SCO NBA Preview

Nov. 10, 2016, 1:50 p.m. | By Benjamin Yokoyama | 7 years, 7 months ago

Can the Cavs repeat as champs?

The NBA season got started with a bang, and the revamped Warriors took a loss to the Spurs in their first game of the season. A larger salary cap led to teams being bold this offseason, and players will have to earn their money this season after getting some big paydays. Don't get your hopes up for the Wizards this season either. Here's how I see the season playing out for these teams.

Eastern Conference:
1. Cleveland Cavaliers
The clear-cut favorites in the East, the Cavs are back for another run to the championship. Headed by, of course, LeBron James, the Cavs have leadership and now know what it takes to beat the Warriors. Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving should complement LBJ very nicely.
X-Factor: Kay Felder: This rookie out of Oakland at 5'9 is the next Isaiah Thomas.

2. Boston Celtics
I think the Celtics could have drafted smarter with their abundance of first round picks, but Jaylen Brown was a great grab early in the draft. Picking up center Al Horford gives them a huge presence down low, while Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley will center the defense in Beantown.
X-Factor: Isaiah Thomas: Another 5'9 player! But seriously this guy could contend for MVP and is already the most creative scorer in the league.

3. Toronto Raptors
This team from up north needed another strong big man to pair with center Jonas Valanciunas, and they did just that, drafting Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam to eat the minutes people need. With Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan heading the scoring, the Raptors will be very good this season.
X-Factor: Patrick Patterson: Patterson is a strange breed, a big man who can shoot and defend, and he is eating up a lot of minutes. If he can produce on offense the Raptors will benefit greatly.

4. Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks may have lost Al Horford, but they added Dwight Howard to fill the rebounding void. Kyle Korver is always lights out and they have excellent defenders in their first and second teams.
X-Factor: Dennis Schroder: The new starter after Jeff Teague left, Schroder is forced into a leadership role as the only true point guard the Hawks carry.

Dennis Schroder will have to step up at the point for the Hawks. Photo courtesy of Bleacher Report.

5. Chicago Bulls
The Bulls lost Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose and got D-Wade and Rajon Rondo. Net gain in my opinion. They have unbelievable depth at guard with star Jimmy Butler, Denzel Valentine and Michael Carter-Williams, but their big men are looking a little shaky.
X-Factor: Nikola Mirotic: He emerged as a key player last year. Look for the Bulls to stretch the floor with him more than often, but they'll miss out on some rebounding while he's on the perimeter.

6. Milwaukee Bucks
If this team had a point guard they would be fantastic (sorry Matthew Dellavedova). Jabari Parker, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Greg Monroe are all very talented. They will be without Khris Middleton until at least the all-star break but they will have enough to scrape into the playoffs.
X-Factor: Malcolm Brogdon: Brogdon was the defensive stalwart of the UVA team and after losing their best defender (Middleton) he will step up.

7. Charlotte Hornets
The Hornets are working with a balanced team. Average bigs Frank Kaminsky, Roy Hibbert and Cody Zeller will shed the light on the guard play. Kemba Walker is undoubtedly the leader of this team and they will rally behind him.
X-Factor: Nicolas Batum: If Batum can shoot like he did with the Blazers the Hornets will have a second sharpshooter after Marco Belinelli.

8. Miami Heat
Miami payed sooooo much for Hassan Whiteside that they couldn't do much else this summer, but with Dion Waiters and Justise Winslow managing the scoring, they can play without D-Wade.
X-Factor: Goran Dragic and Tyler Johnson: Miami needs good point guard play to get the ball to their young offense.

9. Indiana Pacers
Indiana has transformed themselves into an experienced team, picking up Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young, but they will rely on Paul George to score for this team. Myles Turner is one of the best young big men in the league right now.
X-Factor: Monta Ellis: We all know Ellis can score, but can he do it consistently?

