Check out the NBA playoff picture

The NBA season is upon us, and it is never too early to start thinking of the post season.

The NBA season is here// Edited by Joe Reiter

The NBA season is here// Edited by Joe Reiter

Joe Reiter '17, Features Editor

The race to The NBA Finals has begun. Although the season is young, it is never too early to start speculating where each team will fall come playoff time.

Based on last year’s performances and off-season free agency, here is a way-too-early look at the NBA playoff picture with help from Dylan Cunningham, Ryan Ruehl, Adam Noeth, and professional journalist from Chat Sports, Tom Downey.

Eastern Conference 

Cavaliers look to dominate// Edited by Joe Reiter
Cavaliers look to dominate// Edited by Joe Reiter

1. Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavs have made it to two straight NBA finals and are coming off arguably the most historic Finals run in the history of the league. Cleveland showed they have no championship hangover after winning their first six games of the season. With the best all-around player on the planet, an improving Kyrie Irving, and a tremendous supporting cast, the Cavaliers have a great chance to make a third straight trip to the promised land.

Cunningham: “The Cavs are obviously going to be tough to beat in the playoffs. Having the best player in the world (Lebron James) should make things easy for them.”


Toronto Raptors should have another solid season // Edited by Joe Reiter

2. Toronto Raptors

The Raptors struggled in the playoffs last season, but still managed to make it the conference finals and lose to the Cavs in six games. The Raptors have a young star studded roster headed by Demar Derozan and Kyle Lowry. Jonas Valanciunas is the Raptors top big man averaging 13.8 points and 11 rebounds a game last season. The only loss for Toronto was forward Bismack Biyambo in free agency. Biyambo had a memorable conference finals performance, but he did not contribute to much towards the Toronto’s regular season. The Raptors should be able to perform well without him. Look for them to finish similar to where they did last season.

Downey: “This remains a similar team to the one that pushed the Cleveland Cavaliers for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference last year. They’re built around DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, with the rest of the team serving a secondary role. They miss (or at least will miss) Bismack Biyombo this year. This is a good team, but not good enough to win an NBA Championship or the Eastern Conference (if the Cavs stay healthy). They’re missing a 3rd piece to put them over the top. Don’t be surprised if they try to add another big before the trade deadline”


Many have high hopes for the Boston Celtics // Edited by Joe Reiter

3. Boston Celtics

The Celtics have managed to put together a solid young squad together with Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley, and Marcus Smart having strong starts to the season. Team leader in points per game, Isiah Thomas, has been the main reason for the Celtics recent rise in success. Also, the addition of veteran center Al Horford filled a much needed void for the Celtics down low. Boston finished fifth in the conference last season, and the only place it looks like they are going is up.

Ruehl: “I think the Boston Celtics will be a lot better with addition of Al Horford in the off-season. I really like the back-court of Avery Bradley and Isaiah Thomas.”

Kemba Walker and the Hornets are on the rise // Edited by Joe Reiter

4. Charlotte Hornets

The Hornets lost guard Jeremy Lin and center Al Jefferson, but they came into the season guns blazing and are currently tied for the second best record in the league at six wins and one loss. Frank Kaminsky has stepped up in the absence of Jefferson, Kemba Walker continues to lead the squad in scoring, and the resigning of Nicolas Batum and Marvin Williams were key moves in the off-season. Charlotte has a deep squad with 10 players scoring seven points or more per game. The Hornets are on the rise, so don’t be surprised if you see them make it deep into the playoffs.

Noeth: “They are off to a hot start, and Kemba Walker is a stud without a doubt. I see them finishing fourth to sixth in the East.”

Paul George hopes to get his Pacers back in the race // Edited by Joe Reiter

5. Indiana Pacers

Paul George is one of the best players in the league, and the Pacers have some great talent behind him. With 20-year old center Myles Turner averaging 16.3 points and 7.1 rebounds a game the Pacers have a bright future. The signing of forward Thaddeus Young and point guard Jeff Teague should make this a rejuvenated Pacers team looking to do better than seven seed like last year. The Pacers have potential as they were the one seed back in 2014. However, they were lackluster last year, so I am not willing to move them up to high in the rankings. Still, this is a dangerous group of hoopers come playoff time.

Cunningham: “The Pacers are unpredictable, but I don’t see them posing a threat to the Cavs in a weak Eastern Conference.”

The Detroit Pistons are mediocre no more // Edited by Joe Reiter

6. Detroit Pistons

The Pistons are a very young group, and they finished as an eight seed last season. Andre Drummond is currently averaging as many points as he is boards (14), and he is just 23 years old. Also, Reggie Jackson, who is currently out with knee tendinitis, led the team in scoring with 18.8 points per game last season. Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are all looking to have break out seasons. The Pistons do lack depth which can hurt them down the long run, but many of their players have yet to reach their primes. Detroit put up a tough fight against the eventual champions last season and have shown that they can play with the top teams in the league.

