Warriors: It's impossible to compete with Golden State
It’s hard to even build a starting All-Star team to match up with them. Mine would be Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Even with those five, I’m not confident. . . . No one has solved their small-ball look: too much versatility on the defensive end, five playmakers on offense. Most teams can’t get away with five playmakers because one or two won’t be able to guard well enough. The Warriors still don’t have a weak link. . . . Klay Thompson was not bad during the playoffs; he was playing elite defense against great players. What he does for Steph Curry is priceless. He takes the best perimeter player, whether it’s a point guard or a two guard. Plus, even if he’s not making shots he’s a threat. It’s not like you can leave him. . . . Nick Young has been a volume shooter his whole career. He won’t get those touches, even in the second group. How does he react if they take him out or cut his role? . . . Kevin Durant bought into the off-ball movement that we hadn’t seen in OKC. By the end of the season it looked beautiful. You could tell he was energized by not needing to create every single shot. His defensive intensity and focus were better, and his activity on offense was way better. . . . Draymond Green was my Defensive Player of the Year. He takes on guards and bigs—that sets him apart. He gets slap steals all the time. . . . The bench guy who excites me the most is Patrick McCaw. His growth will be important after they lost Ian Clark. He can slash, shoot, score with consistency from the wing.
Lakers: The worst is over
The worst is over. Lonzo Ball gives them real momentum, and they’ve got legitimately intriguing young guys. . . . They’ll have one of the worst defenses in the league again. They’ll just try to outscore you and make it a track meet. . . . Ball is my favorite for Rookie of the Year. I don’t think he’ll be better than a hot-and-cold shooter, but I’d rather have Ball than Ben Simmons or Markelle Fultz to start a franchise. Ball has that old-school feel. He does more for his team than other young prospects, and he fits cleanly into lineups. It’s not crazy to say he could finish in the top five in assists. . . . I like the Kentavious Caldwell-Pope signing for two reasons: Ball’s passing and tempo should help him slide into a more comfortable offensive role, and Caldwell-Pope’s defense should really help cover for Ball. . . . Brandon Ingram is a great breakout candidate because all eyes are going to be on Ball. Luke Walton made Ingram earn his starting spot last year; he earned it, and he’s ready for more. His confidence is growing and he’s got a deep package of moves. We might still be one year away from him being a show-stopper. . . . This is a gigantic year for Julius Randle. I’m still not convinced he’s going to get it. He’s not a good team defender. He can’t shoot. He doesn’t play above interior defenders. I don’t think he can grow out of some of those limitations. All of Randle’s best plays come in the open court. When the game slows down in the playoffs, what does he do for you?. . . . Kyle Kuzma looked like a steal in Summer League. His shooting and energy were exciting.
More from SI
Clippers: No team will look more different
They will look more different this year compared to last year than any team in the league. . . . For years their biggest problems have been small forward and depth. They solved those by adding Danilo Gallinari and improving their bench, but losing Chris Paul creates an even bigger problem. . . . Patrick Beverley’s life is about to change. It’s a big drop from playing with James Harden to playing with Austin Rivers. He will be exposed offensively. He’s better as a spot-up guy, but it’s hard to do that playing off Rivers. . . . Blake Griffin has been slipping athletically. They just committed to a [five-year, $173 million] contract that says, “We need you to be better than you’ve ever been before.” I’m not sure he can do that. It’s going to be a lot harder with defenses keying on him. . . . DeAndre Jordan will miss Paul more than anybody. He’s depended on him for his offense for most of his career. They definitely should look at trading Jordan before the deadline. . . . Milos Teodosic is a magician with the ball and a matador on defense. Late in games, I could see them going to offense/defense substitutions with their point guards, swapping him and Beverley in and out. . . . If Gallinari has to play most of his minutes at small forward, he’ll find it harder to exploit matchups. But they’ll have a hard time going smaller with Griffin at center and Gallinari at power forward because both guys will struggle defensively. . . . Lou Williams needs to have a huge year for them. He’s going to have a major, major responsibility as a scorer.
Kings: Sacramento is free of Boogie
I love that they enter this season fresh without DeMarcus Cousins’s trade and free agency talk hanging over them. They can play free and happy. Cousins is talented but it wasn’t worth turning over their franchise’s direction to him. . . . I understand people who question how good they can be if George Hill is their best player. But he’s a good two-way player and a leader, which they needed. I like that he can run the point and he can play alongside their rookie, De’Aaron Fox. . . . Fox has All-Star potential long-term, and I don’t see anyone else on this roster who you can say that about. His speed gets compared with John Wall’s, but that’s unfair for any rookie point guard. With his size, I’m worried about how long he can stay on the court. He needs to build out a jumper and prove he can run an offense. . . . Buddy Hield will be better this year because he can settle into a role. Their offense is going to come from lots of different sources rather than just leaning on him. . . . Justin Jackson had a good Summer League; he’s always up to stuff. I don’t see a huge ceiling for him, but he can be a solid, steady pro for 12 years. . . . Bogdan Bogdanovic is a great shooter. He’s ready to hit the ground running. He’s a really good catch-and-shoot player. If he gets a clean look, you think it’s going in. . . . Willie Cauley-Stein isn’t as experienced as Kosta Koufos, but he’s the guy you want to groom as the center of the future. His offensive game is very limited but he’s active, and he gets up above the rim to challenge shots. You want his motor in the middle of your defense.
Suns: What is their direction?
I don’t see a direction for them. They added a lottery pick in Josh Jackson, but that was their entire summer. It’s like they want to be forgotten. They’re just praying that Devin Booker becomes a top five shooting guard. This is a pretty hopeless situation. . . . It’s hard to put together one single five-man lineup that gets you excited, mostly because their frontcourt is so thin. They can’t stop anyone. . . . Among the young prospects at his position, I think Booker is the best all-around scorer. He can score out of pick-and-rolls and isolations. He can catch-and-shoot. He has all those levels and layers. . . . How many guys really complement Booker and can be part of the core? Jackson, I guess, but not really anyone else. Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss are both question marks after shaky rookie years. I’m not even a big Jackson fan. His defense, size and athleticism will help, but his shooting motion is a mess. . . . We’ve reached the point where you have to conclude that Eric Bledsoe can’t be the main guy for a winning team. He’s probably their best trade piece, but Brandon Knight falling off a cliff and getting injured again killed their ability to move Bledsoe. . . . Chriss and Bender both look disinterested at times. They’re too young to be checking out. Bender will have to play center; defending on the perimeter is a huge challenge for him. Chriss has a better body and physical tools, but I’d bet both are busts. Chriss has to improve his basketball IQ and awareness to have any shot. An unstructured environment like Phoenix was the worst place for him.