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New NBA Scheduling and the Top Ten Teams to Watch in 2017
Understanding the NBA’s re-tooling of the NBA Schedule and
identifying the top ten teams to watch in the NBA this year
How is the NBA Schedule this year than in previous years?
To preserve player’s health and not have players rest in crucial nationally televised games, the NBA eliminated any possibility of 4 games in 5 nights.
To accommodate the above-mentioned change, the NBA’s regular season schedule begins approximately two weeks earlier than normal (Tuesday, October 17th)
In the past, schedulers have avoided many Saturday or Sunday matchups because of the College and Professional Football Seasons. This year, you will notice an increase in weekend games throughout the regular season which is a bonus for all of us basketball fans looking for games on the weekend early in the season.
The NBA is using a new scheduling matrix that ensures that most matchups occurring in the NBA Regular Season will feature teams with equal or similar amounts of rest between games.
All the above scheduling changes should avoid star players sitting out in nationally televised games and we should be the beneficiary of a better brand of basketball.
Who are the Top Ten Teams to Watch in the NBA this year?
Before we start this list, I want to be clear – these are the top ten teams to watch in 2017-2018. These are not necessarily the ten best teams in the league (after all, the Lakers and 76ers are on this list). This simply represents the top ten teams in terms of:
Off-season acquisitions through the draft or free agency
Blend of new talent with existing talent
How interesting these teams are against the backdrop of their competition in the league.
SO, without further ado or fanfare, here’s the top ten teams to watch in the NBA this year…
#10 Washington Wizards
The offseason saw the Wizards pick up veteran bench scorer, G Jodie Meeks. He can score up close, mid-range and from beyond the arc. The Wizards were also able to sign F Otto Porter to a deal that will preserve his stay with the Coach Scott Brooks led team. They did lose G Brandon Jennings to the Shanxi Brave Dragons (yes – that’s the name of a real team) but they still have one of the more talented and entertaining backcourts in the NBA. G John Wall is a beast when it comes to playing on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court. He is incredibly adept to finding his way to the bucket averaging 7.9 points on drives and lay-ins alone last year. G Bradley Beal is a top-notch score and perimeter and threat and the Wizards have done a nice job of putting together a roster with decent rebounders plus three-point shooting threats. There is no lack of offensive prowess on this team, it’s the defense that will cost them victories in the playoffs. They had the third-worst defensive rating last year and they will have to fix that if they have hope of making a serious run in the playoffs. Plus – this team looks and feels like they have a legitimate beef and hatred for the Boston Celtics which is always a plus. Anytime you have two teams that legitimately don’t like each other in the same conference is a matchup worth looking forward to both in the regular season and in playoffs. Remember the Shaq/Kobe Lakers vs. the Webber Kings? How about Jordan’s Bulls vs. the Knicks or the Pistons in the 90s? Great rivalries that were born in the regular season and only intensified in the playoffs.
#9 Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis Antetokounmpo. GEE – ahn – iss. On-TET-O-coomp-OH.
Say it with me. You’re going to have to learn how to say it because he’s here to stay as a surefire superstar. He has the ability to finish and create his own shot. He’s also a classic point-forward on this team that is quietly becoming one of the more talented-laden rosters in the NBA. Coupled with 2016-2017 Rookie of the Year G Malcom Brogdon, this Bucks team is very fun to watch and is very athletic. Coach Jason Kidd has also made the transition from star player to respected coach in an ever-changing league. Since taking over as head coach, they have finished no lower than 11th in fast break points every year he has coached them. Their overall athleticism and length could prove dividends on the defensive side of the ball as well. If these young players can show effort and determination on the defensive end, they will out hustle their opponents right into the playoffs. Although F Jabari Parker is expected to miss much of the season with torn ACL, the Bucks do expect to have G/F Khris Middleton back in the fold and healthy. Last year when he returned to the lineup the Bucks went 20-9.
#8 Philadelphia 76ers
For years we’ve been told to ‘trust the process.’ Well, this just maybe the year that the 76ers process pays off. For the first time in several years, Philadelphia may just have a playoff team on their hands entering the 2017-2018 season…that is, if the team stays healthy. Has any NBA Franchise experience more devastating injuries to potential star rookies than this 76ers team? This team is a must watch appointment this year because of names like C Joel Embiid, G Markelle Fultz, G Ben Simmons all playing together on the same court. They will have the opportunity to have two straight #1 picks going out on the floor for the first time. G Ben Simmons is checked in at 6’ 10” and will prove to be a very entertaining guard in our league drawing some (early) comparisons to Magic Johnson because of his height at the point guard position. Head Coach Brett Brown is one of the most likeable interview in all of sports and has been patiently waiting for this roster to get on the court at the same time. Young players already mentioned meshing with players like G J.J. Reddick, F/C Amir Johnson and F Dario Saric could be the formula that allow this team to climb out of the dungeon of the Easter Conference into the 4th-6th playoff seed while playing a very entertaining brand of basketball.
