New York Knicks: 5 Bold Predictions For 2014-15

The New York Knicks are heading into a brand new era of basketball under Phil Jackson and new head coach Derek Fisher, and are very excited about their upcoming season. They aren’t expected to be championship contenders, but they do have enough talent to make a run at the playoffs if they play up to […]
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Very Early Predictions for 2014-15 NBA All-Star Team

When you run across NBA All-Star predictions in August, they often come with the tagline that “it’s never too early” to look ahead.

I think we can all be honest with each other and agree that it is, in fact, way too early to be thinking about who’ll suit up for the Eastern and Western Conferences in Brooklyn next February. But let’s also be honest about a couple of other things: It’s August, and we’re all starving for NBA basketball.

With training camp still over a month away, we’ve got to do something to scratch the hoops itch—even if that something is a six-month look-ahead to an exhibition game that has no real bearing on the NBA season. Such is our shared thirst during these dog days.

Old favorites will return, young guns will ascend and, of course, there’ll be a bevy of pandemonium-inducing snubs that galvanize fanbases and bring forth the inevitable bandying about of the “hater” label.

Something nobody can hate: Anthony Davis is starting the 2015 All-Star Game. There will be no debate on that topic, but others will surely brook argument.

Hey, if we can’t actually watch meaningful NBA games, we can at least shout about who should or shouldn’t be playing in a meaningless one half-a-year from now. That’s almost as good, right?

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Early Win-Loss Predictions for Memphis Grizzlies Next Season

The Memphis Grizzlies hold hope they can cash in on a healthy Marc Gasol and better scoring depth to reassert themselves as outside contenders. Then again, as recent Grizzlies history has shown, health is no guarantee.

Rallying after injuries to key players is a recurring theme for this incarnation of the Grizzlies. They’ve endured long-term absences of key players in three of the past four years.

 

Depth

With only a small scoring lift to be expected from the starters, the defense-minded squad turned to the bench for a boost. After retaining Mike Miller became unlikely, they nabbed another outside shooter in Vince Carter who would be more productive despite not being a high-ranking three-point shooter like Miller.

Carter averaged 11.9 points in 24.4 minutes per game while hitting 39.4 percent from downtown. That’s 4.5 more points per game than their leading 2013-14 bench scorer, James Johnson.

Since Carter takes 45.7 percent of his shots from long range, the Grizzlies don’t lose spacing with the departure of Miller.

Another bonus of adding Carter is he can eat more minutes from Tayshaun Prince, who had career-worst numbers in his 12th season. Carter, along with a healthy Quincy Pondexter, ensures Dave Joerger can focus more minutes on productive players at the 3 spot.

The Grizzlies have an array of three-point shooters on the bench. Besides Carter, Pondexter, Beno Udrih and Jon Leuer are capable marksmen. If Pondexter can make close to the 39.5 percent from 2012-13, his last full season, he should keep a place in the rotation.

Leuer hit 46.9 percent of his threes last season and Udrih has made 35.6 percent for his career.

By re-signing Udrih and guaranteeing Nick Calathes‘ 2014-15 contract, Memphis commits to depth behind Mike Conley

Calathes came through when Conley went down last season. He averaged 14.7 points per game and allowed 99 points per 100 possessions in seven contests. Also, he demonstrated confidence as a ball-handler, averaging 2.9 turnovers per game.

Udrih scored in double figures three times in the playoffs.

He’ll start the season as the backup point guard since Calathes will miss the first 13 games while serving the rest of his suspension for violating the NBA‘s substance abuse policy.

Even though Ed Davis departed, Jon Leuer isn’t guaranteed to rise in the depth chart. Drafting Jarnell Stokes effectively replaced Davis, as the four-year pro fell out of the rotation in the second half. Stokes possesses the inside toughness Davis lacked.

Joerger platooned reserve big men, choosing Leuer when he needed shooting and Davis when the matchup called for a presence on the boards. 

Joerger explained it in February by saying, “The fact is that Marc and Zach [Randolph] are going to play 36-40 minutes a game. After that, it’s just a matter of what flavor are you looking for?”

