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2014-15 NBA Preview: The Bottom Feeders

For the first time in a few years, the NBA appears to be in as much flux as it’s ever been.  Superstars have left championship contenders to form new super-groups.  Teams have gambled on acquiring that “missing piece”, only to strike out on their top targets.  A much-hyped rookie class will finally be donning NBA jerseys on a court.  And many of the top players in the league are looking forward to the inevitable rise of the salary cap—and their next maximum contract—tied to a new media deal.  We here at the Bad Man Bureau are going to go through all thirty of the league’s teams to provide an idea of what to expect from each of them.  We’ll be breaking it down into groups of five, and we begin today with “The Bottom Feeders”.

Power ranking in parenthesis.  Note: There is no correlation between the current power ranking and predicted win-loss record.

 

Philadelphia 76ers (30)

Last year’s record: 19-63

Biggest Addition: Joel Embiid’s twitter followers

Biggest Subtraction: Thaddeus Young

Projected Starting Lineup: Michael Carter-Williams, Hollis Thompson, Jerami Grant, Nerlens Noel, Henry Sims

Key Reserves: Tony Wroten, Alexey Shved, Arnett Moultrie

This is just depressing.  The Sixers enter the second year of their tanking/rebuilding era with a team that’s got less star power and even less of a chance of replicating the 19 wins they accumulated last year as the league’s worst team.  They made some pretty good moves in the draft, nabbing Joel Embiid with the third pick and then trading for Dario Saric.  However, in what’s quickly becoming typical Sam Hinkie fashion, neither player will be providing much—if any—of an impact this season.  Saric is in Europe, and Embiid could easily see his first time on the court in the 2015-16 season.

There is some slight cause for optimism.  Last year’s first round pick—Nerlens Noel—will finally get his NBA career started after being sidelined all of last season.  Michael Carter-Williams, last year’s Rookie of the Year, is back and will be better suited to the NBA game as all league sophomores are.  Tony Wroten had a decent season last year, and Hollis Thompson was a bit of a revelation towards the end of the season, collecting decent stats on a horrid team.

 

Nerlens Noel, Philly’s top pick from 2013, will finally see the court as a professional basketball player this season. (Source: Charles Krupa/Associated Press)

 

Still, Philadelphia fans who show up to each and every game should be rewarded with something, like lifetime tickets.  This team is awful by design, and there’s nothing here to indicate that Brett Brown might be able to surprise the world by turning this group of misfits, outcasts, and shots-in-the-dark into anything more than the league’s worst team.

Win-Loss Prediction: 13-69.

 

Minnesota Timberwolves (29)

Last Year’s Record: 40-42

Biggest Addition: Andrew Wiggins

 

Andrew Wiggins has gone from a great situation–potential third banana with LeBron and Kyrie in Cleveland–to a not so great situation in Minnesota without playing a game. (Source: Brian Spurlock/USA Today Sports)

 

Biggest Subtraction: Kevin Love

Projected Starting Lineup: Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Andrew Wiggins, Thaddeus Young, Nikola Pekovic

Key Reserves: Corey Brewer, Anthony Bennett, Gorgui Dieng

The team’s superstar is gone after demanding a trade, off to join LeBron James in Cleveland for the chance at the playoffs for the first time in the forward’s career.  But the Timberwolves aren’t exactly doomed.  They have a nice complement of players, including the last two overall top picks in Anthony Bennett (2013) and Andrew Wiggins (2014), who in time could become the franchise’s next superstar.  They also have a nice group of solid veterans in Kevin Martin, Thaddeus Young, Nikola Pekovic, Mo Williams, and Corey Brewer.  So why be so low on them?  Because the difference in this team when Kevin Love was on the floor and when he sat was night-and-day.  When Kevin Love was on the court, the Wolves had an offensive rating of 111.6; when he was on the bench, the team’s offense cratered, falling fifteen-and-a-half points per 100 possessions to 101.1.

It’s going to take some excellent coaching by Flip Saunders to rectify that situation.  It remains to be seen that the President of Basketball Operations can perform both tasks proficiently: while he wants to win, Flip has also got to provide enough time to grow his youngsters in Wiggins, Bennett, and Dieng while also improving and masking the deficiencies of the many good-but-flawed players he has.  Rubio is a great assist man and good defender, but he can’t shoot.  Martin can shoot, but he’s a poor defender.  Corey Brewer has the body and skills to be a good defender, but he lacks the fortitude.  Pekovic is decent on offense but also a surprisingly poor paint defender.  Can Saunders handle being in charge of general management duties, scouting, and trying to coach a team that appears to be saddled with veterans while looking towards the future?  I’m skeptical.

Win-Loss Prediction: 24-58.

 

Utah Jazz (28)

Last Year’s Record: 25-57

Biggest Addition: Dante Exum

Biggest Subtraction: Marvin Williams

Projected Starting Lineup: Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter

Key Reserves: Dante Exum, Trevor Booker, Rudy Gobert

The Jazz stood relatively pat over the summer, adding little outside of Exum via the draft and Trevor Booker via free agency.  They did re-sign (and possibly overpay) restricted free agent Gordon Hayward, matching the Charlotte Hornets’s max deal.  New coach Quin Snyder is blessed with a team full of young, high draft picks that by themselves have had fans salivating.  However, once all of these players have shared court time together, the results have been unspectacular.  Hayward has been up-and-down as he has been forced to transition to the lead scorer role.  Favors and Kanter as a pairing hasn’t worked well at all.  Burks is inconsistent, and while Trey Burke helped spark the Jazz from terrible to just bad once he recovered from an early season injury, there’s no guarantee he’s the future for this club.

