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NBA Draft Kit: Fantasy Roundtable Q&A

Nick Whalen

RotoWire's NBA Editor and award winning host of the RotoWire NBA Podcast. Many years ago, Stromile Swift gave Nick his unbelievably sweaty headband after a preseason game. Despite its failure to match his school colors, Nick went on to wear that headband for the entirety of his sixth grade basketball season. Catch Nick on Twitter @wha1en.

Weíre less than a month away from NBA basketball games -- real, actual, meaningful basketball games.

That also means weíre less than a month away from picking imaginary teams and spending the next eight months fretting over players whose performances we cannot control.

This week, the RotoWire NBA staff came together for a roundtable discussion of some of the biggest fantasy questions heading into the season. Will Giannis live up to the hype? When is Joel Embiid worth the risk? Will the Bulls score less than 50 points in a game?

Hereís what our experts had to say:

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Most Valuable Fantasy Player

Ken Crites
Giannis Antetokounmpo. The 22-year-old continues to develop his game and is forced to carry a heavier burden to make the Bucks competitive. He just nudges out Harden and Westbrook, whoís stats slide due to Paul and George. And sports announcers, including myself, will continue to butcher his name. Curry, at 29 years of age, is finally due for some kind of injury.

Oscar Heanue
Giannis Antetokounmpo. It would be really easy to give this one to the actual reigning MVP, Russell Westbrook, considering he just averaged a 30-point triple-double. But given that heís going to be playing alongside Paul George this year, Iím going to make a (mildly) bold prediction and say that Giannis will surpass him. The Greek Freak has improved significantly each year heís been in the league and stuffed the stat sheet like no other player last season as a 22-year-old.

Shannon McKeown
Stephen Curry. Now that James Harden (Hello, CP3!) and Russell Westbrook (Howdy, PG-13!) are playing alongside high-usage stars, the fantasy (and real-life) MVP race will see turnover this season. My top three candidates to take over as the top-rated fantasy player are Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

I'll give the slight edge to Curry, who finished as the third-rated player behind Harden and Westbrook in many formats last year. If I were to determine the Fantasy MVP based on the value of a player's draft position, Blake Griffin would get serious consideration based on current rankings.

Nick Whalen
Giannis Antetokounmpo. I feel like I should know better than to bet against Russell Westbrook, but last yearís statistical onslaught will be extremely tough to replicate, even with a more player-friendly schedule. Antetokounmpo may already be the best all-around player in the NBA, and another year of development should only reinforce that. The biggest question for Antetokounmpo is whether or not heíll finally become a true three-point threat after converting just 27.2 percent of his attempts last season.

DJ Trainor
Russell Westbrook. In my mind, there are only two players in the running: Westbrook and Harden. The addition of Chris Paul seems more threatening to the fantasy value of Harden than the addition of Paul George for Westbrook, since CP3 will more directly cut into Harden's usage rate.

Alex Barutha
Giannis Antetokounmpo: Other than being the ultimate box score stuffer, Giannis also one of the few elite players who didn't receive a potential stat-stealing sidekick over the summer. Westbrook has George; Harden has Paul; Towns has Butler (and Teague); Davis has Cousins. Health isn't a concern, either, as he's played at least 80 games in each of the past three seasons.

Alex Rikleen
Khris Middleton. If I had any guts at all, Iíd say Victor Oladipo, who will probably end up with an ADP 30-50 spots lower than Middleton, and is in an incredible setting ripe for a bounce-back. But Iím a coward, apparently, so Iíll stick with Middleton, who will probably be drafted outside of the top 40, but has a realistic shot at finishing inside the top 20. In 2015-16, when he was 24 years old and fully healthy, his well-rounded multi-categoricality (itís a word, I swear) helped him finish the season in the top-30.

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Most Improved Fantasy Player

Ken Crites
Nikola Jokic. Is it improvement, or just the fact that heíll be the focal point of the offense for 82 games? That didnít happen until late December last season. This is now his team and his 2017-18 stats will prove it. That said, itís hard to argue with Alex Rikleenís logic regarding Derrick Favors in Utah.