While Embiid gets all the headlines keep your eye on F Robert Covington this year. He’s a versatile defender that has the length and athleticism to guard the opponent’s best player be it a forward or a guard. Last year he led the league in deflections and joined Kawhii Leonard as the only player in the league to average 2.5 steals, 1 block and shoot over 35% from beyond the 3pt line per 100 possessions since the 2013-2014 regular season.
#7 Los Angeles Lakers
Say what you will about LaVar Ball, G Lonzo Ball is the real deal. He puts people in the right position to score and finds people that are in the best position to score. He has great court vision and is one of the more innovate ball passers we’ve seen come out of the college ranks since that of Steve Nash and Jason Kidd. Physically, he’s not as dominate as he probably needs to be and, hopefully if you’re a Lakers fan, that will come in the next few off seasons as he bulks up in the weight room. The flashes of brilliance we’ve seen with him in the NBA Pre-Season leads us to believe that the Laker brand of Ball will be entertaining, to say the least.
Plus, as you look at the roster that the Lakers have built in this Magic Johnson/Rob Pelinka led organization it’s easy to see that there is potential in some of the young players. Players like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Larry Nance Jr., Kyle Kuzma, Jordan Clarkson & Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are the reason that the Lakers will be featured thirty-five times on national television for the 2017-2018. To be true, they will not be a great team this year – but they will be entertaining.
#6 Houston Rockets
Talk about a whirlwind of an offseason. The Rockets ownership changed and the Rockets roster went through some significant changes. While retaining talent like F Ryan Anderson, G/F Trevor Ariza, F Nene, G Eric Gordon and G James Harden the Rockets had some significant additions and departures. They will feel the effect of losing G Patrick Beverley and G Lou Williams but they welcome F Shawn Long, G/F PJ Tucker and perennial All-Star G Chris Paul. This will be one of the most entertaining teams to watch for many reasons. Spacing will not be a problem for this Mike D’Antoni led team. They have enough perimeter players left on this roster to keep up scoring with any other team in the league. They added G Chris Paul, which was an interesting move considering that James Harden had his best statistical year in his career. These two players have co-existed on the same roster before on Team USA so there is a knowledge about each other’s talents and tendencies on the court.
The potential for this team is high but so are a lot of teams in the Western Conference. On paper, it’s one of the best backcourts we’ve ever seen but that remains to be seen. Chris Paul’s presence on the court should take some pressure off of Harden in certain situations and allow both players to play with more freedom. Both players are veterans and chasing the ultimate prize – a NBA Championship. This common goal that has been elusive in both their careers up to this point could lead to some shared successes this year. Their recent additions of PJ Tucker and F Luc Mbah a Moute should fortify their perimeter defense, something crucial in the Western Conference with the likes of Golden State and San Antonio. F Shawn Long could have some increased playing time behind F Ryan Anderson after departing Philadelphia in favor of Houston. Bottom line - any team featuring Harden and CP3 on the same team with perimeter players is going to be a fun team to watch (especially in D’Antoni’s system) and a team that I definitely will keep a close eye on this year.
#5 Oklahoma City Thunder
This team is one of the only teams in the league that features two top 20 players on the same team: F Paul George and G Russell Westbrook. On his own, Russell Westbrook proved that he can will a team to the playoffs on his own. Having a proven scorer and team leader like Paul George on his team will be very interesting to watch over the course of the year. Will Russell allow George to thrive and take the lead in certain game situations? Will Coach Billy Donovan allow these superstars to be in an environment that allows both of their personalities and talents to thrive in this scenario? Will Coach Donovan be tempted to play these two stars for too many minutes this year because of the lack of depth on the bench? Or is Paul George’s one-year experiment going to be mildly successful at best?
While the answers to these questions remained to be seen – this is a super athletic team that will be have no problem scoring with the better teams in the NBA in a very exciting brand of basketball marked by fast breaks and quick scores. Part of their success is their rebounding – they have led the league in team rebounds for three years in a row. Part of their demise in 2016-2017 was their dismal three-point shooting. With the addition of Paul George this should see a significant uptick this year.
#4 Minnesota Timberwolves
This may just be the NBA’s young super team on the rise. The acquisition of Jimmy Butler coupled with existing young stars like Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony-Towns looks to form one of the most compelling trios we’ll have in the NBA this season. This was an absolute one-sided traded that help the Timberwolves land a star playmaker. He averaged a career high 5.5 assists last year in Chicago and that improvement will play dividends for this talented Minnesota roster. That would have already vaulted them into the playoff conversation but they didn’t stop there. They also added G Jeff Teague, F Taj Gibson and supreme sixth man G/F Jamal Crawford. Crawford has averaged double-digits in points his entire career and that shouldn’t change this year. Although the Western Conference is fiercely competitive this looks to be the year that Coach Tom Thibodeau has a roster that can net a playoff birth. Their ceiling is high and it will be fun to see this combination of talent hit the floor. Plus - any team featuring Karl Anthony-Towns is worth watching.
