Boston Celtics: How will this team mesh?
Just to see how the team jells and reacts is going to be interesting because they traded the majority of their identity: Avery Bradley, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder. Some of the personalities they’ve added aren’t known for their leadership qualities. . . . They’re expecting Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown to replace what they lost. That’s gonna be tough. It looks like Smart is going to start at two guard to begin the season, and that’s the protection component for Kyrie Irving. [Smart] will just defend the more difficult matchup. Terry Rozier is so talented, he’s going to start wanting to be out there in key moments to prove himself. . . . Brown has the talent to star on the defensive end; he can guard up a position, he can guard down. If they close games with him and Gordon Hayward and Al Horford together, that’s a switch at every position. . . . Jayson Tatum and Kyrie are isolation scorers; their value comes out more in the playoffs. Kyrie has the opportunity to shine and carry a heavy load, but he’s not going somewhere devoid of talent, which would have been difficult. He just has to keep doing what he’s been doing. . . . Hayward is now basically the point guard, while Kyrie is the two guard. Hayward’s stats could have an uptick because they played so slow in Utah. He’s an underrated guy because of all he can do: He can play the four, handle the ball, shoot, score, and he’s one of the better passers at his position. He’s not the guy who carries the franchise, but with their young core, you just need a group that has versatility. And that’s what they have.
Brooklyn Nets: They've established a culture
They’ve established a culture and an identity. They play hard, they shoot threes and play fast. They led the league in pace, and it’s an aesthetically pleasing style. They just have to add pieces. . . . D’Angelo Russell can make pull-up threes off the dribble, and that’s a valuable skill. He’s also an accomplished pick-and-roll player. The mistake was thinking he’s a point guard. . . . Jeremy Lin has been good for them. There could be an opportunity to flip him to a team that needs another shot creator for the playoffs. . . . I’m curious to see how they allocate playing to all their wings. Do they play some out of position to try to create some mismatches? That could happen. . . . How much of Allen Crabbe’s success was based on the position he was in in Portland? Will he get as many open shots? How does he react when defenses are geared on stopping him? But take his money out of the picture, and he’s turned himself into a pretty good role player. . . . Playing the four is Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s only chance because of his shooting, but I wouldn’t underestimate him. He can rebound and push and create a shot for someone in transition, and that’s how they want to play. . . . Timofey Mozgov was the price to get Russell, but at least he’s serviceable. He’s a great guy, great teammate and he can protect the basket when necessary. . . . I thought DeMarre Carroll was a good risk too, another culture guy. He can shoot, play the three or four. [Acquiring him from the Raptors in a salary dump] was a no-risk thing and they got [Toronto’s first-round] pick out of it.
Philadelphia 76ers: Who gets the ball down the stretch?
There are a lot of things to work out, like who’s going to have the ball down the stretch, Ben Simmons or Markelle Fultz? Is Joel Embiid always going to be healthy enough? . . . Embiid can be the best player in the league, definitely the best defensive player. He’s so dominant, he can switch on a guard. He’s unstoppable, man, he’s a two-way player. . . . Optimally, Simmons is their point guard because he needs the ball to be effective, to create shots for other guys. Because his shooting’s going to be a problem. . . . Fultz, that guy is a super talent. He’s going to have an ability to create shots in pick-and-rolls and in isolation. . . . J.J. Redick is really good with young players. I don’t think that’s said enough. He’s vocal, he’s tough, he’s got his routine and he’s very dedicated. . . . Dario Saric, he made 100 threes too. He comes off the bench and can play a bunch of different roles. He’s so tough. . . . You’re hopeful for Jahlil Okafor because he was picked so high [No. 3 in 2015], but the league has changed. The thing is, I don’t think he’s been fully utilized. He’s a very, very good passer, he can get his own shot in iso situations, he can command a double team. If you have that, even in short minutes, it’s valuable. But he’s got to be a better defender and rebounder. . . . Look at their transaction logs from four or five years ago, it’s crazy, and they mined Robert Covington out of that mess. He’s got size, can make threes, guard all over the floor. He never dribbles, and he only shoots threes and layups. Playing with Simmons and Fultz, he can be a really good piece.
New York Knicks: The future is bright for them
They definitely have the right leadership in place. They have veteran front office personnel, people who have experience winning and experience in their positions. So I would contend that the future is bright for them. . . . Frank Ntilikina is better than people think, and it’s too bad he’s getting put in this bucket of “Phil [Jackson] took him for the triangle, and now he’s gone.” That’s the most lazy, stupid comment of all time, because that kid is big [6' 5"], he’s skilled and he likes to play defense. He wasn’t playing at a superhigh level in the French league, but the team went to the finals and he contributed to that. It was the right pick, because it was a swing for the fences based on talent, and he’s got a lot of it. . . . Willy Hernangomez is another solid young piece. I don’t think people understand how good he can be either. He’s not playing just because he’s big. . . . Ron Baker is a nice, solid player, but if he was on a very good team he’d probably be the fifth guard. . . . Courtney Lee is still valuable but not on a team that’s building. He needs to go to a playoff team to be maximized, like he was in Charlotte. . . . I don’t know what the motivation was behind signing Michael Beasley. . . . Is Tim Hardaway Jr. really that bad? He’s gonna get smashed because he got signed to that contract this summer, but what is he supposed to say no? Wings are really, really valuable and there’s not a lot of them. The guy made 149 threes last year, he’s durable, he’s tough and he plays defense. It’s not an untradable contract.
Toronto Raptors: They've had a good run
There’s still a chance to win the conference with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. They’ve had a really good run here, and those guys are really tough and have a lot of playoff experience. . . . C.J. Miles was a good pickup; they needed some more shooting, and he knows how to play. . . . With Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas, at least they have two guys who can really protect the basket. Not everyone has that. They’re not going to have the advantage in every matchup, but the other team won’t have that either. They’ve got shooting and shot blocking in Ibaka, and Valanciunas can score, and he’s just so big. . . . I think O.G. Anunoby was a good pick where they got him [23rd overall]. They can turn him into a defensive-oriented player with his switchability and strength. He’ll go through their program, which generally turns out pretty good players. They have a good understanding of what it takes to have success late in the draft, and I wouldn’t put it past them to slip one by everyone with the Anunoby pick. . . . Norman Powell could take a step forward, as long as he’s in the right role where he’s not asked to do too much. If they get to the playoffs, how is he used? Is he defending LeBron? Is that fair to him? Or is he defending a two guard, in a position to succeed? You can add him to the list of guys they’ve turned into solid NBA players. . . . Bruno Caboclo—I watched him in the D-League. If he’s gonna do it, it’ll be this year or it’ll be time to move on. [If he fails], it’s not going to be because of his physical tools, that’s for sure.