Real Deal Report: Moneyball – American League East Preview

2017 Real Deal Moneyball Preview & Predictions: American League East

Ah, Opening Week of Baseball! This is arguably my favorite time of year. This marks the true start of Spring and the realization of our last four months of drafting, trading and overbidding for free agents. I’m going to attempt to provide some interesting reading this season as long as my time permits. At least to start the season, I wanted to take a few weeks to preview the season and make some predictions. So during the month of April, I will be breaking down one division at a time and offering some predictions for the season. Should this have been done in the off-season? Probably, but I was too damn busy and now that the season has started, I figured I’d give us some things to argue about. I won’t be using early season results to impact my previews, but past season stats and off-season trends to hopefully spark some lively debate on the chat boards and perhaps generate a trading frenzy.

 

 

Best of the American League East

Best Lineup – Boston Red Sox

 

This was a tough call. It was difficult not to put a lineup with Edwin Encarnacion, Joey Bats, Josh Donaldson and Tulo as the best in the division. TOR won over 100 games last season and their offense had much to do with that. I give the nod to BOS because their lineup is

Killer B’s look to carry the Moneyball Red Sox in 2017 and beyond

longer, overall younger and deeper with productive reserves.

There is not much production expected from the catching position, but the infield can hang with anyone. At 1B, Hanley Ramirez had a resurgence last season and reached the 30 HR, 100 RBI plateau after two tough seasons. At age 33, he won’t be running like he did for the Marlins, but he can still hit and now a full time DH in real life, he should rake again this year. 2B is a solid Logan Forsythe who should see a boost hitting in that Dodgers lineup IRL compared to Tampa. At 3B is Eduardo Nunez who broke out as a full time player after being cast off by the Yankees a few years back. Now and All-star caliber player that can hit and could pitch in on the wSB category. Finally at SS is young stud Xander Bogaerts. The 24-year-old will contribute in all offensive categories except ISO. Infield depth include Mark Reynolds, Jimmy Paredes, Justin Smoak, Scooter Gennett and Luis Valbuena. All these guys can fill in for short injury stints, but will be exposed in some categories if active every day.

Starting outfield features two of the best young players in ALL of baseball. Mookie Betts  should be an MVP candidate and Andrew Benintendi likely wins the AL Rookie of the Year. Both should be Sabremetric monsters. Betts had an incredible 4.7 RC27 with a K/9 of only .11. Benintendi has all the tools to contribute in every category as well. Mark Trumbo should provide power production and was a better Moneyball performer than I expected. He could meet or exceed .350 wOBP, .850 OPS, .250 ISO, and 3.50 RC27. That’s pretty damn productive. Rounding out the OF corp are usually part-timers Matt Joyce and Jarrod Dyson. Both these guys are expected to see higher At Bats that usual but will still sit somewhat regularly against southpaws. 

It is important to note that BOS also has uber prospect Yoan Moncada and Top 20 spec, Bradley Zimmer waiting in the wings. Both should be in the Majors by the All-Star break.

The scariest thing about this lineup, is that other than old guys HanRam and Trumbo, all the rest of their sluggers make under $2M and under club control for several years.

 

Best Rotation – Toronto Blue Jays

 

The defending AL East Champs weren’t just carried by offense, they had a decent rotation for this league. Looking at the teams in this division, they pretty much all have strong #1 and # 2

Not quite these guys, but TOR has the best rotation in the division

starters and most have a decent #3. After that the SP depth dries up with the exception of two teams. I nearly but the NYY here but there are way too many question marks regarding health and productivity to give them the nod. Toronto actually has a legitimate five man rotation which is quite feat in a league this deep. 

 

  1. Marcus Stroman
  2. Aaron Sanchez
  3. R.A. Dickey
  4. Ivan Nova
  5. Brandon McCarthy

 

McCarthy is always an injury risk but the other four should be able to go 175+ innings and give some consistency to the rotation. There isn’t any SP depth on this team and there isn’t any prospects close to the Majors on his Farm. Perhaps the TOR owner will flip some of his highly regarded hitting prospects to sure give depth to the best starting five in the division.

