To recap: I rank each team from 1-10 on their projected starters, bench, coach and watchability, using a 1-10 scale, and rate them overall based on a (starters x 5) + (bench x 2) + (coaching x 2) + watchability to give them an overall score. Why does watchability matter? Because we're not robots here, that's why.
I'm breaking down these previews into small, bite-size chunks to make them more palatable to read, around 1,000-1,500 words each, obviously spending more time on the contenders than the minnows. Enjoy and leave me all kinds of comments about why I'm terribly wrong.
Atlanta Hawks: 58
Horford coming back for a full season after missing almost all of last year is huge for them because he's one of the most underrated players in the league, and he's been hidden for most of his career because he plays for a lame Hawks team and Josh Smith hijacked all their highlights. Speaking of Smith, trading Millsap for him in free agency isn't really that much of a downgrade, because Millsap has a much better idea of his strengths and weaknesses offensively and doesn't waste as many possessions.
Things kind of fall off a cliff after that on the perimeter, and their small-forward spot is basically a disaster, just like Cleveland's, so I'm thinking that new coach Mike Budenholzer will liberally utilize a three-guard lineup, with Korver moving to the three and Lou Williams checking in, similar to the way the Spurs used to play with Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and George Hill before Kawhi Leonard thankfully entered our lives. Teague is right on the borderline when it comes to playable starters, but at least he's not Brandon Knight or somebody like that.
With Brazilian center Lucas Noguiera, a draft day trade, plying his trade overseas for at least another year, the Hawks will have to rely on another foreign bigman, Ayon, for the time being. Brand can still be useful, even at 34, as long as he doesn't have to log too many minutes. I refuse on principle to learn anything about somebody named "Cartier Martin," until he absolutely makes me. Schroeder, a supposed Rondo clone from Germany, is someone I'm sure the team would like to make Teague expendable as soon as possible. The guy here of note, of course, is Williams, and they're going to need him to pump in the points (without giving up just as many on the other end) to score enough to be competitive.
Coaching (6): I always thought Budenholzer knew his stuff, but now I'm not so sure. The DUI is a pretty reckless move, but the way "Bud" played his starters all out in the fourth quarter of a preseason game against the Spurs deep reserves -- I mean, what was that? How much of a dope would he have looked like if someone got hurt? We're gonna have to wait a while to see Bud's chops in the head seat.
Watchability (4): This rating is being extremely charitable because the Hawks look totally "bleh" on paper, but I'm hopeful that Bud will bring some of the Spurs European passing game over with him to Atlanta. I'll give them a couple of early looks if I can, if no one else is on. If all I'm getting are static post-ups to Horford or Millsap though, I'm out -- quickly.
Best-Case Scenario: Another horrific but not career-threatening injury to Horford, followed by the same to Millsap and Teague, and they bottom out and nab a desperately needed franchise-altering perimeter star like Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker, because really, where are they going with these guys? And who's gonna watch them?
Worst-Case Scenario: Their billionth straight trip to the playoffs as cannon fodder for the contenders. The 18th pick in a 17-deep draft. Mediocrity forever. Mayflower trucks ship them to Seattle, nobody in Georgia notices or cares except for the employees of the numerous gentlemen's establishments in the area.
Realistic Scenario: Exactly the same as the worst-case scenario except for the part about them moving away.
Degrees of Best All-Time Player To Manu Ginobili: 2 (Hey, I guessed this one! It's Kevin Willis, who's been in three of these things already. Anyway, Willis played with "The Human Highlight Film" for almost a decade. Nique himself was a Spur the year they tanked it up for Tim Duncan and will forever be the penultimate Spur to wear No. 21.)
I'm not as down on the Gortat trade, where the Wizards gave up a 2014 first-round pick for the Polish big man, as some pundits are because it's top-12 protected, meaning if disaster strikes and the Wiz finish in the lottery, the odds are strong that they'll get to keep the pick. I'm of the mind that with the roster they've got they'd be picking somewhere like 17 or so, and that's a decent enough price to pay for Gortat, who can form a very solid frontcourt partnership with Nene - if the Brazilian can stay healthy - and give Wall somebody to use on the pick-and-roll to diversify their offense.
The question with them just like the Cavs isn't about talent, because I think both are definitely top-eight teams in the East in that regard, but whether they can keep Nene and Wall off the injured list. Beal should be even better with a year of seasoning and Ariza is decent insurance for No. 3-overall-pick Otto Porter Jr. to not face scrutiny right away.
Oh, dear. This crew may be the Wizards' undoing, unless Porter catches on quickly and Webster can pop some threes on a consistent basis. You can see why they traded for Gortat, because Emeka Okafor isn't due back from injury anytime soon and they're painfully thin up front, with Seraphin a serviceable big, Harrington strictly a one-dimensional stretch four and Booker and Vesely not even worth mentioning. Maynor, meanwhile, was so bad for the Thunder last season coming off injury that they shipped him to Portland and signed the ancient Derek Fisher instead. Look for a lot of small ball from the Wiz, so that either Gortat or Nene can be on the floor as much as possible.
Coaching (4): I don't know much about Randy Wittman and couldn't pick him out of a lineup, but he's going to be in the hot seat right away because ownership has made it clear that it's playoffs or bust. If they get off to a slow start, his head will be on the chopping block. The .336 winning percentage on his resume over seven seasons, with zero trips to the playoffs in that span, would not make me optimistic, but to his credit, he did get this team to play some serious defense during the second half of last season. He has to hope that things will be smoother on the other end with Gortat and a full season out of Wall.
Watchability (7): I'm all in on Irving and Wall. I can be critical of Tony Parker and some other of the top-flight points on contenders because that stuff matters. With these two I just want to enjoy some young talented guys trying to figure stuff out and to do it without emotional commitment. I do think both he and Gortat are headier players than they're generally given credit for being (at least offensively) and they'll develop a chemistry quickly.
Best-Case Scenario: Everyone stays healthy and we get to see a Miami-Washington match-up in the first round where the Wizards could have some match-up advantages with their two bigs and with Wall and hang around for six games and really pump up the fan base for 2014 and beyond.
Worst-Case Scenario: Porter continues to look as awful as he has all throughout summer league and preseason, Bradley plateaus and Nene and Wall continue missing games. They're just bad enough to finish with the ninth seed, earning them the 13th pick that they no longer have. The only mention of them during national sports debate shows is about how inappropriate and culturally offensive the nickname "Wizards" is because surely an actual team of wizards would've figured out how to not suck for so many consecutive seasons.
Realistic Scenario: Wall and Nene play enough to get them into the playoffs, but Porter looks nothing like a No. 3 overall pick. They're swept out of the playoffs vs. the Pacers in one of those "NBATV" series nobody watches.
Degrees of Best All-Time Player to Manu Ginobili: 3 (Here's how bad the Wizards are: I didn't know instantly who their best all-time player was. I knew it was either Wes Unseld or Elvin Hayes, but I had to dig to form a conclusion. I've settled on Hayes, who was teammates with Caldwell Jones on the 1982-83 Rockets, who was teammates with David Robinson (!) on the 1989-90 Spurs, who was, of course, teammates with Ginobili in 2002-03, Robinson's final season and Ginobili's first.
More from Pounding The Rock:
- 30 preseason predictions: Minnesota Timberwolves
- All the Spurs season previews in one place
- 30 preseason predictions: Utah Jazz
- 30 preseason predictions: Indiana Pacers
- Stampler's NBA Predictions Part 6: The Pistons & Bucks