1. Cleveland Cavaliers I have Cleveland finishing with record of 60-22 which not only puts them as the number one seed in the East, but has them with the best record in the NBA. They have the most talent in their starting 5 than any other team with the Big 3 leading the way followed by Dion Waiters and either Tristan Thompson or Anderson Varajao at center. They have a nice mix of veteran leadership and athletic youth which I believe gives them an edge over most teams. Adding Shawn Marion was a great pickup for this team and just adds to their versatility. The only problem with this roster is their depth which is bound to happen when you have three superstars eating up most of your cap space. The roster is filled out with specialty players such as James Jones and Mike Miller providing shooting and Brendan Haywood and, a rookie who I think can have a big impact should injuries happen, Alex Kirk being low post bruisers.
This lack of depth will catch up to them in the playoffs. I have them making it to the conference finals before bowing out to the Chicago Bulls. Lack of depth and lack of playoff experience has proven to be killers in the past, not to mention having a rookie coach in David Blatt adjusting to the NBA, and I think this is where they will ultimately fall short. I look for Love, Irving and Lebron to continue to grow together and as the front office begins to add better complimentary pieces around those three, this team will be a force for years.
Kyrie Irving: 18ppg, 3rpg, 6apg
Dion Waiters: 12ppg, 2rpg, 2apg
Lebron James: 25.5ppg, 7pg, 7apg
Kevin Love: 19ppg, 12rpg, 3apg
Tristan Thompson: 9ppg, 8rpg
Derrick Rose is back! And with that statement comes the return of the Chicago Bulls to the top of the East. Many doubters saw how he performed in the World Cup this summer and questions rose about if he was truly back or if he was just going to be a shell of his former self. Rose put those doubts to rest this preseason with some explosive games going for 30 points on 12/18 shooting against the Cavs (4/5 from 3 point land) as well as 27 points against the Wolves all while showing off his unparallelled quickness and speed. Over the summer the Bulls also brought in Pau Gasol which I think was the final piece in the championship puzzle. Gasol will provide leadership and championship pedigree as well as his low post offense for a team that was clearly in search of it. Teaming Gasol up with Joakim Noah provides Chicago a deadly high/low post presence to go along with the slashing abilities of Rose and Butler.
The SF position is still up in the air as to who will be taking those minutes, in my opinion they should plug Doug McDermott in with the starting 5 to give them a legit 3 point presence on the perimeter as well as to let him ease his way into the offense instead of being a focal point off the bench. Mike Dunleavy however, looks like the starter at this point and has proven to be a steady player at that position throughout his career. Look for Tony Snell to receive steady playing time as well as Taj Gibson if Thibodeau decides to go big at any point.
Nickola Mirotic, McBuckets are two quality rookies to watch for, how much playing time each will receive will be the question as Thib’s has been known to not run rookies too much. Their depth is definitely their biggest asset as they have players that have logged big minutes in the past from 1-12 on their roster (outside the rookies of course). I have them finishing with 58 wins however they are my pick to win the NBA Championship in 2015.
Derrick Rose: 23ppg, 4rpg, 7apg
Jimmy Butler: 13ppg, 4rpg
Doug McDermott: 10ppg, 2rpg, 1apg
Pau Gasol: 16ppg, 8rpg
Joakim Noah: 11ppg, 12.5rpg, 3.5apg
Despite posting a franchise record 48 wins last year, the Toronto Raptors are still being under rated across the league. The Raptors have a young core group of very talented players with Chuck Hayes being their oldest player at age 31 (and only 30+ player on the team). Now, usually that would be alarming, where is the veteran leadership coming from? Amir is now entering his 10th year as well as Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan stepping into leadership roles in the last year. DeMar is ready to take the leap into the upper echelon of NBA talent in my opinion as I look for him to become a more consistent scorer and defensive presence, I look for him to average 24ppg, 5rpg and 5apg. Kyle Lowry showed everyone what he was capable of last year and is hungry for more as well as the player who I picked to be Most Improved this year in Jonas Valanciunas. If they can get a steady 13 points from Ross as well as the energy from Amir Johnson again this year, their starting 5 will rival anyone’s in the league.
