I’d rather just write about J.R. Smith’s summer adventures in this column but unfortunately the media can’t talk about it. Something about too much swag. Is that still a thing now? Figured they didn’t want anything to overshadow the election.
But fear not, for I will incorporate J.R. Smith in a myriad other ways as I present Pencilstorm’s 2016 NBA Preview.
I’ll countdown the worst to the best teams in each conference, starting with the Western Conference, where the last 2 league MVP’s both blew 3-1 series leads and then decided to join forces. I haven’t seen that much choking on a team since, well, the Cubs and Indians last played in a World Series*.
*Look, I'm old but I'm not "alive in 1945" old. I substitute the 2003 NLCS for the Cubs example.
I'll be discussing what to look for on each team this year and will also rate the team's Excitement level using a thoroughly scientific grading scale of J.R. Smiths.
So shall we begin.
15. The Suns will watch Devin Booker elevate to stardom under 1st year head coach and former UCLA point guard Earl Watson. They hope rookie Dragan Bender lives up to his cool name but they are years away from making any real noise.
14. This ranking could be too low for this year's Nuggets who have a good coach in Mike Malone. Point guard Emmanuel Mudiay could make a jump in his second year and promising center Nikola Jokic led Serbia to the Olympic silver medal this summer.
13. It is yet to be determined if 36 year old perennial dude Luke Walton is the next great coach or just a stoner with a heart of gold. D'Angelo Russell has been impressive in the preseason and rookie Brandon Ingram will most likely come off the bench, tempering comparisons to a young Kevin Durant.
12. It's Boogie Cousins and hardly anything else. The Kings are rivaling perhaps no one in a class of their own when it comes to dysfunctional management. DeMarcus Cousins is one of the best players in the league but is starting his 7th season under his 6th different head coach.
11. I don't see the Pellies making a huge jump this year but I do see Anthony Davis re-establishing himself as the next great superstar, taking some thunder from a Mr. Karl-Anthony Towns.
10. New coach Mike D'Antoni plans to play James Harden at the point, something he kinda does anyway from time to time. It's his team now with Dwight Howard off to hometown Atlanta. Is Harden truly a great? Can he carry this team to the playoffs? Does he have a face under his beard?
9. The Jazz are Gordon Hayward's team. I'm not buying him as the best player on a viable contender. I have the Jazz missing the playoffs yet again in the stacked Western Conference. Former 5th overall pick Dante Exum should finally see some solid minutes and must prove he's not a bust.
8. I believe this is Dirk Nowitzki's swan song. Incredible career for the greatest European player of all time. Along with Rick Carlisle, I think this motivates and pushes the Mavs into the playoffs.
7. Excitement and Minnesota don't always go hand in hand. This year is different. With Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins leading the way with some athletic pieces surrounding them, the Wolves will make a jump this year. They're one of the most exciting young teams to watch in the league.
6. A new coach in David Fizdale and Zach Randolph coming off the bench but the rest remains the same in Memphis. Marc Gasol is back and Mike Conley Jr. has 153 million dollars to live up to. They'll be solid yet again but time is running out on any championship aspirations.
5. The Trail Blazers are in the Pacific Northwest which might as well be Alaska for how far away they are from media attention. Led by Dame D.O.L.L.A., better known as Damian Lillard, and C.J. McCollum, the Blazers are more exciting than most people know. Having added former 2nd overall pick and OSU star, Evan Turner, the Blazers are hungry for more playoff success.
4. The Oklahoma City Thunder are now officially Russell Westbrook's team and there couldn't be greater news to the ears of NBA fans. Sure, the Thunder lost one of the best players of all time in Kevin Durant but don't count this team out yet. Westbrook is on a mission, seeking vengeance, and he's the scariest player in the entire league.
3. Since Chris Paul got to L.A. (not the L.A. team he was supposed to go to, damn you David Stern), the Clippers have been a force to be reckoned with but they've never put it quite together. They hope to have a healthier Blake Griffin back and they're gonna give it another go with mostly the same lineup as last year. They have talent, but probably not enough to win the West. And time is running out with both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin able to test free agency after this year.
2. For the first time in about 20 years, the Spurs will step onto the court without that familiar number 21, Tim Duncan. And they'll be fine. Duncan was pretty solid in his later years but the Spurs had been planning for this for some time now. There's been some rumors of a rift with LaMarcus Aldridge but he's quieted those and should be a big piece for the team most likely to challenge Golden State in the West.
1. Golden State replaced Harrison Barnes with Kevin Durant. That's like replacing Jim Belushi with John. This team is going to be incredibly fun to watch. Countless fans will struggle the whole season desperately wanting to hate the new super villain in town yet not being able to resist the beautiful basketball being played. Durant signed with the Warriors for "basketball reasons" and he will fit in absolutely perfectly on this roster which may very well be the best offense in NBA history.