fb-pixel Skip to main content

A team-by-team look at the NBA this season

Joel Embiid will be a force in the paint for the Sixers.matt rourke/Associated Press

Teams are listed in predicted order of finish.

Eastern Conference

ATLANTIC DIVISION

■  Philadelphia 76ers

Last season: 51-31, lost in conference semifinals.

Coach: Brett Brown.

Starting five: Ben Simmons, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Al Horford, Joel Embiid.

Outlook: The 76ers were able to turn Jimmy Butler into Richardson and a salary slot to sign Horford, who embraces the opportunity to play his natural power forward position and join Embiid to control the paint. The question is whether the 76ers can replace J.J. Redick, who was able to stretch the floor and take pressure off Simmons, who will have to prove he can at least draw a defender in the perimeter. Philadelphia is loaded, with Richardson, an all-purpose player, coming over from the Heat. With a determined Simmons and Embiid, they will be hard to beat.

Advertisement



Projected wins: 58.

  Boston Celtics

Last season: 49-33, lost in conference semifinals.

Coach: Brad Stevens.

Starting five: Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Robert Williams.

Outlook: Unlike last season, this team actually likes one another, and it will take a step forward after the playoff thumping by the Bucks. Walker will not need to do nearly as much as he did in Charlotte, and he embraces sharing the responsibility. The key is the need for Gordon Hayward, Brown, and Tatum to each take a major step forward and learn to play better together. Enes Kanter is likely to help out with scoring and rebounding off the bench. The Celtics have enough pieces for a long playoff run.

Projected wins: 52.

  Toronto Raptors

Last season: 58-24, won NBA Finals.

Coach: Nick Nurse.

Starting five: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol.

Outlook: Don’t feel sorry for the Raptors about losing Kawhi Leonard; they will be fine. Siakam is ready to be a superstar, and Anunoby is back after missing all of the playoffs last year. He’s another big body who can shoot and defend. The question will whether Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson can finally live up to their potential. The bench is a concern.

Advertisement



Projected wins: 48.

Leaving Boston behind, Kyrie Irving gets a fresh start in Brooklyn.Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

  Brooklyn Nets

Last season: 42-40, lost in first round.

Coach: Kenny Atkinson.

Starting five: Kyrie Irving, Joe Harris, Caris LeVert, Taurean Prince, Jarrett Allen.

Outlook: Irving will be the focal point of the offense, but he’ll have to give the ball to LeVert, who could be an All-Star eventually if he stays healthy. Prince comes over from Atlanta to provide defense and 3-point shooting. DeAndre Jordan will mentor Allen and play key minutes at center. The Nets will be pretty good, but of course they’ll be a juggernaut when Kevin Durant comes back next season.

Projected wins: 46.

  New York Knicks

Last season: 17-65, did not qualify for playoffs.

Coach: David Fizdale.

Starting five: Dennis Smith, RJ Barrett, Marcus Morris, Julius Randle, Mitchell Robinson.

Outlook: The Knicks actually made out OK after failing to land Kevin Durant, their preferred free agent target. Smith is a rising player who needs to stay healthy, while Morris is a tough guy who had big games in Boston. Randle is looking to prove he’s one of the better power forwards in the league. Robinson, a former second-round pick, is a classic rim protector. The Knicks also added depth with Taj Gibson, Bobby Portis, and Elfrid Payton. There are enough bodies, but this team seems a little ill-fitted to compete.

Advertisement



Projected wins: 33.

SOUTHEAST DIVISION

  Miami Heat

Last season: 39-43, did not qualify for playoffs.

Coach: Erik Spoelstra.

Starting five: Goran Dragic, Tyler Herro, Jimmy Butler, Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo.

Outlook: The Heat have no excuses, because they finally got a bona fide star in Butler and drafted well with the gifted Herro. Miami has been a major disappointment the past few years, unable to even make the playoffs in Dwyane Wade’s final season. But now the Heat are talented and deep enough to be a tough out every night.

Projected wins: 47.

  Atlanta Hawks

Last season: 29-53, did not qualify for playoffs.

Coach: Lloyd Pierce.

Starting five: Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter, John Collins, Alex Len.

Outlook: The Hawks could be one of the more improved teams in the conference and should make a playoff run. They are loaded with young talent, and have Vince Carter and Evan Turner to help the young guys stay on track. Don’t be surprised if the Hawks get some big wins this season.

Projected wins: 40.

Trae Young is part of Atlanta’s stable of young talent.David Banks/FR165605 AP via AP

  Orlando Magic

Last season: 42-40, lost in first round.

