Oh it’s almost that magical time of year again when teams hit the court. They work on improving their shots, jumping higher, playing smarter. And it’s that magical time again for all of us who aren’t nearly as athletic to sit down at our computers and critique these world-class athletes. So here it goes a kid from Maine with absolutely no up’s judges the NBA’s thirty teams. Now keep in mind Internet this is just my opinion it is not gospel I’m just making judgments off of what I see on paper, we are all entitled to our own opinions so keep the comments friendly. And without further ado the NBA pre-season rankings.
30. Utah Jazz: I’m going to be honest here the bottom three teams really could be interchangeable. However the Jazz gets the last spot because they didn’t do anything that exciting to me on paper. I feel like they aren’t going to do anything to excite me during the season. I like the draft of Dante Exum, I think he needs more development but in the long run will be a good, if not great point guard. I also like the decision to resign Gordon Hayward. He didn’t light up the scoreboard but he was an all around good player last year with an average of 16.2 points and 5.2 assists. However with the pay-day the Jazz are now saying that Hayward is their guy and they have him locked in for four years, so I’d like to see him try to get 20 points or so a game. Jazz fans you’re in for a rough season, however you have a good youth movement going and I feel like in a couple of years your season could be looking a lot better.
29. Philadelphia 76ers: You guys keep doing you. Philly, as with the Jazz, your highlight of the season could very well be next year’s draft. However there are some bright spots. Nerlenes Noel played very well during the summer league averaging about 12.3 points per game and most impressively 3 blocks per-game including one 5-block game. Now granted that was Summer League and looks have been deceiving before (looking at you Kelly Olynk) but Noel would seem to be the type of center you want in today’s league. His offense is solid and his defense is not to be trifled with and he can run the floor really well. Look for big things out of him if not now then certainly not more than a year or two down the road. The other bright spot is reigning rookie of the year, Michael Carter-Williams. With Thaddeus Young gone this is truly Carter-William’s team. He played well for a struggling Philly team even though he had to battle through some injuries. I’m excited to watch him lob to Noel and watch the two of them wreak havoc on both ends of the floor. In summation, Philly Your time is coming soon Andrew Bynum will be a thing of the past, and you will have possible one of the best young teams cause let us not forget the man who will be on the bench, Joel Embiid.
28. Milwaukee Bucks: Milwaukee you may prove me wrong here, you may surprise me. You have some good core talent in Giannis Antetokounmpo, Larry Sanders (if he can stay healthy/out of trouble), and of course Jabari Parker. However it doesn’t change the fact that you still had a worse record than Philadelphia, even though they went on a record tying 27-game losing streak. However a healthy Larry Sanders will certainly make a difference if he can regain and improve upon his 2012-13 season. Jabari we’ve already seen do great things the question will be can his game translate to the pros, which I truly believe it can. I am very excited to watch him become one of the great players in the game. I’m excited to see what Antetokounmpo has in store for us this season I think he still needs another couple of years to develop but he certainly has the size and I truly believe the talent to be great.
27. Orlando Magic: Keeping with the theme of young developing teams Orlando clocks in at 27. I put Orlando this high because I feel like they have a nice combination of old and young talent. Is it going to get them very far? No probably not, but the veteran players can certainly help the younger players learn and grow into a great team. One of these star young players is Nikola Vucevic. Vucevic last year averaged a double-double over the course of the season with 14.2 points and 11 rebounds and that’s exactly what you want out of your big man down low. I also like the addition of Aaron Gordon. He is a very raw player but I feel like once he can master the game and improve his shot he will be an explosive talent. Keep in mind he is only 18 so he still has a lot of time to develop his game, but for now I expect him to be a mainstay on the daily top tens. Victor Oladipo is another person to watch. He averaged 13.8 points and 4 assists during last season, but I feel like he was the type of player who would have a great game and then the next game you wouldn’t hear about him. His thing is consistency. Once he can find that I think he’ll become a good solid guard in the league however I don’t ever see him being great. Orlando you look good and I think with a couple more good draft picks and a decent trade you could start creeping into the middle of the pack in the East.
