Projecting NBA Depth Charts and Awards for the 2019-2020 Season

NBA Depth Charts For 2019-2020

This was a down week in terms of NBA activity, but most of the dust has settled in what has been a historically active offseason. To this point, we have enough information to start looking at how the personnel will fit together on each team.

Southeast:

Atlanta Hawks

Starters:

G Trae Young (19.1 ppg, 8.1 apg, 32.4% 3PT)

G Kevin Huerter (9.7 ppg, 2.9 apg, 38.5% 3PT)

F DeAndre Hunter (15.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 43.8% 3PT at Virginia)

F John Collins (19.5 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 2.0 apg)

C Alex Len (11.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 0.9 bpg)

2nd Unit: Evan Turner, Allen Crabbe, Cam Reddish, Jabari Parker, Damian Jones

Trae Young should build off of an electric second-half of his rookie season where his creativity as a playmaker and scoring efficiency progressed nicely (24.7 ppg and 9.2 assists post-All-Star break). With Young running the show, and Kevin Huerter looking like a steal after showing his versatility in his first season, the Hawks will have one of the most lethal shooting backcourts in the NBA. Add in John Collins, who is a 20-and-10 threat every night, and it’s easy to see why Lloyd Pierce and the Atlanta front office is so excited about this young core.

Atlanta came away with one of the greatest hauls on draft night with Reddish and Hunter. Both of them could slide into the starting lineup, but I like Hunter’s maturity and ability to defend the best player on opposing teams. Also, look for Jabari Parker to remind people why he was the second pick in 2014. Their youth will still show at times, but the Hawks will be a fun team to watch all year.

Charlotte Hornets

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Starters:

G Terry Rozier (9.0 ppg, 3.9 apg, 2.9 apg)

G Malik Monk (8.9 ppg, 1.6 apg, 33.0% 3PT)

F Nicolas Batum (9.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 3.3 apg)

F Marvin Williams (10.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.2 apg)

C Cody Zeller (10.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 2.1 rpg)

2nd Unit: Devonte’ Graham, Dwayne Bacon, Miles Bridges, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, P.J. Washington

Losing Kemba Walker will hurt. He didn’t walk without return though, with Terry Rozier coming over from Boston to presumably have his first full season as a starting point guard. Scary Terry hasn’t shot over 40 percent yet during his career, but if he can replicate the player that helped lead Boston to the conference finals two years ago (16.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 5.7 apg), the deal will be worth it.

The contracts of Batum, Kidd-Gilchrist, and Bismack Biyombo hang over the team like a storm cloud. I’m still a big Malik Monk guy, confident that next season is going to be his breakout year in an up-tempo backcourt similar to the one he starred in at Kentucky. You can always count on Cody Zeller to give solid minutes at both interior spots, but who is going to help him out? As the year progresses, look for Miles Bridges and Washington to play more minutes for a team that should be playing for the future. This could be one of Charlotte’s worst seasons in recent memory.

Miami Heat

Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald/TNS

Starters:

G Goran Dragic (13.7 ppg, 4.8 apg, 3.1 rpg)

G Tyler Herro (14.0 ppg, 2.5 apg, 35.5% 3PT at Kentucky)

F Jimmy Butler (18.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.0 apg)

F James Johnson (7.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.5 apg)

C Bam Adebayo (8.9 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 2.2 apg)

2nd Unit: Justice Winslow, Dion Waiters, Derrick Jones Jr., Kelly Olynyk, Meyers Leonard

The trade for Butler was huge for the Heat. Don’t buy into all that “ruins a locker room” nonsense He gives them a true star to build around and an absolute dog to create a culture of competitiveness.. It seems as though Dragic’s departure is inevitable, but he would fit nicely playing off of Butler as a floor-spacer and playmaker when necessary. After summer league play, my confidence in Tyler Herro was reaffirmed. He doesn’t need the ball to make an impact and has the toughness to play through shooting slumps.

Overall, the Heat are a nice team, but not a lock to make some noise in the East. The offseason development of Adebayo as a P&R defender, Winslow as a playmaking forward, and newly acquired Meyers Leonard as a consistent weapon will prove key.

Orlando Magic

G D.J. Augustin (11.7 ppg, 5.3 apg, 42.1% 3PT)

G Evan Fournier (15.1 ppg, 3.6 apg, 3.2 rpg)

F Jonathan Isaac (9.6 ppg, 5.5 apg, 1.3 bpg)

F Aaron Gordon (16.0 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 3.7 apg)

C Nikola Vucevic (20.8 ppg, 12.0 rpg, 3.8 apg)

2nd Unit: Markelle Fultz, Terrance Ross, Wesley Iwundu, Chuma Okeke, Mo Bamba

Orlando brings back the same group that shocked many by securing a playoff spot this year. Vucevic signed a long-term deal to provide some certainty as to the direction of the team. More perimeter growth for Isaac and Gordon is expected. Ross is still going to be a force in the second unit. They also have a new-look Mo Bamba that should be ready to take another step toward becoming an elite rim protector in the mold of Rudy Gobert.

