Previewing the NBA Season from Top to Bottom

The NBA season is upon us and it is promising to be one of the most exciting in league history.

At least 12 teams think they are in position to win this year and are aiming at making a deep playoff run.

Some of the teams that aren’t looking to win will feature exciting rookies or new head coaches that should pique the interest of basketball fans throughout the season.

I am an avid NBA follower and have played in a highly competitive fantasy basketball league for a decade (cool, I know) so I’ve spent some time handicapping this season and how the whole thing will play out.

The Denver Nuggets

The Denver Nuggets

Here’s what I expect to happen in the Western Conference:

1 - Denver Nuggets – This team was the #2 team in the West last year and brought their entire core back and added a (hopefully) healthy Michael Porter Jr. They’ll work harder than they should to cinch up home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

2 - Utah Jazz – This team was solid last year but really went nuts making improvements. Mike Conley replaces Ricky Rubio at point guard with Emmanuel Mudiay as a solid back-up. Bojan Bogdanovic helps tremendously with wing depth and Quin Snyder is one of the best coaches in the game.

3 - LA Clippers – Probably the best team from top-to-bottom but will “load management” their way to the third seed in the West and be healthy for what should be a run toward a title.

4 - LA Lakers – Ditto here for LBJ and AD. Pretty deep, but not nearly as impressive on the bench as the Clippers. LeBron has been half-hearted during the regular season for the last few years and that should continue.

LeBron James

LeBron James

5 - Portland Trail Blazers – Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum led this squad to the Western Conference Finals last year. They picked up Hassan Whiteside up front and Kent Bazemore to help in the backcourt, among others. This team will be at least as good as they were last year, but the West is a bit better than it was a year ago.

6 - Houston Rockets – The Russell Westbrook-James Harden dynamic will take some time, and I’m not totally convinced it will work. These two have dominated the ball for their respective franchises the last few years and it’ll be very interesting to see who gives up more of their high usage rate to make this functional for Mike D’Antoni.

7 - Golden State Warriors – If Klay Thompson can get back shortly after the All-Star Break, this team shouldn’t have to sweat making the playoffs. The pedigree is there and they’ve made five straight finals. Don’t expect that to happen this year because of their weak defense and lack of depth, but they won’t be an easy out.

8 - Sacramento Kings – It’s been 13 seasons since the Sacramento Kings made the playoffs, when they lost in the 2006 First Round. This #8 seed will be up for grabs, but this team wasn’t horrible last year, finishing 9th in the West. They just locked up Buddy Hield, De’Aaron Fox looks to be the real deal, and if Marvin Bagley III and Bogdan Bogdanovic continue to improve, this team will be another fun one to watch.

De'Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield of the Sacramento Kings

De'Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield of the Sacramento Kings

9 - Dallas Mavericks – One of the least talked about “Dynamic Duos” in the NBA is Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, and that’s probably because they haven’t played together in a real game yet. This team probably doesn’t have enough to truly track down a playoff spot, but they should be a fun team to follow, assuming they stay healthy.

10 - New Orleans Pelicans – If Zion would have been healthy from the get-go, I would put them in the #8 spot and making the playoffs. I love how much they got back from the Lakers in the Anthony Davis trade, and when Zion and fellow rookies Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker get going, look out. Guys like JJ Redick and Derrick Favors should help this team with their depth, but it’s hard to assume they’ll get it all together with a seemingly injury-prone Zion to get to the playoffs.

11 - San Antonio Spurs – I absolutely feel like this will be wrong, but the Spurs were a fairly weak #7 seed last year and seem to have gotten passed by too many teams to expect them to be in the playoffs again. LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay, and DeMar DeRozan is a great “Big Three” if it’s 2013, but they’ll need help to really make a run this year.

12 - Memphis Grizzlies – Ja Morant will be the cornerstone they build on but they have more than just Ja to build around. Definitely a couple years away from playoff contention but these Grizzlies are worth a watch.

13 - Phoenix Suns – The second longest playoff drought in the league belongs to the once-proud Suns, who continue to try to retool their roster to be competitive. Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton are a nice, young 1-2 punch and they’ve added Ricky Rubio and Dario Saric to fill out their starting unit. They don’t interest me too much but they are definitely improving, even if it is just a little.

14 - Oklahoma City Thunder – Chris Paul hasn’t been traded yet, and might not be until the trade deadline. You’d think LeBron will try to get his banana boat buddy on the Lakers if he has his way, but we’ll have to see how things shake out. Other than that, it’s clear the Thunder are willing to tank and capitalize on the bazillion picks they got in the offseason as they shipped away most of their important veterans.

