1. Boston Celtics (1st Playoff seed)
Why: Three yeoman stars all accoustomed to carrying the load. A pair
of role starters, Perkins and Rondo, who are better than advertised.
Glue guys for points (House) and defense (Posey) off the bench.
Worries: Mediocre coach, Ray Allen’s ankles.
Overrated: The plus-30 ages of the troika of stars.
Underrated: The amount of fun Celtic fans are going to have watching
three long-suffering stars and a pair burgeoning young talents come
Wild Card: Can Tony Allen back up Rondo at the point?
2. Toronto Raptors (6)
Why: Beneath the radar synergy of unsung United Nations crew. Great depth. Capable coach still learning and improving.
Worries: Flash in the pan overachievers leads to mediocrity for one star team, league figures out tendency of newfangled Euros.
Overrated: Nothing. How Canadian.
Underrated: Bosh’s consistency, Calderon’s grit as backup point guard.
Wild card: Bargnani–breakout season or just steady improvement?
3. New Jersey Nets (7)
Why: Aging stars, lopsided roster, not enough talent in the paint. Sense time has passed before it ever really arrived.
Worries: Is a healthy Krstic a zero-sum game versus last year’s
Mikki Moore surprise? Jefferson’s post-injury hops, Carter’s
Overrated: Vince Carter, tin plated golden boy.
Underrated: Kidd’s 8.2 rebounds per game.
Wild Card: Jamaal Magloire, in the perfect situation to prove he’s not washed up.
4. New York Knicks (13)
Why: The roster is still mashed potatoes, pickles and ice cream.
From Dolan through Isiah down to Nate Robinson, too much bullshit, not
Worries: Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph? Are you shitting me? Jamal
Crawford and Stefon Marbury? Who’s the level-headed guy, Quinton
Underrated: David Lee, the patience of Knicks fans.
Overrated: Marbury’s selfishness, Robinson’s long term value.
Wild Card: How long can Curry and Randolph peacefully, if not productively, co-exist?
5. Philadelphia 76ers (15)
Why: Way too inexperienced, with not enough talent.
Worries: Is Iguodala merely a poor man’s Iverson in more ways than one, dominating the ball while nobody else develops?
Overrated: The once stellar defense of Samuel Dalembert, the endurance of Reggie Evans playing starter’s minutes.
Underrated: Kyle Korver, more than just a great gunner.
Wild Card: Louis Williams eventually taking over for Andre Miller at the point; the potential breakout of Willie Green.
1. Chicago Bulls (2)
Why: Great young nucleus gels another year, both sides know what to expect in the Big Ben situation.
Worries: Ben Gordon doesn’t cede to Luol Deng in pecking order; Noah
flops behind Wallace; Skiles wears out welcome in year five, Nocioni’s
mental makeup, post playoff collapse.
Overrated: Wallace’s defense as senior citizen, without ‘Sheed.
Underrated: Hinrich’s jumper, Sefolosha’s defense.
Wild Card: Ty Thomas, breakout or yo yo round two?
2. Detroit Pistons (3)
Why: Flip Saunders is a regular season wizard; Jason Maxiell is ready for prime time, Billups on a mission.
Worries: Age; McDyess or foul-prone ‘Sheed in the pivot; Tayshaun
Prince’s mental makeup, post playoff bricklaying; the tread of Rip
Overrated: Billups, who is very good but not great.
Underrated: Hamilton’s defense, Wallace’s defense, new pickup Jarvis Hayes, who shouldn’t be buried on the bench.
Wild Card: A healthy McDyess for an entire season
3. Cleveland Cavs (5)
Why: No more ambushes, a dreadful offense, contract snits with
Varejao and Pavlovik, versus King James being another year better.
Worries: Z’s motor, Hughes’s fragility, LeBron’s loyalty.
Overrated: Drew Gooden
Underrated: Coach Mike Brown
Wild Card: Daniel Gibson
4. Milwaukee Bucks (9)
Why: Weird team with no identity, wasted two years with hapless
Terry Stotts. Bogut and Villanueva could boom or bust; ditto Yi who
won’t boom for at least a year or two.
