Tuesday, September 12, 2017

5 NBA Teams to Watch

New Teammates in Minnesota!
Once again I'll be blabbing about five teams to watch in the NBA, even if they're not your team. I should be clear, I intentionally omitted the Cavs and the Death Stars, they're both too obvious a choice, plus they're both likely to mash through their conference playoffs. So here are five teams you should try to watch during the regular season. 

1. Minnesota Timberwolves - They were on my list last year, I'm not sure whether that's good or bad. One thing is for sure, their roster is very different from a year ago. There will definitely be two new starters, Jimmy Buckets and Jeff Teague. Coach Thibodeau may insert a third new face into the starting lineup if he chooses to go with Taj Gibson; Gorgui Dieng will probably get minutes too. Adding reliable veterans to their young athletic core could be the combination needed to finally unlock this team's potential.

There are many projections suggesting they will make the proverbial leap, I sure as hell hope so. The top teams out west can all score. What remains to be seen is, can these Wolves adopt and adapt, to Thibodeau's defense-first mentality? Two former Bulls will help bring that edge and some late game poise, to a franchise hungry for the playoffs. One subplot will be the growth of Andrew Wiggins on defense. He's far too athletic to be so mediocre on that side of the ball. The key ingredient to this recipe is Karl Anthony-Towns, the best player in the Association still on a rookie deal, his upside is limitless. I believe he's already a top 15 player and he's certainly a franchise cornerstone. Please Minnesota, show us that you're ready.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder - Last year Russy went zenith and returned to earth as a triple-double machine. He's also being recognized as the first real-life Marvel super hero, and now he has a son, so that's cool. This year he gets some serious help with the addition of Paul George—thanks Indiana for giving him away for nothing, because you were too narrow-minded to flip him to an eastern rival for a better package. Russy thanks you too. 

PG and Russy alone will increase OKC's win total. Mix in a little 3 & D from Patrick Patterson, who signed a team friendly deal and some added reps with Doug McDermott, and that's four perimeter/wing players with the potential to mesh well. Of course there's Steven Adams, the blue collar big, who could realistically wipe the floor with the ball-kickers of the NBA. Nobody wants a piece of Adams, he's for real tough. They also have the defense of Roberson to throw at teams and bench scoring from Kanter. They appear to have the pieces to host a first round series, let's hope so.

Giannis Antetokounmpo
3. Milwaukee Bucks - Two words, Giannis Antetokounmpo. I'm a big believer in his threat to the Eastern Conference. I realize that they have some holes in their lineup, but damn if he doesn't have the potential to be LeBron-like. I also think a full season with Kris Middleton will help create more space for Giannis on offense, Kris is a solid defender too. Should Thon Maker continue to develop his game, look out. The Bucks have an obvious penchant for the super long diamond-in-the-rough-type players, an advantage when playing in, or against a switch heavy defense. If they can get some reliable outside shooting they could threaten the eastern teams at the top. I'm in the camp that also thinks Brogdon can further blossom from last year's ROY campaign. I also hope Parker can come back in a contract year after injury. There's real reason to believe the Bucks can secure home court in the first round; they'll battle Toronto for the fourth seed.

4. Boston Celtics - One of the top coaches in the Association has been given perhaps the best bucket getter and the kid he coached in college who turned into an NBA all-star. Nice work Danny Ainge. The Celtics definitely acquired the top-end type of talented needed to truly challenge LeBron in the east. Not only did they sign free agent Gordon Hayward, whom I'm a big fan of, and trade for Kyrie (I'm still reeling), they also drafted Jayson Tatum and picked up a Morris twin. I'm not sure who will start for Boston, but it would be interesting to see a five man group that features Uncle Drew, Commissioner Gordon, Al Horford, Jaylen Brown and the rookie Tatum. Assuming Tatum is serviceable on defense, which they will need having lost Bradley and Crowder. The Celts could allow Marcus Smart to assert himself on the second unit with Marcus Morris. The cupboard looks pretty bare after that—Terry Rozier anyone? Could we get a rematch of last year's Eastern Conference finals? Only time will tell.  

5. Philadelphia 76ers - The process is processing, rooks on rooks on rooks, will the process manifest? Their collective talent is young and unproven to say the least. Embiid, Simmons and Fultz, plus Saric and McConnell sounds great, but they are also the great unknown. As much as I want to believe, there's not much to go on, unless you think 31 games from Embiid over three years actually means something. At this point he's more akin to Greg Oden, let's shelf the Hakeem Olajuwon talk please; his upside is not in question. Often times the best ability is availability and thus far he's proven to be a fragile tease.

Elder statesmen JJ Redick will help open up the lane with his three point prowess, we know what he's capable of. Do we know what Ben Simmons can do? Did he learn how to shoot while red-shirting? Can Fultz get his shots off against NBA talent? Will Joel Embiid Play in 70+ games? Are Saric and Covington actually their best young pieces? Can the Sixers make the playoffs? There are plenty of questions and boundless intrigue, with only one way to find out, play the season. We finally get to see the 76ers young talent on the floor together. Sam Hinkie's process could become validated.

Honorable Mention: Lonzo Ball and De'Aaron Fox - The Pacific is brimming with point guard plot lines. These two rookies will be competing in the same division, they'll also have to guard Curry and Dame. I have serious concerns about Lonzo's defense, but he possesses outstanding feel for the game with incredible vision. The Lakers will be way more fun to watch if the contagious passing they showcased during summer league persists into the regular season. Sacramento could be well served to just give Fox the keys to the car. Hell, give him all the run he can handle, he bleeds competitiveness. It's going to be entertaining watching these two young players battle each other. Also, Patrick Beverley may try to steal their lunch money now that he's a Clipper? Check back soon for even more NBA conversation, bold predictions and the forecast for standings.


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