Coach: Steve Clifford.

Starting five: D.J. Augustin, Evan Fournier, Jonathan Isaac, Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic.

Outlook: Orlando really didn’t do anything to help itself besides adding Al-Farouq Aminu, and that may mean slippage in the competitive Eastern Conference. Mo Bamba, who was injured much of last year, may help in the middle, and Markelle Fultz is finally healthy, but this is essentially the same team that lost in the first round to Toronto.

Advertisement



Projected wins: 38.

  Washington Wizards

Last season: 32-50, did not qualify for playoffs.

Coach: Scott Brooks.

Starting five: Ish Smith, Bradley Beal, C.J. Miles, Rui Hachimura, Thomas Bryant.

Outlook: The Wizards are rebuilding for the long run, as All-Star guard John Wall (Achilles’ tendon) is expected to miss the season and they are relegated to going young around Beal. Hachimura could be an All-Rookie candidate, and Isaiah Thomas could assume the starting point guard position when he returns. But the Wizards will struggle once again.

Projected wins: 29.

  Charlotte Hornets

Last season: 39-43, did not qualify for playoffs.

Coach: James Borrego.

Starting five: Terry Rozier, Dwayne Bacon, Miles Bridges, Marvin Williams, Cody Zeller.

Outlook: The Hornets are waiting for some bad contracts to come off the books so they can chase free agents, so this will be a major transition year, allowing Rozier, the former Celtic, to cement himself as a starter and leader. Bridges could be in for a breakout year and rookie P.J. Washington was a nice draft pick, but Charlotte will once again be an overlooked team.

Projected wins: 24.

CENTRAL DIVISION

  Milwaukee Bucks

Last season: 60-22, lost in conference finals.

Coach: Mike Budenholzer.

Starting five: Eric Bledsoe, Wesley Matthews, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez.

Outlook: The Bucks won’t sneak up on anybody this year, and they have enough talent to win it all. Despite losing Malcolm Brogdon to Indiana, they added Matthews on a bargain deal to stretch the floor. Middleton and Antetokounmpo should both take another step forward, and Kyle Korver was added for shooting depth and Robin Lopez for defensive toughness. This team will go as far as Antetokounmpo’s growth take it.

Advertisement



Projected wins: 57.

  Indiana Pacers

Last season: 48-34, lost in first round.

Coach: Nate McMillan.

Starting five: Malcolm Brogdon, Jeremy Lamb, T.J. Warren, Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner.

Outlook: Indiana won 48 games despite not having Victor Oladipo for the final four months because of a knee injury, so it should be able to cope a while longer as he recovers. Brogdon adds stability to a team that needs a floor leader. And Warren put up respectable numbers on really bad teams in Phoenix. He’ll have a chance to show he’s a front-line small forward in Indiana. Turner is a future Defensive Player of the Year, and Sabonis is a strong scorer in the paint.

Projected wins: 48.

Malcolm Brogdon joins the Pacers after three years with Milwaukee.michael conroy/Associated Press

  Chicago Bulls

Last season: 22-60, did not qualify for playoffs.

Coach: Jim Boylen.

Starting five: Tomas Satoransky, Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr.

Outlook: There has been a lot of chirping out of Chicago that this is the year the Bulls take a major step. They were able to nab Satoransky to start at point guard, and they have everybody healthy. They may not be ready yet to make the playoffs but they will be a challenge every night. It’s baby steps right now, but the Bulls are indeed on their way back.

Projected wins: 37.

  Detroit Pistons

Last season: 41-41, lost in the first round.

Coach: Dwane Casey.

Starting five: Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard, Tony Snell, Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond.

Outlook: The Pistons really didn’t do much in the offseason, signing Snell and Markieff Morris and they will have to hope for good healthy and a re-engaged Jackson to compete for the playoffs. Detroit’s a team that could have used a big trade to reinvigorate the franchise but instead will hope Griffin and Drummond can turn in All-Star years to compete.

Projected wins: 36.

  Cleveland Cavaliers

Last season: 19-63, did not qualify for playoffs.

Coach: John Beilein.

Starting five: Collin Sexton, Brandon Knight, Cedi Osman, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson.

Outlook: This team is really going to struggle. Love and Thompson are holdovers from the championship team but are now just babysitters. Both could be traded by the deadline. The Cavs drafted point guard Darius Garland and will try to play him with Sexton in the backcourt. New man Beilein is just going to have to coach up the players he has and wait for better days.

Projected wins: 17.

Western Conference

MIDWEST DIVISION

  Houston Rockets

Last season: 53-29, lost in conference semifinals.