Worries: Villanueva’s injuries, Michael Redd’s horrible horrible
defense, having to play Yi before he’s ready to keep him happy.
Overrated: Desmond Mason and Bobby Simmons–mediocre, not good.
Underrated: Point guard Mo Williams; worth every penny of that fat deal.
Wild Card: Bogut and Williams seizing the reins, Redd letting them.
5. Indiana Pacers (14)
Why: Tinsley and O’Neal already over the hill; the grotesque Golden State trade; a miniaturized Marquis Daniels.
Worries: A slew of bad contracts makes rebuilding impossible; O’Neal demands trade; Tinsley packs it in; free fall accelerates.
Overrated: Mike Dunleavy’s potential.
Underrated: Jeff Foster’s grit and savvy.
Wild Card: Danny Granger as this year’s Kevin Martin.
1. Washington Wizards (4)
Why: Gilbert Arenas, a kinder, gentler, funnier Kobe. An underrated bench. Better defense led by DeShawn Steverson.
Worries: Soft in the paint without Etan Thomas. Arenas emulates the bad Kobe, Jamison starts his decline.
Overrated: Jamison’s glue-guy capability.
Underrated: Antonio Daniels and Andray Blatche off the bench.
Wild Cards: The health of Darius Songalia; the emergence of rook Nick Young.
2. Miami Heat (8)
Why: Too much throttle from Pat Riley, not enough gas on the roster. Shaq old; Wade dinged.
Worries: Shaq old; Wade dinged, Ricky Davis and Jason Williams playing for new contracts.
Overrated: Pat Riley with a team of average talent.
Underrated: The pounding Shaq had endured.
Wild Card: Wade sucks it up, reprises Superman show down the stretch.
3. Orlando Magic (10)
Why: One reason: Dwight Howard. Rashard Lewis is overpaid and a
slight push over departed Grant Hill. Everyone in the starting lineup
besides Howard is an outside shooter. He’ll be the biggest one man team
this side of Cleveland.
Worries: Lewis presses to justify ridiculous contract; JJ Redick continues to be fool’s gold.
Overrated: The impact of Lewis.
Underrated: New coach Stan Gundy; hustling glue guy Trevor Azia.
Wild Card: Redic and Hedo Turkoglu stretching defenses away from Howard and Lewis.
4. Charlotte Bobcats (11)
Why: Team on rise, especially backcourt of Felton and J-Rich. Injuries to May and Morrison are costly.
Worries: Crushed in paint as Okafor hits ceiling and Brezec too slow; Felton’s D fades; Richardson’s scoring disrupts chemistry.
Overrated: Okafor’s post presence.
Underrated: Felton’s distribution at the point.
Wild Card: New coach Sam Vincent.
5. Atlanta Hawks (12)
Why: Loads of potential could yield 20 or 40 wins. Pruning roster for quality vet or two would help.
Worries: Nobody sorts a pecking order; bickering, immaturity and indecision reign.
Overrated: Josh Smith, not as good as his numbers.
Underrated: Joe Johnson and Al Horford; a nice place to start.
Wild Card: Lightning strikes and winning becomes contagious. Marvin Williams finally lives up to the hype.
1. Dallas Mavericks (3)
Why: Nothing to prove in the regular season will affect their record
some, but Trenton Hassell and Eddie Jones give them depth with
perimeter defense that an aging Jason Terry can’t provide in the
postseason. Diop over the injured Dampier right from the jump is
another playoff prep bonus. Ditto the acquisition of banger Brandon
Worries: Nowitzki fails the do-or-die leadership test a third
straight time; the aging of Stack and Terry; the recovery of Dampier
from shoulder surgery.
Overrated: Nowitzki’s "improvement" the last two years.
Underrated: Stackhouse’s ability to get to the line.
Wild Card: Their blood pressure in the postseason. From Cuban to
Avery to Dirk and on down, they are wound pretty tight for a team that
got undressed by an 8 seed last season.
San Antonio Spurs (4)
Why: Another team that will bide its time. Oberto is now settled in
the pivot; Ginobili is the NBA’s premiere sidekick; Duncan the best big
man; Parker should keep improving, especially on defense.
