As with our previous NBA blogs, stats and anecdotes courtesy of: ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo, The Athletic, Five Thirty Eight and The Ringer. “Hot takes” and win totals belong to Brian.
Last Year the Mavs finished 33-49. SI, ESPN, BPI, all say 41 wins this year in a brutal Western Conference, Five Thirty Eight says 45. Starters are: Delon Wright; Luka Doncic; Tim Hardaway Jr (?); Kristaps Porzingis and Dwight Powell. Bench includes: Seth Curry; Jalen Brunson; Dorian Finney Smith; Justin Jackson; Maxi Kleber and Boban. Porzingis is coming off a 20 month ACL layoff. If healthy he can score from anywhere. Kevin O’Connor from the Ringer is higher on Luka’s future than Zion’s-high praise but as many have asked “Who is their third best player behind the dynamic duo?” Rumblings that if Chris Paul goes to Miami, Goran Dragic would join the Mavs. Bri says 39ish wins.
Last year the Rockets finished 53-29 and lost in the second round to their kryptonite team the Warriors. SI and ESPN say 53 wins, BPI 51, Five Thirty Eight says 57. Starters include: Westbrook; Harden; Eric Gordan; PJ Tucker and Clint Capela. Bench: Austin Rivers; Danuel House; Thabo Seffolosha; Ryan Anderson and Tyson Chandler. This team faces high expectations and will go as far as the Westbrook/Harden pairing takes them. Will Russ get any shots in crunch time and if not will he pout? Will James hunt MVP stats (he is still pissed about losing last year to Giannis)? Will Russ play D and limit his mid range shots (he and Dantoni agree to 4 per game). Lot’s of potential noise off the court as well with Dantoni in his last year of his contract; a relatively new owner who appears to be a bit of a wild card; new assistant coaches and the Morey tweet fallout. Bri says things work out surprisingly well, 55 wins.
Last year the Grizzlies were 33-49 and they have begun a complete rebuild (under first year coach and former Bucks assistant Tyler Jenkins) after many years of Grit and Grind led by Mike Conley and March Gasol (both have been traded). SI says 22 wins. Five Thirty Eight says 32 with ESPN and BPI at 27. Starters include: Rookie Phenom Ja Morant; Dillon Brroks; Jae Crowder; foundational big man Jaren Jackson Jr and Jonas Valanciunis. Bench: Tyus Jones; DeAnthony Melton/Jax native Grayson Allen; rookie Brandon Clarke; Josh Jackson and Ivan Rabb. Note: We expect Andre Iguodala to be traded to a playoff contender any day. The focus is clearly on rebuilding around Morant; Jackson and possibly Clarke. We expect Morant to have a ton of highlights (and a ton of turnovers). Jackson is a beast on defense and versatile on offense-a classic modern big. The 2020 draft pick is owed to Celtics but top 6 protected so look for the Grizz to finish in the bottom 6. Bri says 29 wins for what should be a fun to watch team.
NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
Last year the Pelicans were 33-49. SI/BPI say 39 wins, ESPN 40 and Five Thirty Eight 41 but Zion was just announced to be out 6-8 weeks with a left knee issue. Starters include: Lonzo; Jrue Holiday; Brandon Ingram; Zion (when he returns)/JJ Redick; Derrick Favors. Bench includes: Frank Jackson; Josh Hart; Nikiel Alexander-Walker; E’ Tuwan Moore and Nicolo Melli/Jalil Okafor. Lonzo should be a great fit with coach Alvin Gentry’s running style. Ingram is key he needs to prove he can hit three’s after his injury. Alexander Walker looks to be instant offense off the bench. The Zion injury really stinks because the Pelicans have good depth at every position except Zion’s (power forward). Super thin Brandon Ingram will get pushed around. Bri says 38 wins. (would have been roughly 41 with a healthy Zion for the first 6-8 weeks).
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
Forty eight wins last year for Spurs, took #2 Denver to 7th game in round 1. Lot’s of variance in predictions with SI at 47 for this year, ESPN/BPI at 43 nd Five thirty eight down at 36. Starters: Dejounte Murray (new contract despite injury last year); Derrick White/Bryn Forbes; DeMar Derozan; LaMarcus Aldridge and Jakob Poetl. Bench: Patty Mills; Lonnie Walker (Summer league stud)/Marco Belinelli; DeMarre Carroll; Rudy Gay and Trey Lyles. The Spurs are a super solid professional organization-made the playoffs 22 YEARS IN A ROW. Coach Pop adapts to the strength of his players. Last year they were First in 3 point %; First in FT %; 2nd in FG % and 2nd lowest in turnovers. While their best players Derozan and Aldridge don’t shoot threes, the guards who are younger, may begin to change that. The best line-up likely has Aldridge at center. We have them pegged as an 8 seed this year with 45 wins. If things don’t go well (unlikely) look for potential moves as DeRozan and Aldridge will be free agents next summer. We look forward to seeing the role that new assistant Tim Duncan plays for the Spurs.