Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Official #BucksForest 2016 NBA Preview

Last year, I picked the Warriors to miss the Playoffs.  The eventual 2015 NBA Champions -- the team whose young talent carried it to inspiring Playoff runs the previous two years -- picked to be sitting my the pool in Vegas come late April.  It's there in the Official #BucksForest 2015 NBA Preview, right along with the Clippers being the eighth-worst team in the League and the Thunder finishing with the best record in basketball.

Keep that in mind, Bucks fans, as you read The Official #BucksForest 2016 NBA Preview: I am often wrong, sometimes in spectacular fashion.

(Of course, I am often right.  I hit every single 2015 Playoff team in the East, except the Bucks.  I had the Heat and Hornets missing the Playoffs, which few people had.  I had the Rockets as the second best team in the West, which almost nobody had.  And I had the Spurs as a seventh seed in the West [they finished sixth].)

As always, the #BucksForest NBA Preview begins with a recap of the previous year:

30: Some team decimated by injuries/Lakers (actual: some team decimated by injuries/Minnesota)

29: The Bucks (Knicks) - Yikes.  Sorry, #BucksForest.  And this may make it two seasons in a row that I badly underestimate my beloved team.
28. Sixers (Sixers) - bingo!
27. Magic (Lakers)
26. Kings (Magic)
25. Knicks (Kings) - I'm feeling pretty good so far, I must say.  I blew it on the Bucks & Wolves, but otherwise I'm solid on these bottom feeders.
24. Celtics (Nuggets) - Here's where things get shaky.  I just did not believe in Brad Stevens as an NBA coach.  It looks like I may be wrong on that.
23. Clippers (Pistons) - ugly
22. Pelicans (Hornets) - I underestimated how well they'd play during the dozen or so games Anthony Davis is assured of missing each season.
21. Hornets (Heat) 
20. Jazz (Jazz) - bingo!
19. Heat (Pacers)
18. Pacers (Nets)
17. Nets (Suns)
16. Warriors (Celtics) - a poor prediction by any measure
15. Suns (Bucks) - underestimated my own favorite team by fourteen friggin' spots.  So poor.
14. T-Wolves (Thunder) - I don't feel terrible about the T-Wolves here because they were crushed by injuries
13. Wizards (P-cans) 
12. Pistons (Wizards) - so close on the Wiz, but I badly overestimated what Van Gundy could do
11. Spurs (Raptors) - OK, so I misled you earlier.  I did have Spurs very close to sixth in the West, but I actually underestimated them significantly in my overall predictions
10. Bulls (Bulls) - bingo!
9. Nuggets (Mavericks) - Nugs had injuries and I didn't realize that Ty Lawson was un-rosterworthy, but this was still a big ol' miss
8. Hawks (Cavs) - very proud of this one
7. Mavericks (Blazers)
6. Blazers (Spurs)
5. Raptors (Grizzlies) - I was way too high on the Raps.  That won't happen again.
4. Grizzlies (Clippers) - almost a bingo
3. Rockets (Rockets) - bingo! 
2. Cavs (Hawks)
1. Thunder (Warriors) - another injury excuse

As always, a few ugly ones, a few good ones and a lot of close ones.

And now, without any further ado, the order of finish for the 2016 NBA season.

30) Some team decimated by injuries

Maybe I should just stop making this prediction.  Anyone who has followed the NBA closely knows that the worst team in basketball will be some team that gets hit by crippling injuries.  I should just get to who I think that'll be.

30) Los Angeles Lakers

Two years in a row!  

Byron Scott is such a bad coach.  Kobe is not a bad player yet, but he's getting close.  Their rookies look bad and their bench will probably be bad again.  

The fact that the Lakers got younger gives them a better chance of avoiding the 30th seed, but I just can't find any team that looks worse right now.  I hate to do it because the Lakers are such a big part of the League, but that's what I forsee: 30th place.

29) Not the Bucks

I still feel bad about that prediction last season.  I knew that I liked Coach Kidd and I knew that the Bucks had some solid vets (I picked them to be the sixth seed the season before, even!).  I picked them at 29 because I thought that they'd be on orders to tank.  I was wrong.  I'm sorry.

29) Philadephia 76ers

This one is so easy that I don't actually believe in it.  Their roster still looks too young and too untalented, but they will probably rise up a few spots.


29) New Orleans Pelicans

Anthony Davis is fragile as hell and the rest of the roster is already banged up.  If they start losing I wouldn't be surprised to see P-cans management start to get visions of Ben Simmons fluttering through their minds.  

28) Minnesota Timberwolves

What a difficult situation this is.  I feel so bad for the whole group up there.  I am hoping that the T-Wolves have a great season.  I hope they beat this ranking by a wide margin.  

