A Fancy Guide to the 2019-20 NBA Season

When I came on board at Fancy Boys this summer, it was under a pretense that I’d talk about basketball a bit. So immediately, I began working on my evil plan for the 2019-20 NBA Season. This is one of the most anticipated NBA seasons in recent memory, and if you haven’t given the league your attention in the past, maybe this is the year you should.


For the better part of the soon-closing decade, the league was ruled by two entities- Lebron James and the Golden State Warriors. While neither have gone away entirely, much has changed about their fundamental place in basketball’s hierarchy.

For King James, it was a season of relaxation and focus on his media empire. It seemed many nights he just didn’t care to show up for work, and to be honest, I get it. The guy went to the NBA Finals every year from 2011-2018. My fat ass can’t even run up and down a court without wanting a gallon of Gatorade.

For Golden State, it was quite the opposite. Because of injuries and Kawhi Leonard, the Dubs fell hard in the NBA Finals. Wait. Hold on a sec. Kids, cover your ears.

THE MF TORONTO RAPTORS WON THE NBA FINALS HOLY SHIT.

Okay sorry about that. It’s just that it’s now October and I still can’t believe that it really happened. The franchise that lived its entire existence as a filler team never allowed to take home the Larry O’Brien Trophy actually did it. While they were a great team to begin with, the reason they finally broke through was because of one man. The Dynasty Killer, Kawhi Leonard.

He wasn’t just a great scorer and immaculate defender, he was something otherworldly. In the Finals, he was something in league with Jackson Pollock looming over a house-sized canvas or Stevie Ray Vaughn at the El Mocambo. He was violence cloaked in grace. He was the all-consuming fire that put an end to an era, once again.

Elsewhere in the league, we saw Giannis Antetonkounmpo become the only other player alive in the same realm as Kawhi, taking the MVP award rightfully. He and the Bucks won the most games in the regular season this year, but couldn’t get it done in May.

For the first time in more than a decade, there is no clear-cut favorite for NBA Champion. Vegas puts odds on the new-look Clippers to win it all, but they’re not the kind of sure thing that the Warriors, Cavs or Heat were in the 2010’s. There is a sincere lack of dominant force, and that is such a beautiful thing. So before I get to the colossal team preview part of this, Why don’t I give you the list of who I am most excited to see this season.

  1. Houston Rockets
  2. LA Clippers
  3. Utah Jazz
  4. Philadelphia 76ers
  5. New Orleans Pelicans

No real traditional powers there, but all five are absolutely captivating for one reason or another. Houston, LA and Philadelphia are legitimate title contenders, but have unanswered questions about chemistry. Utah is probably my favorite team to watch this year, and since I finally sprung for League Pass, I’ll be reporting on them to you all often. New Orleans has the de-facto Rookie of the Year, but also a cast of characters who are both likable and very good. They’re the only ones on my list who I don’t have making the playoffs.

As for the rest of the league, there is reason to watch almost everyone. From up and coming teams like the Chicago Bulls to superpowers like the Milwaukee Bucks to soap operas like the Los Angeles Lakers to scrappy bottom-feeders like the Atlanta Hawks, there’s something here for every possible fan, depending on what you want to get out of watching the sport.

Throughout the season, I will be previewing the week’s best games and reflecting on what happened the week before, summarizing plot lines and breaking the fourth wall on why this is happening. After all, NBA Basketball is just pro wrestling with jump shots. You have larger than life personalities, pointless on and off court drama, and media interference that constantly succeeds in shaping the future of the league.

The NBA is, in my opinion, the best show on TV. It airs several nights a week and never lets up the gas on captivating its audience. I’ve been watching basketball for a long time, and the buzz in the air over this upcoming season is something I haven’t felt before. So without further rambling, I give you the fruit of my labor- a guide to the 2019-2020 NBA Season.

This is not just a preview, but a field guide meant to be looked upon throughout the year. I have gone through and added every team’s national TV games, so you can find the next opportunity to watch. Also, I’ve summarized reasons you should give each of them a chance this year. In all, I wanted to make something that would help everyone understand why this season is slated to be one of the most special in years.


Atlanta Hawks

Last Season: 29-53, 12th in East. // 108.7 ORtg (23rd) 114.4 DRtg (27th)

Strengths and Sorrows:
Age is a factor on both ends. Youth means stamina and agility, but it also means inexperience and often frustration. This team will hopefully become more effective on both ends of the court, but the core started to solidify itself last year.

They’re going to probably have some bumps in the road with rookie De’Andre Hunter getting the lion share of minutes at the 3, but at least they should be energetic. Alex Len seemed to have a good change-of-scenery situation last year after 5 years in Phoenix.

Kevin Huerter averaged 27.3 minutes per game in his rookie year, and will probably see that expand just a bit. He shot .419/.385/.732 last year. I’d hope the FT percentage can get above 80%, but he really just needs to learn to draw fouls more. I’m looking for a really solid year for him.

Their defense is suspect at best. Nobody gave up more points per game than the 2018-19 Hawks, allowing a staggering 119.4 on average.

John Collins had the 13th best individual offensive rating in the league last year and had a true shooting percentage of .632, good enough for 17th overall. He’s pretty much the rock of Atlanta’s offense.

Essentially, this team just doesn’t have the consistency on defense needed to compete, even in the lesser conference.

Head Coach: Lloyd Pierce

Likely Starting Five:
PG: Trae Young
SG: Kevin Huerter
SF: De’Andre Hunter
PF: John Collins
C: Alex Len

Depth:
PG: Evan Turner, Jaylen Adams, Brandon Goodwin
SG: Allen Crabbe, DeAndre Bembry
SF: Cam Reddish, Charlie Brown
PF: Jabari Parker, Vince Carter
C: Damian Jones, Bruno Fernando

National TV Games:
2
10/31 vs. Miami, 7 EST on TNT
12/10 @ Miami, 8 EST on TNT

Reasons to Watch:
First off, the last ride of Vince Carter. In his first game in January, he will become the first player to ever play in four separate decades.

Trae Young is a brilliant young passer and was second in Rookie of the Year voting last year. He averaged 6 three point attempts per game, shooting .324 on them. I’m looking for that number of attempts to go up a little, with a percentage a little closer to .400 from beyond the arc.

John Collins will toss elbows with the best of the bigs this year, building on a strong second season where he nearly (9.8 rebounds/game, 19.5 points/game) averaged a double-double.

There is still a lot to work on here, especially on defense, but the Hawks will continue to be a fun team to watch on offense when Young is on the floor. I won’t lie to you, their second unit is going to be pretty rough, but their starting five has potential to drag them to a top-10 offense.

They’ll miss the playoffs, but it won’t be without some occasionally gorgeous, fundamental, motion-offense basketball along the way.

Prediction:
11th in the East. A really fun, young squad with the potential to just outrun some teams, but ultimately they just need more minutes under their belts before making the jump.


Boston Celtics

Last Season: 49-33, 4th in East, Lost 4-1 in Conference Semis to Milwaukee. ORtg 112.7 (10th) DRtg 108.3 (7th)

Strengths and Sorrows: The roster turnover. The departure of Al Horford will not be kind to the team on offense, but it is likely that Enes Kanter will be better on the offensive end both as a presence in on the boards and a facilitator from inside.

Kyrie Irving is the more talented point guard, but I don’t think his departure will hurt the Celtics as much as some think it will. I’ve seen what Kemba is capable of, and he seems to be much more of a team-character guy than his predecessor.

The young core of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum took a slight step back last year, but I’m not anywhere near the panic button on them.

I’m interested to see if there is any hangover from the World Cup, or if it just made their time in China helped form a bond. Walker, Brown, Tatum, and Smart all played for Team USA this summer.

The Celtics will probably play pretty small, especially potentially playing Brown at the power forward spot. Ball movement and speed will be critical if they intend to make this a thing.

The team probably takes a step back, but not a large one. The veterans added filled a great deal of what was lost in free agency.

Head Coach: Brad Stevens

Likely Starting Five:
PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Marcus Smart
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Gordon Hayward
C: Enes Kanter

Depth:
PG: Carsen Edwards
SG: Jaylen Brown, Romeo Langford
SF: Grant Williams
PF: Tatum/Williams
C: Daniel Theis, Robert Williams

National TV Games: 25
10/23 @ Philadelphia, 7:30 EST on ESPN
10/30 vs. Milwaukee, 7:30 EST on ESPN
11/7 @ Charlotte, 8 EST on TNT
11/15 @ Golden State, 10:30 EST on ESPN
11/20 @ LA Clippers, 10 EST on ESPN
11/27 vs. Brooklyn, 7 EST on ESPN
12/6 vs. Denver, 8 EST on ESPN
12/12 vs. Philadelphia, 8 EST on TNT
12/25 @ Toronto, NOON EST on ESPN
1/9 @ Philadelphia, 7 EST on TNT
1/16 @ Milwaukee, 8 EST on TNT
1/20 vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 7:30 EST on TNT
1/26 @ New Orleans, 6 EST on ESPN
1/30 vs. Golden State, 8 EST on TNT
2/1 vs. Philadelphia, 8:30 EST on ABC
2/11 @ Houston, 9:30 EST on TNT
2/13 vs. LA Clippers, 8 EST on TNT
2/23 @ Los Angeles Lakers, 3:30 EST on ABC
2/26 @ Utah, 10 EST on ESPN
3/3 vs. Brooklyn, 7:30 EST on TNT
3/6 vs. Utah, 8 EST on ESPN
3/12 @ Milwaukee, 8 EST on TNT
4/5 vs. Milwaukee, 3:30 EST on ABC
4/8 vs. Indiana, 7 EST on ESPN

Reasons to Watch: I love when teams in contention have an overhaul. Seeing a group of guys progressively integrate into a new unit over the first few months is fascinating. With so many nationally broadcast games, the new look Celtics will be available early and often.

Kemba Walker is one of the most dynamic guards in the league, and was pretty much the sole reason to watch the Hornets in recent years. This is the best team he’s played with in his career and as a pick and roll god, his new pairing with Enes Kanter is a dream.

Kanter is consistently underrated in conversations about the game’s best big men. He will penetrate and find open looks inside, and also has the vision to kick it out to the wing when he gets trapped under the basket. Any Brad Stevens team is worth a watch.

The Boston bench is loaded with young talent eager to compete for minutes in the rotation. The second unit leadership of Marcus Smart is going to be put to the test, but I definitely see quality over quantity in terms of the depth guys’ minutes.

I have no idea what Tacko Fall will do, but if his first postseason appearance is any indication, he will be a fan favorite anytime he gets a chance. He had a block and a put back dunk in his debut, to the sounds of a packed house feeding into the hype that Fall is a real legitimate prospect. God bless him.

Prediction: 3rd in the East, conference semis exit again. An outside contender for the East crown. Not likely a threat to Milwaukee, but if the depth can find some footing, they could do major damage in the playoffs.


Brooklyn Nets

Last Season: 42-40, 6th in East. Lost 4-1 in the first round to Philadelphia. ORtg 109.6 (19th), DRtg 109.7 (14th)

Strengths and Sorrows: Ed Davis was 4th in the league in offensive rebounds per 100 possessions, despite coming off the bench in all but one game. He’s off to Utah and his presence will be missed on the Brooklyn bench.

Kyrie Irving is one of the game’s great play-makers and has maybe the best handles since Allen Iverson, but there is a growing stigma around him. Between his rift with LeBron James (understandable) and his awkward departure from Boston (unexpected) he has nurtured a reputation for being kind of a punk, tbh. Still, he will lead this team well until Durant comes back from injury next season.

The Nets were 25th in field goal percentage last season, the worst of all 16 playoff teams. Adding the all-time FG Pct leader in DeAndre Jordan will help that, as he gets his standard 8 points per game, all from dunks.

They were also dreadful from the line, ranking 24th overall despite taking the 4th most free throws. Quantity over quality helped them get to the postseason, but a better efficiency from the line would have gone a long way.

This is another team with a fair amount of turnover what will probably reveal itself a month or so into the season.

