NBA win totals for the Detroit Pistons and the rest of the league

Apr 24, 2016; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Detroit Pistons forward Stanley Johnson (3) gets a rebound over Cleveland Cavaliers guard Iman Shumpert (4) during the fourth quarter in game four of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Cavs win 100-98. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

It’s never too early to project win totals for the Detroit Pistons and the rest of the NBA, so let’s get the sizzling hot takes started on Piston Powered.

Somehow it seems like a lot longer than four months since the Detroit Pistons made the playoffs and battled the Cleveland Cavaliers in a hard-fought four game sweep, but we’re finally nearing actual basketball action once again.

Training camps get started in a couple of weeks, preseason games begin in early October, and before we know it the Pistons will open their season on October 26th in Canada against the Toronto Raptors.

That means that it’s prediction season. Projections of win totals, awards and hot takes are going to be inundating you soon from all directions. Don’t worry about those. These win total projections are the only thing you’re going to need going forward as you prepare for another season of Piston basketball.

I’m going to run down the win totals for each team, divided up by division, ordered from worst to first.

I’m also going to touch on any interesting details about the given team in question, which means that teams like the Brooklyn Nets are going to be a virtual afterthought in the proceedings. Sorry Brooklyn. Can’t help you.

Without further delay, let’s take a look at the good, bad and ugly that the NBA has to offer in the 2016-17 season.

Apr 24, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) reacts while playing against the Golden State Warriors in the second half in game four of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Golden State Warriors won 121 to 94. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Southwest Division

New Orleans Pelicans

Record: 35-47

A season after a disappointing 30-52 campaign, the New Orleans Pelicans are poised for redemption. In my projections, they’ll improve by five games and be a bit more competitive. That said, there are questions to be answered on this roster and by this coaching staff.

Former Piston coach Alvin Gentry started his Pelicans’ tenure with high expectations and the jury is still out on just what he brings to this team. At times this roster did not resemble an NBA-level team, and there’s only so much any coach can do with that.

Anthony Davis is a superstar in the making, if he’s not already there, but he can’t create his own shot reliably and the rotating corps of backup-quality point guards he was dealing with last season couldn’t put him in positions to succeed. Tyreke Evans only played 25 games last season, and he won’t be ready to start the 2016-17 season.

Jrue Holiday played a productive 65 games last season, and his ability to stay healthy and on the floor might be the most important element to this team exceeding the 35 wins I project for them.

Dallas Mavericks

Record: 40-42

The Dallas Mavericks did what they had to do this offseason, much like they’ve been doing ever since things fell apart with DeAndre Jordan last summer. They’ve taken the moves available to them, like taking the Golden State Warriors castoffs in Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes.

They’re good moves, relative to what they have to deal with, but it’s not going to be enough for them to keep pace and make it back to the playoffs. Dirk Nowitzki made sure to get paid this offseason, signing a two-year $50 million contract.

It’s a subtle sign that the Mavs know they’re on the downside, and it’s alright that they are. They’ve been highly competitive for the greater part of two decades, making the playoffs in fifteen of the last sixteen seasons. Things have gone badly for them the last couple years, so Dirk can get the money he deferred and he can age semi-gracefully as his career winds down.

No playoffs this year in Dallas.

Houston Rockets

Record: 42-40

Playoffs! Points! Non-stop action!

The Houston Rockets will be exciting and explosive with James Harden‘s union with new head coach Mike D’Antoni and the additions of guys like Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon. They might even be a touch better in spite of losing Dwight Howard to the Atlanta Hawks via free agency.

They might be better, but they won’t be able to stop anybody. D’Antoni’s Phoenix Suns in the mid-2000’s weren’t as bad on defense as they were reputed to be, but this roster isn’t built to slow teams down. The Rockets might lead the NBA in games with a total score of 250 points or more, and James Harden might lead the NBA in scoring.

I have the Rockets being the eighth seed in the Western Conference. They’ll meet certain doom in the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs.

