Our Competition

John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Every year, I convince myself that this is the year that we surprise everyone and make the playoffs. We'll be that dark horse team charging through the standings and we will juuuuuuuust slip into the beautiful, warm embrace of the ever-elusive eighth seed. Forget the pick! Forget Cousins' contract! Just get me into the post-season! Thankfully, this year the top of the conference has gotten even stronger and there are a couple of spots up for grabs. I 100% believe the Warriors, Clippers, Blazers, and Spurs are going to make the playoffs. That leaves four spots for us! Let's take a look at our competition.

Dallas Mavericks

Since winning it all in 2011, the Mavericks have been seeking out that magical formula of veteran players and growing youth to build around Dirk Nowitzki. Unfortunately, the past five years have been a train wreck for the Mavs in terms of keeping their core intact while also pursuing high profile players. Each year they seem to lose out on the big names and then end up overpaying for second-tier guys because of a need. This year seemed to be no different:

Key additions: Harrison Barnes (SF), Andrew Bogut (C), Quincy Acy (PF)

Key losses: Chandler Parsons (SF), Zaza Pachulia (C), Ray Felton (PG)

As you can see, the Mavericks swapped out a flawed wing and a flawed Center for a flawed wing and a flawed Center. Over the next five years, Harrison Barnes is probably a better bet for growth and health than Chandler Parsons, but by no means did Barnes do anything to remotely deserve that contract. Parsons is a better shooter, better scorer, and better passer while Barnes is a more talented defender, can play multiple positions, and doesn't have the injury history of Parsons. As far as the Centers go, Zaza is the better scorer and rebounder while Bogut is the better defender and passer.

Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: D. Williams

SG: Wes Matthews

SF: Barnes

PF: Nowitzki

C: Bogut

Rotation Players: JJ Barea, Devin Harris, Justin Anderson, Quincy Acy, Dwight Powell

Team Needs: Scoring, Scoring, and more scoring -€” I don't know who's going to score the ball for the Mavericks. Deron Williams continues to decline, Wes Matthews doesn't seem to be the player he was prior to the injury, Barnes can't create for himself, Nowitzki is a legend, but will be 38 when the season starts, and Bogut is incapable of putting up more than five or six points per game. I'm sure Rick Carlisle will be happy with the improved defensive abilities of the roster, but the Mavericks gave up a whole lot of offense as well.

How the Mavericks make the playoffs: Dirk needs to continue to be Dirk and have little to no decline. Harrison Barnes needs to grow up quickly and show that he was simply overshadowed by Curry and Thompson rather than collapsing under pressure. Wes Matthews needs to revert to the player he was a couple of years ago. Frankly, these things are extremely unlikely to happen and I think Dallas will find themselves in the ninth or tenth seed when all things are said and done.

Houston Rockets

Houston has an offensive superstar in James Harden and a joke on the defensive end in James Harden. Unfortunately, the Rockets didn't address that concern as they only added offensive firepower this offseason, including their new coach Mike D’Antoni. The Rockets paired a high-paced, push the ball, no defense coach with no defense players who are also injury prone.

Key Additions: Mike D’Antoni (coach), Ryan Anderson (PF), Eric Gordon (SG), Nene Hilario (C)

Key Losses: Dwight Howard (C), Jason Terry (SG), Terrence Jones (PF)

Ryan Anderson is a better player than Terrence Jones and Eric Gordon is a better player than Jason Terry. The Rockets definitely added talent over the past few months. However, in the past three seasons, the three big roster additions have player 69% of possible games (Eric Gordon), 61% of possible games (Ryan Anderson), and 69% of possible games (Nene). Also, I don’t know how the Rockets are going to make up for the lost defensive presence of Dwight Howard. Although no longer a superstar, Howard is still an elite rim protector, rebounder, and around-the-basket scorer. He was one of their few defensively focused players on the roster last year.

Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: P. Beverley

SG: Harden

SF: Ariza

PF: Anderson (upgrade)

C: Capela (downgrade)

Rotation Players: Pablo Prigioni, Eric Gordon, Corey Brewer, Nene Hilario

Team Needs: Unlike the Mavericks the Rockets need defense, defense, and more defense. Only Trevor Ariza, Pat Beverley, and Corey Brewer are competent defensive players. The team also needs to hire away the Suns training staff as this squad has the potential to be the 2017 version of the 2016 Grizzlies.

How the Rockets make the playoffs: Mike D’Antoni and James Harden are the keys to any hope of success for this roster. Harden must give effort on the other side of the court and D’Antoni must hold players responsible for defensive possessions. Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, Pat Beverly, and Nene Hilario all have to stay moderately healthy throughout the season. If two or three of these players misses significant time, the Rockets playoff hopes are doomed. This team will probably average over 110 points per game, but they will more than likely end up giving up 115 a night.

New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans are a weird team. They have an All-Star Power Forward in Anthony Davis and then a bunch of odd pieces around him (sound familiar?). New Orleans didn’t overspend this offseason, but also didn’t add a ton of major talent upgrades. I assume that the front office hopes the team will stay healthier this season and that added depth will help the core to improve.