Head Coach: Kenny Atkinson

Likely Starting Five:
PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: Caris Levert
SF: Joe Harris
PF: Rodions Kurucs
C: Jarret Allen

Depth:
PG: Spencer Dinwiddie
SG: Garrett Temple
SF: Taurean Prince, Wilson Chandler
PF: Lance Thomas
C: DeAndre Jordan, Noclas Claxton

National TV Games: 12
11/1 vs. Houston, 7 EST on ESPN
11/14 @ Denver, 10:30 EST on TNT
11/27 @ Boston, 7 EST on ESPN
12/26 vs. New York, 8 EST on TNT
1/15 @ Philadelphia, 7 EST on ESPN
1/23 vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 8 EST on TNT
1/29 vs. Detroit, 7:30 EST on ESPN
2/5 vs. Golden State, 7:30 EST on ESPN
2/20 @ Philadelphia, 8 EST on TNT
3/3 @ Boston, 7:30 EST on TNT
3/25 vs. LA Clippers, 7 EST on ESPN
4/9 @ Milwaukee, 8 EST on TNT

Reasons to Watch: I’m very high on Caris LeVert. He’s a guy you bring up in NBA conversations to make it seem like you know what you’re talking about. I think he has All-Star potential, and I expect him to thrive with Kyrie.

Speaking of Kyrie Irving, he is typically a must-watch player, especially if a defender gets caught in isolation. There are not many guys in the game who can hang with him when he has the ball, and he’s so damn crafty.

Jarrett Allen (and his spectacular hair) is a big man to root for as he enters his third year in the league. He improved in both points (10.8 last season) and rebounds (8.4) and I expect him to take another step forward as he receives inside dimes from Irving.

DeAndre Jordan galloping down the court is entertaining enough, and as his career begins its descent toward its end, lets cherish the man who almost exclusively takes high-percentage shots.

This team will be a top-three must-watch next season when Kevin Durant joins the team, but for now they’re worth your time if only to see how creative their guard play will be.

Prediction: 6th in East, first round exit. Relatively young squad with plenty of good guys, but ultimately too much looking to next year to think of them as a contender of any kind in 2020.


Charlotte Hornets

Last Season: 39-43, 9th in East. ORtg 111.4 (11th), DRtg 112.5 (22nd)

Strengths and Sorrows: Losing Kemba Walker will be devastating to this team. He played all 82 for the Hornets last year, scoring 25.6 with 5.9 assists and 1.2 steals per game. He was 1/5 of their total offense. Losing that is very, very bad. Not being able to replace it is worse. Terry Rozier is a fine point guard, but he cannot be expected to carry the load.

This team barely missed the playoffs last year, but will contend for the top lottery picks this year. There’s not much to feel good about.

There are some “guys” here. Players who have an established style of play and will contribute to getting this team through the season. Nic Batum, Bismack Biyombo are enjoyable forwards, but their minutes will likely be spent exhausting themselves to keep up with the big men of the East.

Head Coach: James Borrego

Likely Starting Five:
PG: Terry Rozier:
SG: Dwayne Bacon
SF: Nicolas Batum
PF: Miles Bridges
C: Cody Zeller

Depth:
PG: Devonte Graham, Cody Martin
SG: Malik Monk
SF: Bacon/Bridges
PF: Marvin Williams, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
C: Bismack Biyombo, Willy Hernangomez

National TV Games: 1
11/7 vs. Boston, 8 EST on TNT

Reasons to Watch: I don’t know. The uniforms? Purple and teal are nice together. Or if you’re interested to see what Boston does to this team, watch that one game. This team will be bad, but pretty.

In all seriousness, I’m looking for Miles Bridges to get plenty of opportunity to develop his own game from last year’s rookie season.

Prediction: 15th in East. I think they have a real shot at the #1 pick, and will be in contest with Cleveland for the bottom of the Eastern Conference.


Chicago Bulls

Last Season: 22-60, 13th in East. ORtg 104.8 (29th), DRtg 113.2 (25th)

Strengths and Sorrows: The Bulls had the penultimate bad offense last season. Trying to dig out of basketball purgatory and the Thibs Era of the early 10’s has been long and painful, and it will continue, but there is light way down at the tunnel’s end.

I’m very high on Coby White despite his date of birth of February 16th, 2000, making me feel like a could wither to dust. The kid can flat out score and I would love to see him get the time to develop.

Picking up Thad Young will greatly increase their offensive efficiency and defensive presence. Young is one of the more unsung forwards today and he will be missed in Indianapolis.

This is one of the tougher teams to evaluate because there’s just so much newness going on. Otto Porter gets a full season under Jim Boylen. Lauri Markkanen nearly averaged a double-double last season, and will probably continue to grow in his presence as Chicago’s go-to big man.

Zach LaVine added 7 points per game from 2017-18 to last year, adding nearly .080 to his shooting percentage in the process- an incredible progression. If he can even duplicate that production this season, the Bulls could sneak into the playoffs.

Head Coach: Jim Boylen

Likely Starting Five:
PG: Tomas Satoransky
SG: Zach LaVine
SF: Otto Porter
PF: Lauri Markkanen
C: Wendell Carter, Jr.

Depth:
PG: Kris Dunn, Coby white
SG: Denzel Valentine
SF: Chandler Hutchison
PF: Thaddeus Young
C: Daniel Gafford, Luke Kornet

National TV Games: 1
1/17 @ Philadelphia, 7 EST on ESPN

Reasons to Watch: Zach LaVine is primed to take a real leadership role here, and with better veteran presence in Porter and Young, there is real potential for Chicago to make a large jump from last year’s 22 wins.

Lauri Markkanen is a great young center and a true 7-footer. His dunks are violent. He moves like a guard and has rather good vision to ad-lib when the defense collapses. Look for him to keep catching lobs and posterizing the league’s bigs as he ascends to that potential all-star territory.

THIRTEEN players on Chicago’s full roster are in their first three seasons. It may lead to growing pains if the babies get too many minutes, but having Young to help guide them will do a lot in their development.

This team could win 35 or they could win 25. They’re a League Pass darling for me. One thing is for sure, they will be fun to watch. They are young and fast, with a really flashy and powerful transition offense.

Prediction: 8th in East. The baby Bulls have a real shot here to make a big jump. Oddly, I believe in them enough to pull it off and climb out of the lottery. If they get the 8 seed, they’ll get mauled by Milwaukee but they’ll get some much-needed confidence as they continue to grow.


Cleveland Cavaliers

Last Season: 19-63, 14th in East. ORtg 107.7 (25th). DRtg 117.6 (30th)

Strengths and Sorrows: I’d say the biggest issue with the 2020 Cavs is that we have no idea who is going to be here after the break. The team is in full rebuild mode and was pretty bad in every phase of the game last year.

Jordan Clarkson’s production off the bench is a bright spot, as he was a consistent 16.8 ppg.

Larry Nance, Jr. led the team in win shares at 4.9 last year. That’s abysmally low.

Hopefully a healthy Kevin Love can lead this team and give some sort of positivity to a fan base that has returned from whence it came.

Head Coach: John Beilein

Likely Starting Five:
PG: Darius Garland
SG: Collin Sexton
SF: Cedi Osman
PF: Kevin Love
C: Tristan Thompson

Depth:
PG: Jordan Clarkson
SG: Brandon Knight, Matthew Dellavedova
SF: John Henson, Dylan Windler, Sindarius Thornwell, Kevin Porter Jr.
PF: Larry Nance Jr., Dean Wade, Jarell Martin
C: Ante Zizic, John Henson

National TV Games: 1
11/8 @ Washington, 7 EST on ESPN

Reasons to Watch: The Cavs won’t be all that good, but there are reasons to give them a little bit of your time.

Larry Nance, Jr. can jump out the gym, so when he’s on a breakaway, its probably going to end with something spectacular.

Kevin Love committed to Cleveland a few years ago and is rehashing his memories as the face of the Minnesota Timberwolves back when his beard game was not nearly as strong.

Collin Sexton is a guard on the rise, shooting .430/.402/.839 last season while playing all 82 games. He should still play about 3/5 of each game, plenty of opportunity to watch the kid from Pebblebrook High evolve into a franchise building block. I dropped his rookie season highlights below.

Prediction: 14th in East. They can peak at maybe two slots higher, but even if Love plays 70+ games, this team is too inexperienced for me to believe that they will compete any time soon.


Dallas Mavericks

Last Season: 33-49, 14th in West. ORtg 109.4 (20th), DRtg 110.7 (17th)

Strengths and Sorrows: The health of Kristaps Porzingis is probably the biggest factor in whether or not the Mavs’ hold on into March for a playoff spot. The ACL injury that kept him sidelined for all of last season will hopefully be a non-factor for the reigning tallest player in the league. He was a constant force in the paint for New York and prior to the injury in February of 2018, Porzingis was on his way to a career year.

Luka Doncic was the Rookie of the Year, and it was no mistake. He has a brash attitude, dipping his toes into outright cockiness, but his game is so sublime that it’s valid. He averaged 21/8/6 in his debut season, and averaging a double double with the likes of Justin Jackson, Seth Curry, and Porzingis hanging around. The Mavericks lacked on offense last year, and the offseason moves won’t bring them into the top ten of either side of the court, but they should be at least more productive.

There are some quality guys here. J.J. Barea, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Courtney Lee aren’t a picturesque second unit, but they wont be as poor as some out West.

Head Coach: Rick Carlisle

Likely Starting Five:
PG: Delon Wright
SG: Luka Doncic
SF: Justin Jackson
PF: Kristaps Porzingis
C: Dwight Powell

Depth:
PG: Jalen Brunson, J.J. Barea
SG: Seth Curry
SF: Tim Hardaway Jr., Ryan Broekhoff, Courtney Lee
PF: Dorian Finney-Smith, Isaiah Roby, Aric Holman
C: Maxi Kleber, Boban Marjanovic

National TV Games: 13
10/25 @ New Orleans, 8 EST on ESPN
11/1 vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 9:30 EST on ESPN
11/14 @ New York, 8 EST on TNT
11/20 vs. Golden State, 7:30 EST on ESPN
12/3 @ New Orleans, 7:30 EST on TNT
12/20 @ Philadelphia, 8 EST on ESPN
1/8 vs. Denver, 7:30 EST on ESPN
1/17 vs. Portland, 9:30 EST on ESPN
1/23 @ Portland, 10:30 EST on TNT
1/31 @ Houston, 8 EST on ESPN
2/26 @ San Antonio, 7:30 EST on ESPN
3/10 @ San Antonio, 8 EST on TNT
3/16 @ LA Clippers, 10:30 EST on EST

Reasons to Watch: What is going to happen when Luka and Kristaps get real NBA minutes on the floor together? If nothing else, their sheer style will be reason enough to watch the Mavs. Its serendipitous that the greatest European player of all time retires, then Dallas gets to restart with two meteoric talents from across the pond.

Boban Marjanovic is always fun to see on tv, as his hands take up a pretty decent size of your screen. While he really isn’t a threat, his massive silhouette poses a problem inside. When Boban dunks, the building shakes.

Prediction: 10th in the West. There is finally a real idea to build on here, and some conditioning and building on that could reach to the postseason, but I think they’re going to be on the outside looking in.


Denver Nuggets

Last Season: 54-28, 2nd in West. Lost 4-3 to Portland in conference semis. ORtg 113.0 (6th), DRtg 108.9 (10th)

Strengths and Sorrows: Denver held the top spot in the West for a large chunk of the season, and were ranked in the top ten in both offense and defense. Nikola Jokic is a legitimate MVP-caliber center, and he’s surrounded by a wealth of talent all the way down the roster.

Jamal Murray has improved every year of his young career, and entering his fourth, he’s now the Nuggets’ veteran leader bringing the ball up. He’s notoriously sub-par in October, but seems to pick it up once the season gets moving.

Aside from Jokic, the Nuggets didn’t have anyone chart high in any statistical categories last year, despite winning 54 games.

Even as a team their numbers aren’t impressive. Sure, ranking second in the league in team assists is nice, but they were also 13th in field goal percentage.

The fact is, this team is remarkably unselfish and just works for the common good. Most of the team is unrecognizable. Even their superstar looks more like a mob movie henchman than a MVP-caliber center.

The Nuggets just find a way, and I expect more of that this year.