This KAT led team is one of the only teams in the NBA that has beaten the Golden State Warriors in each of the last two seasons and that is due, in large part, to KAT. He is very difficult to guard – so difficult, in fact, that Draymond Green has had some of his worst defensive matchups when facing Towns. Town is not only the face of the Timberwolves but will be, injury notwithstanding, one of the premier players in post LeBron James league. Although the Jazz finished tops in the division last year – the Jazz have lost Gordon Hayward to the Eastern Conference and the Timberwolves are poised to finish in the top of the Northwest division.
#3 Golden State Warriors
Seriously though. Do we really need to explain this one? They are the most talented team with the most entertaining brand of basketball the league has seen since the three-peat Kobe/Shaq Lakers of the early 2000s. Their defensive intensity is often overshadowed by their offensive prowess – but the defense is truly beautiful watch. They are so athletic and long in each of their positions that they can often switch repeatedly on defense leaving offenses confused and settling for their third or fourth offensive option. Grant it, the age of some of their bench players (David West and Andre Iguodola) leave something to be desired but this is definitely one of the must-see teams in the league this year.
If they make a championship run this year, they begin to enter the conversation of one of the best teams of this era of basketball. The possibility of four straight years in the Finals? The possibility of three NBA Champions? Yup. They’re must see TV.
#2 Cleveland Cavaliers
How good will this team with the loss of Kyrie and addition of F Jae Crawford and G Isaiah Thomas? I don’t know, but I can’t wait to watch it unfold. A 32-year old LeBron James will ensure this team will contend but it will be absolutely fascinating to watch how Jae Crowder’s perimeter wing defense helps this team contend. It will also be equally, if not more, to see how healthy IT4 is and how he meshes with this team. If IT4 is the same IT4 we saw in Boston last year, Cleveland will absolutely be poised to make another serious run for the title.
They have some great perimeter scorers that will keep the inside/outside game of the Cavaliers scoring a lot of buckets. Scoring should come easy for them. We could breakdown this roster one of several different ways but let’s be honest – this team is a team to watch because of LeBron. Rank him where you will among the all-time greats but we will all agree to this – he is MUST-SEE TV and that won’t change this year. The only concern I see as we enter the 2017-2018 is the number of veterans with a lot games underneath their belt. The change in NBA scheduling should help this team rest veterans when needed while still being able to contend for the #1 playoff seed in the Eastern Conference. PLUS – in their trade with Boston, they acquired the rights to the unprotected 2018 draft pick which belonged to the New Jersey Nets. It will be very interesting to see if the Cavaliers shop this pick close to the trade deadline to bolster their lineups for the playoffs (perhaps a run at DeMarcus Cousins?).
#1 Boston Celtics
Four. That’s the number of players from the 2016-2017 roster that will also be on the 2017-2018 roster. Four. That’s the number of players that will return from a #1 Eastern Conference seeded team. How does that happen? How does that work? Answer: Danny Ainge. This is one of the very few GMs in the league that have complete job security and who also couldn’t care less about what fans or media think of his decisions. The moves made this off season make the Boston Celtics my #1 team to watch this season. (Do you know how hard that is to admit for a life-long Laker fan?) They are absolutely talented and absolutely gifted. They have star power with G Kyrie Irving – one of the best ball handlers, scorers and fearless clutch players in the NBA. PLUS - they sign F Gordon Hayward who is a complete player and efficient on the offensive end. They have some physical players that can really wear down their opponents with F/C Al Horford and G Marcus Smart.
To top it all off, GM Danny Ainge has put the fate of this roster in the hands of head coach Brad Stevens. Stevens, one of the strongest minds in the basketball business, has the chance to build a legacy on this young talented team that could be together for quite some time. Did they pay too much to acquire Kyrie? Probably. But if this nets them a championship run in the next few years we will all but forget the summer of 2017 when Boston dismantled their #1 playoff seeded team from the year previous in favor of a championship roster.
There you have it. The top ten teams to watch in the NBA this season.
And as coincidence would have it check out the schedule on Opening Night and on Christmas Day…
Opening night of the NBA on Tuesday, October 17th:
Boston Celtics @ Cleveland Cavaliers
Houston Rockets @ Golden State Warriors
Christmas Day Lineup for the 2017-2018 season:
Philadelphia 76ers @ New York Knicks
Cleveland Cavaliers @ Golden State Warriors
Washington Wizards @ Boston Celtics
Houston Rockets @ Oklahoma City Thunder
Minnesota Timberwolves @ Los Angeles Lakers
I know what you’re thinking…how did the New York Knicks get scheduled for Christmas Day?