Is it too early to “Trust the Process”?
Last year, the 76ers showed glimpses of some of the basketball they are capable of playing when they can stay healthy. The only problem was, they couldn’t seem to stay on the court long enough to construct a full season. They also have two highly anticipated number one picks in Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz in their line-up, which promises to lift the Sixers into playoff contention in a weakened Eastern Conference. Throw in the addition of J. J. Redick to add some much-needed perimeter sharpshooting to the mix, and this team could become a real powerhouse if they can stay on the court.
Just how good is the Greek Freak?
Giannis Antetokounmpo will be coming off a career-best season in which he carried the Bucks to a first-round playoff berth. But a weaker Eastern Conference, coupled with the return of star forward Jabari Parker, could see him carry this team much further. Many experts believe he is just a three-point shot away from becoming unguardable and moving up to the level of LeBron James. Kobe Bryant has challenged Antetokounmpo to take out the MVP trophy this season, and with the Greek Freak, anything is possible.
How far will they slide in the post-Butler era?
The Bulls parted ways with Jimmy Butler in the early part of the off-season, in a trade that returned nothing but an injured Zach LaVine and unproven youngsters in Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen. Chicago will be expected to drop off significantly this year, especially when they’ll be led by an aging Dwyane Wade. Don’t expect the Bulls to win many games at all this season, particularly when their main goal will be getting a heap of minutes into their young talent that is bursting with potential.
How well will Isaiah Thomas fit into the Big 3?
In the blockbuster trade of the year, the Cavs sent superstar point guard Kyrie Irving to the Celtics and received their own superstar Isaiah Thomas in return, along with defensive specialist Jae Crowder and Brooklyn’s first round pick next year. Thomas has more than proven himself to be a star point guard regardless of his height. In an offense that includes as much firepower as the Cavaliers, Thomas’ role will change to allow LeBron and Kevin Love to be the main scoring threat, so expect his assist numbers to spike considerably this year. Don’t expect Cleveland to drop off this season and to be chasing the East’s top seed.
Can Kyrie take the Celtics all the way?
Kyrie Irving had his wish of being the main man again be fulfilled when he was shipped to Boston for Isaiah Thomas. The question now remains, is Kyrie capable of taking the Celtics to the Finals? He has joined the likes of Al Horford and star forward Gordon Hayward who should be more than enough support for the crafty sharpshooter. With the Cavs emerging as the only other true threat to the top of the East, a true rivalry will form between these two powerhouse teams. Expect a mouthwatering display from Kyrie and the Celtics on a collision course with LeBron James and the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Los Angeles Clippers
With Chris Paul gone, who runs the offense?
The hearts of Clippers fans everywhere were broken when Chris Paul announced he was leaving to join the Rockets, but once the mourning had stopped one question became clear; who is capable of being a floor general? Blake Griffin now becomes the main scoring option for the Clips, and DeAndre Jordan will still be throwing his weight around underneath, so who becomes the distributor. The answer? Milos Teodosic. Highly regarded as the world’s best player not in the NBA, he will be thrown straight into the hot seat and he has big shoes to fill. Can he do it? Only time will tell.
Will they finally move away from ground-and-pound style basketball?
Over the years, Memphis has built an identity of being a place of grit and grind basketball, with toughness underneath and post play being their main focus. But with the league rapidly turning into a shooter’s game, and the departure of the ‘grindfather’ Zach Randolph, they may be forced into changing their style. This offseason has proved they are on the right track. Along with last year’s addition of Chandler Parsons, they have added shooters in Ben McLemore and Tyreke Evans. With Marc Gasol and Mike Conley at the helm, expect a much higher number in the three-point shot attempted column this season.
Whose team is it now?
With the offseason departure of Paul Millsap, the Atlanta Hawks have dropped off considerably in terms of star power. The offense now has to revolve around a Dennis Schroder, Kent Bazemore one-two punch which will lack a lot of inside scoring, or be handing the reigns over to a bunch of young but unproven talent. Atlanta should focus on development for the future and hope for a decent crop of talent in next year’s draft.
Will the Whiteside-Dragic combination take the Heat to the playoffs?