Worries: A lot of rugged minutes begin wearing down Bowen; Duncan gets hurt; the jinx of even-numbered playoff years.
Overrated: Their bench; thinner than the Celtics’
Underrated: Gregg Popovich, the best in the game today.
Wild Card: Age. This is an old team that plays smashmouth defense deep into every season.
3. New Orleans Hornets (6)
Why: The classic leap forward after the step back. Chandler and West
are beasts in the paint, Paul excels at the drive and kick to Peja and
MoPete. Bobby Jackson, Rasual Butler, Hilton Armstrong and the rook
Julian Wright are nice bench pieces.
Worries: Peja’s health, Jackson’s wear and tear.
Overrated: Peja’s importance.
Underrated: Tyson Chandler, coach Byron Scott.
Wild Card: How much will, or can, New Orleans embrace this emerging team?
4. Houston Rockets (7)
Why: For better or worse, Yao, T-Mac and now hot Argentinian rookie power forward Luis Scola.
Worries: A team seemingly built for defense (Yao, Battier) couldn’t
win for Van Gundy and is a mismatch for new coach Rick Adelman; Rafel
Alston is not a championship point guard.
Overrated: Yao and T-Mac–dynamic duo with zip playoff series wins.
Underrated: Ever-ready battery Chuck Hayes at power forward; sharpshooter Luther Head off the bench.
Wild Cards: Scola obviously, who might be the galvanizing third star
piece or a notorious bust. And Adelman: Will he really plant Yao and
Mutumbo in the high post?
5. Memphis Grizzlies (11)
Why: They’ve got a clue, are stockpiling talent, would be a playoff
team in the East. Rudy Gay and Hakim Warrick are going to be better,
Juan Carlos Navarro is a Spur-like foreign gem. Mike Miller will
flourish in new coach Iavaroni’s up-and-down game.
Worries: The collective basketball IQs of Stromile Swift and Darko
Milicic beside Pau Gausol at center; the readiness of rook Mike Conley
or pro-soph Kyle Lowry to supplant Stoudamire at the point.
Overrated: Darko’s upside.
Underrated: Mike Miller
Wild Cards: Navarro, Conley/Lowry.
1. Phoenix Suns (2)
Why: The way they play is too much fun for distractions about
Marion’s contract and trade demands. Acquiring Grant Hill will get Nash
some rest. The franchise knows this year is their best, probably last,
shot at a ring with this crew.
Worries: Amare, Nash, Hill–How many crucial injury risks can they dodge? Who replaces Kurt Thomas: Brian Skinner? Sean Marks?
Overrated: Amare’s post-microfracture strength and quickness.
Underrated: Boris Diaw, who needs to be worked back into the mix.
Wild Card: Hill, who might be the final ingredient or remain an injury-prone tease.
2. Golden State (9)
Why: Because the frothy fun of the playoffs isn’t there in
mid-winter. Relying on Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson is an oxymoron.
Worries: Davis’s body, Jackson’s head; the sustainability of Monta
Ellis and Matt Barnes after their breakout years; defending the paint.
Underrated: Mickael Pietrus, the upside of Andris Biedrins.
Wild Card: The whole team is a wild card, but let’s say Baron, who could be a top-10 MVP candidate or a gimpy, glorified gunner.
3. Los Angeles Lakers (10) w/Kobe
Why: Bickering principals accustomed to championships. Some strong talent but a psychological mess.
Worries: Ah, the distraction of whether or not to trade Kobe; Phil Jackson’s stale Zen; Odom’s health; Bynum’s confidence.
Overrated: Kobe Bryant as "the best player in the game."
Underrated: Luke Walton, Bynum.
Wild Card: The volatile Kobe deciding to be a team player out of spite.
4. Los Angeles Clippers (14)
Why: Injuries to Brand and Livingstone are deadly, leaving Maggette, Cassell and Mobley to "sort it out."
Worries: A team ripe for implosion does just that; Mike Dunleavy
becoming the second coach to be choked by a player in NBA history.
Overrated: Al Thornton as trendy ROY; Tim Thomas.
