1. Golden State. Kept the core together and added Nick Young and Omri Casspi, two capable reserves. There’s depth everywhere. The talent is there to win 74 games, but who needs it? Rest the starters, win 66-68 games, and be fresh for a title run.
2. San Antonio. This is by default, but they certainly feel susceptible. Tony Parker is 35 and is coming off a playoff knee injury. He may not be ready until January. Patty Mills is back, Rudy Gay should be a valuable reserve, but there’s nothing to fear except Kawhi Leonard(well, and Gregg Popovich). Feels like they sleepwalk to 55 wins.
3. Minnesota. Based on social media responses I’ve gotten, this feels high. I defended the Wolves on Chris Broussard’s podcast, so there’s no need to go long here again. Taj Gibson + Jimmy Butler + Jeff Teague is an A+ offseason. If you just look at the talent 1-7, you could argue they have the 3rd best roster in the NBA. Weakness: Shooting. I feel they’ll win 50-53 games.
4. Oklahoma City. Sam Presti took a risk on Paul George, and whatever happens, it was a gamble worth taking. He’ll slide in at small forward, and if Russell Westbrook can downshift just a little now that he’s gotten his MVP award, this could work. Patrick Patterson is a low-key nice move, as he’ll start at PF. I’d say shooting is a bigger weakness here than in Minnesota. In the ballpark of 49-52 wins.
5. Houston. Did they overachieve going from 41 wins to 55? Eric Gordon was finally healthy, the Lou Williams trade worked, and James Harden thrived as a point guard running the offense. But now they’ll take Harden off the ball some to make way for Chris Paul. I don’t think it’ll be seamless, as CP3 has been a ball-dominant player his entire career. PJ Tucker is a nice role player addition. If they somehow add Carmelo Anthony, yes, I’d vault them to 3rd.
6. Portland. Two years ago they were fully healthy, won 44 games, then beat the injury-plagued Clippers in the 1st round. Last year, they couldn’t stay healthy, and seven players started 19 or more games. They were swept by the eventual NBA champs. Figuring out the two forward positions is going to be crucial, because 22-year old Jusuf Nurkic is going to be a good center. Healthy, this is a 44-48 win team.
7. Denver. The signing of Paul Millsap is the biggest in the history of the franchise. He’ll take Danilo Gallinari’s spot, and should fit well alongside Nikola Jokic. They’re flexible on the wing with underrated Wilson Chandler, and young-but-promising Trey Lyles & rookie Tyler Lydon. The backcourt will determine the season: Can Jamal Murray play point and is Gary Harris the potential star many think he will be? The bench of Emmanuel Mudiay, Will Barton and Kenneth Faried is very good. A 45-win team that you don’t want to face in the 1st round.
8. Utah. Losing Gordon Hayward hurts badly, because with him I’d have the Jazz 3rd. They won 51 games last year, but should will be lucky to finish .500 in the loaded west. They added Ricky Rubio and kept Joe Ingles, but the player to watch next year is Donovan Mitchell. Wouldn’t be surprised if he’s starting by the All-Star break.
8. Memphis. Lost key reserves Zach Randolph and Vince Carter in free agency, and Tony Allen won’t return. That’s three of their top eight players. If the season goes south quickly, do they trade Marc Gasol and start over? The optimist in me says Chandler Parsons will be healthy, and worth that absurd contract he signed.
10. LA Clippers. Went from a starting backcourt of Chris Paul and JJ Redick to Patrick Beverly and Lou Williams. I like the Miloš Teodosić addition, because even though he’s a rookie, he’s 30 and a former Euroleague MVP. If that’s a Jerry West move, though, what does it mean for the coach’s son, Austin Rivers? Ultimately the team’s success hinges on Blake Griffin’s health, and reports claim he may not be ready until December.
11. New Orleans. Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins didn’t have enough time together to make a run last season. The supporting cast hasn’t proven anything. Forty wins would be a success, but I don’t think they’ll get there.
12. LA Lakers. Lonzo Ball will make everyone better. Brandon Ingram should be ready for a leap to 18 ppg. Julius Randle is auditioning for other teams, and Jordan Clarkson should be playing with the idea that the Lakers had him on the market and nobody wanted him. These are all best-case scenarios. Thirty-five wins seem high?
13. Phoenix. In the East, you could make a case this team is a year away from a playoff spot. In the West, they’re hovering around 30 wins despite a great young roster led by Devin Booker and Josh Jackson.
14. Dallas. I like Dennis Smith. That’s about all I can say about this team.
15. Sacramento. Had a great draft, led by De'Aaron Fox. Didn’t love spending on Zach Randolph, George Hill and Vince Carter, because it just means less of Malachi Richardson, Frank Mason, Buddy Hield and Harry Giles, all of whom I want to see a lot of.