15 - Minnesota Timberwolves – This team was pretty much a disaster last year and I can’t expect much else this year. Young Ryan Saunders will have his work cut out for him despite having guys like Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. The only thing interesting here is to see if they can move any of their players to build for the future.

Kawhi Leonard and Paul Goerge

Kawhi Leonard and Paul Goerge

If we’re using these seed to play out each series until we have a Western Conference Champion, here’s what I think that would look like:

  • Nuggets over Kings in 5
  • Jazz over Warriors in 7
  • Clippers over Rockets in 6
  • Lakers over Blazers in 5

  • Nuggets over Lakers in 7
  • Clippers over Jazz in 6

  • Clippers over Nuggets in 6

Giannis Antentokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks

Giannis Antentokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks

The Eastern Conference isn’t quite as murky but it still gives us plenty to digest among the various tiers of talent level:

1 - Milwaukee Bucks – The reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo is a likely favorite to win the trophy again and his team has been reinforced up front. There are some questions as to how much Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton, and the rest of the supporting cast can raise their game, but this team should be in the mix to make another run at the top team in the league record-wise.

2 - Philadelphia 76ers – After a couple of nice playoff seasons after what seemed to be the longest tank job in American sports history, the Sixers seem ready to take the next step. No LeBron in the East, no loaded super-Celtics, defending champion Raptors aren’t nearly as strong without Kawhi… this is their time.

3 - Indiana Pacers – I’m a little higher on this group than most. Victor Oladipo has been excellent since joining the Pacers and as he gets fully healthy, he should be one of the East’s best players. Pairing him with former Buck Malcolm Brogdon in the backcourt and shoring up the wings with TJ Warren and Jeremy Lamb, on top of the young and talented frontcourt of Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, there’s a lot to like about this team heading into the season.

4 - Boston Celtics – One of the reasons I like Indy at #3 is that I think Boston will struggle to get their team figured out. We’re still waiting on Gordon Hayward to fully recover from that terrible leg break from a couple of years ago and the team has locked up Jaylen Brown for big money for the long term. I don’t know where that leaves Jayson Tatum in the future but a lot will ride on Kemba Walker somehow showing he’s at least as good as Kyrie Irving, and that’s just to hold down a mid-playoff seed.

Jarrett Allen of the Brooklyn Nets

Jarrett Allen of the Brooklyn Nets

5 - Brooklyn Nets – Speaking of Kyrie, it’ll be his show for a while until Kevin Durant can recover from his torn Achilles tendon. I wouldn’t expect KD to be back at all this year and that will strain the Nets to do much better than they did last year. I think Irving is a slight improvement over D’Angelo Russell and DeAndre Jordan should help up front but I think we’re still relying too heavily on Joe Harris, Caris LeVert, and Spencer Dinwiddie if we’re expecting this team to be much better than a 5 seed.

6 - Miami Heat – The addition of Jimmy Butler makes this team marginally better, but the real noticeable change is rookie Tyler Herro on the wing. He should be buckets from the start and with a fairly deep backcourt and a player like Bam Adebayo anchoring the defense, it wouldn’t surprise me if Miami pushes Brooklyn or Boston for home-court in the first round.

7 - Toronto Raptors – Losing Kawhi means losing everything in terms of title contention, but Masai Ujiri went for it and got this team over the hump. Kudos for that. Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka should still make this team plenty competitive but it’s hard to imagine this team coming anywhere close to the success they’ve enjoyed the last several seasons.

8 - Orlando Magic – This team was the #7 seed last year and should be right in that same mix this year. Nikola Vucevic is one of the most underrated big men in the game, and Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, and Mo Bamba should be a good mixture of talent to supplement the front line. The real question mark is former #1 overall pick Markelle Fultz. If he turns out to be the player many thought he’d be when he was drafted, there should be a higher ceiling for this team.

Aaron Gordon of the Orlando Magic and Blake Griffin of the Detroit Pistons

Aaron Gordon of the Orlando Magic and Blake Griffin of the Detroit Pistons

9 - Detroit Pistons – Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond certainly are a dynamic duo in the frontcourt but this team needed to do more than sign Derrick Rose to make me a believer.

10 - Atlanta Hawks – Now here’s an exciting young team. Trae Young and John Collins run it back with both of them looking like long-term All-Stars for the future. I love Cam Reddish as their newest rookie. He can do so many things well and he’ll get to work out the kinks on the floor. There are some fun pieces on this roster, but one guy I hope they trade is Vince Carter. How poetic would it be to see him link up with the Raptors and make one last playoff push to wrap up his career?

11 - Chicago Bulls – There’s a little bit of hype surrounding this team with rookie Coby White looking solid in the preseason. If Zach LaVine can score it and Lauri Markkanen continues to grow into a versatile stretch-four, there’s a reason for Bulls fans to be optimistic. I just wouldn’t expect a playoff push quite yet.

