Not Buying It: 5 Overhyped Teams Entering 2017-18 Season
Fourteen NBA teams are going to miss the playoffs and 29 will fall short of a championship.
Just a friendly reminder that even in these days of irrational exuberance just before the 2017-18 season kicks off, disappointment is preordained for a significant portion of the league. It's a downer of a message, I know. But it's important to pair the rampant excitement of only acknowledging teams' upsides with the cold reality that downsides are in play, too.
Everyone expects their club's prized lottery additions to make an impact. They assume veterans will hang on for one more year and injuries that plagued key figures will cease to be, healed not by the laying on of hands but by sheer optimism and good vibes (, man).
We're close enough to the season opener to do this, to point out a handful of teams that might not be as potent as many expect.
Hype is a wonderful thing...except when there's a little too much of it.
It's physically painful to shoot down the Philadelphia 76ers. It hurts.
But expectations are way too high for a team whose unknowns and certainties both portend a struggle.
I get it: Joel Embiid was a statistical monster with charisma and a team-galvanizing attitude last season. He flashed cornerstone skills in a personality package that any organization would sacrifice limbs for. We want to believe he's ready to settle into superstardom, taking the Sixers to the top half of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket with several All-Star seasons ahead.
Except he played 31 games last year.
Those games were great. He helped Philadelphia outscore opponents by 3.2 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor. He averaged 28.7 points, 11.1 rebounds, 3.5 blocks and 3.0 assists per 36 minutes while shooting 36.7 percent from three-point range. Give him a full allotment of playing time, and Embiid is guaranteed an All-NBA first-team nod, right?
It's the minutes, of course, that are the problem. Nothing in his history—two fully lost seasons and one spectacular 31-game stretch snuffed out by knee surgery—suggests assuming good health and full availability make sense.
We must expect Embiid to be hurt until he's not. Notably, he hasn't been cleared for five-on-five drills yet.
And that's to say nothing of a team that will play two rookies, Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons, major minutes. Even the greats aren't great in their first years, and saying these two are going to have a hard time in their first NBA action is different than projecting them as long-term failures. They'll probably be fantastic by the time they're 25.
But Simmons is 21, and Fultz is 19. Neither has played a second of meaningful NBA basketball.
Preaching patience is especially annoying in the wake of the loyalty-testing Process, but that's what's necessary right now.
A 30-11 second half highlighted by a 13-game winning streak sent the Miami Heat into the offseason with a mixed bag of disappointment (they still missed the playoffs) and optimism.
While it's tempting to ignore their 11-30 first half of the 2016-17 season, ascribing that performance to injury and/or still-developing chemistry, those games still matter. As does the fact that chunks of Miami's winning streak were at least partially attributable to an easy schedule.
Even though the Heat added Kelly Olynyk in free agency and perhaps got everyone healthy—principally Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow—it's unwise to expect them to continue operating like a team that will win three out of every four games like they did to close the season.
Dion Waiters has a new contract. Will he be motivated to repeat last year's performance?
James Johnson is also coming off a career year and has a new deal of his own. The same question applies to him.
Goran Dragic is 31. Winslow can't shoot. Hassan Whiteside still suffers from bouts of inattention.
Miami finished at .500 last year, which was a remarkable, unprecedented achievement for a team that was 19 games below the break-even point. It's fair to celebrate that accomplishment while also wondering how likely it is for similar play to carry forward. As a general rule, it's best not to assume something that just happened for the first time will happen again.
ESPN.com pegged the Heat for 44 wins, which indicates faith that the second half of last season mattered more than the first.
"We're going to see if that 30-11 record is what they're about," team president Pat Riley told reporters just before training camp began.
Yes we will.
Sometimes it helps to compartmentalize a team when projecting its performance. For the Boston Celtics, a squad that underwent such significant changes over the summer, it'll be especially useful to get granular.
- Isaiah Thomas had one of the most efficient high-volume scoring seasons in league history last year, becoming the fifth player to average at least 28.9 points on 62.5 percent true shooting. Kyrie Irving could have the best season of his career and still fall well short of what Thomas did in 2016-17.
- Gordon Hayward was a great addition, but will his contributions dramatically outweigh those of Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder, whose wing minutes he'll absorb?
- Boston's point differential in last year's 53-win season was closer to that of a 48-win team.
- Al Horford could slip in his age-31 season.
- Boston was the No. 12 defense in the league a year ago. Losing Bradley and Crowder means it should fall.
- Rookie Jayson Tatum and second-year wing Jaylen Brown will play significant roles. In the last seven seasons, just 23 rookies had positive box plus-minus figures. The vast majority were only marginally in the black. For the umpteenth time: Young players, especially rookies, don't tend to be net positives.
As it turns out, there's good reason to distrust the hype accompanying an opening over-under of 56.5 wins and ESPN.com's projection of 54.
Boston could be quite a bit better than it was last year and still fail to reach a win total in the mid-50s.
We need to pump the brakes a bit.
Los Angeles Clippers
Because (how to put this delicately?) he won't be.
Griffin is recovering from toe surgery after bowing out of the playoffs with that injury. Before that operation and before he underwent surgery on his right knee last year, The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor chronicled Griffin's previous maladies, which included: a broken kneecap, a torn meniscus, a partially torn quadriceps, a knee bone bruise, a sprained knee and a strained hamstring.
That's just the list for his left leg, by the way. There's a character limit in these articles. Otherwise, we'd dig into the back, hand, elbow and right leg issues that have limited Griffin to an average of 54 games over the last three seasons.
Even if you'd prefer to bet on health despite the evidence, what about his obviously diminished athleticism? It's plain as day if you watch him move around the floor, but if you need a number, consider this: Griffin dunked 68 times last year. Back in the day, he was regularly up around 200 per season.
The Griffin issue aside, L.A. lost Chris Paul, JJ Redick and Luc Mbah a Moute from its starting five. Danilo Gallinari is a fine offensive player but comes with his own poor health history and is duplicative with Griffin at the 4.
A depth infusion by way of the Paul trade feels less meaningful because Doc Rivers, historic rotation bungler, is managing it.
Forget the assured 50-win floors of the Paul era. The Clips are far frailer now and, even if everything breaks right, they may not even have a 50-win ceiling.
Both are too high.
New Orleans Pelicans
The Pels were 7-10 in games Davis and Cousins played together. Even if we assume improved familiarity between those two will lead to a better record, there's so much more to consider.
Like how the Pelicans might have the weakest wing rotation in the NBA. (Does Tony Allen start? Does E'Twaun Moore slide up to the 3? There are no good options.)
Or how both head coach Alvin Gentry and general manager Dell Demps are perpetually on the hot seat.
Or how Cousins has never played on a team that won more than 34 games.
Or how Cousins' looming free agency might impact chemistry.
Or how Rajon Rondo, somehow, after several seasons of destroying offenses and defending halfheartedly, is not only going to start but will inexplicably push Jrue Holiday to the 2 for significant stretches.
Forget the playoffs, and forget .500. This team has too little shooting, too much uncertainty in its leadership and zero depth. Even in the unlikely event the top-end talent meshes, a few missed games from Davis would be fatal.
This feels like a team we should be expecting to win 35-38 games. Yet Vegas opened with a 39.5 over-under, and ESPN.com forecast a 41-41 mark.