The upside of this time hinges on the return of Markelle Fultz. Some call me a Fultz apologist, but the kid has too much ability to just give up on because of a few years riddled by injuries. If he can come back healthy, that point guard spot will be his for the taking. Of course, at this point, we don’t have a timetable for that. If not, the Magic have a core that is primarily trending up.

Washington Wizards

Starters:

G Isaiah Thomas (8.1 ppg, 1.9 apg, 27.9% 3PT)

G Bradley Beal (25.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 5.5 apg)

F C.J. Miles (6.4 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 33.0% 3PT)

F Rui Hachimura (19.7 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 41.7 3PT% at Gonzaga)

C Thomas Bryant (10.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.3 apg)

2nd Unit: Ish Smith, Jordan McRae, Troy Brown Jr., Davis Bertans, Mo Wagner

Part of me feels bad for Bradley Beal. He is a top-20 talent in this league but continues to be surrounded with an underwhelming roster. John Wall is likely out for the season. Offseason departures have set the Wizards up to be one of the worst teams in the NBA. Thomas is going to look to rejuvenate his career on a team lacking scoring punch outside of Beal.

Hachimura looked like a top-10 pick all year at Gonzaga and should have ample opportunities to prove his worth next year. At 6’8, he is long and incredibly skilled. As his range expands, Wizards fans are going to fall in love with his upside. But the rest of the year will be about speculation on Beal trades and a look to the 2020 NBA Draft.

Atlantic:

Boston Celtics

Starters:

G Kemba Walker (25.6 ppg, 5.9 apg, 4.4 rpg)

G Jaylen Brown (13.0 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.4 apg)

F Gordon Hayward (11.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.4 apg)

F Jayson Tatum (15.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 2.1 apg)

C Enes Kanter (13.7 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 1.7 apg)

2nd Unit: Carsen Edwards, Marcus Smart, Semi Ojeleye, Daniel Thies, Robert Williams

It’s going to be a different vibe in Boston with a less talented roster. That doesn’t mean they still can’t compete to win the East. In order to maximize the pieces on this team, Kemba will need to orchestrate the offense. He has always been a high-volume scorer, but Jayson Tatum is ready to be a featured piece in the offense. He and Kemba will be over 20-points a game when they are at their best.

After an inconsistent year, Hayward will look a lot more like the All-Star that he was in Utah than the shell of himself that we saw this past season. That gives the Celtics three All-Star caliber talents. Even though Brown may never reach that 39 percent three-point mark he had in 2018, he has every tool you could want in a wing. I’m worried about their defense and depth. Kemba is small, Kanter is one of the poorest bigs on that end, and Tatum doesn’t have the size or presence to make up for it. They will need to outshoot opponents and bank on Edwards or Romeo Langford to emerge as a bench threat.

Brooklyn Nets

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

Starters:

G Kyrie Irving (23.8 ppg, 6.9 apg, 5.0 rpg)

G Caris LeVert (13.7 ppg, 3.9 apg, 3.8 rpg)

F Joe Harris (13.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 47.4% 3PT)

F Rodions Kurucs (8.5 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 0.7 spg)

C Jarrett Allen (10.9 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 1.5 bpg)

2nd Unit: Spencer Dinwiddie, Garrett Temple, Taurean Prince, Wilson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan

What an offseason for the Nets. Kyrie and KD, along with Jordan, Prince, Chandler, etc. The starting lineup should look similar to last year, with Irving swapping in for D’Angelo Russell. This is the type of roster that will allow Kyrie to shine. LeVert is a budding two-way wing, Harris was the most proficient outside shooter this year, and Jarrett Allen is a fearless rim protector.

The ability to dig deep into their bench could be what puts the Nets in the top four or five of the East. Dinwiddie remains as one of the best sixth men in the NBA with the size and quickness to create his own shot. Jordan is a supreme backup center and Prince was a good scorer in his time with Atlanta. The Nets aren’t a title contender next year, but they should have a strong foundation for Durant’s return.

New York Knicks

Starters:

G Dennis Smith Jr. (13.6 ppg, 4.8 apg, 2.9 rpg)

F R.J. Barrett (22.6 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 4.3 apg at Duke)

F Kevin Knox (12.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.1 apg)

F Julius Randle (21.4 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 3.1 apg)

C Mitchell Robinson (7.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 2.4 bpg)

2nd Unit: Elfrid Payton, Reggie Bullock, Marcus Morris, Taj Gibson, Bobby Portis

It’s another tough offseason to be the Knicks. I know I’ve been hard on their fan base in the past, but they did their best to recover from missing out on the big names. Randle will get 20 points a night with around 10 rebounds if he is used correctly. The main critique is that they signed a bunch of power forwards (Morris, Gibson, Portis) who will not only take time from Randle but also limit the growth of Robinson.

David Fizdale is a great coach that will do what he can to maximize this strange roster. There should be more excitement around Barrett. He is a big scoring wing with plus vision and a relentless work ethic. His fit next to Knox is fuzzy, especially with another non-shooting floor general in Smith. It could be a long year in New York, but there are more productive vets to keep the games interesting.

