This past offseason has been a noisy one, while there weren’t any truly blockbuster moves or signings, a lot of teams will have a new look and feel about them come late October. So here are MY expectations for a few teams that should be on your radar going into the 2015-2016 NBA season.
Detroit Pistons: If you’re a true basketball fan, regardless of who you root for, you have to be pretty excited about this team. They have one of the youngest teams in the league, a promising rookie in Stanley Johnson, and a true center in third year big man Andre Drummond. Detroit acquired a nice forward in Marcus Morris from the Suns, who will now have an opportunity to show a team that he is more than just a twin to brother Markieff. Reggie Jackson is still eager to prove to the league that he is in fact better than just a backup PG, and his chemistry with his new teammates was hard to deny last year. Andre Drummond has finally emerged as the teams true franchise player after the departure of Greg Monroe, and with this new title, I believe Andre will not disappoint. Drummond is a true physical specimen at 6’11” 280, and if he can just work on his low post offense, he will no doubt transform into a perennial All Star by 2017. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has shown promise in his first two years earning the starting job at the two, and Ersan Ilyasova is no slouch either. Detroit is an exciting young team with an underrated bench, who I believe will make a playoff push in a very tough Central division this season. Yes, I said playoff push, hopefully.
New York Knicks: Coming off of a dismal 17 win season, I understand that this prediction will shock any reader who isn’t a Knicks fan. The Knickerbockers definitely have a new look to their roster, but it was their acquisition of Aaron Afflalo that initially caught my eye. Afflalo is 29 now and has shown that he is more than an adept scorer whether he’s in the starting 5, or hopping of the pine. Although, now that he is getting older, I’m really hoping he has a breakout season as the second option on this “hopeful” Knick team. Jose Calderon is still a reliable playmaking point, and there won’t be much drop-off in production when backup PG Langston Galloway gets into the game. Starting PF Derrick Williams came into this league with high expectations and has not lived up to them thus far, but I believe he will be a solid option while Porzingis develops further. Having a legitimate starting center after a year of flux will be good for the Knicks, and though he is not Brook, Robin Lopez is a strong rim protector who can provide a bit of offense when necessary. Now for what all you faithful Knick fans have been waiting for, my two cents on Carmelo. Carmelo Anthony has showcased his scoring ability for all of his career, and while his defense has never been stellar, he does provide enough defensive stress when needed. So expect Melo to get his numbers offensively as he will continue being the Knicks “go-to-guy,” and just hope that he can help his team when it counts on D. Keep an eye on rookies Jerian Grant and Kristaps Porzingis while your Knickerbockers heave to a 21 to 27 win season.
Orlando Magic: The Magic are another young group of guys who I think will take the league by storm over the next few seasons. With a new coach in Scott Skiles, holds single game assist record at 30, the team is hoping to barrel into the 2015-16 season with a new mentality. After being hired, Skiles said “We’re young and inexperienced. That can’t be an excuse anymore. That has to be turned into a strength,” (via ESPN.com) and I believe that he is just the no-nonsense attitude the team needs. Oladipo is in the starting lineup for the second year in a row, and I believe that it will fall upon him to shoulder a lot of the pressure at both the defensive and offensive side of the ball. Elfrid Payton showed some serious dishing capabilities last year, and if he can just work out the mechanics of his shot, he will be even more of an offensive threat. Starting SF Tobias Harris resigned with the team this summer, and really believes in his teammates. If Harris can build upon his last year and can continue displaying leadership, I don’t see why he won’t be an All Star within the next two years. The teams decision to start veteran four Channing Frye is probably a good one, as it allows young Aaron Gordon more time to work on his all around game. Nikola Vucevic is also a very nice piece, a seven footer with a nice mid-range touch, Vucevic can fill it up and rebound proficiently and I cannot see him being snubbed from the All Star festivities for much longer. Orlando is a young team who I can realistically see winning 30 to 35 games next year.
Portland Trailblazers: The Blazers offseason was most definitely one for the ages. Portland lost four of their starters, one of whom is a superstar PF in his prime, a floor stretching two in Wesley Matthews, and a defensive minded wing with Nick Batum. This leaves All Star point guard Damian Lillard to hold down the fort in Rip-City, with a band of ragtag role-players who I believe can contribute. Damian Lillard is a do it all point who can score at will, is an adept rebounder, and knows when to kick the rock. Lillard is a good teammate and a clutch player who I believe will really step up his game this year. Manning the middle at starting center is the promising Mason Plumlee. Plumlee has shown that he can excite the crowd on both ends of the floor, but his rebounding leaves some to be desired. Portland’s starting SG is Gerald Henderson, a solid scorer who I predict splitting a lot of minutes with sixth man C.J. McCollum, a third year guy who showed promise towards the end of last season. Al Farouq Aminu has finally found a home in Portland and will be suiting up as the teams number one small forward. Playing big minutes with the Mavericks last postseason, I noticed Aminu’s ability to not only defend multiple positions, but to score relatively efficiently. I think that if big Al continues his hard work on both defense and offense, he will be a phenomenal piece to this Blazers team in years to come. Finally, we get down to the power forward position. The team is starting fifth year big man Ed Davis, who has definitely been a quality contributor on all of his teams. Although, if backup second year four Noah Vonleh develops into what I think he can be, Davis will be coming off the bench as a good option by February. If all goes as plan in this rebuild year for the Blazers, and Damian steps up, I can see them finishing the season with about 35 to 39 wins in 2015-16. Not bad for a stacked Western Conference.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Now the Thunder are a very curious team, at least the way I see them. They have arguably the most talented starting five in the entire league, with a first team all defensive power forward in Serge Ibaka, and two of the leagues best players in Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Ibaka is a proven six year big man and is a player who has improved on a new aspect of his game every season. I think that if he can remain healthy this year, he will be a lock for an All Star appearance. Dion Waiters is going to continue manning the starting shooting guard spot, and hopefully new coach Billy Donovan can help him mature and transform into a more well rounded player. Enes Kanter is picking up where he left of as the starting center in OKC. And while he’s no elite rim protector, he is a skilled shooter with surprising range and a proficient rebounder; I can see Kanter keeping up his 15.5 PPG and am hopeful his rebounding increases as well. Now, we get to the fun part. Kevin Durant is a former rookie of the year, All Star game MVP, scoring leader, and League MVP; simply put, this guys got serious game. Last season, Durant was plagued by injuries yet still managed to dazzle when he did suit up. His scoring prowess is truthfully unmatched, but until Durant can lead this highly talented roster over the championship hump, he will always be lacking something on what is already a HOF career resume. Finally, we reach one of the leagues most exciting and skilled players, Danger-Russell Westbrook. Westbrook stepped up as the teams leader in literally every category last season, shredding teams and keeping his own in games with his historic performances. I hope to see him continue to be a dominant force on this talented team, and to remember what he is capable of when given the freedom to lead. The Thunder were able to scrape together a respectable 45 wins last year with a very dilapidated roster, and that is exactly the reason I can see them finishing off the season with a 54 to 57 win season in a weaker Northwest division.
Rookie Watch: Cameron Payne (OKC), Kristaps Porzingis (NYK), Montrezl Harrell (HOU), Trey Lyles (UTA), Mario Hezonja (ORL), D’Angelo Russell (LAL), Bobby Portis (CHI).