Rod Beard's team-by-team NBA preview
The News’ Rod Beard previews the 2018-19 NBA season with team-by-team scouting reports. Teams are listed in predicted order of finish.
1. BOSTON CELTICS
Coach: Brad Stevens
2017-18 record: 55-27 (2nd)
Pressure is on: Kyrie Irving is the biggest name on a team that should win the East, but much like last season, health is the biggest concern.
Rising star: Jayson Tatum used his rookie season as a coming-out party in the league and will continue to show that he’s one of the best young stars in the league.
Skinny: Gordon Hayward is back from his gruesome injury and the Celtics have more depth than anyone in the East. Will it be enough to fuel them through the playoffs and give the Warriors a legitimate challenge?
2. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
Coach: Brett Brown
2017-18 record: 52-30 (3rd)
Pressure is on: Joel Embiid will have to be the brightest star on a team that matured last season. Can he carry a young team on his broad shoulders?
Rising star: Ben Simmons continues to build his skill set and when his jump shot gets more consistent, he’ll be very difficult to guard at his size.
Skinny: The Process continues, but with increased expectations, the pressure will be on them to produce and possibly get to the Eastern Conference Finals. Markelle Fultz will need to take a big step as well.
3. TORONTO RAPTORS
Coach: Nick Nurse
2017-18 record: 59-23 (1st)
Pressure is on: Kawhi Leonard might get a laugh out of how much easier playing in the Eastern Conference is than the nightly clashes in the West.
Rising star: O.G. Anunoby worked his way into a starting role and his versatility will get him plenty of playing time. He can take on a bigger offensive role this season.
Skinny: The North has higher expectations — maybe even to surprise the Celtics and win the East. They’ll take some time to mesh with Leonard but they will be a team to watch.
4. MILWAUKEE BUCKS
Coach: Mike Budenholzer
2017-18 record: 44-38 (7th)
Pressure is on: Giannis Antetokounmpo is in line for another breakout season, as he’s worked on his jump shot and was effective from 3-point range in the preseason.
Rising star: Thon Maker showed himself to be a defensive force last season and with another year to develop, he can make bigger strides on the offensive end.
Skinny: The Bucks didn’t reach their full potential last season, finishing seventh in the East. They’ll be much higher and will put themselves in a better spot to win a first-round series and challenge for the conference finals.
5. INDIANA PACERS
Coach: Brett Brown
2017-18 record: 48-34 (5th)
Pressure is on: Victor Oladipo (23.1 points) was the most improved player and he’s still building his all-around game. He can carry a team, as he showed last season.
Rising star: Domantas Sabonis posted 11.6 points and 7.7 rebounds last season and doesn't get the credit he deserves as an up-and-coming big man.
Skinny: Myles Turner signed a contract extension and will be one of the anchors, along with Oladipo. Even after trading Paul George, they’re still reaping the benefits, with a nice young core.
6. DETROIT PISTONS
Coach: Dwane Casey
2017-18 record: 39-43 (9rd)
Pressure is on: Reggie Jackson needs to stay healthy and play in at least 65 games. The Pistons haven’t shown an ability to win consistently without him.
Rising star: Luke Kennard can build on his solid rookie season with steady outside shooting and by creating plays off the dribble.
Skinny: Casey’s new system may not click early in the season, but it will click. The Pistons will get back to the playoffs, but will that be enough? They have the talent to win a couple games and possibly a first-round series.
7. MIAMI HEAT
Coach: Erik Spoelstra
2017-18 record: 44-38 (6th)
Pressure is on: Hassan Whiteside’s production dipped a bit last season and he’ll need to be a bigger presence in the middle.
Rising star: Josh Richardson (12.9 points) is unheralded for what he brings on both ends of the court and he’s only getting better.
Skinny: The Heat looked to be the most likely trade partner for the Timberwolves and Jimmy Butler — if the trade even happens. If not, the Heat still look to be a playoff team.
8. WASHINGTON WIZARDS
Coach: Scott Brooks
2017-18 record: 43-39 (8th)
Pressure is on: John Wall has had a good team around him for a number of years but hasn’t been able to lead them to a deep playoff run yet. If it doesn’t happen this year, there could be big changes.
Rising star: Otto Porter is ready for a breakthrough season, just a bit below the talent level of Wall and Bradley Beal. He’s underrated but he’s a scorer.
Skinny: The Wizards have underachieved for years and adding Dwight Howard doesn’t mean that things will get any more stable. They could finish as high as 4th or 5th or 9th or 10th. They’re just that volatile.
9. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
Coach: Tyronn Lue
2017-18 record: 50-32 (4th)
Pressure is on: Kevin Love will carry the torch with LeBron James’ departure to the Lakers. It could be a reprise to his Timberwolves days, when he was the main option.
Rising star: Rookie Collin Sexton has the tools to become an exciting player but like most rookies, will have to take his lumps as he learns the ropes.
Skinny: Their reign in the East is almost assuredly over but the question is whether they’ll fall out of the playoff race completely. They still have some talent, but James can overshadow anyone’s shortcomings.
10. CHARLOTTE HORNETS
Coach: James Borrego
2017-18 record: 36-46 (10th)
Pressure is on: Kemba Walker hasn’t been able to get the Hornets to the top tier of the East and there are some questions about his long-term future in Charlotte.
Rising star: Rookie Miles Bridges (Michigan State) had an exciting Summer League and preseason and bring some excitement to the Hornets’ bench.
Skinny: They’ve kept essentially the same roster for a few years, but haven’t been able to make big waves in the East. It might be time to start over — and trading Walker at some point this season would be a clear sign of that.
11. BROOKLYN NETS
Coach: Kenny Atkinson
2017-18 record: 28-54 (12th)
Pressure is on: D’Angelo Russell was a high draft pick but hasn’t had much success in leading a team to the playoffs and making any kind of significant run.
Rising star: Caris LeVert (Michigan) could be an early candidate for most improved player. He put together a solid year last season and could be ready to build on it to make the Nets more exciting.
Skinny: They’re still not a playoff team yet but they have some nice building blocks in their young core, with center Jarrett Allen, D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie. They might only be a piece or two from becoming a playoff team.
12. CHICAGO BULLS
Coach: Fred Hoiberg
2017-18 record: 17-55 (13th)
Pressure is on: Zach LaVine has grown into a building block and after coming over from the Timberwolves, he’ll need to stay healthy and be healthy for 65 games or more.
Rising star: Lauri Markkanen’s rookie year wasn’t a fluke but he’ll be relied upon to put up solid numbers again (15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds).
Skinny: Many experts have the Bulls as one of the surprise East teams. Despite the narrative that the East will be down considerably, there will be some jockeying for position and the Bulls could be a team to watch.
13. ORLANDO MAGIC
Coach: Steve Clifford
2017-18 record: 25-57 (14th)
Pressure is on: Aaron Gordon isn’t just a young player with promise anymore; he’s going to have to step to the forefront to be a leader and take on a bigger role.
Rising star: Jonathan Isaac took a step forward and with the addition of Mo Bamba in the draft, the Magic have an imposing frontcourt.
Skinny: It’ll take some time but their roster is taking shape. They’ll need to add some more pieces in the backcourt, but they’re starting to put something together that could pay off in the next few years.
14. NEW YORK KNICKS
Coach: David Fizdale
2017-18 record: 29-53 (11th)
Pressure is on: Kristaps Porzingis in injured and it’s unclear when (or if) he’ll be back this season. Tim Hardaway Jr. will have to carry much of the load in Porzingis’ absence.
Rising star: Frank Ntilikina will move from point guard to a wing position, where he might be more comfortable and not have to worry about handling the ball and initiating the offense.
Skinny: Without Porzingis, there isn’t much light at the end of the tunnel for the Knicks, but if it’s an extended absence, they can start thinking about the draft lottery again.
15. ATLANTA HAWKS
Coach: Lloyd Pierce
2017-18 record: 24-58 (15th)
Pressure is on: Trae Young was the Hawks’ first-round pick, over some very good alternate options. He didn’t have a great Summer League so the focus will be on him to show signs.
Rising star: John Collins (10.5 points and 7.3 rebounds) had a solid rookie year and made the Hawks worth watching on some nights.
Skinny: The Hawks are still a long way from being a playoff contender but in their rebuild, they’re adding some good, young talent to make their franchise foundation.
1. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
Coach: Steve Kerr
2017-18 record: 58-24 (2nd)
Pressure is on: DeMarcus Cousins … and that’s a maybe. If his addition somehow taints the mix and the Warriors don’t win their third straight title, there will have to be a scapegoat, won’t there?
Rising star: While Cousins continues his Achilles injury, Damian Jones and Jordan Bell will pick up the slack in the middle. That will only help in the postseason, when they’ll be utilized more off the bench.
