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.
Orlando Magic: 55
Projected Starters (5*): C Nikola Vucevic, PF Jason Maxiell, SF Maurice Harkless, SG Arron Afflalo, PG Jameer Nelson
The rating is five with an asterisk because, at least on the outset, coach Jacque Vaughn has elected to not start three of his best players in Tobias Harris, Andrew Nicholson, and of course, odds-on Rookie-of-the-Year-favorite Victor Oladipo. Such a move may be viewed as a coach making his yougsters earn their stripes, but in a lot of quarters the perception will be that the Magic are blatantly tanking. They could be, but I reiterate for the thousandth time that I don't understand why, because they plainly to me have as much talent as the other clubs fighting for lower playoff seeds in the East. The less guys like Afflalo, Nelson and Glen Davis play, the better. Give all the minutes to Vucevic, who was a revelation last year, to Nicholson, to Harkless and Harris, and especially to Oladipo and let them learn on the fly. At best they'll surprise everybody and contend for the playoffs and at worst they'll be the crappy team that management apparently wants them to be. All they need is a young stud point guard -- which could explain the tanking...
Projected Bench (6.5*): C-PF Andrew Nicholson, PF Glen Davis, SF Tobias Harris, SG Victor Oladipo, PG Ronnie Price, PF Kyle O'Quinn, SG E'Twaun Moore
If your bench could beat your starters in a 5-on-5 game, then maybe they shouldn't be your bench? I actually like the fit of Harris as a reserve gunner, but Nicholson and Oladipo, who projects to being a stat-stuffer in the mold of Dwyane Wade, but with better defense, need to start. Nicholson can be used the way the Spurs do it with Tiago, where he plays half his minutes with Vucevic and the other half as the backup center when the Montenegro native (Montenegran? Montenegroite? Montenegronian?) is resting. Still, a pretty strong nine-man rotation, before it falls off a cliff.
Coaching (4.5): I have no idea how good of a coach Vaughn is first off, and more importantly I don't know if he's actually going to be allowed to go all out to win games or whether the front office will demand certain minutes for this guy and certain minutes for that guy and all kinds of messages both implied and explicit that they don't want to win.
Watchability (8): If they're trying, I'm all aboard for Oladipo, Vucevic and all the other young guys they've got. I'm so irrationally high on the Magic it's insane. I'm kicking myself for not recording the Orlando-Indiana game tonight.
Best-Case Scenario: Oladipo is the runaway ROY, Vucevic plays like an All-Star, while Nicholson, Harkless and Harris all continue to ascend. They buy out Hedo Turkoglu and use the money to pick up a decent point guard at the trading deadline (somebody like Goran Dragic?) and shock the pundits by going for it with a playoff run, earning an eighth seed and pushing the Bulls to six games.
Worst-Case Scenario: There is no real worst-case scenario here because if they lose, they win, in terms of the lottery. I guess the only "bad" thing that could happen is that Oladipo massively disappoints and all their other young bucks plateau, earning the Madge a top pick on merit rather than some tanking shenanigans.
Realistic Scenario: Some growing pains, some peaks and valleys, a few mysterious "injuries" and a trip to the lottery thanks to a late-season slide in the standings. Oladipo does win the Rookie of the Year but Harkless, Harris and NIcholson stay relatively static.
Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets: 43
Projected Starters (5): C Al Jefferson, PF Cody Zeller, SF Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, SG Gerald Henderson, PG Kemba Walker
This franchise hasn't deserved any compliments for years now, but if Zeller could develop quickly into a decent stretch four, you can see how their starting lineup could work with him and Jefferson on board. Walker showed improvement last season and seems to at least have a clue of his strengths and weaknesses and the areas of his game he has to work on, and MKG can at least check the other team's best guy, even though his shooting hasn't come around at all. Henderson and Zeller will really need to fill it up for the offense to work, though I think smart opposing coaches will just elect to play Jefferson straight up since his post-ups aren't that all that efficient, rather than sending doubles at him. Defensively the front court could be a disaster.
Biyombo figures to get plenty of run to shore up the defense and Haywood may have his use here, too. Taylor is a guy who has shown that he can score and he needs to be out there as much as possible. Gordon is probably a buyout candidate. Don't these guys have to sign Jason Collins? Lord knows they could use the PR, though I don't know how that'd play down south.
Coaching (4): I know nothing about Steve Clifford, but he's got Mark Price, Patrick Ewing and Bob Weiss on his bench as assistant coaches, and I'd prefer any of those gentlemen to have the top job, as they all played prominent roles in my "NBA on TNT" formative years back when I couldn't watch every Spurs game and had to settle for whatever prominent match-ups I could get.
Watchability (2): Heavens no. Kill it! Kill it with fire! (Of course I'd watch if Michael Jordan inserted himself into the lineup.)
Best-Case Scenario: A quick, relatively painless season where they don't embarrass themselves in any significant way, MKG, Zeller and Walker all trend up and they land the top pick in the lottery. Adam Silver's first move as the new commish is to announce they're moving to Seattle to reincarnate the Sonics and that the Memphis Grizzlies are gonna be shuttled off to the Eastern Conference.
Worst-Case Scenario: Somehow they play above expectations, finishing with only the seventh-worst record or so, and three teams above them in the standings get lucky with the ping-pong balls, pushing Charlotte all the way to tenth in the draft and another year of irrelevance. They stay in the heart of NASCAR/College basketball country, establishing themselves as the Jacksonville Jaguars of the NBA.
Realistic Scenario: Zeller struggles because he's not really a stretch four and he and Jefferson get in each other's way a lot, relegating the rookie to the bench and hurting his development. They wind up with a meh fifth pick and blow it.
Degrees of Best All-Time Player to Manu Ginobili: 2 (Holy crap, Gerald Wallace is the best all-time player in Bobcats history, which tells you everything you need to know about them. Anyway, Garrett Temple played for both them and the Spurs in 2010-11.)
More from Pounding The Rock:
- Game Preview: Memphis Grizzlies vs. San Antonio Spurs
- 30 preseason predictions: Houston Rockets
- 30 preseason predictions: Boston Celtics
- 30 preseason predictions: New Orleans Pelicans
- 30 Preseason Predictions: Sacramento Kings