It’s weird writing off a team that are the defending world champions, but the media has been fairly gloomy about the Raptors since Kawhi Leonard traded the snow of the 6ix for the Beaches of LA. But there is a small bright side about the Klaw leaving, the East is a lot weaker. Don’t get me wrong, the Sixers and Bucks are a legitimate chance to take the title this year, but the West could have 4-5 teams that you could easily talk yourself into winning the trophy, including the Clippers, Lakers, Rockets, Nuggets and even the Jazz. This leaves the remaining Eastern Conference playoff spots fair game for teams who aren’t quite contenders including the Celtics, Pistons, Nets and, of course, the Raptors.
People are also forgetting about the strong core of Lowry, Ibaka, Siakam and the God of Wine himself Marc Gasol: a great mixture of wily veterans and young talent who can pretty much all score from most parts of the floor and defend well. The front office is showing faith in this core by locking them up with some big contracts (Lowry: 1 year – $31 million, Spicy P: 4 years – 130 million) whilst also taking on the big existing contracts of Marc Gasol ($25 million this season) and Serge Ibaka ($23 million this season).
Prediction: 6th seed – 1st round playoff defeat.
When you think about Eastern Conference NBA teams, people always forget about the Pistons. They seem to have a Spurs-esque quality where you just assume they are going to be in the hunt for the lower playoff seeds – never tanking for draft picks but not a serious contender either. In this wide open Eastern conference they have the pieces to cause some real headaches to some of the more favoured teams. Blake Griffin is a legitimate threat from the 3 point line (36.2%) and as a passer (5.4 APG), when healthy, and with shooters such as Luke Kennard, Reggie Jackson and the resurgent Derrick Rose, we could see a lot of drive-and-kick or high pick and rolls with Andre Drummond. They will need to play with more pace compared to last season (28th in the league), but they are a relatively deep team so they should be able to run 9-10 players deep.
Will they be a sexy team to watch? Probably not. But there is a good chance they could knock off some more prestigious teams if they aren’t careful.
Prediction: 5th seed – Conference semi-final defeat.
The unicorn has had a tumultuous 18+ months: brutally tearing his ACL, forcing his way out of the Knicks and some off-court issues that have threatened to derail his career. Despite this, Porzingis managed to secure a 5 year max contract, moved to a promising young team in the Dallas Mavericks, and seems to have spent the last 18 months shooting and lifting weights (looking very strong as a result).
In the first few games of the season, he hasn’t dominated but has put up strong performances in each game (26 ppg, 6rpg, 3apg and nearly 3 bpg) and seems to still be playing a lot in the power forward position, despite the league preferring a smaller lineup with a single big. Once he warms up to the pace of the NBA again he will be very hard to stop; no player has his combination of height (7’3”), wingspan (7’6”) and that sweet-sweet shooting stroke. He’s going to make a very strong case for all-star in the West with Luka, especially if the Mavs string some wins together.
Prediction: Bench All-Star – season averages (25ppg, 6rpg, 2.5apg, 2.5bpg, 1spg)