By Zac Cornell
Even without in-person fans in the NBA, the league has started off with a hot start. Many surprises and breakouts have occurred thus far and I expect many more. There have been shocks and disappointments as teams strive to find their chemistry and consistency, all the while dealing with the distraction of the pandemic. Numerous teams have had to postpone games due to a lack of required players in order to play. Despite the many challenges and new circumstances, the NBA has managed to maintain an exciting season. I’m going to break down the 30 teams in the league and what to expect for the rest of the season.
30. Detroit Pistons
There are some excitements and some disappointments when looking at the Pistons. One thing I can say for sure is that the signing of Jerami Grant is given an A grade. Grant has averaged almost 25 PPG and 6rbp this season. In his first season as the main scorer for his team, he has flourished and exceeded expectations. However, this does not mean the rest of the Pistons look great. Seventh pick of the 2020 draft Killian Hayes is expected to miss a ton of time with an injury. Blake Griffin looks washed and should be traded soon. And the Pistons have yet to give 2019 rookie Sekou Doumbouya the minutes he should be playing. The Pistons are clearly in need for a rebuild, and starting 31-year-old Blake Griffin over Sekou is just bizarre to me. The only explanation for this is the organization’s desire to build up Griffin’s trade value before dealing him to another team. This would make sense, but for how long? And Derrick Rose has had quite a quiet season thus far. I wonder what the future has in store for him. If I were the GM, I would look to acquire as many assets in return for Griffin and Rose.
29. Washington Wizards
One of most disappointing teams in the East, the Washington Wizards. Many people expected the backcourt of Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal to be one of the top duos in the league, if not the best. However, after starting the season 0-5, the Wizards have not changed course. Even with Beal averaging 34 PPG, the Wizards are currently 2nd to last in the East, only ahead of the Pistons. This experiment of pairing Beal with another star guard (Westbrook) is not panning out and it must be dealt with soon. Let’s face it, Westbrook is not the same player he was back in 2017. He’s lost a step and his atrocious shooting has made him look even worse. In addition, starting center Thomas Bryant is done for the season, as he tore his ligament the other night. 2019 rookie Rui Hachimura has looked solid thus far; however, I would like to see an expanded role throughout the season once Beal and Westbrook are traded, which they will be. I would also like to see rookie Deni Avdija become one of the main options for this team. If the Wizards continue to try and patch holes on the roster instead of realizing they need a rebuild, they are going to be a bad team for a long time.
28. Minnesota Timberwolves
I have no idea what to say. First overall pick Anthony Edwards has gotten off to a promising start, however, I do not know why the team is struggling. Karl Athony-Towns is playing great and Malik Beasley is off to a great start too. D’Angelo Russell is doing good, but not great. I expected him to thrive in the primary ball handler position, like he did in Brooklyn. These four players are great foundational pieces for a franchise and I think they should continue to build around them. I do not think any trades must be made here and I think they should try and bounce back. There is enough talent on this team to make a playoff spot. There really should be no excuse. When the trade deadline comes around and this team is on the playoff border, they should look to target a forward for a push. If 2019 rookie Jarrett Culver fails to pick up his game, maybe they could look to trade him to a team that’s in rebuild mode for a forward and compensation/picks. Maybe they could try Cleveland and acquire Kevin Love or Andre Drummond.
27. Chicago Bulls
The Bulls are 6-8 and have a very promising team. The entire starting lineup is filled with lottery picks from the recent years and although some like Lauri Markannen and Wendell Carter Jr. have been off to slow starts, the team looks like they’re on the right track. Zach Lavine is a star. He has really taken his game to the next level with his elite scoring ability. Coby White has continued to develop and looks like the future point guard for this franchise. Fourth pick of the draft Patrick Williams is off to a decent start, but should definitely mature as the season goes on. This team has a chance to make the playoff play-in and should continue their gameplan. Luckily, Otto Porter Jr.’s contract is coming off the books at the end of season, which should allow them to target free agents as they look to contend in the future.
