NBA Preview Tier One: The Rebuilding Teams
It is officially fall. The advent of fall brings many things: the changing of leaves, school starting, pumpkin spice lattes, and most importantly, the NBA. The new season will start in less than a month on October 17th so Double G Sports is here to provide the comprehensive preview you need to prepare you to watch and follow your favorite teams and prepare you for any upcoming fantasy drafts. This year’s teams will be grouped into 5 tiers arranged by their ranking. Today we begin with the first group of teams who have their eyes on Luka Doncic, Marvin Bagley, and the other players potentially available in a star studded 2018 NBA draft.
- Chicago Bulls
What a long strange trip it has been for the Bulls. They went from fringe contenders, to Eastern Conference favorites and presumptive challenger to LeBron James, back to fringe contender, and now find themselves in full rebuild. Given that Dwyane Wade may get bought out and Zach LaVine is still recovering from injury, the best player on the Bulls roster come opening day could end up as Nikola Mirotic, Robin Lopez, or their most recent draft pick Lauri Markkanen. The Bulls may struggle to win 20 games this season. Fred Hoiberg has been on the hot seat for what feels like the entire time he has been the head coach. This might be the year that he finally gets canned. Fortunately, their struggles this year will put them in pole position to grab one of the ultra-talented players atop this year’s draft.
- Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks have decided to embrace the youth movement for the upcoming season. All the Veterans from the Hawks team that won 60 games just a few years ago are playing on new teams. Enter Dennis Schroder, who gets a chance to run his own team and could be a potential All-Star in a weak Eastern Conference. Coach Mike Budenholzer will have his hands full trying to bring this team back to the playoffs but there are bright spots in John Collins and Taurean Prince. Prince showed signs towards the end of the last season and into the playoff series against Washington while Collins was one of the stars of the Summer League. The Hawks hope one of those two can turn into an all-star as they look for additional help in next year’s draft.
- Indiana Pacers
While the Pacers are preaching a commitment to winning – even the Sixers ostensibly had to maintain this illusion – they are ultimately a part of the rebuilding teams who hope to find themselves at the top of the draft board and subsequently at the bottom of the standings. Myles Turner is their best player, which speaks volumes about their spot in the hierarchy of the NBA. The Pacers do have a few young players in Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis, TJ Leaf, and Turner but none look like bonafide stars. The Pacers clearly made the best choice in choosing to blow it up and rebuild but they likely will not see the playoffs again for a few years.
- Sacramento Kings
It feels strange to write but the Kings are finally on the right track. They had a solid draft and while the moves for veterans could cut minutes for the younger players, it also provides veteran leadership. There is a laundry list of talented young players including De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Justin Jackson, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Skal Labissiere, Willie Cauley-Stein, Harry Giles and even guys like Georgios Papagiannis and Malachi Richardson. In the 2008 NBA season, the Thunder won 23 games and the next they won 50. The Kings could be looking at a similar outcome if their stockpile of young players can coalesce and hit their strides as the same time. Fox, Hield, Labissiere, Bogdanovic, and Cauley-Stein are all players who should be able to contribute immediately. If the Kings add one more piece in next year’s draft to an already talented young core, the sky is the limit.
- Brooklyn Nets
You can find the full preview for the Nets here but the Nets are gradually moving up the rungs of the Easter Conference. Brooklyn has nothing to lose while D’Angelo Russell has a lot to prove. Combine that with Kenny Atkinson’s coaching and newly acquired veterans and you have a recipe for the Nets eclipsing 30 wins this season.
25. Phoenix Suns
The Suns doubled down on rebuilding during this offseason by steadfastly refusing to match the requests for Kyrie Irving. Reportedly, the team was unwilling to part with Josh Jackson in any deal and that subsequently froze the talks. Instead, Phoenix will run back last year’s team plus Jackson. Like the Kings, their impressive cache of young players lead by Devin Booker and Eric Bledsoe could be one or two players away from entering the contender phase. For now, the team is a mishmash of freakish athletes with huge wingspans and huge potential. Booker could change that if he makes the leap this season but that will require him to turn up his intensity on defense considerably. In all likelihood, the Suns will end up near the bottom of the conference again but with another player to add to an increasingly intriguing young team in the desert.
24. Orlando Magic
The Magic seem more like a fantasy team than an NBA one. The collection of talent is impressive. The fit of that talent is not. The Orlando front office has continually created logjams at positions thereby stifling the minutes of younger players. While that is beginning to change (Aaron Gordon small ball 4!), it is still evident in the roster construction with players like Arron Afflalo, Marreese Speights, and Bismack Biyombo blocking minutes for younger players. Unlike the Kings, the Magic paid top dollar for Biyombo whose ceiling is as the first big man off the bench. Mario Hezonja was the fifth pick two years ago and no one has a clue what type of player he is because he has not even cracked 20 minutes a game. Likewise, Aaron Gordon had to play out of position as a small forward due to the logjam at the power forward spot. After years of failing to find complementary players to their core, Terrence Ross was a step in the right direction. However, the starting lineup still features three players that have shot under 30 percent from three for their career, which creates spacing issues. There is a ton of talent on this roster but given the struggles in the past, it seems more likely the Magic end up in the mid 30’s for wins. The team has the potential to make the playoffs but they likely fall just short.
23. Los Angeles Lakers
It is somewhat surreal to see how much attention a 26 win team from a year ago has gotten. The Lakers are not a playoff team in the loaded Western Conference. None of their players besides Brook Lopez are likely candidates for the All-Star team where almost every team has at least two. The spotlight will be on Lonzo Ball to show if he can carry over his collegiate and Summer League success to the NBA while keeping his father in check. Lost amidst the Lonzo Ball and LeBron James hype is the fact that Brandon Ingram could be that all-star in a couple of years. He flashed potential a season ago and just turned 20 years old. Laker fans should be salivating at the thought of Ingram and Ball in pick and rolls. Coach Luke Walton deserves coach of the year if this squad makes the playoffs but playoffs or none, the focus in Los Angeles will be next summer when LeBron and other free agents might decide to come to LA.
22. New York Knicks
The Knicks do not belong on this list right now. They are undoubtedly a playoff contender with the current roster. However, Melo’s departure seems imminent and if that happens, the Knicks will likely want to press the reset button. Kristaps Porzingis and Tim Hardaway Jr. are not enough to contend even in the Eastern Conference. Ron Baker may start next year next to Willy Hernangomez. Neither are bad players per se but both would struggle to see the court at all on a team like the Warriors. The Knicks need to be on this list because there are major holes on this roster and putting Band-Aids on bullet wounds has gotten them here. It is time for the Knicks to see the writing on the wall and build from the ground up. They already have a foundational piece in Porzingis, if they do not drive him out of town with managerial incompetence.