Your Definitive Guide To The 2016-17 NBA Season: Part 1

It’s that time again folks. The 2016-17 NBA season starts tonight. We’ve got new faces in new places, a bunch of players making wayyyyyyyyy more than they should, and a bonafide villain in Kevin Durant whose heart is set on one thing, a ring. Let’s get right into it.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

eastern

atlanticThe Eastern Conference has been thoroughly dominated by a certain player for the last decade. LeBron James entered the league in 2003 and has since made seven appearances in the NBA Finals including a stretch of six straight dating back to 2011. It is entirely possible that until the day he either calls it quits or plays for a team in the Western Conference that we won’t see a team that doesn’t feature LeBron James representing the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. While teams within the conference have not provided a major challenge for “The King” over the years there are plenty of suitors gathering to steal his throne.

Let’s get one thing clear. This division is straight up awful. The Nets and 76ers are two of the absolute worst teams that the NBA has to offer, and the Knicks aren’t far behind. This paves the way for the Raptors and Celtics to finish with records that make both teams look better than they really are; however, both teams are still two of the better teams in the Eastern Conference:

raptors

Predicted Starting 5

PG: Kyle Lowry

SG: DeMar DeRozan

SF: DeMarre Carroll

PF: Patrick Patterson

C: Jonas Valanciunas

With the best backcourt in the Eastern Conference the Raptors have their formidable 1-2 punch that made them the Cavs’ main contender for the Finals last season. A healthy DeMarre Carroll could help this team make the push to the next level. Carroll played in only 26 regular season games last season. When healthy he is the team’s best wing defender, and one of the best in the entire league. Jonas Valanciunas is certainly one of the better centers in the NBA averaging almost 13 ppg and 9 rpg last season. The problem position for this team is clearly the power forward. Uncertainty surrounds who may even start the season at the position. I’m giving Patterson the edge over the Raptors’ 2016 first round pick Pascal Siakam because he is much more acclimated to the league. A talented bench including the likes of Cory Joseph and Terrence Ross compliments this starting lineup nicely.

Projected record: 52-30

celtics

Predicted Starting 5:

PG: Isaiah Thomas

SG: Avery Bradley

SF: Jae Crowder

PF: Amir Johnson

C: Al Horford

I’ll preface this summary by saying that I firmly believe Al Horford is the more beneficial signing for this team than Kevin Durant would’ve been. At a crowded small forward position including Jae Crowder and 2016 third overall pick Jaylen Brown the potential signing of Kevin Durant would not have had a negative impact on the Celtics by any means, but the improvement at the center position was a much more pressing need. This Celtics team is still developing, and will not threaten the likes of the Cavs come playoff time, but moving forward with the core they have will make them a tough team to beat in the future. Isaiah Thomas is living proof that size does not matter. He’s a big time playmaker. Much bigger than his 5’9″ stature would suggest. He is the undisputed leader of this team and his play will surely benefit from the addition of Al Horford. A player as versatile as Horford is 10x more efficient on the court from all angles than Kelly Olynyk and Tyler Zeller. This team will emerge soon, but not now. Under the wing of Brad Stevens the Celtics are headed in the right direction.

Projected record: 48-34

knicks

Predicted Starting 5:

PG: Derrick Rose

SG: Courtney Lee

SF: Carmelo Anthony

PF: God

C: Joakim Noah

You read that right. God is the Knicks’ starting power forward. No way they can ever lose right? RIGHT??? Wrong. This team is still awful no matter what; however, it should be an improvement on last year. Chemistry is obviously a concern with 3/5 of the starting lineup having been acquired this offseason, and let’s not forget the new head coach Jeff Hornacek who isn’t in love with the triangle offense like Phil Jackson, President of Operations for the New York Knicks, is. If you’re a betting man take the under on whatever figure is given for the amount of games Derrick Rose plays this year, and the over on how many ACLs he tears. Another dull year full of disappointment is in store for Knicks fans. Unless you’re like me and tune in to MSG nowadays solely to watch Kristaps Porzingis, the aforementioned God, lay the smack down on the clowns who think it’s a good idea to try and enter the paint.