Philadelphia 76ers

G Ben Simmons (16.9 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 7.7 apg)

G Josh Richardson (16.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 4.1 apg)

F Tobias Harris (20.0 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 2.8 apg)

F Al Horford (13.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 4.2 apg)

C Joel Embiid (27.5 ppg, 13.6 rpg, 3.7 apg)

2nd Unit: Raul Neto, Zhaire Smith, James Ennis, Mike Scott, Kyle O’Quinn

The Sixers have the most loaded starting five in the East. They have an All-Star duo in Simmons and Embiid back to avenge a tough playoff loss to Toronto. Hopefully, Simmons can come back with at least a fraction of a jump shot so he won’t be totally neutralized when it matters most. Even without it, he is elite at every other part of the game. The additions of Horford, one of the few players that can disrupt Giannis, and Richardson as a two-way wing were huge.

They have close to no bench, using most of their cap space to bring back Harris and sign Horford. Their lack of depth given the durability questions of Embiid could be their downfall. If healthy, the talent of their starters could be overwhelming, even versus Milwaukee.

Toronto Raptors

Starters:

G Kyle Lowry (14.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 8.7 apg)

G Normal Powell (8,6 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 1.5 apg)

F OG Anunoby (7.0 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 0.7 spg)

F Pascal Siakam (16.9 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 3.1 apg)

C Marc Gasol (13.6 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 4.4 apg)

2nd Unit: Fred VanVleet, Matt Thomas, Stanley Johnson, Serge Ibaka, Chris Boucher

They got the ring they wanted when they traded for Kawhi. Now he’s gone and they have a lot of questions about their future. Lowry and Gasol will be free agents next year, making their direction very foggy. For now, they need to lock up Siakam long-term and allow him to blossom into the All-Star he is destined to become. OG Anunoby didn’t play in the Finals, but he is a tremendous perimeter defender who was starting to round out his game.

It should be a lot of solid production from the Raptors bench as well, led by Finals star Van Vleet and Ibaka. While a Finals appearance is probably out of the question, Toronto has enough continuity returning to still be a playoff team.

Central:

Chicago Bulls

Starters:

G Tomas Satoransky (8.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 5.0 apg)

G Zach LaVine (23.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 4.5 apg)

F Otto Porter (13,9 ppg, 5.6 apg, 40.6% 3PT)

F Lauri Markkanen (18.7 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 36.1% 3PT)

C Wendell Carter Jr. (10.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.8 apg)

2nd Unit: Kris Dunn, Coby White, Denzel Valentine, Thaddeus Young, Daniel Gafford

The ping pong balls did not roll in Chicago’s favor. Still, they landed a top target in Coby White out of North Carolina. His energy, speed, and shot-making ability will be vital for a bench that was one of the worst in the league a year ago. After another offseason adding strength, LaVine is going to be an All-Star this year if he can stay healthy. While I’d like to see him utilize his athleticism more often on the defensive end, his ability to slash and make perimeter shots off the bounce is elite. The duo of LaVine and Markkanen, one of the best shooting bigs in the league, will be one of the highest-scoring in the East.

Now, who is going to give them additional production? Porter was tremendous after his trade from Washington. Carter Jr. had surgery that will negate his progress and potentially hurt them at their most shallow position. The underrated additions were Satoransky, a big lead guard that can do a little bit of everything, and Thaddeus Young, a steady forward that would start on a lot of teams in the league. Health and defensive consistency are my main concerns. If they can get 70+ games from LaVine and Lauri, this team could push for a seventh seed.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Starters:

G Collin Sexton (16.7 ppg, 3.0 apg, 40.2% 3PT)

G Jordan Clarkson (16.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.4 apg)

F Cedi Osman (13.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.6 apg)

F Kevin Love (17.0 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 2.2 apg)

C Ante Zizic (7.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 0.9 apg)

2nd Unit: Darius Garland, Matthew Dellavedova, Dylan Windler, Larry Nance Jr., Tristan Thompson

Similar to Chicago, Cleveland didn’t land as high up in the lottery as they hoped. They went with the best available player and took Garland. Knee surgery sidelined the undersized guard who has a lot of scoring traits similar to Trae Young. He may not start right away though, as Collin Sexton did enough in that second part of the season to give hope to a bright future. Eventually, both should be playing big minutes together, looking to replicate Dame-McCollum backcourt.

I am actually surprised Kevin Love’s name hasn’t been brought up in more trade talks. He’s only 30 and still is one of the best shooters and rebounders at his position. This team is at least two years away from being out of the cellar if the East. What they do have is a lot of guys who will play hard. I know I will never have to question the effort of Love, Nance, Delly, or even their rookie wing Dylan Windler.

Detroit Pistons

Starters:

G Reggie Jackson (15.4 ppg, 4.2 apg, 36.9% 3PT)

G Luke Kennard (9.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 39.4% 3PT)

F Tony Snell (6.0 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 39.7% 3PT)

F Blake Griffin (24.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 5.4 apg)

C Andre Drummond (17.3 ppg, 15.6 rpg, 1.7 bpg)

2nd Unit: Derrick Rose, Svi Mykhailiuk, Bruce Brown, Markeiff Morris, Thon Maker

Detroit remains in that 12 to 18 range in the NBA where you don’t get a high-level pick but aren’t a real threat to get past round two in the playoffs.  Griffin and Drummond have been excellent in their time together. That third piece has eluded them for years because Reggie Jackson is not the answer.

