As a new NBA season approaches the 2015 NBA Playoffs seem so far away. Everyone across the Internet is doing power rankings and prediction, but why is no one going all the way and predicting who will win each division and where everyone will fall in the playoffs? That’s why I decided to do it, and each team comes with a key to success (either to be successful this season or successful for their future).
*Overall Rank (Conference Seed)
1. (1): San Antonio Spurs (Southwest division winner): Key to Success – Keep doin’ you
I hate to break this to all you NBA fans, but the Spurs are my favorite to win the title again. The Spurs are like a fine wine, they get better with age; and this is the most incredible part of this entire story. They bring everyone back and Kawhai Leonard will only be better this year. And I don’t want to hear, “the Spurs are another year older.” People have been saying this the past 5 years! Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker will almost definitely have more “DNP – Coach’s Decision” this season that they did last season and it is just Pop being Pop (and enjoying pissing off the NBA and Commissioner Adam Silver). That franchise seems to do no wrong and whatever the Spurs have been doing is definitely working. They will continue the “Spurs” way and make another deep run come June.
4. (2): Los Angeles Clippers (Pacific division winner): Can Chris Paul still be elite Chris Paul?
This team takes the second seed because I believe they start the season with more wins than the Thunder will since Kevin Durant is hurt. Blake Griffin will be excellent and from what I hear his jump shot will be even more consistent. Another year together for this team with Head Coach Doc Rivers will be huge and they are built to win close to 60 games even in the tough Western Conference. Their playoff success comes down to how far Chris Paul can take them. CP3 is currently 29 and will be 30 in May (I thought he was older), and he will need to play at an MVP-level for this team to have a shot to come out of the West.
5. (3): Oklahoma City Thunder (Northwest division winner): Who will be a consistent 3rd scorer?
This becomes even a bigger key to success with Kevin Durant out for the first 6-8 weeks with a Jones fracture in his right foot. The Thunder struggled to find a third, fourth and fifth scorer in their playoff series against the Spurs and this ultimately cost them a spot in the Finals last June. OKC did not do much this offseason to fix this. The Thunder lost Derek Fisher, who retired after playing a large role in the Western Conference Finals, and Thabo Sefolosha who signed with the Hawks in free agency. Reggie Jackson will need to continue to develop to help fix this problem and it will be interesting to see what Anthony Morrow actually gives them off the bench. Morrow was their “big free agent splash” this offseason while they also added another Nick Collison through the draft in Mitch McGary. The key for this team ever since the James Harden trade has been finding who will be a consistent third scorer, and it continues to be this team’s achilles heel.
6. (4): Golden State Warriors: Can Bogut give them anything?/What to do with Barnes/Iggy/Klay?
This team has all the pieces to make a deep run and will be a very good team come playoff time. Their key to success is can Andrew Bogut stay healthy and give them literally anything in the front court. The next key is what to do with all of these pieces they have acquired? Klay Thompson is a restricted free agent after this season and will get high offers from other teams. Andre Iguodala is under contract until 2016-17, which leaves Harrison Barnes. Barnes is a good young talent, but do the Warriors go into win-now mode and move Barnes? Remember, no team is able to pay all three so at some point this franchise has to make a decision.
8. (5) Portland Trail Blazers: Lillard’s growth + bench scoring
This team has their two cornerstones in Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, but they still need a bench. The Blazers lost Mo Williams who didn’t help with their bench scoring problem as much as they thought. I still like C.J. McCollum to grow into a scorer off the bench and Thomas Robinson was a great acquisition last year. Besides bench scoring it will be fun to see if Lillard can grow into a top 5 point guard in this league and lead a Rip City team for many years to come.
9. (6) Dallas Mavericks: who will play point guard?
The Mavs got Tyson Chandler back from the Knicks and lost Jose Calderon in the trade. This leaves a huge gap at point guard where they now have Devin Harris, Raymond Felton and Jameer Nelson. This is the only spot in the starting lineup that has any questions as the Mavs also signed Chandler Parson this offseason. This makes a starting lineup of Tyson, Dirk, Parsons (there is too many Chandlers), Ellis and whoever plays point guard. The Mavs would be a top four team in the East, but in the West they will fight to make the playoffs and will ultimately get in.
11. (7) Houston Rockets: Everything besides Harden and Dwight
What does this team have besides their two stars (notice I didn’t say superstars because Dwight is arguably just a star)? The Rockets problem come playoff time is where is any other offense coming from, oh yeah and who is actually going to play defense for this team. Harden is capable of playing defense (just ask anyone at the World Cup who saw him go 1-on-1 with Durant and Paul George), but he has yet to do it for long stretches in an NBA game. This team, in a tough west, feels like they are a piece away from seriously contending.
13. (8) Phoenix Suns: Backcourt greatness
This team might just have one of the best backcourts in the league with Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas. We also can’t forget Goran’s brother, Zoran, who has the potential to be a really good NBA player. This team is going to be fast, and can definitely shoot. They won nearly 50 games last year and barely missed the playoffs. The development of Miles Plumlee along with the Morris twins is crucial to this team making the playoffs, but boy will this be a fun team to watch throughout the season.
15. (9) Memphis Grizzlies: Perimeter shooting (for the third straight year) + Gasol contract
17. (10) Sacramento Kings: Which shooting guard long term answer: McLemore or Stauskas? (and Boogie!)