Memphis Grizzlies

Record: 45-39

The Memphis Grizzlies put the band back together for another go around, resigning Mike Conley to a five-year $153 million contract. Yeah, Mike Conley is the highest paid player in NBA history. While that seems like a bit of a stretch, if the Grizzlies didn’t bring him back, they would be resigned to the lottery for the foreseeable future.

They also brought Chandler Parsons into the fold. Parsons signed a four-year $94 million contract with the Grizzlies. He hasn’t played more than 66 games in a season since 2013-14 and has never played more than 76 games, so health is a concern for him.

The Grizzlies are an aging team with injury concerns, so if a key player goes down for any sustained period (much like all of them did for portions of last season) this prediction of 45 wins could be generous indeed.

San Antonio Spurs

Record: 55-27

The San Antonio Spurs are the clear choice for the second best team in the Western Conference behind the Golden State Warriors. The Spurs will be looking to follow up a 67 win campaign last season.

The Spurs had one of the most dominant seasons in NBA history last season and it will largely be forgotten thanks to the existence of the Golden State Warriors. San Antonio is still a threat in the West, but the Warriors are going to be simply too overwhelming.

The Spurs lost Tim Duncan to retirement, but added Pau Gasol via free agency. Considering Duncan struggled to contribute on the floor last season, Gasol is a clear upgrade.

Jun 8, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) brings the ball up court against Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) during the third quarter in game three of the NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Pacific Division

Los Angeles Lakers

Record: 16-66

I have the Los Angeles Lakers with the worst record in the NBA. Not just that, but a record worse than last season’s dreadful 17-65 campaign. Of all 30 teams, my Twitter win projections got the most hate from Laker Nation, so here is my rebuttal.

Byron Scott is finally and mercifully gone, replaced by rookie head coach and former Laker Luke Walton. Walton coached the Golden State Warriors on an interim basis to start last season and led the Dubs to an incredible 29-0 start. On paper this looks like a coaching upgrade. It probably is. It may be a while until we can be sure of that, though, because Stephen Curry ain’t walking through that door.

Walton benefited from a transcendent performance from one of the most explosive players in our generation. With the Lakers, he’ll have Jose Calderon and Jordan Clarkson in the backcourt. Timofey Mozgov is a rich man now thanks to the largesse of the Buss family and his new four-year $64 million contract.

The Lakers also added Luol Deng. Deng averaged 13.7 points per 36 minutes last season with the Miami Heat. Nick Young is the longest-serving returning Laker. Yi Jianlian is back in the NBA, which is cool. Jianlian has averaged 7.9 points per game in the 272 NBA games he’s played in his career, none of which have come since 2012.

Kobe Bryant is gone, as is Roy Hibbert. These are both good things, and the Lakers are younger as a result. That’s a good thing too, or at least it will be in a season or two as D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram mature together.

In the meantime, this is a team that plays in a division with the Warriors and the Los Angeles Clippers, and they’re not better than the Phoenix Suns or the Sacramento Kings. In fact, they’re not BETTER than anybody in the NBA.  They won’t be favored in more than a handful of games this season, and youth will not work in their favor at this point in their development.

The Lakers are bad. It won’t be pretty. Come at me Laker Nation.

Sacramento Kings

Record: 33-49

The Sacramento Kings had yet another season to forget in 2015-16, going 33-49. Things weren’t easy for the Kings or head coach George Karl, and he was mercifully shown the door after the season ended.

The Kings upgraded at coach this offseason and brought in Dave Joerger, formerly of the Memphis Grizzlies. The Kings also brought in former Detroit Pistons Anthony Tolliver and Arron Afflalo. Never a franchise afraid of total disaster, they also signed Ty Lawson and Matt Barnes.

They still have DeMarcus Cousins, but as the NBA’s most team-friendly contract nears its end after the conclusion of next season, time is ticking to move him somewhere that would allow them to get some value for him. Barring some unforeseen event, he’s not coming back to Sacramento once his contract expires.

It might be a bit cynical to project no improvement whatsoever for the Kings this season, but the Kings are a franchise that make it easy to be cynical.