12 - Washington Wizards – Now we’re starting to get into the hot garbage. John Wall is out for a while yet and Bradley Beal is THE man now. That’s fine, but with a supporting cast featuring Thomas Bryant and Ish Smith in prominent roles, don’t expect a whole lot of wins.

13 - Charlotte Hornets – I love me some MJ but he has been a total failure as a front-office guy. I guess he’s rolling with Terry Rozier as his lead guard. Oof…A quick peek at this roster does not have me very excited to see this team in action this year. That is, of course, if you aren’t pumped to see Dwayne Bacon or PJ Washington playing 30 minutes a game.

14 - Cleveland Cavaliers – Still recovering after LeBron’s second departure, Kevin Love will be a popular name in trading circles throughout the season. They do have a fun young backcourt with Colin Sexton and rookie Darius Garland. I’m interested to see how new head coach John Beilein handles the pro game after a successful tenure at the University of Michigan. That will be a fun storyline to watch with this team.

15 - New York Knicks – Ugh. They wanted Zion, but got RJ Barrett. Not awful, but their big free agent signing was Julius Randle. That hurts worse. Missed on everybody. Painful. But just like Dan Snyder for the Redskins, it’s hard to imagine this team doing anything in the right direction as long as James Dolan is the owner.

Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers

Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers

If we’re playing out the playoffs in the East:

  • Bucks over Magic in 4
  • Sixers over Raptors in 5
  • Pacers over Heat in 7
  • Nets over Celtics in 7

  • Bucks over Nets in 6
  • Sixers over Pacers in 6

  • Bucks over Sixers in 7

LA Clippers

LA Clippers

Finally, in the NBA Finals, I think the LA Clippers get their first title in franchise history by holding off the Bucks in seven games. Kawhi Leonard will win the NBA Finals MVP for the third time with his third different team, which is absurd to think about. Speaking of awards, here’s the rest of them:

All-NBA First Team

  • Stephen Curry – Golden State Warriors
  • Kyrie Irving – Brooklyn Nets
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo – Milwaukee Bucks
  • Anthony Davis – Los Angeles Lakers
  • Nikola Jokic – Denver Nuggets

All-NBA Second Team

  • James Harden – Houston Rockets
  • Donovan Mitchell – Utah Jazz
  • LeBron James – Los Angeles Lakers
  • Paul George – Los Angeles Clippers
  • Nikola Vucevic – Orlando Magic

All-NBA Third Team

  • Damian Lillard – Portland Trail Blazers
  • Victor Oladipo – Indiana Pacers
  • Kawhi Leonard – Los Angeles Clippers
  • Blake Griffin – Detroit Pistons
  • Rudy Gobert – Utah Jazz

Victor Oladipo

Victor Oladipo

NBA All-Defensive First Team

  • Jrue Holiday – New Orleans Pelicans
  • Patrick Beverley – Los Angeles Clippers
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo – Milwaukee Bucks
  • Kawhi Leonard – Los Angeles Clippers
  • Rudy Gobert – Utah Jazz

NBA All-Defensive Second Team

  • Eric Bledsoe – Milwaukee Bucks
  • Jimmy Butler – Miami Heat
  • Paul George – Los Angeles Clippers
  • Robert Covington – Minnesota Timberwolves
  • Anthony Davis – Los Angeles Lakers

Jimmy Butler of the Miami Heat

Jimmy Butler of the Miami Heat

NBA All-Rookie First Team

  • Ja Morant – Memphis Grizzlies
  • RJ Barrett – New York Knicks
  • Tyler Herro – Miami Heat
  • Zion Williamson – New Orleans Pelicans
  • Rui Hachimura – Washington Wizards

NBA All-Rookie Second Team

  • Coby White – Chicago Bulls
  • Darius Garland – Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Cam Reddish – Atlanta Hawks
  • PJ Washington – Charlotte Hornets
  • Jaxson Hayes – New Orleans Pelicans

Cam Reddish of the Atlanta Hawks

Cam Reddish of the Atlanta Hawks

  • Most Valuable Player – Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
  • Defensive Player of the Year – Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
  • Sixth Man of the Year – Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers
  • Most Improved Player – Lonzo Ball, New Orleans Pelicans
  • Rookie of the Year – Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies
  • Coach of the Year – Michael Malone, Denver Nuggets
  • Executive of the Year – Lawrence Frank, Los Angeles Clippers

I know that’s a lot, but I’m documenting it now for reference. Don’t say you heard it anywhere else.

Hear our brief preview in the opening segment of last Saturday's show here:

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Win a Family Pack of Iowa Wild Tickets!

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