Oct 8, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Dwyane Wade (3) reacts during the second half against the Indiana Pacers at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
A lot can happen over 24 weeks, and some roads to the playoffs are bumpier than others. Here’s a look at five possible postseason teams that won’t seem that way out of the gate.
The NBA season is a marathon, not a sprint. The struggles of October can lead to the triumphs of March and April.
Last season’s edition of the Portland Trail Blazers started the season 4-9 and went 14-21 through the 2015 half of their schedule. The Blazers eventually turned things around and went 30-17 in the new year. They clinched the fifth seed and were able to fight past the disintegratingLos Angeles Clippers in six games. This set up a matchup against the juggernaut Golden State Warriors. Portland fell in five games, but were able to prove they had the mettle to compete with elite teams.
This article seeks out five possible Portland Trail Blazers in 2016-17. Which teams, for whatever reason, could stumble out of the gate only to turn it around when things align? These five teams have circumstances stacked against them, but they still have the talent to push for the playoffs when the issues of October dissipate.
NEW YORK, NY – OCTOBER 15: The New York Knicks bench reacts after a basket against the Boston Celtics during the second half of their preseason game at Madison Square Garden on October 15, 2016 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
New York Knicks president Phil Jackson spent the summer assembling a team that can actually contend for the 2017 NBA Playoffs. A new head coach and eight new players will look to help Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis lead the Knicks to the playoffs for the first time in four seasons.
With so many new faces, lack of familiarity could be a problem early on. New coach Jeff Hornacek is tasked with teaching his team a new offense. It will be uptempo, a departure from previous Knicks offenses, and may include aspects of the increasingly unpopular triangle offense at the request of President Jackson. The new speed of the offense coupled with the complications of learning the triangle will probably lead to some unfortunate turnovers and mistakes along the way.
The Knicks will also have some early issues at the point guard position. Presumed starter Derrick Rose is out indefinitely dealing with his court case in Los Angeles. The electric-but-inconsistent Brandon Jennings has stepped in his place for the time being. Behind Jennings are rookies Ron Baker and Chasson Randle. Both have partially-guaranteed contracts that don’t need to be guaranteed until January. One of them may not be playing in Manhattan by the end of this month.
With time, the team will better understand and enjoy Hornacek’s offense. Rose will eventually return; from there he can begin his own assimilation into the gameplan. Assuming good health, the Knicks will find themselves in a good rhythm by the middle of the season and they can truly begin their playoff run.
Mar 21, 2016; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) gets defended by Detroit Pistons forward Marcus Morris (13) during the second quarter at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Pistons win 92-91. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
The Milwaukee Bucks endured a disappointing 2015-16 season that found them back in the draft lottery. Jason Kidd’s crew wants 2017 to be the year that rights the ship and puts them back in the postseason. If they do make it to late April, it will come at the expense of a trying November.
The biggest source of consternation stems from the shooting guard spot. Backup O.J. Mayo was served a two-year drug suspension at the start of July. Shortly thereafter, combo guards Greivis Vasquez and Jerryd Bayless were both lost in free agency. Two months later, starter Khris Middleton suffered a torn left hamstring. He will be out for six months.
To account for the losses, the Bucks drafted Malcolm Brogdon and traded for Matthew Dellavedova. When Middleton was ruled out, the Bucks traded for forward Michael Beasley and swingman Tony Snell. Milwaukee has worked to combat the apparent vortex present at the 2-guard spot. Now they have a roster full of new faces that will have to get used to a new offense and some unorthodox lineups.
Yes, while the shooting guards are in flux, this is also the team that will have Giannis Antetokounmpo running the point regularly. The idea of Point Giannis is incredibly exciting, but the natural forward will still have some miscues when he’s called to be floor general.
Big man Greg Monroe will also be coming off the bench. He’ll get starter’s minutes, but having the team’s leader in PER and win shares last season come off the bench is still a change of pace from how most coaches would utilize The Moose.
The Bucks are going to have mix-and-match lineups for a better part of the season. Once the lineups stabilize, Milwaukee will be able to work towards returning to the playoffs.
Oct 1, 2016; Bossier City, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans guard Buddy Hield (24) reacts to a made 3-point basket against the Dallas Mavericks during the first half at CenturyLink Center. Mandatory Credit: Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports
Things have been less than ideal for Alvin Gentry since he became head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans last summer. He has been dealing with extensive injuries on his roster since Day 1. It has been more of the same as the Pelicans enter Year 2.
Backup forward Quincy Pondexter missed all of last season after knee surgery and won’t return until November at the earliest. Starting swingman Tyreke Evans had multiple right knee surgeries and has had blood clots in his calves. He is not slated to return until December. Star center Anthony Davis sprained his ankle during a preseason game in China. Davis is being monitored and, as of this writing, is questionable to play on Opening Night. Starting point guard Jrue Holiday is out due to personal reasons involving his wife and newborn child. The organization has given Holiday as much time as needed to tend to his family.
The Pelicans’ opening month includes games against the Warriors (twice), Trail Blazers (twice), Celtics, and Spurs. With four key players – including three starters – out for various amounts of time, the losses could pile up early on for a talented, albeit snake-bitten, franchise.
INDIANAPOLIS, IN – OCTOBER 06: Rajon Rondo #9 of the Chicago Bulls looks on against the Indiana Pacers during a preseason game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on October 6, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Pacers defeated the Bulls 115-108. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
The Chicago Bulls were able to make some surprising splashes in free agency, adding NBA champions and All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. Joining forces with rising star Jimmy Butler, the Bulls could serve as formidable opponents once the regular season gets underway.
There’s only one problem: who’s going to shoot the threes?
Assuming a starting lineup of Rondo, Wade, Butler, Taj Gibson, and Robin Lopez, none of these players have any penchant for taking outside shots. The problem has been exacerbated with the recent acquisition of lanky point guard Michael Carter-Williams. In this modern era of the NBA where perimeter shooting is important, having a lineup that isn’t known for outside shooting could be a stumbling block for getting consistent victories.
Chances are head coach Fred Hoiberg’s offense will facilitate opportunities where these four players can get open outside shots in rhythm. Rondo has slowly begun to take more threes, shooting 36.5% on 2.4 attempts per game last year in Sacramento. Wade rarely shot threes well, if ever, during his seasons in Miami. However, in his last two playoff appearances (2014, 2016) he shot 44.7% from the outside on 47 total attempts. That playoff range will need to find its way to the regular season for the Bulls.
The shot opportunities could end up being more spread out than conventionally believed. It will still take a little more time for the Bulls to figure that out before they can make their playoff push.
Mar 9, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) reacts after a play against the Los Angeles Clippers during the fourth quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Westbrook is no longer the mercurial half of one of NBA history’s most dynamic duos. This time, he’s running the show for a full 82-game schedule.
The last time we saw the Westbrook Show was in 2014-15 when Kevin Durant suffered a Jones fracture in his right foot. The injury pestered KD for much of the year and provided Westbrook his chances to lead solo. The Thunder went 22-18 in games with Westbrook and without Durant.
While Westbrook The One Man Wrecking Crew seems like a fun idea, it is not sustainable over a prolonged season. A number of Thunder players will have to step-up in order to make the postseason. OKC will be able to figure that out in the opening months of the season.
The Thunder have already experienced growing pains with a preseason-opening overtime loss to Euroleague outfit Real Madrid. Oklahoma City finished the preseason with a 3-3 record despite the international hiccup. Steven Adams, Enes Kanter, and Victor Oladipo established themselves as secondary scoring options. Over the opening months, the Thunder will continue to adjust to not having an extra superstar.