By: Mike Bonomo
The NBA season finally starts back up on Tuesday, and with a loaded draft class coming in and a lot of movement on both the player and coaching front, there’s some real uncertainty heading into the season. Here are five burning questions to look for as tip off approaches.
- Who are the challengers in the East?
With LeBron, Kyrie, Love and company still in town, Cleveland is still the favorite out east. But after that there’s no sure thing. Atlanta finished the regular season with the best record in the conference, but some regression can be expected and the loss of DeMarre Carroll will sting a bit. Chicago is a popular pick for the number two seed, but has to deal with the injury concerns around Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, and Mike Dunleavy as well as working in new head coach Fred Hoiberg. Toronto and Washington were both inconsistent and didn’t do much to alleviate any of their previous concerns, and while Milwaukee’s upside is exciting, they are likely still a year away.
- Who fills out the Western Conference playoff picture?
While the questions for the East are at the top, the West is as deep as ever, and the race for the bottom two seeds carry the most intrigue. Golden State, San Antonio, Houston, Oklahoma City, Memphis, and the Los Angeles Clippers are just about locks for the playoffs, which leaves two more spots. Phoenix, New Orleans, and Utah figure to be leading the fight for them while some view Sacramento as a potential sleeper, and as long as Dirk and Rick Carlisle are in town it’s hard to completely discount the Mavericks.
- Just how good is Anthony Davis?
The answer to this can really impact the answer to the previous question as well. Davis has put himself among the league’s best players, but many expect even more improvement from the big man this season. He’s already among the better defensive bigs in the league, as well as being a guy who dictates the entire Pelicans offense. If he puts up MVP numbers, which is fully possible, he can carry New Orleans back to the playoffs regardless of the team’s other concerns.
- Will Kevin Love fit in with Cleveland better in year two?
Kevin Love was supposed to combine with LeBron and Kyrie Irving to form a new Big Three, but Love struggled for much of the start of the season. After he seemed to settle in a little better towards the season’s end, he was injured in the first round of the playoffs and did not return for the rest of Cleveland’s postseason run. The Cavs went to the Finals without him and were able to push the Warriors at times even after Irving’s injury as well. If the three find a way to fit together throughout year two, they can run through the Eastern Conference.
- Who wins the race to the bottom?
In recent years fans of some teams have been just as invested as being the worst team in the league, and getting the highest odds in the draft lottery, as in winning games. The 76ers plan on being in the mix yet again, as do the Denver Nuggets. The Lakers don’t expect to be good, and owe their pick to the 76ers if it falls outside of the top 3. The most interesting team in this race is the Brookyn Nets, who will be bad, and can be among the league’s worst teams if Brook Lopez’s injury issues flare up again. The problem? They owe their pick to the Celtics no matter where it falls.