Head Coach: Michael Malone

Likely Starting Five:
PG: Jamal Murray
SG: Gary Harris
SF: Torrey Craig
PF: Paul Millsap
C: Nikola Jokic

Depth:
PG: Monte Morris, Jorge Gutierrez
SG: Malik Beasley, Michael Porter Jr., Torrey Craig
SF: Will Barton, Juan Hernangomez, Jarred Vanderbilt
PF: Jerami Grant
C: Mason Plumlee, Bol Bol

National TV Games: 17
10/23 @ Portland, 10 EST on ESPN
10/31 @ New Orleans, 9:30 EST on TNT
11/14 vs. Brooklyn, 10:30 EST on TNT
12/6 @ Boston, 8 EST on ESPN
12/12 vs. Portland, 10:30 EST on TNT
12/25 vs. New Orleans, 10:30 EST on ESPN
1/8 @ Dallas, 7:30 EST on ESPN
1/16 @ Golden State, 10:30 EST on TNT
1/30 vs. Utah, 10:30 EST on TNT
2/4 vs. Portland, 10 EST on TNT
2/5 @ Utah, 10 EST on ESPN
2/12 vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 10 EST on ESPN
2/21 @ Oklahoma City, 8 EST on ESPN
2/28 @ LA CLippers, 10:30 EST on ESPN
3/15 @ Los Angeles Lakers, 9 EST on ESPN
3/31 @ Golden State, 10 EST on TNT
4/14 @ Utah, 10 EST on TNT

Reasons to Watch: I won’t lie and say this is a sexy team. What they lack in mass appeal, they deliver in just overpowering many teams on their way to a surprising number of wins. They held on to the top seed out West for a while last year before conceding to Golden State. This is a team I personally owe it to watch more.

Nikola Jokic is a legitimate MVP contender, and is a REMARKABLY smooth passer for a big man. Continuing to watch him rise in a league filled with so many superstars is borderline hilarious. He doesn’t seem like a tv star type like so many others in the game, but he just gets shit done.

Guys like Millsap and Hernangomez are playing in contract years, so there’s potential to see one last “great” season from each of them as they look to get nabbed in free agency next summer.

Prediction: 1st in the West. I really, really like this team, and I know I’m gonna get jumped for suggesting they’re good enough to win the West but not to make the Finals. Well, while this team is a real lunch-pail, hard-nosed bunch with a dark horse MVP in Jokic, I just saw so much in last year’s postseason to believe that they are a long way away from transitioning from April to May. I hope they prove me wrong.


Detroit Pistons

Last Season: 41-41, 8th in East. Lost 4-0 to Milwaukee in the first round. ORtg 109.0 (21st) DRtg 109.2 (11th)

Strengths and Sorrows: They don’t have too much outside of Blake Griffin. As I’m writing this, they’re getting outrun by the Charlotte Hornets. Not a good look.

Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond are about the only two guys holding this team out of the lottery, which might not be the best thing. The optimal solution here is to blow up this whole team and start over. Not necessarily tank, but I don’t know… maybe someone wants Luke Kennard at the deadline? Build for the future, because the present is pretty lackluster.

Picking up Derrick Rose is endearing, and he’s at least someone who can create offensively. The signing of Joe Johnson set NBA Twitter off in a supernova of joy, but lets be honest, the man’s prime is well in the rear view.

Head Coach: Dwane Casey

Likely Starting Five:
PG: Reggie Jackson
SG: Luke Kennard
SF: Tony Snell
PF: Blake Griffin
C: Andre Drummond

Depth:
PG: Derrick Rose, Tim Frazier
SG: Luke Kennard, Langston Galloway
SF: Joe Johnson, Sviatoslav, Mykhailiuk, Sekou Doumbouya
PF: Markeiff Morris, Thon Maker
C: Christian Wood, Bennie Boatwright

National TV Games: 2
1/29 @ Brooklyn, 7:30 EST on ESPN
3/11 @ Philadelphia, 7:30 EST on ESPN

Reasons to Watch: Not much, even if Blake is healthy. Watching Derrick Rose is always fun, even in this twilight/journeyman phase of his career. As a 32-year old, DRose will always hold a place in my heart for just how visceral and acrobatic his prime was.

The problem here is that they’re just so mediocre. Cleveland has a few young players, even the Knicks are kind of enticing for the drama. But the Detroit Pistons might just be the most mediocre squad in a league where nearly every other team has a reason to be on screen.

Prediction: 10th in the East. Not good enough for the playoffs, not bad enough to have a real chance at the #1 pick.


Golden State Warriors

Last Season: 57-25, 1st in West. Lost 4-2 to Toronto in the NBA Finals. ORtg 115.9 (1st), DRtg 109.5 (13th)

Strengths and Sorrows: While Kevin Durant is gone and Andre Iguodala is gone and Klay Thompson is hurt and Shaun Livingston retired and DeMarcus Cousins is gone and injured… whoa wait that’s actually a really big problem. Okay. Well.

So Steph Curry is going to probably try to make 500 threes this year. Draymond Green is the center of the circus and the championship pedigree can’t be discounted, but this is just such a new team from a year ago that it’s hard to expect that they will be able to contend in the same way they have in recent years. Kawhi Leonard really ended this whole thing.

Klay Thompson, who has the prettiest catch-and-shoot motion I’ve ever seen, will be out until probably right before the postseason. Not a moment too soon for a squad that will desperately need his production.

Picking up D’Angelo Russell will help fill the gaps with a good 18-22 points per game and a healthy amount of assists. He’s good enough of a scorer to take a little pressure off of Curry, which is usually enough for him to get a clean look from oh, say 34 feet from the basket.

Head Coach: Steve Kerr

Likely Starting Five:
PG: Stephen Curry
SG: D’Angelo Russell
SF: Alfonzo McKinnie
PF: Draymond Green
C: Kevin Looney

Depth:
PG: Andrew Harrison
SG: Alec Burks
SF: Jacob Evans, Glenn Robinson III, Damion Lee
PF: Eric Paschall, Omari Spellman
C: Willie Cauley-Stein, Marquese Chriss

National TV Games: 30
10/24 vs. LA Clippers, 10:30 EST on TNT
11/6 @ Houston, 7:30 EST on ESPN
11/13 @ Los Angeles Lakers, 10 EST on ESPN
11/15 vs. Boston, 10:30 EST on ESPN
11/20 @ Dallas, 7:30 EST on ESPN
12/13 @ Utah, 10:30 EST on ESPN
12/18 @ Portlan, 10 EST on ESPN
12/20 vs. New Orleans, 10:30 EST on ESPN
12/25 vs. Houston, 5 EST on ABC
1/8 vs. Milwaukee, 10 EST on ESPN
1/10 @ LA Clippers, 10:30 EST on ESPN
1/16 vs. Denver, 10:30 EST on TNT
1/20 @ Portland, 10 EST on TNT
1/22 vs. Utah, 10 EST on ESPN
1/28 @ Philadelphia, 7:30 EST on TNT
1/30 @ Boston, 8 EST on TNT
2/5 @ Brooklyn, 7:30 EST on ESPN
2/8 vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 8:30 EST on ABC
2/20 vs. Houston, 10:30 EST on TNT
2/27 vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 10:30 EST on TNT
3/5 vs. Toronto, 10:30 EST on TNT
3/7 vs. Philadelphia, 8:30 EST on ABC
3/10 vs. LA Clippers, 10:30 EST on TNT
3/16 @ Toronto, 8 EST on ESPN
3/18 @ Indiana, 7:30 EST on ESPN
3/31 vs. Denver, 10 EST on TNT
4/2 @ Houston, 8 EST on TNT
4/9 @ Los Angeles Lakers, 10:30 EST on TNT
4/11 @ LA Clippers, 8:30 EST on ABC

Reasons to Watch: Steph Curry may win MVP this season, mostly because he will have to carry the offensive load while Klay Thompson recovers from his achilles injury. I’m looking for Steph to go for 500 threes. I’m not kidding. This team will hurt defensively for the first time in several years, and that means Steph will have to play more than three quarters.

Beyond that, I think everyone will appreciate watching the Warriors struggle to win games here and there. Their 2014-15 season was great because they were grinding out wins and shooting the roof off of teams. I’m looking for that return to form, which is reason enough to watch them this season.

DeAngelo Russell is an interesting move for them, and it will be great to see how they integrate him into their spread-out philosophy. Once Klay Thompson returns, I think Russell becomes more of a true facilitator between Thompson and Curry, the primary scoring options.

Prediction: 7th in the West. It’s super dangerous to underestimate the Warriors, but this will probably be the worst team of the Kerr Era. That’s not saying much, as the first five years all ended in the NBA Finals, one way or another.


Houston Rockets

Last Season: 53-29, 4th in West. Lost 4-2 to Golden State in conference semis. ORtg 115.5 (2nd), DRtg 110.7 (18th)

Strengths and Sorrows: Take two former MVP’s, add a coach who prefers speed and quick shots over meticulous, space-and-pass offense. The result is *hopefully* one of the wildest and most unpredictable teams to come around in a long time. Plenty will be written about the Rockets this year. Plenty already has, with Daryl Morey’s tweet threatening to be Gavrilo Princip’s gun of the 21st century.

While they’re very entertaining, I don’t know if they will keep the pot from boiling over enough to make the Finals. If Westbrook and Harden can actually work together and not implode, yeah sure maybe. But they’re not the only guys on the court.

What if Eric Gordon or Clint Capela want the ball? Will the Toyota Center provide a second one for them to play with? This team is kinda deep with regards to guys who have been known to be deadly with an open look.

I love the pickup of Thabo Sefolosha to seal their forward depth with Gerald Green and a committee of Gary Clark and P.J. Tucker,

Tyson Chandler has been that old wizard for a few years, since Tim Duncan left. He’s still effective, with his per 36 minutes figures remaining relative to his younger days when he nearly played 36 minutes every game. He will be that veteran leader that might be able to quell the almost inevitable feuding when this team drops a game that they believe they shouldn’t.

Head Coach: Mike D’Antoni.

Likely Starting Five:
PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: James Harden
SF: Eric Gordon
PF: P.J. Tucker
C: Clint Capela

Depth:
PG: Austin Rivers, Shamorie Ponds, Michael Frazier
SG: Ben McLemore
SF: Gerald Green, Thabo Sefolosha
PF: Gary Clark, Ryan Anderson, Anthony Bennett
C: Tyson Chandler, Nene, Isaiah Hartenstein

National TV Games: 26
10/24 vs. Milwaukee, 8 EST on TNT
11/1 @ Brooklyn, 7 EST on ESPN
11/6 vs. Golden State, 7:30 EST on ESPN
11/13 vs. LA Clippers, 7:30 EST on ESPN
11/22 @ LA Clippers, 10:30 EST on ESPN
12/19 @ LA Clippers, 10:30 EST on TNT
12/25 @ Golden State, 5 EST on ABC
1/3 vs. Philadelphia, 8 EST on ESPN
1/9 @ Oklahoma City, 9:30 EST on TNT
1/15 vs. Portland, 9:30 EST on ESPN
1/18 vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 8:30 EST on ABC
1/24 @ Minnesota, 8 EST on ESPN
1/29 @ Portland, 10 EST on ESPN
1/31 vs. Dallas, 8 EST on ESPN
2/2 vs. New Orleans, 2 EST on ABC
2/6 @ Los Angeles Lakers, 10:30 EST on TNT
2/11 vs. Boston, 9:30 EST on TNT
2/20 @ Golden State, 10:30 EST on TNT
2/29 @ Boston, 8:30 on ABC
3/5 vs. LA Clippers, 8 EST on TNT
3/12 @ Los Angeles Lakers, 10:30 EST on TNT
3/15 @ Portland, 3:30 EST on ABC
3/25 @ Milwaukee, 9:30 EST on ESPN
3/31 @ Philadelphia, 7:30 EST on TNT
4/2 vs. Golden State, 8 EST on TNT
4/8 vs. San Antonio, 9:30 EST on ESPN

Reasons to Watch: Alright, life on the line, if I have to pick one team you have to watch this season, Houston is it. The 2017 and 2018 MVP’s reunite at the peak of their powers in a Mike D’Antoni offense. They will be exhausting to watch, and hopefully they will be their over-dramatic selves and cause a rift that pulls this team apart while they win like 58 games.

Westbrook/Harden aside, this team is really likable. Clint Capela is a force inside, kind of the eye of D’Antoni’s category 8 hurricane.

If you need reason beyond what I’ve noted above, you either don’t like theater or you really like fundamental basketball. Either way, you definitely should give the Rockets some of your time.

Prediction: 4th in the West. The potential is there, but I just can’t go all-in on them. I just have absolutely no idea how this is going to work. If D’Antoni can make something positive here, maybe he finally gets over that mountain he’s been scaling for decades.


