Everyone else is doing it, so why shouldn’t we? With the NBA season tipping off next week, BallinEurope’s man in Britain, Sam Chadwick, gets into the spirit of things as he analyzes offseason moves and roster makeups in the big league – and ranks all 30 teams. While Sammy’s top three is pretty standard stuff, things get interesting quickly, and BiE just loves how he’s positioned the Eurowolves and Euronuggets for the upcoming season … Get your arguments ready and read on!
1. Miami Heat
Last season’s champions not only benefit from the continued development of Lebron James, who was one of the best if not the best player at the London Olympic Games in becoming the first Team USA player to record a triple double: The Heat also add one of the association’s best shooters of all-time in Ray Allen plus another dependable shooter/scorer in Rashard Lewis, the same guy who, yes is a little past his prime, but one who can give you career averages of 16 points, 5.6 rebounds and can hit 39% from deep.
2. Los Angeles Lakers
For a team that was ravaged in 2011-12 by a preseason mishap revolving around Chris Paul and his vetoed trade, followed by a conference semifinals 4-1 spanking from the Oklahoma City Thunder, who took game one by 29 and finished with an average victory margin of over nearly 10 points. Thanks to that little wakeup call, the Lakers front office decided to work its magic – literally – in taking the Magic’s best player for a song while also adding one of the NBA’s best veteran point guards still very capable of averaging a double-double. With Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant on his team, Steve Nash will hope that this is his chance to compete, yet again, for a championship.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
Will the Thunder be able to contain Dwight in the post-season? How will James Harden’s contract extension talks affect his and his teams play? Will Serge Ibaka continue his rapid development? Will Perkins be able to stay healthy? And if he does, will he be chosen to defend Dwight in the post? Will Perry Jones III be a gift or an uncontrollable head case? Will Kevin Durant again lead the league in scoring or does Russell Westbrook think it’s his time to shine? So many questions for such a good team … will everything come crashing down? There is no argument about the Thunder’s potential, but a return to the NBA Finals? Only the Lakers should challenge them for Western dominance.
4. San Antonio Spurs
This is where it gets interesting … a lot of teams have improved around the league this summer, particularly in the Western Conference, e.g. Denver, the Clippers, Minnesota, etc; more on this below. And despite OKC’s dominance, the Spurs still managed to finish last season with the best record in the conference and tied for the NBA’s best mark with the Bulls – so this offseason they added Nando De Colo, who made his NBA preseason debut by hitting a game-winning three-pointer against the Atlanta Hawks and finishing with 11 points, nine assists and two rebounds. For this team to challenge this season their hopes rest on a few of their developing youngsters: De Colo, Danny Green, Tiago Splitter, DeJuan Blair, Kawhi Leonard, Patrick Mills and Gary Neal, all of whom are capable of being great players for the Spurs.
5. Indiana Pacers
If you’d asked me last season who would be the second-best Eastern Conference team in 2012/13, I would not have said Indiana; however, they have kept Roy Hibbert, are fully committed to George Hill at the point, Paul George continues to develop and Danny Granger will be around for the whole season. The Pacers also have developing talent in Tyler Hansbrough, Lance Stephenson, Miles Plumlee and Orlando Jackman. Their offseason trade, which moved Darren Collison to the Mavs, netted them Ian Mahinmi, who will act as the perfect backup for Hibbert with averages of 11.5 points and 6.0 rebounds per preseason game.
6. Los Angeles Clippers
Last season’s playoff victory over the Grizzlies in seven games shows that the Clips can defend a dominant inside force (Gasol/Randolph in this case), but were then swept in four games by the Spurs in the conference semifinals and decided this offseason that depth was their problem. Their answer? Adding Lamar Odom to reinforce the frontcourt, Matt Barnes (a pleasant surprise this preseason) from one L.A. team to the other, and Jamal Crawford to fill the hole left by the loss of Nick Young. When Chauncey Billups returns, there is a hope that he will continue to put up 14.9 points and 4-plus assists per game. Eric Bledsoe will continue to develop as the backup point guard while Grant Hill joins after an effective season in Phoenix.
7. Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets have no real ‘stars’ but have made a playoff-calibre team by adding solid players at almost every position. Last season’s rookie breakout Kennith Faried averaged 10.2 points and 7.0 rebounds in just over 22 minutes, while the return of Wilson Chandler will help. Ty Lawson will continue to man the point guard position, while latest addition Andre Iguodala brings lockdown defence and the ability to score when needed. Danilo Gallinari is likely to start at the Small Forward position while Timofey Mozgov and Javale McGee will continue to battle for the starting C position with Kosta Koufos providing valuable support and rebounding. This team will pride itself on defence and rebounding and will use their front court to dominate the glass.
8. Boston Celtics
This one is tough, with three teams in the East all fighting for this spot: Boston, Brooklyn and New York. We’re going with Boston, however, thanks to one of the league’s top PGs (Rajon Rondo) a PF who can’t stand losing (Kevin Garnett) and a SF who can do a little bit of everything (Paul Pierce). The offseason loss of Ray Allen may actually be more of a blessing than anything catastrophic, while the addition of Jason Terry is the perfect replacement for a player who saw drops in rebounding, assists and points while his playoff performance showed career lows in FG% (39%), 3PT% (30.4%), FT% (71%) and points per game. The Jet will continue his role as sixth man while Avery Bradley will probably start at the SG position providing lock-down defence, Jared Sullinger was a steal in the draft and will give KG some much needed rest; the addition of Darko was frowned upon by many but considering that when he last got decent minutes (24.4 minutes per game in the 2010/11 season for Minnesota), Milicic actually averaged a respectable 5.2 rebounds and 8.8 points while grabbing nearly 2.0 offensive boards per night. On the negative side, this team just lost to a Brooklyn side who didn’t even play Williams, Johnson, Lopez, Wallace or Humphries!
9. Brooklyn Nets
This offseason saw the Nets complete their move to Brooklyn, open their new arena, get Deron Williams and Gerald Wallace to stay in town, add Joe Johnson and manage to complete a roster with some solid European Talent (Mirza Teletovic, Tornike Shengelia), some aged veterans (Keith Bogans, Jerry Stackhouse, Josh Childress, C.J. Watson), young talent (Tyshawn Taylor, MarShon Brooks) and one wacko (Andray Blatche). The blueprint for success is there, the team is ready, the fans are even readier and the Nets are ready to show Brooklyn’s Finest.
10. Minnesota Timberwolves
[Editor’s note: This ranking made before announcement of Kevin Love’s injury, which will keep him sidelined for 6-8 weeks.] Surprised? Last season’s Wolves were on track to make the playoffs before a season-ending injury saw Ricky Rubio sidelined for the second half; prior to that he was averaging 10.2 points and 8.2 assists while providing the anchor for the Wolves defence. This summer the Wolves got serious: Owners, management and most importantly Kevin Love were tired of the mediocrity, tired of not being a playoff team … the addition of Brandon Roy raised some eyebrows, but his preseason average of 12.8 points on 52% shooting shows that maybe just maybe he will make this comeback work, Andrei Kirilenko returns to the NBA after an MVP season in Russia while young Alexey Shved should be happy with his role as one of many backups for Rubio. Lastly is the addition of Chase Budinger from Houston to provide another forward who, like AK-47, can contribute across the stat sheet. The Wolves are tired of being the prey of the NBA elite and this season hope to become the predators.