26. Now for the painful, painful pick for me: the Boston Celtics: It’s true this may be a little high for them, but I’m making this pick with Rondo still on the team and if he does end up getting traded then I think they will defiantly drop down. However Rondo is one of the premier point guards in the league certainly in the top five when healthy and so I think with him at the point you can still win 30-35 games. He is a triple double waiting to happen and if he takes on the role of mentor and leader this team will win games. The Celtics two draft picks will also be major difference makers this year I believe. Initially I didn’t like the drafting of Marcus Smart with Julius Randle right there, but now especially with the talk of Rondo being traded I think this was a good pick. Smart is a good defender and I feel like once he works on his shot a bit he’ll be a threat at both ends. James Young to me is a great addition. He was a part of the Kentucky freshmen team that made it to the NCAA finals. During the course of his one-year there he averaged 14.3 points and 4.3 rebounds per game so he will be a nice young scoring threat off the bench for a team that has lacked that. Yet the two things he needs to improve on in order to take it to that next level is upping his assist average from 1.7. I would also like to see his field goal percentage improve a little. This year for the Celtics really depends on the Rondo trade. I’d like to see them keep him because I’m of the mind-set that it would be good to have someone to build around, however if he does get traded this team drops and it becomes Marcus Smart’s team and the Celtics keep trying to add picks to aid in their rebuilding process.
25. Los Angeles Lakers: KOOOOOBBBEEEE! I mean really that’s what it comes down to here. Kobe Bryant. Can Kobe come back and be the player he once was. I think yes, but his age will show this year more than in the previous years. He’ll still have that mamba mentality but I’m just not sure he’ll be able to do everything he once could. However even still Bryant is one of the top 5 or 7 players in the league and as long as he has the ball in his hands the Lakers will win games. That being said they won’t win a lot, and will be looking up at the playoffs from a very far away position. Bryant can’t carry the team like he used to be able to I don’t believe his body can take it and the Lakers didn’t do a very good job of getting him help. In fact they let his only help go by not resigning Pau Gasol. Julius Randle will be a nice fit on a team who has been looking for a big man however he is still developing and is seen as a cornerstone for the future rather than a plug-in and win now player. Nick Young is probably one of the more bizarre players in this league. He can wow you and he can dumb found you. However he proved he could score with 17.9 points per game so he can certainly help boost the games score playing along with Kobe. However, that being said if you want to play alongside Kobe your assists need to go up from 1.5 because Kobe will want that ball. It’s sad because I feel as though Kobe will retire without another ring. The Lakers have a good start in building for the future with Julius Randle however that’s where they need to turn their focus, there is no more winning now only winning down the road.
24. Minnesota Timberwolves: Okay Minnesota you lost Kevin Love probably one of the top three power forwards in this league and that is very sad however there are some perks. One now there is no more pressure. No one expects you to make it to the playoffs anymore, yet they’re still excited to watch your young talents come and play. Ricky Rubio this is your team now, lead it. Find confidence don’t be afraid to take shots. 9.5 points per game and shooting about 38% on field goals is inexcusable. You need to start being one of the main scorers. Keep the assists coming though. Not only are they fun to watch, but having an average of 8.6 per game is phenomenal and will help get your young players more shots. And speaking of young players how about that Wiggins guy the number overall draft pick. He is a good player but he needs work. 15.5 points per game during summer league isn’t bad but what is bad is only making 17 of your 42 shots. However with practice and game experience I’m sure this number will even out and we’ll see one of the leagues bright young stars. This next man was relatively unheard of until FIBA World Cup. Gorgui Dieng averaged a double-double during the World Cup with 16 points per game and 10.7 rebounds per game. Although this may not carry over entirely into this year’s season there’s no doubting that Dieng could very well be a threat under the basket. Minnesota you have no more pressure of winning now. I mean yes it’s miserable and unfortunate because you have to wait even longer for a championship but I foresee a good team down the road for you.
