1. Will Danny Ainge regret not making a trade? The Celtics’ off-season had a lot of promise with a bevy of draft picks, eight of them actually. Guess what, Ainge ended up drafted eight players! I was surprised Boston was not able to make more than one deal. The Celtics have assembled a solid roster, but they could use a “star” player in my opinion. Did they really find that guy in the draft? I don’t think so.
2. Will the New-Look Knicks stay healthy? Phil Jackson and the Knicks’ brain-trust were certainly busy this summer acquiring Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, and Courtney Lee. I personally like the signings a bunch, especially Courtney Lee (this has the feel of Nicolas Batum last season, very underrated). The issue I see is health, Noah has played 96 games in the last two seasons and Rose has averaged 41.5 games played in the last four seasons. If those two stay healthy along with Carmelo, New York becomes very interesting.
3. Can Toronto keep up the momentum from last season? The Raptors finally got the proverbial “1st round monkey” off their back as they made the Eastern Conference finals. Toronto showed some real moxie in the playoffs as they faced some real adversity against Indiana and Miami. This team stayed pretty much intact from last season. For them to keep progressing, I feel that Jonas Valanciunas has to be more of a factor offensively. The Raptors’ offense leaned too much on Lowry and Derozan at times last season.
4. Which 76ers’ big man is going to be the “odd man out”? Jahlil Okafor had a very good rookie campaign averaging 17.5 points and seven rebounds per game. Nerlens Noel is a solid big man who improved, and now Joel Embiid is healthy. Coach Brett Brown and the 76ers’ brass will definitely monitor Embiid’s minutes, but I don’t know if that will go on the entire season. To me, this is one of the more interesting stories of the NBA season.
5. Will Ben Simmons play? He suffered a foot injury that will force him to miss an extended period of time, possibly three months. His agent Rich Paul has been rumored to suggest Simmons should be shelved for the entire season. This will not be the first time Philadelphia has done this, so I think the 76ers will handle this to the best of their ability. More reps with this young team will help Simmons a bunch, but I could see him not playing a single minute too.
5 Best Players
1. Carmelo Anthony, Knicks Still a great offensive player who can score from anywhere. My issue with him is two-fold: Decreasing point averages over the last three seasons, and that is because the Knicks have put Carmelo “in a box” offensively the last few years. D’Antoni turned him into a three-point shooter, Woodson, Rambis, and Fisher solely turned into an isolation post player where the ball STOPPED MOVING. If Jeff Hornacek is going to do what he says, Melo can turn back to a semblance of what he was in Denver, a multi-faceted offensive player that can do it all!
2. Demar Derozan, Raptors I am going to slammed for this probably, but he really has been solid for awhile now. Averaged 23.5 points per game last season and increased his field goal and three point percentages. Has become the leader of the Raptors. They have come up in the East mostly because of his growth as a player. Great, almost unstoppable mid-range game (just ask J.R. Smith).
3. Isaiah Thomas, Celtics It is amazing what one can do once they escape the “shell” of the bench. Thomas had an all-star season last season averaging 22 points per game and six assists. What is impressive about Thomas is that he is fearless, and since his arrival midway through the 14-15′ season, Boston gained a player who gives them a “swagger” they have not had in a while. The Celtics feed off that.
4. Brook Lopez, Nets As bad as Brooklyn is, Lopez gives the Nets a shade of light. Has been highly productive averaging close to 20 points per game three of the last four seasons. Now he probably does not rebound at a higher rate than he should, but he does block shots decent rate. Would love to see him get traded so his talent can be seen more.
5. Kyle Lowry, Raptors I had some trouble about where to place him, but he is deserving to be on this list. Averaged over 2o points, six assists and five rebounds per game. The reason I have him at #5 is because of what I saw in the playoffs. Yes, Derozan struggled too, but Lowry really did not handle the spotlight well. I still remember him walking to the locker room during the middle of a game against the Cavs in the East finals.
Best Coach: Brad Stevens, Celtics
Surprise Player: Courtney Lee, Knicks This signing has “sneaky good” written all over it, very similar to Charlotte signing Nicolas Batum last season. A true professional who is an upgrade from what they had last season, especially defensively and shooting the “three-ball”. Could really benefit from playing in an offense that wants to play a bit faster.
Disappointing Player: Al Horford, Celtics I think Al has been very underrated and under-appreciated for years. He will be very valuable for a very young team in Boston, but I don’t know if he is “the guy” to complete the championship puzzle even if he will get paid like it.
Order of Finish: 1. Boston 2. Toronto 3. New York 4. Philadelphia 5. Brooklyn