Key additions: Buddy Hield (SG), Solomon Hill (SF), Terrence Jones (PF), E’Twaun Moore (SG)

Key losses: Ryan Anderson, Norris Cole, Eric Gordon

The Pelicans did the right thing in letting Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon walk away. They didn’t need two injury-prone veterans on this team. They added some nice depth with Hill and Moore, but there is still a glaring hole at small forward. Solomon Hill had a nice end to the season, but I don’t think he’s anything more than a role player.

Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Jrue Holiday

SG: Hield (downgrade)

SF: Hill (upgrade)

PF: Davis

C: Asik

Rotation Players: Tyreke Eans, Terrence Jones, E’Twaun Moore, Ajinca

Team Needs: The Pelicans need a small forward as well as fewer ball-dominant guards (If only there was a team out there that had an extra small forward and needed a guard!) and backcourt depth. Terrence Jones is a major injury concern, so that leaves them with Ajinca as their best backup big.

How the Pelicans make the playoffs: Anthony Davis needs to play better and play in more games. He’s always missing a game for a strained this or a bruised that. One of Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday needs to be traded for wing depth. Evans is really an oversized point guard and Holiday doesn’t play off of the ball well. Solomon Hill would need to take another step in his game as well and become a consistent contributor.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Oh, the Thunder. I feel bad for the fans, but I’m also extremely excited to see Russell Westbrook in full hulk mode. He’s going to average 40 points on 35 shots! I loved the Oladipo trade both with and without Kevin Durant on the roster. Oladipo is a young stud who can be your second or third best player down the road. Ibaka was declining in his role and production and was reportedly unhappy as well.

Key additions: Victor Oladipo (SG), Ersan Illyasova (PF)

Key losses: Kevin Durant, Randy Foye, Dion Waiters, Serge Ibaka

The Thunder were obviously the big losers in free agency. Losing your homegrown superstar for no return is something a small market team can ill-afford to do (Are you listening Vlade?) They also have no real small forward on the roster and three starting caliber bigs in Adams, Kanter, and Illyasova.

Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Russell "The Destroyer" Westbrook

SG: Victor Oladipo (upgrade)

SF: ummm…Kyle Singler? Andrew Roberson? (massive, massive downgrade)

PF: Kanter

C: Adams

Rotation Players: Andre Roberson, Cameron Payne, Ersan Illyasova

Team Needs: The Thunder need to solve the Westbroook puzzle. They should be selling him to the Clippers, Celtics, or Lakers for picks and players, but my great fear is that they will hope to re-sign Russell in the offseason and end up losing Durant and Westbrook for nothing in return. If they decide to keep him, the Thunder desperately need a starting wing to fill in that small forward slot.

How the Thunder make the playoffs: First, they need to swing some combination of Payne + Illyasova/Kanter for a starting small forward. Then, they need Westbrook to evolve into his angriest form. Next, Oladipo would need to improve his shooting numbers to stay a threat when Russell drives into the lane. Hopefully, the Thunder sell high on Westbrook and start their rebuild with Payne, Oladipo, and Adams.

Minnesota Timberwolves

I can’t wait to see what this team looks like in 2-3 years. Thibs + Wiggins + KAT + Dieng + Dunn + LaVine? That’s an insane amount of athleticism and defensive potential. The Wolves didn’t make a ton of moves this offseason which is perfectly justifiable considering their still maturing core.

Key additions: Tom Thibodeau (coach), Kriss Dunn (PG), Jordan Hill (PF)

Key losses: none

I don’t think Minnesota is going to trade Ricky Rubio before the season begins. The earliest they will pull the trigger on that move will be the trade deadline after Dunn has proven he can handle himself. A still growing squad of Wiggins, KAT, Dunn, and LaVine might just wreak havoc on some of the superteams that have built up over the past couple of years. I really, really hope they make the playoffs just to see the chaos on a nightly basis.

Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Ricky Rubio

SG: Zach LaVine

SF: Andrew Wiggins

PF: Karl Anthony-Towns

C: Gorgui Deng

Rotation Players: Kriss Dunn, Shabazz Muhammad, Jordan Hill

Team Needs: The team needs depth more than anything. I foresee Thibs starting Rubio, LaVine, and Wiggins so that more defensive switching can take place. They have a fairly weak bench as I don’t see Garnett contributing much and Pekovich may never play basketball again. Kosta Koufos would be a perfect target for the Wolves to provide a veteran presence and big man depth.

How the Timberwolves make the playoffs: Growth and a pinch of depth.

Memphis Grizzlies

Memphis did two great things this offseason; they kept Mike Conley and signed Chandler Parsons. Parsons is by no means a perfect player, but he is exactly what the Grizzlies needed. He can score in a litany of ways and is a three point threat. Gasol + Conley + Parsons is a really good starting point for any roster.

Key additions: David Fizdale (coach), Wade Baldwin, Troy Daniels, Chandler Parsons

Key losses: Matt Barnes, Lance Stephenson

Memphis improved its roster and didn’t lose any significant players in the process. It addressed weaknesses in their offensive game by adding Parsons and Daniels while drafting a rookie who has great defensive potential. David Fizdale is well respected around the league and the players should buy into his game plan in no time.

Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Mike Conley

SG: Tony Allen

SF: Chandler Parsons (major upgrade)

PF: Zach Randolph

C: Marc Gasol

Rotation Players: Wade Baldwin, Troy Daniels, Vince Carter, JayMychal Green, Brandan Wright

Team Needs: Like Houston and Utah, the team needs to stay healthy above all else. Parsons (81% of games played), Conley (81% of games played), Allen (74% of games played), and Gasol (78% of games played) have all missed significant time in the last three years. Tony Allen is also aging quickly, so another wing player would be helpful from a depth perspective.

How the Grizzlies make the playoffs: Stay healthy. Chandler Parsons needs to integrate quickly within the offensive scheme. Randolph and Allen need to slow their decline a bit to still contribute on a nightly basis.

Utah Jazz

The Jazz had one of the best offseasons of any team in the NBA. One of their biggest struggles last year was the injury bug hitting the team and Utah made smart trades and signings to shore up the back end of their bench. They added veteran players who can play major minutes while their young guys still grow into their roles.

Key additions: Boris Diaw (PF), George Hill (PG), Joe Johnson (SG)

Key losses: Devin Booker, Trey Burke

Utah has a lot of talent across the board with Hayward, Hood, Favors, and Lyles, but they don’t have a "superstar". They play within themselves and are coached brilliantly by Quin Snyder. I wouldn’t be surprised if Lyles was starting by the end of the year and they will probably trade another one of their 450 point guards before the year begins. Alec Burks may also be headed out of town with the addition of Joe Johnson.

Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: George Hill (upgrade)

SG: Rodney Hood

SF: Gordon Hayward

PF: Derrick Favors

C: Rudy Gobert

Rotation Players: Dante Exum, Alec Burks, Joe Johnson, Trey Lyles, Boris Diaw

Team Needs: The team needs to stay healthy above all else. They have a great core and a solid coach as well as a deep bench. I don’t see any huge needs for the team as they have a perfect mix of growing young guys and veteran contributors.

How the Jazz make the playoffs: Stay healthy. Rodney Hood and Trey Lyles need to continue to develop and Dante Exum has to prove that he can stay healthy and perform in this league.

Sacramento Kings

The Kings have had a fine offseason. We’ve signed decent players (not counting Barnes) while not mortgaging the future. The talent upgrade has been minimal, but it has happened. We obviously have point guard depth concerns and those must be addressed if we have any modicum of hope this year.

Key additions: Dave Joerger (coach), Arron Afflalo, Matt Barnes, Garrett Temple

Key losses: Marco Belinelli, Rajon Rondo

Theoretically, the shooting guard slot was shored up nicely with the additions of Afflalo and Temple. However, when you really look at the numbers I’m not certain we’ll be any more satisfied with Afflalo than we were with McLemore.

2015-2016 Per 36:

McLemore 22 13.2 3.7 2 1.3 0.2 0.429 0.362 0.474 8.6 0.531
Afflalo 30 13.8 4 2.2 0.4 0.2 0.443 0.382


10.9 0.531

Letting Rondo walk and swinging Belinelli for a first rounder were both super sound decisions by Vlade. The two biggest concerns are point guard depth and the seemingly random selections on draft night.

Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Darren Collison

SG: Arron Afflalo (upgrade)

SF: Rudy Gay

PF: Willie Cauley-Stein

C: DeMarcus Cousins

Rotation Players: Garrett Temple, Omri Casspi, Matt Barnes, Kosta Koufos, Ben McLemore

Team Needs: The Kings have several 8-11 spot players in Temple, Barnes, McLemore, Tolliver, and Richardson, but we don’t have enough 1-7 talent. We have a star player, a solid small forward, and an average starting point guard as well as a bunch of role players. We improved our overall bench, but haven’t increased the talent nearly enough. We all expect another move or two to take place before the season begins and hopefully we’re on the winning end of those deals.

How the Kings make the playoffs: Essentially, there are eight teams fighting for four playoff spots. Several things must happen for us to make the playoffs. Things we need to happen that are under our control:

  1. Cousins to work hard, on both ends of the floor, every night
  2. Cousins to stay healthy
  3. Cousins to get along with Joerger
  4. Cauley-Stein to increase his skillset
  5. Afflalo to play better than last season

Things we need to happen that are out of our control:

  1. Thunder trade Westbrook for picks and players
  2. Memphis, Houston, or Utah to suffer injuries
  3. Minnesota doesn't grow as quickly as expected

If most/all of these things can happen then we have a shot at postseason glory. In all reality, the seeding will probably end up looking like:

  1. Warriors
  2. Clippers
  3. Spurs
  4. Blazers
  5. Jazz
  6. Grizzlies
  7. Timberwolves
  8. Rockets
  9. Mavericks
  10. Kings
  11. Pelicans
  12. Thunder (sans Westbrook)
  13. Nuggets
  14. Lakers
  15. Suns

Here's to another season of hopes and dreams!

(This is a FanPost from a member of the Sactown Royalty community. The views expressed come from the member, and not Sactown Royalty staff.)