By: Scott Brock-Wilson and Justin Lynch
The start of our top 10 is revealed.
Click on the previous sets of rankings to view them:
#30-#21: 30 and 29, 28 and 27, 26 and 25, 24 and 23, 22 and 21
#20-#11: 20 and 19, 18 and 17, 16 and 15, 14 and 13, 12 and 11
10. Memphis Grizzlies
Last Season: 55-27, Second Round Loss
Key Offseason Acquisitions: Brandan Wright
Key Offseason Losses: Kosta Koufos
Projected Starting 5:
PG: Mike Conley
SG: Courtney Lee
SF: Tony Allen
PF: Zach Randolph
C: Marc Gasol
Key Role Players:
1. Jeff Green
2. Brandan Wright
3. Vince Carter, Beno Udrih
SBW Season Outlook:
This may be the last year the core of the Grizzlies will be all together (cough, cough, Conley). This could be their last push. They are all one year older, and the Grizzlies didn’t really lose anything this offseason. Koufos was their biggest loss, yet Wright is better than Koufos, and Wright is cheaper!
Gasol is the star, there is no doubt about that with his 5yr/$113 million contract. Gasol is one of the top centers in the league with his 18/8/4 stat line. The one time defensive player of the year (2012-13) is their anchor. Gasol holds opponents to an amazing 34% from within one foot. He, with Wright backing him up, create a situation where the Grizzlies will always have a rim protector in the game. This allows the wings to play more aggressively defensively.
Playing alongside Gasol will be Randolph. This is arguably the slowest combination in the NBA, however we all know they are quite deadly. Randolph is a double-double machine that has a good mid range jumper and is surprisingly efficient near the rim for a guy with little to no vertical. But Randolph is now 34, and it seems as though his decline may be right around the corner, but for now he will continue to produce and be as steady as always.
Allen is the defensive specialist, everyone knows that. However he is such a liability on offense at times that it outweighs his positives on defense. This was exemplified by when the Warriors almost refused to guard him in the Western Conference Semifinals. The Grizzlies combine Allen with the smooth shooting Lee. Lee shot 40% from three last year, a dramatic increase from the 34% after being traded to the Grizzlies the year prior. He allows them to space the floor offensively more, even with Allen on the floor. Green provides the scoring boost off of the bench. He is a streaky shooter but can provide instant offense, which is exactly what they need.
Gasol may be the best player, but Conley is the heart of this team. He is the glue that holds this team together. His efficiency offensively, along with his defense sets the tone. He is one of the best defenders at his position. Because of Conley’s consistency, the floor of this team is higher than most.
This Grizzlies will make the playoffs based on their defense and consistency on offense, but they will be one of the lower seeds.
JL Best-case scenario:
The Grizz keep on churning. The end of an era in Memphis is postponed another year. Gasol becomes a first-team all NBA center, and Conley gets voted to the all-star team. Jeff Green wins sixth man of the year and the Grizzlies are the team no one wants to play in round one. They grab the four-seed after an implosion of the Clippers and take care of business in round one. They beat the Rockets in round two, despite the Rockets having the best record in the regular season. The Spurs-Warriors round-two series drains the eventual winner and the Grizzlies are in perfect position to advance to the Finals. However, they run out of fire power and settle for a conference finals loss. Conley loves the team’s effort and re-signs.
JL Worst-case scenario:
Randolph and Allen are finally done. The offense stalls and becomes overly reliant on Jeff Green, causing extreme inconsistency to ensue. The Grizzlies are among the most boring teams in the league to watch, due to their inability to score and slow pace. They grab the 8-seed and are quickly put out of their misery. Conley leaves in free agency and the team becomes lost in NBA middle ground.
Projected Record: 49-33
9. Miami Heat
Last Season: 37-45, Missed Playoffs (10th in East)
Key Offseason Acquisitions: Amar’e Stoudemire, Gerald Green, Justise Winslow
Key Offseason Losses: N/A
Projected Starting 5
PG: Goran Dragic
SG: Dwyane Wade
SF: Luol Deng
PF: Chris Bosh
C: Hassan Whiteside
Key Role Players:
1. Justise Winslow
2. Amar’e Stoudemire
3. Josh McRoberts, Gerald Green
JL Season Outlook:
The Heat may be one of the more intriguing teams in the league, but we all agree what their fate is/can be. They have one of the best starting fives in all the land, and even have some underrated pieces on the bench, most notably Gerald Green and Josh McRoberts. Stoudemire should contribute some on offense, but is brutal defensively, while Winslow is on the other side. Winslow has the athleticism to defend most guys right now, but is still developing a shot and working on becoming more under control at the rim.
Hassan Whiteside comes back after a breakout campaign to defend the rim, while Bosh is back to hound the perimeter bigs. This duo inside certainly is not among the league’s elite, but Bosh is such a heady player and Whiteside has enough promise that, come season’s end, those two could be wreaking havoc, especially in a Spoelstra-lead defense.
Offensively, we know what to expect. Dragic pick-n-rolls with Bosh filling the top and Whiteside diving will become the norm, and also open up driving lanes for dishes to Wade. Deng will become more of a spot-up shooter, a role he is more than comfortable with, and McRoberts will fill that role when he comes into the games.
Wade is past his prime and I’d be surprised to see him play 55+ games, but he’s still a solid player and someone who can get you a basket when you most need it. Look for Winslow to be instrumental in filling Wade’s regular season shoes.
After this team inevitably wins around 45 games and gets the four seed, the real fun begins. This team has more talent that anyone except for Cleveland, and, in a seven game series, I expect the Heat to come through. The success of this team depends on the health of the aging Bosh and Wade, but the x-factor is Goran Dragic. Dragic will provide a new element of explosiveness teams are not used to out of Miami’s point guards.
It’s tough to pick apart this team in the preseason because we all know this team is built for April and May, so I’ll just say this: I don’t care how good or bad this team looks in games 1-82, when the playoffs roll around you better watch out, because this Heat team is dangerous.
SBW Best-case scenario:
Wade stays healthy the entire year. Bosh picks up right where he left off. Dragic continues to be a top 10 point guard. Whiteside keeps up his performance defensively while expanding his range offensively. Deng is a lockdown defender as Winslow makes key contributions right away, as he finds a consistent jumper. Amar’e even makes plays by spacing the floor. The Heat are a top three seed in the East and are a deadly threat in the playoffs with the first six leading the way.
SBW Worst-case scenario:
Wade only plays half of the games because he cannot stay healthy. Winslow fails to make the adjustment to the NBA smoothly, as he struggles with a consistent shot. Whiteside proves that last year was a fluke because the league adjusts to him, and he fails to counter. Dragic takes a step back this year as he struggles defensively. Bosh is still Bosh, but Deng starts to decline now at the age of 30. Amar’e is terrible and probably dropped. With all of this being said. There is too much talent for the Heat to fall out of the Eastern Conference Playoffs, so it’s not too bad.
Projected Record: 48-34