Indiana Pacers

Last Season: 48-34, 5th in East. Lost 4-0 to Boston in the first round. ORtg 109.9 (18th), DRtg 106.5 (3rd)

Strengths and Sorrows: They’re a wonderful bunch of young men and I love them as my own brothers.

Alright bias aside, I think the moves Indiana made this season will actually benefit their shortcomings on offense last year. Adding a 50/40/90 guy in Malcolm Brogdon to run the floor is a massive upgrade.

The biggest concern for the Pacers is of course the health of Victor Oladipo. His injury is rare, so there isn’t great data on how he might perform upon return in (hopefull) January. Indiana will need him back and to stay on the court if they’re going to make any kind of run beyond persistent mediocrity.

Head Coach: Nate McMillan

Likely Starting Five:
PG: Malcolm Brogdon
SG: Jeremy Lamb
SF: T.J. Warren
PF: Myles Turner
C: Domantas Sabonis

Depth:
PG: Aaron Holiday, T.J. McConnell,
SG: Victor Oladipo (injured to start season), Edmond Sumner
SF: Justin Holiday, Doug McDermott
PF: T.J. Leaf, Alize Johnson
C: Goga Bitadze, Amida Brimah

National TV Games: 6
2/7 vs. Toronto, 8 EST on ESPN
2/12 vs. Milwaukee, 7:30 EST on ESPN
2/27 vs. Portland, 8 EST on TNT
3/4 @ Milwaukee, 8 EST on ESPN
3/18 vs. Golden State, 7:30 EST on ESPN
4/8 vs. Boston, 7 EST on ESPN

Reasons to Watch: Not being one of the more glamorous teams in the league, the Pacers are one of the most intriguing. They’ve never tried to give in to the three-heavy, pull-up shooting offense, and now it seems they’re doubling down. The plan right now is to play Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis together, which is going to be a major factor while Victor Oladipo rehabs/models/sings on TV.

The pickups of T.J. Warren, Jeremy Lamb, and Malcolm Brogdon present a really interesting dynamic that the Pacers haven’t had on offense in some time, as all three have a way of crafting open looks and spreading the defense out. This, over time, could be beneficial to the two-bigs lineup they toss out most nights.

Once Oladipo returns, if he’s even 75% of who he was before the injury, he will still be the electric force that drives the Pacers to another playoff spot. That might not be until late winter/early spring, but if they can stay afloat without him, the potential to upset some folks in the postseason is high.

This is a team for lovers of older-style, pick-and-roll to spread the floor, find an open look and crash the boards type of offense. Turner has all-star potential and is a dominating presence inside. His blocks tend to be rallying points for a team that in the past has won games purely off of their ability to keep a level head.

Prediction: 4th in East. I’m higher on the Pacers than most, and its not favorite team bias. I think they have potential to roam somewhere around where they finished last season, if maybe dropping a game or two.


LA Clippers

Last Season: 48-34, 8th in West. Lost 4-2 to Golden State in the first round. ORtg 112.4 (9th), DRtg 111.5 (21st)

Strengths and Sorrows: There’s an argument out there that New Orleans had the best offseason this summer. That is patently false. The LA Clippers (not formally Los Angeles Clippers for a few years now) had one of the biggest NBA heists ever in signing Kawhi Leonard AND acquiring Paul George in a trade with OKC. Both were MVP and DPOY finalists last year.

Everyone knows James Harden gets to the free-throw line. What a lot of people don’t know is that Lou Williams was third behind Harden and Joel Embiid in FTs made per 100 possessions.

In fact, with the addition of George and Leonard, the Clippers now have 3 of the top 10 scorers per 100 possessions. LouWill isn’t just an asset, he’s the axis that the top spins upon. LA won 48 games last year in large part to his immense contributions leading their bench.

The Clippers also acquired Maurice Harkless from Portland as a part of the 4-team trade that sent Josh Richardson to Philly, Jimmy Butler to Miami, and Hassan Whiteside to the Blazers, among others involved. Harkless will be a an upgrade to a second unit that will regularly be coming on to the court with a lead.

Montrezl Harrell is the Clippers’ version of DeAndre Jordan- a big man who just puts 6-8 buckets away at the rim each game. Those opportunities will probably increase with his likely move to the starting lineup. With the wing forwards making defenses already super nervous, Harrell could be a major contributor against teams who think they can small-ball their way into beating LA.

Head Coach: Doc Rivers

Likely Starting Five:
PG: Patrick Beverly
SG Landry Shamet
SF: Kawhi Leonard
PF: Paul George
C: Montrezl Harrell

Depth:
PG: Lou Williams, Amir Coffey, Derrick Walton Jr.
SG: Jerome Robinson, Rodney McGruder
SF: Maurice Harkless, Terance Mann
PF: JaMychal Green
C: Ivica Zubac, Mfiondu Kabengele, Patrick Patterson, Johnathan Motley

National TV Games: 26
10/22 vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 10:30 EST on TNT
10/24 @ Golden State, 10:30 EST on TNT
10/30 @ Utah, 10 EST on ESPN
11/6 vs. Milwaukee, 10 EST on ESPN
11/7 vs. Portland, 10:30 EST on TNT
11/13 @ Houston, 7:30 EST on ESPN
11/20 vs. Boston, 10 EST on ESPN
11/22 vs. Houston, 10:30 EST on ESPN
12/3 vs. Portland, 10 EST on TNT
12/11 @ Toronto, 7 EST on ESPN
12/19 vs. Houston, 10:30 EST on TNT
12/25 @ Los Angeles Lakers, 8 EST on ABC and ESPN
1/10 vs. Golden State, 10:30 EST on ESPN
1/18 @ New Orleans, 3:30 EST on ABC
1/28 @ Los Angeles Lakers, 10 EST on TNT
2/11 @ Philadelphia, 7 EST on TNT
2/13 @ Boston, 8 EST on TNT
2/28 vs. Denver, 10:30 EST on ESPN
3/1 @ Houston, 8 EST on TNT
3/8 vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 3:30 EST on ABC
3/10 @ Golden State, 10:30 EST on TNT
3/16 vs. Dallas, 10:30 EST on ESPN
3/25 @ Brooklyn, 7 EST on ESPN
4/7 @ Utah, 10 EST on TNT
4/11 vs. Golden State, 8:30 EST on ABC

Reasons to Watch: Kawhi Leonard has a legitimate claim to being the best basketball player on the planet right now. He’s a certified dynasty destroyer and two-time NBA Finals MVP. He can take a good team and make them great. What happens when he joins another star at the height of his power?

Paul George was destined to be in Los Angeles, as the drama that forced the trade to Oklahoma City was all about that impending move. Now on the Clippers, he is home. George was an MVP candidate himself last year. This team would be fantastic if it was just a cast of characters with George and Leonard, but the Clippers are so much more than that.

Patrick Beverley is one of the real hustlers in the game, constantly finding a way to get into guys’ heads.

Lou Williams is one of the greatest sixth men of all time, but there’s a good chance we will see him slide into the 2 while George, Leonard and Beverley are on the floor in crunch time. He was worth 5.1 win shares last year, third-best on the team.

Prediction: 2nd in West. I see the Clips as a legitimate contender for the throne, and I believe that come June, Kawhi Leonard will be hoisting the O’Brien Trophy again as the Los Angeles Clippers win their first title. This will make a lot of people angry, particularly their Staples Center roommates…

Kawhi Leonard rests after ending yet another superteam.

Los Angeles Lakers

Last Season: 37-45, 10th in West. ORtg 107.8 (24th) DRtg 109.5 (12th)

Strengths and Sorrows: LeBron James and Anthony Davis will probably be pretty good. Its the rest I’m worried about.

When I saw what the Pelicans got in the Davis trade, I felt like the Lakers had been fleeced. Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart… they were supposed to be the genesis of a Laker rebuild, now they’re gone. The Lakers get older and less energetic.

LeBron only played 55 games last year, the lowest of his career, with the 2011-12 strike-shortened season included. He’ll be 35 on December 30th.

A good thing the Lakers have going for them is roster flexibility. If things don’t start out perfect (they won’t) maybe we see a few more young guns traded for someone like Bradley Beal. I can’t imagine GM LeBron will hold on to kids to build for his age 39 season.

Head Coach: Frank Vogel

Likely Starting Five:
PG: Rajon Rondo
SG: Danny Green
SF: Lebron James
PF: Anthony Davis
C: Dwight Howard

Depth:
PG: Quinn Cook, Alex Caruso
SG: Kantavious Caldwell-Pope, Avery Bradley, Troy Daniels
SF: Kyle Kuzma, Jared Dudley
PF: Kostas Antetokounmpo
C: JaVale McGee

National TV Games: 31
10/22 @ LA Clippers, 10:30 EST on TNT
10/25 vs. Utah, 10:30 EST on ESPN
11/1 @ Dallas, 9:30 EST on ESPN
11/13 vs. Golden State, 10 EST on ESPN
11/27 @ New Orleans, 9:30 EST on ESPN
12/13 @ Miami, 8 EST on ESPN
12/19 @ Milwaukee, 8 EST on ESPN
12/25 vs. LA Clippers, 8 EST on ABC and ESPN
1/3 vs. New Orleans, 10:30 EST on ESPN
1/18 @ Houston, 8:30 EST on ABC
1/20 @ Boston, 7:30 EST on TNT
1/23 @ Brooklyn, 8 EST on TNT
1/25 @ Philadelphia, 8:30 EST on ABC
1/28 vs. LA Clippers, 10 EST on TNT
1/31 vs. Portland, 10:30 EST on ESPN
2/6 vs. Houston, 10:30 EST on ESPN
2/8 @ Golden State, 8:30 EST on ABC
2/12 @ Denver, 10 EST on ESPN
2/23 vs. Boston, 3:30 EST on ABC
2/25 vs. New Orleans, 10 EST on TNT
2/27 @ Golden State, 10:30 EST on TNT
3/1 @ New Orleans, 8 EST on ESPN
3/3 vs. Philadelphia, 8 EST on TNT
3/6 vs. Milwaukee, 10:30 EST on ESPN
3/8 @ LA Clippers, 3:30 EST on ABC
3/12 vs. Houston, 10:30 EST on TNT
3/15 vs. Denver, 9 EST on ESPN
3/18 vs. Utah, 10 EST on ESPN
2/24 @ Toronto, 7:30 EST on TNT
4/9 vs. Golden State, 10:30 EST on TNT

Reasons to Watch: Laker drama is nothing new to the NBA scene. There is always something wild happening in this organization and their current iteration is going to be a blast to watch.
LeBron James is usually worth the watch on his own, but last year he seemed to be somewhat disinterested, especially on defense. He has vowed via twitter and instagram that “it’s time to reclaim the throne.” So I’m going to assume he’s out for blood, which is frightening if true.

Anthony Davis is the best player you never saw last year because nobody wanted to watch Pelicans games. Now, on the best team he’s been on since college, lined up with one of the best passers in James, Davis is a top-tier MVP candidate.

Dwight Howard is a perpetual double-double guy who is the all-time great center nobody wants to admit he is. Dwight’s trademark immaturity will hopefully be on display, adding to the likely chaotic drama if things don’t start well in LA.

Alex Caruso is kind of a meme lately, but the dude can flat out ball. He has exceptional court-vision and can hit the mid-range effectively when plays inevitably fall apart.

The Lakers have the most nationally-broadcast games in the league, so you’ll have opportunity to see them almost at your leisure. Highly recommended.

Prediction: 6th in West. I’m lower on the Lakers than a lot of people. While the LeBron James – Anthony Davis tandem will be legendary, I don’t see what else they have to offer, and as load management comes into play in late winter, I think the Lakers settle for what they can get in terms of postseason slot. As you’ll see below, I have them losing a close series with Utah, but there are some teams that will finish above the Lakers that they could beat.


Memphis Grizzlies

Last Season: 33-49, 12th in West. ORtg 106.1 (27th), DRtg 108.8 (9th)

Strengths and Sorrows: This is the team that no one nationally is going to pay attention to, but you and I can hold in our hearts that they’re a neat squad.

Ja Morant begins his rookie campaign knowing damn well that the award already has Zion Williamson’s name on it. But that freedom from pressure (award, market, any kind of attention) might just let him develop on a team that is almost solid 1-10.

The problem is that ‘solid’ won’t be enough in the West. While the Grizzlies are a hipster team that like 6 people between the oceans believe can make the playoffs, I don’t see how they stay alive.

