I'll preface the rest of this article by saying that I'm not particularly good at these preseason predictions.
I did them last year for the first time and the results were ... Not good. I wrote about them here.
The highlights include:
The Spurs as a 4th seed (and losing in the 2nd round)!
Phoenix finishing LAST in the West.
Detroit making the playoffs
PHOENIX FINISHING LAST IN THE WEST
Anyways, that's in the past now. I can finally put that embarrassment behind me and move on with my life. Here are my 2014-15 NBA Predictions
* While the teams in this conference aren't quite as good as the West, it's just as competitive. The three best teams are Cleveland, Chicago and Toronto. More or less everybody agrees on this. After that, it's messy.
* I'm not going to lie - as I was writing this, I looked up other people's predictions to see if they also had the Nets missing the playoffs. Some did, some didn't, but I decided I was okay with being in the group that didn't.
* Piggybacking off that last bullet point, I think SVG is going to do a lot for that Pistons team. Not starting Smith - Monroe - Drummond is a step in the right direction. Getting Smith to take fewer bad shots will be a challenge, but if anybody can do it it's Van Gundy.
* I'm lower on the Heat than most, but I won't go so far as to say they miss the playoffs. As long as Wade doesn't miss an extended period of time this team is talented enough to make some noise. While the 7th seed may be slightly pessimistic (they could win the division, honestly), I think it'll take some time before they get their offense rolling and if you factor in some injury troubles, 6-7 is very possible.
* The Hawks are probably better than most people are giving them credit for. They're going to be well coached, and they were rolling last season before Al Horford got injured. As long as they stay healthy, I like them as a surprise team.
* The Bulls could finish as the #1 seed instead of Cleveland, but I think once the Cavs realize they're going to want the home court advantage in the ECF they may dial it up a little more than they're currently planning to.
* This conference is just ridiculous - there are 10 teams I could realistically see making the playoffs.
* I picked against the Spurs last regular season and I won't make the same mistake twice. Pop is so good at resting his guys over the course of the season that I don't even think it matters - they win no matter how much their stars play.
* OKC is going to miss Kevin Durant early - but Russell Westbrook is on the shortlist of guys that I think can carry a team during that time period. While they won't win as much as they would with KD, Russ is probably going to average something ridiculous like 33-7-5 in that time and will the Thunder to victory on a lot of nights. And when KD gets back well rested ... Oooh boy. Am I allowed to just pick them and say I have a hunch? Because that's what I'm doing.
* 4 through 8 could interchange in any way and I wouldn't be particularly surprised. The Warriors with a competent offensive system will be awesome. A healthy Memphis with a competent wing creator should do well. Houston has a healthy Dwight which should scare the socks off the rest of the league. Portland has as good a starting 5 as any team in the league. Dallas has some serious firepower on both ends now. It's going to be fun.
Champion and Awards
* I think this is the year the Thunder finally get over the hump and win it all. Does this probably require Scott Brooks to become better at coaching and their young guys to all make jumps? Yes. But they could have the two best players on the court at almost any given time, and that matters. I think these guys know that they've missed some opportunities in the past and that we're going to see a very motivated bunch.
* So if David Blatt does limit LeBron James' minutes like he says he will and Kevin Durant misses two months ... Who wins? I like both Dwight and Curry and flip-flopped on those two a few times. I'm not sure Dwight will get the credit he probably deserves with Harden around. Blake and CP3 will still split the Clippers vote. And that leaves Curry, who will be the best player on one of the West's top teams. Derrick Rose is another candidate, but that would require nearly 82 games out of him and I refuse to bet on that.
* Picking the Heat 7th and Spoelstra to win COY seems counterintuitive but I'm doing it anyways. While this team may start slow, I think they will consistently improve throughout the year and a lot of that will be the adjustments made by Spo.
As I mentioned at the top of this post, I'm not very good at this. If you're a Lakers fan you can probably feel pretty good about me picking your team to finish last in the West - that spot in particular haunts me.
This NBA season feels more wide open than years past with so many talented teams throughout the league. While the offseason has been dominated by talk about the bad teams (can we stop talking about the 76ers yet?) I think this season will provide us some of the most entertaining basketball any of us can remember.