26. Sacramento Kings
De’Aaron Fox and rookie Tyrese Haliburton have looked good so far this season. Buddy Hield has struggled to score and has had shooting woes thus far. We’ve seen some promises from Marvin Bagley III, but to be putting up 13.7 PPG as the second pick and one pick ahead of superstar Luka Doncic, puts him into better perspective. Bagley has missed a lot of time over the past two seasons due to injuries and should finally succeed with his expanded role and becoming a starter. Even though he’s been off to a slow start, he should be fine. The young core of Fox, Haliburton, Bagley looks to be promising. If the team continues to struggle in a crowded western conference, the team should look to deal Buddy Hield in return for a first round pick. I do not think this team is a contender at the moment, but if they rebuild properly, they are only a few years away.
25. Oklahoma City Thunder
With loads of draft picks in the future, the Thunder have entered a full rebuild. The Thunder have been contenders for the past decade; however, they have failed to win a title during that time. Most casual fans probably could not name five players on their roster. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is the face of this franchise and he’s been exceptional so far this season. He has become a very good playmaker and ball-handler as Chris Paul’s replacement. Along with him, Darius Balzey and Lugentz Dort have become starters for this young team. Beyond this, there isn’t much there. Veterans like George Hill, Mike Muscala, and Al Horford can be useful trade pieces down the road potentially, but surely provide nothing more than that when looking at the future. Overall, the Thunder have one of the brightest futures in the NBA when looking at their draft compensation and flexibility to make trades.
24. Houston Rockets
The Rockets finally pulled off a good trade, despite losing their franchise player and former MVP, James Harden. For years, the Rockets tried to find the right partner to go along with Harden. From Dwight Howard, to Chris Paul, to Westbrook, to John Wall, none of these pairs resulted in a championship, let alone a finals appearance. Their closest year to the finals was with Paul and Harden in 2018, but Paul’s injury late in the postseason allowed the Warriors to beat them in 7 games. But now they must move on and look to the future. There are some good pieces on this team such as Victor Oladipo, John Wall, and Christian Wood. Wall looks almost like his old self, which is encouraging to say the least. Oladipo shined in his first game as a Rocket, and has hopes to return to his former all-star and franchise-player self. And Wood has had a breakout year, which I predicted in the offseason. Wood has been playing at an all-star level and is the current front-runner for MIP award. If the Rockets fail to contend for a playoff spot towards the trade deadline, they should look to ship PJ Tucker and Eric Gordon elsewhere for more compensation. However, I do think this roster is capable of making the playoffs. Their future was looking like it was heading to the ground with all of the Harden drama, but they came away with plenty of draft picks and Oladipo.
23. Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks have been one of the most disappointing teams so far. In my opinion, they signed two very bad deals this offseason in Gallinari and Bogdanović. I thought the lineup/core of Young, Heurter, Hunter, Collins, Capela with Reddish and Onyeka Okungwu off the bench was very solid. And with Collins an impending free-agent and the Hawks having just handed out two very big contracts, I see it very unlikely the Hawks are able to retain Collins. But despite my critiques of their management recently, the Hawks are a very solid roster at the moment and should be in contention for a top 5 seed in the East. However, they are off to a pretty bad start. For one, they’ve had injuries at every position, but that should be no excuse for such a talented roster. However, even with this slow start, I think the Hawks will bounce back and make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. Their depth and talent is just too good to miss out on the playoffs. They could even make a massive trade in attempt to gain an all star such as Bradley Beal or Zach Lavine. They have a ton of pieces to offer, like Kevin Heurter, Cam Reddish, De’Andre Hunter, Bogdanović, Bruno Fernando, and picks. The Hawks are in great shape for a bounce back this season and have a very bright future
22. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavaliers are a very confusing team. They have a talented roster and a decent record, but do not let that fool you. They are not a team that is ready for playoff contention. The acquisition of center Jarett Allen means Andre Drummond is going to be traded at some point this season. And when they trade him, they might as well trade Kevin Love, who has missed tons of games and really does not have a purpose on a rebuilding squad. Collin Sexton is having a breakout year, averaging 24 PPG and Darius Garland is also playing pretty good. The have coined the name “Sex-land” as the duo has become very popular. Rookie Issac Okoro is an athletic freak, but his poor shooting is going to be an issue in the league. His defense, slashing ability, and athleticism is off the charts, though. Oh and don’t let me forget this! 2019-2020 first rounder Kevin Porter Jr. is either going to be waived or traded, per the team. This comes following an outburst in the locker room. That’s very unfortunate for Cleveland, as he was one of the most talented scorers in that draft class and looked like he was becoming a very solid player.