I’ve always liked Jae Crowder, and I think he makes a good backup to Kyle Anderson. Both of them can create when called upon, but if they are called upon, something’s probably falling apart.

This team was pretty abysmal at shooting last year. Not worst, but bad enough to warrant occasional winces when an open look turned sour again and again.

I like the Grizz, and I think they’re a fun team to give a few chances to on League Pass, but in the end they’re just chicken feed for the big boys of their conference.

Head Coach: Taylor Jenkins

Likely Starting Five:
PG: Ja Morant
SG: Dillon Brooks
SF: Kyle Anderson
PF: Jaren Jackson, Jr.
C: Jonas Valanciunas

Depth:
PG: Tyus Jones, De’Anthony Melton
SG: Grayson Allen, Josh Jackson, Andre Iguodala
SF: Jae Crowder, Bruno Cabocio
PF: Brandon Clarke
C: Ivan Rabb, Miles Plumlee

National TV Games: 2
11/15 vs. Utah, 8 EST on ESPN
1/20 vs. New Orleans, 5 EST on TNT

Reasons to Watch: This is a weird team of mostly misfit toys. That aspect is decent enough to give those games against the Jazz and Pelicans a glance.

They’re giving a lot of money to Iguodala and Valanciunas, and those guys might be playing their way off of the roster come the turn of the calendar. Iggy has legitimately nothing to prove in his career anymore, but another favorable season might start to form his potential HOF candidacy.

Prediction: 11th in the West. Many web sites will have them anywhere from 9th to 15th. No matter where you look, you won’t see this team contending for a playoff spot anytime after Halloween.


Miami Heat

Last Season: 39-43, 10th in East. ORtg 107.3 (26th), DRtg 107.6 (6th)

Strengths and Sorrows: Of course, adding a player like Jimmy Butler adds talent, skill, flash, and media coverage to a team. He’s one of the game’s great talkers, but he wants to be the man again. With Miami, he’s the clear A1 option. We saw him do this with Chicago a few years ago. Can he lead the Heat to a home court series this year?

Bam Adebayo is the defensive force in the middle. How much of a force? Per 100 possessions, the Heat allowed 2.4 points few with him on the court than on. Without Hassan Whiteside to gobble his minutes, that disparity might widen, and Adebayo might just nab some DPOY votes in the process.

Goran Dragic is a guy who seems to fly under the radar, despite being a consistent producer since moving to Miami in 2015. I’ve always appreciated his game, but now with the likes of Jimmy Butler and even Tyler Herro, his floor-general abilities might get some extra attention.

Speaking of Herro, he’s already asserting himself as a pro trash talker. In a preseason game against Orlando, he drilled a three and started talking shit to Michael Carter-Williams, leading to a double technical foul. He and Butler are going to be fun to watch as Jedi and Padawan of shitheaderry.

Head Coach: Erik Spoelstra

Likely Starting Five:
PG: Goran Dragic
SG: Dion Waiters
SF: Jimmy Butler
PF: Kelly Olynyk
C: Bam Adebayo

Depth:
PG: Justise Winslow, Kendrick Nunn, Jeremiah Martin, Daryl Macon
SG: Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson
SF: Derrick Jones Jr., James Johnson,
PF: KZ Okpala
C: Meyers Leonard, Udonis Haslem, Kyle Alexander

National TV Games: 6
10/31 @ Atlanta, 7 EST on TNT
12/10 vs. Atlanta, 8 EST on TNT
12/13 vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 8 EST on ESPN
12/18 @ Philadelphia, 7:30 EST on ESPN
3/4 vs. Orlando, 7 EST on ESPN
4/14 vs. Toronto, 7:30 EST on TNT

Reasons to Watch: The Dwyane Wade Era is over, and the Heatles are long in the rear view. Now Jimmy Butler leads a gang of misfit toys that might just sneak up on some teams. Jimmy Buckets is one of the most fun players in the league and he should anchor them on both sides of the court.

Of course, it would be inconsiderate of me to not mention that the Vice Nights uniforms are the best in the league full-stop.

I’m super interested to watch Tyler Herro’s rookie campaign. He’s another guy I think can succeed early in his career with this better environment (see Ja Morant in Memphis). The kid can flat out ball, and he’s a name to watch this year.

Prediction: 5th in the East. I don’t know, man. This team could miss the playoffs or they could land here. They have a fine young team with a solid leader in Butler. I’m probably way too high on them, but this is my endless post, so I’ll overrate if I want to.


Milwaukee Bucks

Last Season: 60-22, 1st in East. Lost 4-2 to Toronto in the conference finals. ORtg 113.8 (4th), DRtg 105.2 (1st)

Strengths and Sorrows: I’ll start by saying that the depth lost in Malcolm Brogdon will probably hurt them in April/May. That being said, they have Giannis, who makes everybody better just by being absolutely unstoppable. Antetokounmpo won the MVP award, which surprised no one. As long as he is healthy, the Bucks are a threat to win every game they play.

Wesley Matthews spent last year between New York, Indiana, and Dallas. He will most likely fill the 2 role for the Bucks where he should hopefully produce 13-15 points per game. He’s been on the downturn in recent years with regards to scoring, but a sincere jump in personnel quality around him this year will go a long way in boosting his potential.

Khris Middleton got a lot of positive talk last year. He took a step back in minutes, but didn’t lose much in terms of production, giving a rise to his per-36 minutes numbers. In that reference, he was providing 21.2 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 5 assists.

While Eric Bledsoe will start the season on the injured list with a fractured riblet, he will be a crucial floor general for the Bucks again this season. In his first fully year in Milwaukee, he saw his scoring drop from his time in Phoenix, but there’s a good reason for that. In his last full season for the Suns, he had to be hands-down the best player on the team. In Milwaukee, he won’t even need to be the third scoring option most times.

I dont see them repeating their #1 defensive rating this year, but boy howdy will they be tough to beat night in, night out.

Head Coach: Mike Budenholzer

Likely Starting Five:
PG: Eric Bledsoe
SG: Wesley Matthews
SF: Khris Middleton
PF: Giannis Antetokounmpo
C: Brook Lopez

Depth:
PG: George Hill, Donte DiVincenzo, Frank Mason III, Jaylen Adams
SG: Pat Connaughton, Kyle Korver
SF: Sterling Brown
PF: Ersan Ilyasova, D.J. Wilson, Dragan Bender, Thanasis Antetokounmpo
C: Robin Lopez

National TV Games: 24
10/24 @ Houston, 8 EST on TNT
10/30 @ Boston, 7:30 EST on ESPN
11/6 @ LA CLippers, 10 EST on ESPN
11/21 vs. Portland, 8 EST on TNT
12/11 vs. New Orleans, 9:30 EST on ESPN
12/19 vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 8 EST on TNT
12/25 @ Philadelphia, 2:30 EST on ABC
1/8 @ Golden State, 10 EST on ESPN
1/16 vs. Boston, 8 EST on TNT
2/4 @ New Orleans, 7:30 EST on TNT
2/6 vs. Philadelphia, 8 EST on TNT
2/12 @ Indiana, 7:30 EST on ESPN
2/22 vs. Philadelphia, 8:30 EST on ABC
2/25 @ Toronto, 7:30 EST on TNT
2/28 vs. Oklahoma City, 8 EST on ESPN
3/4 vs. Indiana, 9:30 EST on ESPN
3/6 @ Los Angeles Lakers, 10:30 EST on ESPN
3/12 vs. Boston, 8 EST on ESPN
3/14 vs. Golden State, 8:30 EST on ABC
3/25 vs. Houston, 9:30 EST on ESPN
4/1 vs. Toronto, 9 EST on ESPN
4/4 @ Boston, 3:30 EST on ABC
4/7 @ Philadelphia, 7:30 EST on TNT
4/9 vs. Brooklyn, 8 EST on TNT

Reasons to Watch: Giannis Antetokounmpo may just be the best basketball player alive, and when he is rolling, he is an unprecedented terror on the floor. His ascent from lanky unknown to some sort of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone hybrid has been incredible. Seriously, if you didn’t watch Milwaukee last year because they’re the Bucks, I can assure you- these ain’t your older sister’s Bucks.

They have a third-act Kyle Korver, who still shot .467/.397/.822 last year in his age 37 season.

They have BOTH LOPEZ BROTHERS.

Beyond the bigger names, Pat Connaughton and George Hill are the kind of guys that will preserve the destruction of the Bucks’ starters. This team is deep, even if they lost some of their rotation this summer.

Prediction: 1st in the East. The Bucks have everything it takes to win 57+ games again, but can they get out of the Eastern Conference this year? With all of the talk about Giannis’s contract coming up, this season could be a pivotal one for the future of Milwaukee basketball.


Minnesota Timberwolves

Last Season: 36-46, 11th in West. ORtg 111.4 (13th), DRtg 112.9 (24th)

Strengths and Sorrows: The Timberwolves are the least successful franchise in the NBA and that will not change this year. They have one of the best bigs in K-Tony Towns and do nothing with him. Its actually depressing. This entry is essentially the Towns preview, as there isn’t too much to be wowed with beyond him.

I like Robert Covington as a rotation guy, but the Pups seem to want him in the starting five every night.

I’ve seen some flashes of greatness from Shabazz Napier, but they’ve been legitimately flashes- cool plays for a highlight reel but no overall substance.

I like the move in adding Jordan Bell, a guy who flew under the radar on the Golden State Warriors superteams. He might just add a little April experience to this squad, but in the end its just nothing of any substance toward getting them out of this decades-long rut.

Andrew Wiggins made a claim that he thinks he’s a top-100 player in the league today. This is patently false. Maple Jordan is a fraud, and I wish it weren’t so, but it is. The Kevin Love trade was emphatically one-sided. Josh Okogie is probably going to take his starting spot this season by hook or by crook.

Head Coach: Ryan Saunders

Likely Starting Five:
PG: Jeff Teague
SG: Andrew Wiggins
SF: Jarrett Culver
PF: Robert Covington
C: Karl-Anthony Towns

Depth:
PG: Shabazz Napier, Jaylen Nowell, Jared Terrell, Jordan McLaughlin
SG: Josh Okogie, Treveon Graham
SF: Jake Layman, Keita Bates-Diop
PF: Jordan Bell, Noah Vonleh
C: Gorgui Dieng, Naz Reid

National TV Games: 1
1/24 vs. Houston, 8 EST on ESPN

Reasons to Watch: Karl-Anthony Towns is the superstar that can’t be a superstar because he plays for the damn Timberwolves. I hate to say this as someone with an affection for small-market teams. He will probably leave in a few years and Minnesota will get another lottery pick to fail to build around because nobody wants to play for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Sigh. Alright.

I’ll give them a shot just because of Towns

Wiggins might be traded this season. A change of scenery might be good for him. If I’m to believe the Markelle Fultz hype in Orlando, maybe Wiggins can get a shot in Indiana or Toronto or Detroit.

Prediction: 14th in the West. This is hell. You were born here. You will die here.


New Orleans Pelicans

Last Season: 33-49, 13th in West. ORtg 111.4 (12th), DRtg 112.6 (23rd)

Strengths and Sorrows: Anthony Davis is gone, and it was a long time coming. Whether or not there was tampering, it just felt like he was going to leave as soon as he could. The awkwardness of last season’s trade rumors really hurt the team, but ultimately they got the top pick, leading to them drafting Zion Williamson, the most heralded number one pick since… Anthony Davis.

The haul from Los Angeles in the Davis trade was colossal, and the total face lift of the team will do them wonders this year. Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram were the front line additions in the trade, but they made additional moves that could potentially boost this team into playoff contention.

J.J. Redick is entering his 14th NBA season and will provide leadership on a young squad. He has never missed the playoffs, and on media day made sure Williamson knew it, saying “don’t fuck this up for me.” Everyone had a good laugh, but I’m gonna guess there was some seriousness in his voice as well.

Lonzo Ball needed a change of scenery, and hopefully jumping from the over-dramatic Lakers to the unassuming Pelicans will help him grow into the point guard we all think he can be. He’s separated himself from his dad, which is the only time I hope I have to elude to LaVar Ball this season.

