2017-18 NBA Preview

Courtesy of Scot Tucker / SFBay | Newly-acquired Rockets G Chris Paul handles the ball vs. Warriors defender Nick Young. Houston topped GSW 122-121 on Oct. 17.
Courtesy of Ezra Shaw / Getty Images | Members of Golden State, including Steph Curry (bottom left), receive their 2017 NBA Finals championship rings during their banner-raising ceremony prior to a game vs. Houston on Oct. 17.

As contenders remain, others scramble to supplement their rosters with talent necessary to compete with league’s top dogs

Adam Lindner | Sports Editor


With the dawn of a new NBA season upon us, it’s finally time to sit back, reflect on an anarchical offseason that saw numerous top players join new franchises, and prepare to see the league’s stars back-in-action for the first time since Golden State won the NBA title in five games over Cleveland some four long months ago.

Among the newest-looking teams in the league this season are Oklahoma City, Boston and Houston, but Golden State and Cleveland remain superior at the season’s outset, appearing to be headed toward an unprecedented fourth-straight meeting in the NBA Finals.

However, success doesn’t always equal quality entertainment (albeit the Warriors have concocted a perfect combination of the two), and June is a long ways away.

Below, the Association’s 16 projected non-lottery bound squads are ranked in terms of watchability during the regular-season. The biggest obstacle facing each team will be presented, followed by The Duke’s watchability rankings and predictions for each group this season.

1. Warriors — Easily the most entertaining juggernaut in all of sports right now, Golden State welcomes back its four stars this season who will be accompanied by a strong supporting cast off of the bench in Andre Iguodala, JaVale McGee, Shaun Livingston & Co. The only things that stand in the way of Golden State potentially missing the Finals are catastrophic injury or crippling chemistry issues, both of which are highly unforeseen.
Watchability Ranking: 100
Projected Outcome: NBA Champions

2. Thunder — Adding versatile wing Paul George and pinpoint three-point shooter Carmelo Anthony to a team led by reigning league MVP Russell Westbrook is bound to excite for months-on-end. An obvious issue resides in the fact that there’s only one basketball to go around between the three of them, but if the Thunder’s newest stars can work to construct true chemistry together, Oklahoma City could disrupt Golden State’s return to the Finals.
Watchability Ranking: 97.5
Projected Outcome: West Semifinals

Courtesy of Scot Tucker / SFBay | Newly-acquired Rockets G Chris Paul handles the ball vs. Warriors defender Nick Young. Houston topped GSW 122-121 on Oct. 17.

3. Rockets — A season removed from shattering a plethora of three-point records, Houston adds Chris Paul to a team that welcomes back five of its six double-digit scorers from last year’s squad. The addition of another premier playmaker in Houston’s backcourt makes its offensive attack less uniform, but the premise remains the same: Shoot.
Watchability Ranking: 95
Projected Outcome: West Finals

4. Cavaliers — A completely retooled Cleveland roster will look to mesh early on, even though recently-acquired point guard Isaiah Thomas will be out until Christmastime. Any team with LeBron James on its roster will always be must-see TV.
Watchability Ranking: 92.5
Projected Outcome: Lose in NBA Finals

Courtesy of NBA | No Love Lost: Former superstar tandem LeBron James (left) and Kyrie Irving (right) embrace prior to tipoff in Irving’s return to Cleveland. A trade to Boston on Aug. 22 ended Irving’s tenure with the Cavs. Cleveland won 102-99 vs. Boston in the NBA’s opening game of the 2017-18 regular-season.

5. Celtics — Even with Gordon Hayward out for the foreseeable future following a gruesome injury on opening night versus Cleveland, Boston still be an intriguing team to evaluate this season. Kyrie Irving got his wish in having his own team free of LeBron James in Boston, and rookie Jayson Tatum is one of the league’s most polished newcomers.
Watchability Ranking: 87.5
Projected Outcome: East Finals

6. Timberwolves — No matter how badly the Timberwolves may lack floor spacing this year, Minnesota will be fun to watch as Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Jimmy Butler join forces this year. Undoubtedly, it will be tough to watch in a half-court set from time-to-time, but assuming Tom Thibodeau’s team can create turnovers on defense, the young ‘Wolves will be free to run in transition frequently.
Watchability Ranking: 85
Projected Outcome: West Quarterfinals