21. Charlotte Hornets
The Hornets have a lot of talent. The guy who has the media posting like every 5 minutes is third overall pick LaMelo Ball, son of LaVar Ball. Ball has been playing good as of late and is currently leading all rookies in the ROTY race. A disappointment on the team has been Devonte’ Graham. He came in second place last year in the MIP award, but has been having a down year. The major signing and “overpay” for Gordon Hayward has proved to be a success thus far, as he is averaging 22 PPG. Even though I still think his average annual salary of $30 million is a major overpay, Charlotte is not a very popular free agent landing spot, so they had to overpay in order to land a star. If the Hornets are not looking like a playoff team come the deadline and Graham has not flipped the switch, I would look to trade him and Malik Monk, as he has failed to maintain involvement in the rotation. I mean if we were talking about a year ago, I would have traded Terry Rozier for a box of snacks. His horrible contract is not going away. But if he continues to play how he is right now, you might as well try a backcourt of Ball and Rozier. The starting lineup by the end of the season should look like Ball, Rozier/Graham, Hayward, Washington, Biyombo with Miles Bridges, Vernon Carey Jr., and (if still on the team) Devonte’ Graham getting most of the minutes off the bench.
20. Orlando Magic
The Magic suffered a devastating loss as Markelle Fultz tore his ACL early on this season. This forced first round pick Cole Anthony to start in the lineup. But that wasn’t the only injury they have faced so far. Evan Fournier, Jonathan Issac, and 2019 first rounder Chuma Okeke have missed the majority of the games this year too. And I’ll be honest, they don’t have a ton of talent. All-star center Nikola Vucevic is great, but he’s aging at 30 years old. They should really look to trade him for young players or a couple of first round picks. They should do the same with starting guard Evan Fournier. Even though they are not a great team, the rest of the team is pretty young. Their youth consisting of Markelle Fultz, Cole Anthony, Mo Bamba, Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Issac, and Okeke is not a bad core. Most of these guys have a lot of potential but a lot to prove at the same time. One of the guys who they also may look to trade is PF Aaron Gordon, who at times looks like Jordan while dunking but does nothing else really. In summary, I think the Magic should rebuild and trade away Vucevic, Fournier, and Gordon to gain as many draft picks as possible.
19. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors are in a confusing situation. They are a great team and are a playoff team. But, they’ve played so bad so far, I don’t know what to call them. Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry have been playing pretty good, but their franchise player Pascal Siakam has been off to a bad start. Shooting 26% from three and averaging 18.9 PPG. If the Raptors want to make a comeback and be among the top in the East again, they’re going to need this guy to step up. One guy who has stepped up off the bench, however, is Chris Boucher. Averaging 16.1 PPG and 2.5bpg in 23.8 minutes per game is outstanding and they need to give this guy more playing time. They brought in Aron Baynes to replace the role Serge Ibaka played for them; however, he’s been a disappointment thus far (4.3 PPG on 37.5% shooting). Overall, the Raptors should be in good shape for a deep playoff run if they can figure out the Siakam situation.