Phoenix Suns

Record: 33-49

Gone are the heady days of 2013-14 when the Phoenix Suns shocked the world and just missed the playoffs with 48 wins. They declined to a more reasonable 39 wins in 2014-15, and they experienced unmitigated disaster last season with a 23-59 campaign.

They split up the Morris twins, sending Marcus Morris to the Detroit Pistons for next to nothing, and the ensuing apocalypse led to both the firing of head coach Jeff Hornacek and the shipping of Markieff Morris east to the Washington Wizards.

Former Detroit Pistons’ point guard Brandon Knight played just 52 games due to injury, and Eric Bledsoe had a disastrous injury-riddled season in which he only played 31 games. If this backcourt duo can’t stay healthy, 33 wins may be generous.

Los Angeles Clippers

Record: 54-28

The Los Angeles Clippers are swiftly and surely blowing through Chris Paul‘s peak and are risking doing the same with Blake Griffin. The Clippers won 53 games last season in spite of getting just 35 games out of Griffin.

Paul is a year older and not likely to get healthier as he ages either. For that matter, Griffin hasn’t played more than 67 games since 2013-14. His health and contributions will be essential the Clippers prospects if they want to compete in the upper echelons of the tough Western Conference.

Also, J.J. Redick is awesome and so is his podcast.

Golden State Warriors

Record: 66-16

Ah yes, the only team that actually matters in the Western Conference. The Golden State Warriors won 73 games last season and then went out and got better. A whole lot better. The Warriors lost Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut, but added David West and Zaza Pachulia.

Also Kevin Durant.

The Warriors will win as many games in the regular season as they want, injuries notwithstanding. If they stay healthy, they can beat their regular season win record. 75 wins is not out of the realm of possibility if they decide to go for it.

That said, I’m not going to be projecting 70 win seasons in September. There’s always the slight chance that it takes them time to get on the same page, but as a starting point they could plug Durant into Barnes’ role and decimate everything in sight.

Injuries and the Cleveland Cavaliers are the only things that can stop the Warriors this season.

Also, I’m obligated to mention Stephen Curry any time I speak of the Warriors.

Stephen Curry.

May 26, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) is defended by Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) in the fourth quarter in game five of the Western conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena. The Warriors won 120-111. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Northwest Division

Denver Nuggets

Record: 35-47

I am admittedly low on the Denver Nuggets at this point. I think they’re going to be better than their 33-49 record of a year ago, but it’s hard to improve in the NBA, and especially the Western Conference.

The development of Emmanuel Mudiay will be crucial to this team improving measurably. A season after shooting 36.4 percent from the floor and 31.9 percent from three-point range, he’s going to have to take a step forward for the Nuggets.

The return of Wilson Chandler will also be significant. He did miss the entire 2015-16 season, coming off a 2014-15 campaign in which he averaged 13.9 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. The Nuggets may be poised for a step up, but they aren’t likely to lean into that step for another season or so.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Record: 35-47

A lot of people have the Minnesota Timberwolves making the playoffs this season. I don’t. You might think that means I’m not high on this team, but you would be wrong.

I think this will be one of the most interesting and exciting teams this coming season, but I don’t think they’re ready to do a lot of winning. They’re going to be fun though. Another season of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine together is going to be awesome.

Throw in rookie Kris Dunn, and you have everything you want in an entertaining young team that is going to grow by leaps and bounds over the next season or two.

They may not be ready for prime time yet, but that you should still be watching every game you can on NBA League Pass.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Record: 44-38

The Oklahoma City Thunder are sure to take a step back after losing one of the best players in the NBA in Kevin Durant this offseason.

Following up a 55-27 campaign in which they came minutes from unseating the mighty Golden State Warriors (and thereby surely locking up Durant for at least another season, if not five), the Thunder are going to have to figure out how to make things work in his absence.

The main plan will be to give the ball to Russell Westbrook and clear out. He’s always been a one-man wrecking ball, and he’s going to get a whole season to show it now that he’s the clear-cut alpha in Oklahoma City.