10. Orlando Magic
The Magic received Serge Ibaka from the Thunder in the hopes of shoring up their defense and moving Aaron Gordon to the three. With experienced big men and a young point guard, the Magic will be a lot more competitive this year.
X-Factor: Mario Hezonja: The Spanish rookie can make an impact if Evan Fournier doesn't show out this year on offense.

11. Washington Wizards
Sorry Wizards fans, but this year will not be seeing an upward trend. John Wall and Bradley Beal are still the go-to's on offense, but they have nobody coming off the bench to save them.
X-Factor: Kelly Oubre Jr.: The Wizards drafted him as the future, and he needs to prove that if he wants to stick around in this league.

John Wall will have to step up big for the Wizards. Photo courtesy of Bleacher Report.

12. Detroit Pistons
If Tobias Harris is lined up to be your leading scorer, things probably would seem pretty bleak for your team. Thankfully, the Pistons have a decent supporting cast in the weak East. Andre Drummond and point forward Marcus Morris can stick with any bigs and the Pistons are hoping Ish Smith can produce like he did in Philly last year.
X-Factor: Stanley Johnson: The eighth pick in the 2015 draft will have to prove he can score off the bench.

13. New York Knicks
The Knicks have assembled a weird group of players. If everything goes right they might be able to make the playoffs, but D-Rose and Joakim Noah are fragile, while Kristaps Porzingis is not fully developed enough to carry the team himself.
X-Factor: Carmelo Anthony: Of course. The guy will never get his ring in New York. If the Knicks want to compete, Anthony's scoring efficiency must increase.

14. Brooklyn Nets
Brooklyn is truly a disaster this year. Jeremy Lin better have put as much time into basketball as he did his hair this offseason because Brook Lopez can't do everything. The Nets lost their draft picks and don't really have anyone to build around either.
X-Factor: Jeremy Lin: He has a lot of work to do, but he'll have to play smarter than he did in Charlotte last year.

15. Philadelphia 76ers
Dario Saric, Ben Simmons, Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor. I really can't help but feel bad for Philly. On the bright side Embiid is back and is playing like he did that one year in college before getting injured.
X-Factor: Sergio Rodriguez: I've honestly never heard of this guy. His job is to keep the 76ers from losing every game by 50 points this season.

Western Conference:
1. Golden State Warriors
They actually improved over the offseason. To all those people who say they can't share the ball, tell me, do you want KD on your team? The answer is yes. They did lose Andrew Bogut and if they lose in the playoffs, that will be their weakness.
X-Factor: Zaza Pachulia: Call me crazy, but if he rebounds and learns to pass, the Warriors will win. Even more.

2. San Antonio Spurs
The team that beat the Warriors in the first game of the season, the Spurs somehow make it work. Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge will man the paint, and veteran Tony Parker and Patty Mills will train Dejounte Murray as the point of the future.
X-Factor: Jonathon Simmons: This guy was in the D-League for a while, and then dropped 20 on GS. Just imagine the possibilities if this guy becomes the go-to sixth man.

Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs are chasing the Warriors in the West. Photo courtesy of SportingNews.

3. Los Angeles Clippers
You would think a team with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan would win year in and year out, but they can't put it together. Behind those three and Jamal Crawford, they have no depth and can't beat the best in the West.
X-Factor: Austin Rivers: Coach's son is a scoring machine and he'll get a lot of minutes at the one and the two.

4. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder obviously lost KD, but this team is surprisingly deep. Led by the guard play of Russell Westbrook and Victor Oladipo, this team will look to them to score. Enes Kanter, Steven Adams and Domantas Sabonis are not known for their scoring.
X-Factor: Andre Roberson: Like we saw in the conference championship, this guy is a shutdown defender. If he learns to put the ball in the bucket the Thunder have themselves a Kawhi Leonard.

5. Minnesota Timberwolves
Minnesota is arguably the most athletic team in the league, but they need to prove that they can grow up fast. They have two stars in Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins, and a great facilitator in Ricky Rubio. They will be competitive this year, unlike every other year it seems.
X-Factor: Kris Dunn: He's already eating into Rubio's minutes and can play effectively at the two position as a scorer off the bench.