They also have a very deep bench with Vasquez and off season pick up, Lou Williams providing ball handling and offense off the bench in the back court, returning SF James Johnson being able to body up with some of the East’s big wings, and Patrick Patterson, Tyler Hansbrough, Chuck Hayes and Greg Stiemsma in the post. All of these quality players at each position will allow the team to bring along their young Brazillian players Bruno “two years from being two years away” Coboclo and Luca Nogueira slowly.
The Toronto Raptors are a team on the rise and look for them to make some noise come playoff time.
Kyle Lowry: 17ppg, 7apg
DeMar DeRozan: 24ppg, 5rpg, 5apg
Terrance Ross: 13ppg, 3rpg, 1.5apg
Amir Johnson: 9ppg, 8rpg
Jonas Valanciunas: 15ppg, 11rpg, 2bpg
The Washington Wizards are the Easts other young rising team. Lead by the dynamic back court of John Wall and Bradley Beal, the Wizards are set to be a playoff caliber team for years to come. The Wizards countered the loss of Trevor Ariza this off season by adding all time great, Paul Pierce to their team. This is a great pick up for them as Pierce will show their young core what it takes to win in the NBA. They have a very nice inside-out game going on in DC with Nene and Marcin Gortat manning the paint with Beal, Pierce and Wall roaming the perimeter. This will be a hard team to defend all season long. What hurts them right now though is the Beal injury. Look for him to be out for the first month of the season and give him another two or three weeks to get into the flow of the game again. Glen Rice Jr. was looked upon to take over for Beal but he too suffered an injury. It looks like Garrett Temple will be the guy starting at SG for the Wizards which is obviously a big drop off for them.
Off the bench they bring Andre Miller, Otto Porter and Martell Webster who can all spend time playing at the 2 spot. Up front they have some quality big men in Kevin Seraphin, Kris Humphries, Drew Gooden and Dejuan Blair. They are stacked at that position in case Nene continues to have injury problems.
I was really looking forward to seeing Beal have a breakout year, he still can but it will be difficult coming off his wrist injury. Look for John Wall to step up further and post some big numbers along the lines of 22ppg and 9apg.
John Wall: 22ppg, 4rpg, 9apg
Bradley Beal: 19ppg, 4rpg, 3apg
Paul Pierce: 13ppg, 4rpg, 4apg
Nene: 12ppg, 6rpg
Marcin Gortat: 13ppg, 10rpg
Lebron left town and his absence leaves a big hole in South Beach. This is still a talented team and they added pieces in the off season that will keep them in the playoff conversation and I even have them stealing a round against the Wizards. Chris Bosh is still a top tier PF in this league and when healthy, Wade is a top 15 player. The big question is their health though. Can Bosh’s and Wades knees carry the load for this team for 82 games. The answer is probably no, I have Bosh playing roughly 70 games and Wade at 60. They will be leaning on Deng to carry some of the scoring load as well as rely on McRoberts to make plays for them. Overall I think they have enough to win in the mid-40’s which will be good enough for a 5th seed in the playoffs. Their experience and veteran savvy will be enough to get out of the first round but they don’t have enough to be a legitimate threat anymore.
Danny Granger I think could be in line for a redemption year, I look for him to play 25 minutes a night as a replacement for Wade and backing up Deng. I think that could turn in to 12 points a game for him. The Heat also have a trio of intriguing rookies to watch out for. Shabazz Napier and James Ennis are two rookies who could receive big minutes and turn that into nice rookie seasons for the Heat. Napier will no doubt get minutes in the back court when Wade is out and Ennis is an athletic wing player who showed great potential in the preseason. The other rookie is Khem Birch who plays very good defense down low.