In his second year, the coach will continue that rotational strategy.

 

Keeping up the frontcourt

After locking up Randolph, they’ll make the best of his remaining abilities. Randolph had a second straight full season shooting a bit below his career average, hitting 46.7 percent last season. Still, he pushes himself to produce as he averaged 17.4 points and 10.1 rebounds per game.

Gasol and Randolph form one of the best frontcourt duos. Possessing resilience as a below-the-rim player, Randolph is a constant double-double threat. Gasol funnels the offense into the post, leads the defense and knocks down mid-range shots.

As long as Gasol is with him, Randolph’s defense isn’t a problem. He allowed 105 points per 100 possessions for the season, but 103 after Gasol returned from injury.

Overall, Gasol is the biggest game-changer for the team’s defense. According to the Washington Post, their work on that end was almost unparalleled with him back. 

His full-season presence will solidify the supremacy of the “grit ‘n’ grind.”

 

Conclusion

The Grizzlies won’t use their health to vault high in the Western Conference standings. The playoff series loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder served as a reality check to the team as it struggled to keep up with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant in the last two games.

Memphis adjusted on the edges by signing Carter. Getting Pondexter and Gasol at full strength helps a bit. The Grizzlies can expect Conley to score a little more as he continues in his primacy as a leading shot-taker.

One can hardly guess the impact of their perennial second-half surge. As the Western Conference remains intensely competitive, it might not allow them to pass many teams.

The Grizzlies find themselves stuck in the middle of the conference playoff contenders. As The Commercial Appeal’s Chris Herrington said (subscription required), they can be pegged as “a second-tier contender.”

While the Grizzlies’ core can’t become much more than what it is, the top tier calcifies with the San Antonio SpursKawhi Leonard evolving, the primacy of Westbrook and Durant and the Los Angeles Clippers growing under Doc Rivers.

With that, Memphis will battle for a homecourt playoff spot with the Portland Trail Blazers.

 

Prediction: 54-28 (5th in Western Conference)

Unless otherwise noted, advanced metrics come from basketball-reference.com.

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NBA Free Agents 2014: Latest Rumors and Predictions for Unsigned Talent

Eventually, the NBA season will start and the Cleveland Cavaliers will stop adding players. For now, though, it seems like Ray Allen could be following in Shawn Marion’s footsteps on the way to northeast Ohio. 

Cleveland’s pursuit of Allen isn’t the only rumor around the Association.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the latest whispers and offer some predictions for the landing spots.

 

Ray Allen

Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports filled fans in on the latest regarding Allen and Cleveland:

If you are a believer in the saying “where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” then you certainly think Allen will be lacing it up for the Cavs this season. He’s been connected to LeBron James and company all offseason, so there’s clearly something here.

Allen makes some sense in Cleveland as well. He’s an absolute lock for the Hall of Fame and has made more three-pointers than anyone else in the history of the game. There is chemistry in place with James after their time in Miami together, and James’ presence alone will draw defenders into the lane and open Allen up for plenty of looks from behind the arc.

Still, the thought here is that Cleveland would be better off adding size or even a backup point guard if it is going to make any more moves.

Anderson Varejao and Kyrie Irving both missed significant time last year with injuries, and this team isn’t exactly stacked with interior defense. As for shooters, the Cavaliers already have Mike Miller, Dion Waiters and James Jones in place, so Allen would simply be adding to an area they have covered.

However, it’s impossible to ignore the signals we have seen all offseason between Allen and Cleveland. There really is a fire behind that smoke.

Prediction: Allen joins James in Cleveland.

 

Leandro Barbosa

Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders provided an update on Leandro Barbosa:

Barbosa only appeared in 20 games for the Phoenix Suns last year and averaged 7.5 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game, but he will look to prove himself once again to teams like the Miami Heat in the FIBA Basketball World Cup.

Barbosa will play for Brazil during the event, which is an ideal high-stakes scenario to demonstrate his skills. He commented on the World Cup, via Shams Charania of RealGM:

I don’t know what owners think about the World Cup, but hopefully I do a great job over there and a team sees. I feel healthy and my body is feeling healthy. If I have free agency in my mind, I won’t be able to be myself on the court. Hopefully, I sign a contract and I’ll be happy.