11. New York Knicks
Below the Wolves? Am I kidding? Hell, no! the Knicks were one of last season’s worst defensive teams; to improve that defence, they spent this summer by adding four aged veterans to become the oldest team in NBA history with the average player’s age 32 years and 240 days. New York added a previously retired Rasheed Wallace and Jason Kidd, who last season averaged career lows in points, rebound and assists while shooting the second-worst field goal percentage of his career (in 2010-11, his mark was 36.1%; in 2011-12, 36.3%). The addition of Raymond Felton may cast a little light onto such an old team considering the start he had last time he was in New York; however, his love of cakes over the summer saw some argue the letting go of Jeremy Lin, especially considering that his contract was backloaded to the point were when the big money kicked in the Knicks roster would actually be able to afford him and a cast of solid players around him. A lot rests on the return of Iman Shumpert, who could be one of the league’s best defenders, though his ACL tear may result in him being a step slower. The Knicks will always have potential to do well with a roster including Melo and Amare Stoudamire but be aware that defence wins championships and the Knicks are one of the NBA’s worst teams at that end of the floor.
12. Memphis Grizzlies
A full season of Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph will provide teams across the league with matchup problems. The Grizzlies’ interior size is a rarity across the league and the addition of Jerryd Bayless will fill some of the gap left by the departure of O.J. Mayo. Defensively, Tony Allen will continue to cause problems for the likes of Kobe and Wade while Mike Conley will continue to develop as a point guard with the ability to get to the rim and score. Rookie addition Tony Wroten adds another player into the backcourt mix and he should be able to provide not only solid offence (13.2 points and 4.0 assists per game in the Las Vegas Summer League) but at 6’5”, he will provide rebounding as well as defence. The Grizzlies loss to the Clippers in last season’s playoffs will provide the motivation this squad needs to produce a solid postseason run.
13. Chicago Bulls
It hurts to put the Bulls this low when you’re a fan … the loss of Derrick Rose in last season’s playoffs sparked the end of what could have been a championship season. The subsequent loss of Omer Asik and therefore their frontcourt depth, which has been so vital this past few seasons, was all but gone. The Bulls’ ability to keep Taj Gibson is now at the forefront of management’s mind. Summer additions of Marco Bellineli and Nate Robinson don’t exactly provide an upgrade from Corey Brewer and Keith Bogans, while the draft selection of Marquis Teague seemed like a potential gap-filler for Rose until the team acquired Captain Kirk from Atlanta and now have a bit of an overloaded backcourt (seven guards including Rose). Teague hasn’t made much of a mark this preseason, playing a total of just 18 minutes across three games. The frontcourt, hurting from the loss of Asik, looks slightly better off now that Nazr Mohammed is playing with some fire: Across the preseason he is averaging 9.0 points and 7.5 rebounds. In summary, this season will be more about getting Rose healthy than anything else, the record may be poor for a year, but come 2013-14, the Bulls will be solid title contenders.
14. Dallas Mavericks
The Mavs lost to Barcelona without Dirk and beat Berlin by 5 with him; Chris Kaman has been getting back into the swing of things; and the Mavericks’ summer additions of O.J Mayo, Elton Brand and Darren Collison are all solid pickups. In Dallas, the squad has certainly become younger but for various reasons: Collison was let go by the Pacers because they realised that George Hill was their future leader; the Grizz tried to move Mayo at the trade deadline and eventually parted ways with him at the beginning of the summer; Elton Brand isn’t the player he once was and the 76ers amnestied him to make space for Andrew Bynum. The Mavs are usually a championship contender but since winning the chip, just three players are returning – the rebuilding process is happening and the results may rest on what happens this season.