 

Best Bullpen – Boston Red Sox

 

We head back to Fenway for the AL East top ‘pen. It is built in the image of a true MLB ‘pen and will be the strength of the best pitching staff this season.

 

  • CL – Seung Hwa Oh

    The Moneyball Red Sox don’t have this problem
  • 8th – Koji Uehara
  • 7th – Hector Neris
  • LHS – Brett Cecil
  • MID – *Carson Smith
  • MID – Antonio Bastardo
  • MID – Heath Hembree
  • LR – Bryan Mitchell

 

In a league were meeting the five minimum RP requirement is a struggle for some owners, BOS breaks out a bullpen staff with eight productive pitchers. Carson Smith is projected to return in June and will solidify and already deep bullpen that could feature 5-6 guys with 10+ K/9. 

 

Best Farm System – New York Yankees

 

TOR has definitely build up the farm on the offensive side but most of their top prospects are far away from impact in the Majors. NYY on the other hand, was three rookies on their 25 Man roster now (Swanson, Judge, Montas) with another handful of the fifteen Top 100 prospects in AA or higher. You could list an entire lineup and rotation with the top prospects in this organization.

 

  • C – Tom Murphy, Zack Collins
  • 1B – Chris Shaw, Rowdy Tellez
  • 2B – Jorge Mateo
  • SS – Dansby Swanson, Gleyber Torres
  • 3B – Jeimer Candelario
  • OF – Aaron Judge, Blake Rutherford, Kyle Lewis
  • SP – Frankie Montas, Grant Holmes, Triston McKenzie, Justus Sheffield, Kolby Allard, Mike Soroka

 

Final Standing Predictions

 

  1. *Toronto Blue Jays 90 – 48
  2. New York Yankees 78 – 60 
  3. Tampa Bay Rays 73 – 65
  4. Boston Red Sox 70 – 68
  5. Baltimore Orioles 66 – 72

 

I peg TOR to repeat easily with approximately the same winning percentage as last year. The projected records are based on the new 138 game schedule. They will likely be the only team to represent the AL East despite an overall strong division. NYY takes a huge stride as their moves throughout last season already begin paying off with a jump from last to 2nd. They have enough offense to be competitive in hitting categories and they could have seven SP if everything breaks right during the season which keeps them competitive in pitching categories. It likely won’t be enough to earn a playoff spot, but gets them close. TB has another decent season, but they don’t have enough pitching or hitting depth this season. If DeLeon and Honeywell reach the Majors and stick, that could give them a boost. BOS has the best lineup AND the best bullpen so why are the just over .500? They likely will be penalized every week for failing to reach pitching GS minimums, otherwise they would contend for the devision with TOR. There are a few nice pieces in BAL, but the core hitters outside of Machado are getting older and the rotation is short. They can compete with many teams but will split too many weeks to make up for the weeks they get clobbered by the top teams in the league. 

 

Final Thoughts

 

Should be a fun year in this division where the 2nd thru 5th teams cannibalize one another to ensure only the top team makes the post-season. Hopefully there is significant wheeling and dealing to totally screw up these predictions. Who really cares what I think…let’s hear your thoughts on the Moneyball AL East this season!!!

 


Bryan Luhrs

Real Deal Dynasty Sports
Owner, League Developer & Executive Commissioner
 
Major League Fantasy Sports
Writer & Contributor
 
 

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2017 Real Deal Dynasty Baseball Preseason Power Rankings: Top 10

