I really like the NBA, but I love playoff caliber basketball.
A new week is upon us and that means we are back to my NBA countdown. We got our first playoff team at the end of last week, but this week, it's all playoff teams, ending on Friday with my number one overall team and my pick for the Finals, MVP of the season, Coach of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year. Let's get on with numbers 15, 14 and 13.
Coming in at number 15, we have the team that surprised me the most last season, the Boston Celtics. I was shocked and impressed how well they played the second half of last season. They finished with one of the best, if not the best, record after the All Star break and made the playoffs. They got swept out of the first round by the Cavs, but the fact they made the playoffs was a big surprise. I really like their coach, Brad Stevens, and I think he's on his way to becoming one of the best coaches in all of basketball. Their roster leaves much to be desired, but it's playoff caliber, especially in the East. Isiah Thomas is a great player. I like how fiercely competitive he plays and he's a threat to put up 40 on any given night. His back court mates are good, not great, at one specific skill. Avery Bradley is an elite defender and guards the oppositions best scorer every game. He is not that good of an offensive player though. Marcus Smart is also a very good defender, he was exceptional in college, but he's also lacking on offense. That puts all the pressure on Thomas to score and while he may be up to it, it won't happen night after night. Drafting RJ Hunter was a good move by the Celtics because this kid can flat out score. I didn't know much of him until the NCAA tournament last season, but when I watched him play, he made shot after shot. He has the tools to be a good bench scorer in the NBA. Evan Turner is a bust in every sense of the word. He can't score, he can't rebound and he gets dunked on with consistency. He's not that good of an NBA player. The frontcourt is just okay. Jared Sullinger is fine, but he's too small to guard fives and too slow to guard fours. Kelly Olynyk plays out of control. He hasn't brought the three point shooter and post scoring he had in college to the NBA, and his play on Kevin Love in the first round of the playoffs was dirty. There's no middle ground on it, it was flat out dirty, he meant to hurt Love. Tyler Zeller may be a fine NBA player, but I don't know, not a big enough sampling. They signed Jae Crowder and traded for David Lee and Perry Jones this offseason. Jae Crowder is a good big man that does the dirty work in the NBA. He rebounds, plays post defense and doesn't care about stats, only wins. I like Crowder to supplant Olynyk in the starting lineup by midseason. David Lee was, at one point, an All Star. He definitely helped the Warriors win a title, but he hasn't been an impact player in the NBA in a couple of seasons. His best days are behind him. Perry Jones is an enigma. He has loads of potential, but he couldn't get off the bench in OKC, and when he did get playing time, he didn't produce. He may be good, and getting out of OKC will be best for him, but we will have to see how he does with an expanded role. The rest of the roster is young and unproven. The Celtics will win anywhere from 42 to 45 games and are a lock for the playoffs.
How the Celtics can win it all.
The Celtics will win the title if, Thomas becomes an All Star, that may happen, RJ Hunter becomes a 20 point per game scorer, that won't happen and the frontcourt plays way beyond expectations. The Celtics are getting back to good basketball, but they still need a couple of years before they are on the same level with the elite teams from the East.
My number 14 team is the Toronto Raptors. this team is sliding back. They're still good enough to be the fifth or sixth team in the East, but they seem to get a little worse every year. Their roster is full of talent, but it doesn't seem to come together to put this team in the top of the East. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are two of the best young guards in the league, but DeRozan can't seem to stay healthy for a full season, and Lowry finally showed up this offseason in shape, but that should've happened last year when he signed his big extension. Jonas Valanciunas has been an okay player, but he hasn't lived up to the hype surrounding him when he was drafted. He looks afraid to take big shots or come up with big rebounds of defensive plays. He shies away from the big moment. James Johnson and Patrick Patterson are fine players, but they're nothing to write home about. They don't really affect the game too much. They did a lot this offseason, but it seems like too much and a bit desperate. DeMarre Carroll is a pretty decent NBA player, he proved that last year with the Hawks, but he's not worth the money the Raptors gave him. Corey Joseph finally gets his shot to play after spending his first couple of seasons on the Spurs bench, and he's looked good in the preseason, but is that smoke and mirrors, or a sign of things to come? Also, will he really steal minutes from DeRozan and Lowry? I don't think so. They signed Anthony Bennett after the Timberwolves bought him out, and while it may be nice for him to play in his home town, he's from Toronto, we are talking about one of the biggest, if not the biggest, busts of all time in the draft. I really like their pick of Delon Wright in the most recent draft. In fact, I think that was their best offseason move. The Raptors have gotten better every year under DeWayne Casey, but they seem to fall apart at critical and crucial times. Toronto seems like a 45 or 46 win team to me, good for the sixth spot in the East.
How the Raptors can win it all.
The Raptors will win the title if DeRozan can stay healthy all season and play at an extremely high rate, Lowry and Valanciunas play to the level of their contract, DeMarre Carroll proves he's not a one season wonder and the supporting cast plays much, much better than expected. The Raptors stink of a team that will start hot, fade late and shit the bed in the playoffs, basically what they've done the past two years.
My number 13 team is also from the East, the Washington Wizards. I really like the Wizards, but I just don't think they have enough talent on their roster to be better than fourth or fifth in the East, probably fifth. Now, the starters are where all the talent lies. John Wall is one of the best point guards in all of basketball (what would Colin Cowherd say?). He's the fastest basketball player I've ever seen, he lays really good defense, finds the open man all the time and is becoming a pretty good shooter. Bradley Beal is one of the best young scorers. Otto Porter JR is going to have a huge season. He's been on the verge of breaking out, and I think that happens this season. He will finally live up to being the third overall pick. Nene Hilario is one of my favorite players to watch. He's a throwback in every season of the word. He plays awesome defense, rebounds at a very high rate, has excellent post moves and does all the dirty work. Marcin Gortat is a good scorer, and he pairs well with Nene in the frontcourt. Gortat is a scorer and Nene does everything else. The bench is the problem for me. First of all, they lost Paul Pierce. While he's a million years old, he hit big shot after big shot and gave this team a swagger they didn't have before. The Wizards will miss him. The bench has guys like Drew Gooden, DaJuan Blair, Kris Humphries and Ramon Sessions. Not world beaters and past their primes, if they had one. I do like their pick of Kelly Oubre JR. He's another one and done, and who knows with these kids, but being on a veteran team and not having to have an immediate impact will benefit him. He's going to be good. The Wizards will win close to 50 games, probably 48 and be the fifth seed in the East.
How the Wizards can win it all.
The Wizards will win the title if the starters can play all 48 minutes in every regular season game and playoff game and not have to rely on their bench. The starters are great, but the bench is very weak and will be their undoing. Another second round exit is in the cards for the Wizards.
So, there's my 15, 14 and 13 ranked teams. Tomorrow we get into the top 10 and things will become very interesting.
Ty is the Pop Culture editor for SeedSing and the other host of the X Millennial Man podcast. His NBA League Pass is mostly for the OKC Thunder, but he enjoys some low tier eastern conference playoff teams. Follow Ty on twitter @tykulik