As the 2015 NBA season draws near, it's about time we took a moment to refresh our understanding in one of the most watched sports in the world. Here is everything you need to know about what’s happened this off-season, and what we predict might happen over the next 6 months of NBA regular season. These are the teams we expect to see in the playoffs this year from the Eastern Conference.
2014-15 Reg. Season: 2nd (53-29)
Playoffs: Runners Up in Finals
Key Player(s): Lebron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love
Last season saw the Cavs fall short of dominating the East, due to an incredible season from the Atlanta Hawks - who they eventually overpowered in the playoffs 4-0, only to fall short to a deserving Golden State team in the finals series 4-2. With only one addition in the form of Mo Williams (a veteran in his own right), the question this season will be to see how good they can be on both ends of the floor. The regular season saw the Cavs dominate offensively, whilst the playoffs saw them perform as an elite defensive unit.
Question this season: Will they retain rebounding king Tristan Thompson, and can they avoid the injuries that plagued them last season?
2014-15 Reg. Season: 1st (60-22)
Playoffs: Lost in conference finals 4-0.
Key Player(s): Jeff Teague, Al Horford, Paul Millsap
Key Addition(s): Tim Hardaway Jr. & Thiago Splitter
Coach Mike Budenholzer put his mark on the NBA last year, leading an arguably less than outstanding roster through to a 60-win season. However, they couldn’t pull it together to push past the dominant Cavs in the conference finals.
Question this season: How will they perform without DeMarre Carroll? Can Kyle Korver continue his great shooting form?
2014-15 Reg. Season: 3rd (50-32)
Playoffs: Lost in conference semis 2-4
Key Player(s): Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Pau Gasol
One of the greatest teams in NBA history (shout out to MJ) fought to a decent finish last season. Strong powerful play (as per) saw a gritty defense and aggressive attack despite the sacking of coach Tom Thibodeau. If any team was going to knock the Cavs out of the Eastern playoffs last season it was going to be the Bulls, and 2014's semifinal came down to some miraculous buzzer beaters to seal the deal for the Cavaliers.
Question this season: Will Derrick Rose remain fit, and will Jimmy Butler be able to lead the team if not?
2014-15 Reg. Season: 10th (37-45)
Key Player(s): Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Goran Dragic
Key Addition(s): Justice Winslow
Goran Dragic only seems to get better and better, and this season I think we will see the revival of a Miami Heat team that has been rebuilding since the departure of Lebron James a year ago.
Dragic and Bosh will do well to spread the floor and give Wade some space to attack weaker wings. Don’t be surprised to see them as a dark horse this season. They picked up a steal with Justice Winslow at the tenth slot in the draft, too.
Question this season: Can Wade learn to shoot threes? How will Winslow fit into the roster? He could well emerge as rookie of the year.
2014-15 Reg. Season: 4th (49-33)
Playoffs: Lost in Round One to the Wizards 0-4
Key Player(s): Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll
Last season was something the Raptors could be proud of (bar their bombing out of the playoffs), and Drake will be at it again supporting the freshly-branded team as they gear up for a solid season. With the addition of Carroll, they plug a gap at the three or four with a proven big man that can also run the floor and shoot pretty confidently. They slip a place because of the Heat looking to threaten, but the Kyle Lowry wont have his work cut out for him to lead this team through the season – expect a big year from DeRozan, too.
Key Question: How will DeMarre Carroll fit in, can Jonas Valunciunas keep up with the pace of the league?
2014-15 Reg. Season: 5th (46-36)
Playoffs: Lost in Conference Semis to the Hawks 2-4
Key Player(s): John Wall, Bradley Beal
Key Addition(s): Jared Dudley, Kelly Oubre Jr. (drafted)
With arguably one of the best young backcourts in the league, Wall and Beal make the perfect combo for the Wizards to build around. Expect a lot of fast-paced small ball like we saw in the post-season last year; the Wizards look set to unleash the brilliance of John Wall and the full shooting potential of former three-point champion Bradley Beal. With their trade deal of Kelly Oubre Jr. looking like it might pay off, we will have to see if he can walk the walk after talking the talk this pre-season.
Key Question: Will Nene and Gortat compliment the fast pace of the backcourt with some strong front court play? Will Kelly Oubre Jr. step up to the standard he has set for himself with all the smack talk?
2014-15 Reg. Season: 6th (41-41)
Playoffs: Lost in Round One to Bulls 2-4
Key Player(s): Giannis Antetokounpo, Greg Monroe, Jabari Parker
Key Addition(s) Greg Monroe
The Bucks have an incredibly young side, and the steal of Greg Monroe (who seemed set to go to the Knicks) took us by surprise; he's a good fit in this side, but will need some room to move about. I'm expecting them to finish a little higher than they did last year - we'll wait to see if Monroe can reach his full potential this year.
Key Question: Can Giannis Antetokounpo learn to shoot the bloody ball?
2014-15 Reg. Season: 9th (38-44)
Key Player(s): Paul George
Key Addition(s): Monta Ellis, Myles Turner
The tragic injury of Paul George before last season really stunned an ageing Pacers side. With George back to full strength and a few acquisitions of Monta Ellis, Jordan Hill, and the drafting of Myles Turner, we can expect to see a lot of small ball from these guys this season.
Key Question: How will Paul George fare playing at Power Forward instead of Small Forward?
Other teams to watch out for
New York Knicks: These guys have made some impressive roster filling signings over the off-season, Jerian Grant, Kyle O’Quinn, Kristaps Porzingis, Robin Lopez, Derrick Williams all adding much-needed depth to support the superstar Carmelo Anthony who is still one of the top 5 shooting players in the league. The question will be to see how Porzingis will go at the 4 for such a thin tall player, and can Jerian Grant step up to help them out – he is arguably the most NBA-ready guard coming out of the draft. Oh, and they just beat the Wizards last week, eyes open.
Philadelphia 76ers: This team are still unfortunately bottom feeders, but Jahlil Okafor looks to be a bright spot in an injury-riddled future for the 76ers who have to deal with Embiid being sidelined for most of this season. In desperate need of a leader, I’m expecting these guys to drop for another draft pick this season.
All images c/o USA Today