By Eduardo Monk Jr
Here we go again folks, the NBA season is on the horizon and the laughably unbalanced conferences have returned right along with it. And after an offseason seeing basically every big name in the East migrate to the West, the NBA has a bit of a problem on their hands. And that’s not to say the problem hasn’t existed before, it’s just a whole lot worse going into this season.
The difference between the talent pool in the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference is like comparing the populations of China and Vatican City. It’s wildly unbalanced and because of that, teams in the West who deserve a playoff spot, miss out completely while teams in the East who go well under .500 are rewarded with a playoff appearance.
This has lead to most pressuring the NBA to switch to a sixteen seed playoff format where the top sixteen teams make the playoffs instead of the traditional eight teams per conference. And it’s something commissioner Adam Silver is seriously considering. Talent balance is out of his control-but making the playoffs exciting despite this is.
Obviously, for now, the NBA is sticking with what it’s done for years now, the traditional conference formatting but if the NBA were to switch to a sixteen seed playoffs, who would make it? And who’s going to make it with the classic formatting?
To ring in the new year, let’s predict the playoff contenders for both sixteen seed and the normal playoff format.
Sixteen Seed Format
1.Golden State Warriors
Kept their core of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green together? Check. Added solid depth pieces of Omri Casspi and Nick Young? Check. Single-handedly trigger an arms race that basically weakened the Eastern conference to oblivion? Done and done. The Warriors are the kings of this league and it isn’t even close.
The offseason started slowly for LeBron and the Cavs. It ended with a total revamp of the roster that turned a team getting strangled 4-1 in the Finals to a team that looks like a genuine threat to the Dubs. Bringing on the services of former MVP Derrick Rose is a high reward, low-risk move along the Dwyane Wade signing. Moving on from Kyrie Irving for proven starters in Jae Crowder and Isaiah Thomas (ignoring the hip injury) restocked the cavalry enough to, at the very minimum, smoke every team in the league not named the Warriors.
The Celtics are fresh off the best offseason they’ve had since 2007 with the formation of their Big Three. They won the Gordon Hayward sweepstakes, they moved an injured 5 foot 9 point guard, a first and an average defensive starter for Kyrie Irving and with the Brooklyn Nets pick they robbed, they were able to select the most offensively polished player in a loaded draft. Well done, Danny Ainge, well done.
4.San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs have been quietly dominating the league without egregious talent for years now and there’s no reason to believe that will end this year. Kawhi Leonard is still an annual MVP candidate and Gregg Popovich is still arguably the top head coach in the game. And yeah, proven stars of the show Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are barely hanging onto their last legs of their careers but with a little more fuel in the tank, this is still a Spurs team that was only six wins below probably the most talented team in NBA history.
5.Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder are a confusing team. Russell Westbrook and Paul George are top ten players in the league and Carmelo Anthony looks to return to all-star form. The talent is breath-taking but all three of these players are heavily reliant on ball dominance and the isolation game. How well they will mesh will directly affect how well they do in the standings. If the three can learn to share the ball and develop a Warriors-esque chemistry, it’s a scary squad. However, a season full of stepping on each other’s feet and getting each other’s way is more than possible. Either way, a team with this much talent simply can’t fall out of the top five.
The Rockets fall into the same category as the Thunder. Both James Harden and Chris Paul are top ten players but their success hinges on their ability to harmonize. Paul isn’t as ball dominant, but as one of the greatest pure point guards ever, he needs to ball in his hands to succeed on the offensive side with his passing. If he isn’t allowed to handle the ball the way he can and Harden carries nearly all of the offensive load as in years past, Paul can’t do what he’s best at-setting up teammates. Both players are captains of the ship but how well they can co-captain will define this season for the Rockets.
No matter how you slice it or dice it, the T-Wolves are going to be a good team this year and are only going to get better. The addition of Jimmy Butler solves almost every weakness the Wolves had a season ago and the further development of Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony-Towns means golden days are just around the corner for Minnesota. They may not go that far this season, but it’s not going to be much longer until they can get the championship parades rolling.