  1. Detroit Tigers

Starting out the top 10 for us is the Detroit Tigers, a 2016 playoff team and division winner. The Tigers have only made minor moves thus far, shipping out Matt Holliday for draft picks, as well as some swapping of draft picks. That said, he is carrying a talented roster into this season, so maybe he hasn’t seen the need to shake things up too much. On offense, carrying the load will be Miguel Cabrera, a healthy Nick Castellanos (who is having a nice spring), Victor Martinez, Brad Miller, Rajai Davis and Curtis Granderson. Dexter Fowler is no slouch either, and another step forward from Javier Baez would be huge. There is some promise in the pitching staff too, though there is one open spot, and two spots occupied by minors’ players. Still, he’s got Scherzer, Verland, Salazar, and Dyson. I think Norris takes a step forward this year too. Plus, if Boyd can put forth some improvements, things are looking pretty good for a team that may only be a few acquisitions (free agency or trade), away from another run.

  1. Washington Nationals

Last year, the Nationals were a wildcard team, coming in second place in the division to perennial powerhouse Miami. They were also a team that eclipsed that elusive 23,000 mark, which was a number that netted all teams who hit it a cash reward last year. The Nationals come back this year with a strong team. In the offseason, the Nationals made a few moves, highlighted by a major deal in which he sent AJ Ramos, Adam Jones, a 5th round pick, and Danny Duffy to the Braves for the 1st overall pick, which brought him Carlos Santana. This is in addition to an offense that has a good mix of talent and promise, with names like Anthony Rendon, Jean Segura, Bryce Harper, and Jurickson Profar. Some nice names on this pitching staff, too. I like Jon Gray taking the next step, and he’s got Strasburg, Britton, Kimbrel. Smyly’s injury doesn’t help, and Ryu hasn’t been the same for a while, but he could be a dark horse to have a nice year. Promising prospect Gioloto is in the minors too, though he hasn’t matched up to the hype that’s surrounded him for a while just yet. Overall, probably a team that has ammo to be a top scoring team again this year.

Finish Reading: 2017 Real Deal Dynasty Baseball Preseason Power Rankings: Top 10

  1. Tampa Bay Rays

Surprise, surprise. The Rays were in one of the least competitive divisions in the league last year. Even after selling off a number of pieces in that Dansby Swanson deal (with me), he still almost made the playoffs. Tampa has been crazy busy this offseason. (Seriously, go check out the trade history for this season). Major or notable acquisitions include Ian Kinsler (who he just traded to me for Johnny Cueto, by the way), John Lackey, Brian Dozier, Addison Reed, and David Freese. Make no mistake, this (like most teams), will be a team carried by its offense. In addition to Dozier and Swanson, and led by Mookie Betts, the team also has Andrew McCutcheon, Howie Kendrick, Nori Aoki, and some bit players who will help too. In addition to Cueto and Lackey, the staff has guys that will help, like Odorizzi, Colome, and to a lesser extent, Boxberger, Gallardo, and Gibson. Miranda, with the injury of Smyly, has the chance to pitch his way into the permanent rotation. He could end up being a nice player that would really help the Rays in their efforts to go on a run and make the playoffs this year.

  1. Texas Rangers

Another team that has made a ton of transactions this offseason, having acquired players lik, Lorenzo Cain, Masahiro Tanaka, Ken Giles, Dan Straily, Kendall Graveman, Drew Pomeranz, Jeurys Familia, Jorge Soler, and prospects like Josh Bell and Anderson Espinoza. The rather-deep offense includes Travis d’Arnaud, Mike Napoli, Starlin Castro, Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, and Kendrys Morales, as well as bench players like Wilmer Flores, Adeiny Hechavarria, Soler, Delino Deshields (acquired this year), and Steven Souza. Some serious depth. The pitching staff will rely heavily on new guys Tanaka, Giles, and Familia, but will also get contributions from Straily, Casilla, Graveman, and Buchholz. Looks like a team that benefit by adding another starter, but whether or not they do, this team will be putting up points again in 2017.