Downey: “ Pistons have several quality pieces on this roster. Andre Drummond is a great big man and Reggie Jackson is a quality PG. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Stanley Johnson have upside as young players. Tobias Harris is, in a way, the pivot player. When he plays well, the Pistons are in good shape. This team sort of reminds me of the Boston Celtics of recent years. They might not have a true superstar (although Drummond is pretty close), and they don’t have the two like the Raptors do, but they have plenty of solid starters and top bench players. The problem is, that’s not enough to win big in the NBA.”

Dwight Howard in Atlanta could do a lot of a little for the Hawks // Edited by Joe Reiter

7. Atlanta Hawks

The Atlanta Hawks finished fourth in the conference last season and were stomped on by the Cavs in the second round of the playoffs. After losing key players in Jeff Teague and Al Horford last season, things would have looked grim if the Hawks did not sign Dwight Howard. However, Dwight Howard teams have struggled in recent years, and his Houston Rockets barely slid into the playoffs last season even with super star James Harden at his side. The Hawks have been off to a hot start this season with Paul Missap leading the team in scoring. Some might say I underestimate the Hawks, and I would not be surprised to see the Hawks prove me wrong. But until then, I have them just behind the Pacers and Pistons.

Ruehl: “The Hawks will be a little worse compared to last year. In order for Atlanta to be a contender, Paul Millsap will have to carry the load.”

The Bulls have much to prove // Edited by Joe Reiter

8. Chicago Bulls

With Dwayne Wade, Rajon Rondo, and Jimmy Bulter you would think that the Bulls would be higher, right? The Bulls failed to make the playoffs last season with Derrick Rose and Paul Gasol on the roster, so it’s hard to give them a ton of credit with a Dwayne Wade out of his prime and a Rajon Rondo who has had chemistry issues in the recent past. The Bulls do have the star power, but last year’s performance gives me reason to doubt this Bulls team will be anything too special.

Noeth: “Maybe this is a little biased because they are my favorite team, but I think they are cream of the crop in the East as long as they stay healthy. I see them making it to the conference finals if their stars can consistently knock down threes.”


Western Conference 

The Warriors are the overwhelming favorites to win it all // Edited by Joe Reiter

1. Golden State Warriors

After having the best regular season in NBA history, the Warriors lost in the Finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Warriors managed to sign small forward Kevin Durant despite his former team’s displeasure. The Warriors won 24 straight games to start last season, but have already dropped two early on. Regardless, they have arguable the best roster in NBA history with Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green and are heavy favorites to win it all. The team went 73-9 last year, and could be even better this season. Consequently, Golden State could be in shambles if they cannot get it done this time around.

Cunningham: “The Warriors, a team you either desire or love, are the obvious front runners to win the west and are loaded with talent.”

Coach Gregg Popovich should keep the Spurs rolling // Edited by Joe Reiter

2. San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs had an all-time great regular season last year, but were overshadowed by the Warriors dominance. They lost legend Tim Duncan to retirement and Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker seem to be on their way out, but the Spurs still manage to keep the talent coming in. Superstar Kawhi Leonard, averaging 27.4 points a game, and counterpart LaMarcus Aldridge are carrying a heavy load. Also, expect the league’s best coach, Gregg Popovich, to lead this team towards the top of the Western Conference.

Downey: “This is kind of a team in transition. The lose of Tim Duncan is notable, and the former core of Manu Ginobili, Duncan and Tony Parker is nearly gone. This team is now built around Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge, a top two that’s tough to beat in the NBA. Jonathan Simmons has been a pleasant surprise, but the Spurs lack the prime Parker-Ginobili talent at guard they once had. Still, this team is deep and there isn’t a better coach in the NBA than Gregg Popovich. They’ll win 50+ again this year.”

The Clippers are ready to reach their potential // Edited by Joe Reiter

3. Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers are off to the best start of any team with seven wins and one loss. Surprisingly, no player is averaging 20 points or more so far. Denadre Jordan, Blake Griffin, and Chris Paul’s Clipper team always seems like it has the potential to go distance, but they have fallen short year after year. With Griffin and Paul out with injury in the playoffs, Los Angeles had a first round exit last season. Looking forward, is this hot start a sign that they are ready to compete for a title?

Ruehl: “I feel like the Clippers can be dangerous in the West if they stay healthy. They have the best traditional point guard in the game, and they have arguably the best from court with Griffin and Jordan. Look for the Clippers to make the Conference Finals.

