezeli will only help Damian Lillard run train over the rest of the NBA. Lillard will emerge as the best pure point guard in the NBA with the help of star sidekick CJ McCollum — Pippen-Jordan anyone? Rip City’s big three of Ezeli, LIllard and McCollum will create another organically grown superteam to challenge the West, and give the Spurs and Warriors a run for their money.
Riding the emotional wave of Paul Pierce’s pending retirement, the Clippers will power through to gain home-court advantage over 11 other teams. If Blake Griffin and Chris Paul can manage to stay healthy the entire season (unlikely), then they will hopefully be able to return to their superstar talent days. However, the lack of a solid bench in LA will continue to plague the Clippers this year, as they suffer from a talent drop off besides Paul and Griffin.
The Jazz have made large strides in their improvement, as Rudy Gobert has turned into a legitimate center who gives them a strong presence near the basket. Gordon Hayward has become a true superstar, providing an anchor for Utah’s offense. Even Dante Exum—the underwhelming prospect from Australia— has gotten his act together and become the hyped point guard that draft boards expected three years ago.
The Suns improve drastically from their disastrous 2015-2016 season. Guard Devin Booker develops into a poor-man’s Klay Thompson, a twenty-year old that can score and facilitate the offense. Guards Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight will finally have a season without injury, helping them to take the next step in their playing level. The Suns will creep into the playoffs for the first time since Steve Nash played in Arizona.
Having lost Kevin Durant in the most heavily-criticized exodus since Lebron James’ Miami days, the Thunder now depend on the talents of high-scoring, ravenously-rebounding loose cannon Russell Westbrook. Placing the team on his shoulders, Westbrook will take it upon himself to exact revenge on the Warriors and his ex-teammate. As a reward for his remarkable individual performance, Westbrook will win Most Valuable Player (MVP).
New arrival Harrison Barnes adds a threat on the wing that Dallas hasn’t seen since the days of its 2011 title team. Fresh off of a 70-win season in Golden State, Andrew Bogut brings the level of rim protection missing from Dallas since Tyson Chandler left. The trio of Barnes, Bogut and mainstay Dirk Nowitzki will propel Dallas to the playoffs for one last ride before age catches up.
Memphis will see its title window drop once again as Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph lose another step chasing a grueling 82-game season. Mike Conley will fail spectacularly in the wake of his $30 million dollar contract, proving all his haters correct. The Grindhouse era appears to be coming to an end in Memphis, with all their players graying.
The Pelicans will improve slightly on their past season as Buddy Hield blossoms into a rookie sensation. Anthony Davis will reclaim his title as best promising young talent then make it into an All-Star game and an All-NBA team. However, the tag team of Hield and Davis won’t be able to hold up the Pelicans’ weak supporting cast, who perennially suffer from injuries and lack of talent..
The Timberwolves’ title hopes remain on hold for the second straight season, as injuries will finally catch up to the bodies of the talented Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach Lavine. Luckily for Minnesota, rookie Kris Dunn appears to be the perfect replacement for a rapidly aging Ricky Rubio. Despite their youth movement away from the years of Kevin Garnett, the Timberwolves still look at least a year away from contention.
Even with adding Brandon Ingram, the Lakers still lag behind in the dregs of the Western Conference. D’Angelo Russell— even with a year of experience in the NBA — fails to take the next step forward in becoming a franchise-leading point guard. The rest of the Lakers team, most notably Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle, are likely to display another mediocre year of play with new coach Luke Walton.
With the loss of their second best player and only post presence in Dwight Howard, the Rockets will free-fall out of the Western contention. Despite having the best shooting guard in the NBA, James Harden, the hapless Rockets cannot be saved from their sudden drop in talent. The rest of the Rockets will underwhelm as H-town stumbles to a disappointing season.
Hopes remain high in the city of Denver as both Emmanuel Mudiay and Jamal Murray have shown flashes of potential. Without a franchise-leading star, however, the Nuggets will fall prey to stronger powers that dominate the Western Conference. The most forgettable team in the NBA will do little to change their perception as they fail to gain the attention of the media in another 20 win season.
Even with arguably the best center in the NBA, Demarcus Cousins, Sacramento’s absent role players will keep Cousins from reaching his maximum potential. Losing Seth Curry and Rajon Rondo in free agency has forced the Kings to take another step backward. Cousins seems almost pre-destined to leave Sacramento in by trade the coming summer.