  1. Houston Astros

The Astros, another 23,000-point club from last year and a team that went 44-4 in their division, bring back a stacked lineup. Jose Altuve, Chris Davis, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Adam Duvall, Yoenis Cespedes, and George Springer. Whoa. On top of this, they added Yuli Gurriel and Danny Duffy. Pitchers for the Astros, one of only two teams to win 80-plus games last year, include Chris Archer, Gio Gonzalez, Lance McCullers (breakout?), and David Robertson, but still has plenty of guys that will contribute, like Gregerson, Devenski, and Guerra. I don’t see any reason why the Astros won’t once again be one of the top scoring teams in the league—poised to go on another deep playoff run, and possibly ready to unseat Boston in the AL.

  1. Cleveland Indians

You all know the story by now. Jeff’s movements have been the main offseason story line. Let’s take a look at some of his main acquisitions: Jonathan Lucroy, Jose Abreu, Jose Quintana, Chris Sale, Jake Arrieta, Hector Neris, Aroldis Chapman, and Edwin Encarnacion. Whoa. Who else is on the offense you ask? How about Trea Turner, Francisco Lindor, Nomar Mazara, Tyler Naquin, Max Kepler, and a stashed Wilson Ramos on the bench. On the pitching side, joining the aforementioned pitchers are guys who will contribute, like Joe Ross, Brandon Maurer, etc. This has to be the quickest turnaround we’ve seen in this league right? I’d tell Boston, and maybe the NL too, to watch out for Cleveland come later this year.

  1. Arizona Diamondbacks

A little odd to do your own team’s preview, but here we go. I’ve made a few offseason moves that are worth mentioning, having moved Adam Eaton and Joe Blanton for Asdrubal Cabrera and Francisco Rodriguez; then Todd Frazier for Austin Hedges and Jedd Gyorko (who I flipped for Robert Gsellman), then Archie Bradley, Bryan Shaw, and a pick for Andrew Miller. Then I moved Hector Rondon for Brad Brach, Greinke for Bauer in a salary dump, and Johnny Cueto for Ian Kinsler. In addition to the players mentioned before, I’ve got Goldschmidt, Lamb, Desmond, Pollock, Cruz, Solarte, and Inciarte. Even moving Cueto, I think the staff looks solid. Carlos Martinez, Tanner Roark, Tyler Skaggs, Shawn Kelley, Fernando Rodney, Jason Grilli, and Drew Storen. Desmond is already injured, and there are a few question marks in guys like Skaggs, Storen, K-Rod, and possibly Roark, as well as Hedges and Pollock, but I do feel confident in my ability to make it back to the playoffs. From there, I may need some luck, some moves, or some breakouts.

  1. Boston Red Sox

        

Two out of the last three seasons, Boston has made it to the championship round. Could this be the year they finally win it all? Let’s have a look at their chances. First, the offseason moves. Boston acquired catching prospect Jorge Alfaro by moving Jonathan Lucroy, and also acquired Archie Bradley, Bryan Shaw, and a prospect for Andrew Miller. Other notable additions include Steven Wright, JD Martinez, Brian McCann, and Miguel Sano. Some nice offseason moves, for sure. Looks like a powerful offense, with guys like Xander Bogaerts, Evan Longoria, Joey Votto, Andrew Benentendi, joining those other players. But there aren’t really holes in the offense, as they round out the roster with Odubel Herrera, Mitch Moreland, and Chris Young (With Blake Swihart waiting in the wings.) He probably needs another pitcher or two, but the staff looks good. Rick Porcello, Jameson Taillon, David Price, Patrick Corbin, Edwin Diaz, Joe Kelly (who will have sneaky good value early), as well as Wade Miley and the other players mentioned above, will all contribute this year. In total, I expect Boston to be competing with Cleveland, Houston, and so on, come the end of the year.

