The NBA preseason is a time when questions pop up more often than bricks at a Bulls practice. Coaches question their players’ desire; general managers question their coaches’ competence; and fans question why they shelled out $110 to watch the Nets play the Knicks.
We’ve decided to join the fun by coming up with highly revealing questions for the NBA’s Eastern Conference teams. We’ve focused on positional battles, injury reports, and chemistry issues to get to the heart of the biggest questions facing all 15 teams as they prepare for the 2017-18 season. We’ve even supplied props and odds in an attempt to answer each one of the head-scratchers we’ve posed. Let question period begin!
Atlanta Hawks: Who’s going to score when Dennis Schroder sits?
Emulating the notorious 1864 fire that burned the city to ashes, Atlanta’s front-office has conducted a major fire sale over the last three years. The team has traded All-Stars Dwight Howard and Kyle Korver, waived three-time Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford, and allowed Al Horford and Paul Millsap to walk away in free agency. That leaves Dennis Schroder and … well, your guess is as good as ours. The team lacks depth at every position and will have to lean heavily on journeyman guard Marco Belinelli to lead their second unit.
Odds Kent Bazemore will be Atlanta’s second-leading scorer in 2017-18: 9/11
Boston Celtics: How long will it take the team to gel?
Boston made two of the biggest and boldest moves of the offseason when they acquired free agent Gordon Hayward and traded for four-time All-Star Kyrie Irving. The deals have raised the team’s talent level, but they come at the price of continuity and cohesion. The Celtics only have four players on their roster from last year’s 53-win team and may need a few months before they’re firing on all cylinders. Don’t forget that the Heat attempted a similar experiment back in 2010 and began the year with a 9-8 record.
Odds the Boston Celtics will have the best regular-season record in the East in 2017-18: 5/1
Brooklyn Nets: Does DeMarre Carroll have anything left?
DeMarre Carroll was seen as Toronto’s missing piece when he signed a four-year, $60 million contract with the Raptors in 2015, but mostly he just went missing. He was absent for long stretches due to recurring knee issues and his production plummeted to a new four-year low last season. Carroll has a chance to revitalize his career in Brooklyn, but it’s unclear if he still has the athleticism and touch to be an elite 3-and-D contributor.
Over/under PPG for Carroll in 2017-18: 13
Charlotte Hornets: Will this be Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s breakout year?
Every summer we hear reports out of Charlotte about how Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has been living in the gym and putting up 1,000 shots a day. And every year he returns to the Hornets and shoots under 50-percent from the field and 25-percent from the arc. Is it time to admit that MKG is little more than a great athlete and lockdown defender, or is it possible that this is the year everything will click? Time is running out for him to show the world – and Hornets management – that he can reach his ceiling.
Over/under PPG for MKG in 2017-18: 10.5
Chicago Bulls: Is Paul Zipser an All-Star in the making?
Okay, we just wanted to make sure you were still awake. The biggest question swirling around the Baby Bulls is whether the team will be bad enough to land the top pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Lucking into Michael Porter or Marvin Bagley would give Chicago the talent they need to return to relevance in the depleted East. But it really will require a lot of luck now that the NBA has revamped the lottery system to disincentive tanking.
Odds the Chicago Bulls will land the top pick in the 2018 NBA Draft: 6/1
Cleveland Cavaliers: When will IT be ready to contribute?
Isaiah Thomas was the smallest player acquired in this summer’s blockbuster trade for Kyrie Irving, but he comes with the biggest question mark. The 5’9” guard has been struggling with a right hip impingement and may not return to the court until January. Cleveland’s acquisition of Dwyane Wade will help to soften the blow, but the Cavs will need a fully healthy Thomas in June to have any hope of knocking off the Warriors.
Over/under games played for Isaiah Thomas in 2017-18: 30.5
Detroit Pistons: Will Andre Drummond’s regression continue?
If anyone sees the real Andre Drummond, please let the Detroit Pistons know. The stiff who wore number 0 last season was a pale imitation of the rim-rocking All-Star who led the league in rebounding in 2015-16. Drummond badly needs to find his mojo again if the Pistons have any shot of returning to the postseason.
Odds Andre Drummond will lead the NBA in rebounding in 2017-18: 13/7
Indiana Pacers: Can the Pacers build around Oladipo?
