The Phoenix Suns
The only team that can give the Washington Deadskins a run for their money in the category of worst franchise in sports. Blown high draft pick after blown high draft pick has led to the current state of the team. Last year they added the talents of DeAndre Ayton to skilled SG Devin Booker. Ayton is a classic post-up big man, a dinosaur. He doesn’t shoot threes and he has displayed a little aptitude for defense. In other words, he’s an analytically minded NBA coach’s worst nightmare. Despite all these drawbacks, Ayton averaged 16.7 points a game last season shooting at an absurdly efficient 58.6% clip. Ayton also had some flashes of quick feet on defense. His problem, mostly, is consistency of effort, he has all the tools. Devin Booker is a prolific scorer, he’s silky smooth and can score at all three levels efficiently. He averaged nearly 27 points a game last season at a 46.7% clip on high degree of difficulty shots. Booker needs to prove that he can average those gaudy statistics on a winning team.
Unfortunately, the roster built around him is largely poor. Kelly Oubre is more widely known for his outfits he wears to the arena than the facets of his game. Ricky Rubio has been trying to improve enough to be a trusted scorer his entire career, he’s now 28. Dario Saric is a nice piece, he’s a tough offensive player that craves contact and is accurate from three-point range. Mikal Bridges seems to have potential, but it’s tough to develop without structure. The Suns have churned through talented players over the past 6 years with no concrete plan. I don’t see any signs of this stopping.
The Trailblazers made the Western Conference Finals last year! But they were swept in four games by a KD-less Warriors squad. This team looks like it has reached as high as it can as currently constructed. An appropriate comparison to where they currently stand is the Raptors two summers ago. The Raptors had reached their ceiling with their stars Kyle Lowry and Demar Derozan. LeBron had also just left the Eastern Conference, meaning that their biggest bugaboo who had blockaded the Finals from Toronto from years was no longer in the way. The Raptors decided it was in their best interest to make a trade, and the rest is history. While I don’t think the Blazers could attain someone of Kawhi Leonard’s ability via trade this season, I certainly think they should shake their roster up. In the playoffs, it is impossible to win consistently when your two starting guards are both defensive liabilities.
While Lillard and McCollum have made strides on that end in the past couple years it hasn’t been enough. Smart teams hunt mismatches against McCollum or Lillard and then punish them. If I were them, I would trade McCollum and try to get young pieces back or draft assets. This team is absolutely a playoff team, but not a Finals contender.
New York Knicks
There are three players that matter on this year’s edition of the New York Knicks. Mitchell Robinson, Kevin Knox, and RJ Barrett. The reason why these are the only players that matter is, one, these are the only guys that factor into their future plans, and two, they won’t win many games this season. RJ Barrett was the 1B option for Duke this past season, playing alongside Zion Williamson, and he flashed a repertoire of moves over the course of the season. He’s a self-assured player who hit clutch shots and doesn’t wilt in big moments. Improvements in his shooting mechanics could make him a go-to scorer, he’s got a strong frame to build on and a latent post-game. Defense is a complete question mark based on effort. Kevin Knox is a 6-foot 9 sniper. His quick release and height make his shot nearly impossible to block and difficult to even challenge. He has a loose handle, however, and has earned the reputation of being turnover prone. If his ball-handling improves him and Barrett will make a potent one-two punch on the wing.
Mitchell Robinson is the current titleholder of “Most dramatic shot blocker”. When Robinson blocks a shot, the arena reverberates. He is an elite jumper not many people that are his size can jump as explosively as he does. His second jump is also par excellence. Robinson’s problem is he jumps too soon and puts himself out of position as a result. He almost led the league in fouls last year. Robinson’s offensive game consists of mostly rolls to the rim and put-back dunks, he’s not a very polished offensive player. With his athleticism, he doesn’t need to be. If he cut down on the fouls this guy has a chance to be a great defensive player for a long time.