Oscar Heanue
Dennis Schroder. Schroder is in the perfect position to have a breakout fantasy year. Last year, he took over the reins to the Hawksí offense and had a quietly great season. This season, with Atlanta sorely lacking in other offensive options, the 23-year-old could easily establish himself among the fantasy elite.

Shannon McKeown
Dennis Schroder -- Have you seen the Hawks roster? Schroder will have every opportunity to explode in 2017-18.

Nick Whalen
Jamal Murray. The Nuggets are a decent point guard away from being a perennial playoff team, and if Murray gets a chance to take the job, he could be in for a significant leap in production. Heíll need to be more consistent, though, after barely topping 40 percent shooting from the floor as a rookie.

DJ Trainor
DíAngelo Russell. Pay no attention to the news coming from Brooklyn suggesting that Russell won't be guaranteed a spot in the starting lineup when the regular season begins. Even if it turns out to be true, he still seems like a shoo-in for at least somewhere around 28 minutes off the bench, and he'd probably move into the starting lineup by Game 10 anyway. He's one of the few beacons of hope on the roster and he'll eventually be given a long leash once the team gets over the every position is up for grabs mentality during training camp.

Alex Barutha
Myles Turner. With Paul George and Jeff Teague out of the picture, Turner arguably has the most upside of any Pacer on both sides of the ball. At 21-years-old, he has a legitimate shot to lead the team in points, rebounds and blocks. He's a tough matchup for opposing defenses with his ability to bruise small defenders inside and stretch the floor against slower centers who can't recover on pick-and-pops. The only thing that may hold him back is the overall offensive talent of the team, which could produce many sub-100 point efforts.

Alex Rikleen
Taurean Prince. He goes from an inexperienced depth option on a playoff team to a clear starter and arguably a top-three player on one of the worst teams in the league. That situational change alone would be a huge boost to his fantasy value, and I also like him as a player.

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Fantasy Coach of the Year

Ken Crites
Tom Thibodeau. Heís going to play Jimmy Butler and Karl Anthony-Towns until their knee caps bleed. Steve Kerr is the obvious choice, but thatís no fun.

Oscar Heanue
Brad Stevens. Stevens has a knack for maximizing talent, as he helped transform Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder into highly successful and coveted players. With two new All-Stars heading his way this season, it will be interesting to see what Stevens can do with the likes of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.

Shannon McKeown
Steve Kerr -- The Warriors have two top-10 and four top-30 fantasy players on their roster. No other team can even sniff that.

Nick Whalen
It has to be Thibs. Even if the Wolves run into some issues integrating Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague, theyíll play enough minutes to avoid significant drop-offs in production.

DJ Trainor
Tom Thibodeau. My rationale is simple: Thibs deploys his best players for a ton of minutes in every game. The guy was run out of Chicago for pushing his best players too hard and too often, which is bad for the longevity of your young core but good for fantasy purposes. Someone like Brad Stevens is amazing and is on his way to being an all-time great NBA coach, but for fantasy, he's not ideal because he often switches up his personnel depending on the opponent. Consistency with rotations is key in this regard, and I feel very comfortable investing in the Timberwolves' top-8 players.

Alex Barutha
Tom Thibodeau: You never have to worry anyone sitting during a blowout with Thibs. Last season, during a 125-99 victory over the Lakers on Nov. 13, he played Andrew Wiggins 41 minutes, Karl-Anthony Towns 39 minutes and Ricky Rubio 34 minutes. I can't even begin to imagine how overboard he'll go with newly-acquired Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson, both of whom he coached in Chicago.

Alex Rikleen
Tom Thibodeau. The Timberwolves will probably have two top-20 fantasy guys, and three more inside the top-80. Thibodeau typically gives his stars 35-plus minutes per game -- and all of his starters at least 30 -- and he doesnít mess with his rotation much.