The Trailblazers are only getting better // Edited by Joe Reiter

4. Portland Trailblazers

Four out of the five starters, LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez, Wessley Matthews, and Nicolas Batum, on the 2014-2015 Portland team left in free agency after the team was the fourth seed in a challenging Western Conference. The 2015-2016 season looked bleak for the Blazers. However, the lone remaining starter, Damian Lillard carried this team to a fifth seed last year, and players like C.J. McCollum shined. Now with their oldest starters being Mason Plumlee, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Lillard at 26 years young, they will be getting better. Since Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City, the Thunder should drop, and the Trailblazers will most likely move up a spot in the standings.

Noeth: “I am very high on these guys. They will quietly be one of the best teams in the West lead by Lillard who I expect to firmly establish himself as a top 10 player in the league. I don’t know if they will make the leap to elite status this year, but they’re certainly on their way.”

The Grizzlies are trying to avenge a lackluster season // Edited by Joe Reiter

5. Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies just made the playoffs last season as the seventh seed. However, injuries to key players Mike Conley and Marc Gasol is what held them back. Just the season before last, the Grizzlies finished 55-27 making them one of the best teams in the league. If they can stay healthy and guys play to their potential, this Memphis team could be higher than a five seed. For now, they remain a middle seed in a very tough conference.

Cunningham: “The Grizz are a gritty team full of hustle and determination. I would not be surprised if I saw them make a run to the conference finals.”

With no Durant, Russel Westbrook will be carrying the load // Edited by Joe Reiter

6. Oklahoma City Thunder

In the East, they would definitely be eyeing a much higher seed, but the West is just too good. Surprisingly, the Thunder have not struggled too much even with Kevin Durant signing with rival Golden State. The last time OKC did not have Durant (due to injury), the Thunder just missed the playoffs. They are a better team now than they were then, but their quality start to the season may not represent where they will be in the end. The signing of Victor Oladipo, now averaging 16.0 points per game, helped fill the whole Durant left. However, much of the weight will be on one player: Russel Westrbrook, and this could prove to be to be detrimental overtime. Regardless, I would not want to face the Thunder in the first round of postseason with their rowdy home crowd and will to win.

Downey: “It’s Season 1 of the Russell Westbrook show in OKC and they’ll go as far as he can carry them. There’s some quality pieces around him, but the starting lineup really misses Kevin Durant. The Thunder need another small forward if they’re going to make a real playoff push. The current roster is good enough to make the postseason, but not to win a title.

Harden looks to elevate Houston after a woeful 2016 season // Edited by Joe Reiter

7. Houston Rockets

The Rockets were embarrassing last year. They finished 54-28 in 2014 and 56-26 in 2015 putting them high up in the standings. Even with superstar James Harden and veteran Dwight Howard, they just managed to have a mere .500 record last season making them an eight seed in the West. Maybe it was Howard’s lack of chemistry or Harden’s lack of defense, but they went from competing for championship to barely making the postseason. Now that Howard’s gone, the Rockets look like a different team – in a good way. Harden is currently averaging 30.6 points and 13.0 (career and league high) assists per game. Harden, knowing that he is one of the best players in the league, is not going to go away easy. Look for the Rockets to have a much better season. Although they are seventh in this ranking, they still have potential to play like the Rockets team that once was.

Ruehl: “Houston is going to score a lot of points. With offensive superstar James Harden, their offense will be unstoppable. It comes down to the defensive end of the floor where the Rockets will need to improve if they want a chance at the ‘chip.”

The Jazz can return to the postseason with leadership from Gordon Hayward // Edited by Joe Reiter

8. Utah Jazz

Some have predicted that the Jazz would win over 50 games this season. I would not go that far, but the Jazz should definitely be in the playoffs. The West is unforgiving, and it’s hard to put a relatively new Jazz squad ahead of any team that has already proven their worth. Gordon Hayward will lead the way with a break out year, George Hill and Joe Johnson will provide veteran leadership, and Rodney Hood and Derrick Favors are young talents that could take this team to new heights. Look for the Jazz to have a solid regular season and compete well come playoff time.

Noeth: “The Jazz should be much better this year. I know a lot about Hayward because he is on my fantasy team, and he has been dominant so far. If Utah can avoid playing Golden State right away, they have potential to pull off a first round upset.”

A lot of story lines have to develop, injuries will occur, and many players will either surpass or fail to meet expectations. After this, we will have a better view of the playoff picture.

The top two or three seeds in each conference seem relatively predictable, but the fourth through eighth seeds could definitely go a number of ways.

I guess we’ll just have to watch and see what happens.

Here’s to the start of the 2016-2017 NBA season.