With the NBA season beginning today, and the Nuggets season beginning tomorrow, the Denver Stiffs staff got their prognosticating caps out and made some predictions.
However, for some of you that may be interested in knowing what we think of each and every team in the league, more words are required. Ryan Blackburn and Daniel Lewis took some time to make predictions of their own, taking the over or under on each team in the NBA.
Here is part one, for the Eastern Conference, with part two, for the Western Conference, scheduled for Wednesday.
(ed. note - Ryan and Daniel used over/under values from Sept. 20 - an updated over/under for the NBA can be viewed here.)
Atlanta Hawks - 43.5
Lewis (37-45): This team is so hard to figure out. They gave the keys to the offense to Dennis Schroder, and brought in Dwight Howard to replace Al Horford. Kyle Korver is another year older, and they’re going to need a lot of consistency from Kent Bazemore. Coach Bud is a great coach, which should help them stay near .500, but I don’t see how they have the depth or firepower to make the playoffs.
Blackburn (45-37): This assumes that Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver are retained by Atlanta for the entire season. Dwight Howard looks rejuvenated in his hometown, and Dennis Schroder is ready to take the reins of Mike Budenholzer’s team. Atlanta stays afloat in a congested portion of the East bracket.
Miami Heat - 36.5
Blackburn (33-49): After the departures of Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, and Joe Johnson, Justise Winslow is the only trustable wing on the roster. Goran Dragic pick and rolls with Hassan Whiteside will only get the team so far. They expected (or did they?) to have Chris Bosh back to stem the tide, but look for the Heat to struggle this year.
Lewis (31-51): The Heat are totally transformed from just a few years ago when LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh were leading the team into the NBA Finals. With Chris Bosh sidelined indefinitely with a blood clot, the team is going to have to rely on Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow and Dion Waiters. This team will win some games with their defense, but I expect them to throw up the white flag at the All-Star break and look to tank for a top-10 draft pick.
Charlotte Hornets - 39.5
Lewis (47-35): I think that the Hornets are going to be just as good as they were last season. With Michael Kidd-Gilchrist healthy, they can let Nicolas Batum have a larger role on offense, which should help them deal with the loss of Jeremy Lin. Cody Zeller is an underrated center, and Frank Kaminsky should continue to develop. The addition of Roy Hibbert on a cheap contract was an underrated acquisition as well, and should help solidify their second unit defense.
Blackburn (44-38): Charlotte sustained some veteran losses in free agency, but they return Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, and my boo Marvin Williams, as well as Michael Kidd-Gilchrist from injury. Their ceiling isn’t much higher than it was last year, but MKG and Frank Kaminsky improving should be enough.
Orlando Magic - 36.5
Blackburn (30-52): What in the world is happening in Orlando? I don’t think even Magic fans are sure. We know they want to play big with Aaron Gordon at the 3, but having Serge Ibaka, Nikola Vucevic, Bismack Biyombo, Jeff Green, AND Stephen Zimmerman is overkill. Frank Vogel is a great coach, but he’s no miracle worker.
Lewis (33-49): I like the trade for Serge Ibaka, I just don’t understand why the Magic haven’t continued to make trades. Why Nikola Vucevic hasn’t been traded to Minnesota for Nikola Pekovic and a 2019 lottery-protected first is confusing for me. Evan Fournier has taken advantage of his increased role on offense, but this is a team with few other options on offense. They’ll be a strong rebounding team, and they’ll want to win some games, but they only break 30 wins thanks to other teams in the Eastern Conference being even more terrible.
Washington Wizards - 42.5
Lewis (46-36): It’s time for Scott Brooks to show the NBA whether or not he’s a good coach. Instead of Westbrook, Durant, and Ibaka he’ll have John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Marcin Gortat. With Markieff Morris settled as a starter in the frontcourt, the Wizards have a team that can score efficiently and defend well. Don’t overlook their second unit, with Trey Burke, Tomas Satoransky, Kelly Oubre, Andrew Nicholson, and Ian Mahinmi. If Brooks can have them buy into a system, this team could make the playoffs and lose in the first round.
Blackburn (44-38): I’m high on Washington, and I think they could certainly go higher than the three teams above them. John Wall is still incredibly good, and Bradley Beal has to have a healthy season at some point right? Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre figure to have larger roles with better effectiveness as well.
Toronto Raptors - 49.5
Blackburn (54-28): Toronto may struggle after the departure of Bismack Biyombo and the mega contract of DeMar DeRozan, but then again, they may not. Now, Kyle Lowry is in a contract year, and presumably, they will have DeMarre Carroll back for the entire year as a versatile forward.
Lewis (56-26): I’m wondering when the Jonas Valanciunas breakout will finally come. Each year, the European center seems like he’s going to take the next step and help the Raptors improve, but he hasn’t been able to do it. He’ll need to be excellent this year with Biyombo in Orlando. Lowry and DeRozan will be huge for this team, but contributions from Cory Joseph and Norm Powell should help them be one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
Boston Celtics - 51.5
Lewis (57-25): I love the addition of Al Horford for the Celtics. He lets them play big or small, and his talents should help him thrive in Brad Stevens system. They have a ton of versatile players, and they have a great big picture vision for the season. With Isaiah Thomas scoring the basketball and the rest of the team playing elite defense, this team could be good enough to lose to the Cavaliers in the conference finals.
Blackburn (53-29): Boston comes up just short of the second seed, but they have made real strides in both depth and star power. Al Horford is just what they need, and Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Jae Crowder are in their primes. Questions arise when those players sit or injuries occur.