27) Philadelphia 76ers

I like the tradition of picking the Sixers a spot or two higher than everyone else, so I'm going to keep that up.

26) Orlando Magic

I like Scott Skiles and I think that it was a mistake to choose John Hammond over him in 2013.  I think he is a top notch NBA coach, but I just hate this roster.  I liked Elfrid Payton at times last season, but the shine is off even him at this point.  Vucevic is the only real winner I see on this roster. 

25) Utah Jazz

The Jazz are a trendy pick to make the Playoffs and I can see why.  Gordon Heyward is an absolute stud, the frontcourt has toughness (Favors) & tallness (Gobert) and their guards are talented.  I am not convinced, though.  I also have serious doubts about Quin Snyder as coach.  

24) Miami Heat

I didn't believe the hype last year and I'm not gonna believe it this year.  

This looks like a bad team.  Wade, though he is the Last College Basketball Legend, is a shell of his former self.  We don't know what Bosh can do.  Whiteside appears to be legit, but I doubt that he can be the man the offense runs through.  And Goran Dragic turned back into a pumpkin last season after his surprising 2014 campaign.

Many, many people expect the Heat to be part of the group just below the Bulls and the Cavs, but I am not one of them.  

23) Toronto Raptors

Have you heard?  Kyle Lowry is skinny!  He's lighting it up in the pre-season!  They acquired DeMarre Carroll!  They have new uniforms!  And I expect them to suck!  

DeMarre Carroll's contract was a huge mistake.  Conventional wisdom is that contracts are "mistakes" for Salary Cap reasons.  I find that to be hogwash.  Contracts are "mistakes" when they upset team chemistry.  Chander Parsons's contract was a mistake because it pissed off Monta Ellis and ruined what could have been a Championship contender (remember, the Mavs were more competitive than anyone against the 2014 NBA Champion Spurs).  

Kyle Lowry is going to see DeMarre Carroll's contract and have the exact same reaction.  He may not be pissed off now, but he will be at some point.  I like Carroll a lot, but he does not get his own buckets.  Getting one's own buckets is a key part of the NBA salary hierarchy (with some exceptions, of course).  I think that the Raptors will struggle all season because Carroll's bucket-getting ability does not match his salary.

22) Milwaukee Bucks

Speaking of teams paying non-bucket-getters too much money, it's time to talk Milwaukee Bucks!

I kid, I kid.  Khris Middleton is a does not get buckets and he is paid too much money, but that's not the problem here.  The problem is they're soooo young.  Sometimes young teams meet expectations, but that usually only happens when Kevin Durant is on the roster.  There's no Kevin Durant here, folks.  I've looked.

I hope that the Bucks finish well above 22nd and there is a decent chance that they will.  In fact, at various times I had the Bucks pegged as high as 10th on this list.  In the end, though, I just couldn't overlook the youth of this team.  The NBA is an old man's game, no matter what certain people say.  Once the Greek Freak and a could of other key guys get older, the Bucks will be a force to be reckoned with.  Today, I see them as a mid-Lottery team in the East.

21) It doesn't matter

I know that I am being too negative on the Bucks.  I know that ranking the Pistons, Hornets, Knicks, Nets and Celtics ahea--

Wait a minute...

22) Boston Celtics

You know what, the Celtics stink.  They have looked good in preseason and they finished last season strong, but look at their roster.  Isaiah Thomas's all time best finish is a seventh seed in the East, and he's their best player.  They have a slew of big men, but everyone except Zeller and Sullinger probably should be benchwarmers.  Their guards and wings are a collection of guys who are all missing something from their game.

If Brad Stevens is the coach that a lot of people think he is, then the Celtics will probably beat this ranking.  I think he's overrated, though, and so I'm keeping the Celtics at 22.

21) Milwaukee Bucks

--d of the Bucks in the East.  And I know that supposed West doormats Portland and Denver (and maybe Dallas, in some people's eyes) haven't been mentioned yet.  Hopefully I'll be way off again and the Bucks will beat expectations by fourteen spots in these rankings.

20) Denver Nuggets

I really do not want to pick this team this low.  Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Ken Faried and Randy Foye are darned good basketball players.  Emmanuel Mudiay may win Rookie of the Year and they have quite a few young big men.

I think that the Nuggets are better than the average pundit gives them credit for, but ultimately I had to rank them low due to coaching.  I just do not see Michael Malone as a top echelon coach.  (Which begs the question, "then why are the Bucks, who are coached by top echelon coach Jason Kidd, ranked so low?"  Good question.  "Too much youth" is my answer.)