Bar any major injuries, these two should be able to carry the Heat to the playoffs, especially if they can recapture the stellar form they showed in the back half of last season. They are slowly creating their own version of lob city in Miami and it should have Heat fans very excited. The addition of high-flying big and exciting rookie Bam Adebayo is evidence of this team making big strides towards the top end of the Eastern Conference.
Which version of Dwight Howard has shown up?
The Hornets’ recent acquisition of Howard is definitely a good move. The question is, how good? Will Dwight be the rebounding and dunking machine that he once was and is still capable of being? Or will he collapse under an increased workload? Only time will tell. He will also have to gel with the ever-improving Kemba Walker, and the two could form one of the best duos in the league if they both play up to their potential.
How much will Gordon Hayward’s absence hurt?
Gordon Hayward was the focal point of last year’s Jazz offense, so you can understand the frustration of the jersey burning fans when Hayward chose to sign with the Celtics. The only option now is to look to the future. Their first port of call should be to develop Rudy Gobert into an offensive weapon. He will become a threat once he develops an inside scoring game and a decent mid-range game, but that takes time. For now, Utah fans should still be excited for the emphatic rejections the “Stifle Tower” brings to the table.
Can the youngsters be competitive this season?
An extremely young core will be looking to prove doubters wrong in Sacramento as a host of rookies and sophomores take to the giant task of rebuilding this franchise. Expect rookie De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield to lead this team and definitely don’t write off Fox’s chances at taking the Rookie of the Year honors as he will be an offensive focal point for this team.
New York Knicks
Can Anthony channel his inner “Hoodie Melo”?
If Carmelo is still a Knicks player at the seasons beginning, Knicks fans will be hoping he can become his dominant alter ego. Hoodie Melo emerged in many offseason workouts and pickup games, absolutely dominating his opponents and hardly missing a shot with the hood on. If he shows up, he could carry the Knicks to the playoffs. If not, and if Anthony is no longer on the Knicks, expect Kristaps Porzingis to dominate and be the New York’s leader for this season.
Los Angeles Lakers
Can Lonzo Ball live up to the hype?
Ball and his outspoken father LaVar has been the main talking point in LA this offseason, with Ball Sr. making some outrageous claims about his son’s ability (and his own). But if the Summer League is anything to go by, Lonzo may become the face of this proud and historic Lakers franchise. Amassing a triple-double in the Summer League had silenced many of his critics, but it’s now up to Lonzo to prove he can perform against NBA level talent. The ROTY award is well within his grasp.
Can the Magic scrape into playoff contention?
A squad that is full to the brim with potential look set for a breakout year. High-flying Aaron Gordon and the exciting young Elfrid Payton could well and truly take out the Most Improved Player this season, but that could come down to how many wins this young team can generate, and in a weak Eastern Conference, expect a few surprises.
Is it time for Dirk to take a backseat?
Dirk Nowitzki is heading into his 20th season with the Mavs, and has already proven that he will go down as one of the greatest players of all time and the greatest player to ever come out of Europe. But this season might be the time to take a step back and let the promising young talent in Harrison Barnes and Dennis Smith Jr. take the reins and begin to lead a new era in the Big D.
Will they finally become a competitive team?
After a failed attempt at instant success in the trade that brought in Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, Brooklyn will not have another first-round draft pick until the 2019 draft. In the meantime, they will be hoping D’Angelo Russell and the surprise package Caris LeVert can at least lift the team off the bottom of the NBA standings to avoid another year of embarrassing losses.
Will Paul Millsap prove to be the right addition?
The Nuggets will be hoping that Paul Millsap will be the final piece of the puzzle to catapult this team into playoff contention in a stacked Western Conference. His pairing with the young and extremely talented Nikola Jokic could prove to be a pivotal duo in the win percentage of this ever-improving Denver team.
Who’s the new face of the Pacers?
With Paul George being shipped to the Thunder for no real return, expect Myles Turner to become the main man in Indiana. His development is coming in leaps and bounds and many expect this season to be his real breakout year, especially as his scoring numbers will skyrocket. A new star is emerging in Indy, and he could well become a superstar in this league.
New Orleans Pelicans
Can the Davis-Cousins combo work out?