Projected record: 37-45

76ers

Predicted Starting 5:

PG: T.J. McConnell

SG: Gerald Henderson

SF: Robert Covington

PF: Nerlens Noel

C: Joel Embiid (for real this time!)

Yes! Joel Embiid is actually healthy! “The Process” has looked like an animal in the preseason, and is on track to finally make his long awaited NBA debut. Now there isn’t much to be optimistic about if you’re a fan of the 76ers other than to watch your plethora of young talent develop. Brett Brown is a much better coach than he’s given credit for. He probably catches so much flak because he’s been coaching the 76ers for three years and losing 60-plus games every season. Regardless everyone knows this team isn’t going anywhere soon, so enjoy watching Jahlil Okafor, Dario Saric and Ben Simmons, who is out for the foreseeable future with a fracture in his foot, make strides this season.

Projected record: 29-53

nets

Predicted Starting 5:

PG: Jeremy Lin

SG: Randy Foye

SF: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

PF: Trevor Booker

C: Brook Lopez

Linsanity is back in New York! Well… sorta. This team is a dumpster fire plain and simple. A lock for one of the three worst records in the league by the end of the season. Brook Lopez is still around and is still one of the premier offensive big men in the league, but he hasn’t played a full 82-game season since 2010-11 (The Nets were still in New Jersey back then). Trevor Booker is currently listed as the team’s starting power forward, and has started all throughout the preseason alongside Lopez in the frontcourt, but the minutes allotted to him and Luis Scola so far have been near identical. The Nets are clearly still reeling from the effects of that trade with the Boston Celtics in 2013, but hey at least they avoided dropping $125 million on the “talents” of Allen Crabbe and Tyler Johnson.

Projected record: 24-58

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southeast

The Southeast Division this year defines the word “average”. None of these teams are outstanding, and all of them are capable of making the playoffs. Let’s take a look at which teams, if any, are legitimate contenders:

hornets

Predicted Starting 5:

PG: Kemba Walker

SG: Nicolas Batum

SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

PF: Frank Kaminsky

C: Roy Hibbert

Kemba Walker is a stud. Many considered him the MVP of the second half last year. His stats from the All-Star break to the end of the season are remarkable. Upping his averages in nearly every category he recorded 21.5 ppg, 4.4 rpg and 5.5 apg through his final 29 games of the season while increasing both his shooting and 3-point percentages, but perhaps most importantly his +/- skyrocketed by 7.5 points. He carried his Hornets to a 6th place finish in the Eastern Conference where they got knocked out of the playoffs by the Miami Heat. The return of a healthy MKG to the lineup will do wonders. He played in only seven games last season and the Hornets still managed to achieve the eighth best defense rating in the entire league. He is a premier defender and his athleticism makes him an above average rebounder for his position. The Hornets boast the talent of a strong bench which separates them from many of the teams in the conference. Marco Belinelli and Aaron Harrison provide long range shooting depth and Marvin Williams’ lengthy figure compliments his guard-like abilities. Spencer Hawes, the former starting center for the Hornets, is a terrific mid-range shooter but lacks the physicality and rebounding talent down low (spoiler: Roy Hibbert isn’t much better). This team’s downfall clearly lies in its inability to rebound efficiently.

Projected record: 44-38

wizards

Predicted Starting 5:

PG: John Wall

SG: Bradley Beal

SF: Otto Porter Jr.

PF: Markieff Morris

C: Marcin Gortat

Another great backcourt in the Eastern Conference is located in the nation’s capital. John Wall is a freak of nature whose only real downfall is that he can’t shoot that well from beyond the arc. He is an elite on-ball defender and can get to the bucket with relative ease no matter who’s guarding him; however, his shooting percentage from 3-point range has wavered over the past three seasons, but luckily that’s why Bradley Beal is around. Beal is one of the most deadly shooters in the game today with a career 3-point shooting percentage nearing 40%. His issue is that he can’t stay healthy. Beal started only 35/55 games he appeared in last season and in 2014-15 he played in only 63 total games. “The Polish Hammer”, Marcin Gortat, has been a force down low on both sides of the ball in his three seasons with the Wizards. He’s averaged over nine rebounds per game and over a block per game during his tenure in Washington. The bench isn’t too strong, and I can easily see that becoming a problem if/when Beal goes down. If Beal can remain healthy and compliment Wall’s playmaking on both sides of the ball then this team has a legitimate shot this year.

