It is finally here. The 2016-17 campaign begins tonight with the Cleveland Cavaliers receiving their championship rings followed by the record-setting Golden State Warriors, and runner ups, facing off against the San Antonio Spurs. The initial rankings are always difficult to gauge, but let's go ahead and give it a go.
1] Cleveland Cavaliers 0-0 LeBron James was amazing during the finals, an All-Time Great performance, and Kyrie did what he had to do to help his side win. The Cavaliers also resolved the JR Smith issue and should be the Eastern favorites once again. A trip to Canada sandwiched between home dates against the Knicks and Magic is on the slate for the tip-off.
2] Golden State Warriors 0-0 As if winning 73 games and being up 3-1 in the Finals wasn't enough, the Warriors added Kevin Durant, a top five talent in the league and a player some argue as being superior to LeBron. Golden State also added some savvy veterans in David West and Zaza Pachulia to replace the departures of Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli. After hosting San Antonio to tip off the year, the Warriors will fly to New Orleans and then Phoenix.
3] San Antonio Spurs 0-0 For the first time in 19 years, the Spurs will be without Tim Duncan anchoring the defense. However, Gregg Popovich has proven time and time again that he is among the best coaches to ever step foot on the hardwood and the necessary adjustments will follow to keep San Antonio among the league's elite. A Northern Cali two step is followed by a date against the Pelicans before heading to Miami.
4] Los Angeles Clippers 0-0 Chris Paul and Blake Griffin got hurt during the playoffs, sending the Clippers home in the first round, providing some extra fire for the organization. The bench was bolstered with veteran additions, again, and fit is the only question. Figuring that out will be tough as 16 of the first 23 are against teams over .500 from the prior year, but only a trip to Portland before a home date against Utah is on the calendar during week 1.
5] Toronto Raptors 0-0 Despite winning 56 games, the Raptors continue to be overlooked by many in the NBA landscape. DeMarre Carroll will finally be healthy and the Raptors will get some expected development from Norman Powell, the team should be en route to another 50+ win season and deep playoff run. Dates against Detroit and Cleveland are on slate.
6] Utah Jazz 0-0 Count me real high on the Jazz, they bolstered their bench, acquired a legit point guard, and will get Dante Exum back. Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw will provide some solid vet experience. No Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks to kick off the campaign does hurt as they visit Portland and the Clippers with a date at home against the Lakers in between.
7] Boston Celtics 0-0 Brad Stevens is en route to climb into the top tier of the coaching echelon and has a bit more to work with this year as the Celtics snagged Al Horford away from the Atlanta Hawks to shore up their front court. Horford should be a seamless fit into Boston's team oriented offense and will combine with Amir Johnson, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder to play suffocating defense.
8] Portland Trail Blazers 0-0 Damian Lillard has vowed to put himself into the MVP consideration, after finishing 8th the prior season, and we have seen what a motivated Lillard can do after he felt that was snubbed during the All-Star game. They surprised the league last year, ending up in the Western Conference Semi-Finals, killing the chance of sneaking up on teams, and upgraded the bench with Evan Turner and Festus Ezeli. CJ McCollum should also show improvement. With home dates against a Hayward-less Utah squad, the Clippers and a trip to Denver, Portland could start 3-0.
9] Indiana Pacers 0-0 Jeff Teague and Al Jefferson will bring in an offensive boost, while George will, hopefully, continue his incline. The development of Glenn Robinson III is really intriguing to see, but Myles Turner is the true X-Factor in Indianapolis. Trips to Brooklyn and Chicago follow an opening home date against the Dallas Mavericks.
10] Charlotte Hornets 0-0 Nicolas Batum was on fire for France during the summer break, hoping to translate that into the marathon NBA season, while Marco Belinelli aims to get back to what he's used too. If Roy Hibbert can return anywhere near his Indiana days, the Hornets will get a much needed defensive boost as they hope to continue to climb into the rankings. Three potential playoff teams are on the schedule with trips to Milwaukee and Miami before hosting the Celtics.
11] Atlanta Hawks 0-0 Dwight Howard comes to the Hawks to anchor the defense, which should be among the leagues best. If he can get some offense going and Korver turns into Korver, the Hawks could climb up the rankings. A home date against Washington before a trip to Philatankia is on deck.
12] Oklahoma City Thunder 0-0 Thunder are very hard to gauge, though Westbrook should be considered among the front runners of the Most Valuable Player award, going from a co-franchise player to the man. Steven Adams improvement will be vital, as will Enes Kanter's continued willingness to come off the bench. Victor Oladipo may be the determining factor if the Thunder compete for a top 4 seed or settle for something in the 6-7 range. With a trip to Philatankia before hosting the Suns and Lakers, OKC can start off 3-0.
13] Washington Wizards 0-0 Since acquiring Markieff Morris, the Wizards went 18-13, despite missing John Wall and/or Bradley Beal for some time. Wall has some solid shooters around him this year to dish out too, and Beal, if healthy, will be relied upon. Washington won't have a home game during the opening week as they visit the Hawks and Grizzlies.
14] Detroit Pistons 0-0 Despite missing Reggie Jackson for the first 20 games, or so, I really like the Pistons to start out pretty solid. A great opportunity for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tobias Harris and Marcus Morris to show their offensive capabilities, while Stanley Johnson and Andre Drummond should continue to get better. A trip to Toronto precedes home dates against the Magic and Bucks.
15] Houston Rockets 0-0 Mike D'Antoni has announced that James Harden will be the Rockets full time starting point guard, which should speed up the pace of the game and allow for Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon to get their touches. Defense could be a worry as Dwight departed to Atlanta, leading to Capela's development, along with KJ McDaniels to be relied upon. A home and home against Dallas comes after the opening game against the Lakers in Los Angeles.
