If you haven't read the fun companion piece to this, the Eastern Conference article, do check in for the full scope of talent we missed last year. It will surprise you who was MIA. The article also explains the fun grading system we devised to determine who's return will have the greatest impact this season. Player rank is by order. The pecking order here is star-studded. A healthy year to all!
Jamal Murray lets go get chipped up! (Big Nikola Jokic voice)
This day been like foreva a comin'. Partner in crime, Big Nikola has won 2 MVP awards in the time you have been away, and single-handed willed the Nuggets to success. Bubble Jamal was phenomenon! Nuggets vs. Lakers that year was special. Jerami Grant was special. 2 years on and this squad is much different. For all the respect that closed run earned the 'Baby Nuggets', no basketball diehard thought Denver would have a chance at a 'chip with Jokic going it alone. Why am putting Jamal at the top of this list? A) Every other top squad, still had an All Star running mate to go with it's centerpiece, ie. Lebron still had Russ. Who did Joker have? B) Creative license. For the love of basketball let's reach! There are benefits to being the writer/editor after all!
Box Office (10) : Playoff Jamal/Bubble Jamal was a magical time. A myriad of moves are burned into my head... the up-and-under on Lebron in cinematic slow motion. Dude was the doing Bubble TJ Warren numbers where they counted, in the playoffs! Homeboy unintentionally made Joker look like a sidekick those playoffs, and that dude is now a 2 time MVP!
Team Necessity (10) : This is the Nuggets window right? They've already lost 2 years of momentum. Jokic and Murray did not go quietly in the playoffs against prime Lakeshow Lebron (Lebron, AD, Caruso, Rondo and Co.). This team has been waiting for Jamal to close the circle and get back on championship track. Now with a mostly revamped squad (I still think the Jerami Grant loss was a huge misstep) it really remains to be seen can they piece together a new puzzle for the ultimate prize in basketball.
Career (9) : Jamal's ACL injury came at an unfortunate time (April, 2021) which knocked him out of the playoffs that year and last year in it's entirety. In been difficult watching Jokic putting in MVP work, knowing they short handed come the playoffs. Concerns the previous window may have closed are being staved off with pre-season optimism, and that Jamal will return 100. Elite level Jamal is needed here, anything else and NBA Valhalla will be to far out of reach.
SPITGAN Expectation : Full year. Doing Jamal tings, good numbers, sub-All Star level (easing homie back). Playoff Explosion. Nuggets go deep. Salivate at the idea of playoff matchups with the Grizz, Pels...
Kawhi Leonard, 'Fun Guy' on a mission.
The subplot: am I really picking 2 squads from this list to have better LOB potential than the Lebron Lakers. Wow that is a tough pill. Why have I bet against generational greatness and one of my fav players? Have the swole images of the new Kawhi physique seduced me? No. But let's talk Clippers and Kawhi here.
Box Office (10) : A mere grunt from Big Dawg is a news story in NBA circles, a laugh? Damn memery! Kawhi might have Tik Tok hits on his hands this season! The highlight package? Ever-growing. One of a handful of players that might possess a highlight reel that could hold a candle to Lebron's for offense and defense. Kawhi is basketball Batman. The minutes restriction, just irks us fans that wanna see you run and run. Do you.
Team Necessity (10) : You are the MAN on this squad. Is this the year you and PG go Double Dragon on the League? PG has more than held up his end of the bargain and leveled up in your absence. It's a great fit we have never seen reach it's full potential. Let's see it this year. The havoc you both can unleash on the defensive end too (a bad taste in my mouth still sits from Bubble era where Luka nearly destroyed you guys!) One of the upper-echelon squads in the L. Built Only for Cu... rings. GO TIME!
Career (10) : Deffo. Feels like we be getting one year in, one year out lately and these injuries ain't nothing to scoff at. Let's get back to the steady manhandling the league bizness. LA is my town bizness. Minutes restriction right? We reminded often that the physical is not be 100.
SPITGAN Expectation : Get mean. Even though your demeanor will never break with emotion, I fully expect you to put a beat down on the league to re-affirm the name Kawhi Leonard, is a bad bad man.
Anthony Davis in action, wearing the clothes we wanna see you in.
I'm mad at you too bruh. You ain't holdin' up your end of the pact with Lebron. Stay healthy! Bro wanna pass the torch to ya, the alley-oop was set up for a seamless transition of power and championship seasons plural. Let's get back on track here. You've been out so long, you got a nickname for it!
Why are you not the top of the list? I don't bet against any squad with Bron, but the squad is hella thin behind your Big 3. Big 3 don't make no starting 5 either. More than any team (I mean real contenders) a few miracles need to happen. You for one, need to have one of your healthy, complete seasons.
Box Office (10) : What can't you do? I'm sure if they unleashed you, maybe you'd even show us a capable handle. Game winners, post ups, big paint eraser. A big man that can play BIG. AD is a all world talent that comes with a heaping of nonchalance. Too much for my liking. I wanna see this dude fired up, all the time. Yo Russ, get in here! Pat Bev, lookin' at you!
Team Necessity (10) : Bron still wrecking shop His streak of consecutive playoff appearances broken on your watch! C'mon dawg. Get on the court. You need to be soaking in that Mamba Mentality in the Staples Center, let that shxt possess you!
Career (10) : You doin' a perfect score on this one! I don't think any other player has reached this pinnacle. Tired of the injury shortened seasons. Lose the rep. Lose the 'street clothes'. A talent like yours? A healthy and productive 12+ year career should make you a shoe in for the HOF no? You got THAT kinda talent kid.
SPITGAN Expectation : I expect, the league expects you to play! The only gear I wanna see you rockin' is a Lakers uniform.
Must see TV : I wanna see some AD/Embiid, AD/Giannis match ups!
Read 'The Game Needs Me. Eastern Conference 2023'
Dame Lillard how much did you get extended for? Wow.
The talent is so deep in the West even a comeback article clearly tilts in it's favor. Crazy. Dame at the number 4 spot? Can this squad led by Dame Dolla over-achieve into a play-in game? Will Dame be on this squad by year end to lead them? Will Jerami Grant form part of the potent 1-2 punch the Blazers need? THE problem with this much loved squad is the defense is miserable. In their best years the offensive tandem of Dame and McCullum kept them in it with a puncher's chance, but they were always in gun fights. Nurkic has been a disappointing bet for me, and I eat it road apple sandwiches watching him every time I catch a game with this squad. Actually a few more cats have rolled through and inexplicably lost their defensive prowess over the years. Covington comes to mind. Chauncey, I forgot Mr. Big Shot is coach! This squad feels like a bunch of pieces thrown as his feet, with the tall ask of him to piece it together.
Box Office (10) : Dame Time. Man can score. Man is clutch. Man send people home on summer vacations. Dude is one hell of a fiesty mofo too and always goes down fightin'. Ask Adidas how box office this cat is. One thing, and it's a big thing, play some D, dude. You a volume scorer by necessity, but your marks give as good as they get from you often.
Team Necessity (10+) : What is this squad without Dame? Heart, soul, and Mr. Find-Us-A-Bucket. There really aren't that many teams anymore so reliant on one individual. With you somehow a taste of the playoffs seem possible, without? The basement of the league beckons.
Career (8) : What exactly was the injury that kept Dame out? Dude been ballin' out steady his whole career and it likely to continue. Let's trust that last year was an outlier and set your clocks for more Dame time this year when it matters most! Question. If Dame returns to top form who is gettin' bumped from the All Star squad from the West?
SPITGAN Expectation : Return of the Mack. Dame is gonna be bringin' it per his usual bad ass self. Is a Dame trade on the horizon for the Blazers?