The Pacers’ marketing department gave their fans the hard sell on Victor Oladipo after the team acquired the fifth-year guard for Paul George. The Indiana product is certainly an explosive athlete, but is he really a franchise cornerstone? Oladipo is already on his third team and has never shot higher than 44-percent from the field or 36-percent from deep. That’s particularly troubling considering his position actually has “shooting” in the title.
Odds Victor Oladipo will lead the Pacers in scoring in 2017-18: 2/3
Miami Heat: Will Dion Waiters remain locked in?
Big things were expected from Dion Waiters last season and he didn’t disappoint. The burly shooting guard posted career highs in points, rebounds, and assists, and was rewarded handsomely for his efforts with a four-year, $52 million deal. Now that Waiters has his money, will he continue to be a team-first guy, or will he revert back to being an unconscious gunner who chirps for the ball and launches ill-advised threes? The Heat had better hope it’s the former, or otherwise they may need Hassan Whiteside to pry the ball from his hands.
Over/under on Dion Waiters’ PER in 2017-18: 13.5
Milwaukee Bucks: Will Jabari Parker ever be the same again?
Jabari Parker was on the cusp of his first All-Star appearance last year when he tore the ACL in his left knee in a game against the Heat. It was his second such injury in three years and he isn’t expected back until mid-February. Now comes the hard part: should the Bucks grant him the max contract extension he’s requested knowing that he’s damaged goods, or should they play it safe and risk driving him into the arms of a rival team? Their decision could determine the course of the franchise for years to come.
Odds the Milwaukee Bucks sign Jabari Parker to a max extension before the October 31 deadline: 11/1
New York Knicks: Is Frank Ntilikina ready for prime time?
Phil Jackson left Knicks fans with an unwanted parting gift when he selected Frank Ntilikina with the eighth pick in the 2017 draft. It was a curious choice since Dennis Smith Jr. and Malik Monk were still on the board and virtually no one outside of Belgium had ever even heard of Ntilikina. The French point guard certainly has the height and speed to man the position, but he’s a woeful shooter whose attention to defense can be described as casual, at best.
Odds Frank Ntilikina will be the Knicks’ starting point guard on Opening Night of the 2017-18 season: 9/2
Orlando Magic: Can anyone shoot from deep?
Orlando was the NBA’s second-worst three-point shooting team last year and did little to address the issue in the offseason. The Magic are going to need vintage performances from Terrence Ross and Evan Fournier, or otherwise the lane will be clogged tighter than Troy Polamalu’s drain.
Over/under on three-pointers for Terrence Ross in 2017-18: 125
Philadelphia 76ers: When will Joel Embiid be ready to lace ‘em up?
There have been more sightings of Elvis and Big Foot this summer than there have been of Joel Embiid on a basketball court. The Cameroonian center has been rehabbing his left knee since early March and has not yet been cleared to participate in five-on-five scrimmages. Embiid insists he’ll be ready for Opening Night, but the Sixers are taking a “hyper conservative” approach with their franchise cornerstone.
Odds Joel Embiid will play on Opening Night of the 2017-18 season: 7/2
Toronto Raptors: Is it time to part ways with Jonas Valanciunas?
Jonas Valanciunas was precisely the kind of strong, imposing center that every team needed when the Raptors drafted him fifth overall in 2011. He had the size to battle big behemoths like Al Jefferson, and the girth to box out Roy Hibbert and Greg Monroe. The league has since gotten smaller and faster while players like JV have stayed just as big and slow. Valanciunas’ days aren’t numbered just yet, but his playing time certainly will be as Toronto joins the NBA’s small-ball revolution and increasingly uses Serge Ibaka at the five.
Odds Jonas Valanciunas will be traded by the 2017-18 trade deadline: 3/2
Washington Wizards: Can Beal stay healthy?
One of the keys to Washington’s successful 49-win season in 2016-17 was the health of Bradley Beal, who appeared in a career-high 77 games. The All-Star guard allows John Wall to attack the lane with abandon by spreading the court and keeping defenses honest. So long as he’s available, the Wizards have a chance to usurp the Raptors and claim the no. 3 seed in the East.
Over/under games played for Bradley Beal in the 2017-18 season: 74.5