Indiana Pacers: Larry Bird had a brilliant off-season, filling all of the Pacers needs. They addressed their we don’t have a point guard situation by trading for Jeff Teague. To pair with Teague they added Al Jefferson. They added experience and athleticism in the front court with Thaddeus Young. Ty Lawson was a disaster in his short stint with the Pacers and he is gone. Myles Turner should thrive in his second year. He was one of the rookie surprises last year.
The Pacers still have some weak spots. I’m not big on Rodney Stuckey. I don’t think he’s particularly athletic, can guard his position or is consistent enough with his shot. But Paul George has help now. In the East, the Pacers have a shot at a top-4 seed. But knocking off the Cavs is something altogether different.
Portland Trailblazers: The Blazers are respected because of Dame Lillard who let everyone know he wasn’t the kind of punk who would join a super team. He is so old school and it is refreshing to know that all the modern NBA players aren’t the same. There are some throwbacks. But no one gives his team any love out West. It’s the Warriors, Clippers and Spurs and then the rest of y’all in the dog pile.
My case for the Blazers. They have a dynamic backcourt in Lillard and C.J. McCollum. They are well coached and play a system, getting everything out of the players they have. Yes, they are weak at the three spot and their forwards (Al- Farouq Aminu, Ed Davis) are better rebounders than they are scorers which puts all the pressure on Lillard, but their big guys do a good job in the paint rebounding the ball and getting Lillard extra possessions. They are a great home team and with Lillard on the road they can be scary. The addition of Evan Turner adds another coachable mid-range shooter. If they get lucky with injuries, they can grab the 4 seed.
Washington Wizards: Scottie Brooks is going to take his OKC offense and defense into the district. He has a great backcourt already and John Wall is a top-5 defensive player. The Wizards got rid of Nene- good. Their problem is on court trust and defending. If Brooks can get them to defend, they should be at the level they were two years ago. Kelly Oubre should have a breakout year scoring the ball. He has top-15 talent. Their signing of Ian Mahinmi was good. He’s a solid player who can rebound and make a few shots when necessary. Marcin Gortat was disappointing last year and I think he’ll be revived under Brooks, a players coach. The same with Markieff Morris. I’m not sold on a top-4 seed but I think 5, if Wall is healthy and not being edgy on the court with Bradley Beal, is a real possibility.
Dallas Mavericks: The Mavs added Harrison Barnes which makes people want to yawn. The last time we saw Barnes he was stinking it up in the NBA Finals. The Warriors needed Barnes to do something once Draymond Green was suspended. He couldn’t. It was painful watching him brick layups. His confidence was shot. Dallas is a perfect fit. Rick Carlisle will get the most out of versatile Barnes and he’ll change his reputation that took a huge hit in June.
As for the rest: Nowitzki will still Dirk you to death. Deron Williams isn’t who he was but he is a capable point guard. His problem is staying healthy and trying to guard the speedy points he has to face in the West. Wesley Matthews should return to form, meaning his defense should be A-level. With Barnes, the Mavs are a better team than they were with Chandler Parsons. Their defense was upgraded. But they don’t have enough guard talent for a top-4 seed. A good year would be a 6 seed, or perhaps 5.
Charlotte Hornets: The Hornets made the playoffs last year and then they got rid of Al Jefferson and Jeremy Lin. They are depending on Kemba Walker to continue his ascendancy into the top point guard ranks. Kemba had a sensational 2015-16.
The Hornets throw Nic Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marvin Williams at shooters to great success. This is a 3-point shot making team and they need a little more versatility making mid-range shots to keep the defense moving. They didn’t add much in the offseason. This is the same group that’s been together for awhile. They have great team chemistry. Barring injury, they are returning to the playoffs. As long as they avoid LeBron, they will be fine.
photo via llananba