Kennard is entering that important third year after showing good signs in the playoffs. I like the Derrick Rose addition to run that second unit and fill in for Jackson when his play goes south. Morris is another good veteran addition. If all goes well, they could potentially be sniffing around one of the last playoff spots again.

Indiana Pacers

Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Starters:

G Malcolm Brogdon (15.6 ppg, 3.2 apg, 42.6% 3PT)

G Victor Oladipo (18.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 5.2 apg)

F T.J. Warren (18.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 42.8% 3PT)

F Domantas Sabonis (14.1 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 2.9 apg)

C Myles Turner (13.3 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 2.7 bpg)

2nd Unit: Aaron Holiday, Jeremy Lamb, Justin Holiday, T.J. Leaf, Goga Bitadze

Of all the teams receiving offseason hype, Indiana has been consistently overlooked. Brogdon is the perfect unselfish, tough guard that will help Oladipo as he returns to All-Star form. He is a defensive expert that is regularly over 40 percent from three. They also got Warren from the Suns for essentially nothing, and now have a wing that excels in that 10-18 foot range. He was just as lethal from downtown for the first time in his career as well.

I am really intrigued to see how Sabonis and Turner play together for long stretches. Neither is particularly agile, but both clean the glass and finish in the paint. Turner’s shooting range should help space the court, but Sabonis doesn’t love threes and neither does Warren. Thankfully, the bench has a number of shooters in Lamb, Leaf, and both the Holidays. Even Bitadze can connect with time. So I like the combination of grit, balance, and defensive instincts for this team. If I had to guess, they will be fourth or fifth in the East

Milwaukee Bucks

Starters:

G Eric Bledsoe (15.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 5.5 apg)

G Wes Matthews (12.2 ppg, 2.3 apg, 37.2% 3PT)

F Khris Middleton (18.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 4.3 apg)

F Giannis Antetokounmpo (27.7 ppg, 12.5 rpg, 5.9 apg)

C Brook Lopez (12.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 36.5% 3PT)

2nd Unit: George Hill, Donte DiVincenzo, Pat Connaughton, D.J. Wilson, Robin Lopez

The Bucks were the best team in the regular season for a reason. Even without Malcolm Brogdon, they still have Giannis back to prove he can still level up (which is scary). 3-and-D star Middleton secured a massive bag after an All-Star season. Outside of those two, there aren’t a ton of household names. I want to see more out of Bledsoe in big games offensively. Playing off the ball is an adjustment, but it’ll be three years now. Time to step up the shooting and cutting.

That second guard spot will be very fluid. Matthews’s length and shooting fit seamlessly next to the starters, but Connaughton or Korver would provide that spacing around Giannis as well. Brook “Splash Mountain” Lopez welcomes his brother Robin, who swears he has more range than he previously showed. They can come at you in waves with shooters all over the court while the Greek Freak euro steps his way down your throats. Losing in the conference finals again would be a disappointment. This team has the chops to be championed by year-end.

Northwest:

Denver Nuggets

Starters:

G Jamal Murray (18.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 4.8 apg)

G Gary Harris (12.9 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.2 apg)

G Will Barton (11.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.9 apg)

F Paul Milsap (12.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 2.0 apg)

C Nikola Jokic (20.1 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 7.3 apg)

2nd Unit: Monte Morris, Malik Beasley, Michael Porter Jr., Jerami Grant, Mason Plumlee

This could be one of the best seasons in Nuggets history. In a new-look West, they are the one team returning all of their rotation pieces, led by the enigma that is Nikola Jokic. The Joker is going to be near the top of the MVP list for good reason, especially if he gets back to shooting the ball like he did in 2017. Murray looked like an All-Star under the brightest lights in the playoffs despite their early exit. He will continue that upward trajectory that landed him a sizable extension. Injuries and inconsistency bit Harris last season. A nice summer of rest should allow the two-way off-guard to be a productive third option.

Other than continuity and comfort amongst this team, depth is their greatest strength. When you have a bench of Morris, Beasley, Plumlee, newly acquired Grant, and ultra-gifted Porter Jr. (if he can find a way to stay semi-healthy) that could push a number of starting units in the NBA, you’re in a good space. They are 11 deep going all the way to Torrey Craig. My expectation is for them to finish with a top-three record in the West before testing their youth against the California juggernauts.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Starters:

G Jeff Teague (12.1 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 8.2 apg)

G Jarrett Culver (18.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 3.7 apg at Texas Tech)

F Andrew Wiggins (18.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.5 apg)

F Robert Covington (13.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.3 apg)

C Karl Anthony-Towns (24.4 ppg, 12.4 rpg, 3.4 apg)

2nd Unit: Shabazz Napier, Josh Okogie, Keita Bates-Diop, Noah Vonleh, Jordan Bell

It was just two years ago when the Wolves were riding a fresh playoff appearance and Jimmy Butler’s energy high. A few trades later, they are approaching a critical time. A lot of my optimism here is in my confidence in Ryan Saunders to connect with the young roster. KAT has to lead by example with his effort. He’s a top-5 center with the skills to be the best if he commits himself to both ends. No max player has been criticized as much as Wiggins. At times, his energy seems indifferent. But he looks committed to proving doubters wrong. Wolves’ fans obviously want some hardcore evidence, but give him this season to prove his maturity level.

