Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Full Court Press: 2016-17 NBA Season Preview

By Randy Groce, @ImissWiggins

This upcoming NBA season comes with a lot more intrigue than the last few. Superstars have left. Sidekicks turned superstars are now asked to lead. A third year rookie finally making his debut. A Miami legend going to Chicago, and a hometown Chicago kid going to New York. Hell, the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers, who return every single important piece to their championship team, aren't even the favorites going in the season. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Joel Embiid, Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, and the possibility of Cavs-Warriors III are just a handful of players and storylines that will make the 2016/17 season one of the most interesting in a long time. 

I like to break down NBA teams the same way I do NFL quarterbacks, by tiers: Elite, Championship contenders, Playoff hopefuls, and the Los Angeles Lakers. The Cavaliers, Warriors, and Spurs are who I would consider elite. The Raptors, Clippers, and Celtics would fall into championship contenders. The Minnesota Timberwolves, New York Knicks, Orlando Magic and Utah Jazz would fall into the category of playoff hopefuls. The Sacramento Kings, Denver Nuggets, and Philadelphia 76ers fall into the dreaded Los Angeles Lakers category. More teams fall into each category, but I chose to give you the most obvious.

It seemed as though we were going to get our first look at seeing if the process that the Philadelphia 76ers told us to trust was going to work, but a broken foot by Ben Simmons will force us to wait until January at the earliest. Joel Embiid has looked good during the preseason, but the biggest question concerning him will be health. Between Embiid, Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor I expect Philly to only have one of them on their roster when the season ends. This young teams has pieces, but they'll need a little more luck before fans start believing. 

The statement of "do or die season" was meant for this year's Los Angeles Clippers team. They are loaded with veterans. They have two of the top 20 players in the world on their roster. They have an excellent coach, and a high payroll. Too bad they can't make it to the Conference Finals. With Chris Paul and Blake Griffin approaching free agency, I tend to believe this could be their final run together unless they somehow make a trip to the NBA Finals. 

I'm a Laker fan and I plan on closely watching the relationship between new head coach Luke Walton and the young core of Deangelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr., and Jordan Clarkson. Can Walton convince these guys to run a real half court offense and play defense? Will he help a young guy like Nance Jr. reach his potential?  I think I'll be equally interested in seeing the new duo of Anthony Davis and Buddy Hield. A couple of years ago it was suggested that Davis would be the "face of the NBA" by now, but injuries have yet to allow that to happen. Every big man needs a good perimeter guy. Hield might finally serve that role for Davis. 

The team that a lot of people have their eyes on is the Minnesota Timberwolves. Some have suggested that Karl Anthony Towns is the best big man in the game. Add in Andrew Wiggins, rookie Kris Dunn, Ricky Rubio, and new head coach Tom Thibodeau and you would have to wonder how this team doesn't make the playoffs. 

Earlier I mentioned the Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, and the New York Knicks. Honorable mention is all they deserve. ESPN, FS1, and every other outlet will drool over these non-factors all season for absolutely no reason. I'll pass.

The departure of Kevin Durant to the Golden State Warriors and the retirement of Tim Duncan has caused the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs to drop off a bit. Both teams will still make the playoffs, but how far they go depends on how well they are led by their stars, Russell Westbrook and Kawhi Leonard. Westbrook undoubtedly has the talent and teammates to at least make it to the Conference Finals, the question is does he trust his teammates and coaching staff enough to try not to do it all on his own. Leonard has LaMarcus Aldridge and coach Popovich, their issue is how much does Tony Parker have left in the tank?

You ever watch a romantic comedy and the guy tries to get the girl for the entire movie? A lot of different things happen good and bad, but when the movie is over and the credits roll they have ended up together? That is how this season is going to play out. Some teams will surprise you and some will disappoint, but when the first week of June rolls around we'll get the ending we felt we'd get as soon as training camp started...

Cavaliers vs. Warriors in the 2017 NBA Finals.

Enjoy the show!

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