7. Bucks — Here’s to hoping Milwaukee doesn’t suffer any major injuries to key contributors this season, and to Giannis Antetokounmpo’s perpetual improvement continuing on.
Watchability Ranking: 85
Projected Outcome: East Semifinals

8. Wizards — It’s a matter of taste when it comes to Washington, but if you enjoyed Russell Westbrook domineering for a full 48 in 2016-17, you may enjoy a less pronounced, more refined and perhaps, an even faster version of Russ in John Wall. Depending on the severity of Gordon Hayward’s injury, Washington could challenge for a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Watchability Ranking: 80
Projected Outcome: East Semifinals

9. Trail Blazers — Portland is at least one or two dynamic scoring wings away from ever making any serious commotion in the West, but Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum’s two-man act is captivating, night-in and night-out.
Watchability Ranking: 77.5
Projected Outcome: West Quarterfinals

10. Spurs — With Kawhi Leonard returning from a season-ending injury one season ago, San Antonio’s ever-aging cast may not the most fun group throughout the course of the year, but you can expect for them to be present and accounted for come playoff time.
Watchability Ranking: 75
Projected Outcome: West Semifinals

11. 76ers — It just feels like a major injury is looming for Joel Embiid following his (premature?) five-year, $148 million extension with the Sixers. Here’s to hoping that Embiid, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, J.J. Redick and Robert Covington all remain unscathed this year. If such good fortunes are not bestowed upon them… Continue to #TrustTheProcess!
Watchability Ranking: 72.5
Projected Outcome: East Quarterfinals

12. Clippers — The new-look, Chris Paul-less Clippers will undoubtedly regress this season; perhaps, to the point that they may not be the most watchable team in their own city by season’s end. However, athletic marvels Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan remain, and Eurobasket star Milos Teodosic will impress those not yet aware of him.
Watchability Ranking: 70
Projected Outcome: West Quarterfinals

13. Raptors — Toronto, who may lack local interest following repeated postseason letdowns and the recent comeuppance of their Air Canada Centre roommate Maple Leafs, remains as a top-five squad in the East despite stagnation during the offseason. Nevertheless, DeMar Derozan is one of the game’s highest flyers, and Toronto fans should be grateful that DeMar-to-Los Angeles rumors never came to fruition.
Watchability Ranking: 62.5
Projected Outcome: East Quarterfinals

14. Hornets — Charlotte brings the Dwight Howard restoration project into town this season, with many around the league projecting this to be Howard’s last stop as a potential key contributor. Fortunately, he will be reunited with coach Steve Clifford, who was an assistant during DH12’s heyday in Orlando. With Kemba Walker orchestrating the Hornets’ offense, two things will need to happen for this year to go well in Charlotte that hasn’t in years past: Sustained three-point shooting success, and solid contributions from a point guard not named Kemba. Former Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams can’t disappoint.
Watchability Ranking: 60
Projected Outcome: East Quarterfinals

15. Heat — Dion Waiters must continue to shoot like he did last season, and Josh Richardson must stay healthy if Erik Spoelstra would like to avoid the lottery for a second-straight year. Kelly Olynyk will help to space the floor for Hassan Whiteside with his shooting range.
Watchability Ranking: 55
Projected Outcome: East Quarterfinals

16. Jazz — Following the departure of Gordon Hayward, it may be tough at times for Jazz fans to watch their team this season without slipping into a gentle slumber. Nevertheless, if you love defense, center Rudy Gobert is your man, and Ricky Rubio is fun to watch in the open court. The development of draft steal Donovan Mitchell will be fun to witness.
Watchability Ranking: 50
Projected Outcome: West Quarterfinals

Honorable Mention: Denver Nuggets

Denver’s Watchability Ranking: 61.75

Denver’s Projected Outcome: Best Team in the Lottery

2017-18 NBA Finals Predictions
— Sports Editor Adam Lindner:
Warriors over Cavaliers in 6
— Former Sports Editor Andrew Holman:
Cavaliers over Rockets in 6
— Staff Writer David Borne:
Warriors over Cavaliers in 6
— DU MBB G Tarin Smith:
Cavaliers over Warriors in 6