The Thunder remain a playoff team even with the absence of the transcendent Durant. They’ve taken steps to add Victor Oladipo and Ersan Ilyasova in a trade with the Orlando Magic for Serge Ibaka, and they also added 11th overall pick Domantas Sabonis in that same trade. OKC isn’t afraid to pull the trigger, so there may be more moves in the Thunder’s future going forward this season.

Portland Trail Blazers

Record: 45-37

The Portland Trail Blazers pulled off quite a feat in 2015-16. After a terrible (but not unexpected) 16-29 start to the season, the Blazers caught fire. They went on a torrid 29-8 stretch to finish the season and took the five seed in the Western Conference with a 44-38 record.

They capitalized on an injury to Chris Paul in the first round of the playoffs against the Los Angeles Clippers and took that series down in six games, and then moved on to push the Warriors in five hard-fought games in the conference semifinals.

After being a team that found success in a cost-effective fashion, the Blazers broke the bank. They matched an offer sheet from the Brooklyn Nets for Allen Crabbe, and are now paying him $75 million over the next four season. They also extended C.J. McCollum and will be paying him $106 million between 2017-18 and 2020-21.

The Blazers paid dearly to keep the band together, and that may hamstring them down the road.

Utah Jazz

Record: 51-31

Other than the Golden State Warriors, the Utah Jazz might be the most improved team in the NBA this season. They have virtually unmatched depth and they’ve perfectly tended to their biggest weakness from a season ago and added a point guard. George Hill will be the floor general this team needs and he should complement this balanced offense and stout defense perfectly.

In addition to Hill, the Jazz have brought Boris Diaw and Joe Johnson into the fold, and they expect to have Dante Exum back to start the season.

The Jazz battled injuries last season and struggled to a 40-42 record, but this season should be different. They can handle injury concerns with their added depth, and they have talent from top to bottom that is going to be hard for most teams to match.

It’s hard not to be excited about this Jazz team.

Mar 25, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Wizards guard John Wall (2) looks to move the ball during the second half against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Verizon Center. Minnesota Timberwolves defeated Washington Wizards 132-129 in double overtime. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Southeast Division

Orlando Magic

Record: 35-47

I’ll say this for the Orlando Magic: They aren’t afraid to make a trade. They don’t usually win them, but by God they’ll give it a shot. The Detroit Pistons in particular put them through the ringer this past season, sending them Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova in exchange for Tobias Harris. Then the Detroit Pistons shipped Jodie Meeks to the Magic in exchange for a future second-round draft pick.

Jennings was not retained and is now a member of the New York Knicks, Ilyasova was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder as part of a package for Serge Ibaka, and Jodie Meeks may not be ready for the start of the season.

The trade of Harris was ostensibly to clear cap space for a big free agent splash, and they ended up spending that money on Jeff Green, Bismack Biyombo and former Detroit Pistons’ point guard D.J. Augustin. Not great.

They did upgrade at coach, however. They brought in former Indiana Pacers‘ head coach Frank Vogel, and his addition might be the single thing Magic fans can feel good about this offseason.

Miami Heat

Record: 35-47

The Miami Heat had another rough offseason. Dwyane Wade is gone, off to the Chicago Bulls. Chris Bosh is a big unknown for the coming season and it’s hard to predict what to expect from him. As a result, my projection assumed 45 games from Bosh (an admittedly arbitrary number) and went from there. If he plays more, it stands to reason the win totals will rise accordingly.

Last season’s surprise rookie breakout, Josh Richardson, is set to miss the next six-to-eight weeks after partially tearing his MCL about a week ago in an offseason workout. With no Wade and no Richardson at the shooting guard spot until at least the middle of November, enter premiere offseason acquisition Dion Waiters. He’ll get some run while Richardson recuperates.

There isn’t a whole lot to be excited about with the Heat going into this season, and if Bosh can’t come back, there’s nothing to be excited about.

Washington Wizards

Record: 37-45

There’s trouble in the Washington Wizards‘ paradise. John Wall tends to not be a big fan when he thinks inferior players are getting paid more than him (ask Reggie Jackson), so he seems to not be thrilled at Bradely Beal‘s five-year $127 million deal.