Projected record: 40-42

magic

Predicted Starting 5:

PG: Elfrid Payton

SG: Evan Fournier

SF: Aaron Gordon

PF: Serge Ibaka

C: Nikola Vucevic

With the appointment of Frank Vogel as the new head coach the Orlando Magic look ready to take that next step. The departure of Victor Oladipo left me speechless. I couldn’t wrap my head around the decision until news broke that the Magic had committed to Evan Fournier as their future shooting guard to the tune of $85 million over 5 years. The Frenchman lit up the league in the month of November last season averaging 17.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg and 2.5 apg while shooting 46.2% from the field, 41.6% from beyond the arc, and 82.9% from the free throw line. Those are certainly All-Star caliber numbers, but Fournier cooled off significantly including a horrific month of January in which each of his aforementioned stat categories decreased significantly with the exception of his assists per game. The acquisition of Serge Ibaka from the Oklahoma City Thunder, in the swap for Oladipo, allows Gordon to slide down to the three and utilize his athleticism more efficiently. Payton’s selflessness with the ball will be key to the Magic’s success because he is surrounded by multiple offensive threats. Off the bench Mario Hezonja and Bismack Biyombo will provide huge energy boosts. Hezonja shoots the ball at a very high clip and Biyombo, who stands at 6’9″, makes fantastic use of his size in the paint as we saw all throughout the playoffs with Toronto last season. Fresh off a $72 million contract Biyombo will be looking to make good value of the Magic’s money.

Projected record: 38-44

hawks

Predicted Starting 5:

PG: Dennis Schroder

SG: Kyle Korver

SF: Kent Bazemore

PF: Paul Millsap

C: Dwight Howard

The Hawks are entering a regression year whether anybody cares to admit it or not. Losing Al Horford in free agency is a huge loss as he and Millsap transformed their game under head coach Mike Budenholzer. Both learned how to utilize their mid-range and outside games more efficiently. Horford will surely continue to grow up in Boston, but substituting him with Dwight Howard won’t be enough. The starting five is still serviceable outside of Kyle Korver. In 2016 he just cannot be starting in an NBA lineup. His style of play is too one-dimensional. He offers little to no help on defense and serves only as a 3-point shooter on offense. The bench offers little relief for the starters. Tim Hardaway Jr., an aging Thabo Sefolosha, and Tiago Splitter will simply not cut it in an Eastern Conference that’s only improved this season. Atlanta made some smart decisions in the draft nabbing athletic small forward Taurean Prince from Baylor and prolific scorer DeAndre’ Bembry from St. Joe’s, so look out for those two in the future.

Projected record: 36-46

heat

Predicted Starting 5:

PG: Goran Dragic

SG: Dion Waiters

SF: Justise Winslow

PF: Derrick Williams

C: Hassan Whiteside

The Heat are suffering from a massive identity crisis with the departure of Dwyane Wade. Securing the services of Hassan Whiteside for the next four years is crucial to the rebuilding process of this franchise. While also gambling $50 million on the future Tyler Johnson, despite the meteoric rise of the league’s salary cap, the Heat have secured a future core of Whiteside, Johnson and Winslow. The Heat are currently in talks to send Dragic to Sacramento for Rudy Gay. If they can secure a first rounder in the potential trade then it should be a no brainer to sacrifice this upcoming season, but it’s unlikely they get one in addition to Gay. The Heat aren’t going anywhere even if they make the playoffs, which they might. The bench is abysmal and the starting lineup isn’t good enough, yet.

