I love the NBA, and I really love playoff caliber basketball.
Continuing my NBA countdown, I'll be giving you teams 18, 17 and 16. Today we get our first playoff team. This team will actually replace a team from last seasons playoffs. The three teams I'll be talking about today are right on the verge, or missed their window. They have decent enough rosters, but are just on the outside of the playoffs, with one exception. My first playoff team may surprise you, but that's the fun of making preseason predictions. On with the countdown.
Coming in at number 18 is the Detroit Pistons. There are things I really like about this team, but there's just as much that I dislike. They might surprise, but probably not. First, the dislikes. For one, they completely over paid to keep Reggie Jackson. Being an Oklahoma City fan, I watched Jackson grow into a quality NBA starter, but I also saw how he reacted when he didn't get his way. One year, he'd have a huge impact during OKC's playoff runs, but last season, with Durant and Westbrook out for extended periods of time, he did not respond to the challenge. Instead of being the leader they needed, he became a ball hog, so far as to veterans icing him out and not passing him the ball. He then complained that he wasn't getting the touches or minutes he thought he deserved when Westbrook returned, and basically demanded a trade. His wish was granted much to my delight. Now, GM Stan Van Gundy gave him a max contract and that's insane. He's not a max player, and if he doesn't get his way, he'll openly complain. Another reason the contract baffles me is, the Pistons have a much better point guard in Brandon Jennings. I know he's coming off a torn ACL, but he's ten times the player Reggie Jackson is. He's also a lefty, and lefties are very tough to guard. Jennings can shoot okay enough, and he's really good at finding the open man. Unfortunately, for him and the Pistons, I think he's trade bait since they gave Jackson so much money. Some team will greatly benefit if Jennings is traded, and the Pistons will suffer. I'd take Jennings over Jackson 10 times out of 10.Now, a player I like. Andre Drummond is a good big man to have, but his front court mate, Greg Monroe, left and signed with Milwaukee. That will be tough on Drummond. Drummond is a great rebounder and defender though, and he may strive being the focal point of the Pistons half court offense. They drafted Stanley Johnson, who I like a lot, but he's only 19 or 20 years old. He's another one and done, and it takes time for these guys to develop before they become a true threat. Besides Marcus Morris, who I think is a really good, really underrated player, they "beefed" up their bench with guys like Steve Blake, way too old, Danny Granger, way too old and oft injured, Aaron Baynes, won't succeed outside of the Spurs organization and Ersan Ilyasova, just not that good of an NBA player. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a good shooter, but he hasn't figured out the NBA game just yet. The overpaying of Reggie Jackson and signing or trading for veterans that are ten years past their prime make the Pistons a 35 to 37 win team. That may get you in the playoffs in the East, but probably not.
How the Pistons will win it all.
The Pistons will win the title if Reggie Jackson and Brandon Jennings find a way to mesh together and play high level basketball, that won't happen, they both think they're alphas, but only one of them is(Jennings), Drummond becomes a 20 point a game scorer, Stanley Johnson becomes a key contributor right away and the old vets find the fountain of youth and play like they did in their primes. Sorry Detroit, that's not happening.
Number 17 on my list is the Dallas Mavericks. What a crummy, terrible, horrible, asinine way to lose your top free agent this summer. I wrote about how cowardly this all made DeAndre Jordan look, and it was a huge blow to the Mavericks hopes of making the playoffs. Now, as I wrote in my piece, Jordan wouldn't have made them an NBA championship contender, but he would've kept them in the playoffs at least. I feel bad for Dirk Nowitzki as well. How many other legitimate superstars have left as much money on the table to help the team get better. Nowitzki will go down as one of the best big men shooters of all time, but the end of his career is going to be tough because the Mavericks aren't going to be as good as they've been lately. Not only did they miss out on DeAndre Jordan, but they let Tyson Chandler walk without trying to sign him, Monta Ellis left in free agency and their "big" offseason additions were Wes Matthews, coming off a torn ACL, Deron Williams, who hasn't been an impact player in about 6 years and JaVale McGee, who is the most out of control player in all of basketball. Go google some JaVale McGee "highlights" and watch with amazement at how absurd some of the stuff he does is. They still have Chandler Parsons, but is he truly a quality starter in the NBA? I haven't seen it since his third year in Houston, and he gets injured all the time. He may have been a one season wonder. Devin Harris is still around, but all he's any good for anymore is shooting the three. JJ Barea is still there, but he's just getting older and older. Samuel Dalembert may end up being a good defensive center, but he will not help this team on offense. I want to touch on the Wes Matthews signing again for a minute. They ended up giving him a max contract after the whole DeAndre Jordan thing, and while that was a poor decision, Wes Matthews is a really good NBA player. He led the league in three point percentage last year. That's right, Wes Matthews and not Steph Curry hit threes at the highest rate. He also plays excellent defense. He is a very, very good basketball player. The Mavericks are going to step back this season. The question is, how far of a slide back will they take? Will they be a mid 30 win team, or will they tank? I'd guess they will end up in the mid 30 win column. Dirk has too much pride to give up at this point in his career and Wes Matthews will want to show people he's worth the big contract. Unfortunately, the rest of the roster is average.