They have some solid emerging pieces in Culver, a potential All-Rookie player, Okogie, and Bates-Diop. I’m still expecting a push for D’Angelo Russell at some point around the deadline. For now, this isn’t a playoff team just yet.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Starters:

G Chris Paul (15.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 8.2 apg)

G Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (10.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 3.3 apg)

G Andre Roberson (5.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.2 spg in 2017-2018)

F Danilo Gallinari (19.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 43.3% 3PT)

C Steven Adams (13.9 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 1.6 apg)

2nd Unit: Dennis Schroder, Terrance Ferguson, Hamidou Diallo, Mike Muscala, Nerlens Noel

I have come to terms with CP3 staying in OKC. It’s a great opportunity for him to prove he’s still an elite point guard. Expect 16-18 points and 10 assists a game. When you actually look at the starting five, they’ve got some pieces. Gallinari was quietly a bucket last season, shooting over 40% from three. Most people are fans of the pace and upside of Gilgeous-Alexander as a big guard who can defend. Adams remains one of the toughest centers in the league.

It’s just not going to be the typical two-superstar system that OKC fans have been spoiled with since their inception. Eventually, Paul should play his trade value up and a deadline deal should put him on a contender and clear a sizable amount off of OKC’s books.

Portland Trail Blazers

Starters:

G Damian Lillard (25.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 6.9 apg)

G C.J. McCollum (21.0 ppg, 3.0 apg, 37.5% 3PT)

G Kent Bazemore (11.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.3 apg)

C Zach Collins (6.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 0.9 bpg)

C Hassan Whiteside (12.3 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 1.9 bpg)

2nd Unit: Anfernee Simons, Mario Hezonja, Rodney Hood, Nassir Little, Anthony Tolliver

Dame and CJ are back, so the Blazers will be a playoff team. But how do they become a title contender? They have lacked consistent wing scoring. While Bazemore isn’t a one-on-one scorer, he can hit open shots and does an excellent job getting out in transition and defending. The frontcourt will be deep with the addition of Whiteside. Now, I have questioned his motor throughout his career, so hopefully, the professionalism of the backcourt motivates him to play harder. They really don’t have a true four-man, so experimenting with a two-center lineup may be worth the try. Collins is agile, but also has a mean streak and shooting touch to provide versatility at that spot.

Their bench will likely run through Hood early on while guys like Simons and Little acclimate to regular minutes. Dame and CJ don’t come off the court much anyways, but the option to get some rest will be crucial in a grueling conference. If and when Jusuf Nurkic returns, Whiteside could slide to the second unit where he would be a nice featured piece in a playoff series. Signs are pointing to an improved year in Portland.

Utah Jazz

Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Starters:

G Mike Conley (21.1 ppg, 6.4 apg, 36.4% 3PT)

G Donovan Mitchell (23.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 4.2 apg)

F Bojan Bogdanovic (18.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 42.5% 3PT)

F Jeff Green (12.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.8 apg)

C Rudy Gobert (15.9 ppg, 12.9 rpg, 2.3 bpg)

2nd Unit: Emmanuel Mudiay, Dante Exum, Joe Ingles, Ed Davis, Tony Bradley

Utah is the one team drawing the most praise for their offseason. Adding a vet like Mike Conley who can shoot it, defend, and run an offense to perfection was a steal. He has been working out with Mitchell, who I expect to take a monumental leap into stardom this year. His work ethic and drive are on another level and were the main reasons I never worried about his rough shooting stretches in his first two seasons. With another shooter in Conley, plus Bogdanovic (who was the top shooter and scorer for Indiana), Gobert will have the entire paint to finish lobs and score off switches.

Part of me really wants to see Ingles in that starting lineup being an irritant to opposing fours, but I think he can give a reliable outside shot to a bench group without any other shooters. Ultimately, the play of their stars will determine how far they go. That’s not to discount the importance that Mudiay, Exum, etc. will play in managing minutes and being x-factors to playoff games. They are set up to be a top-four seed if everyone stays healthy.

Pacific:

Golden State Warriors

Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Starters:

G Steph Curry (27.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 5.2 apg)

G D’Angelo Russell (21.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 7.0 apg)

G Alec Burks (8.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.0 apg)

F Draymond Green (7.4 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 6.9 apg)

C Willie Cauley-Stein (11.9 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 2.4 apg)

2nd Unit: Jordan Poole, Alfonzo McKinnie, Glenn Robinson III, Kevon Looney, Omari Spellman

No need to panic if you’re a Golden State fan. Show D’Angelo Russell some respect. He is coming off a career-best year where his maturity and playmaking took monumental leaps. And he will be enticed to fire up more threes and play with a more scorer’s mentality on a team where he won’t need to be the go-to playmaker. Steph should finish in the top 3 in MVP voting. Draymond will more resemble the pre-KD player that was aggressive on the offensive end and unafraid to take wide-open shots. Now, his shooting, or lack thereof, is still a concern. But this is a good roster for him to showcase during a contract year.

