Here are my picks to contend for the 7th and 8th seeds in the West, and a quick analysis of the cellar dwellars. (Check out my analysis of the best six teams in the West here, if you haven’t already.)
THE PLAYOFF HUNT
NUGGETS (47 wins — UNDER)
We saw what happened to this 57 win team last year when they lost their terrific stretch-four Danilo Gallinari. He was the key to their halfcourt offense. This year’s team is down not just Gallinari, but perhaps their best all-around player, Andre Iguodala, and their starting center, Kosta Koufos.
Think Koufos won’t matter? Think Javale McGee will improve this team? I have two responses: 1) George Karl is not an idiot 2) You used to think McGee was a laughingstock when he was surrounded by Wizards. What changed?
The fact of the matter is that McGee is a head case, and even when his head is screwed on straight, it doesn’t generate enough current to light a Christmas bulb. Paired with Kenneth Faried on the front line, this will be one of the lowest IQ frontlines in basketball.
And poorest shooting. The Nuggets are going to suffer a lot of spacing issues — their Achilles heel in last years playoffs — in the half court. The backups Hickson and Arthur will make this a decent rebounding team. And they’re good out to 15 feet. But where’s the stretch-four? There is none, because I doubt very much that new head coach Brian Shaw will see his way to playing Wilson Chandler there.
Speaking of Brian Shaw: in what way does a triangle coach, late of the half-court Indiana Pacers, fit this run and gun Nuggets roster? Shaw has sworn that he won’t try to install the triangle, and will continue to play at a fast pace, but… What is his comfort level playing up-tempo? I smell a disaster in the making here.
And then there’s the backcourt: Ty Lawson with Randy Foye/Evan Fournier. Is that a good defensive backcourt? A good shooting backcourt? A backcourt that can execute in the halfcourt? If Shaw slows the tempo at all — which I think is an absolute given — Ty Lawson may be headed for his worst season as a pro.
And the team is headed for dissension. For players like McGee, Faried and Lawson, it’s run or lose — simple as that. Wilson Chandler has never played in anything but a running system. Hmmm.
I would not be at all surprised to see the Nuggets drop below .500, and miss the playoffs. Even though their competitors for the bottom seeds are far from compelling.
MAVERICKS (44 wins — no bet)
The Mavs should be improved from last year’s 41 win team, with a healthy Nowitzki, the additions of the Monta Ellis/Jose Calderon backcourt and defensive presence Sam Dalembert at center instead of the Kamanosaurus. They just lost Brandan Wright for the season, but I’ve never been a fan.
Monta Ellis has a lot to prove. The roster is packed with accomplished veterans, including a couple of prideful World Champion holdovers. And they have one of the best coaches in the league in Rick Carlisle.
Solid pick for the seventh seed.
TIMBERWOLVES (41 wins — no bet)
I like the TWolves to squeak into the 8th seed this season, but I admit my opinion is colored by sentimentality. I love to watch this team play, and I root for them.
After more than a decade of fruitless search, they have finally added a legitimate shooting guard in Kevin Martin. And he’s re-united with his former coach, Rick Adelman, whose system is perfect for him. Look for Martin to have a much better season than last, particularly in getting to the line.
Rubio’s a wonderful player on both sides of the ball. If he’s added the set shot three he’s been working on, watch out. World Champion JJ Barea off the bench. And keep an eye on Alexey Shved, whom I love. He’s a two with great point guard skills, who struggled at times with his shot last season. I have a feeling he could become a terrific player in the league.
Big Pek is re-signed and Kevin Love is back from injury and in great shape, cementing a nice frontline. Although Pek’s injury history and newly fat wallet are concerning.
They lost Budinger at small forward again, but there’s some depth: Corey Brewer, Derrick Williams, and rookie Shabazz Muhammed.
Rick Adelman is one of the best coaches in the league, who knows exactly how to manipulate matchups.
Love the TWolves. I’ve scheduled a game at Oracle to watch them.
PELICANS (40 wins — UNDER)
I’m scratching my head that this team is favored to win more games than the Blazers. They’ve added some name players, Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans. And there’s that Anthony Davis hype.
Anthony Davis is a terrific player, yes, but I predicted before last season that his body wasn’t ready for the NBA and was a big injury risk. He wound up getting injured twice, and played 64 games. He’s all of 20 years old now. And with Robin Lopez gone, it looks like he’s penciled in for starting center. (Who else could it be? Smith? Stiemsma? Withey?) I’m again skeptical that his body will hold up.
The Pelicans have two of my least favorite backcourt players, Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans. Known cancers. Gordon can be productive when healthy, particularly on the defensive end, but is he ever healthy?