19) Hmm....

I'm really starting to realize that I like too many teams this season.  The Bucks and Nuggets could both be playoff teams.  That means that I view a whopping twenty-one teams as legit Playoff contenders, even after poo-pooing the prospects of so-called Playoff aspirants Miami, New Orleans, Toronto and Utah.  It's a tough League to predict, I tell ya.

I must move forward, however.  

19) New York Knicks

If I were a betting man (and I am, but I don't bet against the Bucks), then I would bet that the Knicks will beat the Bucks on opening night.  They have a lot of solid veterans, Carmelo is still a great scorer and their bench is underappreciated.  

Ultimately, though, the Knicks are coached by Derek Fisher.  I think Derek Fisher stinks as a coach.  I think that it is possible to be a great coach under the Triangle offense (Brian Shaw, who I think will be the next coach of the Knicks, would likely lead the Knicks to a solid Playoff seed if he were their coach, for example), but Derek Fisher is not that coach.  From reports, it appears that Phil Jackson is committed to Fisher as coach, and so I think that the 2016 season will be sacrificed in order to give Fish a chance to prove himself.

18) Dallas Mavericks

We go from a good team led by a bad coach to a kinda bad team led by a great coach.  Rick Carlisle is a great coach.  In fact, I fear predicting that the Mavs will miss the Playoffs in any year because I consider Carlisle to be one of the very top coaches in the game.  

The problem that I see with the Mavs is that same problem that everyone sees: not enough talent and too many injuries.  I don't see Carlisle letting the team get bad enough that they would be tempted to tank, but...

Wait a minute.  I remember writing that about someone else two years ago...  That's right: Rondo.

Change of plans...

18) Sacramento Kings

Rick Carlisle will not let his team finish worse than Rajon Rondo's.  I just don't see it happening.  So the Kings get put in 18th, even though I like DeMarcus Cousins.

17) Dallas Mavericks

OK, that's better.

In some ways it makes no sense to rank the Mavs ahead of the Kings.  The Kings have Boogie and Rondo may be back and Willie Cauley-Stein may be exactly what they need on defense.  Ultimately, though, I think that this team will find a way to lose more games than they should.  And Boogie is probably the modern day Kevin Love: a great Big who will need to leave town in order to make the Playoffs.

16) Detroit Pistons

We've reached the Playoff teams!  Congratulate yourself for getting this far.

I really want to rank the Pistons higher.  They have my favorite rookie (Stanley Johnson), an imposing Big man (Andre Drummond) and some real weapons on offense (Reggie Jackson probably tops among them).

Last season hurt, though.  I thought that Van Gundy was a slam-dunk Playoff coach, and he just wasn't.  I still think that Van Gundy is solid, but I am only giving them an 8th seed.

15) Annoucement

At this point I should emphasize an overarching prediction I have for the 2016 NBA Season: the East will be better.  Last season, the Thunder finished with the 14th best record in the NBA and they missed the Playoffs.  In 2014, the Suns were 11th and they missed out.

I am predicting that the East and West will split the top 16 best records.  It's a big ask for some of these East teams, like...

15) Brooklyn Nets

The Nets are pegged by some to be a bottom feeder, but I see a big, veteran team.  Jarrett Jack is an obvious concern, but Point guards are the easiest position to fill in the League.  (For example, I think that Brandon Jennings might be shipped to Brooklyn in exchange for Bogdanovic.  Jennings has never made any secret of his desire to star in New York or Los Angeles, and the Nets seem like a perfect fit.)

And in addition to the Nets, a lot of people would be surprised to see big things from the...

14) Charlotte Hornets

I think that Jeremy Lin is more than an October mirage here.  And if Lin is solid, then the Bugs' scorers (Kemba, Big Al), defenders (Batum) and big guys (Hansbrough, Zeller) will be able to do their things.  Plus they have Frank the Tank!

13) Houston Rockets

I almost had the Rockets out.

The mojo just feels off for the Rockets this season.  Last season I thought that the Rockets would be fueled by all of the media attention showered on Chandler Parsons.  That is gone.  I thought that Harden and Howard were a Wing/Big combo that the rest of the League wasn't ready for.  The League has now seen what they can do.  And I thought that their bench was one of the best in the League.  It may not be anymore.

The Rockets were on my list of surprise Playoff misses, but then I reconsidered at the last minute.  I like their combination of vets and youngsters, I like McHale and I think that Harden will pick up where he left off.  I am way lower on them this season than I was last season, but they're in.

12) Washington Wizards

John Wall and Bradley Beal are superstars.  If that statement is true, then the Wizards will not miss Paul Pierce and they will overcome whatever bench shortcomings (both coach and player) that exist.  If that statement is not true, then the should-be-Bullets are stuck in non-contender limbo for a while.