6. Phoenix Suns
The Suns have been steadily getting worse after losing player after player, but after a strong draft, they are back on the rise. They got Jared Dudley back and have too many guards to count. Devin Booker and Eric Bledsoe are a Kentucky tandem that shouldn't be messed with.
X-Factor: TJ Warren: The point forward led the nation in scoring in college, and two years into his professional tenure, he hasn't missed a beat.

7. Utah Jazz
Utah is another team loaded with young but has two veterans (George Hill and Joe Johnson) guiding them. The big men of the future (Trey Lyles, Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors) can all be stars in this league and the Jazz will make the playoffs this year.
X-Factor: Gordon Hayward: He turned himself into the star of that team last season, but broke his finger. When he comes back, the Jazz will go from ok to good.

8. Portland Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard is an offensive juggernaut and he and CJ McCollum make one of the best guard combos in the league. Beyond them, the Blazers are desperate for help. They have below-average big men playing out of position with Al-Farouq Aminu and Miles Plumlee who won't be able to match the other fours and fives the NBA has to offer.
X-Factor: Maurice Harkless: The 2012 first rounder is only 23 and will have to prove himself this season defensively and offensively with shooting ability.

Damian Lillard is an early MVP candidate in the Western Conference. Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated.

9. Houston Rockets
James Harden can't carry a team. They'll win a decent amount and he'll put up MVP caliber numbers, but they won't ever be seriously considered contenders. They added more scoring in Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon, but they don't have anyone to protect the boards.
X-Factor: Montrezl Harrell: This dude is a freak athlete and is strong as a bull. If he comes down the lane you'd better watch yourself.

10. Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies have a very solid team this year. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph will be there as usual, and they added Chandler Parsons to top off their depth at forward. Mike Conley better earn his money after getting a gigantic contract in the offseason.
X-Factor: Wade Baldwin IV: The 17th pick in this year's draft, Baldwin is a very skilled player who needs to use this season to learn from Conley.

11. Dallas Mavericks
Old reliable Dirk Nowitzki is back for what could be his last season, and he doesn't have much help with him. Harrison Barnes won't have the impact he's paid to have and Deron Williams is not the same player he was. Nonetheless, the Mavs will still be in the hunt for the playoffs.
X-Factor: Wesley Matthews: Matthews can be a lockdown defender and a sharpshooter. If those show up every game the Mavs are in for a treat.

12. Denver Nuggets
Yet another young team, the Nuggets have been drafting well, especially their European players. Jusuf Nurkic and Emmanuel Mudiay will look to lead by example, while longtime Nugget Danilo Gallinari takes the leadership role.
X-Factor: Kenneth Faried: The Maninal's production dropped off last year, and he'll need to find his game and his swag if he wants to keep the Nuggets afloat.

13. New Orleans Pelicans
Any team with Anthony Davis deserves some credit when he's healthy. But other than Davis the Pelicans are lost. Jrue Holiday is, as usual, injured, and they don't have any good weapons. It would take a lot of players to step up and get the Pelicans anywhere near the playoffs.
X-Factor: E'Twaun Moore: The guard from Purdue will be a scorer on this team that needs a big dose of buckets.

14. Sacramento Kings
The Kings are a wreck. They have managed to surround DeMarcus Cousins with the most washed-up talent the NBA has to offer. Arron Afflalo, Darren Collison and Rudy Gay haven't played on a good team in years.
X-Factor: Willie Cauley-Stein: They want him to be the next Boogie Cousins, and defensively he's that and more, but offensively he can't seem to find the hoop.

15. Los Angeles Lakers
Well last and certainly least, we have lowly LA. I'm sorry but a combo of D'Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson just doesn't have the ability to compete in this league right now. The Lakers have young talent in Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram, but that could be years before they are good again.
X-Factor: Luol Deng: Deng is the grizzled veteran on this team. If Deng can become a teacher then this team will transform much sooner than thought.

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