Norris Cole: 10ppg, 3apg
Dwyane Wade: 20ppg, 5rpg, 6apg
Luol Deng: 17ppg, 6rpg, 3apg
Josh McRoberts: 11ppg, 7rpg, 4apg
Chris Bosh: 21ppg, 9rpg, 1.5bpg
Will the triangle offense work in New York? That is the question everyone is asking about this Knicks team. Derek Fisher is fresh off his playing career and looking to succeed as a coach using the offense that provided the teams he played on so much success. Not all of the pieces are in place and there are major holes all over the roster but Phil Jackson has done a nice job with what he has been given and I look for an improvement on their disappointing last season. The Triangle is an offense that I think Carmelo can succeed in and they have a point guard in Jose Calderon that fits perfectly into that scheme. If JR Smith can hold it together and Tim Hardaway can become a more well rounded player than the Knicks are in good shape. The big glaring hole is in their front court, which is one of the worst in the league. They will be starting Sam Dalembert and a rotation of Jason Smith, Andrea Bargnani, Quincy Acy with Amare Stoudemire being the back up big. Nothing to be jealous of there. In the end I look for Andrea to get the most minutes as the starting PF but I don’t see him being a Knick for very long.
I am anticipating Iman Shumpert to take a step forward in his development and becoming a more efficient shooter as well as I look for Tim Haraway to lock down the starting SG position this year. The Knicks are not close to being done making deals but they have some very nice pieces in the back court that can carry them to the playoffs.
Jose Calderon: 12ppg, 6apg
Tim Hardaway: 14ppg, 3rpg 1apg
Carmelo Anthony: 30ppg, 9rpg, 4apg
Andrea Bargnani: 16ppg, 5rpg
Sam Dalembert: 5ppg, 6rpg
The Charlotte Bobcats surprised people last year when they made a run into the playoffs. Only the second time they’ve done that since moving back to Charlotte. Thank goodness the Bobcats are no more though and hopefully the Hornets name change ushers in a new era of basketball in North Carolina. The Hornets have a nice young team with lots of question marks anchored by one of the best centers in the game in Al Jefferson. A starting back court of Kemba Walker and Lance Stephenson should be able to defend very well as well as the length of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on the wing. Up front they will have Marvin Williams and Al Jefferson with Marvin acting as more of a stretch 4. This isn’t a bad starting lineup but it comes with plenty of questions. How will Kemba and Lance play off each other? Can MKG make a jump shot? How is Marvin Williams going to defend other PF’s? and lastly, how will Gerald Henderson take coming off the bench? I think Kemba and Lance will do well, I’ve never thought of Lance as a big time scorer, more of a gritty defensive minded shooting guard which is why I liked him so much in Indiana alongside Paul George. MKG has shown a much better looking jump shot, much improved from years past that rivals Charles Barkley’s golf swing for worst form in sports. And Marvin Williams is going to struggle. I can see Cody Zeller getting big minutes when they play some of the top PF’s in the game. And Gerald Henderson will be one to watch during the year. It’s always tough to be demoted on a team where you were one of the top guys.
In the end, losing McRoberts hurt them and they will struggle with opposing big men and depth isn’t their biggest asset. However they have some nice young talent coming off their bench. Look for PJ Hairston to stand out and have some big games as well as I look forward to seeing what Noah Vonleh can provide them at the PF slot from a defensive standpoint. Look for them to make the playoffs again but not make much noise once there.
Kemba Walker: 18ppg, 4rpg, 7apg
Lance Stephenson: 14ppg, 6rpg, 5apg
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist: 12ppg, 6rpg, 2apg
Marvin Williams: 11ppg, 4rpg
Al Jefferson: 21ppg, 11rpg
Brook Lopez is back, for how long remains to be seen. We can’t put too much weight on him staying healthy for the entire season because he hasn’t been able to for years. Joe Johnson is aging and not as deadly as he once was and Deron Williams is coming off nagging injuries that has robbed him of productivity the last few years. This team is still drowning in luxury tax which means they had to cut a few costs this off season like not bringing Pierce back. This team will struggle again this year. They are just too old and injury prone to build up any kind of momentum during the season. However the bright spot for this team was the departure of Jason Kidd and the addition of Lionel Hollins. If anyone can get Deron Williams back on track it will be him.
