NBA Preseason Power Rankings: Can These Teams Make the Leap? (27-24)

This is the second installment of my NBA season preview. These four teams aren’t necessarily worse than some of the teams ahead of them. It’s just that they all fit into a same tier quite nicely. All four teams have recently have been very bad, but have enough young talent that they could rocket up the standings as soon as this season.

The Zeroes
30. Brooklyn Nets
29. Philadelphia 76ers
28. LA Lakers

Could Be Heroes

27. Phoenix Suns

pitifulanygenet

2015-16 Recap
Record: 23-59 (14th in the East, 27th Overall)
OFF Rtg: 102.2 (28th of 30)
DEF Rtg: 109.0 (25th of 30)

2016-17 Outlook
MVP: Devin Booker
Projected Starting Lineup (According to RealGM):
PG Brandon Knight, SG Devin Booker, SF P.J. Tucker, M. Chriss, T. Chandler
Key Additions: Leandro Barbosa, Jared Dudley
Key Rookies: Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, Tyler Ulis

The rebuild is on! Hopefully… The Suns added two uber-athletic forwards in the draft in Dragan “could-be-the-next-Porzingas” Bender at fourth overall and Marquese “take a shot for every Stoudemire comp” Chriss. Add that to a young core of Devin Booker, Alex Len, Archie Goodwin and… somehow Brandon Knight is only 24 and Eric Bledsoe is only 26?!? Those two guys feel like they’ve been in the league forever! But just when you think this team is going to commit to a rebuild, along comes a Tyson Chandler signing! If the Suns management can double down on the rebuild effort and do it properly this time around, this team could really be special.

With Chriss and Bender, the Suns add two big men built for the modern NBA. Their games could definitely use some polish on both ends of the court, but their size and speed are tailor-made for today’s positionally-ambiguous defensive sets, where the ability to switch on the pick and roll has never been more valued. Devin Booker looks like he could be this generation’s Ray Allen and he’s only 19! Also if Bledsoe and Knight are healthy (that’s a huge “if”), the Suns have two dynamite floor generals who can distribute the ball and get their own shots in isolation. If the kids develop faster than expected, look for the Suns to punch above their weight this year.

Best-Case Scenario
Bledsoe-Knight-Ulis becomes the new Bledsoe-Dragic-Thomas and this three-headed point guard monster nabs the West’s eighth seed. Devin Booker takes the next step and becomes a bona fide all star.

Worst-Case Scenario
Bledsoe and Knight can’t share the ball which leads to behind the scenes altercations. Knight and Ulis are shipped out for two other ball-dominant point guards. Bledsoe then gets hurt and misses half of the season. New coach Earl Watson refuses to not to use Chandler and Len the same time and opposing teams turn pick and rolls into layup lines as these two slow behemoths crawl towards extinction.

26. Milwaukee Bucks

giannis-dance_2

2015-16 Recap
Record: 33-49 (12th in the East, 22nd Overall)
OFF Rtg: 104.3 (26th of 30)
DEF Rtg: 108.7 (23rd of 30)

2016-17 Outlook
MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Projected Starting Lineup (According to RealGM):
PG Michael Carter-Williams, SG Khris Middleton, SF G. Antetokounmpo, PF J. Parker, C G. Munroe
Key Additions: M. Dellavedova, M. Teletovic, J. Terry
Key Rookies: Malcolm Brogdon, Thon Maker

Last season the Bucks came down to earth after a shocking 2014-15 campaign that saw them finish 6th in the East only then to take 3-seed Chicago to six games in the first round of the playoffs. After the Bucks added Greg “Moose” Munroe to a young core that made such a dramatic jump so early on in their development, most pundits anticipated continued improvement and success. Last season’s disappointment can be attributed to the Bucks’ continued inability to stretch the floor (22nd in the league with a 3FG% of .345) and being careless with the ball (6th most in the league with 1247 turnovers). Also Munroe was a bad fit in a defensive scheme that thrived with five tall and fast defenders switching screens and jumping the passing lanes.

By far the smartest move of last season was moving Antetokounmpo to the point guard position. His elite height, length, athleticism and passing ability make him a triple double machine when guarded by much smaller guards. Look for him to continue playing a tonne of time at the one. While they were mostly quiet this offseason, Dellavedova can competently run the second unit and Teletovic brings much needed shooting at both forward spots. If this team is going to leap back from the basement, it’s going to be contingent on the development of Giannis, Parker, Maker and Carter-Williams.

Best-Case Scenario
Last season was the fluke season and these young Bucks charge right back the playoffs in the weak East. Somebody–other than Middleton–learns how to shoot a basketball. Giannis reaches his next stage of evolution as some sort of fire breathing dragon, leaving a trail of vanquished point guards in his wake.