I really liked the Cauley-Stein addition. He will be the best rim-running big that has been in Golden State during the Steve Kerr era. His agility and switchability will prove vital for a team that will worse defensively without Klay Thompson. The bench did a complete overhaul, now leaning on Kevon Looney to lead that young group. They should be able to stay afloat in that five to seven range before Klay comes back. At which point, no team in the playoffs will want to see them.

Los Angeles Clippers

Starters:

G Pat Beverley (7.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 3.8 apg)

F Paul George (28.0 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 4.1 apg)

F Kawhi Leonard (26.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 3.3 apg)

F Mo Harkless (7.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.1 spg)

C Ivica Zubac (8.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.1 apg)

2nd Unit: Lou Williams, Landry Shamet, Rodney McGruder, Montrezl Harrell, JaMychal Green

Kawhi and PG on a team of solid college basketball players would scare opposing teams. Let alone a team that pushed the Warriors in the playoffs without a true star. With the resigning of Beverley and trade for Harkless, this should be the most stifling defense in the NBA. Unlike many of the other star-assembled teams, this group shouldn’t struggle to integrate their duo. George can score within the flow of the offense and has done so for a majority of his career. And Kawhi is effective coming off of screens and deferring when necessary.

All that is before even discussing their loaded bench. Lou Williams is aging like fine wine as a scorer and playmaker in his career. I could see Doc Rivers giving Harrell a look as a starter, but I really like his energy coming in game six or seven minutes into the game. The Clippers have every piece. Anything less than a conference finals appearance would be a disappointment. Kawhi is the only guy with Finals experience, but that was the case (minus Danny Green) a year ago. This team is worth the hype.

Los Angeles Lakers

Starters:

F LeBron James (27.4 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 8.3 apg)

G Danny Green (10.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 45.5% 3PT)

F Kyle Kuzma (18.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.5 apg)

F Anthony Davis (25.9 ppg, 12.0 rpg, 3.9 apg)

C DeMarcus Cousins (16.3 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 3.6 apg)

2nd Unit: Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, JaVale McGee

Point guard LeBron? I’m all for it. After his first summer in a while getting extensive time off, expect the King to drop triple-doubles like he drops Taco Tuesday stories. He has never played with a frontcourt as talented as this one. When Davis and Cousins played together in New Orleans, they were a consistent 25 and 10 apiece. A slimmer Boogie and healthy AD could pose similar problems for opponents, even if the numbers are less. The craziest part of this team is the fact that Kuzma, a near 20-point scorer, could be the fourth scoring option. He has worked to drill down a smoother one-motion jumper that should only increase his value in a lineup of stars.

With this supersized lineup, it’s fair to questions where the shooting will come from. Green is the only plus shooter, but the hope is that LeBron’s expanded range and Kuzma’s new form will lead to more space for the bigs. While the bench doesn’t provide much shooting, they are full of tough, intelligent role players who can guard. Rondo, Bradley, Caruso, and even Quinn Cook can slide in to take the pressure off of LeBron as a ball-handler. Unlike the Clippers, I think the Lakers are NBA Finals appearance or bust. This is the most talented team LeBron has ever been surrounded with and they have a decent amount of playoff experience.

Phoenix Suns

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Starters:

G Ricky Rubio (12.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 6.1 apg)

G Devin Booker (26.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 6.8 apg)

F Kelly Oubre (15.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.2 spg)

F Dario Saric (10.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.6 apg

C DeAndre Ayton (16.3 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 1.8 apg)

2nd Unit: Tyler Johnson, Ty Jerome, Mikal Bridges, Frank Kaminsky, Aron Baynes

The good, old Suns. Underwhelming competition as often as snakes show up in an Arizona backyard. They definitely got better, though some of their offseason moves were questionable. In principle, Rubio is a good fit as a heady floor general that knows how to get guys easy shots. I’m not going to get into his contract. With a full season of Oubre and now a shooter in Saric, Booker has no excuse to not improve his efficiency. He is dynamic with the ball and one of the best iso guards in the league. Ayton’s progress is key as well. The Bahamian averaged a quiet 16 and 10, but his touches and shooting range should expand.

Their bench is actually better than it looks on paper. Johnson can heat up when he’s given the freedom that he should with the second unit. Baynes was a sneaky pickup as a hard-nosed big that will be good for team culture. I’ve always liked the potential for Bridges to become a premier defensive stopper. He should take another step forward as well. Phoenix is still out of the playoff picture for now. They could use another top-10 pick (and actually keep it) or two.