The additions of Jarret Jack and Bojan Bogdanovic were big for them as Jack will be replacing Shaun Livingston and Bogdanovic will be their new starting SF. He’s got a nice jump shot and is a capable defender however he won’t be able to replace Pierces playoff experience. They also have two chuckers on the team that can win games for them or shoot them out of them in Mirza Teletovic and Alan Anderson. They also have Andrei Kirilenko on the team but I don’t see him being much of a factor. The frightening thing about this team is their shallow roster. They can’t afford to have an injury to Kevin Garnett or Lopez as they are very thin up front. But those injuries are inevitable so that is why I have them ranked 8th and just barely above .500 at 42-40.
Deron Williams: 18ppg, 4rpg, 8apg
Joe Johnson: 14ppg, 4rpg, 3apg
Bojan Bogdanovic: 10ppg, 3rpg, 1apg
Kevin Garnett: 10ppg, 7rpg
Brook Lopez: 20ppg, 6rpg, 1.5bpg
Al Horford is back and healthy again and the hope is that he will remain healthy for the year. If he doesn’t look for them to struggle mightily again. If he can return to all-star form and Paul Millsap can continue to play at a high level they are a very talented front line. However, once you get past those two, this team looks less promising. Demarre Carroll is a quality wing player, he just isn’t star material. Same goes with Korver and Teague. Korver is a spot up, knock down three point sniper and Jeff Teague isn’t a point guard that will get your team over the hump. This is the way it goes in basketball purgatory. The Hawks have been good enough to make the playoffs each year for 7 years, the only team in the East to do that) but they haven’t been good enough to make a serious run. Which means they also weren’t bad enough to get a high draft pick. Couple that with the fact that they’ve been unable to sign top free agents for decades and you got a team of mid-talent players keeping you hovering around the 8th or 9th spot.
Jeff Teague: 15ppg, 7apg
Kyle Korver: 12ppg, 4rpg, 2apg
Demarre Carroll: 11ppg, 6rpg, 1apg
Paul Millsap: 17ppg, 8rpg
Al Horford: 19ppg, 10rpg, 1.5bpg
The Pistons will be improved. Not quite enough to make the playoffs but they will challenge for a spot. Andre Drummond is beast on the boards and Greg Monroe is a nice piece beside him. Problem is that Josh Smith doesn’t quite fit in this offense right now, Monroe is better beside Drummond but Smith isn’t quite a SF which is where he will spend the lions share of his minutes. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Jodie Meeks and rookie Spencer Dinwiddie will all share minutes at the SG with Brandon Jennings manning the point. The major problem that Stan Van Gundy needs to address is the amount of shots and types of shots that Jennings and Smith take. Last season Jennings idea of a good shot was anywhere past half-court and Smith jacked up more 3-pointers than he ever has. Jennings will need to learn to be a point guard and learn restraint of what types of shots to take and Smith will need to dial back his 3-point shooting if the Pistons want to be successful.
Brandon Jennings: 17ppg, 3rpg, 6apg
Jodie Meeks: 15ppg, 3rpg, 1apg
Josh Smith: 17ppg, 7rpg
Greg Monroe: 15ppg, 8rpg
Andre Drummond: 12ppg, 14rpg, 2bpg
What a difference one injury can make. With Paul George out of the line up for the year, the Pacers go from a team contending for a championship to a team heading to the lottery. The loss of Lance Stephenson also hurt this team a lot as they lost a defensive stud who can also make plays on the offensive end. With no real go to scorer on this team, they will struggle to close out games. Roy Hibbert will need to improve in leaps and bounds on the offensive end as they will no longer be able to survive those 0 point and 0 rebound games he is so famous for right now. Rodney Stuckey is a capable guard who can fill some of the void left by Lance Stephenson with is offensive play making ability.
Overall they are very thin across the board and the loss of Paul George will only highlight that.