How the Mavericks will win it all.
The Mavericks will win the title if they can get the Steve Nash from ten years ago to come back and play for them, Dirk finds the fountain of youth, Matthews becomes an MVP candidate, Parsons proves he's not a one season wonder and the bench highly exceeds expectations. This will be a rough year for the Mavericks, Mark Cuban and, most importantly, Dirk. They will struggle in the West and Dirk may call it quits after this season. We will have to wait and see.
Finally, my first playoff team. Coming in at number 16 is the Utah Jazz. I thought that I'd never say this, but Quinn Snyder may be a competent coach (ed note: That sentence makes me angry). He has a young team that's buying into playing team basketball and being stout on defense. Gordon Hayward is becoming a really good NBA player. He's playing like a max contract guy and I didn't expect that. He looks likes he's going to be good for a long time. Trey Burke has had a rough start to his young career, but the Jazz have tempered that problem by drafting Dante Exum last season. He got hurt, but he's a 6'6 point guard, and he looks to be really good. Burke is more of a bench player anyway, but it pains me to say that because he was a star when he played for Michigan, and you all know I'm a huge Michigan fan, both football and basketball. Derrick Favors is a pretty good NBA player and forward. He's a good post player and very good rebounder. Alec Burks is quietly becoming a pretty good scorer in the NBA. He's instant offense for the Jazz. Rodney Hood is a lefty sharp shooter, and he's playing good basketball right now in his young career. Rudy Gobert is an upgrade from Enes Kanter, especially on defense. He's not the scorer that Kanter was, but his imposing presence in the post made it an easy decision for the Jazz to trade Kanter to OKC last season. The issue with the Jazz is the rest of their bench. They took a shot, it may end up working out for them, by drafting Trey Lyles in the lottery this past draft. He barely saw the floor in his one season at Kentucky, and no one knows how good he really is. He has a ton of potential, but he's extremely raw. He is the definition of a prospect. And, other than Hood and Trevor Booker, the rest of the bench is question marks. Is Jeff Withey really worthy of an NBA roster spot? Trevor Booker is okay, but will he take the next step? The rest of the bench, literally, who are these guys? I don't know much about them. Like I said, the Jazz will make the playoffs, taking the Mavericks spot from last season, in the hyper competitive West, but they will get swept out of the first round. They will win either 44 or 45 games this season.
How the Jazz will win it all.
The Jazz will win the title, now they're the first team in my countdown that has a "shot" simply because they will be in the playoffs, if they catch fire at the exact right time and run off a series of monumental upsets. They will be the eight seed in the West and they will have to go through a murderers row of opponents. That won't happen this year. they'll be a nice story and Jazz basketball is on it's way back, but they're not elite. Not yet.
So, there are my 18, 17 and 16 teams in the NBA. Come back next week and we will get into the upper echelon of teams in the NBA. All the teams next week will be playoff teams and you will get my Finals prediction and my pick to win the Finals next Friday.
It will feel good to write about teams that are actually good.
Ty is the Pop Culture editor for SeedSing and the other host of the X Millennial Man podcast. We all watch sports here at SeedSing, but Ty is the only one that really knows what he is talking about. Follow him on twitter @tykulik.