Head Coach: Alvin Gentry

Likely Starting Five:
PG: Lonzo Ball
SG: Jrue Holiday
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: Zion Williamson
C: Derrick Favors

Depth:
PG: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Frank Jackson, Josh Hart
SG: J.J. Redick, E’Twaun Moore
SF: Kenrich Williams
PF: Jaxson Hayes
C: Jahlil Okafor, Kavell Bigby-Williams

National TV Games: 20
10/22 @ Toronto, 8 EST on TNT
10/25 vs. Dallas, 8 EST on ESPN
10/31 vs. Denver, 9:30 EST on TNT
11/21 @ Phoeniz, 10:30 ESNT on TNT
11/27 vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 9:30 EST on ESPN
12/3 vs. Dallas, 7:30 EST on TNT
12/11 @ Milwaukee, 9:30 EST on ESPN
12/20 @ Golden State, 10:30 EST on ESPN
12/25 @ Denver, 10:30 EST on ESPN
1/10 @ New York, 8 EST on ESPN
1/18 vs. LA Clippers, 3:30 EST on ABC
1/20 @ Memphis, 5 EST on TNT
1/26 vs. Boston, 6 EST on ESPN
2/2 @ Houston, 2 EST on ABC
2/4 vs. Milwaukee, 7:30 EST on TNT
2/21 @ Portland, 10:30 EST on ESPN
2/25 @ Los Angeles Lakers, 10 EST on TNT
3/1 vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 8 EST on ESPN
3/11 @ Sacramento, 10 EST on ESPN

Reasons to Watch: Zion, Zion, Zion, and also Zion. Okay there are plenty of good reasons to watch the Pellies, but Zion is one of the most hyped rookies in quite some time. He seems to be handling the pressure so far, and the lack of big-market press to compound his growing pains will do him well.

I’m really looking forward to watching Lonzo Ball this season. I think he can make a jump to around all-star caliber. The only problem with that being that some of the greatest guards of this century are currently playing in the Western Conference.

Jrue Holiday continues to be a steadfast presence in New Orleans, and I’ve been a fan of his game for years. He’s one of the most underrated guards and an incredible two-way force. The lack of (positive) spotlight on the Pelicans in recent years has really been a hindrance on his national appeal, but he’s one guy I recommend taking the time to watch before his career is done. That being said, he’s in his 11th year and won’t turn 30 until next summer.

This is one of those teams that you will hear a lot about this season, mostly for Zion, but they will be worth the watch especially in those games against bottom-third level opponents like Phoenix, Oklahoma City, and Minnesota.

Prediction: 9th in West. I really like a lot of the pieces they have here, but ultimately I think they come up just short of reaching the playoffs, much to the chagrin of J.J. Redick.


New York Knicks

Last Season: 17-65, 15th in East. ORtg 104.5 (30th), DRtg 113.7 (26th)

Strengths and Sorrows: They’re the Knicks. What do you want me to say here? They’re the damn Knicks. Alright fine.

They got rid of their best player. They didn’t get the top pick. They didn’t get Durant. They didn’t get Kyrie.

Julius Randle is a most-improved player candidate in my book, but that will be the peak for this team.

I’m very into Dennis Smith, Jr. jumping out the gym on occasion and the upside of R.J. Barrett. I’m a guy who doesn’t pay attention to college basketball until March, and I don’t know much about his college career, but what I’ve seen in the preseason has been pretty nice.

MAYBE THEY WON’T FUCK IT UP FOR THE 3,526,239th CONSECUTIVE CHANCE

Lol they’re the Knicks. They will.

Head Coach: David Fizdale

Likely Starting Five:
PG: Dennis Smith, Jr.
SG: R.J. Barrett
SF: Kevin Knox
PF: Julius Randle
C: Mitchell Robinson

Depth:
PG: Elfrid Payton, Kadeem Allen, Frank Ntilikina
SG: Reggie Bullock, Wayne Ellington, Allonzo Trier
SF: Marcus Morries, Damyean Dotson
PF: Bobby Portis, Taj Gibson
C: Kenny Wooten

National TV Games: 3
11/14 vs. Dallas, 8 EST on TNT
12/26 @ Brooklyn, 8 EST on TNT
1/10 vs. New Orleans, 8 EST on ESPN

Reasons to Watch: Comedy. Tragedy. The most profitable brand in basketball is perpetually inept and it starts with ownership. That being said, Randle should have a good year.

I hope the NYC press doesn’t ruin R.J. Barrett’s life if he’s not Michael Jordan from the jump. #Pray4RJ

Prediction: 12th in the East. The Knicks have existed in basketball hell for so long that it’s almost not fun to make fun of them anymore. Still, they deserve any and all ridicule for repeatedly not extending the contract of any of their first round draft picks no matter how much their fan base loves them.


Oklahoma City Thunder

Last Season: 49-33, 6th in West. Lost 4-1 to Portland in the first round. ORtg 110.3 (17th), 107.0 (4th)

Strengths and Sorrows: Chris Paul will be the center of this squad, and sadly he will be the steward of yet another middling, non-contending squad. From everything I’ve seen so far, he seems to enjoy being back in Oklahoma City where his career began after the Hornets were briefly transplanted there after Hurricane Katrina.

The Thunder led the league in steals per game last year. The problem is that half of those left this offseason. While Chris Paul can pick some pockets, it won’t be the same.

The Thunder hilariously took a league-best 94 shots per game, which will certainly go down this year, probably for the better. Without Russell Westbrook to hog every slot on the stat sheet, maybe they can develop some sort of chemistry and win games on good play-making, given that they now have a true PG.

A bright spot is probably Steven Adams on the boards. He was allowed to grab 391 offensive rebounds last year, second best in the league. He was 49th in defensive rebounds, while Westbrook had the most for any guard by a long, long margin. Maybe Adams jumps into the top ten this year.

Head Coach: Billy Donovan

Likely Starting Five:
PG: Chris Paul
SG: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
SF: Andre Roberson
PF: Danilo Gallinari
C: Steven Adams

Depth:
PG: Dennis Schroeder, Abdul Gaddy
SG: Hamidou Diallo, Deonte Burton
SF: Terrance Ferguson, Abdel Nader
PF: Mike Muscala, Darius Bazley, Eric Moreland
C: Nerlens Noel, Justin Patton

National TV Games: 3
1/9 vs. Houston, 9:30 EST on TNT
2/21 vs. Denver, 8 EST on ESPN
2/28 @ Milwaukee, 8 EST on ESPN

Reasons to Watch: Chris Paul will always be a fun watch, as he is one of the true great point guards to ever play in this league.

The thing about this squad that intrigues me is how this team will play without Russell Westbrook padding the stat sheet every night. Billy Donovan will get a chance to coach a team again, so utilizing a true floor general like Paul will be a nice experiment in his play calling.

Steven Adams is entertaining whenever he is on TV, and is a kind of throwback teeth-masher in the paint. It doesn’t hurt that he also looks like bit like a caveman.

Hamidou Diallo is a silky smooth dunker who can hop over guys with ease. He’s a fun watch just because if he gets a few steps to load, a top ten play is on tap.

The three games noted above are all against vastly superior competition, so they might be nice chances to see how the new era Thunder adapt. Also, of course, that Westbrook homecoming will be special. Now that OKC is free to look toward its first iteration without Durant or Westbrook, there is a chance that they will lose a lot but not without trying their damnedest.

Prediction: 13th in West. Its a new day in OKC, and it won’t be very pretty. I think there are some nice spots on this roster, but in the end, it will probably be a forgettable year for the Thunder as they transition away from their golden generation.


Orlando Magic

Last Season: 42-40, 7th in East. Lost 4-1 to Toronto in the first round. ORtg 108.9 (22nd), DRtg 108.1 (8th)

Strengths and Sorrows: The Magic had an underappreciated defense last year, and its just because they’re the Magic. They never get screen time, they never get national attention. They have the best (?) dunker in the game in Aaron Gordon.

This is one of those teams that you’re going to look at the standings in February and say “oh shit!” when the Magic aren’t bottom-feeders. How are they 6th in the East? A lot of it comes from the man in the middle.

Nikola Vucevic was a first-time all-star last year, his 8th in the league. He put up 20.8 points, 3.8 assists, 12 rebounds and 1 steal per game, and he played in all but two. Like most big guys, Vucevic lives on high-percentage shots at the rim, but Orlando’s star center was 6th last year in defensive win shares, and tenth in overall win shares. According to basketball-reference.com, he is 9th in value over replacement player, ahead of Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Steph Curry and several other names that have a more established brand. He’s an ace in the sleeve.

I’ve heard wars and rumors of wars. Pray tell that the phantom known as Markelle Fultz is thriving in Orlando. Man, I don’t know what to believe anymore. If Fultz has a jump shot, maybe something can happen for the Magic.

It’s not like their bench is bad, its just not going to sustain a lot. Michael Carter-Williams has probably peaked. Terrence Ross won a dunk contest like 7 years ago.

Still, I think they can compete with Chicago for that 8th spot. I’ll cosign any Steve Clifford squad.

Head Coach: Steve Clifford

Likely Starting Five:
PG: D.J. Augustin
SG: Evan Fournier
SF: Jonathan Isaac
PF: Aaron Gordon
C: Nikola Vucevic

Depth:
PG: Michael Carter-Williams, Markelle Fultz, Josh Magette, Hassani Gravett
SG: Terrence Ross, Wes Iwundu, Melvin Frazier Jr.
SF: Al-Farouq Aminu
PF: Khem Birch, Amile Jefferson
C: Mo Bamba

National TV Games: 1
3/4 @ Miami, 7 EST on ESPN

Reasons to Watch: Nikola Vucevic deserves your attention. Give his team a shot in March, and if you have League Pass, maybe a few times against better competition.

Aaron Gordon is also a lot of fun to watch, and in transition can be devastating to a rim. Watching him posterize Bam Adebayo in that one national TV game might be fun.

Prediction: 9th in the East. Juuuuuuuuuuust a bit outside. 9th in the East is the worst position in the game. Missing the revenue of the playoffs, missing the lottery chances of being truly awful. The Magic are here, but at least they’re interesting.


Philadelphia 76ers

Last Season: 51-31, 3rd in East. Lost 4-3 to Toronto in the conference semis. ORtg 112.6 (8th), DRtg 110.0 (15th)

Strengths and Sorrows: A few years ago, the Sixers were a laughing stock. They were so dysfunctional and terrible that their slogan “Trust the Process” was practically a meme. Now look at them. A behemoth. One of the best defensive squads in the game, and this year they could tap into the best of all time club.

At the heart of this is Joel Embiid, whose character, size, and ability to overpower nearly every player on the planet is the chief reason the Sixers are title contenders. He is a top-tier MVP candidate, focusing on his health and durability for the second straight offseason. In his first three seasons, Embiid went from 20.2 points per game to 22.9 to 27.5. Rebounds went from 7.8 to 11.0 to 13.6. Assists from 2.1 to 3.2 to 3.7. He was an all-star the last two years, and there’s little reason to believe he won’t do it again in Chicago this season. I could go on and on as to why Embiid is maybe my favorite player in the game today, but I’ll save some of that for his regular season heroics.

Ben Simmons shot a three. Yes, it was the preseason. Yes, it was against an international club. No, there was not a defender within 15 feet of him. Still, if Simmons develops an outside shot, this league is over. Simmons is one of the smoothest ballhandlers I’ve seen in my ~25 years of watching basketball. He’s a 6′ 10″ point guard. Last year, he was 16th in the NBA in rebounds, 16th in steals, and 3rd in assists. He has the court vision of a ten-year veteran. He’s one of the most brilliant defenders alive, too. Ben Simmons is almost the complete package.

Adding Josh Richardson and Al Horford to this team really seals the deal that they are going for it all in 2020. They have capable shooters and defenders all the way down the roster, and with the intention of resting their stars for the postseason, expect to see that depth utilized a lot more this year.