Tyreke Evans is in my opinion just a flat out terrible player. Low IQ. Poor court vision. Selfish. Terrible outside shooter. Mediocre and unwilling defender. I can’t believe he landed the contract he did. To his credit, Monty Williams has made him the sixth man, which is probably the best place for him.
Aminu is mediocre at best at small forward. Can’t shoot! I love Ryan Anderson at stretch-four, but I don’t believe Williams is the right coach for him.
The bench is terrible. Young, inexperienced and dubious.
TRAILBLAZERS (38.5 wins — OVER)
This line seems awfully low for a team that has one of the better starting lineups in the league. Are not LaMarcus Aldridge, Nic Batum and Damian Lillard all potential all-stars? Robin Lopez proved serviceable in the middle last season. And Wes Matthews is a good two-way player at the offguard.
The Blazers’ chief problem last year was a stripped down bench that led to the complete exhaustion of the starters. That problem seems to be over with the additions of Lopez (moving Meyers Leonard to the bench), Mo Williams and Dorell Wright. Sophomore Will Barton also opened some eyes at the end of last season.
The loss of rookie CJ McCollum hurts — I think he projects to be a terrific pro, and hope he makes it back for the second half of the season.
But the Blazers look pretty good to me. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them sneak into the playoffs.
LAKERS (33.5 wins — no bet)
omg lol does this team project to be awful. The line says it all, especially if you bear in mind that it is propped up by a monstrous steaming pile of the stupidest money in all of sports. (Talking at you, Lakers fans.)
No exaggeration, this could be the worst defensive team in the entire league. Chris Kaman in the middle. Nick Young, Jody Meeks, Kobe on the wings. Nash at the point. And Pau Gasol coming off tendonitis procedures in both knees. Wow. Inconceivably bad.
But Kobe, Pau and Nash!
Who? Sorry, the guys wearing those jerseys this season are not those players.
Kobe is attempting to return from one of the most difficult injuries of all — torn Achilles heel surgery. His knee is no better than last year — he just had that mysterious blood platement treatment in Germany again. And he’s completely out of shape.
When he comes back, he’ll be playing small forward. No prayer this season staying with two-guards. He completely gave up on defense last season.
The Lakers are already talking about resting Nash on back-to-backs. Think he has a lot left?
Pau might be the healthiest of the lot. But let’s see how long his knees last at center, after D’Antoni benches Kaman in disgust.
Speaking of D’Antoni, is it possible to design a roster less suited to his talents? Is there a spread-four on this roster? There is not — Metta, Jamison and last year’s revelation Earl Clark are all gone. Can this team run? Can Kaman, Gasol, Kobe play uptempo?
In the half-court, it’s obvious that the Lakers offense should revolve around Nash/Gasol pick and roll. But is that something coach Kobe Bryant will allow?
There are already rumors that D’Antoni will be fired a month into the season. I think it’s even money he shoots himself first. The Lakers are suddenly the most dysfunctional franchise in all of basketball.
KINGS (31.5 — no bet)
I don’t give the Kings much of a chance to win this season, but they will certainly be an intriguing team to watch. They’ve got new, wealthy, brilliant and highly involved ownership, that have already gotten off on the right foot in remaking the franchise. The first order of business was dumping Tyreke Evans for the highly useful and unselfish Greivous Vasquez. They’ve finally got a competent X and O’s man in Mike Malone (even if it’s unclear how well he grasps big picture strategy). Giving head case DeMarcus Cousins a gigantic contract was actually a brilliant move: he will be far less motivated by selfish considerations now, and even if he doesn’t mature, and the Kings decide to move him, there will be at least one Greater Fool willing to take a chance on him.
Moves I didn’t like as well: adding Carl Landry and Luc M’bah Moute. Landry is a good guy and a solid veteran who will improve the culture, but he’s not a great NBA player: too small for backup center, too limited for backup power forward.
MBam is also limited: he can’t shoot. His best position is power forward, but it’s clear the Kings want him on the wings, to help “change the culture” on defense. He will do that, but only at the cost of the Kings’ spacing.
Intriguing storylines: Will Mike Malone and new minority owner Shaquille O’Neal be able to get through to Boogie? Will Malone find the natural 4th quarter backcourt of Isaiah Thomas and Vasquez? (I love Thomas, and think he’s greatly underrated at both ends of the floor.) Will he see the value in giving Patrick Patterson minutes at stretch-four? Is Ben McLemore a player? And of course,
Actually, I already know Jimmer’s headed out of town. Not a Mike Malone type.
JAZZ (27.5 wins — no bet)
Another intriguing team to watch, if only to judge the progress of promising youngsters Enes Kanter (love his game), Derrick Favors and Trey Burke.
SUNS (21.5 wins — no bet)
What is the plan here? Is Eric Bledsoe a shooting guard?
(See also: Part One of my Western Conference forecast)