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Fantasy Defensive Player of the Year

Ken Crites
For Fantasy, it will once again be Draymond Green and his 2.0 steals and 1.4 blocks per game (not to mention the 7+ assists). In real life, after Rudy Gobert, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown will earn points for picking up the slack left behind by Kyrie Irving.

Oscar Heanue
Anthony Davis. There are a number of strong candidates for this, including Draymond Green and Giannis Antetokounmpo. However, Davis is a rare fantasy asset in that he blocks shots at a top-two clip in the league while still providing elite steals production.

Shannon McKeown
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis and Draymond Green were the only three players to average 3.4 or more combined blocks and steals during the 2016-17 season. Of those three, Giannis probably hasn't reached his ceiling yet, and he has the highest upside on the offensive end as well. I'll give the edge to the Greek Freak.

Nick Whalen
Draymond Green. Greenís scoring dropped nearly four points per game as a side effect of the Kevin Durant addition, but he remained as dominant as ever on the defensive end. After leading the league in steals and adding 1.4 blocks per game last season, Green is hands-down the NBAís most versatile defensive player.

DJ Trainor
Giannis Antetokounmpo. This isn't hard -- just add the per-game steal and blocks from last season and see whose total is highest. Anthony Davis (3.5), Giannis Antetokounmpo (3.5) and Joel Embiid (3.4). I'll give the edge to Giannis this season since he's likely to play (far) more games than Davis and Embiid.

Alex Barutha
Rudy Gobert: Gobert averaged 3.0 blocks per game after the All-Star break last season playing for the slowest-paced team in the NBA. That tempo might not change drastically, but Ricky Rubio's passing ability is best utilized in transition and I would be surprised if Utah doesnít push the pace a bit more. More possessions means more opportunities for blocks. While Gober may not be as well-rounded as Draymond Green, he's dominant in one category, has one of the safest roles in the league, and has averaged 75 games played over the past three seasons (81 last season).

Alex Rikleen
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid and Marquese Chriss. Antetokounmpo is the favorite to repeat as league leader in ďstocksĒ (steals plus blocks). Embiid, with extra minutes and another year of development, is the only top-50 guy I could see coming in and blowing past the Antetokounmpo-Anthony Davis-Draymond Green triumvirate that led in stocks in 2016-17. Chriss is still fighting for uncertain minutes, but if he works his way into 28 minutes per game, heís a late-round value who could hit 3.0 stocks per game Ė a mark only reached by seven players last season.

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Fantasy Rookie of the Year

Ken Crites
Dennis Smith. The rest of Dallasí backcourt is a disaster. As for the Philly chalk picks, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz will alternate stealing each otherís thunder. But should we expect any Philly baller to stay healthy?

Oscar Heanue
Markelle Fultz. Thereís no reason to doubt the No. 1 overall pick. Heís joining a Sixers team on which he should see plenty of minutes and touches. Plus, he possesses a knack for scoring the ball that the rest of this yearís rookies simply cannot match.

Shannon McKeown
Lonzo Ball, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz are the likely favorites to win ROY this year. I also expect De'Aaron Fox, Dennis Smith Jr. and Jayson Tatum to throw their hats in the ring. But I'm going off the board for the Fantasy ROY and selecting Clippers point guard Milos Teodosic. The 30-year-old has been a standout in the Euroleague for years. He doesn't have the same upside as many of the younger rookies in this year's class, but I think his steady production and solid percentages will make him the most immediately valuable fantasy option of the bunch.

Nick Whalen
As fun as Ben Simmons will be, I think this award goes to one of the rookie point guards. Dennis Smith is in perhaps the best situation of the bunch and could put up John Wall-like rookie numbers, but Lonzoís assist production could ultimately make him the more valuable player. If Ball figures out his outside shot-- which was a strength at UCLA but looked shaky, at best, in Las Vegas -- heíll be tough to beat.

