Way-Too-Early NBA Predictions: Dumpster Diving in the East

Can’t wait for the 2015-’16 season to start? We neither. Now that most of the offseason’s major moves are complete, we’ll dive into some ludicrously premature predictions for next season. In the coming days and weeks we’ll attempt to project the standings in each conference, five teams at a time, before trying to lock down who will bring home the major awards at the end of next year. After looking at the Eastern Conference teams that should battle for a playoff spot last week, it’s time to round out our look at the East with the teams projected to occupy the basement. 

Dumpster diving in the Eastern Conference doesn’t produce as many unexpected treasures as it does in the superior West. As we’ll get to in a few weeks, the teams that occupy the bottom rung of the Western food chain are bad, but at least provide some modicum of entertainment value.

Take last year for example. Out west, we had the meteorically rising Utah Jazz, the gloriously dysfunctional Kings, and a Minnesota team that featured a potentially transcendent rookie in Andrew Wiggins all among the conference’s worst. These teams were complete non-factors in the grand scheme of things, but at least they were worth your eyeballs.

In the East? Blah. The Knicks were essentially a D-League team. Charlotte’s season was nondescript aside from a sweet re-brand. Philadelphia ‘processed’ along. Detroit’s post-Josh Smith resurgence was captivating for a while, but fizzled out by season’s end. Orlando gave regular minutes to Ben Gordon and Willie Green.

While no team in the East’s bottom five this year looks like a can’t-miss ticket, a returning superstar in Indiana; Charlotte’s super-weird roster; and a couple of staple franchises kicking off turnarounds could be enough to make the conference’s scrap heap teams worth watching once in a while. There is, however, no way to make the 2015-’16 Nets season sound fun or interesting … it’s mostly just going to be sad.

Here’s your way-too-early prediction for the East’s five worst teams.


11th – Indiana Pacers

Key Additions: G Monta Ellis, F/C Jordan Hill, C Myles Turner

Key Losses: C Roy Hibbert, F David West

In the absence of Paul George last season, Indiana relied on a plodding, defense-first style of play that produced one of the league’s most unwatchable teams. George Hill, C.J. Miles and Rodney Stuckey are fine role players – but there were 29 more entertaining big-threes in the NBA last year.

This season, with George hopefully returning at full strength and Roy Hibbert being forced out of town, Indy should earn a few more eyeballs in 2015-’16. Ian Mahinmi won’t be as stark a drop-off from Hibbert at the starting center spot as you might expect. Mahinmi surrendered a 45.5 percent opposing at-rim field-goal percentage last year – Hibbert was just three percent better. Mahinmi was also a slightly better rebounder than his former teammate, hauling in 11.2 boards per 36 minutes to the 7’2 Hibbert’s 10.2. The kicker for League Pass surfers: with Hibbert on the bench last season, the typically sluggish Pacers played faster, got out on the break more, and launched more threes:

2014-15 Season

% FG Attempted  – 3PT

% of Points Scored – Fast Breaks

Pace (Poss/48 mins)

Hibbert On Court




Hibbert Off Court




With Hibbert no longer bogging things down; George potentially getting some minutes at the power forward spot; Monta Ellis forming an interesting backcourt pair with George Hill; and some decent bench shooters in Chase Budinger, Miles, and Stuckey on hand, there is some potential here for an entertaining offensive team.

However, a boost in on-court aesthetics might be the only step forward for Frank Vogel’s squad this year – mostly because after George and Mahinmi, the Pacers’ frontcourt is wrought with questions. Luis Scola is gone. Newcomer Jordan Hill isn’t particularly good (and was just arrested for reckless driving). Lavoy Allen is a prototypical fifth big man. Plus, it’s hard to expect much more than growing pains from most rookies; the Pacers might have two – Myles Turner and Rakeem Christmas – playing substantial minutes this year.

With some improving teams around them, and a fully-healed George still not a foregone conclusion, that lack of frontcourt depth could stymie Indiana’s upside. Then again, Vogel propelled last year’s George-less Pacers to the brink of a first-round meeting with the Hawks.

