Season starts tonight!
Here are some various assorted predictions, some boring, some bold:
Miami will repeat as champs - Lebron is on another level. Hate them if you will, but I love that they're essentially saying "screw traditional lineups. We've got Lebron and Wade, who needs a point guard or a center." Should be exciting to see just how good they are if it all clicks. I just don't see anyone at their level, and that includes the Lakers.
The Knicks will miss the playoffs - This is a disastrously constructed team. Amare and Melo are an awful pairing, they aren't complementary at all, and both are terrible defenders. I like Tyson Chandler a lot, but look at the rest of this roster. An overweight Ray Felton? A 40 year-old Jason Kidd? I don't like it at all. This team made their bones on defense last year, and they lost their 2 best perimeter defenders (Shumpert and Fields). I mean...Ronnie Brewer is ok, I guess? I just can't get on board with them, I don't think they're good. If Chandler gets hurt, they're toast.
The Nuggets will be a top 2 seed in the West - I love the Nuggets. They're a perfectly constructed regular season team. They're young, deep, fast and talented at every position. Really, other than the rookies, the rest of the roster is filled with legitimate NBA players. Brewer, Faried, Iguadola, Gallinari, Lawson, McGee, Chandler, Koufos, Miller, Randolph. It's a deep roster, and a lot of those young guys are guys who could make significant improvements. They were the 3rd best offensive team in the league last year, and they added 2 of the best wing defenders in the league (Iguadola and Brewer). The deep roster is less useful in the playoffs, but in the regular season it means that they stay fresh and injuries won't phase them.
The Bobcats will be an above-average defense - Honestly, I'm way less confident about this prediction than any of my other ones. I really just wanted to make the point that, as bad as they're going to be on offense (and they are going to be so, so bad), the Cats actually have a lot of solid defensive players. Biyombo has the makings of a defensive stud, and he should make a big improvement from his rookie year. Kidd-Gilchrist is a good defender on the wing, as is Gerald Henderson. Tyrus Thomas cannot possibly be as bad as he was last year, and even then he was a good shot-blocker. They added Brendan Haywood, who is a solid defender. It's not much, but it's something. A more realistic prediction would be that they'll be a top 20 defense (because even that would be a massive improvement), but hey, we're being bold here.
The fight for the 8th playoff spot in the West will be brutal, and eventually won by...Houston - Honestly, I could be totally right about how good Houston will be, and still be wrong about this. There are 5 teams (Golden State, Houston, Minnesota, Dallas, Portland) who can reasonably be regarded as in contention for the 8th playoff spot (I think Utah is solidly in the top 7), depending on how things shake out. Some of them won't get that close, but 2-3 teams will probably be within 1-2 games of each other at the end, which makes it all kind of a toss up. Anyway, why Houston? I love the way this roster is constructed. Daryl Morey has done a really exemplary job of remaking this roster in the wake of the Yao-McGrady era. As has been shown in this thread, I'm a firm believer in Harden, I think he's a star. I like Lin a lot, and I really like Asik. He's one of the best defenders in the league, and there are very few assets in basketball as valuable as a great defensive center. Those 3 are the known assets, but the season is going to be decided by what they get from their forwards. The bad news is that there are a lot of unknowns there. The good news is that there are a lot of talented young players in the mix, and you only need 1 or 2 of them to pop. I really like both Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas, both of whom Houston got great value on in the draft. We've all seen the highlights of how good Royce White can potentially be. Chandler Parsons was one of the best values in the league last year. All that young talent also means that Morey, one of the most active GMs in the league, has plenty of trade chips left to improve his team during the season. Dallas and Minnesota both have injury issues, and Golden State's two most important players (Bogut and Curry) are made of tissue paper. It's expecting a lot from them, but I really like this Rockets team.