The first four are legitimate title contenders:
1. Clippers CP3 is a true alpha dog, not many of these types of guys exist in today's NBA. Guys that play with him always believe they have a chance to win. Doc Rivers is the type of coach that VDN couldn't even dream of becoming. Doc's biggest impact will be turning DeAndre Jordan into an absolute monster on defense and that will rub off on the rest of the team as well. Regular season run will be great but a lack of post offense will hold them back in post season.
2. Rockets This is a team that plays at a fast pace and won't know how to slow it down when the playoffs come. They will go all out in the regular season. Dwight will be his old dominant self on defense and on the glass. D12's presence will make life much easier for James Harden on offense. The question will be if they can stop teams when the pressure mounts.
3. Spurs They're still the best team when it comes to executing their game plan. Only low as third because Pop will continue to put his veterans on a regular season pitch count. They made what I think is the most under rated move of the summer when they brought Marco Belinelli into the fold. Less play time for Manu is better for their success.
4. Thunder Many will think its crazy to put them this low but they've lost a lot of fire power when they let Kevin Martin leave. Russell Westbrook is going to take a while to be his old self, if that's even possible, the best part of his game was athleticism. I mentioned before about the lack of alpha dogs in this league... well Kevin Durant is not one of those guys. He could be the best player in this league if he had that killer mentality. His showing in the playoffs without Westy told me a lot about his mind set.
Two more solidified playoff participants:
5. Warriors A young team that is continuing to get better needs to stay healthy so their on court bond can be strong when it matters the most. Iggy will be a huge boost to the talent already on the perimeter; he's one of the most intelligent defenders in the NBA, sharing this with his teammates will be deadly for the rest of the league. Bogut and Lee are big time on the boards.
6. Grizzlies Defense win championships and they play a better brand of team defense than any other in the league. The problem is they aren't creative enough on offense and can be easily shut down. Sometimes execution is not enough. The game isn't meant to be played solely by the use of advanced analytics, you need athletes on the hardwood too.
The rest of the West is a crap shoot honestly. I think six teams have a chance at the final two spots, In no particular order:
- Timberwolves I love everything about Ricky Rubio's game; if he didn't play in Minnesota, every big time player would want to play with him. I think Kevin Love is the best power forward in the NBA. Nikola Pekovic is a beast. Kevin Martin is gonna put numbers on the board.
- Nuggets Losing Iggy and George Karl will hurt this team more than most people believe. Individually, I love what Ty Lawson, Gallo, and Manimal brings to the table.
- Lakers So many pundits have completely written them off. What this team has that last season's didn't is a sincere joy of playing with each other. There's no doubt that the misfits they put together can get buckets but how healthy will Kobe be? How will they get stops?
- Trailblazers A very talented team full of youthful exuberance. Lillard, the reigning rookie of the year, is already one of the best point guards in the league. I think he's almost at his ceiling but that's not a bad thing. He just needs his team to man up. Batum is one of the most versatile players the league has and LaMarcus Aldridge is a premier offensive player.
- Pelicans Their top perimeter players seem to be interchangeable. Jrue Holiday is probably the strongest defensive point guard in the league and he's still learning how to run a team. Tyreke is a former ROY that needed a change of scenery. Eric Gordon is a top five off guard when healthy; key word is healthy. Anthony Davis would have won ROY last season had it not been for injuries; he'll be a All-Star once he gets stronger.
- Kings I'm a big fan of DeMarcus Cousins, I think he has the potential to be the best center in the league but he needs to get his mind right first; Shaq getting involved with this organization will go a long way towards him taking that next step. All of their guards know how to get buckets, this is a given. Can their guards defend and distribute to the bigs? If Coach Malone solves this riddle, he'll win coach of the year.
Please leave comments to let me know what you think.