Here’s part 2 of this year’s NBA Preview.
The Memphis Grizzlies are destined to be NBA-League Pass darlings this year. In last year’s draft, they selected PF Jaren Jackson Jr. who, if not for an injury late in the season, might’ve win Rookie of the Year. This year they selected the Human-Supernova, PG Ja Morant. Ja is unlike any player to come into the NBA in many years. His mix of speed, jumping ability, and IQ and feel for the game is truly rare in a young player. The Murray State product averaged 24.5 points and an even 10 assists a game as a sophomore. Morant, quite literally, was leaps and bounds above the competition last season; in one game he cleared an opponent’s head while soaring to the rim. Tyus Jones is a solid backup point guard, Jae Crowder is a serviceable wing, and Jonas Valanciunas is a quite-good center. The rest of the Grizzlies roster is made up of over-priced veterans and young, highly-drafter prospects that have yet to pan out. It may take a couple years until they compete in the competitive Western Conference, but they will certainly play an exciting brand of basketball this year.
Bulls faithful are talking about a potential playoff run this season, and I don’t see any reason, health permitting, they shouldn’t make it. This is a talented team, blue-chip draft picks abound. The key for them this year is phasing out guard Zach Lavine as the team’s go-to scorer and phasing in PF Lauri Markkanen. Markkanen is one of the best big-man 3-pt shooters in the NBA; he also has a burgeoning inside game that has room to develop. He averaged 18.7 points a game last year and shot 36% from 3pt range on a healthy diet of shots. Zach Lavine should not take more shots than Markkanen this year, period. PF/C Wendell Carter, wing Otto Porter, G Denzel Valentine, and crafty PF Thaddeus Young round out a fairly solid first 6 off the bench. Add to this their first-round selection this year, former Carolina Tarheel, Coby White, and you have an exciting young core that could make some noise in a wide-open Eastern Conference.
Assuming health, this is a no-brainer Finals contender. The loss of JJ Redick will hurt, as he and C Joel Embiid had one of the most deadly two-man games in the league in recent years, however, they acquired a new, younger, sharpshooter in SG Josh Richardson. Richardson was tasked with running the Miami Heat offense last year, and it was a task that he was not fully up to. I expect him to be more comfortable this year in a complementary role raining threes off of screens. G/F Ben Simmons has been practicing threes this summer everyone and if he hits enough to make people respect his jumper the NBA is in trouble. Simmons is a whirling dervish in transition and makes plays for others or himself effortlessly. His game bogs down noticeably in half-court sets when there’s less spacing. Joel Embiid is the best pure-center in the NBA. He’s virtually unguardable when he attacks the rim from the low-post. I pray he takes less perimeter shots and uses his god-given height and strength on the block this year. The one player that had a shot at guarding Embiid, Al Horford, was brought into the Philadelphia fold this summer and adds a veteran-presence, post-defense, and perimeter shooting. Tobias Harris returns for his second year in a 76’ers uniform and hopes to have a more even season this year. The 76’ers are deep, talented and anything less than a Finals berth this season would be a disappointment.