1. LA Clippers
The Clippers will come out on top in the battle for the Western Conference. The main reason for this will be their drive to prove doubters wrong. The pressure has been on Chris Paul to step up and advance in the playoffs and the heat will be at it’s highest this year. There are no more excuses for the Clippers as they bring back Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan down low as well as sharpshooter JJ Redick and defensive stud Matt Barnes to round out the starting 5. Off the bench look for Jamal Crawford to continue to do what he does best, score and Spencer Hawes was a very good pick up for this team as he will be able to space the floor and give their bigs time to rest on the bench.
With Chris Paul and Blake Griffin leading the way this team will be very good and this will be the year that the Clippers break through and make it one step further. However, I have them falling to the OKC Thunder in the Conference Finals. With Steve Balmer now as the new owner I look for this team to stay competitive for years to come.
Chris Paul: 18ppg, 4rpg, 11apg, 2stl
JJ Redick: 13ppg, 3rpg, 2apg
Matt Barnes: 9ppg, 5rpg
Blake Griffin: 24ppg, 10rpg
Deandre Jordan: 11ppg, 13rpg, 2bpg
2. Golden State Warriors
The Splash Bro’s are back and expect to see more “splashing” than ever before. Stephen Curry is one of the top point guards in the league and Klay Thompson is knocking on James Harden’s door for title of best shooting guard in the league. I’m looking forward to seeing what Steve Kerr will do differently with these guys than what Mark Jackson did but I feel like Steve Kerr is a better fit. The one area where Curry can improve is in his turnovers per game which was about 4/game last year. If he can clean up that area and Thompson can continue to improve on both sides of the ball this duo will be close to unstoppable. Harrison Barnes will most likely get the start at SF for this team which is a very smart move by Kerr. This allows Barnes to play alongside the other starters and get his open shots as opposed to being the focal point off the bench. Sliding Andre Iguodala to the 6th man spot will allow him to be more of a play maker for their second unit. David Lee is an above average PF and Andrew Bogut is a very good center who, if healthy, can challenge for defensive player of the year.
Their second unit will be a strength this year as they will not only have Iguodala making plays, they also have Shaun Livingston running the point and if he can play like he did last year they will be set at the PG position. They also have former sixth man of the year Leandro Barbosa who is always a threat to score quick buckets as well as Draymond Green and Marreese Speights to back up their big men.
This team is deeper and better than last years team and as long as Curry and Bogut can stay healthy come playoff time, are always a threat to make noise in the postseason.
Stephen Curry: 23ppg, 4rpg, 8apg
Klay Thompson: 20ppg, 4rpg, 3apg
Harrison Barnes: 11ppg, 5rpg, 2apg
David Lee: 16ppg, 9rpg
Andrew Bogut: 9ppg, 10rpg, 2bpg
3. San Antonio Spurs
The defending NBA Champs won’t repeat. They won’t even make it out of the first round. You heard it here first. They will still be a 50 win team and still get the 3rd seed in the playoffs but Duncan is slowing down and so is Manu Ginobli. Yes, people have been saying that for years but father time will catch up to them this season and other than Tony Parker, they don’t really have anyone else to step up for them. And yes, I haven’t forgotten about Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. Kawhi is a very good player and for half of the series against the Heat, he was the best player on the floor. He can’t do that for a whole season though, he’s just not programmed to the “the guy”. Despite these things the Spurs will always be tough to beat, depth has always been a strength and Gregg Popovich is a genius at squeezing the most out of all his players. The biggest reason this Spurs team won’t win 60 games again isn’t that they are aging however, I don’t think they will get it because it doesn’t mean as much to them as it does the Clippers or Warriors. The Spurs will coast at times and this will cause them to drop a few spots in the standings.
The player to watch on this team is rookie Kyle Anderson. This system fits him perfectly and having Boris Diaw there to help this young kid mold his game will only be beneficial.