Skinny: All signs point to another title for the Warriors, who breezed again in the Finals. The only question is how long they can keep this roster together, with Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson eyeing their futures.
2. HOUSTON ROCKETS
Coach: Mike D’Antoni
2017-18 record: 65-17 (1st)
Pressure is on: Chris Paul missed the most critical games of the most critical series, when the Rockets at least had a fighting chance of knocking off the Warriors. He fell short too many times with the Clippers, so he has motivation this season.
Rising star: Eric Gordon has been in the conversation for sixth man of the year perennially but how will he handle Carmelo Anthony’s arrival and how does that affect their shot distribution?
Skinny: There aren’t many questions about the Rockets, who came closest to dethroning the champion Warriors, but fell short. They’ll have to ramp up their defensive effort when it counts. Getting home-court advantage was critical for them and that should be their entire focus in the regular season.
3. UTAH JAZZ
Coach: Quin Snyder
2017-18 record: 48-34 (5th)
Pressure is on: Donovan Mitchell showed last season that he’s an electric talent that many teams regrettably passed on in the first round. He’ll have an encore performance as he fills up the stat sheet and ascends to superstar status.
Rising star: Rudy Gobert still is one of the most underrated big men in the league but he’ll get more shine with Mitchell bringing a bigger national spotlight to Salt Lake City. Gobert again will contend for defensive player of the year.
Skinny: The Jazz had a nice showing in the playoffs last year and are looking to build on it with a longer run this spring. They have the pieces to give some of the top teams problems, but maybe not to win the West.
4. DENVER NUGGETS
Coach: Mike Malone
2017-18 record: 46-36 (9th)
Pressure is on: Nikola Jokic signed a long-term deal and is ready to have a breakthrough season that catapults him into the conversation with some of the elite players in the league.
Rising star: Gary Harris (Michigan State) averaged 17.5 points last season and has been on the cusp of breaking out for a couple years and this will be a big season for him, as well as the Nuggets.
Skinny: They narrowly missed the playoffs last season, but with more seasoning, they won’t leave a doubt this year. Their overall talent and depth will make them a formidable foe every night of the season.
5. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Coach: Billy Donovan
2017-18 record: 48-34 (4th)
Pressure is on: Russell Westbrook has had all kinds of individual success, including an MVP, but there are still questions about whether he can put the team on his back and through a tough playoff series.
Rising star: When Andre Roberson gets healthy — which could be another six or seven weeks — the Thunder can take off. He’s their defensive maven and without him, they seemed to wither a bit last season.
Skinny: There’s no Carmelo Anthony but the Thunder built a nice reserve group with Dennis Schroder and Nerlens Noel. That’ll come into play more in the postseason, but the Thunder will aim for a higher seed than fifth.
6. LOS ANGELES LAKERS
Coach: Luke Walton
2017-18 record: 35-47 (11th)
Pressure is on: LeBron James made the biggest splash of the summer with his decision to join the Lakers and he’ll be the center of attention with everything he does. It’s nothing new; he’s shown he can handle the spotlight.
Rising star: Brandon Ingram will only benefit from James’ arrival, as defenses will be geared more that way. He’ll increase his numbers from last season (16.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists) and become a bigger weapon.
Skinny: Getting James instantly makes the Lakers a playoff team, even in the West — and it’ll make for an interesting playoff series for whomever they face. The bigger question is about their long-term plan around James, as many of their pieces are on one-year contracts.
7. PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
Coach: Terry Stotts
2017-18 record: 49-33 (3rd)
Pressure is on: Damian Lillard got them the third seed in the playoffs last season but they didn’t do much with it. He’s a perennial All-Star but that doesn’t mean much if they can’t get out of the first round of the playoffs.
Rising star: C.J. McCollum is the other half of one the best backcourt tandems in the league so they will continue to look to the frontcourt to provide them more support.
Skinny: The trio of Maurice Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu and Jusuf Nurkic is serviceable but fragile. They struggled to get the No. 3 seed last season and will be hard pressed to repeat the feat again.
8. SAN ANTONIO SPURS
Coach: Gregg Popovich
2017-18 record: 47-35 (7th)
Pressure is on: DeMar Derozan comes over from the Raptors in the big offseason trade and will take some time to acclimate, but he’ll be fine.
Rising star: Dejounte Murray (torn ACL) was their heir apparent when Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili left but after his injury, there’s plenty of uncertainty about how to piece together their backcourt.
Skinny: This might be the most difficult road to the playoffs for the Spurs, who are looking for their 23rd straight trip. They won’t have much margin for error and may end up in the trade market for a point guard if things go south early.
9. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
Coach: Tom Thibodeau
2017-18 record: 47-35 (8th)
Pressure is on: Thibodeau needs to make a decision on Jimmy Butler — and soon. Team owner Glen Taylor prefers something soon but Thibodeau is looking for a sweeter deal. It has them in limbo, which could affect them early in the season if something isn’t done.
Rising star: Karl-Anthony Towns signed a long-term deal and is one the top centers in the league. He and Andrew Wiggins appear to have won over Taylor’s favor but that might eat away at their overall talent level.
Skinny: The Timberwolves have become the league’s biggest soap opera, at a time when they should have been gearing up for their best season. They made the playoffs for the first time in 13 years but they’ll start a new skid this year unless something changes drastically.
10. NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
Coach: Alvin Gentry
2017-18 record: 48-34 (6th)
Pressure is on: Anthony Davis is a top-10 talent in the league but the Pelicans parted with Rajon Rondo and DeMarcus Cousins. That’s not helping the case for Davis to choose to stay around long term.
Rising star: Julius Randle had a good season with the Lakers but they had to pare down to bring in LeBron James. He’ll find a niche with the Pelicans and add some toughness in the frontcourt.
Skinny: The combination of Jrue Holiday and Davis is one of the better ones in the league, but their depth isn’t the best and they’ll need the reserves to win some games so they can keep up in the West.
11. LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
Coach: Doc Rivers
2017-18 record: 42-40 (10th)
Pressure is on: Tobias Harris looks to be the biggest name left after all the smoke cleared from DeAndre Jordan’s departure. He’ll carry the offensive load, along with Danilo Gallinari on the wing.
Rising star: Rookie Milos Teodosic is a name that some won’t recognize immediately but as the backup point guard, he’ll see some time to handle and create.
Skinny: There doesn’t seem to be a clear path for the Clippers to get to the playoffs, but they’ll contend right up until the end. They have a solid roster, but no superstar to lean on. That could be an opportunity for Harris, who can become a big-time scorer.
12. PHOENIX SUNS
Coach: Igor Kokoskov
2017-18 record: 21-61 (15th)
Pressure is on: Fourth-year guard Devin Booker signed a big contract in the offseason and will need to take the next step as a leader on and off the court.
Rising star: Deandre Ayton, the No. 1 overall pick, brings some local flair and the best big man they’ve had since Shaquille O’Neal. He’ll need to deliver early if the Suns are going to climb out of the West basement.
Skinny: The Suns added some nice pieces in veterans Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson, who can help their young players develop. If they sign Jamal Crawford, he can be a good mentor for Josh Jackson and rookie Mikal Bridges.
13. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES
Coach: J.B. Bickerstaff
2017-18 record: 22-60 (14th)
Pressure is on: Mike Conley missed most of last season because of an Achilles injury and the Grizzlies struggled without him. At $30.5 million, his salary rightfully will bring his expectations.
Rising star: Rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. (Michigan State) had an excellent Summer League and is ready to step in and contribute early behind Marc Gasol.
Skinny: After going through the motions in the second half of the season after Conley’s injury, the Grizzlies will find it tougher to compete in the stacked West. Their depth on the bench will keep them in games but it’s a tough hill to climb.
14. DALLAS MAVERICKS
Coach: Rick Carlisle
2017-18 record: 24-58 (13th)
Pressure is on: DeAndre Jordan left the Clippers — for real, this time — and will look to provide some playmaking in a combination with Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr., who had a solid rookie season.
Rising star: First-round pick Luke Doncic has been a budding international star for years — and now he brings his show to the NBA. There was some question whether his skill set would transfer to the NBA, but early signs are positive.
Skinny: It’s likely the farewell season for Dirk Nowitzki and though he’s won a title, it’s sad that he has to go out on a losing team. They have good individual talent but it just click as a collective.
15. SACRAMENTO KINGS
Coach: Dave Joerger
2017-18 record: 27-55 (12th)
Pressure is on: Rookie Marvin Bagley III is a ray of hope for a franchise that has languished in the doldrums for years. He’ll need to click early and generate some excitement for a decaying fan base.
Rising star: Buddy Hield showed that he can be an effective scorer and carry some of the load, but he just hasn’t had much help since he’s been in the league.
Skinny: They’ve missed the playoffs for 12 straight seasons mainly because they’ve been bereft of talent. General manager Vlade Divac has a piecemeal squad that doesn’t seem to have a coherent direction.