Underrated: Ruben Patterson, a bad actor off the court but fabulous glue and dirty work on it.
Wild Cards: Chris Kamen rediscovering his game; Brevin Knight allowed to be the balm in the backcourt.
5. Sacramento Kings (15)
Why: Bibby and Artest are two very different kinds of toxins.
Shareef and Brad Miller are toast, Kevin Martin is all stats, and
Reggie Theus is the coach? Potentially the most tragicomical squad in
the league; when do they sign Flava Flav?
Worries: Being barred from moving to Vegas.
Overrated: Bibby, Martin, the size of Mikki Moore’s contract.
Underrated: Quiet pro Kenny Thomas.
Wild Card: Insert Artest joke here.
1. Denver Nuggets (1)
Why: Because unlike the other contenders, the regular season
matters. Melo, AI and Camby rival the troika in Boston and San Antonio;
Nene, Najera, Kleiza, Stephen Hunter and maybe K-Mart can bring the
beef. Chucky Atkins as an upgrade over Steve Blake at the point.
Worries: Camby’s health; the warranty on coach George Karl’s effectiveness; regulating the glory of AI.
Overrated: JR Smith, who’s not worth the trouble.
Underrated: Camby, a genuine game-changer when healthy; Linas Kleiza, who needs some burn.
Wild Card: Kenyon Martin, whose return to form would make the Nugs a legit co-favorite with San Antonio in the postseason.
2. Utah Jazz (5)
Why: Deron Williams another year closer to being league’s best point
guard; Boozer/Okur matchup quandary; Sloan a salty master with a couple
years left; Millsap, Ronnie Brewer and rook Almond emerge as key pieces
Worries: Kirilenko/Sloan contretemps continues to bring out the
worst in both of them; Okur stops complementing his treys with inside
energy; sans Derek Fisher, the dropoff from D-Ron is precipitous at the
Overrated: Okur and Boozer, who need the other to be effective.
Underrated: Millsap, a real beast in the making.
Wild Card: Almond’s ability to be a better Gordan Giricek.
3. Portland Trailblazers (8)
Why: The long, slow rebuilding comes to fruition even without Oden.
Aldridge and Roy are studs in the making, Przy an ideal complementary
shotblocker down low; Webster and Outlaw a pair of dynamic swingmen;
Steve Blake and Channing Frye good glue. And Zach Randolph is gone.
Worries: Jarrett Jack isn’t the answer at the point, and Blake and
rook Taurean Green can’t pick up the slack. Outlaw and Webster still
Overrated: The impact of Oden’s injury, especially if Przybilla can stay healthy.
Underrated: Nate McMillan’s influence, especially with Randolph and Darius Miles out of the picture.
Wild Card: Roy’s ability to be the de facto point guard.
4. Seattle Supersonics (12)
Why: The best help in the draft from Durant and Jeff Green; and a
nice piece with Delonte West at combo guard, but the front line is too
weak in the brutal Western Conference.
Worries: Durant gets beaten up and loses confidence; Wilcox and
Collison remain the best bets down low as the three bigs from previous
drafts continue to flounder. Coach PJ Carlisimo can’t find the right
balance of tough and tender with the ghost of Spree in his closet.
Overrated: The effectivenes of Damien Wilkins’ hustle; the promise of Robert Swift; the future of Luke Ridnour.
Underrated: Glue guy Kurt Thomas; the immediate impact of Green, who will outperform Durant in overall value this season.
Wild Card: Durant really being ready for immediate stardom.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves (13)
Why: Problems at the point; culling the plethora of ‘tweeners; the
emergence of Jefferson, McCants, Gomes and eventually Brewer as
Worries: Foye’s knee; Gomes’s departure next year, followed by
Jefferson’s down the road; Wittman overmatched by the rebuilding job;
Brewer can’t shoot well enough to compel a single-team.
Overrated: Gerald Green’s future; Telfair’s positive preseason; Craig Smith’s upside.
Underrated: Theo Ratliff’s (short term) impact; the potential team D
of Theo/Jefferson/Gomes/McCants/Foye with Brewer off the bench.
Wild Card: Foye at the point; Antoine Walker.