Washington Wizards: On the rise?
When guys play one year of college, you want them to get from Point A to Point E quickly, but they do stop at B, C, and D along the way. It took John Wall a while, but I do think he’s figured out how to blend distribution with scoring. He understands how to put a team on his back and when to defer to his very talented backcourt mate in Bradley Beal. He’s maturing very well. ... Beal has always played the game with such composure. He has a good, solid build and he doesn’t waste energy, even while playing both ends of the floor. And he’s unselfish. Beal is a pretty complete player for a guy who doesn’t have other-worldly athletic superiority. ... What’s the window of opportunity with Marcin Gortat? He could be getting to the point where his game is on its way down. Still, he’s their best starting option. Gortat’s got consistency and fluidity. Ian Mahinmi, by contrast, has never been a comfortable scorer at all. ... I can’t see Otto Porter Jr. ever being a No. 1 or No. 2 option, but at least he plays both ends of the floor. He’s never going to score 20 a game, but maybe they don’t need that from him. ... They have a bunch of players who have gotten better every year: Beal, Wall, Porter. Maybe KellyOubre Jr. is ready to take that next step too. His value is more on the defensive end right now. To his credit, he’s discovered that he doesn’t have to be an elite scorer to impact the game. ... TomasSatoransky defies positioning. Sometimes you just have to take a step back and say that he’s simply a basketball player. That’s why I like him so much as a prospect.
Orlando Magic: Will anyone step up?
This has to be the year that Elfrid Payton shows that he’s capable of orchestration. He’s had streaks. At the end of last year he was putting up triple doubles, and I thought he might finally be getting it. I’m curious how Payton is going to generate his scoring. Is he going to be a slasher? How much can he improve his shooting? It’s not just that he can’t shoot. He doesn’t shoot. ... Nikola Vucevic would remind me of Brook Lopez if he could rebound better. He’s going to fill the scoring void and can shoot a reasonably high percentage, but how much you can contribute is limited when you can’t defend. ... Bismack Biyombo is going to be limited offensively forever. If you could take Biyombo’s defense and Vucevic’s offense, you’d have an All-Star. ... Evan Fournier is just a crafty, smart player. He can handle the ball, he can initiate some offense, but the bottom line is that he just produces. He’s not an elite athlete, but he plays under control and that makes him consistent ... Aaron Gordon has so much raw ability. The dunks are just a manifestation of his athletic superiority. Some guys are difference-makers the minute they step into the league. Then there are guys, like Gordon, who get incrementally better each year. If they can establish a positionless system at times, Gordon can flourish. ...You want more from Mario Hezonja, but he’s never demonstrated—even overseas—that he’ll regularly attack the rim. I don’t think he knows what his NBA identity is going to be yet and by Year Three, that’s kind of important.
Charlotte Hornets: Can they overachieve again?
Dwight Howard is maligned, but I’m often overtaken by his physicality. I think to myself, 'How can this guy not be one of the best centers in basketball? He’s a walking double double. Why isn’t he a better version of Hassan Whiteside?' Howard, to me, is a very big conundrum. ... I’ve always been a Kemba Walker fan. He has a chip on his shoulder but is not a high-maintenance player at all. He’s got this joie de vivre when he’s out there, and he gets better every year. He’s not one of those guys looking for his next endorsement deal. Kemba is just a plain ol’ baller, man. ... Nicolas Batum is a versatile offensive talent and a great passer. On the defensive end he just leaves a little bit to be desired. ... Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is such a good defender. I thought that because he’s a diligent worker his offense would eventually take root. It just hasn’t. It’s tough. The combination of Kidd-Gilchrist and Batum on the wing isn’t good enough to be an upper-level team in the conference. ... Never could figure out Marvin Williams’s game, to be honest. ... Cody Zeller could play a little bit alongside Howard; he can face up and shoot. They’ve got a similar player in Frank Kaminsky, who finished the season pretty strong. It’s tough to figure out how to make all those guys fit. ... There’s very little chance Malik Monk is going to play point guard in the NBA. He always reminds me of Lou Williams. He’s just a natural, fluid, athletic, under-sized scoring two guard. He’ll be instant offense.
Miami Heat: 'Waiters is coming to score'
I never knew Goran Dragic was so good until his play last season and this summer at Eurobasket. He checks the box at point guard. If he can continue to shoot this well, I really like him. ... I know there’s a cost [on offense] associated with relying on Hassan Whiteside, but there are so many teams out there that would just die for a guy who can protect the rim like that, an effortless athlete who just flows. So much of the game comes from natural ability. From that standpoint, there are few guys out there like Whiteside. ... Justise Winslow is another guy who understands the critical importance of defense. He’ll defend twos and threes and some fours, but what are you going to do with him on the offensive end? ... Whether he’s starting or coming off the bench, Dion Waiters is coming to score. I don’t know if you can get him to defend, but his points per minute will be among the tops in the league. ... Kelly Olynyk is enough of a low-maintenance guy to make sense here. The ability to fit in without standing out is almost a skill unto itself. ... Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson don’t have elite athleticism, but they play hard, defend and hit shots. With Waiters in the lineup there’s not necessarily room for either to be a bigger scorer, but you value these overachievers because they fit in so well. ... If James Johnson is able to duplicate what he did last year, that would be big for Miami. But for a player to continue to climb this deep into his career is rare. ... You have to consider Miami’s season last year as evidence of really good coaching.
Atlanta Hawks: This is pretty ugly
Looking at their roster, I’m wondering, Can we please play them six times this year? Wow, man. Dennis Schröder is your best player. He played really well at Eurobasket, but man. I’m glad I’m not a season-ticket holder there. ... When you [lose] the locker room presence and solid foundational pieces like Al Horford and Paul Millsap, it almost creates a vacuum. ... How quickly can we figure out if DeAndre’ Bembry is a starting two guard? How quickly can we get John Collins going? This team could be in for a long season. ... I think Kent Bazemore is a bench guy, but on this team he’s going to have to average 14 or 15 field goal attempts per game. I just don’t think he’s a natural offensive guy. He’s always been a really good defender, but he’s making $16.9 million this season and last year shot 41% from the field. Geez. ... If you’re a really good team, I don’t know that Taurean Prince is playing more than 18 minutes a game for you. There’s nothing to really sink your teeth into with his game. ... Atlanta’s centers are just all different looks. Mike Muscala is a finesse player who has kind of grown into the position, but there’s not much physicality to him. Dewayne Dedmon can rebound, block shots and play defense. If you could [combine] the three different centers they have there, you’d have a really good player. You could take Dedmon’s defense and Muscala’s footwork, and you could use Miles Plumlee’s face-up shooting. But individually, none of those three are really bona fide starter material.