18. (11) New Orleans Pelicans: Anthony Davis
22. (12) Denver Nuggets: Building block other than Faried
23. (13) Los Angeles Lakers: Who’s playing defense
26. (14) Minnesota Timberwolves: Rubio contract decision
29. (15) Utah Jazz: Development of everyone, including Gobert, Exum, Burke
2. (1) Cleveland Cavaliers (Central division winner): What to do with Waiters + when does Allen join Cavs?
We have heard so much about the new Big 3 and LeBron and blah, blah, blah. One of the biggest keys to their season not being talked about is what will this team do with Dion Waiters. I like Waiters and think he will fit in well with the Big 3, but he is Cleveland’s last asset that they could possibly trade. God forbid anyone gets hurt in the front court this team will have less rim protection then they already didn’t have. The Cavs already have Mike Miller, who played in all 82 games for the Grizzlies last year, and Cleveland will all but definitely be getting Ray Allen if he plays this season. Waiters is a player to watch this season. If he stays he will be a great fit next to LBJ, Kyrie and Love. If he goes the Cavs will probably add more front court depth which will also help Cleveland be a contender for the title.
3. (2) Chicago Bulls: Offense other than Rose
Wow, does Derrick Rose look good. If he can play like he did two years ago the Bulls will be a real contender to come out of the East. The question always seems to be who else will score besides Rose. The Bulls added Gasol who can score, but Chicago will need offense consistently from somewhere else. The Bulls will continue to play great defense no matter what, and that is what makes a potential Cavs-Bulls Eastern Conference Finals series so interesting to dream about.
7. (3) Washington Wizards (Southeast division winner): Depth at 2-guard, including Beal’s health
Bradley Beal is such a talented young guard it is a shame to see him go down with an injury. Beal will miss up to two months with a fractured left wrist, meaning we probably won’t see Beal until sometime around Christmas. It will be interesting to see how the Wiz get by on the wings. Washington will also be without Martell Webster for some time as he had surgery to repair a herniated disc in his lower back. This means one player will be expected to take a huge leap forward and actually be productive this season: OTTO! Porter was drafted third overall in the 2013 NBA Draft and did nothing last year. He will be a huge difference maker for this team even when Beal and Webster come back from their injuries.
12. (4) Toronto Raptors (Atlantic division winner): How good is that backcourt?
The Raptors brought back Kyle Lowry on a four year, $48mil contract to pair him with DeMar Derozan who made some noise together in the playoffs last year. The front court needs to continue to develop, but this team will be good again this year and definitely has a home court advantage. In a weaker Eastern Conference this team should get home court in the playoffs for the second year in a row. The Raptors have a good chance to surprise people, continue to get better and win a playoff series this year.
10. (5) Charlotte Hornets: Kemba + Lance + great defense = improvement
I really like everything about this Hornets team, I repeat, I really like this team. The new name, new floor, new jerseys, better roster. I have always been a huge Kemba Walker fan (since his UConn days) and like the acquisition of Lance just as much. That has the chance to be one of the best backcourts in the entire league. Big Al Jefferson is very underrated and is not talked about as much as he should be. Don’t worry, people will notice this season. The Hornets will continue to be an awesome defensive team and should be better offensively with “Lance-a-make-em-dance” on the floor. Their bench is not that bad either, with Brian Roberts, Gary Neal, Gerald Henderson, Noah Vonleh, Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo (assuming Marvin Williams starts). Watch out for this Buzz City team to make some noise in the East this season.
16. (6) Atlanta Hawks: Health
This team has a chance to be pretty good in the East if their front court can stay healthy. Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll, Paul Millsap and Al Horford is a legit starting lineup. The Hawks also acquired Thabo Sefolosha in free agency, and they also have Elton Brand, Adreian Payne and Dennis Schroder coming off the bench who are good bench guys. Millsap and Horford are no joke and this team always seems to be better than people think. Unfortunately, come playoff time, this team seems unable to get out of the first round.
14. (7) Brooklyn Nets: Brook Lopez
The only legit young talent the Nets think they have is their center Brook Lopez who has a player option for next season. Lopez can’t seem to stay healthy. He missed time last season and currently is dealing with a “mild” foot strain. The Nets need to figure out if they can build around Lopez for years to come, or if they need to completely hit the reset button in a few years. I like what my Nets team did this offseason. They didn’t pay for 45 games of Paul Pierce. Instead they used that money to acquired Jarrett Jack from the Cavs who was a very good sixth man just a couple years ago in Golden State. Mason Plumlee continues to get better and is a great big man to have off the bench for when Kevin Garnett needs a night off. If Brooklyn can avoid injuries (which I don’t think they will be able to), the Nets have a real shot to win the Atlantic and get home court in the first round of the playoffs.
19. (8) Miami Heat: Dwyane Wade
With LeBron gone a lot more of the workload falls onto Chris Bosh and 32-year old Dwyane Wade’s shoulders. I do not think Wade’s knees will be able to hold up for an entire season, meaning this thing is on Bosh. Sure he did it basically by himself in Toronto, but I am not sure he can do it again this time around in Miami. The Heat need to immediately think about how to rebuild (not retool) and that will be difficult without a lot of the draft picks for the near future. I wouldn’t be surprised if this team misses the playoffs to be honest.
20. (9) New York Knicks: The triangle
21. (10) Detroit Pistons: The Stan Van Gundy effect
25. (11) Indiana Pacers: Who can put the ball in the net?
24. (12) Milwaukee Bucks: The Greek Freak!
27. (13) Boston Celtics: What happens with Rondo
28. (14) Orlando Magic: Evaluate rookies; time for new coach?
30. (15) Philadelphia 76ers: Hit on draft picks