Projected record: 34-48

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central

I was looking for a picture of the Central Division teams and stumbled upon this beauty. Never will I be able to resist a Pokémon reference when it fits. In a way this picture is fitting because my first reaction to seeing it was a solid chuckle. When you think about the Central Division of the NBA currently you chuckle because it’s laughable that any team would think they could compete with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Winning your division in the NBA offers no incentives as it doesn’t have an impact on anything important, but the Cavs will still walk all over the competition en route to their third straight Central Division title.cavs

Predicted Starting 5:

PG: Kyrie Irving

SG: J.R. Smith

SF: LeBron James

PF: Kevin Love

C: Tristan Thompson

They went down 3-1. Nobody gave them a chance. Draymond Green got suspended fore Game 5 and from that sprang a little bit of hope. Klay Thompson mistakenly called out LeBron James and boy did it backfire big time. Facing elimination and on the road LeBron produced a triple-double, including 41 points, and Kyrie Irving added 41 of his own to make the pair the only teammates ever to score 40+ in an elimination game as the Cavs lived to fight another day. Game 6 was played three nights later in front of the Cleveland faithful who wanted nothing more than for the 52-year title drought in their city to end. LeBron turned in another masterful performance and another 41 points as Cleveland staved off elimination yet again. Fast forward three more nights to Game 7 in Oakland. The stage was set for what was sure to be the best night of season. LeBron broke the hearts of Warriors “fans” and his haters everywhere as he rose to the occasion and played the game of his life. One triple-double and a clutch Kyrie Irving 3-pointer later he had done it. LeBron James delivered on his promise. He brought a title back to the city of Cleveland and ended a 52-year wait. Residents of the Cleveland area were elated to hear that LeBron wasn’t done either. He and J.R. Smith signed new contracts in the offseason and now have sights set on defending their title. Last year LeBron James averaged 25.3 ppg, 7.4 rpg and 6.8 apg in 76 games. Those are outstanding numbers and they don’t even qualify for one of his five best seasons. It’ll be intriguing to see how the 31-year old performs this year with his career on the “decline”. Expect him to see plenty of rest after the Cavs lock up the #1 seed in the East. Outside of LeBron the Cavaliers still possess the most talent in the Eastern Conference entering the new season. This is mostly due to having LeBron James, but even without James this team is still incredibly talented. Obviously Kyrie Irving is one of the most talented guards in the league, if not the most. Understandably that is not too popular of an opinion, but a case can be made for the 24-year old out of Duke. After all he did completely shut down Steph Curry in the Finals when it mattered most, and when it mattered on the offensive side of the ball he came through in the clutch against one of the best teams in NBA history. Add in the compliments of Kevin Love and J.R. Smith and you’ve got an extremely potent offense. Defensively the team lacks a true presence down low. Tristan Thompson has established himself as one of the most ravenous rebounders in the league, but is part of the problem when it comes to defense. Off the bench the veteran presence of Mo Williams, Richard Jefferson (how is he still in the league?), Mike Dunleavy, Channing Frye, Chris Andersen, James Jones and Dahntay Jones will again prove vital come playoff time.

Projected record: 55-27

bulls

Predicted Starting 5:

PG: Rajon Rondo

SG: Dwyane Wade

SF: Jimmy Butler

PF: Taj Gibson

C: Robin Lopez

The Bulls will be the only competition, if any, that the Cavaliers face in the division this year. Head coach Fred Hoiberg must be allergic to guards that can shoot the ball because he went out this offseason and got three guards with a combined 26.5% shooting percentage from three point range last season. Still, the acquisitions should have a positive impact on the squad as a whole. The Bulls went through the most change this offseason between the blockbuster trade that sent Derrick Rose to New York, acquiring Michael Carter-Williams from the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for Tony Snell, the meaningless trades with the Lakers and Cavs, drafting Denzel Valentine out of Michigan State, and the signings of Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, and Isaiah Canaan. The Bulls are now loaded at the guard positions. With Rondo, MCW, Canaan, Jerian Grant (acquired in trade with NYK), Wade, and Valentine crowding the backcourt Valentine may be asked to play the 3 more often along with the team’s superstar Jimmy Butler who has already made the transition from the 2 to the 3 seamlessly. Depth is not an issue for this team, that is until you hit the frontcourt. Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez will start. Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic are listed as his backups on the depth chart, but Mirotic is hardly effective in the paint on either side of the ball and Portis has struggled to impress Hoiberg enough to earn the valuable minutes and experience needed to grow. The gap left behind by Pau Gasol has been filled by Robin Lopez, and his backup is Cristiano Felicio. Go ahead and look him up real quick then come back, I’ll wait. The undrafted FA out of Brazil is far from a reliable option should anything happen to Lopez at any point during the season. Presumably Hoiberg would move Gibson to center and then start either Mirotic or Portis at power forward before putting faith in the Brazilian.

