As NBA training camp - with roughly three weeks left to go - inches closer, there’s not much else to chew on (though the DBB Pistons player previews are on the horizon!). So today I’m going lay out my tiers for ranking NBA teams for the 2017-18 season. It’s now time to wipe away your off-season tears, gang. Just try not to strain yourselves too much to understand these tiers, because they are very scientific and analytical.
Tier 10: They’ll tank and they’ll mean it
Gunning for the worst record so they can have the most lottery ping-pong balls. Only one team can really pull it off without even breaking a sweat.
The Bulls are perhaps the one team this season that will successfully tank. They are ALL IN for tanking. They’ll tank really hard. They’ll tank all night long. The Bulls are Tanking Out Loud. They like big tanks and they cannot lie.
Basically, Chicago’s roster really blows. They’ve traded for Kris Dunn, Cameron Payne, and Jerian Grant in the last 18 months, but they still need point guard help. They haven’t brought back Nikola Mirotic... yet (?). Dwyane Wade enrolled his kids in schools in South Florida (which, according to my map, is not in Illinois). This team is awful, my god.
There is no Tier 9. That is the gap between the Bulls and every other NBA team right now.
Tier 8: Will fail at tanking by winning just a few too many games
Let’s face it, very few teams can pull off the amount of utter tank-iness efficiency that the 76ers pulled off the past few years. Those 76ers’ rosters were littered with fringe NBA players, with some palatable bench players here and there. Now that that torch has been handed to Chicago, the following teams don’t quite have the tank in them that the Bulls do.
Mike Budenholzer is too good of a coach and there are too many proud and decent vets on the team (Hi, Ersan Ilyasova! What’s up, Luke Babbitt?) to suck so miserably, not to mention there’s enough decent young players to compete as well. Plus, playing in the lousy East will help them suck less.
Mark Cuban is your owner and you drafted Dennis Smith Jr, who could be playing with one of his arms in a cast and still be twice as good as Reggie Jackson. But, you already knew that. Also, there’s Dirk Nowitzki.
This team so needs to tank, but it’s not happening with the current cast of characters, and coach Rick Carlisle is not one to lose well. They’ll win just enough to stay out of top 6 or 7 of the draft, which is really doing badly at tanking.
NEW YORK KNICKS
I had to look up their roster just to make sure they were as bent as I thought they were. They are very uninspiring, I’ll tell you that, yet they are somehow several steps up from the Bulls. At least the Knicks will score some points occasionally and have hope at point guard.
This tier ranking is subject to change based on Carmelo Anthony’s buyout situation. If he leaves, the Knicks could be in Tier 9 by themselves.
Check out their roster - it’s full of decent to pretty good guards and solid wings all around. Although there’s not much to their front court, they won’t really need it —after all, they’re in the East. They’ll probably win somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 games (which would be a big improvement over the 20 games they won last season).
There’s fun and talented players all over the roster, so they’ll win games. However, so much of basketball is about fit, and Orlando just doesn’t seem to have that (among other things) in recent years. I think you will find this cute — here’s a mention of Orlando Magic and playoffs in the same vicinity:
The Magic picked up veteran Marreese Speights in a much-approved move and can pair him with Bismack Biyombo off the bench. With Marreese Speights an offensive spark, Bismack Biyombo a defensive one, and both more than capable of rebounding, they should be comfortable in those roles.
The question here is to see where Jonathan Isaac fits. Speights might be the player who can produce the most immediately, serving the team’s still-present win-now mentality. But Isaac is undoubtedly the team’s future. Orlando is likely to prefer playing Isaac and giving him an opportunity. But if games get tight or the Playoff race tightens, Speights could push for minutes if the team needs the scoring.
Tier 7: Bad, but things are likely headed in the right direction (just be patient)
How marvelous it would be to have a bunch of young, talented players. Behold these teams.
Health is paramount for this team, not to mention gaining experience. As two of their top three players have never played an NBA game, there’s a pretty good chance this team is still bad this season. Philly fans will likely spin “bad” as mediocre, though. Don’t fall for it. They’ve been through a lot, so just have pity on them...until it’s apparent that the 76ers will be kings of the East. Then, and only then, go back to not caring about annoying, petty, and too-cocky Philly fans.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
Intriguing squad with a fun blend of youth and experience. If they were in the East they’d be in playoff contention. Pro-tip for rookie Lonzo Ball: Learn all you can from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on defense while you have such a prime opportunity. Some day you’ll be so glad you did, big baller.
They have quite a few nice pieces, though it remains to be seen if any have big-time star capability. Keeping the core of Devin Booker, Marquese Chriss, and Josh Jackson together should be a must. Dragan Bender, T.J. Warren, and of course Eric Bledsoe (Tyson Chandler too!) are strong trade chips to have at their disposal. And Alex Len is there too, sort of.