The Heat are still a legitimate threat to advance deep in the Eastern Conference playoffs even after losing James, especially with the Indiana Pacers reeling. Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Luol Deng represent a solid core, and adding Barbosa to that group would only bolster those chances.

He can hit the three when defenders collapse on Wade and Bosh (39 percent on his career), get out in transition and attack the rim and provide solid minutes and defense as part of the rotation. Barbosa is also a playoff-tested veteran who has played in the postseason six different times throughout his career.

Miami will recognize all this and add Barbosa.

Prediction: Barbosa signs with the Heat as they make a push for a top-three seed in the playoffs.

 

Toney Douglas 

David Pick of Eurobasket.com provided an update on Toney Douglas:

The case can be made that this is a surprising move, considering Douglas has been in the league since 2009 when he was a first-round pick. Perhaps Douglas will play well in China and impress enough NBA teams to earn a contract before the end of the season.

Douglas actually started 17 games for the Heat last year but saw minimal playing time in the playoffs and down the stretch. In fact, he only played in 29 minutes in the postseason. However, we are talking about a solid defender who can play solid minutes off the bench for a team that isn’t necessarily loaded like Miami was last year.

Douglas averaged more than 20 minutes a night during the first four years of his career with the New York Knicks, Houston Rockets and Sacramento Kings and could have an eye on a bench role down the stretch.

Still, the rumor here from Pick suggests that this is a done deal. Look for him to lace it up in China to start the season. 

Prediction: Douglas plays in China and signs on somewhere in the second half of the NBA season after impressing overseas.

 

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Early Win-Loss Predictions for Philadelphia 76ers Next Season

The 2014-15 Philadelphia 76ers aren’t going to shatter the very low expectations set for them this year by those around the league, not by a long shot. But there is some opportunity for improvement. 

Last season, one of the most dismal in franchise history, saw first-round pick Nerlens Noel sidelined for the entire year while rehabilitating a torn ACL. New head coach Brett Brown guided his young team, led by veteran Thaddeus Young and eventual Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams to a 19-63 record, second-worst in the NBA

The ensuing offseason didn’t inspire much optimism for the upcoming year, either. In a draft that was being billed as franchise-defining, the 76ers selected two players in the first round, Kansas center Joel Embiid and Croatian forward Dario Saric, who won’t touch the court at all this season. 

Embiid and Saric, both talented prospects who could inject serious energy and most importantly talent to a severely diluted roster, will prove their worth over time. But for now, with the upcoming season mere months away and Eastern Conference foes stacking their rosters in preparation for playoff pushes, the 2014-15 76ers’ fate looks about as grim as last year’s version. 

Growth and development may come this season, just don’t expect many wins during the process. Here’s where they stand in the reconstructed Eastern Conference. 

 

New Additions

There were certain draft selections who will actually make an impact this season, most notably K.J. McDaniels.

The 6’6″ swingman with elite defensive prowess and a developing three-point shot is in line to play major minutes. The former ACC Defensive Player of the Year is a handful on the perimeter. He led the ACC in blocks (2.8) and defensive win shares (3.1) last season per Basketball Reference

Fellow second-round picks Jerami Grant and Jordan McRae should factor into the new rotation as well. Grant is a rangy forward with explosive athleticism but is still adjusting to the pro game. He struggled mightily at times during summer league but showed flashes of his potential with thunderous dunks and blocked shots. 

McRae came out of nowhere to lead the team in scoring while in Las Vegas this summer. The Tennessee product can provide some much-needed offense to a team which finished last in three-point percentage and 28th in field-goal percentage last season. 

Local product Ronald Roberts, Jr. from Saint Joseph’s University has reportedly signed a three-year deal per Sportando to help bolster the frontcourt. The undrafted Roberts was impressive in Orlando this summer, averaging 10.2 points and 7.4 rebounds a game on 65 percent shooting. 