23. Indiana Pacers: I’m sorry Larry Legend I don’t mean to do this to your team but it’s got to happen. Let me start by saying I wish Paul George a very speedy recovery with his leg. Without him this is a totally different team. Plus no Lance Stephenson I mean who’s going to score the bulk of your baskets. David West to me is that player. He was the unsung hero of Indiana’s playoffs and was the heart beat of that team when everyone else lacked one. He is a hard worker and a fairly decent mid-range shooter. But to me the key this year is Roy Hibbert. This is the make or break year. If he can flourish here then Indiana should keep him around, but if he can’t then I think it’s time to look elsewhere. Hibbert just needs confidence he’s a great defender and is very imposing in the paint. I was glad to see him working out with Kareem Abdul Jabaar this offseason I hope that can help improve what turned into very stagnate offensive play. I mean really what happens to this team is up to him he is the leader now, so do whatever you need to do to boost your confidence and go out there and make a name for yourself. Overall though Indy doesn’t have much I’m afraid they have a lot of role and bench players but nothing beyond that, which is why I think they’ll drop so far this year.
22. Detroit Pistons: These guys need some glue or something, something that will hold them together and allow them to gel. Everyone on that team has their own talents and as in individual is a good player they just can’t seem to mesh together and become a well oiled machine (Piston pun get it? No? Okay enough). Andre Drummond is improving every year. He is a force in the paint with 13.5 points per game and 13.2 rebounds per game. The man has almost as many points as he does rebounds. That is astounding! He is a young talent who once he improves his shot will be easily one of the best centers in the league. The other player worth noting is Kentavious Caldwell-Pope who lit up Summer League with 24 points per game. If he can keep up that rate of scoring Detroit could easily shock a few teams. However the thing Detroit really needs to do is working on meshing the trio of Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe, and Josh Smith. If they can figure that out this team could have a bright future and start driving in the right direction. However if things stay the same then they’ll do exactly the same thing as last year and stall (okay seriously though I’m done).
21. New York Knicks: YAY! You resigned Carmelo Anthony! Now whom else do you have… Oh yeah that Phil Jackson guy well he is pretty important and he now has his puppet, excuse me coach, in Derek Fisher so there is certainly something to look forward to there. And of course you do have ‘Melo who is one of the leagues premier scorers and has matured and come along way during his career. Obviously his defense needs improvement but it’s not as bad as it once was and like I said the man can score which I don’t know if you know this but that’ll help you win basketball games. I also feel like Tim Hardaway Jr. will improve his shooting and scoring this year and become a big part of this team in fact I feel like he needs to. I also like the pick up of Jose Calderon. New York finally now has a point guard of sorts and Calderon will be able to dish the rock and score. Beyond that though New York you have a very rag-tag team. Inconsistences are abound with players like Andrea Barngnani, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert. Don’t expect to do too much this year but do expect Phil Jackson to get your team back to some semblance of a championship contender in the next couple of years. First step was resigning Carmelo and I can’t wait to see what step two will be.
20. Sacramento Kings: I’m sorry you play in the West. I feel like if you played in the East you’d be making the playoff this year. Sacramento you have a good team the problem is they aren’t great just yet. Can we talk about Demarcus Cousins though? Wow can that man play. I say man because to me he has matured from being the young whiney boy of past seasons (please don’t prove me wrong I love watching you play). 22.7 points per game and 11.7 rebounds per game I mean come on. 22.7 points per game and 11.7 rebounds per game, which was better than Dwight Howard and Joakim Noah, he averaged a high scoring double-double all year now that is hard to do. I also love the attitude with which Cousins plays he just acts like he wants to win all the time. Plus this is his team too, yes Rudy Gay is there but there is no denying that when you think of the Sacramento Kings you think of Demarcus Cousins. The thing that scares me here is the loss of Isaiah Thomas. Although Darren Collison was a nice pick up to replace him I feel like they should definitely be in the market for a premier point guard (Rondo?). The Kings are like one more star player away from making a run into the eight seed in the West (Seriously if Rondo went here I wouldn’t even be mad, imagine him and Cousins on the court together, so much attitude). Rudy Gay needs to pick up his game a bit but I have a good feeling about this team in the years to come and I definitely have a good feeling about Demarcus’s all star chances this year.
19. Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets will be a scoring machine. I expect them to win games with a fast paced and hard to the rim type style of play. Their defense I think is what will be shaky and that’s the reason they’re down here at 19. I also feel like if the game slows down to I don’t know let’s say a Spurs type pace where you have to run a half court offense I think that’s where Denver will struggle. Kenneth Faried proved he could ball now he needs to show that he can do it against the NBA’s bigs. He had a heck of a summer in the World Cup and I really hope it can translate back into the NBA. He plays with a lot of heart and a lot of energy and that will get you far, but it won’t take you over to the next level for that you’ll need consistent shooting and consistent defense. Danilo Gallinari will finally be back and healthy after missing all of last season with a torn ACL, which will certainly help boost, Denver’s offense considering it seems like he can score from anywhere (http://youtu.be/wBGIoxvEakw). I also think Denver made a smart move in bringing in Arron Afflalo he’ll add perimeter scoring to a team that needs it and be able to open the floor and the paint up for Faried to go to work. For Denver the main thing this year is to stay healthy. They have a lot of good players, yet they can never seem to stay healthy. Having back Gallinari and dare I say even a healthy JaVale McGee will certainly bring some life into this team and the will definitely be high-flying and high scoring.
18. Brooklyn Nets: The Nets are a very interesting team to me. They were so promising and now I’m not sure where they lie, well I mean I am sure they lie at number 18 but they have such an interesting roster. To me they’re pretty set in the paint a healthy Brook Lopez well give you an offensive force considering he’s averaging 18 points for his career and he was averaging 20.7 points per game before he went out last year. I’d like to see his rebounding improve a little he’s a little average in that area with 6 rebounds last year. The other key Player here is Deron Williams. He has so much star potential or at least he did like 4-years-ago, now I’m not sure what to think. He is so often injured although really that’s not his fault some times life just gives you bad luck. However, even when he’s on the court he just seems to be kind of average. He doesn’t stand out in any specific way. Now this may be just do to some rust and just not being on the court a lot, but if Brooklyn wants to succeed it all starts with their high-priced point guard. Brooklyn has a few pieces but they won’t get much farther than the did last year especially after losing Paul Pierce who ended up carrying their team through the playoffs last year.
17. Phoenix Suns: Another team that suffers from being in the Western Conference. They were so close to the eighth seed last year, so close. The plus side is their roster hasn’t changed much if anything it’s improved with the addition of Isaiah Thomas who back in Sacramento was getting 20 and 6 as a starter. However I’m concerned that they might run into a New Orleans type situation where they have too many guards and won’t know how to divvy up the time. However their starting backcourt right now should be one of the most explosive in the league. I hope Dragic can keep up the pace of play he had last year with 20.3 points and continue to lead this team. Eric Bledsoe has his contract and now has to show that he’s worth it. I understand that last year he was injured so he has a little leeway but now that he’s getting the big money he should be getting 20 points and 7 assists and be the star of that team. The Phoenix Suns were the surprise team of last year and I hope they can continue their success. If nothing else they’ll do as well as they did last year, but here’s hoping that they can do a little better and make it into that next level.
16. New Orleans Pelicans: Anthony Davis is a star. A young star no less that probably still has skills and potentials we haven’t even seen yet. This will be a great year for him and I think he’ll really start to break out. He’s a force on the offensive end and on the defensive end and really showed how well he can play this summer at The World Cup. Now New Orleans as a whole we’ll see. I like the addition of Asik I think he’ll help that team both as a starter and coming of the bench and control the paint well. Also a healthy Ryan Anderson will be a great addition to this team, as he’ll help spread the floor and give Davis plenty of room to dominate the paint. New Orleans guard situation seems to be sort of pulling itself together, but if this team wants to be successful the guards will need to be more in the spotlight and can’t leave all the work to Anthony Davis. New Orleans there is hope for you. Davis will be a phenomenal player, mark my words that kid will be great for many years to come, which is what you want in your franchise player. However they need to start putting stronger players around him and that’s when you’ll really start to make some noise.
Stay tuned in the next couple of weeks I’ll be releasing my top 15 of the NBA and who I think will be the eventual NBA champion.
Photo: Tom Smart, Deseret News