A well put together roster that would be looking at the playoffs if they were in the East - but they’re not, so a mid-30s win total is their ceiling this season. Willie Cauley-Stein and Skal Labissiere are worth watching on a nightly basis and their deep and intriguing group of rookies are not to be ignored.
Tier 6: Better than you think, but not going anywhere anytime soon
Your view on how depressing this situation is depends on your satisfaction with mediocrity.
The more I think about Indiana, the more I conclude that this season will not be as gloomy as it seems. Newcomers Cory Joseph, Bojan Bogdanovic and Victor Oladipo, combined with holdovers Myles Turner and Thaddeus Young, make for a team that can run and score. The 27-year-old Lance Stephenson is a wildcard if there ever was one. One reason for pessimism? Nate McMillan is still the coach.
Unless there’s a sudden rule change that allows Andre Drummond to dunk his free throws, he’s going to continue to be a terrible free throw shooter. Even if he improves on the offensive efficiency stuff (scrap the post-ups, Dre) he’s still a whole lot of money that’s sitting on the bench at the end of most games. Until Detroit rids itself of that problem, mediocrity seems like the ceiling. That’s a bummer, because several players such as Avery Bradley and Tobias Harris are the right types of second and third options for a strong team.
Charlotte will probably continue being a solid defensive unit and Kemba Walker isn’t fading anytime soon. Assume Nic Batum will bounce back from his awful shooting effort of last season and assume Dwight Howard will be quietly productive. Assume that most of the rest of their players will do their roles and do them well — nothing more and nothing less (and surely not anything spectacular). Do be careful though — you do know what they say about the word assume.
Tier 5.5: Who really knows?
Somebody probably knows - it’s just not me. (Merwinly? Merwinly will say he knows.)
NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
So desperate are the Pellies for small forward bodies that they recently held work outs for Josh Smith and a guy who hasn’t played in the NBA for two full seasons because of hip and back injuries in 30-year-old Martell Webster. Frankly speaking, their small forward issue shouldn’t even be an issue if Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins are alive and doing what they’re supposed to be doing. Besides sharing the ball with Jrue Holiday, Rajon Rondo knows where the ball should be passed to.
Tier 5: Rising and quickly on the way to relevance
Internal improvement will greatly dictate how far these teams go, not only for this season but for the future as well.
A good blend of young studs and role players, plus some older dudes who still have something left (hopefully, in the case of 37-year-old Jamal Crawford). What it all comes down to is the step Andrew Wiggins does or doesn’t take. Wiggins is one of the biggest X-Factors in the NBA.
There are still some glaring holes on their roster (Jason Terry, at age 39, is their backup shooting guard right now), but all it takes is Giannis Antetokounmpo matched with a couple of dependable secondary scorers to warrant a legitimate rise. Talented and versatile young big men Thon Maker and rookie D.J. Wilson might well be the front court of the future.
Tier 4: Good teams that won’t win a playoff series this season
Due to the strength and depth of the West, some of these teams will be sitting home come playoff time.
If Chandler Parsons and Tyreke Evans stay healthy then there’s a strong chance Memphis is playoff bound. With the NBA’s fast-paced, modern style as it is, the absence of Zach Randolph (along with Tony Allen still being in limbo) may not be such a bad thing. It’s only logical that the Grizzlies need better shooters and more versatility out of their wings to compete. They also need those shooters to stay healthy - unfortunately, they got off on the wrong foot in that department.
Defense won’t be a problem for his team with Rudy Gobert anchoring the middle. I’m not convinced their offense will be as broken as most are saying it will be: Rodney Hood, Joe Johnson, Alec Burks and Dante Exum will all have more responsibility (and opportunity) and Ricky Rubio might be just the perfect point guard to run this show. And I don’t know if any of you have heard of this slick rookie guard named Donovan Mitchell? He’s going to be a good one right away. Really, now, trust me — this Donovan Mitchell guy is fire. Remember his name, will ya?
While they are indeed rising with the signing of Paul Millsap and the growth of Nikola Jokic and Gary Harris, they still have holes at small forward, a surplus of power forwards, and no longer have the element of surprise. Denver must prove that they’re more than just a sexy team on paper. And they must act fairly quick with this group, as Millsap is 32.
Fun fact: Last season Denver posted, according to Basketball-Reference, the 35th-most efficient offensive season in NBA history.
I’m thinking this season for Miami will go either very well or very poorly — not much room in-between, like last season’s 41-41 mark. Over the summer they paid a ton of money to keep role players Dion Waiters and James Johnson around. That’s bold. Having said all that, their big three of Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside and Eric Spoelstra are all gamers. Can’t forget that rookie Bam Adebayo is in the mix now either!
