Boston Celtics: Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward
Jaylen Brown is a physical specimen, but he still needs to improve his shooting and ball-handling to become a star in the league. And, the Celtics have essentially added two more players at the same position in Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward. Coach Brad Stevens publicly said that the league was moving towards position-less players, and his choices of personnel either means that he plans to play all three of them together since they are all versatile athletes or at least one of the players is on the way out. Hopefully, Boston keeps them all. Both Tatum and Hayward are more polished at this point, but Brown has a distinct size and athletic advantage. If they play together, the Celtics could look and play a lot like the Warriors in the Western Conference. By adding Gordon Hayward, the Boston Celtics have improved their overall firepower, and added a star with the kind of work ethic that is contagious. Hayward is the only player in NBA history to improve his scoring average for the first six seasons of his career. In Tatum, the Celtics gained an athlete with a fairly polished offensive game and an upside nearly as promising as Brown’s overall potential. Since Isaiah Thomas has moved into elite status among NBA guards, giving him three options of 6’7″-6’8″ on the wing seems like a smart move. When the Boston Celtics hit their long distance shots, they will be hard to beat. Marcus Smart should effectively fall into a role that suits him as a slasher or as a spark off the bench. With two off-season additions, the Boston Celtics have created a team that should challenge the Eastern Conference Champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
Houston Rockets: Chris Paul, Rumored Carmelo Anthony
The effectiveness of the trade for Chris Paul and the potential trade of Carmelo Anthony to the Houston Rockets come with a huge caveat. In order for these assets to work in Houston, the Rockets have to be willing to stop using the offensive basketball strategy that they have built their team around. Daryl Morey, the general manager of the team has created an offense based solely on shooting the most efficient shots on the basketball court, the layup and the three pointer. And theoretically, the premise is sound. A team should only take the types of shots that are the most effective. But pragmatically, in basketball games, the least effective shot statistically is sometimes the best shot of the possession. By adding Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul, the Rockets have in essence nabbed two of the best mid-range shooters in the game, but that clashes directly with their base philosophy. The two problems that the Rockets have with team play is that they have a roster full of adequate shooters instead of the pure shooters that they would need for their desired style of play and the system that they have employed is flawed. Great basketball teams have players that can get shots against stout defenses, and teams with stout defenses force their opponents to shoot the least efficient shots on more possessions than the other squads. For Houston, that means the best defenses are geared to make the Rockets shoot long two-pointers, a shot that management has tried to eradicate from their players’ consciousness. If the Rockets bend their offensive strategy to maximize the effectiveness of their acquired talent, then Houston could challenge the Golden State Warriors. Chris Paul has been one of the best mid-range shooters in the game for most of his career, and Carmelo Anthony can score from every level of the floor. If they are allowed to play their game, Paul could give the Rockets points on those tough possessions and he could make both James Harden, the established star, and Carmelo Anthony more efficient scorers.
Sacramento Kings: The Draft
The Sacramento Kings will not be winning a championship this year, but they may have had the best grade in the NBA draft this year. The Kings have added a lot of solid NBA talent to an often over-matched and forgotten professional basketball frachise. De’Aaron Fox may be the best point guard in the draft even though Lonzo Ball has garnered most of the attention because of the boisterousness of his father. Fox is a big, explosive, and skilled athlete at point guard. He attacks the rim off the dribble, is as fast as anyone in the draft from baseline to baseline with the ball, and shows the potential to be a great point guard in the league because of good decision-making. He can be a blur in the open floor and he has the athleticism to challenge bigs at the rim. If Fox steadies his jump shot with NBA shooting coaches, he could be virtually unstoppable at this level. Justin Jackson is a skilled big man whose biggest assets at this point are his ability to shoot the basketball off the catch and his ability to score without dominating possessions. At 6’10″, Jackson would be a solid contributor on any team because he moves constantly to get shots within the flow of the offense. Frank Mason III, the Kings’ next pick, may be the second best point in the draft (he was the best in college) even though he is undersized. Mason controlled basketball games with a mix of change-of-pace dribble drives, pull-up jumpers, and creative assists in traffic. If Frank Mason was 6’5″ he could have been the number one pick overall, but even with the limitations of his size, he should be an excellent backup point in this league because of his quickness and his ability to make plays. Finally, Harry Giles would have been the consensus number one player overall if high school kids could still jump to the NBA. He was the number one player in the nation going into college, but injuries have hurt his stock. When healthy, Giles is a big, athletic kid with a long extremities and a good vertical leap. He showed good instincts around the basket and a very soft touch. He may have the biggest upside of all the Sacramento draft picks. Though the Sacramento Kings will probably not make the playoffs this year in a deep Western Conference, they have made some significant changes that could ultimately positively change the direction of the franchise.