Head Coach: Brett Brown

Likely Starting Five:
PG: Ben Simmons
SG: Josh Richardson
SF: Tobias Harris
PF: Al Horford
C: Joel Embiid

Depth:
PG: Shake Milton, Trey Burke, Raul Neto
SG: Zhaire Smith, Matisse Thybulle, Marial Shayok
SF: James Ennis III
PF: Mike Scott, Jonah Bolden
C: Kyle O’Quinn, Norvel Pelle

National TV Games: 24
10/23 vs. Boston, 7:30 EST on ESPN
11/22 vs. San Antonio, 8 EST on ESPN
12/12 @ Boston, 8 EST on TNT
12/18 vs. Miami, 7:30 EST on ESPN
12/20 vs. Dallas, 8 EST on ESPN
12/25 vs. Milwaukee, 2:30 EST on ABC
1/3 @ Houston, 8 EST on ESPN
1/9 vs. Boston, 7 EST on TNT
1/15 vs. Brooklyn, 7 EST on ESPN
1/17 vs. Chicago, 7 EST on ESPN
1/22 @ Toronto, 7:30 EST on ESPN
1/25 vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 8:30 EST on ABC
1/28 vs. Golden State, 7:30 EST on TNT
2/1 @ Boston, 8:30 EST on ABC
2/6 @ Milwaukee, 8 EST on TNT
2/11 vs. LA Clippers, 7 EST on TNT
2/20 vs. Brooklen, 8 EST on TNT
2/22 @ Milwaukee, 8:30 EST on ABC
3/1 @ LA CLippers, 3:30 EST on ABC
3/3 @ Los Angeles Lakers, 10 EST on TNT
3/7 @ Golden State, 8:30 EST on ABC
3/11 vs. Detroit, 7:30 EST on ESPN
3/31 vs. Houston, 7:30 EST on TNT
4/7 vs. Milwaukee, 7:30 EST on TNT

Reasons to Watch: The Sixers will probably have one of the best defenses since the league dropped the hand-checking rule many years ago. We’ve watched them grow from perennial lottery team to burgeoning superteam, surviving the shortcomings of Markelle Fultz and Jahlil Okafor.

If Ben Simmons ever develops an outside shot they may honestly be unstoppable. Embiid and Horford are terrifying down low.

Really, I insist that you watch this team as much as possible. It might be one of those squads you’re talking about in 15 years- “these kids today couldn’t score shit on the 2020 Sixers. They’re too soft!”

If there is a must-watch team in the East, for me, its Philly.

Prediction: 2nd in the East. I say second, but they could finish first. It all depends on who takes things easier late in the regular season between Philly and Milwaukee. Either way, with Kawhi Leonard out of the Eastern Conference, those two are on a path to meet in late May.


Phoenix Suns

Last Season: 19-63, 15th in West. ORtg 105.9 (28th), DRtg 115.1 (29th)

Strengths and Sorrows: Devin Booker is EXPLOSIVE. Deandre Ayton is TENACIOUS. Ricky Rubio is HERE. Dario Saric EXISTS. Kelly Oubre Jr.

Alright so some of that was mean. There is a lot to like on this year’s Suns.

Deandre Ayton didn’t win rookie of the year last year, but he damn well doesn’t need to be disrespected by being forgotten. For a young center, he’s really efficient from 18 feet and in. Having a true point guard in Rubio will help spread him out to utilize his versatile skills.

Ricky Rubio is that guy who just keeps hanging around despite never living up to the potential that was put upon him nearly a decade ago. He keeps getting changes of scenery and keeps doing well enough to help develop young guys around him, but never make that push back into the playoffs. I like the idea of him partnering with Ayton and Booker in a give-and-go scenario, as all three can create adeptly.

As for Booker, he is a living, breathing bucket. Now in his fifth season (!!!), he is a legitimate star in the making, held back only by his team’s lack of success in the Mad Max cosplay that is the West. Last year, he shot .467/.326/.866 while taking more attempts than in previous years. He’s oddly one of the “best kept secret” kind of players because of his geographic location, but I assure you, people know about Devin Booker. They like him. He deserves it.

Head Coach: Monty Williams

Likely Starting Five:
PG: Ricky Rubio
SG: Devin Booker
SF: Kelly Oubre, Jr.
PF: Dario Saric
C: Deandre Ayton

Depth:
PG: Ty Jerome, Elie Okobo
SG: Tyler Johnson, Jevon Carter, Jalen Lecque
SF: Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson, Norense Odiase
PF: Frank Kaminsky, Cheik Diallo
C: Aron Baynes, Tariq Owens

National TV Games: 1
11/21 vs. New Orleans, 10:30 EST on TNT

Reasons to Watch: The Suns won’t win a lot of games. I’ve read estimates that have them finishing as high as 8th in the West, and I just can’t buy it. There is a lot to like here, but I still see them as a bottom-third offense and defense.

That said, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton are worth your time. If Zion Williamson is healthy by their game on November 21st, it will be interesting to see he and Ayton go toe to toe.

Prediction: 15th in the West. Building blocks are here, and they will be better than last year, but the whole conference will sadly just chew them up and spit them out and forget about them. Lottery again, and that isn’t a bad thing, necessarily.


Portland Trail Blazers

Last Season: 53-29, 3rd in West. Lost 4-0 to Golden State in the conference finals. ORtg 114.7 (3rd), DRtg 110.5 (16th)

Strengths and Sorrows: As long as the Blazers have Damian Lillard, I am convinced they will be a threat to someone. Ever since his incredible buzzer beater against Houston in the 2014 playoffs, I’ve understood that Lillard is of another realm entirely. Now, the game lives in the wake of his buzzer beater against Oklahoma City, that set off a chain reaction that brought about the “big two” era.

The Blazers made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals last year after out-running Denver. With Golden State reeling from free agency and injuries, there is good reason to believe they could do it again, and maybe even break through to the Finals.

C.J. McCollum rounds out what is the best backcourt in the game as long as Klay Thompson is injured. He’s been a regular 20-22 points per game since joining the Portland starting lineup in 2015, and his numbers will probably climb as more of the scoring weight will be on his shoulders this year.

For the big men, its a waiting game for Jusuf Nurkic to get healthy. Hassan Whiteside is a solid fill-in, and will probably get regular rotation minutes even when Nurkic is back. Pau Gasol is clearly in the twilight of his career, and embraces the old sage leadership role on a new team every year. He is destined for the hall of fame, but that will wait as his love of baloncesto is just too much of his heart right now.

Mario Hezonja will be needed this year, and his per 100 possessions figures point to him being capable enough to help Portland’s second unit. In order for the Blazers to compete in a rowdy Northwest Division, guys like Hezonja and newly-anointed starting power forward Zach Collins will have to pick up a lot of slack.

Head Coach: Terry Stotts

Likely Starting Five:
PG: Damian Lillard
SG: C.J. McCollum
SF: Rodney Hood
PF: Zach Collins
C: Hassan Whiteside

Depth:
PG: Anfernee Simons, London Perrantes, Troy Caupain
SG: Kent Bazemore, Gary Trent Jr.
SF: Mario Hezonja, Anthony Tolliver
PF: Nassir Little
C: Paul Gasol, Skal Labissiere, Moses Brown

National TV Games: 20
10/23 vs. Denver, 10 EST on ESPN
11/7 @ LA Clippers, 10:30 EST on TNT
11/21 @ Milwaukee, 8 EST on TNT
12/3 @ LA Clippers, 10 EST on TNT
12/6 vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 10:30 EST on ESPN
12/12 @ Denver, 10:30 EST on TNT
12/18 vs. Golden State, 10 EST on ESPN
12/26 @ Utah, 10:30 EST on TNT
1/15 @ Houston, 9:30 EST on ESPN
1/17 @ Dallas, 9:30 EST on ESPN
1/20 vs. Golden State, 10 EST on TNT
1/23 vs. Dallas, 10:30 EST on TNT
1/29 vs. Houston, 10 EST on ESPN
1/31 @ Los Angeles Lakers, 10:30 EST on ESPN
2/4 @ Denver, 10 EST on TNT
2/7 @ Utah, 10:30 EST on ESPN
2/21 vs. New Orleans, 10:30 EST on ESPN
2/27 @ Indiana, 8 EST on TNT
3/15 vs. Houston, 3:30 EST on ABC
4/2 vs. Utah, 10:30 EST on TNT

Reasons to Watch: Lillard and McCollum are such an entertaining duo, with the former being the most ice cold crunch time player in the game today.

This team will grow and evolve as the season progresses, more visibly than others, just because of the new roles a lot of guys are going to need to handle. In a year that is so wide open, if they can gel by February, they might just be playing in May.

Prediction: 5th in the West. With Denver and Utah in their division, its just too much to believe they can take a top 4 spot. In my mind, both of those teams are better than Portland, but this team just has a certain magic to it. I will always believe in Terry Stotts and Damian Lillard.


Sacramento Kings

Last Season: 39-43, 9th in West. ORtg 110.4 (16th), DRtg 111.5 (20th)

Strengths and Sorrows: De’Aaron Fox is a budding star in this league, and I’m looking for big things in his third season. His jump from freshman to sophomore was considerable, jumping nearly 6 points, 3 assists, and a rebound between 2018 and 2019. He’s a closet double-double average candidate this year, as he continues to build chemistry with the young core of Buddy Hield and Marvin Bagley III.

Hield, now in his fourth year, made a heavy jump of his own last year, crossing the 20 points per game plateau. He played in all 82 games for the second time in his career, and the Kings needed every last one of them just to finish a loooong way out of the 8th seed.

Bagley brought 14.9 points, 7.6 boards, and one block, one assist per game in his rookie campaign, and if Luke Walton can unlock him more, Bagley can become the third part of a young team that could surprise some teams this year.

My main issue with this team is that there just isn’t enough here, especially on defense, to compete for a top 8 spot. I think they take a step back because of the progress they made last year is probably not going to continue enough to bring them to the promised land.

Head Coach: Luke Walton

Likely Starting Five:
PG: De’Aaron Fox
SG: Buddy Hield
SF: Harrison Barnes
PF: Marvin Bagley III
C: Dewayne Dedmon

Depth:
PG: Cory Joseph, Yogi Ferrell, Kyle Guy
SG: Bogdan Bogdanovic, Justin James
SF: Trevor Ariza, Troy Williams,
PF: Nemanja Bjelica, Richaun Holmes
C: Harry Giles III, Caleb Swanigan

National TV Games: 1
3/11 vs. New Orleans, 10 EST on ESPN

Reasons to Watch: Yet another team that gets only one game, and its against New Orleans. So sure, that’s a solid watch as is. I’d give them credit where its due because of the growth of Fox/Hield/Bagley. Guys like Harrison Barnes and Trevor Ariza are craft vets who can still contribute well.

Prediction: 12th in the West. Like I said, its a step back, but there is at least something to build on. I’m not a big Luke Walton fan, but maybe in this situation he can take the time to really develop a philosophy of his own.


San Antonio Spurs

Last Season: 48-34, 7th in West. Lost 4-3 to Denver in the first round. ORtg 112.9 (7th), DRtg 111.2 (19th)

Strengths and Sorrows: The Spurs kept thier playoff streak alive last year by locking down the 8 seed. The stigma of that spot is that the team in it is just a fringe playoff team and not a contender. While the Spurs are not likely to compete for a spot in the Finals, this is not a franchise on its last competitive leg. Look back at their record last year. They won 14 more games than they lost.

Dejounte Murray missed all of last season with an ACL tear, and having him back will do wonders for the Spurs. He was averaging 8 points and 3 assists per game pre-injury, so if he comes back more phyiscally developed and focused, those figures should hop quite a bit.

Derrick White took a lot of those point guard minutes last year, and he will probably be moved to the 2 and be paired with Murray as a competent young backcourt to compliment the veteran leadership.

DeMar DeRozan had to watch his former team win its first title because of his trade. The Raptors traded their soul for a championship, splitting up one of the most lovable bromances in the league. DeRozan is now paired with LaMarcus Aldridge in a front court that has more miles behind it than in front, but can still assert dominance on a nightly basis. 2018-19 was DeRozan’s best year in terms of assists and rebounds per game, but his scoring fell off for the second consecutive year. It didn’t seem to be too much of a problem for the Spurs, as they were still a top-10 offensive team.

The Spurs trademark for the last twenty-plus years has always been depth, and this year doesn’t change that much. Patty Mills, Marco Belinelli, DeMarre Carroll, and Rudy Gay are all guys who could be getting starters’ minutes on lesser teams, but they’re here because of what San Antonio Basketball is- winning.

Head Coach: Gregg Popovich

Likely Starting Five:
PG: Dejounte Murray
SG: Derrick White
SF: DeMar DeRozan
PF: LaMarcus Aldridge
C: Jakob Poeltl

Depth:
PG: Patty Mills, Bryn Forbes
SG: Marco Belinelli, Lonnie Walker, IV
SF: DeMarre Carroll
PF: Rudy Gay, Try Lyles, Luka Samanic
C: Drew Eubanks, Chimezie Metu, Dedric Lawson

National TV Games: 5
11/22 @ Philadelphia, 8 EST on ESPN
2/26 vs. Dallas, 7:30 EST on ESPN
3/10 vs. Dallas, 8 EST on TNT
3/24 @ Utah, 10 EST on TNT
4/8 @ Houston, 9:30 EST on ESPN

Reasons to Watch: Watching the young guards develop, seeing how Dejounte Murray plays post-injury, and giving DeRozan another year under Popovich are good reasons to watch them.

