NBA Playoff Seeding Predictions
1. Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics were only a few baskets away, or a LeBron James mistake from reaching the NBA Finals and making a run at their 18th championship. Now, they will reap the benefits from the return of All Stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. General manager, Danny Ainge, has created a unique roster that boasts two young talents, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, while obtaining the aforementioned stars to play alongside. The Celtics bench also contains a deep rotation of role players who have meaningful playoff experience. These important factors create sky high expectations for the Celtics this season.
2. Philadelphia 76ers
The Toronto Raptors make a case for claiming the second seed in the East, but continuity and chemistry is an important element to a championship team. The 76ers retained all of their core pieces, and the development of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid will create a large amount of success. 2017 first overall pick Markelle Fultz has been reported to have made extreme amounts of progress, but his shooting will be a topic of conversation all season. Their lack of shooting as a team in the modern NBA created problems in the postseason, but with another year of experience, it is a problem that can be overcome.
3. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors executed the most controversial trade of the summer by acquiring Kawhi Leonard in exchange for Demar Derozan and Jakob Poeltl. Overall, their roster has improved, but they have two large problems working against them. The team needs to learn the system their new coach, Nick Nurse, wants to play. Also, successful teams who have made star acquisitions in the past, such as the 2010 Miami Heat, usually require multiple games to adapt to the new star. Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors will take a similar path, but could excel in the postseason with their top tier roster.
4. Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis Antetokounmpo deserves consideration for the title of best player in the Eastern Conference, and yet he is only 23 years old. The Bucks upgraded their roster that took the two seeded Celtics to seven games in the first round by adding core pieces around Antetokounmpo. The media consensus is that the top three teams (Boston, Philadelphia, Toronto) have separated themselves from the rest of the conference, but the Bucks have one of the loftiest ceilings in the NBA, and have the potential to make a deep playoff run.
5. Indiana Pacers
The Indiana Pacers exceeded all expectations last season by pushing the Lebron James led Cavaliers to seven games in the first round. After trading away Paul George the previous offseason, analysts dubbed the Pacers a lottery team who was in a rebuilding stage. Luckily for them, they found a budding star in Victor Oladipo who took an important leadership role for the team. The Eastern Conference has gotten significantly weaker at the bottom half of the standings, and the Pacers will be able to build on their unlikely postseason success.
6. Washington Wizards
On paper, the Washington Wizards should be a contender almost every NBA season, but team chemistry issues have hindered them in the past. The main problem, former center Marcin Gortat, has been traded in an attempt to alleviate this issue. However, there is still a power struggle between All Star guard, John Wall and Bradley Beal. In Wall’s absence last season, the Wizards played to a 15-11 record under Beal’s leadership, raising questions in the current roster makeup. The team chemistry issues along with their lack of depth will be working against the Wizards throughout the season, and potentially the postseason.
7. Chicago Bulls
The Chicago Bulls had no expectations last season and it showed in their final win total. Since then, the team’s management did a good job acquiring young talent that could lead to success in the future. As of now, the 21 year old Lauri Markkanen will need to take on a larger leadership role that will include managing loftier expectations. The Bulls projected starting lineup has an average age of 21 years old, which means playoff experience is not present and problems could arise in the postseason. However, there is no denying the potential and high ceiling of this young Bulls team.
8. Detroit Pistons
The Detroit Pistons made a controversial trade with the Los Angeles Clippers to acquire Blake Griffin, a five time NBA All-Star. The move brought up questions within the NBA and media about whether the Pistons were attempting to win, or if they were satisfied with being mediocre. Griffin made waves during the previous offseason by signing a five year, 171 million dollar contract. It was considered a risky investment for the Clippers due to his injury prone past. Now, the contract is in the hands of the Pistons, whose current ceiling is limited to a playoff appearance. With the Eastern Conference getting weaker during the offseason, it opens up a door for the Pistons to make the postseason.
1. Golden State Warriors
The same Warriors who have won three championships in the last four years, added free agent center, Demarcus Cousins. Now their projected starting lineup includes MVP’s Stephen and Kevin Durant, with All Stars Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Demarcus Cousins. It is yet to be known if Cousins will regain his All-Star form when he returns from an achilles injury, but even if he does not, the Warriors have enough talent to overcome his absence. The Warriors have all of the pieces and talent to win another championship, and if that goal is not reached, the season will be considered a disappointment.