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
The Clip Show will yet again compete for a playoff spot, but I’m still not certain it should have anything to do with head coach Doc Rivers now focusing solely on coaching. Although there are enough decent pieces outside Blake Griffin, Danilo Gallinari and DeAndre Jordan to be dangerous, there’s perhaps too many chuckers in Lou Williams and Austin Rivers to be taken too seriously. Austin Rivers really is why the Clippers can’t have nice things.
While Portland has awesome guard play and has Jusuf Nurkic being all Nurkic-y at you, they’re still far away from truly competing (read: winning a series) in the West. There’s just not much else on this team. Even Carmelo Anthony in his hoodie wouldn’t move the needle a whole lot.
Tier 3: Try all you want, you’re still just a pretender
You know how sometimes you can’t quite put your finger on something slightly amiss? That is definitely not the case with these obvious pretenders. Fingers all aboard.
Four straight seasons of at least 48 regular-season wins, but only one conference Finals to show for it. For this season, it could be headed the same way, as there’s not much new, impactful blood in Canada this winter besides wing C.J. Miles. True, rookie O.G. Anunoby might be a very good player down the road, but he’s likely a drop-off this season from departed glue guy P.J. Tucker. Unless the talented but unlikely stars such as Jonas Valanciunas and Norman Powell blow up beyond anyone’s wildest imagination, this team simply remains playoff fodder for the big boys.
Jodie Meeks and Kelly Oubre Jr. are Washington’s top bench players. Oubre Jr. is quite talented, though he shot only 28.7 percent from three last season. In a few years he’s going to be something, but right now it’s not great that he’s your team’s most lethal weapon off the bench. This team is just too top heavy and salary capped out. I guess we’ll see what’s going on with DeMarcus Cousins by the trade deadline.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
If Russell Westbrook and Paul George team up with each other for more than just this season, I know many people will be tempted to put them as a contender, as will I. This season is a different story, because this team’s evolution will take time.
I’m keen on second year shooter Alex Abrines’ defensive development. If he can play more minutes because of improved defense, then a scary lineup of Westbrook, Abrines, Andre Roberson, George and Steven Adams becomes a possibility.
And this, regarding the Thunder depth chart, sounds about right:
Wing forward: Paul George, Doug McDermott, Kyle Singler, Josh Huestis. Presti has added a superstar to this position and thus banished Singler to third-team. Not a bad day’s work.
Tier 2: Staying put might be enough, but one big trade could put them over the top
The Pistons traded for Rasheed Wallace in 2004 without giving up much. And we all know what happened.
Lately they’ve made some trades, but are more on the way this season? They still have lots of assets and some fine young wings to boot. They will be the likely Beasts of the East in a few years (unless LeBron is still in the conference) when Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are more refined and ready for stardom. For now, it’s Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward’s team. It’s going to take some time to gel, and when they do, watch out.
Houston’s top eight players are set in concrete, but still pretty darn intriguing. A Chris Paul-James Harden backcourt is _____ (you can fill in the blank how you want to). The addition of P.J. Tucker to their bench is a savvy move, giving them more positional flexibility and defensive ability. Clint Capela is improving year by year and will be feasting like he never has before next to CP3. Not much depth beyond the top eight on this team however, so you have to wonder if that will be their downfall come post- first round playoff series time.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
Rudy Gay’s health (he’s still recovering from a torn Achilles tendon) will play a huge part in the success of the Spurs this season. I figure Rudy is on board with winning games the Spurs way, and evidence of this is his willingness to take a cheaper deal (17.2 million for two seasons) to play in San Antonio. Rudy should prove to be a step up from the departed Jonathon Simmons, who is a talented player in his own right, but overall not in the same league.
Even more, I worry how the plodding Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge affects their chances of beating the Warriors in the playoffs. Although make no mistake, if this Spurs team is healthy and hitting on all cylinders, then I wouldn’t bet against Kawhi leading them past the Warriors.
Tier 1: Let’s finally cut the crap
For the fourth straight year it’s going to be the Cleveland Cavaliers versus the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.
P.S. Warriors center JaVale McGee is hitting three pointers now.
U grinded for it... that's why it feels right! pic.twitter.com/0COkeEGBnT— Javale McGee (@JaValeMcGee34) September 1, 2017
What took him so long?
So, DBBers, let’s have fun with tiers (maybe their names too) and the teams you think belong in them. Awaiting your names and selections. Anything you got. And do tell me if my selections are wacky in any way. Sometimes, I need someone to tell me I’m wacky.