By: Scott Brock-Wilson and Justin Lynch
Teams 26 and 25 are revealed.
Click on the previous sets of rankings to view them:
#30 and #29
#28 and #27
26. Brooklyn Nets
Last Season: 38-44, First Round Loss
Key Offseason Acquisitions: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Chris McCullough, Andrea Bargnani, Wayne Ellington, Shane Larkin
Key Offseason Losses: Deron Williams, Mason Plumlee, Mirza Teletovic, Alan Anderson
Projected Starting 5:
PG: Jarrett Jack
SG: Bojan Bogdanovic
SF: Joe Johnson
PF: Thaddeus Young
C: Brook Lopez
Key Role Players:
1. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
2. Andrea Bargnani
3. Thomas Robinson
SBW Season Outlook:
The Nets wanted to get younger this offseason, and they took a step in the right direction. Brooklyn traded Plumlee for Hollis-Jefferson and drafted Chris McCullough. To clear cap space and shed some years they got rid of Williams, but still kept Johnson.
Johnson, along with Bogdanovic (9ppg in 23 min) will be the primary scoring options for Brooklyn. However, they are both ball dominant scorers. This may not only conflict with each other, but also with one of the most talented offensive big men in the game: Brook Lopez.
The Nets brought back both Lopez and Young to anchor their frontcourt. Lopez averaged 17 and 7 while posting a 22.7 PER. But the question with Lopez has never been offensively, but rather defensively and durability. Lopez has played under 20 games twice in the last four seasons. Meanwhile Young dos play well after he was traded to the Nets last year. He averaged nearly 14 and 6 and shot a surprising 38% from three once coming over from Minnesota.
The Nets are still an old team that doesn't have much potential. They will rely heavily on Johnson and Lopez, but if Lopez gets hurt, or they receive a good offer for Johnson, Brooklyn will be falling even farther down these rankings. There isn’t much hope considering many of their draft picks, including this year’s, belong to other franchises.
JL Best-case scenario:
Bogdanovic proves that he is a long-term building block. Lopez is able to stay healthy and is an all-star. Johnson still has a little left in the tank, and thrives with Deron Williams gone. Thomas Robinson resurrects his career and Hollis-Jefferson becomes a better version of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The Nets squeak into the playoffs, and put up a fight against the Cavs, but lose in five.
JL Worst-case scenario:
Lopez goes down early in the year with another foot injury. Bogdanovic, as it turns out, isn’t that good. Joe Johnson is finally too old and this team limps to one of the worst records in the league. On the night of the NBA lottery, the ping pong balls fall their way and they get the first overall pick. That pick then gets sent to Boston and the Nets are left with nothing.
Projected Record: 26-56
25. Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Season: 16-66, Missed Playoffs (Last in West)
Key Offseason Acquisitions: Karl Anthony-Towns, Tyus Jones, Andre Miller, Tayshaun Prince
Key Offseason Losses: Anthony Bennett, Chase Budinger, Gary Neal
Projected Starting 5:
PG: Ricky Rubio
SG: Zach LaVine
SF: Andrew Wiggins
PF: Kevin Garnett
C: Karl-Anthony Towns
Key Role Players:
1. Nikola Pekovic
2. Kevin Martin
3. Shabazz Muhammad, Gorgui Dieng
JL Season Outlook:
The Timberwolves come into 2015-16 in one of the best situations (link to my article) in the league, despite being a bottom feeder. The Timberwolves, and everyone else, believe they have two potential stars in Wiggins and Towns. But you know all about them, and it’s not just them that Wolves fans should be excited about.
Shabazz Muhammad showed real promise before a broken finger ended his season. Muhammad, 22 (?, link to his age scandal thing) posted a PER of 19.99 last season. He averaged 13.5 points/game for the entire season, but in his 15 games in December (he played 38 the whole year), Shabazz averaged 18/game. His ability to slide up to the four for stretches allows the Wolves to throw different lineups out there as well. Also, he was one of just two players on the Timberwolves who played at least 20 games to earn a eFG% over .500 (.503). The other was Gorgui Dieng.
Dieng, already 25 though entering just his third year in the league, is someone most people overlook. He averaged 10 points, eight boards, and nearly two blocks last season, in 30 mpg.
Dieng has a solid post-up game, but with Wiggins and Muhammad’s affinity for posting, as well as Towns and Pekovic, there isn’t much room for him on the blocks. Dieng can hit a 15-footer, and has been working with Holger Geschwindner, the notable shooting coach of Dirk, to improve his range. Dieng is a smart player, who excels at post entry passes and hitting cutters. He also plays with a high-motor. The biggest issue with his game is his rim-protection. He allowed opponents to shoot 55.8% at the basket, a mark better (among other bigs) than only Enes Kanter and...Nikola Pekovic.
Zach LaVine comes into his second year still a question mark. It seems to be clear he cannot be the primary ball-handler, but he surprised many with his shooting ability (34% from three), and he is on the short list of most athletic guys in the league. LaVine’s quick first step allows him to get to the rim, and his he finished at a 60% clip inside five feet, an impressive mark, but one that many believe he will improve upon.
The downside of this teams comes in the form of Nikola Pekovic and Ricky Rubio. Pekovic, as mentioned earlier, can’t protect the rim at all, and his post-presence will become unnecessary if the Timberwolves see more value in going small with a Rubio-LaVine-Wiggins-Muhammad-Towns lineup. Rubio is still only 24, but in four seasons he’s played more than 60 games just once. Also, his 36% from the field and 26% from three show his shot is still more than a ways away. The Wolves owe Pekovic $35 million over the next three years, and Rubio’s 4-year/$55 million extension kicks in this year. Neither, in my opinion, are worth that money, and they should try to unload both contracts when the cap jumps.
For this year, the Wolves should show promise, on the backs of Wiggins and Towns, but this team is still not a playoff contender.
SBW Best-case scenario:
Wiggins makes his big jump this year and becomes a top 15 player while Towns is even more NBA ready than most people think, as he puts up big numbers and runs away with the rookie of the year. LaVine and Muhammad will both step up to become key starters/first man off the bench. The small lineup will thrive, and the Wolves can run the floor non-stop. Martin and Pekovic will accept their smaller roles and mentor this team (along with Garnett). The Jazz struggle without Exum, and the Suns continue their late struggles from last year, so the Wolves are actually playoff contenders.
SBW Worst-case scenario:
Wiggins still puts up big numbers, but ones that don’t translate to team success. Towns makes a slow transition, as both LaVine and Muhammad prove themselves to be only bench players at best for the season. The Wolves older players carry the team more than the younger ones. They finish as one of the worst teams in the West, but their future is still bright with both Wiggins and Towns.
Projected Record: 26-56