But of course, the most notable addition to this year’s roster is Noel, who made it through both summer league stints healthy. He confirmed 18 months’ worth of scouting reports read ad nauseam by excited 76ers fans clamoring for a glimpse of him in red, white and blue—elite shot-blocker, a long, explosive defender and a raw offensive repertoire. 

Noel, the talented second-rounders and potentially more on the way can only help a frontcourt which finished 26th in blocked shots and 19th in defensive rebounds last year. 

It’s been a long road back for Noel, who opened up to CBS Sports’ James Herbert in an enlightening Q&A last week. He’s motivated, and perhaps flying under the radar a bit since he’s been out of the spotlight for a year:

There’s been a lot of doubters. I’ve just really been working as hard as I can to be able to prove myself as a young player in this league that can contribute sooner than later. It is what it is, with what’s being said now. I understand that I wasn’t drafted in this draft class, so I won’t be talked about now, but it’s fine. I’m just going to go into this season with the mindset of contributing to my team and establishing myself.

His long-term health remains paramount to any big picture plans this organization has. He’s one of the cornerstone pieces and needs to make it through the season unscathed. 

 

Wide Open East

Of course, the biggest offseason move in the NBA was LeBron James signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers, opting out of his contract with the Miami Heat to return to his Ohio roots. 

This sent shockwaves to all corners of the league, starting a domino effect of player signings. Chris Bosh re-signed with the Miami Heat to max money, with Dwyane Wade and others joining him. Marcin Gortat re-signed with the Washington Wizards, hoping to capitalize on last year’s playoff appearances. 

The Chicago Bulls signed Pau Gasol and brought over European sensation Nikola Mirotic to pair with Joakim Noah and a healthy—we hope—Derrick Rose. The Charlotte Hornets signed Lance Stephenson and Marvin Williams and drafted Noah Vonleh and P.J. Hairston

And we didn’t even get to the Brooklyn Nets who still sport one of the league’s most expensive payrolls, the Toronto Raptors who re-signed Kyle Lowry and the Atlanta Hawks who add a healthy Al Horford to a team which gave the Indiana Pacers fits in the playoffs last season. 

The much maligned Eastern Conference no longer has a runaway favorite in Miami thanks to the King’s departure and parody abounds. While any team could certainly make a leap into one of the remaining playoff spots—Carmelo Anthony’s New York Knicks, the Detroit Pistons under new coach Stan Van Gundy or perhaps the Paul George-less Indiana Pacers hold on to the final spot—it certainly won’t be the 76ers. 

While most of the East’s best reside in the Central (Chicago, Cleveland) and Southeast (Washington, Miami, Atlanta, Charlotte) divisions, even an improved 76ers team doesn’t have the talent to compete with the upstart Raptors or the veterans in Brooklyn within the Atlantic division for a playoff spot.  

 

Prediction

Assuming all the best—continued development of Carter-Williams, 82 games for Noel, the emergence of McDaniels—the 76ers are no more than a 30-win team. That’s the best-case, dream scenario for Philly—noticeable improvement, but a record still poor enough to earn another lottery pick. 

In reality, I see them more in the 20-25-win range. Carter-Williams will be aided by the presence of Noel, but he’ll still go through his growing pains. His 40 percent shooting from the field and 26 percent from three-point range won’t turn around overnight.

Noel is an excellent shot-blocker but has a lot to prove with his rebounding and interior offense. We’ll learn more about him in the early part of the season with matchups against Roy Hibbert, Joakim Noah, Dwight Howard (twice) and Tim Duncan all before the end of November.

It will be a tough season, another learning experience in the long rebuilding process orchestrated by Sam Hinkie. The good news though, is there will be help on the horizon. A few skilled 7-footers are waiting in the wings. They, and 76ers fans everywhere, are just going to have to wait at least another year. 

Projected Record: 22-60, Last in Atlantic division, Last in Eastern Conference

 

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Early Predictions for Indiana Pacers Starting Lineup Next Season

Predicting the Indiana Pacers staring lineup for the 2014-15 NBA season is an emotional task for any Pacers fan. 