16] Memphis Grizzlies 0-0 Michael Conley Jr. was the first recipient of a super-maximum contract, as Memphis hopes to remain healthy and get back into discussions of being a possible threat in the West. Zach Randolph can very well be a front runner for the 6th Man of the Year award as JaMychal Green takes over the starting slot. Chandler Parsons' health is going to be vital as the Grizzlies start off against the young Wolves before visiting New York and then hosting Washington to kick off the year.
17] Milwaukee Bucks 0-0 Hard to justifying placing the Bucks this high with Middleton being out for the majority of the season being considered a best-case scenario, but the development from Antetokuonmpo (Ante-Up from this point on, or Yannis) and Jabari Parker will be crucial to the Bucks play. Dellavedova was a decent signing and the play of Michael Beasley on offense could very well push the Bucks up in the rankings and standings. Home dates against Charlotte and Brooklyn prior to a trip to Detroit are coming up.
18] Miami Heat 0-0 Most have Miami in the 21-23 range, but Dragic now having full reign of the offense should see many jump on his wagon early on. Justise Winslow is a guy the league will be keeping an eye on, and Waiters should get all the looks he finally wants. Hassan Whiteside's development on offense will be the place-setter in South Beach as they will head to Orlando before hosting Charlotte and San Antonio.
19] Denver Nuggets 0-0 Whether Denver stays the same, drops or rises comes down to one person and how often he can stay on the court. Danillo Gallinari is going to be key for the Nuggs playoff push, as improvements from Nurkic and Jokic are to be expected. Wilson Chandler also needs to remain good to go. A trip to New Orleans and a home date against Portland are on the slate.
20] New York Knicks 0-0 Madison Square Garden is buzzing with hype as Derrick Rose believes the Knicks are a super-team and his addition, teamed with that of Joakim Noah has everyone happy. Not to mention the hype around Kristaps Porzingis as being the next big thing. I'm not very sold on Rose being a net positive in New York, though Brandon Jennings will be a great add. They get to see the Cavs receive their rings prior to hosting Memphis.
21] Phoenix Suns 0-0 Devin Booker is garnering well deserved hype around the league, with some believing he's as good as the league's second best point guard. Eric Bledsoe should finally be healthy and good to go, while Brandon Knight seems to be fully content with his role off the bench as a spark. If Tyson Chandler, PJ Tucker and Jared Dudley can provide the needed vet leadership, teamed with development from TJ Warren, Marqueese Chriss, Phoenix may battle for a playoff spot late into the season. With a trip to Oklahoma City, between home dates against Sacramento and Golden State, Phoenix will have a solid view of where they are at.
22] Minnesota Timberwolves High expectations surround the Wolves, with Karl Anthony-Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine expecting to develop well. Ricky Rubio seems willing to pass the torch and do what he needs to do for his side to win, while Tom Thibodeau will bolster the defense. In all honesty, I'm probably underrating them but with tests against Memphis and Sacramento coming up, the Wolves will see where they can get. 23] Dallas Mavericks 0-0 Harrison Barnes is overrated and wasn't a very smart acquisition by Mark Cuban, who has seen Dallas take a major dip over the past few years. If he wasn't paid as much as he is, I wouldn't be shocked that if Justin Anderson developed at a quick pace, that Rick Carlisle would choose to start him at the three instead. Andrew Bogut will provide much needed rim protection, and Dirk will continue to be a savvy vet as Dallas will visit Indiana prior to a home and home series against Houston.
24] Chicago Bulls 0-0 Dwyane Wade is back home, while Rajon Rondo is coming in to replace Derrick Rose. Robin Lopez is an upgrade over Noah at the five, while Taj Gibson gets his chance to finally start. Defense won't be an issue for Chicago, but the question will be if they can keep up on the offensive end. Fred Hoiberg probably isn't the right type of coach for a team built this way. Home matches versus Boston and Indiana will be a good test to start the campaign.
25] Orlando Magic 0-0 So much length on for Frank Vogel to work with, though I'm not very sold on Elfrid Payton developing a reliable jumper, nor do I like Aaron Gordon starting at the three. Orlando won't be an easy team to face, and, barring a trade, they won't be in the playoff hunt come March and on. A home date against Miami prior to flying to Detroit and Cleveland is on the slate.
26] Sacramento Kings 0-0 DeMarcus Cousins will probably cement himself as the league's best center, but with the chemistry issues and unknown status of Rudy Gay wanting out will cause some issues. It doesn't help with six of the first eight games being on the road, and Darren Collison being suspended during that time frame. Can Ty Lawson get back to his Denver self is the hope as a trip to Phoenix, prior to hosting the Spurs and Minnesota is what Coach Joerger is facing.
27] Los Angeles Lakers 0-0 Lakers seem to be hoping for some sort of a playoff push, a move that has me scratching my head considering the draft picks they owe to Philadelphia and Orlando. Really interested in seeing how D'Angelo does without the need to take a step back for Kobe. Hosting Houston prior to a trip to Salt Lake City and Oklahoma City should provide some entertaining, fast games.
28] New Orleans Pelicans 0-0 Jrue Holiday is out indefinitely due to more important family issues, and the franchise just hasn't made any moves to make them stand out. Buddy Hield will have a spectacular season, while Davis, hopefully, will play the majority of the year. Denver and Golden State come to town prior to a trip to the Alamo.
29] Brooklyn Nets 0-0 Can Jeremy Lin and Brook Lopez get some excitement in Brooklyn? Hard to see. Trips to Boston and Milwaukee sandwich a home date against Indiana.
30] Philadelphia 76ers 0-0 Joel Embiid finally gets to step on the floor, but probably won't top 30 minutes very often. Ben Simmons is out as well. Home games against Oklahoma City and Atlanta are on the table for the notorious tankers.