  1. Chicago Cubs

The reigning champions aren’t number one? They probably should be, but still, I am strictly going off of the point projection system that was developed. Will Chicago repeat this year? Well, they have as good a chance as any team to win it all this year. Notable offseason acquisitions include Adam Eaton, Neftali Feliz, and Tyler Thornburg. So maybe not an overly busy offseason, but maybe they didn’t need to make too many moves. This is an offense that boasts Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Hanley Ramirez, Ben Zobrist, Logan Forsythe, Stephen Vogt, Denard Span, and Addison Russell. Then on the bench, he’s got Luis Valbuena, Seth Smith, and Josh Phegley. Deep. That’s more than 650 points (from 2016) on the bench. The pitching staff is strong, too. Jon Lester, Carlos Carrasco, Mark Melancon, and Kyle Hendricks anchor the staff, but every other pitcher will be contributing points too, with names like Joe Blanton, Ryan Dull, Jason Vargas, and Kyle Barraclough. On paper, they are as strong a team as any, and barring any major injuries, should be right in the thick of the race later this year.

  1. Milwaukee Brewers

       

Last year, the Brewers didn’t even win their division. It’s fun to point out, only because even though this is true, they still had the fifth most wins in the league, and the third most points (eclipsing the 23,000-point mark.) It doesn’t look like this year is going to be a letdown for Milwaukee, either. Notable offseason additions include Kole Calhoun, Blake Snell, and Francisco Liriano. If you want to talk about having a deep team, how about the fact that this guy has Troy Tulowitzki on his bench, along with Keon Broxton and Tom Murphy. Then on the rest of his offense, he has Evan Gattis, Travis Shaw, Josh Donaldson, Jonathan Schoop, Jhonny Peralta, Khris Davis, Marcell Ozuna, Jose Bautista, and the players mentioned above. Over to the pitching staff, where a group of Toronto pitchers are leading the way: Aaron Sanchez, JA Happ, Robert Osuna, and Marco Estrada. He’s also got Jeremy Hellickson, Rich Hill, and others who will help throughout the year. And you know that Tony has more moves up his sleeve. Just try to make sure you don’t end up scratching your head, wondering how he got your best player for so little.

 

Real Deal Basketball Report: The Finals

NBA FINALS

INDIANA VS GOLDEN STATE

A rematch? Seriously?! BORING!
OK, maybe not that boring. The Warriors won comfortably last year against a 7 seed that went on a run to the finals. But this year’s Pacers are different and this is shaping up to be a really great matchup. We’ve got Steph vs. Westbrook!
Seriously, I don’t really know how anybody else is supposed to win the title for the next three years. If Westbrook keeps getting the greenest light, the longest leash, the highest usage of all time and total compliance from his teammates to pad his stats (see below), there’s no stopping Indiana for the foreseeable future. Blake Griffin. Rudy Gobert. Paul George. Seriously, Paul freaking George is this team’s fourth best player. They’ve been on a tear since the big trades. And Indy still has a lottery pick. Ugh.

But anyway. Let’s do something I did two years ago in the finals when it was too close to call and break down the individual matchups.
POINT GUARD: Steph Curry vs. Dennis Schroeder. Curry takes this one. Two-time MVP. Been on fire with KD out.
SHOOTING GUARD: Klay Thompson vs. Gary Harris. No contest. I love Harris’ game and how he’s developed this year but Thompson is just better and somehow manages to score 20 points a game even when he plays like trash.
GUARD: JJ Barea vs. Russell Westbrook. Moving right along.
SMALL FORWARD: Khris Middleton vs. Paul George. This one is actually interesting. George would be the obvious pick here, but Middleton has been terrific since coming back from injury and especially lately. PG13’s production is just overall better, though, so he gets the nod here.
POWER FORWARD: Myles Turner vs. Blake Griffin. Both great players. But we all know it’s Griffin.
FORWARD: Andre Iguodala vs. David Lee. Two very different players, but Lee is a bit player in San Antonio and Iggy is filling in for Kevin Durant. Advantage Iggy.
CENTER: Brook Lopez vs. Rudy Gobert. Lopez has been really good this season, starring as The Only Player On Rhe Nets Who Can Play Basketball, but Rudy Gobert’s ascension this season especially has been monumental. The guy’s a monster. Advantage Indy.
FLEX: Bojan Bogdanovic vs. David Nwaba. Yikes. David Who?
So that gives each team four advantages a piece. Buuuuuut Westbrook is playing four games this week. That’s a bonus 75 points right there, and that’s probably enough to give INDIANA the win and its first Real Deal NBA championship. Congrats to the two finalists.
Let me just take this moment to say again that I think this was our best year yet. Lots of intrigue this season, lots of action on the trade market and I think our participation was close to 100% this time. Thanks for a great year, everyone, and thanks for reading.