DJ Trainor
Lonzo Ball. Playing time is the most important stat in fantasy, regardless of sport, experience, or even skill. The Lakers are going full steam ahead with Ball, and I'd be utterly shocked if he didn't average 30-plus minutes this season. Dennis Smith, Markelle Fultz, Josh Jackson, Ben Simmons and De'Aaron Fox are also candidates to average 30-plus minutes in their rookie seasons, but I feel less confident in their organizations to bring it to fruition.

Alex Barutha
Lonzo Ball: While his lack of bulk may give him trouble driving to the basket, Ball has NBA-level vision and a deadly three-pointer. Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons have massive upside as well, but they may eat into each others' stats, and the presence of Joel Embiid as a high-usage player means there's no clear No.1 option in Philly. In Los Angeles, however, Ball is clearly the man.

Alex Rikleen
Dennis Smith, Jr. Ability wise, I think heís barely behind the Markelle Fultz-Lonzo Ball-Ben Simmons-Jayson Tatum tier. I like Smithís situation much better than those four, however. In a dynasty league, Iíd take him between fourth and sixth, but heís my top choice in redraft.

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Top-50 Player Youíre Higher On Than Most

Ken Crites
Nikola Jokic. Did I mention heís still only 22? He and Millsap will set each other up beautifully.

Oscar Heanue
Kristaps Porzingis. Seeing Porzingis steamroll the competition in EuroBasket only made me more confident that he could be poised for a huge breakout year. Heís a young player with a truly special skillset and an admirable work ethic. The Knicks seem more committed than ever to making Porzingis the teamís centerpiece, and with Carmelo Anthony being a potential target for a trade or buyout, Porzingis could see his offensive workload expand even further over the course of the season.

Shannon McKeown
Blake Griffin, Dennis Schroder, and Kevin Love

Nick Whalen
Blake Griffin. The injury concerns are obviously very real, but if Griffin stays even relatively healthy, heíll be someone we look back at later in the season and wonder how he went so late in drafts.

Alex Barutha
Nikola Vucevic: Last season, Vucevic posted career highs per 36 minutes in rebounds (13.0), assists (3.5) and steals (1.3) while tying in blocks (1.2) outside of his rookie season. He also played only 28.8 minutes per game not because of personal poor effort, but because coach Frank Vogel experimented with different lineup combinations due to what he considered to be underperformance by the team. I believe Vuc will bounce back up to 30-35 minutes per contest and likely have a career year, especially from beyond the arc.

Carmelo Anthony: I'm not as convinced Melo will be bought out or traded as many other people are, especially with the departure of Phil Jackson from the Knicks' Presidency. I'm banking on him having a similar season as 2016-17 -- possibly a better one if coach Jeff Hornacek abandons the triangle. Even if he does get traded, I don't see it significantly impacting his value.

Alex Rikleen
Joel Embiid. Everyone agrees that heíd be a monster if he stays healthy, but I think my idea of ďmonster upsideĒ is even higher than most. I think Embiid is a lock to average top-15 per game stats, and if he gets above 30 minutes per night, I see him as a top-10 per-game player.

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Top-50 Player Youíre Lower On Than Most

Ken Crites
DíAngelo Russell. I know heís the man in Brooklyn, but expect more sub-41% shooting from the field, reduced assist numbers and a few ugly TO games. The Lakers knew what they were doing.

Oscar Heanue
Nikola Jokic. I donít have a soft spot for all third-year European big men -- Iím struggling to remain confident in Jokic heading into this season. The fact that he hasnít sustained production over the course of a full season worries me, as does his lack of defensive ability. Plus, with Paul Millsap joining the Nuggetsí frontcourt, Denver wonít need to rely on Jokic quite as heavily.

Shannon McKeown
James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Isaiah Thomas, Klay Thompson, and Eric Bledsoe.

Nick Whalen
Al Horford, Kyle Lowry, Myles Turner.

Alex Barutha
Andre Drummond: I'm concerned that Drummond has peaked as a player and that fantasy owners shouldn't bank on the 24-year-old to improve. That's not to say I wouldn't draft him, but his free-throw shooting is crippling (38.6 percent last season) and his offense doesn't pass the eye-test. Other than his rebounding and shot blocking, he looks incredibly clunky and I'm not convinced he'll ever be a more skilled scorer than he is today.

