NBA Season Preview Series – Part 11

As we mentioned in Part 1 of this series, we will be previewing the NBA season by ranking the clubs in reverse order and revealing those clubs two at a time. Here’s what those rankings look like at this point:
30. Atlanta Hawks
29. Sacramento Kings
28. Orlando Magic
27. Phoenix Suns
26. Chicago Bulls
25. New York Knicks
24. Brooklyn Nets
23. Charlotte Hornets
22. Memphis Grizzlies
21. Dallas Mavericks
20. Cleveland Cavaliers
19. Los Angeles Clippers
18. Detroit Pistons
17. Miami Heat
16. Washington Wizards
15. Minnesota Timberwolves
14. Portland Trail Blazers
13. San Antonio Spurs
12. Denver Nuggets
11. Milwaukee Bucks

Here are the next two clubs:

10. Indiana Pacers

Last Season: 48-34 (0.585) (2nd in Central Division, 5th in Eastern Conference)
Head Coach: Nate McMillan (3rd season with team, 90-74 team; 568-526 overall)
Major Off-season Acquisitions: Aaron Holiday (23rd pick), Tyreke Evans, Doug McDermott, Kyle O’Quinn, C.J. Wilcox
Major Off-season Departures: Lance Stephenson, Al Jefferson, Joe Young
Salary Cap Info: $107.6 million ($5.7M over cap, $16.0M luxury tax room)
Narrative: The Pacers surprised a lot of people last season, primarily because of the leap that Victor Oladipo took last season. After being selected 2nd by the Orlando Magic in the 2013 NBA Draft, he did well enough on a losing team to draw the attention of the Oklahoma City, who traded for him to pair with Russell Westbrook. Oladipo was largely a bystander in his lone season in OKC, as Russ pursued his triple double on the season and the Thunder were eliminated early in the playoffs. He was traded again to the Pacers (in the Paul George trade), returning to the state where he stared in college (Indiana University). He then flipped the switch, became a plus player on both sides of the court, and walked away with the Most Improved Player Award for his troubles. He was also named to his first All-Star Team, something that should continue should he stay healthy.
They’ve added a lot to the team as well this season, without losing a whole lot. Only 15% of the minutes from last season were lost with their departures, and Tyreke Evans should more than enough make up for Lance Stephenson’s production, hopefully without all the antics. The Pacers, barring any major calamitous injuries, should compete for a top three seed in the Eastern Conference. Anything less than the second round of the playoffs should be considered a disappointment.

9. New Orleans Pelicans

Last Season: 48-34 (0.585) (2nd in Southwest Division, 6th in Western Conference)
Head Coach: Alvin Gentry (4th season with team, 112-134 team; 447-504 overall)
Major Off-season Acquisitions: Elfrid Payton, Julius Randle, Jahlil Okafor
Major Off-season Departures: DeMarcus Cousins, Rajon Rondo
Salary Cap Info: $116.4 million ($14.5M over cap, $7.3M luxury tax room)
Narrative: Anthony Davis is one of the seminal talents in the NBA right now, and as he goes, the Pelicans go. He found an interesting dynamic last season with the now departed DeMarcus Cousin, but played even better once Cousins was lost for the season – and to the team, apparently – with an Achilles injury. But with three years left on his monstrous contract, the question seems to persist if he is comfortable with the long-term prospects with the team, especially in the era of the Golden State Warriors dominating the West.
In the meantime, the club seems to have improved ever so slightly over the summer, which was needed with the bulk of (star) player movement affecting the West. Elfrid Payton will be a capable backup to two-way guard Jrue Holiday, who made the All-NBA Defensive first team last season (along with Davis). While not nearly as dominant as peak Cousins, Julius Randle will allow for coach Alvin Gentry to try some interesting front court lineups, and Jahlil Okafor will provide solid minutes to give Davis some rest during the regular season. The Pelicans are in the muddled group of seven teams in the West that will be competing for four spots, so meshing early in the season will be extremely important.
Until next time… 
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