POST-MORTEMS

MIAMI

Miami did something we’ve never seen before and might not see again for a long time in taking down a #1 seed as the bottom seed in the playoffs. That’s awesome. But in round 2, they lost to the team that scored the second-worst point total by over 100 points. The Heat are a team that, each year, seems like they’re still fighting for a playoff position at the end of the season – but they’ve made it in consistently. We haven’t seen them take that next step, but at the same time, this is a team that finished 20 games above .500 this season. It’s a good team. The path to greatness isn’t particularly difficult to see. There are only two contracts on the roster worth more than $7.5 million a year, Chris Bosh and Joakim Noah, and they’re both amnesty candidates, opening up even more cap room. Miami has both of its first round picks over the next two seasons, and most of its important players are either still quite young (Harrison Barnes, KCP, Jonas Valanciunas) or still in their prime (Goran Dragic, Marcus Morris). As presently constituted, this is a pretty run-of-the-mill low-seed playoff team. But things in the East are shifting. Atlanta is not as infallible as previously perceived. Chicago is facing tough contract/cap situations (more on that later). With some smart moves, Miami can easily pass the likes of Milwaukee, Cleveland and Toronto and pull even with a team like Charlotte. The path is there, even if it’s a bit shrouded.
Expiring contracts: Marcus Morris, Austin Rivers, Brandan Wright, Raul Neto
Picks: #23

CHICAGO

This team is going to have major cap trouble next year, even after jettisoning the Jordan Clarkson contract. Whiteside is still on the books at $46.5 million for one more year, eating up nearly half of the cap, and the Bulls will owe costly extensions to Wiggins and Gordon if they want to keep them. Still, this is a team that is still built to win now. Assuming the Bulls find a way to keep at least Wiggins and Gordon, they should be a top three team in the East again next year. Having Durant out for the playoffs was a massive blow, and I wonder how things would have played out if he were in the lineup. With Indiana’s resurgence, Chicago has won its last division title for a while, but that doesn’t mean they’re not still an elite team. Whiteside, however expensive, is still terrific. Ricky Rubio looks amazing under Thibs. Even Derrick Rose was a fairly reliable contributor (as long as you weren’t actually watching the games), and youngsters like Tobias Harris (yeah, he’s still only 24 somehow) can continue to grow. The most interesting thing about Chicago for me this offseason – besides the contract situations – is what they do with Lance Stephenson and Chandler Parsons. Do the Bulls hold onto them and hope they bounce back? Or do they trade them to another team that thinks they will?
Expiring contracts: Andrew Wiggins, Aaron Gordon, Tony Snell, Alex Len, Reggie Williams
Picks: #24

SAN ANTONIO

With all of the injuries they had this year, the Spurs were kind of like the West’s version of the Cavs (three stars and little help elsewhere), except they’re way more sustainable and projectable. Despite scoring the most points during the regular season, this team really begins and ends with the big three of Kawhi Leonard, Karl Towns and Andre Drummond. The Spurs had a mixed experience with good luck and bad this season. Wilson Chandler and Trevor Booker both had career years, but Jeremy Lin and Evan Turner missed big chunks of the season out injured. Kawhi looks like an MVP and KAT made the next step forward, but Drummond regressed. It’s really a shame everything didn’t click at the same time for this team, but at the same time it’s kind of hard to feel bad for them when they started things off with Kawhi and fell into the #1 pick, which happened to turn into a generational big man. Make no mistake: this team will be back with a vengeance next season. With no meaningful expiring contracts and healthy cap space, I’m expecting this team to do some minor re-tooling and remain a top 3 seed in the West.