Projected record: 45-37

pistons

Predicted Starting 5:

PG: Ish Smith

SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

SF: Tobias Harris

PF: Marcus Morris

C: Andre Drummond

The Pistons will be without starting point guard Reggie Jackson until late November/early December. Other than that the Pistons had a great offseason. Within a 10-day span in mid-July Detroit signed free agents Jon Leuer, Ish Smith and Boban Marjanovic all to multiyear deals. In that same timeframe they signed 2016 draftees Henry Ellenson (Marquette) and Michael Gbinije (Syracuse) to rookie contracts and re-signed All-Star center Andre Drummond to a max deal making him the highest paid Piston ever. A couple days ago they exercised Stanley Johnson’s option for the 2017-18 season, a sign of promise in the kid out of Arizona. With a solid core of Reggie Jackson, Tobias Harris and Andre Drummond under contract for at least the next three years together Detroit could add to that the developing talent of Stanley Johnson and become a serious contender within a few years. For now head coach Stan Van Gundy will look to Ish Smith, and possibly even Ray McCallum off the bench, to bear the load in the backcourt and replace the production that Reggie Jackson leaves behind. That’s a total of 18.8 points, 6.2 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game. The Pistons are in for a rocky start in their first 20 or so games, and it could very well be the reason this team misses the playoffs.

Projected record: 40-42

pacers

Predicted Starting 5:

PG: Jeff Teague

SG: Monta Ellis

SF: Paul George

PF: Thaddeus Young

C: Myles Turner

The promising second-year big out of Texas gets the nod from first-year head coach Nate McMillan at center to start the season. McMillan was with the Pacers as an assistant last season under Frank Vogel, so he’s aware of what Turner has to offer. The team will still run through 3-time All-Star Paul George with significant help from Monta Ellis along the way. Ellis averaged a career-low 13.8 ppg last season, his first with the Pacers. Still a reliable on-ball defender he will be a key to their success. Paul George will need to have a seriously impressive season if the Pacers are to make the playoffs this year. His 23.1 ppg, 7.0 rpg, and 4.1 apg in 2015-16 won’t be enough this year if he wants to play some postseason ball. The depth is certainly lacking here in every department except the center position, with Al Jefferson waiting to come off the bench. Unless Paul George pulls a rabbit out of the hat I don’t see much coming from Indiana this year.

Projected record: 36-46

bucks

Predicted Starting 5:

PG: Matthew Dellavedova

SG: Giannis Antetokounmpo

SF: Jabari Parker

PF: Mirza Teletovic

C: Miles Plumlee

Looking at that starting lineup can inspire only one kind of reaction: “Wow…”. Yeah “Wow…” is right. First things first. The Bucks are in talks to move Greg Monroe. He is certainly an upgrade from Plumlee, and I don’t get why he isn’t listed as a starter. Maybe it’s because we all assume he will get dealt by the deadline, but I don’t see how you can leave one of your best players on the bench like this. It certainly doesn’t help that Khris Middleton will be sidelined until April following surgery on his left hamstring. Middleton may even be held out of this season entirely to avoid aggravating the injury. The “Greek Freak” will make tons of awe-inspiring plays as he is prone to do. I believe he can achieve double-digit triple-doubles this season, and still not produce as many as Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook. To sum up the belief I have in this squad I’ll just point out that the Bucks traded away Michael Carter-Williams to the Bulls for Tony Snell. That leaves them with Matthew Dellavedova, who signed a $38 million contract with Milwaukee this summer, and “The Jet” Jason Terry as the only two point guards on the active roster. That’s just sad. Look for Giannis to play a lot of point-forward this season, and wow us all by going coast-to-coast in two dribbles or something crazy like that.

Projected record: 30-52

Coming Wednesday: Western Conference Preview

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