Tony Parker: 17ppg, 6apg
Danny Green: 11ppg, 3rpg
Kawhi Leonard: 14ppg, 6rpg
Tim Duncan: 13ppg, 8rpg
Tiago Splitter: 8ppg, 7rpg
4. Portland Trailblazers
Portland will be a very good team again this year. They addressed their biggest weakness last season by bringing in Steve Blake and Chris Kaman to come in off the bench. I’m also expecting CJ McCollum to really stand out this year and provide their second unit with some much needed scoring from the back court. He dealt with injuries last year that kept him out to start the year and had a hard time adjusting on the fly. Now that he has a training camp and preseason under his belt I think he can start to live up to some of his potential. LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard remain the staples of this franchise and this team will only go as far as they can take it. LA will continue to be a 20 and 10 guy but Lillard will take another step forward in his development this year. Lillard has had a chip on his shoulder ever since his high school days that drove him and his latest will be being cut from the USA World Cup team. He wants to be seen as a top point guard in the league and will come out swinging this year.
Damian Lillard: 22ppg, 4rpg, 7apg
Wesley Matthews: 15ppg, 4rpg, 2apg
Nicolas Batum: 16ppg, 7rpg, 4apg
LaMarcus Aldridge: 23ppg, 10rpg, 1.5bpg
Robin Lopez: 9ppg, 8rpg
5. Dallas Mavericks
The Mavs are improved across the board, for every player they lost in the off season, they replaced him with an upgrade. The Chandler’s boost the Mavs starting lineup in a big way. I am a big Parson’s fan, I think he is the ultimate 3rd option and is a big reason why I have Houston falling out of the playoffs. He is an all around player that has a high IQ. Tyson Chandler is a clear upgrade over Sam Dalembert and can hopefully bring some of that championship swag back to Dallas. In the back court they have a trio of point guards who can all get the job done and Monta Ellis who grew up a lot last year on a winning team.
This is a veteran team with a lot of experience that I feel can make noise in the Western Conference. They have the potential to get a higher seed as well as go far in the playoffs. They just have to make sure that they team can stay fresh and healthy for the stretch run.
Jameer Nelson: 12ppg, 3rpg, 5apg
Monta Ellis: 19ppg, 3rpg, 5apg
Chandler Parsons: 17ppg, 6rpg, 4apg
Dirk Nowitzki: 20ppg, 7rpg
Tyson Chandler: 8ppg, 9rpg
6. Oklahoma City Thunder
There would be no way they would be this far down the standings if Kevin Durant was healthy to start the year. Unfortunately that isn’t the case and KD will most likely be out until January as the OKC Thunder have said they won’t be rushing him back. If the Thunder can tread water and stay around .500 or a few games above there they should be in good shape to finish out the year as I believe they will be better than ever once KD returns to the lineup. Russell Westbrook is arguably the best PG in the league and Serge Ibaka is always a threat to be the top defender in the NBA. Plug in an improving young big in Steven Adams as well as Jeremy Lamb and Anthony Morrow and they have a great team moving forward.
Steven Adams is a player who can be one of the most improved players in the league and he will be the starter from game one. He is a big tough kid who isn’t afraid to get dirty and is a very skilled player in the post.
Because Durant is out until 2015, Durant will be hitting his stride come April when other teams are starting to wear out and this team will grow in his absence giving them confidence that they can handle themselves without the best scorer in the NBA. They are my pick to take home the title this year,
Russell Westbrook: 25ppg, 5rpg, 8.5apg
Jeremy Lamb: 10ppg, 3rpg, 2apg
Kevin Durant: 28.5ppg, 7rpg, 5apg
Serge Ibaka: 16ppg, 9rpg, 3bpg
Steven Adams: 12ppg, 8rpg
7. Memphis Grizzlies
This is a very good team that has been together for a long time. Conley, Allen, Randolph and Gasol have lead this team to many wins over the year but they have never been quite good enough to get over the hump. Not much has changed except for the addition of Vince Carter who will be a very good player to bring in off the bench. Watch out for Jon Leuer who I believe can take a step forward in his development and surprise some people. He is a very good outside shooter and is very under rated.
They will be a 50 win team again and may take someone to 6 or 7 games in the playoffs but I don’t see them advancing and you may see some big moves from this team next summer to try and get better after a few seasons of barely making it into the playoffs.