Of course, we’ve all had coworkers we thought were unreasonably elevated or we just didn’t like, and things still go just fine. It probably won’t affect much. Both players are aware they don’t get along, and that will be that. If things go south early for the Wizards though, expect the narrative to replace reality.

The Wizards fired Randy Witten this offseason and hired Scott Brooks in his place. It may have been a bald-faced effort to sway Kevin Durant to come home to Washington. If so, it failed miserably.

We have yet to see how Brooks coaches without multiple top-five talents like Durant and Russell Westbrook on his roster, so this new test will give us the truest idea of just what he brings to the table as a coach.

He’ll have Markieff Morris to deal with. That should be fine.

Charlotte Hornets

Record: 44-38

The Charlotte Hornets might be one of the harder good teams to pin down. They’re down a competent reserve guard in Jeremy Lin, they’re down Al Jefferson. They did add Roy Hibbert though, which can’t even be considered a parallel move at center.

A lot of what happens with the Hornets will hinge upon Michael Kidd-Gilchrist‘s health. He suffered two devastating right shoulder injuries last season. Questions about his ability to stay healthy hold the Hornets back a bit in the win projections.

Kemba Walker will have an important role to play this season. He had a career year, scoring 20.9 points per game and shooting a career-high of 37.1 percent from behind the arc. While MKG’s health is important, Walker remains the most important key to this Hornets’ team.

Atlanta Hawks

Record: 44-38

The Atlanta Hawks will start the season down a big man in Al Horford, and up a new big man in Dwight Howard. The Hawks parted ways with Horford in a bit of a weird sequence in which they signed Howard and then made some efforts to reunite with Horford, but it was too late. The big man was on his way to the Boston Celtics.

They also moved Jeff Teague to open the path for Dennis Schroder, who will likely be a downgrade at point guard. Throw in some likely tension due to the Hawks trying and failing to trade Paul Millsap, and you may have a team ready to decline a notch or two from their 48 win performance a season ago.

Not much, mind you. Just a four-win decline to 44 wins.

May 15, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) drives to the basket as Miami Heat forward Justise Winslow (20) tries to defend during the fourth quarter in game seven of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre. The Toronto Raptors won 116-89. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Atlantic Division

Brooklyn Nets

Record: 17-65

The Brooklyn Nets were bad last year, winning just 21 games. Don’t expect them to reach that lofty total again this season. They did bring in Jeremy Lin, Luis Scola and Greivis Vasquez, which is cool. They also added Randy Foye, which isn’t bad.

That’s not to say this is any better a team. The Nets have a revamped front office with San Antonio Spurs’ alumni Sean Marks running things, so they’ll be good eventually. Unfortunately, since they don’t own their own sure-to-be lottery pick this year, it won’t be this year.

The future is bright, but not the immediate future, and it’s only bright because one imagines that an executive who has worked with Gregg Popovich couldn’t help but pick up a tremendous amount of basketball wisdom.

Hopefully these things bear out, because it’s the only thing the Nets and their fans have to pin their trust in.

Philadelphia 76ers

Record: 19-63

So close to 20 wins, but not quite there.

Unfortunately, 20-win seasons are earned, not given. A year removed from one of the worst seasons in NBA history with a 10-72 record, they were almost as bad as the Warriors were good. Needless to say, that’s a feat and a half.

The Sixers are better this year, needless to say. They should have Joel Embiid back, finally. Ben Simmons is rumored to be the second coming. Dario Saric has finally made the long trip across the ocean. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot is well-thought of. Sergio Rodriguez and Jerryd Bayless will possibly be upgrades at the point guard position.

They’re going to be fun this year. One of the most fun sub-20-win teams ever. They’re going to be good enough to almost double their win total from a year ago.

That’s going to have to be enough for this season, Sixer fans.