There will be no Paul George

George “suffered an open fracture of the tibia and fibula bones in his lower right leg” during an Aug. 1 Team USA scrimmage game in Las Vegas, per the Indianapolis Star’s Candace Buckner. Buckner adds “it’d take at least six months for George to get back on his feet and longer to return to the court.” 

Ouch. 

In spite of the downgrade, the Pacers starting lineup for next season will prove to be competitive to the very end. Take it from team president Larry Bird, per Pacers.com’s Mark Montieth:

We think we’re going to put a competitive team out there. We think we’re going to play hard and develop our young guys. Everyone’s going to get an opportunity to show us what they can do. I think we’ll be an exciting team. We have a lot of things to look forward to. My goal is to win as many games as we possibly can and get in the playoffs.

No Paul George. No franchise player around.

Doesn’t matter. This group of Indiana Pacers will rally behind their fallen comrade and give their fans plenty of reasons to be optimistic, no matter what the odds are.

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Early Win-Loss Predictions for Milwaukee Bucks Next Season

It has been a summer of major change for the Milwaukee Bucks, and, given that fact, it might be easy to forget that this team finished the 2013-14 season with a 15-67 record—the worst in franchise history.

With a new and bright outlook, the Bucks will take the floor this year in hopes of improving upon the atrocity of a season ago. 

And while expectations should be tempered, fans should be thrilled for this new era to start.

It won’t take much to best last year’s accomplishments—or lack thereof—but just how much better can the Bucks be?

 

Will New Faces Equate to More Success?

Along with the fresh, young face of second-overall pick, Jabari Parker, the Bucks will look a lot different both on and off the court this fall.

Jason Kidd will try to build off of his successful first season as an NBA head coach with the Brooklyn Nets by leading a young Bucks roster that knows next to nothing about winning.

Will that alone equate to a better season? Maybe.

If we’re being honest—and there are others who would probably disagree—the Bucks were better than a 15-win team heading into last season.

But things were derailed almost immediately, and they were never able to gain any traction from that point on.

Truth be told, the Bucks had a solid roster in place.

Yes, they’re overpaying players like Ersan Ilyasova, O.J. Mayo and Zaza Pachulia, but all three of those guys are capable of contributing, regardless of whether or not those contributions make up for their inflated salaries.

Parker will be eager to prove he is the best player in this year’s draft class, Giannis Antetokounmpo will certainly be anxious to take his next, lengthy stride towards toward stardom and newly acquired point guard Kendall Marshall will want to duplicate his success from a season ago.

Assuming they all can do those things, in addition to someone like Larry Sanders having a bounce-back year, the Bucks have a good shot at being far more competitive than they were last season, which should lead to a better end result.

And while those are assumptions, the team is in a much better position for the future than it was a year ago at this time.

 

Playing in the Central

As Milwaukee’s youngsters attempt to grow, they’ll be doing so in a division with plenty of top-notch talent.

With LeBron James returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Pau Gasol joining Derrick Rose in Chicago, youngsters like Parker, Antetokounmpo and Marshall will certainly have their hands full.

That’s not a bad thing, either.

Getting to regularly stand toe-to-toe with some of the league’s best players will be a valuable learning experience that can only help moving forward, not only for rookies like Parker, but for the team as a whole.

It will, however, have a major impact on any sort of immediate resurgence some fans—and I don’t think there are many—might be hoping for.

The Cavs and Bulls will certainly finish ahead of the Bucks in the standings, and it’s probably logical to assume that the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons will as well.

Certainly, without Paul George, the Pacers will slip some, but is his injury enough to drop them below the Bucks? Unlikely.

Still, fans shouldn’t worry about the team’s place within the division, or conference for that matter.

Milwaukee has a long way to go in its quest to become relevant again, and it’s not going to happen overnight.

Look for some improvement, on and off the court, but don’t expect a whole lot of noise to accompany it.

Instead, savor the fact that the Bucks are finally headed in the right direction and enjoy the exciting, young nucleus they have in place.

