All the offseason hype has come to an abrupt end as the 2018-19 season is officially underway. Upon completing my list of top 100 players in the NBA, it is now time to present one non-rhetorical question for each team.
Sixers – Will Markelle Fultz prove his worth?
Elton Brand has replaced Bryan Colangelo as the team’s GM since trading the third pick in 2017 along with a future pick for the first pick in 2017 (which became Fultz). Fultz was front and center to a mysterious situation last year. Initially, he supposedly sat out with an injury…and then the team announced he was not mentally prepared to play basketball. Fultz is still largely expected to takeover the point guard duties and run with them. Philly, however, cannot afford much less from him.
Celtics – Can they beat G.S. in a 7-game series?
From scorers to playmakers to defenders, there is nothing this team lacks. In lieu of the notion that “talent figures it out,” we have seen Golden State share the ball without much of a problem. Coach Brad Stevens will have to reincorporate a healthy Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving with upcoming stars such as Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Not to mention, veteran Al Horford leading the way and backup guards Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart providing energy off the bench.
Nets – Five years removed from the Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett trade, can they finally contend for the postseason?
It has been a long, painful five years since the disastrous trade made by former Nets GM Billy King. Current GM Sean Marks was quite active over the summer: parting ways with Timofey Mozgov, Jeremy Lin, Nik Stauskas and Jahlil Okafor, retaining Joe Harris, and adding Ed Davis, Kenneth Faried, Shabazz Napier and Jared Dudley. The Nets may not be projected to make the playoffs. However, it is attainable in an underwhelming Eastern Conference.
Knicks – Will rookie Kevin Knox live up to the hype?
New York once again has its work cut out with Kristaps Porzingis still recovering from major knee surgery. The Knicks will need all the help they can get, which means giving Knox the freedom to put his talents on full display. They cannot simply keep saving money and expect star free agents to sign there. They will eventually land that big name, but that is likely not until they start to build a solid foundation.
Raptors – Will Kawhi Leonard settle in and find a home in Toronto?
This question could probably be followed up with multiple other questions. A lot has to do with his suitors once the year concludes. In terms of strictly basketball, this is an ideal situation for Leonard. The Raptors are at least in the conversation for second-best team in the Eastern Conference. He will have a little more help offensively in a slowed down game, one that might even be more fitting for him as a player.
Bulls – What is the blueprint for this season?
The NBA is taking the necessary precautions to prevent teams from tanking. Late last year, the league office reportedly warned the Bulls’ organization to stop resting healthy players. Even without a healthy Lauri Markkanen to begin the year, Chicago should easily clear 27 wins this season. This group could realistically finish in the middle of the pack with plenty other young guns to unleash (Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, Wendell Carter, Jabari Parker, Bobby Portis, etc.).
Cavaliers – Will the Kevin Love of old re-emerge?
Love averaged approximately 23 points and 14 rebounds over a 4-year span in Minnesota. His production immediately declined as a Cavalier – averaging around 17.5 points with 10 rebounds in those four years. Injury should be the only obstacle to potentially prevent Love from regaining stardom.
Pistons – Can anyone emerge as a more consistent knockdown shooter to help Blake Griffin space the floor?
At full strength, Griffin and Andre Drummond form an assertive duo up front. The pair held its weight much of last season. The Pistons, however, lacked offensive stability from the supporting cast. Reggie Bullock was a pleasant surprise last year as he connected on two 3-pointers per game and a 44.5% clip. Having Reggie Jackson back should help although he is more of an isolation player. Whether it’s Luke Kennard, Langston Galloway or Glenn Robinson, someone needs to rise to the occasion.
Pacers – Are they for real or did they overachieve last year?
Indiana was highly criticized for shipping off Paul George in exchange for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis in the 2017 offseason. It ended up working in the team’s favor, however, as the new-look Pacers notched six more regular season wins. On top of that, Oladipo nearly led them past LeBron James’s Cavaliers in a 7-game playoff matchup.
Bucks – Will Thon Maker contribute more regularly?
