Give me one team in the East and one team in the West who will have the most improved W-L record in 2016-17.
David Aldridge: East: Philadelphia (10-72 last season). Pretty easy call, considering there's an actual basketball team now residing in the 215. The arrival of Joel Embiid and Dario Saric (and Gerald Henderson and Sergio Rodriguez) gives the Sixers real options at the ends of games, not to mention that Philly will actually win a few games comfortably this season. Blowout wins have been rare in the Illadelph lately. No playoffs yet, but a +20 win improvement isn't out of the question.
West: Minnesota (29-53). I wanted to pick Denver, but just see the Wolves making a slightly bigger jump under Thibs, who will maximize those young legs to wreak defensive havoc and get them up near .500.
Steve Aschburner: This really is just a weight-loss question in reverse, with L's as the stubborn pounds one wants to drop. A slightly out-of-shape athlete might have to work harder at the better regimen, but each pound dropped is tough – that's the good team trying to improve, say, from Indiana's 45 victories to 50 and beyond. But a really overweight fellow can make a few simple lifestyle changes – in this metaphor, a team like Philadelphia – and watch excess poundage slip away in the early stages of makeover. So where does that put my answers? Give me the 76ers in the East – they can add a dozen victories, more than my guess for any other East team, even if they're still losing 60. In the West, Minnesota is my pick, boosting last season's 29 victories by double digits thanks to a maturing core and a new culture.
Fran Blinebury: In the East, with a healthy Ben Simmons, I’d have gone with Philly. But now I’ll say the Knicks, knowing that it’s a gamble on the health of Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose. If all goes well, I could see the Knicks going up by 10 wins and reaching the .500 mark. In the West, I’m hitching my wagon to Tom Thibodeau and the TimberPups. They should make a run for the final playoff spot with a double-digit increase in wins.
Scott Howard-Cooper: West: The Timberwolves. Although the Lakers are a good possibility because they have the most room to grow after winning just 17 games, Minnesota is obviously headed in a very good direction. I won’t pick the Wolves for the playoffs, but jumping from 29 wins last season to somewhere in the 40-42 range is realistic with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins a year older and Tom Thibodeau as coach. East: Fine, I’ll say it. The 76ers. With Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, Gerald Henderson, Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez as new additions, plus maybe Ben Simmons, and if Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor stay healthy, Philly could get to 20 wins. That’s a 100-percent improvement. Let’s see someone else top that.
Shaun Powell: The Knicks could post a double-digit improvement, which says more about how wretched last season was, if anything. Not sold on New York winning anywhere close to 50 games unless Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah have throwback seasons. Same for the Lakers; after 17 wins, everything is up. The real improvement in the West lies with the Tom Thibodeau Wolves who, unlike LA, has playoff aspirations.
John Schuhmann: In the East, the Sixers (10-72) would be the easy answer if Ben Simmons was healthy. And even though he's hurt, they're still my answer, because the jump from 10 wins to 20 isn't as big of a deal as the jump any other team in the East would have to make. They added some veteran talent and upgraded at point guard by bringing in Sergio Rodriguez. In the West, both Minnesota (29-53) and Utah (40-42) could see a double-digit jump. The Wolves will see improvement from their young players and their defense. The Jazz, meanwhile, had the point differential of a 47-win team last year. With better luck late in games and a huge upgrade at point guard, they could get to 50.
Sekou Smith: We expected big things out of the Milwaukee Bucks last season and they fell short of those expectations. They don't come into this season with the same hype, which is exactly why I believe they could see anywhere from a 10-12 win improvement this time around. I'm a believer in what they are building. The Phoenix Suns, led by a future star in Devin Booker, could see similar improvement in the Western Conference. The Suns might not be ready for a playoff chase, but they could certainly see a dramatic improvement in wins.
Ian Thomsen: New York and Minnesota are the obvious choices. Though the Knicks ought to be worried about the health of their imports, they should be positioned for more than 40 wins and a run at the playoffs. The Timberwolves will be focused on defense and new coach Tom Thibodeau will not accept their youth as an excuse. They are going to be one of the most intriguing teams of the early season.