15. Utah Jazz
Enes Kanter decided to beast it out this offseason, becoming an huge monster of a man, but the Jazz now have an overloaded front court: Kanter, Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson and Derrick Favors were already aboard, while the summer addition of Marvin Williams adds yet another forward to the ranks. Utah will continue to develop some of their young talent, beginning with Kanter and Favors while Gordon Hayward should start at small forward and summer addition Mo Williams will either be a blessing or a curse. Last season’s Jazz just about made the playoffs and this season the same thing may happen: The talent overload at some positions may lead to management shaking up the squad before the February’s trade deadline…
16. Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers were one of the teams involved in the blockbuster trade which saw Dwight Howard move to the Lakers … Philly lost out on Andre Iguodala but gained Andrew Bynum and that’s more than Orlando can say. The 76ers had been thinking of moving their second AI for a while now and the chance to get one of the league’s best young centres was all the motivation they needed to pull the trigger. The rest of their young core stays intact with Jrue Holiday at the points, Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes. They also acquired Nick Young over the summer and for some reason added Kwame Brown … In the draft, Philly picked up some good pieces with the addition of Arnett Moultrie and undrafted rookie Maalik Wayns from Villanova; cast in the shadow of the Howard trade, they also managed to get Dorrell Wright from the Golden State Warriors. The City of Brotherly Love will hope that the team can develop some quick chemistry before the start of this season and if that happens they have every possibility of challenging for a playoff seed.
17. Portland Trailblazers
Maybe I am a tad biased due to the addition of Solent Kestrels product Joel Freeland, but I honestly believe the Blazers will be a playoff contender in the Western Conference. Lamarcus Aldridge is still one of the league’s best power forwards, rookie point guard Damien Lillard is ready to prove that he was worthy of his Summer League MVP nod and so far this preseason has already put on some sensational performances, including a 20-point, two-rebound, three-assist show against the Kings and his 14 points, seven assists and five rebounds against the Lakers. Keeping Nicholas Batum over the summer was a key in making this team a playoff contender, while draftees Myers Leonard and Will Barton can both provide rebounding and scoring. Lastly, the decision to move Freeland in from Spain is vital in filling the hole left by the departure of Greg Oden; this summer in the Olympic Games, Freeland averaged 14.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 0.4 assists while his breakout performance came against a dominant Spain frontcourt to the tune of 25 points and seven rebounds, including 50% shooting from three.
18. Golden State Warriors
The Warriors made their moves long before the summer when they traded Monta Ellis for Andrew Bogut (back in March) and focused all their hopes on the oft-injured Steph Curry. They also shipped Dorrell Wright this offseason to Philadelphia thanks to a draft lottery which gifted them Harrison Barnes and promising big man Draymond Green, a second-round steal. Another promising young star is Klay Thompson, who averaged 12.2 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists while his per-36 minute numbers show that he could be averaging around 18 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.0 assists while shooting an impressive 41% from deep. A potential starting lineup of Curry, Thompson, Harrison Barnes, David Lee and Andrew Bogut makes a formidable squad who could challenge for a 7th/8th seed playoff position.
19. Atlanta Hawks
Losing Joe Johnson this summer was a solid move: His contract was ridiculous and I think management may have noticed that they were shelling out more than the Heat pay any of their big three … in dropping JJ’s contract, the Hawks also managed to get rid of another bad one in Marvin Williams, who they shipped to the Jazz in exchange for Devin Harris. That extra cap space allowed the Hawks to steal Lou Williams from the 76ers while also keeping last season’s gem, Ivan Johnson. The development of starting point guard Jeff Teague will only help the team but whether or not they will be able to keep Josh Smith and Al Horford happy on a non-playoff contender may be a struggle. The fans in Atlanta have been used to playoff berths for the past few seasons; however, it may be time to ditch this mentality as this team is on the brink of a rebuilding effort.
20. Cleveland Cavaliers
Kyrie Irving has the makings of one of the league’s best-ever PGs: He killed it at Team USA practices and can take people to the rack with ease. The continued development of Tristan Thompson will be vital, as will the play of new SG/SF Dion Waiters, who put up 18 points and three rebounds on the Bulls in his first preseason game. Anderson Varejao continued to impress as the starting centre at this point and is a constant double-double threat. The summer’s addition of C.J. Miles was unexpected and the Cavs got lucky on draft night when Tyler Zeller fell into their laps. A lot of questions will still linger as to why they used the no. 4 pick on someone who wasn’t really projected to go so high but remember that the last time they did so, the Cavs ended up with a good pickup (Thompson) and another potential double-double player.