Regardless of his contract, time is ticking on Giannis Antetokounmpo. They decided not to take the risk on Jabari Parker long-term, but compensated by signing Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova. As of this moment, Maker remains nothing but a raw prospect. Milwaukee, however, may be looking for that to change sooner rather than later.
Heat – Will we see a fully engaged Hassan Whiteside?
Whiteside boasts strong per-minute averages even when he is not fulfilling his expected role. You can automatically count on him to grab rebounds and block shots at a high rate. He is not, however, the most fundamentally sound player and can disrupt the offense at times. Defensively, he typically is not as good as his numbers suggest. Whiteside and Coach Erik Spoelstra need to maintain a better relationship for the team’s sake.
Hornets – What is Kemba Walker’s purpose here?
Averaging about 22.0 points and 5.5 assists over the past three years, Walker has become somewhat helpless in carrying this mediocre group of players. The Hornets have faltered ever since turning in a 48-win season in 2015-16. Mitch Kupchak, recently named GM, has been gauging Kemba’s trade market and should continue to do so.
Wizards – Can they fire on all cylinders as a perspective group?
When things go well in the nation’s capital, there is often just as much of a downfall to negate that. Example: Bradley Beal looked like a different player when John Wall was sidelined last year. The addition of Dwight Howard raises even more concern regarding this matter. Wall and Beal can be a nightmare at times. That alone, however, is not enough to take the next step.
Hawks – Will Trae Young provide young Steph Curry-type excitement?
Like Curry in college, Young (27.4 PPG) was a high-volume shooter without the strength and athleticism of many other high-profile guards. I’m not expecting him to turn into the next Curry but he has a welcoming opportunity to instill hope into a fan base looking for reason to be optimistic about the future.
Magic – Can Aaron Gordon live up to his All-Star potential this season?
Upon entering the NBA a few years ago, Gordon quickly made his mark as a versatile defender. His offense has also improved with each year. The organization, though, has been lost in a maze ever since the Dwight Howard days. Orlando desperately needs someone like Gordon to bring relevance back to the city.
Warriors – Can DeMarcus Cousins make the most of a reduced role when he returns?
A post-injury Cousins was a dicey option for most teams in free agency. No team was willing to pay him max value coming off a torn achilles. The Warriors, figuring they had nothing to lose, welcomed him to an already spectacular core of players. Golden State holds all the power in this situation and can release him if he becomes a disruption of any sort. Cousins must react in a positive manner in this new and unfamiliar situation.
Kings – Has Sacramento become just another city to play basketball in?
Lowly expectations seem to be a pattern for this team. The Kings have not played playoff-caliber basketball for as long as I can remember. They need to start by cementing a franchise player and may be crossing their fingers for Marvin Bagley to be the one. In addition, the sharp-shooting Buddy Hield (career 41.2% 3P) could potentially turn some heads this season.
Lakers – How ultimately successful can their “small ball” lineups be?
The Magic Johnson-Rob Pelinka duo surrounded LeBron James with perimeter-oriented players. LAL does not have a traditionally well-rounded power forward or center. They did add Javale McGee, though, who has valuable championship experience. Outside of that, James’s primary help on offense includes Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Rajon Rondo. Lonzo Ball, Lance Stephenson and Kentavious-Caldwell Pope should be considerable two-way forces.
Clippers – What direction are they headed in the post CP3/Griffin era?
The Clippers should not be counted out of remaining a somewhat competitive team. That especially goes if they deliver on their trade talks for Jimmy Butler. Should that not happen, they have a rock solid combo forward in Tobias Harris. Rookie point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will likely be there one way or the other. This organization is back to playing little brother in L.A.
Suns – How much noise can they make in the Western Conference with a team this young?
Regardless of how many games they win, the Suns should be an entertaining NBA League Pass team. Devin Booker scored 70 points in a game. Put him with first overall pick Deandre Ayton – now we may have something special. Phoenix’s fountain of youth continues with Josh Jackson, T.J. Warren and Dragan Bender. Lastly, the front office was wise in adding veterans like Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson and Jamal Crawford to the mix.
Mavericks – Will Luka Doncic show signs he can become Dirk Nowitzki’s successor?