New York Knick

Record: 43-39

While the top two and bottom two teams in this division may swap places in these projections, the New York Knicks are pretty much a mortal lock for dead center in the Atlantic. The Knicks will be much improved from last season’s 32-50 record, but not by as much as many of their fans think they will be.

They added Derrick Rose, Justin Holiday, Courtney Lee and Joakim Noah. Kristaps Porzingis is another year older and wiser, and Carmelo Anthony won’t have to be the first, second and third option on offense on a constant basis like he has for the majority of his Knicks’ tenure.

They also added Brandon Jennings to back up Rose. He’s a big favorite to start more than a few games this year as Rose is going to miss his fair share of games as usual.

This team would have been a destroyer of worlds back in 2010, but it’s going to struggle against the elite teams in the NBA this season. They’re a playoff team, but they’re in the lower half of the bracket.

Toronto Raptors

Record: 51-31

The Toronto Raptors bring back the band for another go this season, minus Bismack Biyombo. They didn’t make many moves this offseason other than a late signing of Jared Sullinger.

The Raptors had a great season, winning 56 games and pushing the Cleveland Cavaliers to six games in their first ever trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.

They struggled mightily in the first two rounds however, and it was my fondest hope that the Detroit Pistons could claim the seven seed so they could meet the Raptors. I still believe the Pistons beat the Raptors in a seven game series at that point in the season.

The absolute best case scenario for the Raptors is a redo of last season. They don’t match up with the Cavs well, and for them to have the kind of regular season they had in the first place they needed unusual levels of health from both DeMar Derozan and Kyle Lowry.

Mind you, that health didn’t extend to last year’s premiere free agent signing, DeMarre Carroll. The Raptors will need a healthy season out of Carroll after he only appeared in 26 regular season games.

Boston Celtics

Record: 52-30

The Boston Celtics were really good last year, winning 48 games, and for the majority of the season it was hard to tell exactly why. The fashionable option was to just credit Brad Stevens, which to be fair is probably the actual reason.

There may be more clearly seen seasons for them to be good this year. They’ve added Al Horford via free agency at a cost of $113 million over four years, and they drafted Jaylen Brown with the third overall pick. Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier and R.J. Hunter are all a year older and a year matured under Stevens, who is sure to be the biggest asset in the Celtics organization.

There’s no way the Celtics aren’t good this season thanks to their depth and coaching, so the only question remaining is HOW good will they be? I believe them to be the second-best team in the Eastern Conference, behind only the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Mind you, the gap between the Cavs and Celtics at one and two is much larger than the gap between the Celtics and the Raptors at two and three, but if things break right for Boston they should solidify that spot.

Apr 22, 2016; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Detroit Pistons forward Stanley Johnson (3) drives to the basket as Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) defends during the second quarter in game three of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Central Division

Chicago Bulls

Record: 36-46

Surprise, the Chicago Bulls are going to be bad. Not Nets/Sixers bad, but the kind of bad you get when you assemble a roster full of ball-stoppers who don’t spread the floor whatsoever.

That’s a kind of bad that isn’t going to get you a top lottery shot. It’s a kind of bad that makes you unpleasant to watch. What makes it worse is that it didn’t have to go this way. Trading Derrick Rose to the New York Knicks should have opened the door for Point Jimmy Butler to run the offense, and the team could gracefully tank and prepare for a rebuild over the next couple seasons.

Instead they decided Rajon Rondo would be a great pickup to run the point. Then they doubled down with a signing that oozes misguided opportunism and picked up Dwyane Wade.

As Dave DuFour and I discussed on his podcast, the signing would have made more sense if the Bulls had signed Wade first, and then not signed Rondo at all.

The Bulls seem to be a team without a chosen direction. The direction they should have chosen should have been a quick trip downwards followed by a rebuild.

Indiana Pacers

Record: 37-45

Speaking of teams whose construction doesn’t make sense, I present the 2016-17 Indiana Pacers. They want to run fast and score, so they fire Frank Vogel and bring in Nate McMillan. How backwards.

Vogel wasn’t an offensive mastermind, but he got the most out of his teams. On the other hand McMillan historically runs some of the slowest offenses in the NBA. He has yet to have a team play at a league-average pace, which speaks to Larry Bird‘s confusing team-building thought process.