Mike Conley: 16ppg, 4rpg, 7apg
Tony Allen: 10ppg, 4rpg, 2apg
Tayshaun Prince: 7ppg,: 3rpg
Zach Randolph: 17ppg, 10rpg
Marc Gasol: 15ppg, 9.5rpg, 3apg
8. Phoenix Suns
Points guards, point guards, point guards. You can never have too many point guards, at least according to the Phoenix Suns. This team needs Eric Bledsoe to stay healthy this year and have Isiah Thomas buy in to being the leader of the second unit. They have a few young bigs that are very good in the Morris twins and Miles Plumlee and if Alex Len can show some of the potential that was the reason for him being picked 5th overall they will be set at the 4 and 5 spots. Gerald Green was a nice surprise for them posting some really big scoring numbers and PJ Tucker is a very good defensive wing player. This is a deep team lead by Goran Dragic that will make the playoffs. Keep this core together and you have a team that will continue moving up in the tough Western Conference.
Goran Dragic: 19ppg, 4rpg, 7apg
Eric Bledsoe: 18ppg, 5rpg, 6apg
PJ Tucker: 10ppg, 6rpg
Markieff Morris: 14ppg, 7rpg
Miles Plumlee: 11ppg, 9rpg
9. Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets are my pick to have the biggest drop off from the year before. They lost three players who played big roles for them last year in Asik, Lin and Parsons. They are asking Isiah Cannon and Donatas Motiejunas to step up and play big minutes for a team that wants to make the playoffs. James Harden will get his 25 points and Dwight Howard will have a big year for the Rockets and return to a 20 and 14 type player but that won’t make up for their losses from this off season. They play in the toughest division in the NBA and that will only make the road tougher for them.
Patrick Beverly: 11ppg, 3rpg, 4apg
James Harden: 25.5ppg, 5rpg, 6.5apg
Trevor Ariza: 12ppg, 4rpg
Terrance Jones: 12ppg, 7rpg
Dwight Howard: 20.5ppg, 14ppg, 2bpg
10. New Orleans Pelicans
If this team can stay healthy for a year this can be a big year for them and they have a great shot at a playoff spot. That is asking a lot for a team that has a history of battling injuries though. They will continue to grow and develop as a team and they have a very nice core group right now with big time talent at each position and being able to bring Ryan Anderson off the bench will be huge for them. Asik was the biggest off season pick up for this team and allows them to move Anthony Davis to the PF position which will give him a bit more space to work with as well as gives him another defensive big to take the pressure off on the other end. Hopefully Eric Gordon can be that big time scorer again and Jrue Holiday can lead them from the point guard position. I will be following this team as the year goes on as they have the talent to be a playoff team but their health has let them down in recent years so hopefully they can turn that around.
Jrue Holiday: 16ppg, 5rpg, 8apg
Eric Gordon: 18ppg, 3rpg, 2apg
Tyreke Evans: 15ppg, 5rpg, 4apg
Anthony Davis: 21ppg, 11rpg, 2bpg
Omer Asik: 9ppg, 10rpg
11. Denver Nuggets
This is a team on the upswing, they have a very good back court in Ty Lawson and Aaron Afflalo were fringe all-stars last year and on the wing they are bringing back Danilo Gallinari from injury that caused him to miss all of last year. It will take him a while to get accustomed to the offense and the flow of the game but once he gets going he is there best offensive player. Up front they have Kenneth Faried who is coming off a great summer with the USA team as well as a player that I think will finally break through in Timofey Mozgov. Mozgov is the ideal candidate to play beside Faried with his rugged style and low post skills. JJ Hickson, Wilson Chandler and Randy Foye are above average bench players and when Javale McGee comes back he will bring length and defense down low for this team. Also in the back court is Nate Robinson and rookie Gary Harris both of whom can fill the basket. This is a deep team but they just don’t have enough big time talent to take the next step in an incredibly talented Western Conference.