 

Predicted Record: 24-58

Predicted Place in NBA Central: No. 5

Predicted Place in Eastern Conference: No. 13

 

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Dallas Mavericks: Early lineup predictions

The Dallas Mavericks have made several moves this off season that should have a significant impact on their performance this year. Yes, they did get rid of point guards Jose Calderon and Shane Larkin in a trade, but it was worth it to get center Tyson Chandler back in Dallas. Getting Raymond Felton isn’t too bad either, even if Felton is suspended for the first four games for gun related crimes.
Chandler Parsons
They made a big splash in getting Chandler Parsons, which happened with a gutsy large offer sheet that Houston didn’t feel was worth even after missing out on Chris Bosh. It also wouldn’t have been possible if Dirk Nowitzki didn’t resign with the Dallas hometown discount rate.
Other key pieces the Mavs added besides Parsons, Felton, and Chandler include:
Jameer Nelson, former Magic All-Star point guard
Al-Farouq Aminu, former Pelicans small forward
Richard Jefferson, veteran small forward (Nets, Bucks, Warriors, Jazz)
So what does this all mean? It means that the Mavs have gone back to their 

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Early Win-Loss Predictions for Utah Jazz Next Season

The Utah Jazz are looking to finally turn the corner and have a better win-loss record during the 2014-15 season after looking both awful and boring for the majority of last year.

Being one of the NBA‘s worst teams was a result of having a young squad with a lack of a solid foundation. It felt like players were unsure of where they stood on the roster, and the franchise in general had an overall lack of direction.

The Jazz were going to be bad, but what were they going to do in order to fix the problems and become a better team?

Well, the good news is that they look to be finding some of those answers.

It appears as though the organization has a direction and is working hard on reaching its ceiling. Utah has some of the best fans in the league. They are always filling up the arena regardless of how well the team does, and it’s about time they get rewarded for it.

Next year will certainly be a better season, but how much better? Here’s a look at Utah’s win-loss prediction heading into the upcoming year.

 

Backcourt

If Utah is going to have any success during the 2014-15 season, then the Jazz are going to need exceptional play out of their guards.

The three key players will be Trey Burke, Alec Burks and Dante Exum.

Burke and Exum will need to be able to do a number of different tasks—one of which will be to play alongside each other in an efficient matter. Each needs to be able to start the offense and run at shooting guard in whatever order presents itself.

The next task is for one to be able to fill in for the other at any given time. If Exum starts the season off the bench, then he’ll have to be able to step up and take over for Burke when the time comes.

Burks will have the incredibly difficult job of being the No. 1 scorer off the bench. The tough part comes from the amount of pressure being put on the sixth man to perform on a nightly basis.

Guard play is key. Utah’s backcourt will need to consistently take care of the ball and play at a high level if the Jazz want to surprise fans and win a good chunk of games.

 

Frontcourt

Look around the NBA and try to find a team with a better group of young talent among its frontcourt than the Utah Jazz.

Are you still looking?

Players such as Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors are among some of the most talented young players in the entire league.

Kanter and Favors could be incredibly dominant at the power forward and center positions if they can figure out how to play with one another at the same time. Stepping onto the court next to each other has always seemed to hold one or the other back from hitting his true potential. Still though, the talent is clear as air; it just needs to come to fruition on a more consistent basis.

Averaging over 16 points, five rebounds and five assists during the course of an 82-game season proves how good a player someone is. It’s also exactly what Hayward was able to do last year.

His next move will be to prove that he can be the guy worthy of his $63 million contract. That will require more of an initiative on the offensive end of the floor and being the go-to guy, along with stepping up and guarding the opposing team’s best player on a nightly basis.

He’s got the talent to be that kind of player; it’s time for him to make it happen, though.

Add in the long-ball threat of Rodney Hood along with a developing Rudy Gobert, and we continue to see how youth and potential are heavily in Utah’s favor.

 

Coach

Tyrone Corbin just wasn’t the right man to lead Utah over the past three-and-a-half seasons. It never looked as if he wasn’t trying, but there was a certain passion that was missing.

The 2014-15 season will give us a look at Quin Snyder and if he can do a better job.