2. Houston Rockets
Many NBA analysts share the opinion that the Houston Rockets became weaker by losing Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, but they also added former All-Star Carmelo Anthony. Anthony has gained a bad reputation for his ball dominant, isolation style of play but he can still be a key contributor. The key for the Rockets’ success will be if Anthony accepts his role as a spot up shooter. James Harden and Chris Paul proved doubters wrong last year under Mike D’antoni’s fast paced system, and they will look to do the same this coming season.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
The upcoming season is already considered a success for the Thunder because they were able to re-sign forward Paul George after trading for him during the 2017 offseason. Last season’s experiment with Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and George did not work out the way they hoped, so they traded Anthony during the offseason. Doing so, they acquired Dennis Schroeder who will give the bench unit a much needed scoring boost. The Thunder front office is hoping that by moving Anthony, it will act as addition by subtraction and boost the team’s chance at postseason success.
4. Utah Jazz
Rookie Donovan Mitchell gained the league’s attention last season by posting incredible numbers and leading the Jazz to the second round of the playoffs. The Jazz are expected to take a large leap forward, with some even dubbing them as the second best team in the Western Conference. While the Jazz did not make many offseason acquisitions, they were able to retain their free agents, which is important for team chemistry purposes. It is rare for a young star to lead a team deep into the playoffs, but Donovan Mitchell was able to do it last year, the Jazz will look to build on that success.
5. Los Angeles Lakers
LeBron James joined a Lakers team which boasts young talent, but also unproven players. Lonzo Ball, 2017 second overall pick, was injured for a large portion of the season, and Brandon Ingram has yet to take a large step forward. The Lakers also made controversial offseason moves by signing large character players such as Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Javale McGee, and Michael Beasley. LeBron has alluded to the fact the he does not enjoy playing the center position, but that is an important need for the Lakers this season. As with many teams, the Lakers will take time to learn each other’s roles within the team, and until then, their success will be limited.
6. San Antonio Spurs
The 2017 regular season saw the San Antonio Spurs cross into unfamiliar territory due to a disgruntled team member. Kawhi Leonard distanced himself from the team, but the Spurs still managed to reach the NBA playoffs. Lamarcus Aldridge proved that he could still be an effective leader of a team, and the team will get better by adding Demar Derozan. The Spurs are attempting to stay competitive in a strong Western Conference while also building for the future by acquiring young assets. The Spurs should not be considered title contender this season, but they will continue their 21 year streak of reaching the postseason.
7. Denver Nuggets
The NBA has evolved in a way that requires big men to shoot the three pointer and spread the floor. The Denver Nuggets found a center who checks off all of the boxes. Nikola Jokic is an above average shooter, passer, and rim defender. His development will be important for the Nuggets who made moves during the offseason that revolve around him. Scoring on the wing was a weakness last season, but the Nuggets hope the problem will be solved by drafting Michael Porter Jr. They drafted Porter with the knowledge that he could be less than 100 percent due to a pre existing back injury, but it was a risk they were willing to take. Offseason moves including drafting Porter and retaining free agents were important for the Nuggets, who are hoping to reach the postseason for the first time in five years.
8. Portland Trail Blazers/Minnesota Timberwolves/New Orleans Pelicans
The final spot in the Western Conference playoff race will be filled by one of the three teams listed above. The Portland Trail Blazers make a strong case because of their backcourt talent which includes Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. They have been able to lead the Blazers to the postseason, but no success has come of it. The Blazers made backcourt depth a priority, but the frontcourt will be a deciding factor in the playoff race. The Timberwolves boast the most talent of the three teams, but they also have the least playoff experience. Karl Anthony Towns and Jimmy Butler led them to the eighth seed last season, but the team needs to improve to keep pace with the strong Western Conference. The development of Towns and swingman Andrew Wiggins will be important for the Timberwolves, because they did not make major roster improvements during the offseason. The New Orleans Pelicans swept the Blazers in the first round of the playoffs last season under the leadership of MVP finalist Anthony Davis. The success the Pelicans received was due in large part to the playmaking abilities of Rajon Rondo, who joined the Lakers. Their playoff hopes suffered greatly due to offseason losses that makes the roster less talented, but Anthony Davis has proven in the past that he can lead an inferior team to the playoffs.