12th – Charlotte Hornets

Key Additions: F Nic Batum, F/C Frank Kaminsky, G Jeremy Lin, G Jeremy Lamb, F/C Spencer Hawes

Key Losses: F Noah Vonleh, G/F Gerald Henderson, G Mo Williams, C Bismack Biyombo, G Lance Stephenson

Last year’s Hornets were not cut out for the modern NBA. As the value of the three-point shot hit an all-time high, Charlotte made a league-worst 31.8 percent of its shots from long range, while attempting the seventh-fewest three-pointers (19.1/game). The roster’s complexion had to change, and general manager Rich Cho set out to do exactly that, bringing in a collection of league-average deep shooters with a greater dependence on perimeter shooting as part of their offensive games.


Career 3FG% |% of FGA – 3PT OUT Career 3FG% | % of FGA – 3PT

J. Lamb

34.8 | 41.9 G. Henderson 30.9 |11.2

N. Batum

36.3 | 47.8 M. Williams

37.9 |30.9

F. Kaminsky

36.9 | 27.5 (NCAA) N. Vonleh

38.5 | 17.1

S. Hawes

35.1 | 17.6 B. Biyombo

0.0 | 0.0

J. Lin 34.9 | 27.8 L. Stephenson

29.7 | 26.2

However, though these personnel moves addressed the lack of shooting, the lineups in which the new blood will be deployed remain unclear. Given the collection of players on the roster, the Hornets could very well fluctuate between being a very good defensive team with a sputtering offense and a high-powered modern offense that has trouble stopping opponents.

The projected starting unit of Kemba Walker, Nic Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller and Al Jefferson should slow opponents down, but could find points hard to come by, and fall victim to the lack of three-point shooting that silenced the team last year. Kidd-Gilchrist was one of the biggest culprits in Charlotte’s depressed three-point attempt numbers; he didn’t attempt a single outside shot all season long. The hope is that he will use the summer to try and repair his shattered stroke, but it would be a shocker if he became a passable shooter overnight. With Walker’s unreliable jumper (30.4 3FG% last year) and the clogged lane that will result from Jefferson and Zeller sharing the floor, Batum will have a hard time reviving Buzz City’s starting unit.

However, with a couple of substitutions – say, Frank Kaminsky in for Jefferson and Jeremy Lamb in for Kidd-Gilchrist – Charlotte’s squad could instantly be capable of executing a spread pick and roll offense. With Zeller as the roll man and Walker’s slashing ability, there could be a bounty of open looks created for Batum, Kaminsky and Lamb. That unit, though, would be a mess on defense without the on-ball master Kidd-Gilchrist and Kaminsky’s less-than-stellar foot-speed.

It’s a quirky roster that definitely holds enough talent to be in the conversation for the eighth seed. However, it could take some time for head coach Steve Clifford to establish a consistent rotation that maximizes the strengths of his many options. If that process takes too long, Charlotte could be in a hole quickly. With Batum and Jefferson both set to hit free agency during next summer’s cap spike, a rough start could force Cho to off-load the pair in order to ensure the Hornets don’t walk away without fetching a return.

13th – Brooklyn Nets

Key Additions: F Thomas Robinson, F Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, F Andrea Bargnani (hahahaha) 

Key Losses: G Deron Williams

There’s no need to linger on the Nets. Brooklyn’s depressing outlook got mildly less glum when Billy King jettisoned Deron Williams with the stretch provision. Unfortunately for the poor souls who actively want to watch the Nets, Williams’ random flashes of the past – while rare – were one of the more entertaining aspects of the team’s 2014-’15 campaign. Now we’re left with dunks by freakishly-athletic-but-limited prospects (whether it be Markel Brown or incoming rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson) as the only things to look forward to in Brooklyn this season.

Like the Pacers and Hornets, there is enough talent on this team to remain competitive in the East thanks to Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson and Thaddeus Young, but the improvements made by other Eastern squads should leave the stagnant Nets well in the rearview mirror of the playoff race. At least the Nets own their own draft pick…  in 2019.