Worst-Case Scenario
2014-15 was the fluke and this is just a very flawed and mismatched collection of young players. Giannis tears his ACL while slipping in one of Jason Kidd’s distraction puddles. Thon Maker is in fact 35 years old with a fully developed game best suited for dominating Canadian teenagers.

25. Orlando Magic

elf3

2015-16 Recap
Record: 35-47 (11th in the East, 20th Overall)
OFF Rtg: 105.1 (21st of 30)
DEF Rtg: 106.8 (16th of 30)

2016-17 Outlook
MVP: Evan Fournier
Projected Starting Lineup (According to RealGM):
PG E. Payton, SG E. Fournier, SF Aaron Gordon, PF Serge Ibaka, C N. Vucevic
Key Additions: D.J. Augustin, B. Biyombo, J. Green, J. Meeks
Key Rookies: 

By all accounts this team might not be that bad. They might even be a playoff team in the East this year. It doesn’t change the fact that I personally do not like the look of their roster. Their biggest offseason move was flipping Oladipo, Ilyasova and a first round draft pick for the last year of Serge Ibaka’s contract. Serge may be an above average rim protector and shooter, but I truly believe that Victor Oladipo has the ceiling to be a real game breaker at the shooting guard position. It’s a win-now move for a team that isn’t ready to win anything relevant. They also threw money at Jeff Green, who in my mind is just another power forward blocking the future of their franchise, Aaron Gordon, from playing his strongest position. I’m also not very high on Elfrid Payton. In a league that is so deep at the point guard position, why are you hitching your wagon to a guy with such a flawed jump shot with a defensive rating of 108?

That being said I think that defensive minded Frank Vogel can get something out of this group of big, mobile athletes. They were 16th in defensive rating last year and the additions of Biyombo and Ibaka will only help in that regard. Also Evan Fournier really emerged as a go-to scorer for the Magic last year. It’ll be tough to recreate 40% three point shooting on 4.9 attempts per game, but don’t look for him to slip too much. I’m also excited to see if the departure of Oladipo will result in increased playing time for “the Croatian JR Smith” Mario Hezonja.

Best-Case Scenario
No opponent can get to the rim with Biyombo and Ibaka hawking the paint. Fournier, Hezonja, Gordon and Vucevic provide enough offense to win some games. Ibaka expanding his offensive game after escaping KD and Russ’ shadows is also in play. 8th through 5th seed in the East is always up for grabs.

Worst-Case Scenario
Elfrid Payton has hit his ceiling and falters as a bench guard getting starting minutes. Fournier comes back down to earth, Vucevic is continually exposed on defense, and star power forward Aaron Gordon is out of his element at small forward. Team doesn’t make the playoffs and Ibaka bolts in free agency. This scenario is less funny and a little more truthful than my other ones.

24. Denver Nuggets

fareideyes

2015-16 Recap
Record: 33-49 (10th in the West, 21st Overall)
OFF Rtg: 105.6 (17th of 30)
DEF Rtg: 108.9 (24th of 30)

2016-17 Outlook
MVP: Danilo Gallinari
Projected Starting Lineup (According to RealGM):
PG E. Mudiay, SG Gary Harris, SF D. Gallinari , PF K. Faried, C N. Jokic
Key Additions: 
Key Rookies: M. Beasley, J. Hernangomez, J. Murray

I am actually really excited to watch this team play! They are so flsuh with young talent that it’ll be tough for some of these guys to earn playing time. Danilo Gallinari quietly had a great 2015-16 campaign before he got hurt. With 19.5 points per game with an eye-popping 120 offensive rating, he is one of the best scorers in the game. He’ll be flanked this year by two 2015-16 All-Rookies in center Nikolai Jokic (first team) and point guard Emmanual Mudiay (second team) who are both looking to make leaps in their sophomore years.

Mudiay and Jokic are just scratching the surface for the dearth of young talent that the Nuggets have accumulated. Gary Harris has developed into a reliable shooter on the wing. Will “Fartin” Barton has become a force leading Denver’s bench unit. Nurkic is another strong post player who I regularly mix up with Jokic. GM Tim Connelly made out pretty well in the draft too, scooping up sharp-shooting Canadian Jamal Murray at 7th overall, Spanish power forward Juan Hernangomez at 15 and slashing winger Malik Beasley 19th overall. They’ll be hard-pressed to get minutes in their first year with holder-overs Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler and Darrell Arthur poised to earn big minutes. This team is young, fast and a lot of shooting. I’m all in on these Nuggets.

Best-Case Scenario
These guys kick ass and roll to the eighth seed in the Western Conference where they are quickly dispatched in the first round by Golden State. Coach Mike Malone finds the perfect balance in the bench rotation and handing out minutes.

Worst-Case Scenario
Last season they only had 2 players to play 80 games and had 15 different players start at least one game. If they get banged up it’ll be tough to make up any ground in the tough Western Conference. There’s always the possibility Gallinari’s knees just disassemble and he has to get new robotic legs in order to save his career.

 

 

 

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