Has the Process finally been Processed? Who knows but from a talent standpoint, this is an exciting roster. Even if they can’t gel this year or the youngsters haven’t developed all the way yet, this is still a team that will be tearing the league up a couple seasons down the road. However if Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons can stay healthy and Markelle Fultz can live up to the hype, there’s little doubt this team is capable of the playoffs and then some.
What is there even to say about the Raptors anymore? A team sporting a backcourt of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry simply can’t miss the playoffs but they aren’t going to do much more than that. They didn’t do much in the offseason, for better or worse. They have been deadlocked in No Man’s Land for years now and they have done next to nothing to escape. Prepare for another 45 win season and second-round exit, Toronto.
10.Los Angeles Clippers
Losing Chris Paul is a blow that they really won’t fully recover from but at least they were able to revamp the notoriously bad bench from that deal. The season relies on Blake Griffin to return to superstar form and how well 30-year-old rookie Miloš Teodosić can run this team. Teodosić has torn up the Euroleague for years and finally gets his chance to flaunt his passing prowess on an NBA stage. Lob City may not be dead just yet, folks. Or it is and the Clippers revert back to cursed mode.
John Wall has been knocking on the door of superstardom since his rookie year and if this is the year he finally breaks the door down, we’re in for a show. The Wizards don’t boast insane talent but they do have solid chemistry, ranking seventh in assists as a team from a season ago. If Bradley Beal and Wall combine to be undisputedly one of the top backcourts in the league, that along with the teamwork could combine for a strong season.
The Bucks are a gang of outcasts that don’t seem to fit anywhere except with each other. Giannis Antetokounmpo can do anything basketball related and doesn’t fit any mold. Khris Middleton is a skinny shooter who isn’t a great shooter. Jabari Parker is Andrew Wiggins lite when healthy. Malcolm Brogdon was probably the worst rookie of the year of all time. However there is enough talent to qualify for a playoff spot. But until Giannis gets some more help, they’re not making much noise.
The addition of all-star Paul Millsap to compliment out of the blue star Nikola Jokic creates among the best frontcourt tandems in the league. Emmanuel Mudiay is starting to piece things together and this Nuggets squad looks to be pretty solid. They’re not world beaters, but they’re a low seeded playoff team for sure.
14.New Orleans Pelicans
Maybe this is the season Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins finally coincide and start to tear through opposing teams with a defensive and inside scoring attack like never before seen. Or the duo just falls flat on its face and they just get in each other’s way like never before seen. Either way, a low playoff seed is shooting pretty low for a team sporting the top two big man in the league. Really, this is the worst case scenario. If Rajon Rondo can revert to at least round one against the Celtics Rondo, the Pelicans are in good shape. Or they just squeak their way into the playoffs with easy dunks and blocks.
Could this be the year Kemba Walker ascends to elite point guard status as we all thought he could last season? He exhibits a rare swiftness and a deadly step back on a nightly basis and this possibly is the year he breaks out like the Hornets need him to. The Dwight Howard experiment is one that has failed multiple times in the past and the Hornets are potentially the next victim. With an elite Kemba Walker and topped with offensive stud Malik Monk, however, it’s a team that could stumble their way into the playoffs.
16.Portland Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard is angry and he’s nearly impossible to stop when he’s angry. Problem is no one else on his team shares this drive. CJ McCollum is a strong secondary scorer but there is next to nothing to help carry the load with Dame. He’s going to be carrying this team once again and barring rookies Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan mightily exceeding expectations, it’ll be a tough road to even land the sixteenth seed.
Just see above.
Again see above.
You know the drill
Would you look at that, just see above.
The Heat are a team living off a pure magic. There’s no reason they’re good, they just happen to win enough games to be a playoff team. I’m not even sure if they know what they would do if they were a playoff team. Either way, this is the East and they’ll probably make the playoffs by accident.
Andre Drummond has never been a bad center. He’s just never been a good center. However, Avery Bradley is going to be a huge help this year and there is enough decent role players on the roster to pull off a playoff appearance in the legendarily weak East.
1.Golden State Warriors
Just see above for all of these.
2.San Antonio Spurs
3.Oklahoma City Thunder
6.Los Angeles Clippers
- New Orleans Pelicans