Coach: Mike D’Antoni.

Starting five: Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker, Clint Capela.

Outlook: It will take several games for Westbrook and Harden to blend together and define their roles, but the Rockets could be better than last year even though they won’t get as many wins. Depth will be an issue, as the Rockets will depend on the aging Tyson Chandler and Thabo Sefolosha to help out. Houston will still be a fun team to watch, but D’Antoni is in the final year of his contract, meaning his job could be at stake if they don’t start fast.

Projected wins: 48.

  San Antonio Spurs

Last season: 48-34, lost in first round.

Coach: Gregg Popovich.

Starting five: Dejounte Murray, Bryn Forbes. DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Jakob Poltl.

Outlook: The Spurs have a nice team, good enough to pull off the occasional upset and remain respectable, but nothing more than that. It’s hard to get star power in San Antonio, and the young guys haven’t been able to stay healthy, so the team’s 22-year playoff streak could be coming to an end. DeRozan enjoyed a strong season in his first year with San Antonio but can he repeat that? The Spurs had a chance to knock off the Nuggets in the playoffs but ran out of gas. Not sure how this year will be any different.

Projected wins: 44.

  Dallas Mavericks

Last season: 33-49, did not qualify for playoffs.

Coach: Rick Carlisle.

Starting five: Delon Wright, Luka Doncic, Justin Jackson, Kristaps Porzingis, Dwight Powell.

Outlook: The Mavericks are getting closer to respectability, but it could be another year before they make the playoffs. Porzingis is coming off a major knee injury, so they will bring him back slowly. Wright is ready to run his own team and showed potential last year in Memphis. Doncic is an All-Star-caliber player but will have to make adjustments after slowing down in the second half of last season.

Projected wins: 42.

Luka Doncic averaged 21.2 points per game as a rookie with the Mavericks last season.richard w. rodriguez/FR170526 AP via AP

  New Orleans Pelicans

Last season: 33-49, did not qualify for playoffs.

Coach: Alvin Gentry.

Starting five: Lonzo Ball, Jrue Holiday, J.J. Redick, Brandon Ingram, Derrick Favors.

Outlook: Without Zion Williamson (knee surgery) for at least two months, the Pelicans are going to get beaten up in the West. The hope is that Williamson is ready to help when he returns, because there are aspirations of a playoff run. Ball will get to run his own team without pressure from the Lakers or his father. Ingram has the talent to be an All-Star but he needs the drive.

Projected wins: 37.

  Memphis Grizzlies

Last season: 33-49, did not qualify for playoffs.

Coach: Taylor Jenkins.

Starting five: Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Jaren Jackson Jr., Jonas Valanciunas.

Outlook: The Grizzlies are going to surprise some people because they have so much young talent. Former Celtic Jae Crowder will provide stability off the bench, and Brandon Clarke was the most outstanding player in the Las Vegas Summer League. Tyus Jones comes over from the Timberwolves to back up Morant. Fans should get behind this team because it will be exciting, even if the wins come later.

Projected wins: 27.

NORTHWEST DIVISION

  Utah Jazz

Last season: 50-32, lost in first round.

Coach: Quin Snyder.

Starting five: Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Royce O’Neale, Bojan Bogdanovic, Rudy Gobert.

Outlook: It’s about time for the Jazz to make a major playoff run. They won 50 games last year, yet couldn’t make it out of the first round. Conley provides experience and savvy at point guard while Mitchell is ready to nab an All-Star berth. The addition of Bogdanovic gives them another steady scorer to help out Mitchell. Gobert changes so many games with his defensive presence, while Ed Davis, Jeff Green, Dante Exum, Joe Ingles, and Emmanuel Mudiay give Utah one of the deepest benches in the NBA.

Projected wins: 58.

The Jazz added scoring help in Bojan Bogdanovic. rick bowmer/Associated Press

  Denver Nuggets

Last season: 54-28, lost in conference semifinals.

Coach: Mike Malone.

Starting five: Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton, Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokic.

Outlook: The Nuggets didn’t do much to boost their roster in the offseason but really didn’t need to. Jerami Grant was acquired from Oklahoma City to improve the defense, and fans will finally get to see a healthy Michael Porter Jr., the first-rounder from last year who has spent nearly two years recovering from a back injury. Denver will beat teams with its depth, and more will be expected from the duo of Murray and Harris, who have All-Star potential.

Projected wins: 53.

  Portland Trail Blazers

Last season: 53-29, lost in conference finals.

Coach: Terry Stotts.

Starting five: Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Rodney Hood, Zach Collins, Hassan Whiteside.