Alex Rikleen
LeBron James. Heís still my first pick among active players in a ďwin one five-on-five game to save your lifeĒ scenario, but if he averages 35 minutes again next season Tyronn Lue should be fired for gross negligence. There is no good reason to put that much wear and tear on his body, and Jae Crowder is probably the best backup heís ever had. Itís not hard to imagine James falling outside the top 20, especially if Lue does make a point to scale back his minutes.

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You Have the No. 1 Pick: Who Are You Taking?

Ken Crites
Giannis Antetokounmpo. I canít pick him as my MVP and NOT take him first. And, oh, hello 52%+ field goal shooting. And also only 22.

Oscar Heanue
Again, Westbrook would be an easy answer and a worthy number one pick, but I have a lot of faith in the Greek Freak. Itís likely that Westbrook, Harden, and other top performers regress slightly from their career years last season as they adjust to new teammates. Giannis, meanwhile, was already a top fantasy producer last year and looks poised to continue his ridiculous season-to-season growth.

Shannon McKeown
Giannis Antetokounmpo

Nick Whalen
I got two words for you: Michael. Bea-- no, no. Itís gotta be Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Alex Barutha
Giannis Antetokounmpo: Westbrook and Towns are close seconds to me, but...(see MVP argument).

Alex Rikleen
Giannis Antetokounmpo. His weakest categories are threes and turnovers. In the modern NBA, threes are readily available throughout the draft. And compared to other first-round picks, heís average in turnovers. Also, Antetokounmpo is only 23 years old and was already a top-five player last season. He only needs minor improvement to take the number one spot, and heís improved steadily and significantly throughout his career.

Mike Barner
Iím taking Russell Westbrook. He wonít have to carry as much of the load offensively with Paul George in the fold, but the Thunder are still lacking scoring outside of those two. James Harden takes a step back this season because he has to share ball handling duties with Chris Paul, and the Warriors are too deep to take either Steph Curry or Kevin Durant with the top pick.

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Where Are You Comfortable Taking Joel Embiid?

Ken Crites
I doubt Iíll have any shares of Joel Embiid. Iím not taking him until the 4th round.

Oscar Heanue
Somewhere around Round 7. The likelihood of Embiid being healthy enough to be worth a high draft pick seems slim. Still, once my team is filled out and I have at least 6 or 7 players that I can trust to produce reliably, I think that Embiidís upside makes him a risk worth taking.

Shannon McKeown
Depends on his injury status heading into draft night, but if all sounds good, I would grab Embiid in the 3rd or 4th round.

Nick Whalen
Taking Embiid is ultimately a risk/reward equation, and at what point he becomes worth the risk willy vary from league to league. Iím not completely avoiding Embiid, but Iím also not taking him until enough of the guaranteed production is off the board.

Alex Barutha
The late 3rd round: Ideally, I would already have a center at this point, so another injury-ridden season from Embiid wouldn't completely cripple my frontcourt. Normally I'm against drafting injury-prone players, but I make exceptions for star talent, which Embiid surely is.

Alex Rikleen
Heís 29th on my big board. Iíd only go higher if I get Antetokounmpo or Steph Curry in the first, and follow that with Nikola Jokic, Kristaps Porzingis, or Rudy Gobert in the second. Then Iíd take Embiid at 3.1. Otherwise, Iím strictly sticking to my big board with him.

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Favorite Deep League Sleeper

Ken Crites
Can I pick two? Norman Powell in Toronto and Dewayne Dedmon in Atlanta. Both should see crazy minute increases.

Oscar Heanue
Milos Teodosic. With Chris Paul out, the Clippers will be needing to fill a major playmaking void in their offense. There is perhaps no better candidate for that job than Teodosic, a Serbian rookie who has twice led the Euroleague in assists. Teodosic could end up being a solid fantasy producer if heís able to hold off Patrick Beverley and Austin Rivers for the starting job.

