The NBA 2017-2018 season officially tips off on October 17th, 2017 with the Cleveland Cavaliers hosting the Boston Celtics and the Golden State Warriors hosting the Houston Rockets. While the Warriors are looking to repeat as champions, LeBron James is looking to lead his Cavaliers to a fourth straight Finals appearance and an eighth straight Finals run personally. The 2017-2018 season looks to be one that will be filled with high levels of excitement, from the tantalizing talent of this year’s rookie class to the shocking moves that were made during the offseason. With that being said, here are a look at some of the things to consider when handicapping the NBA divisions.
Key Offseason Trades And Signings
In the NBA, since the court is shared by only five players, a major acquisition of a star or superstar player may significantly propel a team to the status of championship contender or shoo-in division winner. Likewise, losing a star or superstar player may relegate a team to the status as a bottom feeder. This is none so more evident than in the case of LeBron James. When James left his hometown Cleveland in 2010, the Cavaliers went from a powerhouse in the East to the bottom of the league, while propelling the Miami Heat to an instant dynasty. When James decided to return to Cleveland in 2014, the Cavaliers ended up making the Finals every year while the Miami Heat became a borderline playoff team. When handicapping divisions, key offseason trades and signings must be taken into account when comparing a team from year-to-year.
Relative Strength Of Each Team Within A Division
As always, some divisions are much more stacked than other divisions in the NBA. As a result, it is important to consider the relative strength of each team within a division. If a particular division looks like it will be dominated by one particular team, that team will likely run away with the division title, assuming no major injuries to star players occur or no landscape-altering trades happen. On the flipside, if a particular division has three to four teams that seem to be neck-in-neck with each other in terms of how they look entering the season, that division will be much more difficult to handicap and pick an outright winner due to the fact that any injury to a starter (or even a key role player) or trading for or trading away a starter may significantly impact the team’s win-loss record. It is important to not place emphasis on either one of these extremes. Instead, you should look for value within divisions somewhere in the middle of these two end poles.
Once in a while, a rookie selected in the NBA draft ends up having a significant impact on the success of a team and vastly improving that team’s record compared to the prior year. Rookies with the potential to accumulate heavy minutes or rookies with extremely high ceilings must be analyzed to determine how much impact they will have on their respective teams. Although the rookie’s impact on his team and the rookie’s projected performance during the season are difficult to predict, both of these possibilities must be accounted for.
Although the timeframe of the 2017-2018 NBA regular season was lengthened to lessen the number of back-to-back games, schedules of different teams are still varied in terms of how favourable they appear to be. If one team in a division appears to have a much easier schedule in terms of distances travelled, that team may end up gaining an extra one or two wins over the course of the season simply because they will not be as fatigued and worn out by the way that their schedule was constructed. As a result, schedules of teams within a division must be scrutinized to ensure that no team receives a significant advantage in this regard.