1. Oklahoma City Thunder (63-19)
Key Losses: Ronnie Brewer, Kevin Martin, DeAndre Liggins, Daniel Orton
The Thunder didn’t make many moves this off-season. Then again, they didn’t really need to. Kevin Durant and Russel Westbrook will lead this team to a great regular season record– anything under 60 wins should be viewed as a disappointment. Their biggest question will be the shooting guard position. Thabo Sefolosha is a great perimeter defender, but he’s more of a situational player than a full-time starter. The Thunder will need second year player Jeremy Lamb to blossom into the player they think he can be.
A player to watch here is Steven Adams. The rookie has been very impressive in the preseason and could end up unseating Kendrick Perkins at the starting center position. Overall, the Thunder are the only team that has a legitimate chance to beat the Heat in an NBA finals series. That is, provided they can get there.
2. Portland Trail Blazers (50-32)
Key Losses: Luke Babbitt, J.J. Hickson, Eric Maynor, Sasha Pavlovic
The Trailblazers made a mind-boggling amount of moves in the off-season. As a result, they have improved their roster immensely. At the point, rookie-of-the-year Damian Lillard will see most of the minutes. A mixture of Mo Williams, C.J. McCollum and Earl Watson will serve as his capable backups. The Blazers have questions at shooting guard. Wesley Mathews is struggling in the preseason, shooting an awful 26% from the field. If Matthews flames out, it will be up to C.J. McCollum, Will Barton and rookie Allen Crabbe to fill his shoes.
At small forward, Nicolas Batum and Dorell Wright are a solid one-two punch. We’ve all seen what LaMarcus Aldridge can do at the four. It’ll be interesting to see if the chronic-underachiever Tomas Robinson can finally get his head out of his ass long enough to spell Aldridge for ten minutes a game. It will be a competition between Meyers Leonard and Robin Lopez at the center position. Although, neither player really scares me.
Overall, the Blazers’ off-season moves will pay off. They’ll see a decent improvement over their 33-49 record last season. This team still isn’t in position to make a run for the championship. But after two straight seasons of under 35 wins, the Blazers are finally headed in the right direction.
3. Denver Nuggets (49-33)
Key Losses: Corey Brewer, Andre Iguodala, Kosta Koufos
Trading away Andre Iguodala will have bigger implications this season than people seem to realize. Take away Iguodala, and the Nuggets are left with Randy Foye and Evan Fournier at the two guard. It’s possible that they’ll choose to move either Danilo Gallinari or Wilson Chandler to shooting guard– then again, both players are currently injured. The Nuggets offense will struggle to produce points this season. Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee can run the floor, but neither can create from the low-post. Ty Lawson and Andre Miller are better distributors than natural scorers. That leaves . . . uh oh . . .
Get ready Denver! I hope you like desperation threes, chest bumps and Napoleon complexes!
Overall, the loss of Iguodala will hurt the Nuggets. They still have solid depth and decent talent, but it won’t be enough to make a run in the playoffs.
4. Minnesota Timberwolves (42-40)
Key Losses: Andrei Kirilenko, Luke Ridnour, Greg Stiemsma, Mickael Gelabale
The Timberwolves had one hell of a draft. Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng have the potential to develop into solid, if not superstar NBA players. Alongside Ricky Rubio at the point, Kevin Martin will start at the two and supply some much needed scoring. The small forward position will be a bit of a jumbled mess. With an injury to Chase Budinger, Corey Brewer looks to be the starter at the moment, with Shabazz Muhammad and Derrick Williams also splitting time at the three.
The Timberwolves’ biggest strength will be in their front court. Kevin Love will return to form after his injury last year and Nikola Pekovic will look to continue improving after his break-out season a year ago.
Overall, the Wolves would probably be a playoff team if they played in the Eastern Conference. They’ve improved over last year, but when you compare them to the great teams in the conference like the Thunder, Spurs, Warriors and Rockets– the Wolves don’t even come close.
5. Utah Jazz (32-50)
Key Losses: Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Earl Watson, Mo Williams, Randy Foye
I honestly have no idea what the hell the Jazz are doing. They got rid of four of their top five scorers from a year ago in Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Mo Williams and Randy Foye. The one left out being Gordon Hayward, which, ehhh.
Trey Burke is hurt at the moment meaning that John Lucas III will take over at the point for the foreseeable future. Alec Burks will need to step up in a big way at the two guard position. Derrick Favors will be relied upon as the go-to scorer in the post as he steps into a starting role. Enes Kanter will need to prove that he’s a serviceable NBA center.
Also, Richard Jefferson is there.
So there’s that.
Overall, the Jazz are going to struggle this season. They have no scoring, no defense and no star power whatsoever. This is gonna be a rough year.
Also, can the Jazz change their name already? It made sense when they were in New Orleans, but come on. There’s no jazz in Utah! — only Mormons and porn consumption.