Living up to this premature question would be an enormous challenge. Doncic fits the script though, as a widely-known foreign talent with an opportunity to take the NBA by storm. He has a proven coach in Rick Carlisle who knows how to develop young players. The Mavs finished last season with their lowest winning percentage in over 20 years. A rejuvenated roster, including All-Star center DeAndre Jordan, could allow them to rise back to mediocrity.
Rockets – How will they replace Trevor Ariza?
Known as one of the ultimate 3-and-D players, Ariza’s presence was crucial over the past few years. He did not often jump out on the box score or make highlight reel plays. However, he did provide the Rockets with reliable perimeter defense on a nightly basis. P.J. Tucker is still there but he does not have the size or shooting ability of Ariza. Carmelo Anthony also arrived in H-town, though he is notorious for being a one-way player.
Pelicans – Can they integrate strong team defense?
Despite having two players (Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday) named to the All-Defensive 1st Team, the Pelicans left a lot to be desired as a unit. Even through Holiday’s reliable perimeter defense and Davis’ sturdy rim protection, they allowed the most field goals made and attempted per game by opponents. The Pelicans have no choice but to step up defensively since they do not have the firepower of a Golden State or Houston to begin with.
Spurs – Will their 21-year playoff streak continue?
Late last year, the Spurs were in jeopardy of missing the postseason for the first time in 20 years. They were able to sneak in, however, despite missing Kawhi Leonard most of the season. It must feel strange for Gregg Popovich not having any of his renowned big three (Duncan/Parker/Ginobili). This team cannot be slept on though, with a more-than-adequate 1-2 punch in DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge.
Grizzlies – Is it time to move on from Mike Conley and Marc Gasol?
Memphis has been a well-respected organization for most of the decade – one that is always willing to go to war with any opponent – anytime and anywhere. They seemed to have lost their spark nowadays, due to a combination of old age, injuries and the emergence of inferior competition in the West. Rebuilding is evidently not the organization’s preference but it may have no other choice.
Nuggets – Will the Isaiah Thomas signing pay dividends?
Denver is of course hoping Isaiah Thomas can regain supremacy. The reward is much greater than the risk, however, as his pay is minimal compared to most other players with his type of talent. Thomas likely will never become the 25-point scorer he once was – especially on a team like this with a bundle of options. At the very least, hopefully his veteran presence will benefit their young guards in Jamal Murray and Gary Harris.
Jazz – How far can their stellar defense ultimately guide them?
It is amazing how much one player’s defense can do for a team. I’m speaking of reigning defensive player of the year Rudy Gobert of course. Not only does he carry massive weight but he also turns teammates into more effective defenders. That can relate to the thought of someone like LeBron James making teammates better scorers. The Jazz has finished as a top-five defensive team each of the last three years. Now it needs to turn dominant defense into a high-powered offense.
Thunder – Will they be deep enough to match up with contenders?
OKC is already thin at the wing positions with Andre Roberson expected to miss a couple more months. Even with Roberson, the Thunder seems to lack the depth needed in order to reach championship-level basketball. All the money aside (a lot of it), Paul George made a decision that made many people skeptical. He decided to stick with Russell Westbrook and the Thunder for the long haul. However, it will take a lot more to hang around with the big dogs.
Timberwolves – Can the Andrew Wiggins/Karl-Anthony Towns duo follow through?
Both former number one draft selections had high hopes right from the get-go. Towns has converted on that label. However, the same cannot be said for Wiggins, who has struggled to settle into a true niche. Wiggins took a back seat to the newly-acquired Jimmy Butler last season. With Butler potentially moving on though, Wiggins may have another chance to establish himself as a staple in the franchise.
Trail Blazers – Is the Damian Lillard-C.J. McCollum backcourt worth investing in long-term?
Portland’s defense improved markedly last year, posting the sixth-highest efficiency rating in the league compared to just 24th the previous year. Things seemed to be going swell in Rip City as the Blazers finished on top of the division. Then the playoffs arrived and their season was over just like that. Their first-round series loss to New Orleans zipped by too fast to even recall. Lillard and McCollum have no problem feeding off one another. However, the roster lacks depth and offensive versatility on the wing.