ESPN recently released their consensus Eastern and Western Conference standings based on their panel of 215 experts. Some fans might be surprised at the standings, but here I provide my own thoughts and insights on the poll.
The Los Angeles Lakers came in at 12th in the Western Conference. Many fans might be a little stunned to see the Lakers so far outside of playoff position, as the franchise prides itself on excellence, but I personally think this team is more likely to finish 12th than 8th. The Lakers lose Dwight Howard, and though he is a big time diva, he's the best center in the league. Steve Nash will be 40 this season. Kobe Bryant is coming off of an achilles tendon tear that could hold him out for an extended period of time this season. The man formerly known as Ron Artest was amnestied and is no longer around. Pau Gasol enters another season a year older and in an offensive system that doesn't suit him. Mike D'Antoni is a coach that the fans no longer want and one that lacks the support of his players. This Lakers team is not a playoff team and it should come as no surprise that they come in this low in the Western Conference.
Chicago, Indiana, Brooklyn
The panel places the Bulls as the two seed in the East, as Miami rightfully deserves to be the one seed coming off back to back championships. I cannot put the Bulls in that position though with Derek Rose coming back after an entire year off. To expect Rose to come back as the same explosive and fearless player at the start of this season is asking too much. There will be a transitional period for Rose and this team will have to work through that. Tom Thibodeau is one of the top five coaches in basketball though, so grabbing the two seed is doable, but I don't see it.
To me the scariest starting five in this bunch comes from Brooklyn, but Indiana grabs the two seed anyways. Brooklyn will have to rest the veteran legs on that roster, which will hurt them slightly in the second half, but they'll be very dangerous in the playoffs if healthy. I think Indiana, coming off taking the Heat to seven, will be a much more confident team. They have a blue collar approach starting with an excellent frontcourt. They were the three seed last year in a regular season where Roy Hibbert struggled and Paul George hadn't completely reached his potential. I like the Pacers chances.
Warriors 6th, Clippers 2nd
The Warriors were the darlings of the playoffs last season, as they become the cinderella team that put a scare into the Spurs. They added Andre Iguodala, a guy who does just about everything above average, to a roster that should progress with another year of age. Stephen Curry is the best shooter in the league and Klay Thompson emerged himself in the playoffs. Harrison Barnes can play anywhere from the 2 to the 4 as has the ability to really stretch the floor when Golden State goes small. This team should be able to score in bunches. I don't think they are a one or two seed like many think, but if they stay healthy, which is a major concern with Stephen Curry leading the way, I see them as one of the top four seeds in the Western Conference.
The Clippers at the two seed is too high for me. I understand they grabbed one of the best coaches in the game in Doc Rivers from my Celtics, but I don't think they have the pieces. DeAndre Jordan is one of the most overpaid players in all of basketball. He's known for his superb athletic ability, but outside of the occasional block he can be a defensive liability, and he can't play late in the game because his free throw shooting is abysmal. Blake Griffin has yet to take the next step, even slightly regressing, and was manhandled and intimidated by Zach Randolph in last year's playoffs. Griffin has yet to develop any midrange game, as he would be so much more dangerous if he could threaten defenses with anything other than a dunk. They did add shooters to help Chris Paul, as Jared Dudley and JJ Redick come in, but I don't think it's enough. The Clips are outside of the top four seeds to me, as the Thunder, Spurs, Rockets, and Warriors all are better in my opinion.
Detroit made some splashes this offseason by adding Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings. Many overreacted to these moves, as both are known for their painful shot selection. Though they both can give coaches headaches, they can both put the ball in the basket. Smith also changes the game on the defensive end with his length. Andre Drummond is emerging as one of the most promising young players in basketball and Greg Monroe is an underrated talent. I think the Pistons will make the playoffs in the East comfortably in the six spot. I don't think they're contenders at all to knock off one of the better teams in the East in the playoffs, but putting them on the outside doesn't make sense to me. The Hawks, Wizards, and Cavs will battle for the last two spots.