Getting right into it on day 5 of my NBA countdown, I have the defending champs at number 14, the Toronto Raptors. I know they just won the title, and did it in pretty convincing fashion, but they lost the one guy that truly did it all for them. Kawhi Leonard was truly a one year rental, and he more than lived up to the price they paid to acquire him, and he brought them a title. Outside of Leonard, they have a good amount of talent, but it is only older, or won't be able to do what they did without Leonard there. I really, really like Pascal Siakim, and I think he can be an All Star, but it will be tougher for him with no Leonard. Yes, he will score and rebound and play solid defense, it will just be tougher because teams will now be targeting him solely on scouting reports. Fred Van Vleet was great in the conference and NBA finals, and he is a solid point guard. Kyle Lowry got a humongous one year deal, but it was smart for him and the team. Also, he is on the wrong side of 30, and without Leonard, he may go back to being the player he was before, which was good, but a playoff choker. Marc Gasol was great for them in the finals, but he is very old, and if stuff goes bad quick, he will want out. He only has a few years left. Serge Ibaka is okay, but he has kind of turned himself into strictly a mid range shooter, and the defense isn't what it used to be. OG Anounoby is going to come back, and while he was starting to come on, he missed more than half the season, and all of the playoffs. He has work to do. Norman Powell is a good three point shooter, but he is streaky. They acquired Stanley Johnson, but for a guy I thought was going to be good, he has been kind of a bust. They also signed Rondae Hollis Jefferson, and while he is okay, he was going to be pushed aside from Brooklyn regardless of who they signed this offseason. The Raptors will still be a playoff team, maybe even a 4 seed, but they will not find the same success as last year. It's tough to repeat anyway, and when you lose your main dude, it is made that much tougher.
At number 13 I have the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers are a solid playoff team, and they will win in the mid to high 40 games this year. But, I feel like that is all they will be as long as they keep this roster together. We still don't know when Victor Oladipo will be back, and they need him to be a true threat. Oladipo is great, and he can be the difference in a 6 seed or a 3 seed. The Pacers do still have solid players around him. Myles Turner is a great rim protector and rebounder and solid on switching defense. He is even getting better on offense. Domantas Sabonis is a good throwback big, but I feel like he is going to be trade bait all year long. That can mess with a player. Doug McDermott is an okay three point shooter, but he does literally nothing else. TJ Leaf showed zero in his rookie year. What the Pacers did do was go out and sign some quality vets. TJ Warren is a scoring machine, and I think he will fit in very well. The fact that they pulled off the Malcolm Brogdon deal is a big, big deal. Brogdon is such a solid pro, a good shooter and the Bucks will miss him. He was a great get for the Pacers. And Jeremy Lamb, while incredibly streaky and inconsistent, when he catches fire, he can light it up. The Pacers are a very solid team, but their success lies with Oladipo and when he will be back. They need him.
At number 12 I have the Portland Trailblazers. The Trailblazers have one of the best offensive back courts in the NBA. Damien Lillard is a killer, and he proved that in the playoffs until he ran out of steam. That dude is amazing. CJ McCollum proved that he can coexist with Lillard and had a monster year last year. He is a scoring machine as well. But, they don't play much defense at all. But they can, legit, average 50 to 60 points combined this year. No one knows when Jusuf Murkic will be back, and Portland needs him. For the time being, they took a flyer on Hassan Whiteside. Whiteside is a total wild card, but when he is locked in, he is one of the better defenders in the league, and a total beast on the block. Pau Gasol is there, but he is so old now, I feel like he is more there to help coach than to play. Who knows what they will get from Zach Collins, besides stupid fouls. He is a good player, but he needs to learn to control his temper. Rodney Hood is back, and I think he is in a perfect place for himself. He is free to create and score in Portland, and can destroy second units. As I wrote awhile back, I love the Nassir Little pick. I think he is going to be great, and will be out to prove 24 other teams wrong. Every wroter I read now is obsessed with Anfernee Simons, and right now in the preseason, he is showing out. I just don't know where he will find solid minutes. They also signed Kent Bazemore, and he is solid all around. I am probably too low on the Trailblazers, I always am, but their roster is weird and outside of McCollum and Lillard I just don't know yet.
My final team of the day, at number 11, I have the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors have been an easy number 1 for the past 5 years, but now, things are up in the air for them. Steph Curry is great and will be even greater this year. He is going to have so much offensive freedom, and I feel like he will put up historic numbers. D'Angelo Russell was an odd pickup for them, but I think he will be a good scorer next to Steph. He won't ease the loss of Klay Thompson, but he will do his best to fill the scoring void. Speaking of Thompson, he tore his ACL in the finals, and will not be back until after the All Star break. But, he got a huge contract and will be given ample time to recover from his injury. And when he comes back, there is no better catch and shoot player in the league, and he is an all NBA defender. Draymond Green might be the best overall defender in the league. And if he stays in shape all year, and brings it for 82 games, he could easily be an All Star. They drafted Jordan Poole in the first round, and I watched him for 2 years at Michigan. When he is hitting shots, he is great. But, that didn't happen as much his sophomore year as it did his freshman year. They signed Willie Cauley Stein, and while I like his pick and roll ability and his defense, how is he not JaVale McGee 2.0? Kevon Looney is back after having a very good playoffs, and I think that he is the definite starting center, he could get even better. Outside of that, the Warriors are a big time question mark for the first time in the past half decade. Steph is Steph, and he is great and will score tons, but they have a lot of questions after that. I'm very curious to see how they respond when they aren't the clear favorites. They don't have KD anymore, and Klay is going to miss a good chunk of the year. It is time to see how good the Warriors, and their staff, really are.
That is it for today. Come back next week when we break into the top 10.
Ty is the Pop Culture editor for SeedSing, the other host of the X Millennial Man Podcast, and the greatest basketball writer on the internet.
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