Coming off a miraculous upset in the NBA finals, the Cavaliers enter the new season riding high. They have the ability to pave their wave to another easy victory in the east, with LeBron cementing himself as the best player of the 21st century. Kyrie seemingly enters his prime, setting up what will be the third consecutive finals matchup between the Warriors and Cavaliers.
Isaiah Thomas will officially become the best player under 6 feet to play in the NBA, taking another All-Star spot and captaining the overachieving Boston Celtics to the second best record in the eastern conference, an achievement unheard of since the days of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. The acquisition of center Al Horford gives Boston the potential to push into title contention mode.
Although the Raptors seemed to be a team on the rise after last year’s playoff run, Toronto cannot build upon the success of previous years. DeMar Derozan and Kyle Lowry’s combined efforts will still manage to grant the Raptors the third overall seed. Even with European center Jonas Valanciunas, the loss of strong post presence Bismack Biyombo will overwhelm Toronto.
Dwight Howard should prove to be an adequate replacement for center Al Horford, as one all-star center replaces the other. Howard will have a renaissance of sorts in Atlanta. In addition, underrated star Paul Millsap will finally jump into the national spotlight as he develops into a top-5 forward in the NBA. Led by bigs Howard and Millsap, the Hawks will win home-court advantage in the first round.
Paul George will finally develop into a consensus top 5 player in the NBA, but his inadequate supporting cast makes him yearn for the old Pacer glory days in 2013 with Roy Hibbert and David West. Monta Ellis will prove to be a poor replacement for George Hill at the point, as the fire-and-brimstone guard fails to understand coach Frank Vogel’s complex system.
With the additions of former Chicago All-Stars Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah over free agency, the Knicks have finally found two complements to their superstar Carmelo Anthony. Kristaps Porzingis, the 7’3” Latvian youngster, has matured after another year in the NBA, becoming the next heralded European big man. The Knicks show little weakness, and appear to cruise into a 6 seed for the playoffs.
Having signed two intimidating post defenders in Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo this summer, the Magic return to their defensive dominance akin to the glory days of Dwight Howard. Dunk contest legend Aaron Gordon will turn into a bona fide power forward in a league going small. The frontcourt of Gordon, Ibaka, and Biyombo will surprise the East by clinching a playoff berth.
Perhaps the longest team in the NBA, including behemoths Giannis Antetokounmpo, Thon Maker, Kris Middleton and Greg Monroe tower over any and all competition. Manning the backcourt is new signee Matthew Dellavedova and former Duke prodigy Jabari Parker. The Bucks, in the middle of a youth and length revolution, will manage to creep into the playoffs unassumingly.
The Detroit Pistons fall back out of the playoffs after spending 21 million on big friendly giant Boban Marjanovic (he actually looks like him i swear to god). Andre Drummond’s missed free throws force the Pistons to lose all their close games. Reggie Jackson, their star point guard acquisition from Oklahoma City, has a stinted development.
With the loss of hometown star Derrick Rose and defensive stalwart Joakim Noah, the Chicago Bulls will stumble out playoff contention. Disgruntled star Jimmy Butler will show hints of leaving the Windy City as Chicago will place a supporting cast around him. Signing two ball-dominant, weak shooting former All-Stars Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade actually harms the Bulls.
Washington edges one year closer to the departure of John Wall in free agency as his teammates will fail to impress yet again. Bradley Beal, just like MIke Conley in the West, will not live up to his massive contract as injuries will end his season early for a third straight year. As in past years,Wall and Marcin Gortat will shoulder the bulk of Washington’s offense in another lottery season.
Hyped as the next up-and-coming team with draft pick Ben Simmons, the injury to their star drops the Sixers to the bottom of the conference. Fellow big man Joel Embiid flashes future talent in brief stretches during a recovery season to help him prepare his body for the rigors of the NBA. The Sixers, with all their wealth of talent at center, will lose over 50 games from weak guard play.
Officially removed from the Big Three era of LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade, the Heat have become a one-man-team led by center Hassan Whiteside. Justise Winslow will regress in his second season, and Goran Dragic appears to be stepping yet farther from his prime with Phoenix. Tyler Johnson just can’t match last season’s success as the Heat cool down in the 2016 season.
Linsanity has triumphantly returned to New York, drawing the entire Asian basketball fan base with him to Brooklyn. Even with the increased revenue, the Nets straggle towards a bottom-three finish. The future for Brooklyn is still bleak, however, as their eventual top-3 draft pick again goes to Boston. Jeremy Lin will turn out to be the only reason to watch the Nets this year.