I love watching the NBA, I especially love watching really high quality competition.
Now we are getting to the elite teams in my NBA countdown. We are officially in the top ten and every team from here on out has a legitimate shot to win the NBA title this year. They all need some breaks to go their way and health is of the utmost importance, but these teams are the cream of the crop in the NBA. On with the countdown.
Coming in at number 9 we have the Chicago Bulls. This team is the epitome of a team needing health and everything to break in their favor to win the title, but , that could happen. Let's start with the bad news about the Bulls. First, they fired Tom Thibadeau for being too tough on his players. Never mind the fact that they improved every year under him and they played some of the best team defense in all of the NBA, management felt that a hard nosed coach wasn't the right fit. So, to replace Thibadeau, they reached into the college ranks and hired former Iowa State head coach and former Chicago Bull, Fred Hoiberg to take over. I don't know if this will work, but the Bulls seem to think it will. Another bit of bad news for Chicago is all the off the court and new injury to Derrick Rose. First, he was accused of sexual assault in the offseason and I don't know if that case has been closed yet. Next, he said at the preseason meetings that he was in a contract year, and claimed that if the Bulls don't pay up, he'd think about leaving. Now, I can't think of a franchise that's been this patient with a star player, waiting for injury after injury to heal, hoping that he'd be back at full strength. They've given him all the time in the world, letting him miss seasons and multiple games during "healthy" seasons, just to get back to full strength. Now, he is out for all of the preseason and may miss opening night due to an orbital fracture. Since his MVP year, he can't stay healthy and he doesn't play like he used to. I think it's time for the Bulls to move on from Derrick Rose. This brings me to the good news, Jimmy Butler is on this team. He's the unquestioned leader of this team now, in my opinion. He's an All Star, a 20 point per game player, a lockdown defender and has a tireless work effort. Jimmy Butler is a legitimate MVP candidate. They have Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah. Gasol is a great post player and fits in with what the Bulls want to do on both ends of the court perfectly. Noah, when healthy, is one of the better rebounders in the league and plays some of the best defense in all of basketball. Younger players like Doug McDermott and Tony Snell are going to get more of a chance to play with the new coaching staff. One of the knocks on Thibadeau was, he didn't like playing younger guys, well, this staff will play whoever is playing best, regardless of age. McDermott looks to be a good three point shooter, but has to work on every other aspect of his game before he's a legitimate NBA player. Snell on the other hand, he's got a quick first step, can shoot the mid range jumper, is long and lanky and plays good defense. Given more playing time, he'll continue to get better and better. Another younger player that did get critical playing time last year, Nikola Mirotic, is back and looks like a better, in shape basketball player. He's good. Aaron Brooks, Taj Gibson, Kirk Hinrich and E'Twaun Moore all come off the bench. Brooks is a good back up point guard, Taj Gibson was, at one time, one of the better low post players in basketball, and while injuries have hampered his development, he's still pretty good. Hinrich is fine off the bench, but his best days are behind him. E'Twaun Moore is an interesting piece on this team, providing instant offense, but he's very inconsistent. Bobby Portis, the rookie from Arkansas, was a good pick by them, and I see him playing a pivotal role off the bench for the Bulls this season. The Bulls will be one of the top three seeds in the East and win 52 or 53 games this year.
How the Bulls can win it all.
The Bulls win will the title is all their pieces buys into the new coaching staff's philosophy on offense and continues to play suffocating defense. They also need a healthy, focused solely on basketball Derrick Rose to compete for the title. The Bulls will be good, it's just a matter of how good and how healthy everyone can be all season long.
Coming in at number 8 is the Memphis Grizzlies. This team is good, plays old fashioned basketball and are a tough team to face in the playoffs, but they are also getting very old and may have missed their window to win a title. They gave Marc Gasol the big contract he deserved this offseason. Gasol is probably, right now, the best center in basketball. He has great low post moves, a decent jumper, he's a good rebounder and plays good defense. Gasol is great. Mike Conley is a great point guard. He shoots the ball very well, finds the open man every time, plays good defense and runs this offense perfectly. When he needs to score, he scores, when he needs to get players involved, he gets them involved, he's the best example of how a point guard should play their position. The only problem with Conley, he gets hurt at the most inopportune times. Take last year for example, the Grizzlies are cruising in the playoffs, take a game from the Warriors in Oakland and then boom, Conley basically breaks his face. The Warriors cruised after that. Jeff Green joins Conley in the back court, and while he's extremely athletic, he's also extremely inconsistent. One night he'll go for 20 and 10, the next night, he'll foul out in 12 minutes. Zach Randolph is still there and still averaging double figures in points and rebounds and still getting on other teams nerves. He's the definitive player of how Memphis wants to play basketball. He's the inventor of their motto, "Grit and Grind". Tony Allen is exactly the same type of player as Randolph, he just happens to play guard and he's not as good a scorer. Allen is a pest on defense and that's exactly what Memphis needs from him. Coming off the bench you have guys like Beno Udrih, he's fine, but not great, Vince Carter, bless his heart that he's still playing, but he's not the same player, Courtney Lee, who's a good scorer off the bench and they signed Matt Barnes. I can't stand him, but I can't think of a better place for him to play than Memphis, he'll fit in there great. The Grizzlies will be good, and win 45 to 48 games, but, as I said before, their chance to win the title probably passed. Too many other teams in the West have gotten better and a younger than Memphis.
How the Grizzlies will win it all.
The Grizzlies will win the title if they "Grit and Grind" every team to death in the playoffs, making the games very low scoring. That's how they win in the regular season, and they'll have to do that in the playoffs to win the title, that's their only chance.
My number 7 team is the New Orleans Pelicans. They have the best young player, and future best player in the NBA in Anthony Davis. He's the best all around center in the NBA. He's a fantastic rim protector and rebounder, can fly through the air for alley oops, can shoot mid range jumpers and is now working on his three point shooting. He's already unstoppable, but add in three point shooting, he'll go down as one of the greats. I love the way Anthony Davis plays. If anyone one single player can lead his team to a title, it's him, he's that good. The problem with the Pelicans is the rest of their roster. It's a good roster, but needs to be great. Guys like Jrue Holiday, Omer Asik, Tyreke Evans, Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon have the potential, they just haven't lived up to it yet. Jrue Holiday is a really good point gurad, he just needs to get other players involved more often. If Asik can stay on the court, it would be impossible for most teams to score on him and Davis. Tyreke Evans has all the tools, he just needs to put it all together. Ryan Anderson is a great three point shooter, but he's not so good on defense, and he has a hard time staying healthy. And Eric Gordon was at one time, the next big thing. Now, he's a bench player, but he can still light up a scoreboard, if he's interested in focusing on the game. The Pelicans took a huge step forward last year, making the playoffs, and they'll continue to get better. Anthony Davis is one of the top three players in the NBA right now and he will single handily make this a 48 or 49 win team.
How the Pelicans will win it all.
The Pelicans will win the title is Anthony Davis goes on a Michael Jordanesque run in the playoffs and wins every game, making every critical play in every critical moment. It's a tall task, but he's that good.
There you have it, teams 9, 8 and 7. Come back tomorrow for 6, 5 and 4. We are truly getting to the elite of the NBA.
Ty is the Pop Culture editor for SeedSing and the other host of the X Millennial Man podcast. He is still troubled by the time the editor had Tom Chambers go for 100 on him in a Playstation game. Follow Ty on twitter @tykulik.