Ty Lawson: 18ppg, 3rpg, 7apg
Aaron Afflalo: 16ppg, 4rpg, 3apg
Danilo Gallinari: 18ppg, 5rpg, 3apg
Kenneth Faried: 13ppg, 11rpg
Timofey Mozgov: 9ppg, 9.5rpg
12. Minnesota Timberwolves
In the words of Andrew Wiggins, they “got a lot of freaks on this team” meaning one thing is for sure, they will be entertaining. The Bounce Bros will be taking lob passes from Rubio and Thad Young and Anthony Bennett will be partaking in the act as well. This is actually a very deep team with good players all down their bench. Where they fall short is in inexperience and star power. Wiggins will be a very good player this year as a rookie but is still a year or two away from being a true star in this league. Watch out for last years number 1 pick Anthony Bennett to have a very good year. He is healthy and in a very good position to succeed in Minnesota. The other player on this roster who can improve big time on last year is Gorgui Dieng and he may be the starter at the center position at the end of this year.
Ricky Rubio: 8.5ppg, 4rpg, 10apg, 2spg
Andrew Wiggins: 18ppg, 4.5rpg, 2apg
Corey Brewer: 13.5ppg, 4rpg
Thaddeus Young: 16ppg, 6.5rpg
Nikola Pekovic: 15ppg, 10rpg
13. Sacramento Kings
Demarcus Cousins is one of the best big men in the league and Rudy Gay is a very good wing player. The loss of Isiah Thomas won’t be as big as many think. Thomas was a black hole at times with the ball and the addition of Collison will mean more ball movement. Of course with Rudy Gay on the team the ball only moves until it hits his hands. With Demarcus Cousins still not matured and playing himself out of games and Rudy Gay shooting the team out of games at the same time, this will be another long season for the Kings. Where the future is bright however is at the SG position where they have two young talented players in Ben McLemore and Nik Stauskas. Both of these guys can knock down the open shot and play team ball.
Darren Collison: 12ppg, 3.5rpg, 6apg
Ben McLemore: 13ppg, 4rpg, 3apg
Rudy Gay: 19ppg, 7rpg, 3apg
Jason Thompson: 10ppg, 7rpg
Demarcus Cousins: 23ppg, 12rpg
14. LA Lakers
Despite what Kobe and the Lakers are saying, this is not a playoff team let alone a championship team. The addition of Carlos Boozer was a head scratcher this offseason as I think it will only get in the way of Julius Randle developing. They also brought in Ed Davis on a user friendly contract that I do agree with. Jeremy Lin is a good point guard and should do well working beside Kobe Bryant. Other than those players, they are very thin in the rest of the roster as their bench leaves much to be desired. This will be a long year in Laker land and a frustrating year for Kobe Bryant. No one likes to see an all time legend waste away on an awful year to finish out his career. Look for Kobe to shoot a ridiculous amount of shots, score a lot of points and the team lose a lot of games.
Jeremy Lin: 14ppg, 4rpg, 5apg
Kobe Bryant: 26ppg, 6rpg, 5apg
Wesley Johnson: 9ppg, 4rpg
Carlos Boozer: 12ppg, 7rpg
Jordan Hill: 14ppg, 8rpg
15. Utah Jazz
Another young team with potential talent at all positions, they just haven’t fulfilled that potential yet. Trey Burke and Alec Burks can be a very good back court and Gordan Hayward is a talented, all around wing player. Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter are two big post players than have shown flashes at times, just haven’t been able to put it all together. They also have another young big to keep an eye on in Rudy Gobert who is insanely long and has put up big numbers in the preseason. Rodney Hood was a steal where they drafted him and could be a very capable wing player this year for them. Dante Exum is a major question mark and could be a big time talent or an absolute bust. He is very raw and hasn’t performed well so far against top talent both in the World Cup and the preseason so far.
Trey Burke: 16ppg, 4rpg, 6apg
Alec Burks: 14.5ppg, 4rpg, 2apg
Gordon Hayward: 17ppg, 6rpg, 5apg
Derrick Favors: 14ppg, 10rpg, 1.5bpg
Enes Kanter: 12ppg, 9rpg, 1.5bpg