Really any Gregg Popovich team is going to be really intellectual and pass-heavy. They bring in and develop personnel to exist within their own system and unselfish guys thrive in it. I always give the Spurs some of my time, and they never let me down. They just play fluid, captivating basketball, even years after breaking up their legendary big three of Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili.

Prediction: 8th in the West. I think they hold on to this spot and the streak, but it will be much closer than last year. Maybe Becky Hammon gets a shot at coaching when Pop gets ejected. That would be cool.


Toronto Raptors

Last Season: 58-24, 2nd in East. Won NBA Finals. ORtg 113.1 (5th) DRtg 107.1 (5th)

Strengths and Sorrows: Hold on let me find the caps lock. THE TORONTO RAPTORS WON THE NBA FINALS. I type it and it still feels surreal. As someone who was in grade school when the Raptors joined the league, they’ve always been a fascination. For the longest time, I thought the NBA didn’t want them to win, but be good enough to keep attention in the Canadian market. Hell, I even built a cult social group called NBA True Believers that discusses NBA conspiracies because of my thoughts on Toronto’s lack of Finals time. But here we are, in the amber of the moment.

Kawhi Leonard is gone, and that’s okay. He was a mercenary and did his job faithfully.

Pascal Siakam is the new big man on campus in Toronto. Last year saw him make the jump from relative unknown sophomore to sub-stardom, winning the Most Improved Player Award. He contributed 16.9 points per game, nearly 10 more than 2017-18. Siakam is going to be the A1 scoring option in Toronto, and for that reason, I’m expecting big things from him as the Raptors look to defend the title.

Marc Gasol is in his 12th year, and still managed to be 11th in the league in Defensive Win Shares last season. His All-NBA days are well into the past now, but he’s still a pivotal piece of the Raptors’ present.

Fred VanVleet scared Stephen Curry so much that he asked for help in the Finals. Everyone had a good time with that this summer.

OG Anunoby made a healthy progression from his first to second year, and as the Raptors’ starting 4, he will probably see that standard deviation continue as he’s forced to carry a little more weight with Leonard gone.

And then there’s Kyle Lowry, the kid who just couldn’t win. The five-time all-star, the 2014-15 All-NBA guard. The World Champion. I was happy most for him, finally winning it all in his 13th season in the league. While his career is past its climax statistically, he did have a career best in assists last year, playing a rather large role in Toronto’s run. This season should be a victory lap for him, and that’s fine. He’s earned it. He deserves it.

Head Coach: Nick Nurse

Likely Starting Five:
PG: Kyle Lowry
SG: Norman Powell
SF: OG Anunoby
PF: Pascal Siakam
C: Marc Gasol

Depth:
PG: Fred VanVleet, Cameron Payne, Isaiah Taylor
SG: Matt Thomas, Patrick McCaw
SF: Stanley Johnson
PF: Rondae Hillis-Jefferson, Serge Ibaka
C: Chris Boucher, Dewan Hernandez, Sagaba Konate

National TV Games: 11
10/22 vs. New Orleans, 8 EST on TNT
12/11 vs. LA Clippers, 7 EST on ESPN
12/25 vs. Boston, 12 EST on ESPN
1/22 vs Philadelphia, 7:30 EST on ESPN
2/7 @ Indiana, 8 EST on ESPN
2/25 vs. Milwaukee, 7:30 EST on TNT
3/5 @ Golden State, 10:30 EST on TNT
3/16 vs. Golden State, 8 EST on ESPN
3/24 vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 7:30 EST on TNT
4/1 vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 9 EST on ESPN
4/14 @ Miami, 7:30 EST on TNT

Reasons to Watch: Pascal Siakam is a star on the rise, and I expect a lot from him. While this isn’t a team full of guys you talk about around the dinner table, there’s a reason the Raptors still get 11 American TV games this year- they’re still a damn good team.

Watch Lowry on the pick and roll with Gasol. Watch Siakam body his enemies to the floor while flushing two in their face. Watch a still-very-potent defense stymie the Eastern Conference into some lovely, sub-100 point games.

Prediction: 7th in the East. I see championship hangover, I see the void Leonard left. This is still a playoff team, and a damn scary one. They could peak at 4th in this conference, but I just see too much complacency after doing the impossible last year.


Utah Jazz

Last Season: 50-32, 5th in West. Lost 4-1 to Houston in the first round. ORtg 110.9 (15th), DRtg 105.7 (2nd)

Strengths and Sorrows: Top to bottom, this is a championship contender. Adding Mike Conley will improve their pick-and-roll offense and help spread the floor for their cornucopia of offensive options.

Last season, Bojan Bogdanovic was the best player in Indiana when Oladipo went down. Thinking he will be able to duplicate his production this year is a little unrealistic, but that’s likely because he won’t have to.

Joe Ingles doesn’t look like an NBA superstar, and while he isn’t, he’s one of those guys who just seems to give everyone problems. Ingles has played all 82 games for three straight seasons, and missed three games total in the two seasons before that. He averaged 18.5 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 8.7 assists per 100 possessions last year, a consistent performance that most teams would give a kidney to have.

Rudy Gobert, fresh off of a second straight bronze medal in the World Cup this summer, is a perennial first-team all-defense center and reigning back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year. He also led the league in field goal percentage per 100 possessions with .669. It can’t be overstated how valuable he is to the Jazz going forward.

Head Coach: Quin Snyder

Likely Starting Five:
PG: Mike Conley
SG: Donovan Mitchell
SF: Bojan Bogdanovic
SF: Joe Ingles
C: Rudy Gobert

Depth:
PG: Emmanuel Mudiay, Nigel Williams-Goss
SG: Dante Exum, Justin Wright-Foreman
SF: Royce O’Neale
PF: Jeff Green, Georges Niang
C: Ed Davis, Tony Bradley

National TV Games: 16
12/25 @ Los Angeles Lakers, 10:30 EST on ESPN
12/30 vs. LA Clippers, 10 EST on ESPN
11/15 @ Memphis, 8 EST on ESPN
12/13 vs. Golden State, 10:30 EST on ESPN
12/26 vs. Portland, 10:30 EST on TNT
1/22 @ Golden State, 10 EST on ESPN
1/30 @ Denver, 10:30 EST on TNT
2/5 vs. Denver, 10 EST on ESPN
2/7 vs. Portland, 10:30 EST on ESPN
2/26 vs. Boston, 10 EST on ESPN
3/6 vs. Utah, 8 EST on ESPN
3/18 @ Los Angeles Lakers, 10 EST on ESPN
3/24 vs. San Antonio, 10 EST on TNT
4/2 @ Portland, 10:30 EST on TNT
4/7 vs. LA Clippers, 10 EST on TNT
4/14 vs. Denver, 10 EST on TNT

Reasons to Watch: The 2020 Jazz are the team I’m really pushing chips on. Adding Conley and Bogdanovic will add consistency to their offense while not mortgaging it for defense. I know Utah is rarely a sexy pick because they play in Utah, but this may be the best Jazz squad since the Stockton-Malone Era. In the potentially the most loaded Western Conference yet, they could very well be the team to represent them in June.

Regression fears aside, Donovan Mitchell is an exciting young guard who matches well with Rudy Gobert. There are just so many options to move and score on this offense, that I feel Mitchell will thrive in not having to carry as much as he did the last two years.

Royce O’Neale was undrafted, played around in Euroleague, and now is a valued contributor to a title contender. He’s the kind of guy who really gets into the heads of his opponents and knows how to get them off rhythm. He’s a down-roster guy I expect to be high-impact late in the season.

With only 16 national TV games, their League Pass ranking is at the top. They are the championship contender the mainstream media doesn’t want you to know about, but they may be forced to reckon with them come spring.

Prediction: 3rd in the West. This is probably my favorite team coming into the season. A ton of really likable guys and a style of play that just feels like a warm sweater on a cold day. Can they beat the Clippers in the playoffs? Probably not. But I’ll be rooting for them to upset the established narratives.


Washington Wizards

Last Season: 32-50, 11th in East. ORtg 111.1 (14th), DRtg 113.9 (28th)

Strengths and Sorrows: John Wall’s season-canceling injury will be a cold, wet blanket on the Wizards’ season. The prospect of Bradley Beal getting moved mid-season loomed heavily over the District before he signed a very friendly extension.

Big man Thomas Bryant is one of the hidden gems of the Eastern Conference’s cavernous depths. Okay, so maybe he only scores ten points per game and they’re almost always dunks. But last year he averaged only 20 minutes per game. In his third year, I’d expect those minutes to rise. If the production comes with it, he could get a lot more press on a team that won’t get much attention.

The rest of this team is pretty lean, tbh. Some people are high on Rui Hachimura. I’d love to see him succeed. Maybe the lack of pressure will do that for him. I dont know. At least they’re more interesting than the Pistons.

Head Coach: Scott Brooks

Likely Starting Five:
PG: Ish Smith
SG: Bradley Beal
SF: CJ Miles
PF: Rui Hachimura
C: Thomas Bryant

Depth:
PG: Isaiah Thomas, Justin Robinson
SG: Jordan McRae, Jemerrio Jones
SF: Troy Brown Jr., Isaac Bonga, Admiral Schofield
PF: Davis Bertans, Justin Anderson
C: Ian Mahinmi

National TV Games: 1
11/8 vs. Cleveland, 7 EST on ESPN

Reasons to Watch: Well I was going to say that watching Beal play his way off of this team would be fun but I had to go back and re-write at the buzzer. Beal is still electric, but we won’t see John Wall this year, so ehhh.

Their one national game is against Cleveland. You get what I’m saying here, right?

Prediction: 13th in the East. Maybe there’s something to build on here for next year when Wall is back. They’re going to have like half of the cap space available for the rather dull FA class next summer. So who knows? But not in 2019-20.


AWARDS

Most Valuable Player: Stephen Curry. I think he is going to have to produce incredible numbers to bring the Warriors back to the playoffs this year, and without Klay Thompson for most of the year, the reigns will be off. He might go for 500 threes.

Sixth Man of the Year: J.J. Redick. He’s stepping into another role as a veteran leader with the Pelicans this season, but this time as a regular bench man. I think his usage, as well as Lou Williams not needing to be the man in LA, gives way to Redick stealing the award this year.

Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert. He’s the best in the business, and since Kawhi Leonard doesn’t care about regular season honors, its Gobert’s to lose. I could see Embiid or even Myles Turner get some votes, but they don’t do what Rudy does.

Rookie of the Year: Zion Williamson. Book it. Even starting the season injured, he’s still the scariest rookie in many years, if ever. What he was doing in the preseason is just unprecedented.

Most Improved Player: T.J. Warren. Okay, let me have this. I know its a homer pick, but he’s prime for a breakout season in a new environment with opportunities to level-up in every facet of his game. The Pacers have a history of MIP winners, and I think they have another one in Warren.

THE PLAYOFFS

Western Conference

  1. Denver Nuggets
  2. LA Clippers
  3. Utah Jazz
  4. Houston Rockets
  5. Portland Trail Blazers
  6. Los Angeles Lakers
  7. Golden State Warriors
  8. San Antonio Spurs

Nuggets over Spurs in 5
Clippers over Warriors in 6
Jazz over Lakers in 7
Blazers over Rockets in 7

Nuggets over Rockets in 6
Clippers over Jazz in 5

Clippers over Nuggets in 6

Eastern Conference

  1. Milwaukee Bucks
  2. Philadelphia 76ers
  3. Boston Celtics
  4. Indiana Pacers
  5. Miami Heat
  6. Brooklyn Nets
  7. Toronto Raptors
  8. Chicago Bulls

Bucks over Bulls in 4
76ers over Raptors in 6
Celtics over Nets in 7
Pacers over Heat in 6

Bucks over Pacers in 5
76ers over Celtics in 7

76ers over Bucks in 7

NBA Finals

Clippers over 76ers in 6

Glossary
ORtg: Offensive Rating, approximate points scored per 100 possessions.
DRtg: Defensive Rating, approximate points allowed per 100 possessions.

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