The youngsters need someone who can develop them into a cohesive core.  Quin Snyder is an excellent hire for the Jazz, a well-respected coach who’s had a long career as an assistant developing talent.  He has the ability to turn these players into something that will get Utah back on the map as a potential playoff team in a couple of years.  There are going to be growing pains here, and the front office has left Snyder with next to zero veterans in the locker room, something that prior head coach Tyrone Corbin leaned on a bit too much with Earl Watson, Marvin Williams, and Richard Jefferson.  There’s potential waiting to be unlocked for future seasons; just don’t expect much this year.

 

With a new max contract now under his belt, Gordon Hayward will need to prove he can live up to the big money Utah is paying him. (Source: Russ Isabella/USA Today Sports)

 

Win-Loss Prediction: 22-60

 

Sacramento Kings (27)

Last Year’s Record: 28-54

Biggest Addition: Ramon Sessions

Biggest Subtraction: Isaiah Thomas

Projected Starting Lineup: Darren Collison, Nik Stauskas, Rudy Gay, Jason Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins

Key Reserves: Ramon Sessions, Ben McLemore, Derrick Williams

The Kings, free from questions about their future in terms of which city they’ll call home, are finally able to ask questions about the future in terms of their on-court product.  If this past offseason was any indication, the answer will be uncertain.  They let their little high-scoring point guard in Isaiah Thomas walk in order to sign Darren Collison, a player that had a decent season backing up Chris Paul in Los Angeles but is statistically a step down from Thomas (and the experiment to start him in Dallas a few years back was an abject failure).  The team drafted sharpshooting Nik Stauskas, potentially signaling that the franchise has given up already on Ben McLemore, their top pick from a season ago.  Rumors kept swirling about the team trying to acquire players like Rajon Rondo and Josh Smith, forcing NBA fans to figure out how exactly a team built around Rondo-Smith-Cousins would work without combusting.

Mike Malone still has leeway with the front office, and he’ll need it.  He tried to implement his system last year, and parts of it did get put in place.  However, the front office continues to provide Malone with a revolving door of pieces: last year Rudy Gay and Derrick Williams entered the team mid-season, and this year the franchise has two new point guards to bring in.  It wouldn’t be surprising to see Malone try to change up his lineups and rotations as he seeks desperately to find something that works: Gay at power forward, giving playing time to Carl Landry (remember him?), alternating between Stauskas and McLemore as starters, and placing Ramon Sessions as the starting lead guard—which, honestly, I’m expecting to definitely happen sooner rather than later.

 

Fresh off of a gold medal at the FIBA World Cup, can Demarcus Cousins, alongside head coach Mike Malone, lead the Kings to respectability? (Source: Kelley L Cox/USA Today Sports)

 

Cousins is still the franchise player of this team, but the Kings’ front office is stubbornly refusing to wipe the slate clean of bad contracts, veterans on long deals, and redundancy in the roster.  The leaders in that franchise have argued that Sacramento is an unappealing destination for free agents, so instead they’ve purposely traded for buy-low name players (Rudy Gay last year, the rumors of Josh Smith).  It makes sense in that regard: if you don’t believe you can sign a premier name over the summer, try to trade for name players, take the lumps of the bloated contracts, and hope that you luck into success with the players when they experience a change of scenery.  However, that idea of a positive feedback loop isn’t an efficient way to make the Kings a winner.  Until they realize that clearing the cap sheet of flotsam might be the only way to properly return the Kings to playoffs, the franchise should remain dysfunctional.

Win-Loss Prediction: 26-56

 

Orlando Magic (26)

Last Year’s Record: 23-59

Biggest Addition: Aaron Gordon

Biggest Subtraction: Arron Afflalo

Projected Starting Lineup: Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, Maurice Harkless, Tobias Harris, Nikola Vucevic

Key Reserves: Luke Ridnour, Aaron Gordon, Channing Frye

The idea is obvious: after a couple of years of being one of the dregs of the league, Orlando is hoping for a bump in their results with the addition of a few impact rookies and quality veterans.  They’re trying to follow the blueprint the Charlotte then-Bobcats laid out to a successful playoff berth last season.  A few problems though: the rookies are projects, and the veterans don’t have anywhere near the same sway as Al Jefferson does.  Instead, Orlando’s summer looks to be a head-scratcher.  They made the expected move to release long-time point guard Jameer Nelson, but little else they did appears to make sense.  Drafting Aaron Gordon might be a wise move in the future if he turns out as the prognosticators project (the next Shawn Marion), but until then, he’s an undersized power forward with little range offensively.  Channing Frye adds to the Magic’s logjam in the big man rotation.  It’s hard to believe that Afflalo couldn’t have garnered a bigger return than Evan Fournier and a couple late picks, and it’s even harder to believe that Ben Gordon, who after several run-ins with the coaching staffs in Charlotte resulting in him being waived after the deadline to join playoff rosters last year—a move many consider to be intentional by the Charlotte front office, will provide much output.

 

 

That’s not to say the Magic are hopeless; the young core is still intact, and the team has added the aforementioned Gordon and Elfrid Payton to the tantalizing group.  Oladipo will naturally improve as he now has that critical first season under his belt.  Kyle O’Quinn was a revelation, and Maurice Harkless showed signs of real improvement.  Tobias Harris is still a darling amongst fans that salivate at his potential, and Vucevic is still a double-double machine.  Nonetheless, it appears as though the Orlando front office has grown tired of waiting for internal development.  They are pushing for a playoff spot this season with what they did in the summer.  It won’t work out.

Win-Loss Prediction: 21-61

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2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. 2014-15 NBA Preview: The Lottery Bound | BMB
  2. 2014-15 NBA Preview: The Middle of the Pack | BMB

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