I like John Wall and I especially like Bradley Beal, but last year was a disappointment to me.  They seem to be closer to Jason Kidd & Jim Jackson than to Baron Davis & Jason Richardson (who were awesome!  I promise!).  I forsee the Wizards being a non-contender again.

11) San Antonio Spurs

Every summer my friend Nickrob and I "book the territory", which is old pro wrestling slang for when wrestlers have a few drinks and talk about how things aught to be.  Our "book the territory" sessions primarily involve choosing which teams we view as Playoff teams, then posting a picture of those selections on Instagram.  I booked the Spurs as a sixth seed, and to nobody's surprise I almost immediately heard complaints from Spurs fans.  Well, guess what Spurs fans: now I have the Spurs as a seventh seed.

I see age finally catching up with the Spurs.  (I also saw age catching up with the Spurs last year, but even though they were a sixth seed I think an honest assessment would say that age did not catch up with them.)  Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge are great players who are less aged, but I don't think it will be enough if Parker, Ginobili and Duncan fall off to the extent I expect them to.  Seventh seed.  That's my prediction and I'll stand by it.

10) Phoenix Suns

Let's make a deal: how about we agree to not look back and judge this choice at the end of the season?

I am probably overrating the Suns.  They have a lot of talent, their top guys are in the right age range and Jeff Hornacek is a superb coach, but they probably will post a worse record than the Rockets and Spurs.

So, why not just pick the Suns to be 13th or 14th?  I don't know.  I like Brandon Knight.  I believe that they have the right number of rotation-ready guys.  I think that they will compete hard every night and win more than 50 games.  But, again, let's not focus too hard on the unearned adoration I'm showering the Suns with.

9) Portland Trailblazers

Speaking of too high...  The Blazers are my sleeper team.

Is a five seed too high for my sleeper team?  Perhaps when that team loses four of its starting five, it is.  Perhaps when it replaces those four with internal bench players and role-player free agents, it is.  Perhaps when that team is in the West, it is.

My case for the Blazers is the following:  They have one of the top coaches in the League.  (Terry Stotts was the Bucks' coach for perhaps the 2007 Bucks, and his firing was probably the worst decision in a series of bad decisions that brought down a really fun Bucks group.)  They have a lethal backcourt and they acquired one of the best Wing defenders in the game (Al-Farouq Aminu).  They have a lot of young, athletic Bigs, which will allow them to play the type of active defense that the Blazers played while they were peaking early in the 2014 season.

In essence, I think that the 2016 Blazers will be the "2015 Bucks, done right".  Last season's Bucks were a surprise Playoff team on a likely path to the fifth seed (which is the seed I'm picking for the Blazers in the West).  The 2015 Bucks had a great -- though underrated at the time -- coach who got his team to play active defense.  And the 2015 Bucks had a superb Point guard who was the engine of the team on both offense and defense.  I believe that the Blazers won't trade their superb Point guard, thus sending the team into a tailspin that they still may not have recovered from.  So, fifth seed it is.

***WARNING: Entering the Contender Zone***

Eight contenders is an awful lot.  I know this.  Most NBA observers will probably choose three or four -- maybe even two -- and see the NBA Champion come from that group.  I, on the other hand, could see any of these eight take home the Best Championship Trophy In Sports come June.

8) Los Angeles Clippers

This team could be really tough in the regular season.  In fact...

8) Atlanta Hawks

Let's hold off on the Clippers for a while, as this is a regular season ranking.  I'll go with the Hawks in eighth place (fourth seed in the East).

People are disrespecting the Hawks this offseason.  The team won 60 games!  They acquired a solid Big (Splitter), which was what they needed.  They let DeMarre Carroll walk, which averted the locker room turmoil that I described for the Raptors.  They still have Teague and Horford and Milsap and Korver.  And a great bench.  Led by a great coach.  They could win 60 games again.

I have the Hawks in the Contender Zone, which means that they could win the NBA Championship.  Do I actually think they will?  You know what, I wouldn't be surprised.  I could see the Hawks learning from Cleveland last year and poaching a good Big man if it looks like that's needed.  Don't sleep on the Hawks.  I did in last season's Preview, but I've learned my lesson.

7) Golden State Warriors

Ah man, I am going to get crap about this one if they win 60+ games again.

The mojo feels off to me.  I could see the Dubs winning the Title, but during the regular season I expect them to fall to a four seed.  You know the team and you know what they do and you know that they will win a lot of games.  I just see three teams winning more games.