18. New York Knicks
Despite having one of the hardest schedules in the league, if not the hardest, the Knicks have managed to go 6-8 in their first 14 games. This came as a surprise to everybody, as most people expected the same garbage Knicks. Julius Randle has shined under coach Tom Thibodeau and has turned the page in his game. He is a legit all-star candidate and could even be in the MVP conversation if the season ended today. His scoring along with his playmaking ability for a guy his size is outstanding. He has carried the Knicks thus far. But for how long can he maintain this play? At some point, the Knicks will need to figure out their shooting issue. They really need better shooting if they want to keep competing. Alec Burks’s eventual return from injury will certainly help, but they may even need more. RJ Barrett has had his ups and downs and his shooting woes, but when he’s on his game, he can really put the ball in the basket. The Knicks do not need to be stellar on offense, as they are currently ranked first in scoring defense (102.7 PPG), defensive FG% (43.3%), and defensive 3P% (31.2%). If they can continue to be dominant on the defensive end, they don’t have to do as much on the offensive side. We haven’t seen much action from Obi Toppin, former national player of the year, but the other first round pick Immanuel Quickley has been a phenomenon thus far. His floater game is very special. I’ve never watched a guy constantly put up floaters from the free throw line and just make it every time. Kevin Knox has finally found his role in the offense, shooting 41% from three. And Mitchell Robinson continues to dominate the paint and glass, averaging 1.8 blocks, 1.4 steals, and 8.3 rebounds per game. He also has the second highest offensive rebounds per game in the entire league. As surprised as I am to say this, the Knicks look like they are on the right track and have a bright future ahead.
17. Memphis Grizzlies
Ja Morant’s early season injury put the entire league in panic; however, he has since returned to the court. In his first game back from injury, Morant hit a game winner to beat the Sixers 106-104. Morant is the foundation for this franchise and looks to be a future superstar. He’s one of the most athletic players in the league and is already one of the best point guards in the league. Along with him, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke are the other young studs on this team. Their rookie class of Desmond Bane, Xavier Tillman, and Killian Tillie was one of my higher ranked overall drafts in the league. With no top pick, they really drafted well with the picks they had. The Grizzlies young core is blooming with hopes to make the playoffs again after making the play-in last season.
16. New Orleans Pelicans
The headlines of Zion Williamson have not disappointed. The former first overall pick has shined in New Orleans, backing up his superstar hype. After the Pelicans organization had to teach Zion to walk and run differently with questions about his proneness to injury and weight, he has averaged 23.4 PPG and 8.0RPG on 59% shooting from the field this year. All-star Brandon Ingram hasn’t disappointed either, averaging almost 23 PPG and shooting 45% from the field. The addition of center Steven Adams has been a success as well, as he’s been playing great. However, the Pelicans are not ready to compete with teams like the Nuggets, Lakers, Clippers, and more for a championship. They are still missing an important piece, and that is a point guard. Neither Lonzo Ball nor Eric Bledsoe have stepped up as the ball handler and proven to be a key asset to a contending team. They are both good defensively, but where is their offense? The lack of shooting and creativity between the two puts a major hole in their lineup. If the Pelicans use some of the compensation they received for Anthony Davis, they could potentially acquire a better guard that will help them contend this season.
15. San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs have been off to a good start. The young core of Dejounte Murray, Keldon Johnson, Lonnie Walker IV, and rookie Devin Vassell is a talented group. Johnson is having a significantly better season than last year, averaging 14.1 PPG and 7.1 RPG. Murray is having a decent season thus far, averaging 15.8 PPG and 1.2 steals per game. Starting shooting guard Lonnie Walker IV is also having a good year, averaging 12.5 PPG over 28 minutes. Vassell is off to a slow start, but I’m not worried about this as he has the talent and skill to become a great player. He is the ultimate three and D player that you want in the NBA. Demar DeRozan, Lamarcus Aldridge, and Rudy Gay are all aging and past their primes. They are only regressing and should probably be traded if this team does not manage to make the playoffs as one of the later seeds. That’s what I would do if I controlled this team. But I think because Coach Pop only has so many years left remaining in the NBA, they take one more shot at the playoffs and then call for a rebuild? Anything is possible when you have one of the greatest coaches of all time on your side.