14th – New York Knicks

Key Additions: C Robin Lopez, G Arron Afflalo, F/C Kyle O’Quinn, F Kristaps Porzingis, F Derrick Williams, G Jerian Grant

Key Losses: N/A

It’s hard to pinpoint how the upcoming season will unfold for the Knicks. There are conflicting forces at work with this roster that could lead to all sorts of interesting results; however it’s unlikely any of those results will be late-April dates at MSG.

A returning Carmelo Anthony combined with some sensible veteran additions – Robin Lopez, Kyle O’Quinn and Arron Afflalo – give the Knicks enough talent on hand to avoid another 17-win catastrophe. Staying in the mix for a playoff spot isn’t an impossibility if Anthony can regain his old MVP-caliber form while playing extended minutes at the power forward spot.

At the same time, this is not a deep team. After the star power of Anthony, the defense-first Lopez-O’Quinn combo at center, and Afflalo’s veteran dependability, New York’s collection of unproven rookies and uninspiring roster-fillers like Derrick Williams, Cleanthony Early and Lance Thomas looks like an over-sized trailer slowing down an otherwise reliable pickup truck. So while the Knicks – who don’t have a first-round pick in 2016 – probably need to make the playoffs in order for fans not to view 2015-’16 as anything other than a third straight lost season, it might not be possible. What’s worse, if the Knicks do try appease the masses and make a run at a playoff spot, aging guys like Anthony (if he plays the four) and Jose Calderon will likely eat into the minutes of New York’s two first-round picks, Kristaps Porzingis and Jerian Grant.

In reality, the best long-term approach for the Knicks might actually be to play Porzingis and Grant as much as possible this season in order to accelerate their growing pains in a season that likely isn’t destined for the playoffs. With some reps this year, Grant and Porzingis could be ready to contribute on what could be a much better Knicks team in 2016-’17 if Jackson can lure a major free agent in the summer.

Of course, if Jackson is really setting his sights on a future built around his two prized 2015 picks, he could also look to deal Anthony in-season if it’s clear the Knicks aren’t top-eight worthy. At 31, Melo’s best days are behind him, and he probably won’t be around when the Knicks are ready to contend anyway. Dealing his franchise player would surely earn Jackson the scorn of a many a disgruntled Knicks fan, but getting Anthony out of Porzingis’ way, while also sprinkling in some more young assets on this very incomplete roster, might just be the most savvy move the Knicks’ boss could make.

15th – Philadelphia 76ers

Key Additions: C Jahlil Okafor, G Nik Stauskas

Key Losses: N/A

We all know what the 76ers are about this season, so let’s keep this quick.

Joel Embiid’s nagging foot injury stinks. It stinks for the Sixers, it stinks for Philly fans, and it stinks for the league. However, the loss of the 2014 3rd-overall pick for a second season could signal the beginning-of-the-end of Sam Hinkie’s run on the rebuilding treadmill. Jahlil Okafor is now in the fold, joining Nerlens Noel – a player who by the end of his rookie season looked like a legitimate starting-caliber big man (and no, not just on the Sixers).

Nik Stauskas was cast off from the Kings despite a promising finish to his rookie year, but could prove to be a successful reclamation project with steady minutes. Robert Covington also appears to be an NBA-caliber three-and-D wing. There are finally some tangible pieces in place. Dario Saric will be another one whenever he makes his way over from Europe. In addition to those players, Hinkie should have the chance – at the end of what will surely be a long 2015-’16 season – to add another top-three pick to his roster. With a half dozen promising young players dawning slick new Sixers’ unis, “the process” might finally start generating some results in 2016-’17.

About Sean Woodley

Sean graduated from Ottawa's Carleton University with a Journalism Degree in 2014. Since then, he's regularly contributed at SB Nation's Toronto Raptors site, Raptors HQ, while writing and hosting podcasts for Crossover Chronicles. Follow him on Twitter (@WoodleySean), and email him at sean.woodley1@gmail.com if you're interested in exchanging food for written or spoken words.