The NBA season kicks off tonight, and with its start comes part two of three in our 2014-2015 projections. These are the teams that will make some noise this season, but with their current rosters, it’s really hard for us to see them making it to the finals. They’re not quite bad enough to be called bad and not quite good enough to be called good. Our individual rankings are in parentheses.
Middle of the Middle Tier: One Sam Presti trade away from success.
12) Toronto Raptors (Durst: 11, Janick: 12)
Jacob Durst: Barring an injury to Kyle Lowry, I think this is a third or fourth seed in the East.
Nathan Janick: I think they will be a little better than last year because they have another year to develop their young talent and play together, but I feel like other teams in the east did a lot more in the off-season.
JD: In this case, less is more. DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas have another year to develop. Kyle Lowry should have been an all-star last year, and he likely will be one this year.
NJ: This team has a lot of pieces, but they are one elite player way. Get Sam Presti on the line and have Drake start talking to Kevin Durant.
11) Memphis Grizzlies (Durst: 10, Janick: 11)
JD: I can’t help but feel that this team is too low on the list. They play elite defense, anchored by Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, and throw in Vinsanity (Vince Carter) and you have a team that will give a lot of teams trouble.
NJ: Like Toronto I really like the pieces on this team, but they are one superstar or two all-stars away from being able to make a run deep into the Western Conference playoffs. If this team was in the East, I could see them giving Cleveland and Chicago a lot of trouble.
JD: They are one go-to guy on offense away from giving anyone serious problems, and all of last year showed was that Tayshaun Prince is not that guy.
NJ: Tayshaun has not been that guy since we were starting high school. My other concern is whether Zach Randolph can hold up or if he going to continue to slip.
D: Prince hasn’t been that since Ron Artest (Metta World Peace) was actually Ron Artest. Their defense is going to give people problems night-in and night-out, but ultimately, I don’t think they’re going to be able to put up the points to stay relevant.
10) Washington Wizards (Durst: 12, Janick: 8)
NJ: I had this team a lot higher on my rankings. They miraculously didn’t overpay Marcin Gortat, and I love the Paul Pierce signing. I believe his veteran leadership will go a long way.
JD: I like John Wall, and that’s it. If this team was in the West, it would be a bottom-five team. They are on this list solely because they are in the East. However, I think this team can contend for a three seed in the East.
NJ: This team we disagree on most. I really like the Wall and Bradley Beal combo in the backcourt. I think both of these players have the potential to make a big leap this year. I expect both of them to make the all-star team this year and emerge as elite players at their position.
JD: I don’t know if Beal will ever be anything more than a glorified shooting specialist. I don’t really see a lot more to his game. That’s no knock on him, but Washington will need him to be more than that to make Cleveland and Chicago worry. I like Wall but he might be James Harden lite, in the sense that he’s a good to great offensive player, but his defense is a little lacking.
NJ: They are both really young and I think their defense will develop with age since they are so athletic. This year will likely prove which one of us is right.
JD: Nate, who has the most potential to become the new Gilbert Arenas?
NJ: I think this organization had a party when they didn’t have to pay his contract anymore.
9) Dallas Mavericks (Durst: 9, Janick: 9)
JD: I think that this team could be sneaky good. Rick Carlisle is the second best coach in the league behind Gregg Popovich. Dirk Nowitzki does Dirk things. They have a semi-decent rim protector in Tyson Chandler, and if anyone can turn Chandler Parsons into a full on star, its Carlisle.
NJ: I completely agree. Carlisle the Monta Ellis tamer. Lets not forget that they took the Spurs to Game Seven last year and were a few plays away from winning the series.
JD: If someone big on a team ranked higher gets hurt, Dallas could be moving up in the world. I think this team might be better than the one with which they won the title with in 2011.
Top of the Middle Tier: One step away from a memorable season:
8) Houston Rockets (Durst: 6, Janick: 10)
NJ: This is the other team we disagreed on. This largely has to do with the fact that you are a from Texas.
JD: Say what you will about me being biased, but James Harden and Dwight Howard are still James Harden and Dwight Howard, and are still the best players in the league at their respective positions.
NJ: Harden’s defense resembles a McDonald’s drive through, anybody is able to drive through. They also have absolutely no bench. One injury to Harden or Howard and this team won’t make the playoffs.
JD: I’ll give you the bench comment, but I think that a couple of their young players could prove to be serviceable role players, which is all they need. I like the signing of Trevor Ariza precisely because of Harden’s defense: it gives them another perimeter stopper to pair with Beverly.
NJ: If Ariza plays like he does when he is in a contract year, then this signing will be great, but he is yet to prove himself when he has a large multi-year contact.
JD: If Ariza plays like he did last year, and the bench proves to be average, they will be a top four seed in the West again.
7) Portland Trail Blazers (JD: 8, NJ: 7)
NJ: I think this team will go as far as Damian Lillard takes them.
JD: Don’t forget LaMarcus Aldridge, cause they certainly have no one else.
NJ: I feel like we all know what we will get out of Aldridge. Lillard made a huge leap in the playoffs last year so the question is whether he will continue that level of performance during the season this year. They are still a piece away from being able to compete with the top-tier teams in the West.
JD: I feel like we know what we have with Portland, and they didn’t get better this offseason. They lost a key bench piece in Mo Williams, and their bench was bad last year. I think they could be a major regression candidate, especially considering their huge start to last year, which really helped out their .500 second half.
NJ: This team is like Maggie’s: it’s hard to get excited about it, and it has potential, but has a high probability of letting you down.
6) Golden State Warriors (Durst: 7, Janick: 6)
JD: Let’s get this out of the way: not trading for Kevin Love will haunt this team for years.
NJ: We’ll know by the All-Star break whether holding onto Klay Thompson was worth giving up the hope of the shooting mega-duo of Kevin Love and Stephen Curry.
JD: I think what’s a lot more likely is that Curry gets injured and the Warriors realize that without a playmaker around him, Thompson is worthless. They wouldn’t have had that problem with Kevin Love.
NJ: I think their problems root back to the Andre Iguodala trade. They gave up a majority of their tradable assets assuming Iguodala would continue to be an elite all-star, but his time in Golden State has proven otherwise.
JD: New question: is it time to give up on Harrison Barnes?
NJ: It’s not time to give up on him as a contributor for a contender, but since his arrival at the University of North Carolina as a preseason all-American freshman, he has proven that he isn’t a star on a night-to-night basis.
JD: I don’t think we’re ever going to see the Harrison Barnes from that Denver series a couple of years ago. However, I think David Lee would start alongside Harden on a “Worst-Defenders in the NBA” roster.
NJ: The other thing we can count on is that Andrew Bogut will be spending a significant amount of time in the training room.
By Jacob Durst & Nathan Janick, Contributing Writers