Sacramento Kings

Starters:

G DeAaron Fox (17.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 7.3 apg)

G Buddy Hield (20.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 42.7% 3PT)

F Harrison Barnes (16.4 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 39.5% 3PT)

F Marvin Bagley (14.9 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.0 apg)

C Dewayne Dedmon (10.8 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 38.2% 3PT)

2nd Unit: Corey Joseph, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Trevor Ariza, Nemanja Bjelica, Harry Giles

People forget that the Kings were on the edge of making the playoffs. Fox’s growth as a perimeter shooter was impressive, to say the least. His commitment to becoming great will rub off on his teammates. Hield is already on the right track after finishing in the top-10 of three-point shooting. The guy who has the most to improve upon is Bagley, who was just starting to figure out how good he could be by the end of the year. Bigs are going to struggle to keep him out of the lane and off the boards with his quickness and improving energy. I’m expecting Barnes to play some minutes at the four to allow Bogdanovic to spend more time on the court with Fox and Hield. That lineup, with Bagley at the five, would be exciting to watch.

The veteran additions of Dedmon, Joseph, and Ariza prove that the Kings are serious about competing right now. No more rebuilding. They have a combination of growing and established production to be a tough game for any team. The West is stacked, so they may be on the outside looking in for another year. But if they make a run, Fox will be the driving force.

Southwest:

Dallas Mavericks

Starters:

G Jalen Brunson (9.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 3.2 apg)

G Tim Hardaway Jr. (18.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.4 apg)

G Luka Doncic (21.1 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 6.0 apg)

F Kristaps Porzingis (22.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.4 bpg in 2017-2018)

F Dwight Powell (10.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.5 apg)

2nd Unit: Delon Wright, Seth Curry, Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber, Boban Marjanovic

Dallas didn’t get the huge free agency splash that some fans hoped for, but they secured Porzingis to solidify one of the most promising young duos in the league. As many of you know, I’ve been a big Doncic advocate for a while. So it should come as no surprise that I expect him to fight off that sophomore slump by coming in leaner, quicker, and even more comfortable exploiting defenses in the P&R game. I have always liked KP more as a four than a five due to his mobility and durability questions banging with centers. By resigning Powell and adding Boban, Porzingis can spend more time creating serious mismatches with opposing fours. 

The additions of Wright and Curry shouldn’t go unnoticed. For years, Curry has established himself as a lethal shooter, making him an ideal fit with either unit. Wright will compete with Brunson, who already plays like a vet floor general, for the starting point guard role. He should be the best perimeter defender of the backcourt members, though I like Bronson’s shooting next to Luka more at this point. With a healthy Porzingis, there is no reason why this upstart Mavs team can’t push for an eight seed riding their All-Star duo.

Houston Rockets

Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT

Starters:

G Russell Westbrook (22.9 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 10.7 apg)

G James Harden (36.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 7.5 apg)

G Eric Gordon (16.2 ppg, 1.9 apg, 36.0% 3PT)

F PJ Tucker (7.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 37.7% 3PT)

C Clint Capela (16.6 ppg, 12.7 rpg, 1.5 bpg)

2nd Unit: Austin Rivers, Gerald Green, Danuel House, Gary Clark, Isaiah Hartenstein

Harden and Westbrook are going to be a lot of fun to watch, regardless of the game-to-game outcome. From pregame dances to joint triple-doubles, they have the chemistry and ability to disrupt the perceived LA hierarchy. The sky-high usages of both will lead to some sacrifice on both ends without question. I like Harden more off the ball due to his shooting, though he hasn’t played that role since his OKC days. Russ is the better passer and tempo-setter, albeit a frantic tempo. But that’s what D’antoni wants right? 

If Russ and James can manage the growing pains of figuring out when to attack and when to defer, this offense could be a thing of beauty. Gordon and Tucker are more than happy to run the wings and space the floor. Capela struggled in the playoffs, but expect a refocused big who is energized by getting more easy buckets off of the Russ dump-offs. Realistically, their tempo and energy could give them a top-2 seed by year-end. If it turns into my turn-your turn, they could fall all the way out of the top five in the West.

Memphis Grizzlies

Starters:

G Ja Morant (24.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 10.0 apg at Murray State)

G Dillon’s Brooks (7.5 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 37.5% 3PT)

F Kyle Anderson (8.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3.0 apg)

F Jaren Jackson Jr. (13.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.4 bpg)

C Jonas Valanciunas (15.6 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 1.4 apg)

2nd Unit: Tyus Jones, De’Anthony Melton, Josh Jackson, Jae Crowder, Brandon Clarke

I’m very excited to watch this young group of Grizzlies. Ja Morant is my early Rookie of the Year favorite (more on this later) with his vision and explosiveness in a system that will be built to feature him. Jaren Jackson is so talented on both sides of the ball. He will become a premier defender next season and should continue to fine-tune his post-game. Expect a lot of fireworks, energy, and comedy from that duo.

Valanciunas is often forgotten after signing a nice three-year deal. For a young team, he could have a sneaky productive season as a post force that can carve out space on the interior and feast on switches. There is heavy uncertainty for the majority of this roster. I worry about Kyle Anderson’s health. His versatility fills many holes, but how does a non-shooting playmaker work next to a ball-dominant guard? Will Josh Jackson finally tap into his physical gifts to consistently produce? The change of scenery with good young influences and vets like Crowder should help. I’m also a big Brandon Clarke guy. He has the motor that will be infectious, as seen in his Summer League MVP performance. They’re probably a couple of top-six picks away from challenging in this loaded West.