Golden State Warriors: Jordan Bell, Nick Young
The Golden State Warriors are champions because they understand how personnel affects strategy on a level that only a few franchises can match. And, their draft selections reflect that knowledge. With the exception of Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala, most of the core talent in Golden State was picked by management through the lottery. Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson reached the franchise through the draft. None of the aforementioned athletes looked like surefire All-Stars or MVP candidates on draft day, but the Warriors organization saw not just their talent, but also how they could fit together on the team. They pick talented players that fit their system, and Jordan Bell is the perfect draft pick for the Warriors. Bell is an elite athlete who can finish close to the rim, runs the floor like a guard, plays tough defense, and has a high basketball IQ. He could be exactly what Green is for the Warriors at the small forward position. Hypothetically, Bell could guard four positions, score on opportunity baskets rather than have plays run for him, and protect the rim when guards get into the paint. And, he handles the basketball well enough to bring the ball up the court and initiate the offense. Nick Young was a great signing for a completely different set of reasons. He is one of maybe three players in the National Basketball Association with a negative basketball IQ. Nick Young, J.R. Smith, and Javale McGee are some of the most physically gifted players in the league, but they also make as many terrible plays as they make great plays. Golden State plays the type of basketball that eliminates the bad plays. McGee became a significant part of a championship team with the Warriors, and Young can too. Nick Young has been one of the best third tier scorers in the NBA for years. Only his shot selection has hindered him from becoming a real star in the league. But, in Oakland, Swaggy P (Nick Young) should come off the bench and be green lit for any shot. His greatest limitation could be what helps him to excel with his new team.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Paul George
Oklahoma City was basically the Russell Westbrook show last season. He led his team in points, rebounds, assists, and steals. And, Westbrook led the NBA in scoring, was 3rd in assists per game, 10th in rebounds per game (as a point guard, and the only guard in the top twenty), and 12th in the league in steals. He walked away with the highest individual award that the NBA can bestow upon a player, the NBA MVP, after becoming the second man in league history to average a triple-double over the course of a full NBA season. But, his Thunder took a big step backwards when Kevin Durant left for Oakland. The addition of Paul George should give Oklahoma a proven star who can work off the basketball with Westbrook. Paul George will not push the Thunder into contention for a title, however he will give them better shooting from the perimeter, a legitimate scoring option whose talent level is on par with Russell Westbrook, a talented defensive player who can guard four positions, and a second cornerstone for the franchise. Paul George can not hope to fill the void left by Kevin Durant, but he is a better fit in Oklahoma with the emergence of Westbrook as one of the league’s elite players.
New Orleans Pelicans: Rajon Rondo
Last season, the New Orleans Pelicans combined the talents of super-athletic Anthony Davis and the mercurial, but extremely gifted DeMarcus Cousins. The results of the pairing were mixed in 2017, but the potential for these two big men is unlimited. Cousins and Davis could form the first formidable twin towers combination since Tim Duncan and David Robinson won two titles together in 1999 and 2003. Davis is skilled and athletic enough to play small forward in the NBA, and he possesses enough quality post moves to play center, but his natural position is power forward. DeMarcus Cousins is one of the last pure centers that the NBA has. Cousins revels in playing with contact under the rim, however he still has range on his jumpshot out to the three point line. They are both skilled and versatile in the deep low post, in the high post at the elbows, and at the extended post. But, despite having talent that screams high-low offense, the Pelicans rarely played in sets that utilized both Davis and Cousins together. The Pelicans’ base offense was a simple pick-and-roll that was too dependent on Jrue Holiday to make plays. The high pick-and-roll alienated at least one of the big men on each play and the Pelicans stumbled to a record with both bigs. Management failed to surround the two bigs with shooters and the team suffered because of their personnel miscues. Unfortunately, Rajon Rondo does not add shooting to New Orleans which could help create spacing and scoring opportunities by itself. But, he does add unique play-making ability and defense to the team. He can penetrate and dish the basketball with the some of the best guards in the league despite being a below average jump-shooter. Rondo has never averaged less than 7.8 assists per game when he plays at least 30.0 minutes per game. And, he played with Cousins in Sacramento, so they have an established relationship. Rondo averaged a league-leading 11.7 assists per game for the Kings. With two very big targets in New Orleans, he could have a late renaissance in his 12 year career.