6) Chicago Bulls

Having the Bulls as a three seed in the East...

Wait a minute.  Just because the Bulls will be a three seed doesn't mean that they'll win more games than the West's four seed.

6) Golden State Warriors

7) Chicago Bulls

Warriors go up one and Bulls go down one.

I thought that the Bulls would have come out of the East last season if not for internal discontent.  I don't know why Tom Thibodeau lost his team, but from the outside it looked like he did.  The Bulls could have -- should have, really -- beaten the Cavs in the Playoffs last season and they might have been favored to progress past the Hawks and on to the Finals.

More or less the same Bulls team is back, and they even got a good rookie to boot.  Bobby Portis will be an active Big off the bench and any team likes having that.  The Bulls also poached the college basketball coach who observers felt coached a style that most closely mirrors pro basketball.  (I don't watch college basketball, so I have no strong opinion on Fred Hoiberg's coaching acumen.)  The Bulls are a contender, and they may even exceed this ranking.

5) Indiana Pacers

I can't hold out any longer.  I love what I see from the Pacers, but I just can't put them into the top four.

Here's my case: Frank Vogel is a great coach.  Monta Ellis will get to play the way he likes to play, and with good teammates to boot.  Paul George will be a very tough cover as a slim Big man.  Myles Turner could very well be rookie of the year.  Their bench and rotation guys are all solid NBA players who can play a role.  I envision this team coming together and winning a lot of regular season games.  I am less excited about their Playoff prospects, but if they make a move or two they could play for a long time come spring.

4) Oklahoma City Thunder

What is there to say that hasn't been said?

Actually, there is something to say: Kevin Durant's "keeping it real" personality is AWESOME.  I have come to love that guy.  Being prickly with the press -- especially those in the press who don't know what they're talking about -- is so endearing to me.  I worked as a media member for several UFC events in the past and you could see why athletes get annoyed.  I was part of the problem!  I would ask questions trying to get myself over, I would focus on stupid crap that had little to do with the competition I was supposedly covering and I would always gravitate towards the big stars, even if the lesser known guys deserved attention.  Everyone in the press does it and I love the fact that Durant just isn't gonna take it any more.  Plus I think that he will be impossible to handle this season on the court.

3) Cleveland Cavaliers

They are three only because they don't care about being one or two.  This is a stacked team.

In fact, being too stacked is the only thing that might sabotage this team.  No matter how much money one makes, athletes want to play.  And with LeBron getting older and developing into the type of guy who should be in the paint more, they have four athletes to fit into two Big man spots on the court.

I think Coach Blatt will work it out and I think that the Cavs will have a great regular season.  I wouldn't be surprised to see the Hawks, Pacers or Bulls beat them in the Playoffs, but I see them entering the postseason with the best record in the East.

1.5) Los Angeles Clippers

1.5) Memphis Grizzlies

How can I choose between these two?  I love them both.

There are so many similarities and so many polarities.  One plays in a large city and one plays in a relatively tiny city, but both struggle amidst larger sports forces (the Lakers and SEC football, respectively).  One has a big name coach and one has a coach that most NBA fans couldn't pick out of a police lineup, but both employ a physical style that wears down opponents (especially the Bucks, who have struggled against both teams over the last half-decade).  One team does a lot of talking while the other stays mostly silent, but they both are pissed off.  They both feel that they were better than the Dubs.  They both feel that injuries and/or circumstance robbed them of the chance to prove it.  They both feel that they were here before the Dubs, and thus that they should've gotten their crown before the Dubs.

The Clippers and Grizzlies have also had a great rivalry for years, mostly stemming from Zach Randolph's antipathy for Blake Griffin.  ZBo played great for the Clippers after many NBA folks had written him off during his forgettable Knicks run.  Coach/GM Mike Dunleavy, Sr. was all set to build around Baron Davis & ZBo when the franchise shockingly won the 2009 Lottery.  Like most people, Dunleavy, Sr. thought that Blake Griffin was the type of sure-fire star that a team cannot pass up on.  So Dunleavy, Sr. dumped ZBo on the Grizzlies for a song.  ZBo has never taken kindly to that slight and he has always appeared to take special pleasure in leaning on Blake Griffin whenever these teams match up.  The Griffin/ZBo rivalry has expanded beyond those two men as both teams have ascended to positions as perennial Contenders.

I just love watching it.  I love it every time Memphis and the Clips play each other and I especially love the war between Griffin and ZBo.  Neither man and neither team has his Championship, but I think that ends this season.  I don't know which team will ultimately raise the trophy, but I know that it will be fun as hell to watch the latest chapter in this story -- and the whole 2016 NBA Season -- unfold.

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