21. New Orleans Hornets
From one of the worst NBA teams around last season to a potential playoff team this year: That’s because it’s not every day that a talent like Anthony Davis comes along … with the Unibrow, New Orleans added to a possible all-star shooting guard, Eric Gordon, returning from injury and Austin Rivers picked up in the draft. The Hornets’ summer trades to clear out Omeka Okafor’s contract allowed them to add Ryan Anderson and Robin Lopez: The former can stretch the defence with his outside shooting but can also crash the boards, while the latter has the potential to develop into a consistent inside presence and valuable rebounding alongside Davis. A starting five of Rivers, Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Davis, and Lopez is currently full of potential, and Hornets fans will hope that this team can bring them the success they never thought would come this soon.
22. Toronto Raptors
The only Canadian team in the NBA ranked above Orlando, Milwaukee, Detroit, Washington and Charlotte – am I insane? Possibly, but Toronto made some nice solid moves this summer: Firstly Jonas Valanciunas is finally in the NBA; Andrea Bargnani was playing at all-star pace until injury sidelined him last season; the Raptors traded for one of last season’s top emerging point guards in Kyle Lowry; and forced the Knicks into a corner by offering Landry Fields, who they hope can return to form. Demar DeRozan will keep improving with a squad that takes some of the load off his shoulders. Ed Davis disappointed last year but gained experience he should be a solid rebounder and defender even if the offence leaves something to be desired. Kleiza and Calderon provide solid European flavour – with Linas draining some key shots in the London Olympics – while draft picks Terrence Ross and Quincey Acy providing some youth and hopefully some entertainment. As a playoff team, I don’t yet see the Raps making it into the East’s top 8 … maybe next year?
23. Phoenix Suns
The Suns coach just told Michael Beasley to shoot more … This could work either way: Beasley could finally live up to all that limitless potential he displayed in college or he could frustrate his team jacking up shot after shot after shot. The Suns managed to add a solid PF in Luis Scola, who was amnestied by the Rockets in Houston’s attempt to land Howard, while Phoenix starting centre Marcin Gortat will continue to show that he is a solid choice as one of the top big men in the Western Conference. The Suns also added one of my favourite PGs that I raved on about last season in Goran Dragic, who hopes to fill in from Steve Nash as one of the top passing PGs in the league and has been given full reigns to the Phoenix offence. At the other guard position, time will mostly be split between Shannon Brown and Wesley Johnson, the latter acquired from the Wolves, while Markieff Morris will develop as the backup power forward. Rookie pick Kendall Marshall will likely back up Dragic at point while Sebastian Telfair may never live up to the hype. The Sun may have set on Phoenix this off-season but given time, this team will be able to rebuild.
24. Milwaukee Bucks
As a squad, I am not too keen on the Bucks – they have two shoot-first point guards in Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, although Jennings could become more of a playmaker, thanks to his solid skills in that area. Ellis, on the other hand, is more of an undersized shooting guard. At centre, the Bucks are incredibly undersized, with Drew Gooden the starting C for much of last season. Ersan Ilyasova should provide some life and will hopefully continue last season’s outstanding play, when he became a legitimate double-double forward in the league. The draft night addition of John Hesson was a solid move as was shooting guard Doron Lamb; however, both are still a lot older than Tobias Harris, born in 1992 and still one of the youngest players in the league. Harris has huge potential and this past summer in Vegas averaged a solid 20.8 points per game and 7-plus rebounds: He has the potential to break out this year.