New Orleans Pelicans

Starters:

G Lonzo Ball (9.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 5.4 apg)

G Jrue Holiday (21.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 7.7 apg)

F Brandon Ingram (18.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 3.0 apg)

F Zion Williamson (22.6 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 2.1 apg)

F Derrick Favors (11.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.2 apg)

2nd Unit: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, J.J. Redick, Josh Hart, Jaxson Hayes, Jahlil Okafor

For losing a top-10 talent, the Pelicans came out in a good spot. Zion is expected to be one of the most exciting rookies in recent memory, bringing generational explosiveness and versatility at his size. The good news is that he won’t be counted on to be “the guy” from day one. Holiday returns after a career year where he proved capable of being a primary scoring option in addition to being a lockdown defender. Ball should shine in year three initiating the offense and making plays for an athletic team that will highlight his strengths.

A big point of concern and optimism is the health of Ingram. After the trade deadline, he looked like a comfortable 20-point per game guy that could guard three or four spots. If he’s full go, that gives the Pels another guy who can get his own shot.  This bench could be one of the most talented in the league, assuming Redick is used to provide scoring and experience to that second unit. Alexander-Walker and Hayes are even better than advertised while Hart was a sought-after 3-and-D wing in many trade talks. They’ve got a nice mix of youth and productive vets that should have them fighting for one of the final playoff spots.

San Antonio Spurs

Starters:

G DeJounte Murray (8.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.9 apg in 2017-2018)

G Bryn Forbes (11.8 ppg, 2.1 apg, 42.6% 3PT)

G DeMar DeRozan (21.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 6.2 apg)

F Rudy Gay (13.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 2.6 apg)

F LaMarcus Aldridge (21.3 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 2.4 apg)

2nd Unit: Patty Mills, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker, DeMarre Carroll, Jakob Poeltl

Overall, this is a largely underwhelming Spurs roster. Outside of DeRozan, who had his most complete season last year, and Aldridge, there isn’t a ton for fans to hang their hat on. Still, Greg Popovich is a legend for a reason. Expect Murray to be quickly reintegrated as the up-and-coming point guard he resembled before he missed last season due to injury.

My dark horse on this team is Lonnie Walker. He continues to look more dynamic and confident with the ball. And we know the athletic ability is there. They will probably stay around the bottom of the league in three attempts, but their shooters (Forbes, Mills, Walker) can really shoot it. This may be a roller-coaster season that may end in DeRozan and/or Aldridge being moved for picks. Think of it as an inevitable retool, not a full-on rebuild.

NBA Award Predictions:

MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Forward, Milwaukee Bucks)

Rookie of the Year: Ja Morant (Point Guard, Memphis Grizzlies)

Defensive Player of the Year: Kawhi Leonard (Small Forward, Los Angeles Clippers)

Sixth Man of the Year: Lou Williams (Guard, Los Angeles Clippers)

Most Improved Player: Terry Rozier (Point Guard, Charlotte Hornets)

Coach of the Year: Nate McMillan

All-NBA First Team: Steph Curry (PG, Golden State Warriors), James Harden (SG, Houston Rockets), LeBron James (SF, Los Angeles Lakers), Giannis Antetokounmpo (F, Milwaukee Bucks), Nikola Jokic (C, Denver Nuggets)

All-NBA Second Team: Damian Lillard (PG, Portland Trail Blazers), Russell Westbrook (PG, Houston Rockets), Kawhi Leonard (SF, Toronto Raptors), Anthony Davis (PF, Los Angeles Lakers), Joel Embiid (C, Philadelphia 76ers)

All-NBA Third Team: Ben Simmons (PG, Philadelphia 76ers), Kyrie Irving (PG, Boston Celtics), Jimmy Butler (SF, Miami Heat), Paul George (SF, Los Angeles Clippers), Karl-Anthony Towns (C, Minnesota Timberwolves)

All-Defensive First Team: Patrick Beverley (PG, Los Angeles Clippers), Jrue Holiday (SG, New Orleans Pelicans), Kawhi Leonard (SF, Los Angeles Clippers), Giannis Antetokounmpo (F, Milwaukee Bucks), Rudy Gobert (C, Utah Jazz)

All-Defensive Second Team: Malcolm Brogdon (G, Indiana Pacers), Marcus Smart (G, Boston Celtics), Paul George (SF, Los Angeles Lakers), P.J. Tucker (F, Houston Rockets), Myles Turner (C, Indiana Pacers)

All-Rookie First Team: Ja Morant (PG, Memphis Grizzlies), Tyler Herro (SG, Miami Heat), R.J. Barrett (SF, New York Knicks), Zion Williamson (PF, New Orleans Pelicans), Rui Hachimura (PF, Washington Wizards)

All-Rookie Second Team: Coby White (PG, Chicago Bulls), Jarrett Culver (SG, Minnesota Timberwolves), Cam Reddish (SF, Atlanta Hawks), DeAndre Hunter (F, Atlanta Hawks), Michael Porter Jr. (F, Denver Nuggets

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