Monday 18 December 2017 / 08:39 AM

NBA 2017-18 SEASON PREVIEW: MOVERS AND SLIDERS

Continuing Commentary Box Sports NBA preview series, anticipating the records most likely to change – for better or worse.

MOVERS

Locks

Minnesota Timberwolves

The fit — particularly how the spacing and lack of shooting between Butler, Wiggins and Teague avoids becoming an issue — holds them back from guaranteeing the end to their 13-year playoff drought, but talent alone should help them outperform last year’s bitterly disappointing 31-win campaign. The difference will have to come defensively (another year under Thibs should help negate this) and late in games: the Wolves blew an inexplicable, league-high 25 fourth-quarter leads, with the added firepower surely helping bring that number down significantly.

Philadelphia 76ers

There are plenty of questions about the state of ‘the process’: the stability of Joel Embiid’s health, the progress of Ben Simmons and the immediate ability of Markell Faultz. Here’s what we do know: they possess an impressive amount of talent with the potential to grow exponentially; that Embiid might already be a top 20 player (able to drag the dire roster to .500 when healthy last year); Redick and Covington are a rock-solid wing combo and after all they’re in the East. There is plenty that has to go right for them to take the leap many anticipate, and whilst I’m not suggesting you pencil them into the playoffs, failing to get past 28 wins would be an awful shock for one the league’s most interesting teams.

Houston Rockets

A 55-win team last time out, the Rockets retooled to construct one of the deepest, most holistic rosters in the league. Chris Paul’s value has been somewhat underrated, as though the presence of Harden nullifies the need for another star. That couldn’t be further from the case, and whilst there won’t be any of the perceived fit issues, give them the first month to learn each other’s rhythms and then expect big things. An extra option in crunch time will be enough to nab a few extra wins, whilst Tucker and Mbah a Moute will help secure the wings, helpful in contending against the league’s elite.

Milwaukee Bucks

Another young East team, one that holds all the potential and excitement of the 76ers, but with a set identity, playoffs experience and a leading star who is a sure thing. If this is the year Giannis takes the leap from fringe star to MVP candidate — a jump that feels inevitable — than the ceiling for this team explodes and home court in the East seems like a formality. Brogdan was a stable defensive presence and a nice fit (a rare mould as a three-and-D point guard) and a healthy Kris Middleton will add immense value, one of the best secondary options and proficient on either end. What a healthy Jabari Parker adds might be anecdotal if everything goes to plan, but he could push them further up the hierarchy. The rebuild is over, now the steps to contention begin.

Bold predictions

Celtics: Irving and Hayward are top-quality acquisitions, providing Brad Stevens — an outstandingly inventive and resourceful tactician — tools to throw out all kinds of different lineups. The weak East and an improved roster for a team that finished atop the conference is a golden combination, and if everything goes according to plan, there is no reason they can’t comfortably push 60+ wins.

Nuggets: Their conference is the Wild West, and the questions defensively, even with the terrific addition of Paul Millsap, remain. What can’t be denied is a legitimate home-court advantage, an offensive superstar in Jokic and a young core on the upswing. The playoffs are within reach.

Magic: Bold because of how quickly this could fly off the rails. This is by no means an endorsement on the Magic’s roster construction: this is a fundamentally flawed, poorly put-together team with issues in all the wrong places. However, the East is dreadful, and if, on the off-chance their core gels together and finds a style that fits, they won’t be far behind the 38 or so wins required to nab the eighth seed.

Thunder: The talent is obvious, Melo and PG13 outstanding editions to an already strong roster, forming a starting five that ranks among the best in the league. The hesitation comes from the difficulty in gaining wins in the top tier of the East, but with the Spurs and Clippers expected to take a step back, they’re a chance to push towards the 60-win zone.

SLIDERS

Locks

Atlanta Hawks

Ushering in the new era became the only option after the core of their historic 60-win team all departed town. An attempt to tread water was cute, but building anything other than a mediocre playoff team was always going to require an entire rebuild. This team is relatively devoid of talent, and whilst Budenholzer is a talented coach and will extract as much value as possible, this is one of the worst rosters in the league.

Sacramento Kings

Unlike the other teams in search of lottery balls rather than win streaks, the Kings aren’t dropping from mediocrity. Instead, this is their second attempt at a rebuild, after foolishly toiling in nothingness with hopes pinned on DeMarcus Cousins. It’s undoubtedly the right call — their previous core was unable to even crack the playoff conversation, and with DMC and Gay moving on, they can key in on developing potential, namely Skal, Buddy and fresh pick De’Aaron Fox. Of course, the youth movement will come at the expense of wins, and their 32 from last season appears to be the absolute best-case scenario.

Utah Jazz

The Departure of Hayward, with no replacement, raises questions. Where does the offence come from? Who is the go-to scorer? (Rodney Hood? Joe Johnson?!) Will they suffer a defensive drop-off? Ricky Rubio is a talented creator, but he usually thrives in a moving system. Considering the Jazz have ranked 30th in pace for the past three seasons, don’t expect him to be accommodated for unless there is a culture shift of huge proportions. The defence could be as good as ever, but the offence might lag quite far behind. The playoffs could be in reach, but 52 wins is overly optimistic and highly unlikely.

Chicago Bulls

The Bulls erased the final pieces of the Thibodeau era by moving Jimmy Butler, simultaneously entering the new period of tanking, destined to immediately fall to the league’s basement and contend for the No.1 pick. There isn’t many strong points on this roster, and even the luxuries of the East won’t yield many advantages. Unproven and inexperienced, coach Fred Hoiberg will be one of the earliest candidates for firing, and cracking 25 wins would be an achievement for a roster so bland. Reaching their tally of 41 from last season seems almost impossible.

Bold predictions

Pacers: The awful return on the PG trade leaves them devoid of talent, turning the keys over to Myles Turner. There’s no doubting they’ll fall below 42 wins, but we’ll predict them to fail to reach 35 and get closer to the bottom three than the playoffs.

Clippers: There is definitely enough talent to suggest their best-case scenario could be equalling 52 wins, but a top-heavy roster and Doc Rivers don’t go hand in hand. Still a playoff team, but not a contender for home-court.

Spurs: Predicting the Spurs to win less than 60 games feels sacrilegious, and underestimating them perhaps the boldest of all predictions – like the past 10 years isn’t enough proof. But there are too many questions to suggest they’ll match last year’s tally, though they won’t miss by much.

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About the author

Brayden Issa

Brayden is a Sydney-based sports management student and sports fanatic, specialising in rugby league, basketball, football and cricket. He is concerned with everything related to professional sports performance and management.

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