14. Miami Heat
After reaching the NBA finals last season, the Miami Heat have been off to a slow start. Jimmy Butler has not played like his usual, all-star self averaging just 15.8 PPG. However, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, and Goran Dragic have picked up his slack. Despite putting up decent numbers, the Heat still haven’t managed to win a ton of games, as their record is 5-7. I wouldn’t be too worried though, as the season is still young and there is a lot of talent on this roster. The Heat decided to not trade for James Harden earlier this year; however, star guard Bradley Beal is still available if the Heat decide they need another elite player. Even if this team is in win-now mode, they aren’t looking to give up all of their future pieces like rookie Precious Achiuwa, Robinson, Herro, and Kendrick Nunn in order to get an all-star. This team values their future just as much as this season, and won’t make too many sacrifices. Regardless if they make moves down the line, this team is a contender for a finals appearance yet again.
13. Indiana Pacers
After trading away Victor Oladipo in return for Caris LeVert, LeVert’s MRI revealed a mass on his kidney. This could be life threatening, so he is very lucky he was traded which allowed for this discovery. The Pacers are a very good team, when HEALTHY. They have struggled to keep their main players healthy throughout the season. Their two main players Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis have had an exceptional year. Brogdon is averaging 22.5 PPG, 7.3 APG, and 3.9 RPG and Sabonis is averaging 21.9 PPG and 12.6 RPG. Beyond these two, they have more solid pieces. LeVert will be a great addition to this team when he returns to play, as he was having a breakout season this year with the Nets. His ability to score will be crucial to this team down the stretch. T.J. Warren is also a good player. Many people know him as the Michael Jordan inside the bubble last year because he was literally unguardable. But he is in reality a very solid player and a great third option, let alone a fourth option. Center Myles Turner is also good, despite the team looking to trade him over the past couple of years. His defensive ability allows this team to be one of the best defensive all around in the league. This team should compete for one of the top seeds in the East if they remain healthy. I project them to be the 6th seed by the end of the season.
12. Golden State Warriors
After a disappointing season in 2019, the Warriors are looking to bounce back this year. Unfortunately, they are going to be competing without Klay Thompson, again! Steph Curry is carrying the team, though, and putting up MVP numbers thus far. Second overall pick James Wiseman has gotten off to a slow start, like most other rookies, but he fits this team well. The Warriors have not had a solid center since Andrew Bogut, and they finally got their franchise player in Wiseman. His ability to attack the rim, rebound, and defend will make him one of the best centers in the league in the future. The Warriors traded for Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre, and they’ve turned out to be interesting experiments. Oubre has been horrendous from three point range, shooting 20% so far. He’s also been disappointing overall, averaging 11.9 PPG. Many people believed he would become their “number two guy” in Klay’s absence and be a dynamic scorer. On the other hand, Wiggins has been solid. He’s living up to expectations, but he should definitely step up to take pressure off of Curry. It’s amazing how Curry causes defenses to alter. There’s never one defender on Curry, there’s always a second defender nearby or doubling him. And Draymond Green … I don’t care if someone says he can’t score, because this guy is a great basketball player. His impact off the ball, whether it’s setting screens, finding teammates open, playing defense, or having an extremely high IQ, Draymond is always involved in the play. Overall, despite this team’s lack of consistent scoring behind Curry and lack of fire power, I think this team can compete in the playoffs and definitely go deep down the road.
11. Phoenix Suns
The Suns traded for star point guard Chris Paul this season. Paul is having a down year, and that can be contributed to his aging, as he is 35 years old. Even though he has not been great this year, the Suns are playing amazing. Currently 8-6 for the season, the Suns are 4th in the Western Conference. Devin Booker has been great, averaging 22.9 PPG. He has turned into one of the best scorers in the NBA night in and night out. Mikal Bridges is having a breakout year, averaging 15.4 PPG and 5.9 RPG. He has filled the hole that the Suns left when they traded Oubre to the Thunder. Former first overall pick Deandre Ayton has had a mediocre year. Taken just two picks ahead of superstar Luka Doncic in the 2018 draft, Ayton has failed to live up to first overall pick expectations in his short career so far. Even if the Suns make the playoffs with Paul’s verteran experience and leadership, I don’t think this team can compete in a crowded Western Conference.
10. Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers are a great team. Damian Lillard has continued his superstar play, and CJ McCollum is having a breakout season despite already being a great player. McCollum has been on a tear, averaging 26.7 PPG and shooting 44% from three. Lillard has continued to prove he’s a top 10 player in the league, averaging 28.1 PPG with a 95% free throw percentage. The Blazers also traded two first round picks to the Rockets for Robert Covington, who’s been very disappointing, averaging 6.6 PPG with a 31.4% FG rating. There’s nothing new with seeing big men Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins out again. And Carmelo Anthony has embraced his new role off the bench, averaging 12.2 PPG with a 44.2% three point percentage. Overall, this team has a lot of depth when healthy, and could make another deep playoff run this year. I can see this team making the Western Conference Finals, and potentially the Finals.
9. Utah Jazz
The Jazz have been off to a great start. Donovan Mitchell is averaging 24.3 PPG and shooting 43.8% from the field. Mitchell is playing great despite Shaquille O’Neal’s recent criticism, saying Mitchell doesn’t have what it takes to take his team to the next level. Mike Conley is also playing well, averaging 16.3 PPG and 6.3 APG. Rudy Gobert, who was recently signed to a max contract extension worth an average of $41 million a year, is not playing like he’s worth $41 million dollars. Even though he’s playing pretty good, his numbers aren’t looking great. He’s averaging 12.2 PPG, 13.5 RPB, and 2.8 BPG. He’s definitely showing his dominant presence on the defensive side, but he needs to do more on offense. Other players like Bojan Bogdanović, Jordan Clarkson, and Joe Ingles have been playing well. They will be key players in the playoffs, as their series could come down to how effective each of them are playing. Overall, this team is one of the best defensive teams in the league and is also a great three point shooting team. They have a shot at going deep in the playoffs; however, I don’t see them beating the Lakers or Clippers in a series.
8. Denver Nuggets
Nikola Jokic is having an MVP caliber season, recording five triple-doubles in his first 13 games. Jamal Murray has been good, but hasn’t played like the superstar player he was in the playoffs last year. He’s averaging 19 PPG, but that isn’t enough to be the number two guy on a competing team in a crowded conference. Michael Porter Jr. has been good, averaging around 17 PPG. He has really looked like a steal in that draft class, falling all the way to pick 14. Head Coach Michael Malone has had difficulty finding his team at full strength, but when they are, this team is one of the best teams in the league. Garry Harris has recently returned to action, and so has Murray. This team should look to target another elite scorer like Bradley Beal, Victor Oladipo, Demar DeRozan, or Buddy Hield. I think Hield is the best option for this team, because they won’t have to give up any key defensive players or a ton of draft picks to get him. It would likely cost two first round picks at the most. If they are able to gain another scorer, this team will become an immediate threat to the Lakers and Clippers.
7. Dallas Mavericks
Luka Doncic is amazing. There’s nothing more to it. He’s still one of the youngest players in the league, and is already a top 10 player. There are no major flaws to his game. He can do everything. His sidekick Kristaps Porzingis has struggled to remain healthy throughout his career, but when he is, they are a lethal duo. The Mavericks suffered a major loss by trading away Seth Curry this offseason. He has been great for the Sixers this year, and would really benefit this team. After having a very thin bench last season, the Mavericks have upgraded with the additions of Josh Richardson, Cauley-Stein, James Johson, and rookies Tyrell Terry and Josh Green. Even though this team is already one of the better teams in the league, I do not think they have enough talent to win a championship. Tim Hardaway Jr. has been good, but not good enough for this Western Conference.
6. Philadelphia Sixers
Joel Embiid is the current MVP frontrunner. He’s really been unstoppable on both ends of the court. He’s averaging 28.8 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 1.3 BPG, and 1.6 SPG. Nobody can guard him and there is nobody he can’t guard. Point guard Ben Simmons has been playing awful. He still has not learned how to shoot the ball and has struggled to score. He is averaging only 12.4 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 8.2 APG, and 1.6 STG. Despite being a dominant playmaker for his team, he has to step up and score. Tobias Harris has been playing great, averaging 19.6 PPG with a 52.3% FG percentage. The addition of Seth Curry has also looked like a great move, as he is averaging 16.8 PPG with a 60% FG percentage and a 59.6% three point percentage. Rookie Tyrese Maxey has also been great. One of the biggest steals of the draft, Maxey has been averaging 10.1 PPG off the bench. If players like Danny Green, Simmons, and Harris can back up Embiid throughout the season and in the playoffs, this team can potentially make a deep playoff run. The Sixers have struggled in big moments over the past few years, and are looking for revenge this season.