Corbin and Snyder have a different level of skill when it comes to player development. Corbin only played people when he felt they were ready. There were times when people like Burks never saw the floor strictly because Corbin didn’t feel like he had the game to compete.

Snyder does and will likely do his job a little differently.

The Salt Lake Tribune‘s Aaron Falk interviewed Snyder and heard a bit about how he plans on developing players. Here’s what Utah’s new coach had to say:

As an old college coach, that was something that you were really focused on. It’s become kind of something that everybody talks about, everybody wants to do. I think a couple things that are key is your staff has to be really, really good. You have to be teachers. You have to enjoy seeing guys improve. We’re awfully young. You’re going to see a lot of guys grow. Hopefully some will grow pretty fast. It’s a challenge, but it can be really rewarding as well when you see people get better.

It’s important to hear Snyder say that one of his staff’s keys will be to develop talent. The only negative part about making sure a player’s potential gets hit is that it means there has to be room for growth.

And there’s more than enough growth to go around with the Jazz.

Snyder will certainly help move the team in the right direction, but it will have to take some time.

It won’t all happen during the upcoming season.

 

Northwest Division

It’s difficult to say that there’s truly an easy division in the Western Conference. Luckily, Utah is a member of the least difficult.

Apart from the Jazz, the Northwest Division consists of the Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves, Oklahoma City Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers.

It’s definitely difficult but not nearly as bad as the Southwest Division, where four of the five teams made the playoffs last season.

Utah won’t be waiting around to start the season off with a challenge. It opens the year with playing Portland in the first two games of the season. The crazy part is that the Jazz will end up seeing the Trail Blazers four more times before the 82 games come to an end.

Combine those games with 14 other ones against the rest of the division, and there is some opportunity for wins.

Minnesota is in complete rebuilding mode, and Denver is one of those teams who will beat you by 10 points, only to lose by 25 the next night. Stealing a couple games from Portland and Oklahoma City will be difficult, but there’s definitely an opportunity for three or four wins between the two squads.

 

Western Conference

It’s no surprise that the teams in the Western Conference are much more talented than those in the East. Franchises in the Eastern Conference won a total of 556 games during the 2013-14 season.

The West won 674.

If 118 more victories isn’t proof enough, then it’s unclear as to what is. Utah only plays 30 of its 82 games against teams in the opposite conference, leaving it with 52 very difficult battles.

More athleticism among all positions should set the Jazz up for a stronger season. Unfortunately, their conference schedule does nothing toward leading to more wins.

 

Final Regular-Season Record/Standing

The Jazz can go in one of two directions. They can overachieve and surprise some people by winning games they weren’t expected to, or they can end up as exactly who they’re expected to be.

There are sure to be a number of cuts and changes to the final roster, but Utah currently has the youngest roster in the NBA. An average age of 23.4 is ridiculously young and potentially the leading factor toward another difficult year.

Could the Jazz compete for the playoffs this season? It’s highly unlikely. They would need a turnaround similar to the 2013-14 Phoenix Suns to make that happen.

Still though, seeing them consistently battle should become a regular sight.

Utah basketball has been boring for the past couple years. There’s no reason not to be blunt about it. A more athletic roster and first-year NBA coach should bring some life back into the franchise and be significantly more fun to watch.

 

Best-Case Record: 37-45

Expected Record: 25-57

Best-Case Western Conference Standing: No. 10

Expected Western Conference Standing: No. 14

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Early Win-Loss Predictions for OKC Thunder Next Season

The Oklahoma City Thunder are in their annual phase of reflection and wondering what they need to do to get over the hump. They must answer a few glaring questions about their depth chart, but the combination of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka means that OKC will once again lead the pack and finish the year as one of the best teams in the league.

It’s time for an early look at how the Thunder’s season may unfold, and there are three categories that must be examined to predict what their final win-loss record will look like.

The first is the changes that have been made to the roster, which will have the greatest impact on the court. Secondly, it will be necessary to look at the NBA landscape as a whole to determine whether OKC faces stiffer competition or an easier path through the regular season. Lastly, a look at recent history gives us a good benchmark from which to base these predictions.