Brooklyn Nets - 20.5
Blackburn (23-59): It’s Brook Lopez and everybody else. When Brook is on the court, the Brooklyn Nets are reasonable. When he’s not, they are absolutely dismal. With a spotty injury history, the team will likely play some of its games with Jeremy Lin, Bojan Bogdanovic, or Rondae Hollis-Jefferson as its best player. Yikes.
Lewis (18-64): I’d rather crap in my hands and clap than watch 82 games of this team play. That being said, Caris LeVert, if he is ever healthy, will be fun to watch play. Celtics fans will enjoy watching the Nets lose and lose and lose, knowing they get to swap picks with them in the draft.
New York Knicks - 38.5
Lewis (26-56): Does their starting lineup of Derrick Rose, Courtney Lee, Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis, and Joakim Noah have potential? Sure. Would anyone else besides Kyle O’Quinn and Brandon Jennings get playing time with another NBA team? No, probably not. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jennings start 30 games this season.
Blackburn (38-44): Like Chicago fans, many New York Knicks fans have placed higher expectations than they should based on the star power. Kristaps Porzingis and Carmelo Anthony are still legit, but the Knicks are relying on the health of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Courtney Lee, and Brandon Jennings. They will be disappointed too.
Philadelphia 76ers - 27.5
Blackburn (17-65): R.I.P. the 76ers’ chance at a competitive record, given the foot injury to Ben Simmons. Joel Embiid is entertaining and fun to root for, but he’s still on a minutes restriction and is a huge unknown. Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel are unhappy, and most of the NBA world doesn’t like it, but can you blame them?
Lewis (15-67): Congratulations, Joel Embiid is healthy and able to have a rookie season after missing the last two years due to injury. Unfortunately, Ben Simmons has a Jones fracture and won’t be available. Even if Simmons was healthy, how much of a difference would it make? It’ll be a challenge for them to win 20 games, especially as they rely on players like Sergio Rodriguez, Nik Stauskas, and Jahlil Okafor.
Cleveland Cavaliers - 56.5
Lewis (63-19): How big of a difference does a player like LeBron James make? His performance in the NBA Finals was legendary, and reaffirmed his status as the best player in the league. As long as James is able to play at a legendary level, the Cavaliers will be winning 50+ games a season. Oh, and I hear Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are pretty good themselves too.
Blackburn (58-24): Cleveland coasts to a pretty easy 58 games after winning a ring last year. It’s likely that Kevin Love finally finds his fit next to LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. The only real questions are point guard and center depth, but let’s be real, James can play both if need be.
Chicago Bulls - 38.5
Blackburn (40-42): I expected to find the Chicago Bulls in the playoffs, but they have an incredibly difficult stretch surrounding the all-star break for which I have them penciled in at 6-15 in 21 games. With a lack of spacing to surround Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, and Jimmy Butler, it makes sense that teams start to figure out how to defend them at that point. There will be many disappointed Bulls fans.
Lewis (15-67): I have the Bulls as the worst team in the NBA this season. A brutal February will be the nail in the coffin for a franchise that continues to show they have no clue how to put a winning product on the court. Their offseason moves seemed to follow a script of “Does this player need the ball in their hands on offense, does this player struggle to make 3-point shots, and does this player project to struggle on defense.” They’ll break their tradition of not making midseason deals to move their disgruntled star, Jimmy Butler, for young talent and draft picks (my guess is Denver or Boston). At least they’ll have great odds for the No. 1 pick in a draft loaded with point guard talent.
Milwaukee Bucks - 39.5
Lewis (40-42): The Bucks rebuild is coming along slower than they may have hoped, and a hamstring injury to Khris Middleton doesn’t help. But I’m expecting a nice season from a team full of players with prodigious wingspans, and a lineup of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Matthew Dellavedova, Jabari Parker, Thon Maker, and John Henson should help Jason Kidd form a wall on defense. Parker is especially poised for a breakout season, and should be one of the leaders in the league at his position for total dunks.
Blackburn (29-53): It’s not good when the best player on the roster goes down with injury before the year begins, and make no mistake about it, Khris Middleton is the best player. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker will get the chance to develop this year, but this team desperately needs shooting, and all of it just went to the trainer’s room.
Indiana Pacers - 43.5
Blackburn (45-37): Indiana will be an interesting case study this year. They decided to get rid of role specific players in George Hill and Ian Mahimni in order to fit an up-tempo system. Will Paul George, Monta Ellis, and Jeff Teague be enough firepower to come out of the East? I believe so.
Lewis (52-30): I really like the Pacers this season, even with Nate McMillan replacing Frank Vogel as head coach. Paul George has had more time to recover from his horrible leg injury, and is one of the best players in the league. Myles Turner can defend the rim, stretch the floor on offense, and can run like a … well, like a fast car. I think Jeff Teague will have a nice season, and Thaddeus Young gives them a do-it-all forward in the starting lineup.
Detroit Pistons - 45.5
Lewis (46-36): This team is an example of what great coaching can do. Stan Van Gundy will have his team prepared to play well every night, and it’s up to the players to execute. Reggie Jackson will miss some games to start the season, but once he returns, this team will be competitive every night. They need Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to be better this year than he was last season. Stanley Johnson should continue to develop into one of the best 3-and-D wings in the league, and will work his way into the starting lineup by the end of the season, making Marcus Morris a target in the trade market.
Blackburn (48-34): With the injury to Reggie Jackson, this may be a little high. That being said, point god Ish Smith should be up to the task to temporarily fill in, and with such interesting wing potential and forward depth, it’s hard not to be high on Detroit when Jackson returns.
Look for part two, for the Western Conference, to be published Wednesday, October 26.