George Hill: 12ppg, 3rpg, 5apg
Rodney Stuckey: 15ppg, 4rpg, 5apg
CJ Miles: 13ppg, 3rpg, 2apg
David West: 17ppg, 8rpg
Roy Hibbert: 12ppg, 8rpg, 2bpg
Potential is the word for Orlando Magic. They have a lot of young players that will be playing a lot of minutes for them. Rookie Elfrid Payton will be running the offense from day 1 and fellow rookie Aaron Gordan will see time playing both the SF and PF positions. Second year player Victor Oladipo is injured to start the season but he is their future at the SG position and will step right in as the starter when he gets back. Tobias Harris and Mo Harkless are both young guys who are flexible players and haven’t hit their potential yet. They locked up Nikola Vucevic to a 4 year deal in the offseason to anchor their paint for the near future. They are a team built for the future and as these guys mature they will get better. Right now it’s about getting playing time under their belts and I look for them to be a playoff team next year.
Elfrid Payton: 10ppg, 3rpg, 7apg
Victor Oladipo: 17ppg, 4rpg, 5apg
Mo Harkless: 11ppg, 5rpg
Tobias Harris: 16ppg, 7rpg
Nikola Vucevic: 15ppg, 11.5rpg
Boston is a team in flux. Will Rondo be traded? Will he stick around? It seems as if the team can’t truly move anywhere until that is decided. In case he leaves during this season they drafted his heir in Marcus Smart who is a bull dog of a player, as long as Rondo is on the roster however, Smart will be coming off the bench and getting his minutes guiding the second unit. Jared Sullinger is a guy I will be watching this year. He’s another below the rim big man who seems to have a knack with the rebounds in the form of a Kevin Love and Al Jefferson. Kelly Olynk is also a guy I think will get lots of minutes for this team. On the wing they have two capable players in Jeff Green and Avery Bradley. Where this team comes up short is not having that go to scoring option. Rondo is a top player but he’s not a scorer and with Jeff Green as “the guy” you will only go so far as a team.
Rajon Rondo: 12ppg, 5rpg, 10apg
Avery Bradley: 15ppg, 4rpg, 2apg
Jeff Green: 17ppg, 6rpg, 2apg
Jared Sullinger: 12ppg, 12rpg
Kelly Olynk: 10ppg, 7rpg
The future is here in Milwaukee, Jabari Parker won’t disappoint. The rest of the roster is still up in the air. Right now they have Brandon Knight as their starting PG who I’m not sure can take this team to the next level. Giannis Antetokounmpo has showed potential but is still a boom or bust player and their front court is still questionable. Can Larry Sanders keep his head on straight? Their roster is thin with play makers meaning it’ll be another rough cold winter in Wisconsin but with Parker in a Bucks uniform, the future is bright.
Brandon Knight: 16ppg, 7apg
Giannis Antetokounmpo: 9ppg, 6rpg, 3apg
Jabari Parker: 19ppg, 6rpg, 4apg
Ersan Ilyasova: 12ppg, 7rpg
Larry Sanders: 10ppg, 10rpg, 3bpg
The sixers are simply awful. What else can I say? It will be another year playing in front of 5000 fans on a good night, playing with a roster filled with players that have no business in an NBA uniform. However we all know they are rebuilding and stocking up on young talent. And they have some, Michael Carter-Williams is the reigning rookie of the year and Nerlens Noel will be in the hunt for the award this year as well as Joel Embiid will have a good shot at taking home the award next year. The possibility is out there that the sixers could field three straight rookie of the year winners. However that is pretty much the only positive thing surrounding this organization. My only fear for this team is will they be able to keep these guys in town long enough to realize their potential? Playing in front of empty crowds and losing 60 games a season will take its toll on these young players and they all are at risk for playing “me” ball instead of “team” ball.
Michael Carter-Williams: 17ppg, 5rpg, 7apg
KJ McDaniels: 10ppg, 3rpg, 2apg
Hollis Thompson: 8ppg, 4rpg
Nerlens Noel: 12ppg, 9rpg, 2stl, 2bpg
Henry Sims: 11ppg, 7rpg