Expiring contracts: Kosta Koufos, Tyler Ennis, Nicola Laprovittola
Picks: none

NEW ORLEANS

For a long time, the Pelicans were a sleeping giant. I complained about them constantly, pointing out all of the assets they had that they could be using to be a contender. After two mediocre years, the beast finally stirred as New Orleans claimed the West’s top seed. Finally, the team with Anthony Davis and Kyrie Irving made the freaking playoffs already. This has very much been a work in progress: over the past two seasons, star after star was brought in. LaMarcus Aldridge and Eric Bledsoe last year. Isaiah Thomas and Jrue Holiday this year. Joel Embiid became a living meme, but also a really good basketball player in the 12 minutes he played this season. MKG and Taj Gibson are terrific role players for this team. And Ben Simmons will play (lol, maybe) next season. The scariest part about this team? They’re still so freaking young. AD is 24. Kyrie just turned 25. Embiid just turned 23. Simmons will be 21 at the start of next season. Even Bledsoe and Thomas are still in their prime at 27 and 28, respectively. Like their rival Spurs, New Orleans fell victim to some poorly-timed injuries. They could have won it all this year. But they’ll be back next season.
Expiring contracts: Joel Embiid, Reggie Bullock
Picks: none

MILWAUKEE

The Bucks defied my expectations all year long. I ranked them as a borderline playoff team in my preseason rankings, but they were a good 5th seed and made it all the way to the conference finals. I’ve trashed this team’s strength of schedule enough; it’s time to give credit where credit is due. I did not expect Giannis to be this good this quickly. And the dude is still only 22. Elfrid Payton transformed from a can’t-shoot, can’t-actually-really-do-anything point guard into someone who has nearly averaged a triple double over the last month (?!?!?!?!?!). Serge Ibaka is still good, and so is Thad Young, kinda. Delon Wright looks legit. It’s a shame Lord Bob missed most of the playoffs – that guy is for real. Bebe Nogueira’s development has been encouraging. The Bucks will return with a solid core next season, but a lack of picks and fairly modest cap room will limit how much better this team can get. Ultimately, though, the sky’s the limit when you’ve got Giannis. This is a team to keep an eye on after an improbably, really fun to watch conference finals run. They were just no match for Indiana.
Expiring contracts: Elfird Payton, Solomon Hill, Semaj Christon, Treveon Graham, Michael Gbinije
Picks: none

PORTLAND

Hell of a year for the Blazers, due majorly in part to some majorly beneficial trades. This team went from selling off LaMarcus Aldridge for picks to reaching the conference finals. Well done. Utah was my pick to win the division before the season, and Portland started off by trading Porzingis for DeAndre Jordan, so my expectations weren’t extremely high for this team. The Blazers started off red hot, fell behind Utah for a stretch, and roared back at the end of the year to win the title and ride a hot streak to the finals. Damian Lillard has fallen out of favor a bit in some circles but was still dominant this season. Jimmy Butler was phenomenal and the Blazers will be keeping an eye on where he goes this summer. Jordan was an upgrade over Porzingis, at least for this year. I worried about this team’s depth at the start of the year, but now it’s one of the deeper squads in the league. Terrence Ross, Meyers Leonard and two picks turned into Pau Gasol and Dirk Nowitzki. Then Pau Gasol and a pick turned into Jae Crowder, Tim Hardaway and Pat Beverley. Portland is probably the team that improved the most over the course of the season (except Indiana), evidenced by their thrilling playoffs run. The Blazers won’t have to do much this offseason; they’ll come into next year with three 50 PPG players, a solid supporting cast and developing youngsters like Rodney Hood, Mo Harkless and Hardaway.
Expiring contracts: Rodney Hood, Nik Stauskas
Picks: #28