Shannon McKeown
If we're looking beyond the top 120 or so players, I'm high on Jamal Murray and Buddy Hield. You can't make me pick one.

Nick Whalen
Cory Joseph. The Pacers arenít going to be a good basketball team, and at some point I see the 26-year-old getting an opportunity to take over the starting point guard job.

Alex Barutha
Bogdan Bogdanovic: It's hard to imagine the Kings not giving Bogdanovic at least sixth-man minutes considering they signed the overseas rookie to a three-year, $27 million deal over the summer. Also, letting Ben McLemore walk without protest suggests the team believes Bogdanovic is either better right now or has more upside than McLemore, who saw 22.2 minutes per game after the DeMarcus Cousins trade. Personally, I'm banking on Bogdanovic to begin the year as the starting small forward. He averaged 14.6 points on 43.0 percent from beyond the arc across 28.0 minutes per game last season in the Euroleague.

Alex Rikleen
Richaun Holmes. Back in May, I had Holmes inside my top 90. Iíve since dropped him down to the 105 range, but thatís still much higher than anyone else Iíve seen or spoken to Ė heíll probably be available in most drafts into the 130s or later. Heís a must-add if Embiid gets hurt, and Holmes has deep league value if he consistently plays more than 20 minutes per night.

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Player(s) Youíre Avoiding At All Costs

Ken Crites
Can we call this the Joakim Noah Award? Joel Embiid will not be on any of my rosters. Same goes for Andre Drummond and his 39% work from the charity stripe.

Oscar Heanue
Isaiah Thomas. As incredible a ride as it was watching IT last year, itís tough to feel comfortable taking him heading into this season. There are just too many question marks. Can he mesh with LeBron? Was his success a product of Bostonís system? And most importantly, is he healthy enough to play at a high level this year?

Shannon McKeown
Isaiah Thomas. His hip injury worries me too much. And you want see me taking Jeff Teague unless his ranking drops to the 80-100 range.

Nick Whalen
The entire Bulls roster.

Alex Barutha
Cody Zeller: Dwight Howard is better than Zeller and neither of them are power forwards, which bodes poorly for Zeller's role. I could see Frank Kaminsky getting a bigger share of reserve frontcourt minutes than Zeller, due in large part to his three-point shooting. Zeller's workload floor is probably close to 18 minutes, and with his ceiling probably being around 26 minutes, I don't see much of a reason to take him in anything other than extremely deep leagues.

Wesley Matthews: Matthews over the past two seasons with Dallas: 13.0 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.0 steal across 34.0 minutes per game on a horrendous 39.0 percent from the field and subpar 36.2 percent from three. He'll also be 31-years-old when the season starts, has missed 35 games over the past three seasons, and is in serious danger of being surpassed entirely in the rotation by Seth Curry now that Dennis Smith will be handling point guard duties. It's just not worth the risk, especially when the Mavericks will likely be Western Conference bottom-feeders again, giving coach Rick Carlisle little incentive to deploy his veterans.

Alex Rikleen
Itís not that Iíd never draft him, but Iím not pulling the trigger on Chris Paul before the third round, which is effectively the same thing since heís not going to fall that far. Knees, age, James HardenÖ Iíd rather a youngster with upside like Porzingis, Gobert, or Myles Turner. Note: Do as I say, not as I do, and treat Paul like the top-18 player he deserves to be treated as.

Mike Barner
I want no part of Eric Bledsoe. He has a ton of talent, but Iím not using a high pick on a guy who has played only 97 games total over the last two seasons. Draft cost and injury concerns will also keep me from drafting Isaiah Thomas this year. He wonít match last yearís production even if he is healthy now that he is on the Cavaliers anyways.