25. Houston Rockets
Summer additions Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik didn’t exactly look spectacular so far this preseason, with Lin averaging 5.3 points and 4.7 assists and Asik putting up 8 points and 11 rebounds per game. The Rockets’ best offseason move? Picking up undrafted rookie Scott Machado, who in 18 minutes per contest is dishing out 7.7 assists against just 2.0 turnovers while scoring 5.0 points per game and adding 2.0 rebounds. Rookie Donatas Motiejunas is enjoying a solid start to his NBA career with preseason averages of 10.8 points and 4.3 rebounds but is struggling defensively, picking up 3.2 PFs per game. Young players Patrick Patterson and Chandler Parsons will continue their development, and the Rockets also drafted Jeremy Lamb and Royce White this offseason. The playoff hopes in Houston don’t look great this season, with a lot of hopes resting on the shoulders of Lin and Asik.
26. Orlando Magic
The last team in the Howard trade, the team that had the ball in their court which gained the least out of a trade involving three big names, none of which ended up in the magical kingdom. Nikola Vucevic is a player who I had high hopes for last season in Philadelphia. Arron Afflalo of Denver was the Magic’s only big acquisition; draft pick Andrew Nicholson has potential to develop into a solid starting SF or PF; and Orlando also added rookie Mo Harkless, who has a lot of potential out of St John’s University. At the point, they decided to re-sign Jameer Nelson despite wanting to move in a new direction, and J.J Reddick will likely move to the bench for Affalo. Other holdovers from last season include Hedo Turkoglu and Glen Davis, who, thanks to the trade, should be a focal point in the new Magic offence. Unfortunately the management in Orlando don’t have Magic powers and it may be a long time until this team returns to playoff contention.
27. Sacramento Kings
One of last season’s worst performing teams didn’t do much to improve this offseason … most of Sacramento’s progress will now depend on the personal development of guys like DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans, Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Thornton and Jimmer Fredette. Rookie Thomas Robison could start straight away at power forward while Aaron Brookes may surprise a lot of people; however, don’t take my work for this, as he could also drift into the third-string PG role and resent signing for the Kings in the first place. This team’s potential is great especially with Robinson, Cousins and Evans, but in terms of challenging in the West, I think there are at least another two or three seasons until that happens.
28. Washington Wizards
John Wall may miss a month, but a forecasted starting lineup of Wall, Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza, Okafor and Nene isn’t half bad … they team from the capitol are looking to move away from their young and inexperienced squad of last year and look to add veteran leadership while also looking to focus on a solid defence who can lock down most teams. On the boards they should be solid and Walls number’s – especially assists – should improve now that the guys around him can actually put the ball in the hoop.
29. Detroit Pistons
A team continuing to dwell in mediocrity is the Pistons … in the frontcourt, they have potential: Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond are formidable especially defensively and on the boards; however, they could also provide a lot of problems. Drummond in particular was a major question mark prior to the draft and slipped down the board a bit. Jonas Jerebko will return from injury looking to fulfill his sixth man role and will continue to be a hustle man off the bench, providing scoring, rebounding or whatever else this team needs. Kyle Singler is set to make his NBA debut after a solid year in Spain, and Ukrainian Vyacheslav Kravtsov will hopefully provide another defence-minded centre off the bench. Detroit is another team in the process of rebuilding and their squad for this season hasn’t seen any improvement over last year.
30. Charlotte Bobcats
Charlotte finished last season with seven wins! Seven! You can count their wins on two hands! New Orleans were 29 games behind the Spurs…. The Bobcats were 39 games behind Chicago! Their win percentage was 10.6% and they won just 4 games at home. After such an abysmal season what did the Bobcats do? Add Ramon Sessions, draft Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (a solid move in my opinion) and added a disgruntled Ben Gordon. Look forward to yet another rubbish season in Charlotte fans!
Sam Chadwick is the head coach of the Solent Kestrels U14 basketball team and manages the basketball-themed ProspectsInEurope.com, a partner website of BiE. Chadwick is now a contributor at BBLfans.com, and you can follow him on Twitter at @chadwick9.