 

Roster Changes

There were no major changes in OKC, but that wasn’t necessarily by design. Numerous individuals associated with the team made overtures to unrestricted free agent Pau Gasol, and such an addition would have been a tremendous help for the contenders.

Gasol chose Chicago, however, and the result is that this Thunder squad only underwent relatively minor changes.

The biggest of those was the loss of long-time starter Thabo Sefolosha. His elite perimeter defense will definitely be missed, but OKC is hoping that players like Perry Jones III, Andre Roberson and (eventually) Josh Huestis can fill that role.

In absolute terms, his departure doesn’t move the needle for the Thunder too significantly, but there are questions about who will take his place in the starting lineup.

The best player is clearly Reggie Jackson, but it would be best if OKC kept the sixth-man extraordinaire on the bench to save some offensive firepower for a second unit that has no other reliable scorers.

If that is the case, Jeremy Lamb is the logical option to fill in for Sefolosha, but his inconsistency is a legitimate concern.

Free-agent acquisition Anthony Morrow could also factor into the conversation since the sharpshooter will definitely help the Thunder offense by providing a much-needed dose of perimeter shooting.

Whichever route OKC pursues, they will once again be filling in the starting lineup with a one-dimensional player (although both Jackson and Lamb have the length and athleticism to become effective defenders).

The rest of the personnel changes were relatively minor, like the losses of Derek Fisher and Caron Butler or the drafting of Mitch McGary.

All in all, this team is very similar to last year’s version. How that affects OKC’s title chances is unclear, but the Big Three alone mean this team should easily hit the 55-win mark, even in a brutal Western conference.

 

Changes to the NBA Landscape

The Eastern conference got a little bit stronger this summer with the likes of Washington, Charlotte, Toronto and a healthy Atlanta squad looking more formidable than they were last season.

Nevertheless, only the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls (assuming a healthy Derrick Rose) are on OKC’s level of talent, and the Thunder shouldn’t face too many problems dispatching of the weaker conference like they did last season (to the tune of a 23-5 record).

Things will get trickier, of course, for the bulk of their schedule against the Western Conference, where every team is trying to win now and improve. The Minnesota Timberwolves and Utah Jazz are the only real “pushovers” in the conference, and no victory is guaranteed against the Western “middle class” of Dallas, Phoenix, Golden State and Denver (especially with Arron Afflalo).

The NBA landscape hasn’t changed too significantly, but the question mark at shooting guard could cost the Thunder a few games in their powerful conference.

 

Recent History

Not many teams have been as successful as the Thunder in recent history, and they’ve consistently hovered around the 60-win mark for the past three seasons:

A full season of Russell Westbrook should offset the uncertainty of Lamb/Morrow/Jackson at the 2, and it would be surprising to see them not finish as a top-three seed in the West.

Head coach Scott Brooks needs to rely on a few young and unproven players this year, but having Durant and Westbrook on your team means that you can coast to 55-plus wins.

The veteran leadership of Fisher, Butler and Sefolosha will be missed, but it’s hard to imagine Durant and Westbrook winning fewer than 56 games, especially since both are still improving and haven’t reached their peaks yet.

 

Season Prediction: 59-23, 1st in Northwest Division, 2nd in Western Conference

Many would argue that the Portland Trail Blazers overachieved last year, and nobody else in the Northwest Division poses a credible threat to OKC’s reign as division champs.

Likewise, there hasn’t been much of a change at the top of the conference. San Antonio is sure to finish among the top three, but it’s hard to factor in Gregg Popovich’s rotation decisions and penchant for resting his key players. Also near the head of the table will be the Los Angeles Clippers (barring any boycotts related to the ownership situation of the team).

After those two teams, there doesn’t appear to be another true contender in the conference. OKC needs to find the right starter at shooting guard, but Reggie Jackson will play a lot of minutes alongside Westbrook in the backcourt regardless of who starts, and those two-point guard lineups have proven to be offensively explosive in the past. The Thunder will have enough athleticism and frontcourt depth to survive off the offensive gifts of their two leading men.

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