5. Boston Celtics
With Kemba Walker’s return, the Celtics are finally at full strength. Jaylen Brown has been outstanding thus far. He’s really become one of the best scorers in the league and can take over games when needed. Jayson Tatum has also been great. This duo is one of the best in the league. And now factor in Walker. Wow! This team is just getting started and is only getting better. Marcus Smart’s defense and improvement on offense has made their backcourt even better. Free agent acquisition Tristan Thompson has been living up to expectations, which weren’t set high. He’s done a solid job, and has outplayed Daniel Theis for the starting position. We haven’t seen much action out of rookie Aaron Nesmith, but Payton Pritchard has been exceptional. His shooting, ball-handling, and creativity has been very valuable off the bench. This team is one of the best in the league and might finish out on top of the Eastern Conference. However, if they want to be even better, they can target center Andre Drummond to fill that big-man weakness. They have more than enough to offer in a trade, thanks to the Brooklyn Nets trade years ago that set them up for greatness.
4. Brooklyn Nets
After signing superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving this offseason to max contracts, the Nets decided there wasn’t enough talent on the team. So they decided to trade a haul for former MVP James Harden. This new elite trio features three of the best scorers in the league. It is undoubtedly the most dominant offense in the league. However, there were many questions following the trade about the Nets’s depth and defense. And these worries may become reality, after they have lost back-to-back games to the Cleveland Cavaliers. It does look like the three players have struggled to share the ball. This has led many people to believe they should trade Irving. He is clearly the worst of the three players, and may actually benefit their chances at winning a championship this season. And they shouldn’t take any risks, as they traded their entire future to win now. No matter what happens though, this team has a very good shot at winning the finals this year and maybe for the next several years.
3. Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers look great, despite having questionable management decisions. Letting Montrez Harrell walk in free agency was a major loss to the team, especially since he joined their rival (Lakers). They paid Marcus Morris instead, who’s had a down year. Paul George has been outstanding this year, proving the haters wrong who said he was washed after a horrible playoff series last season. He is one of the top MVP candidates right now, and is only moving up the boards. Kawahi Leonard has been great, averaging 25.4 PPG. Serge Ibaka was also a great addition to this team. He has filled the big man role in Harrell’s departure. Nicolas Batum has also been a good addition this offseason. He’s been a big threat from three point range. His shooting and experience will be very valuable in the playoffs. This team needs to win now and they have a good chance of making the finals this year. They could look to acquire a guard like Lonzo Ball soon to help fill that weakness on the team. But regardless, this team is one of the best in the league.
2. Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks traded a haul of picks in return for guard Jrue Holiday this offseason. This has been a good pickup so far, as he is averaging 16.1 PPG, 5.2 APG, and shooting 50% from the field. MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo is having another amazing season. His only weakness is his jump shot, but other than that he is dominant on both ends of the floor. Khris Middleton has also been great thus far, averaging 21.9 PPG. All around, this team is one of the best defensive teams in the league and has improved on offense. They finally have what it takes to win the Eastern Conference and are the favorite to reach the finals.
1. Los Angeles Lakers The Lakers have had key additions to the team this offseason after winning the title. The additions of Dennis Schroder and Montrez Harrell have been great. LeBron James is having another great year, even though he is 36 years old. The man is aging like fine-wine! Anthony Davis is also having a great season, averaging 21.1 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 1.9 BPG, and 1.2 SPG. The star power, depth, and shooting on this team is all exceptional. They are in even better shape to win a title this year than last year. I honestly think the Lakers will repeat and win another championship in one of LeBron’s finals years in the league.