Outlook: Lillard wants to take the Blazers a step further, but he’s going to need major support. Whiteside, acquired from Miami, was upset with his role on the Heat and will get major minutes in the fourth quarter. The Blazers have been waiting for Collins to break out, and now he’ll receive major minutes. Portland has the talent to make things interesting but not to the level of the Clippers or Lakers.

Projected wins: 48.

  Minnesota Timberwolves

Last season: 36-46, did not qualify for playoffs.

Coach: Ryan Saunders.

Starting five: Jeff Teague, Andrew Wiggins, Jake Layman, Robert Covington, Karl-Anthony Towns.

Outlook: It’s hard to figure out the Timberwolves; they were a team on the rise a few years ago but now are pretty much a forgotten team in the West. Towns has said they have a great chance to make the playoffs, but they are going to need more than just an occasional Wiggins 30-point game and empty stats from Towns. The Wolves don’t have the bench depth to be taken seriously, though they have the talent to be really good on occasion.

Projected wins: 42.

  Oklahoma City Thunder

Last season: 49-33, lost in first round.

Coach: Billy Donovan.

Starting five: Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Terrance Ferguson, Danilo Gallinari, Steven Adams.

Outlook: This isn’t a bad team, because it got so much in return from the Paul George trade. The problem is, you need special players to compete in the West, and the Thunder have to figure out whether Gilgeous-Alexander and Ferguson are potential cornerstones. Paul could be traded by the deadline; hard to imagine he’s totally invested in the Thunder’s mini-rebuild.

Projected wins: 35.

PACIFIC DIVISION

  Los Angeles Lakers

Last season: 37-45, did not qualify for playoffs.

Coach: Frank Vogel.

Starting five: Rajon Rondo, Danny Green, Kyle Kuzma, LeBron James, Anthony Davis.

Outlook: With James and Davis, the Lakers finally have their star power back, but it’s the supporting cast of Green, Kuzma, Rondo, and JaVale McGee that could turn the Lakers into championship material. A key player to watch is former Celtic Avery Bradley, who is finally healthy after years of nagging injuries and will team with Rondo in the backcourt to harass opposing guards. We know what James and Davis can do; the rest of the cast will have to deliver.

Projected wins: 55.

  Los Angeles Clippers

Last season: 48-34, lost in first round.

Coach: Doc Rivers.

Starting five: Patrick Beverley, Landry Shamet, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Ivica Zubac.

Outlook: Rivers finally has the team he has been seeking the past six years. He has the star power, plus players who are unselfish and ready to win. Lob City is over, replaced by perhaps the best defensive lineup in the NBA. The questions are whether Leonard will be on workload management and George is completely healthy after double shoulder surgery.

Projected wins: 54.

Doc Rivers, who won a title with the Celtics, will try to get back to the Finals with the Clippers. harry how/Getty Images

  Golden State Warriors

Last season: 57-25, lost in NBA Finals.

Coach: Steve Kerr.

Starting five: Stephen Curry, D’Angelo Russell, Glenn Robinson III, Draymond Green, Kevon Looney.

Outlook: This is not the team the Warriors envisioned fielding when they moved into their spanking new Chase Center in San Francisco. Klay Thompson (ACL) is out at least until the All-Star break and newly acquired Willie Cauley-Stein (foot) is out a few weeks. So it will be the Steph Show on a nightly basis, and Russell has his chance to shine on a big stage. But they should make a run when Thompson returns.

Projected wins: 45.

  Sacramento Kings

Last season: 39-43, did not qualify for playoffs.

Coach: Luke Walton.

Starting five: De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes, Marvin Bagley III, Dewayne Dedmon.

Outlook: If there is a year for the Kings to finally break their long playoff drought, this is it. They are loaded with young talent, including the speedy Fox and sharpshooting Hield. Bagley has a chance to be an eventual All-Star if he can stay healthy. New coach Walton won’t have the immense pressure he faced in Los Angeles, and he should draw on that experience to bring the Kings to the postseason.

Projected wins: 45.

  Phoenix Suns

Last season: 19-63, did not qualify for playoffs.

Coach: Monty Williams.

Starting five: Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre Jr., Dario Saric, Deandre Ayton.

Outlook: New coach Williams will make the Suns better and help develop a winning culture but it will take time, especially in the competitive West. Booker is a star in the making but he has to take the next step and do more than score. Rubio will stabilize a team that has needed a point guard for several years. Ayton turned in a solid rookie season but nobody noticed because it happened in Phoenix.

Projected wins: 29.


Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.