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Predict the Top Five Teams in Each Conference

Ken Crites
WEST: 1. Golden State; 2. Houston; 3. Portland; 4. San Antonio; 5. Minnesota
EAST: 1. Boston; 2. Cleveland; 3. Toronto; 4. Washington; 5. Milwaukee

Oscar Heanue
WEST: 1. Golden State; 2. Houston; 3. San Antonio; 4. Oklahoma City; 5. Minnesota
EAST: 1. Cleveland; 2. Boston; 3. Washington; 4. Toronto; 5. Milwaukee

Shannon McKeown
WEST: 1. Golden State; 2. Houston; 3. San Antonio; 4. Oklahoma City; 5. Minnesota
EAST: 1. Boston; 2. Cleveland; 3. Washington; 4. Milwaukee; 5. Toronto

Nick Whalen
WEST: 1. Golden State 2. Houston 3. San Antonio 4. Oklahoma City 5. L.A. Clippers
EAST: 1. Cleveland 2. Boston 3. Washington 4. Toronto 5. Milwaukee

Alex Barutha
WEST: 1. Golden State; 2. Houston; 3. San Antonio; 4. Minnesota; 5. Oklahoma City
EAST: 1. Cleveland; 2. Boston; 3. Toronto; 4. Washington; 5. Milwaukee

Alex Rikleen
WEST: 1. Golden State; 2. Houston; 3. Oklahoma City; 4. San Antonio; 5. Denver
EAST: 1. Boston; 2. Milwaukee; 3. Cleveland;. 4. Washington; 5. Philadelphia

Mike Barner
WEST: 1. Golden State; 2. San Antonio; 3. Houston; 4. Minnesota; 5. Oklahoma City
EAST: 1. Cleveland; 2. Boston; 3. Washington; 4. Toronto; 5. Miami

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One Bold Prediction For the Season

Ken Crites
The Trail Blazers finish 3rd in the West as Jusuf Nurkic fully gels with Lillard and McCollum. Also, Paul George loses interest in OKC about two weeks after the ASG and starts packing for LA.

Oscar Heanue
Golden State goes 16-0 in the playoffs. Iím not sure if this would even be considered a bold prediction at this point, but I think the Warriors become the first team to pull it off. Theyíve only improved over the offseason and their talent level on both sides of the ball is pretty much unparalleled. I donít see them losing a game if theyíre healthy come May and June.

Shannon McKeown
D'Angelo Russell will be a better fantasy (and real-life) player than Lonzo Ball in 2017-18 and long term.

Nick Whalen
Cleveland wins its most games of the post-Miami LeBron era. The East is weak, the Cavsí roster is deep, and LeBron James is motivated. Compared to what James was able to accomplish during his first Cleveland tour -- with a vastly inferior supporting cast, nonetheless -- the Cavs have underachieved in all three regular seasons since he returned. With more rest days and the sometimes-clunky James-Irving dynamic no longer an issue, I think the Cavs can get to 58 or 59 wins if they stay relatively healthy.

Bonus prediction: Chicago makes a run at scoring futility. Since 2010, the Knicks and Sixers share the dubious ďrecordĒ for most games with fewer than 100 points in a single season (66 -- both in 2014-15). This Bulls team -- which had a 103.0 offensive rating with Jimmy Butler off the court last season -- could be within striking distance of 70.

Alex Barutha
The 76ers will finish sixth in the East. Much of this rides on Joel Embiid -- who played like a star last season -- being healthy. But, the 76ers are a young, deep, unselfish team and seem to have a positive culture fueled by coach Brett Brown, who has been with the team since 2013-14. There's a significant talent dropoff after the top-5 teams in the East, and I think Philly has just as good of a chance as the Heat, Hornets, Pistons, etc. to jump to No. 6.

Alex Rikleen
I think the Pelicans somehow make it work. They make the playoffs, and all four of Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Jrue Holiday, and Rajon Rondo are solid fantasy plays - despite the bizarrely mismatched roster.

Mike Barner
The Minnesota Timberwolves will make the Western Conference Finals. I love the additions of Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson for what they bring both on the floor and in the locker room. The Timberwolves have plenty of fire power to hang with high-scoring teams and now have enough defense to really make waves this season.