The Pacers brought in Al Jefferson via free agency. Jefferson is great, but the 6’10” 289 lbs Big Al is not going to accelerate the speed with which the Pacers play.

Monta Ellis will be 31 when the season begins, and former Detroit Pistons’ guard Rodney Stuckey is already 30. The Pacers traded for Jeff Teague, who is most effective with the ball in his hands. Unfortunately, so is Paul George, and George is one of the better players in the NBA. They also picked up Thad Young, who is a four who can’t stretch the floor.

There just isn’t much rhyme or reason to what the Pacers did this offseason. They won 45 games last year, got worse in multiple areas (coach, point guard, multiple players fit with the team’s expected scheme), and the rest of the Eastern Conference got better.

This season is not likely to go as well as most Pacers fans expect.

Milwaukee Bucks

Record: 42-40

Finally after discussing the disappointing Bulls and Pacers, we get to talk about the fun teams. First up are the Milwaukee Bucks. The young Bucks have another year under their belts, and one of the most fascinating experiments from a season ago is the running of the offense through Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Point Giannis became the offensive focal point in late February, averaging 18.8 points per game, 8.8 rebounds and 7.5 assists to go with 1.5 steals and 1.9 blocks in 36.4 minutes over the last 26 games of the season.

Antetokounmpo could and did do everything for the Bucks last year once he was unleashed, and there may be no more exciting development than seeing what he can do over the course of a whole season.

Jabari Parker has a full season under his belt, and the Bucks added Matthew Dellavedova via free agency to be a backcourt defensive stopped and three-point sharpshooter.

They also drafted Thon Maker with the tenth overall draft pick. He stands at 7’1″ and weights just 216 lbs, but he is (reputedly) just 19 years old so he has plenty of time to grow into his frame. He also fits the Bucks’ MO of having extremely long athletes as his wingspan is an expansive 7’3″.

Keep an eye on the Bucks. They’ll be fun.

Detroit Pistons

Record: 50-32

Wait, the Detroit Pistons are going to win 50 games? Yes. Yes they are. I have a few basic arguments to back up this assertion.

For starters, the Pistons went 16-9 over their last 25 regular season games, a period of time that coincides with the slotting of Tobias Harris into the starting lineup. That’s a 52.48 win pace over a third of a season.

Over that span, the Pistons had no bench of any worth. Steve Blake ran the second unit, and he was on fumes by that point of the season, averaging 4.4 points and 4 assists in 18.7 minutes per game over the last 25, hitting 37.6 percent from the floor and 31.3 percent from long range.

No one player over that stretch played above their season averages with the exception of a torrid three-point shooting stretch from Marcus Morris. They also struggled more with injuries over that period than at any other period of time. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Anthony Tolliver and Stanley Johnson all missed significant action over the last 25 games.

This offseason the Pistons bolstered their bench, adding a competent point guard in Ish Smith, a stretch-four in Jon Leuer and a literal giant in the 7’3″ 290 lbs Boban Marjanovic. In contrast, the Bulls and Pacers got worse, paving the way slightly for the Pistons.

Long story short, the Pistons are the second best team in the Central Division and the fourth best team in the Eastern Conference.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Record: 59-23

The Cleveland Cavaliers can basically win as many games as they want this year, similar to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference. The Cavs historically coast in the middle of the season to ramp up for the playoffs, and they won’t be concerned with home court advantage. The idea of playing a game seven in Boston or Toronto doesn’t worry them.

The Cavs are well aware that the only thing that can take them down in the East is injury, and they’ll be careful to protect LeBron James and Kyrie Irving from any excess minutes or duress.

The regular season likely won’t be especially exciting for the Cavs, and there will likely be a midseason swoon as they coast. Don’t get carried away by that, they’re sleeping giants simply waiting for the playoffs to wake up.

The Cavs are the best team in the East, and barring injury they’ll meet the Warriors for the rubber match in the NBA finals in June.

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