Arguably the greatest front court ever assembled this decade, DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis could turn this once mediocre team into one of the most physically dominant forces the league has seen in a long time. Both players are capable of toughness and strength in the low post while both have developed a reliable three-point shot. If the Pelicans can overcome Cousins’ chemistry issues, New Orleans could become an extremely feared team.
Can Drummond become a dominant force?
Andre Drummond has constantly proved himself as one of the best glass cleaners in the game, constantly achieving over 15 rebounds a game. But too really assert himself in this league; he must develop his offensive production. A decent mid-range game as well as sorting out his laughable free throw percentage will go a long way in determining how far he can go to leading this Detroit team to the future.
Will the Raptors finally taste playoff success?
A second-round sweep would have left a bad taste in the mouths of everyone associated with the Toronto Raptors, especially after the season promised so much from the beginning. The Raptors offseason moves haven’t been as productive as they would’ve liked, but this isn’t to say they won’t improve this season. The signing of Serge Ibaka could pay dividends as a player that has tasted playoff success which could give them the leadership and experience they need to go to the next level.
Who’s the main man in Houston?
Many questions have been asked of the Houston management as they brought in an aging but proven point guard in Chris Paul. The questions were not about Paul’s ability as a player, but rather why Houston would bring in a floor general with James Harden coming off a year which yielded a career high in assists and nearly delivered him an MVP while playing at the point guard position. Time will tell how well this All-Star pairing will work at taking Houston deep into the playoffs.
San Antonio Spurs
Can Kawhi win the MVP?
With James Harden and Russell Westbrook welcoming All-Star caliber teammates to their arsenal, their numbers will no doubt drop from last year’s extraordinary outputs. One player whose numbers won’t drop is Kawhi Leonard. He will be putting up numbers very similar to the two previously mentioned players. I expect him to go into the season as one of the hot favorites to take out the coveted MVP trophy.
Will Devin Booker become a superstar?
One of the most promising young players in the league and very much a pure shooter, Booker needs one more really big year to prove himself to the rest of the NBA that he is a legitimate superstar. His league-high 70-point outburst last year has already put him in elite company amongst NBA legends, but it’ll take a few more of those and also being able to lead his team to victories this season to make a name for himself.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Can Westbrook maintain his triple-double king status?
After Westbrook proved last year that he is otherworldly with the ridiculous numbers he put up on his way to the MVP, it’s hard to imagine how he can maintain those stats with a new All-Star teammate in Paul George. His assist numbers may rise, but expect his scoring numbers to drop as he starts to share some offense with George en route to a season that should wield plenty of wins despite the stacked Western Conference.
Will the Timberwolves become a powerhouse in the West?
Any team would benefit from the addition of Jimmy Butler to their line-up. But a line-up that already includes All-Star caliber players such as Andrew Wiggins, Karl Anthony Towns and a proven point guard in Jeff Teague, the result is a force to be reckoned with. Minnesota will be the biggest movers in terms of win totals this season, and in a Western Conference that is loaded with star talent, this team is more than capable of being a threat come playoff time.
Portland Trail Blazers
Can Damian Lillard finally make an All-Star team?
Damian Lillard is one of the most underrated players in the league, and in the past two seasons, he has been unfairly overlooked by the fans and the coaches as an All-Star caliber player. After each one of those snubs, his numbers across the board have increased significantly. If he can have those numbers from the start of the season, he is an almost certain All-Star.
Golden State Warriors
Can they be stopped?
Coming off the season in which they were far and away the best team in the league, the Warriors have only got stronger this offseason. The signing of Nick Young has improved their bench phenomenally and if they can avoid any internal fighting, this team is almost a shoe-in to repeat as champions.
Will John Wall become the East’s top point guard?
John Wall will be coming out to play and play hard this year as he looks to prove many experts wrong by proving that he is the best point guard in the Eastern Conference. He is already one of the most athletically gifted point guards the NBA has ever seen. His craftiness around the rim accompanied with his unparalleled ability to find open teammates could have him placed in an All-NBA team for the first time in his career, particularly as he is accompanied by sharp shooter Bradley Beal.
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