Oct. 31, 2016
9 Bold Predictions For The 2016-17 NBA Season
IT'S HERE, IT'S FINALLY HERE!!!
Happy NBA day everyone! After the months of build up, basketball is at last ready to be played, hallelujah. Get ready and strap in for an eight month journey that is unlike any other.
Of course, you may not want to endure 82 games for every team and another four rounds of playoff action. For some of you, that might be a little bit too tedious. I get that. So that's why I have gone ahead and given all of you a look into the future. Ahead are 9 things absolutely guaranteed to happen.
Adam Silver makes some sort of progress towards Draft Lottery reform
Since Adam Silver took over as commissioner in 2014, he has done a wealth of good. He banned Donald Sterling for life, tweaked the Hack-a-Shaq rules and has taken giant strides to making sure there is no lockout next year, just to name a few of his good deeds. He has had so many successes in his first few years and is well on his way to becoming the greatest commissioner of all time.
However, there is one blemish on his immaculate record that sticks out to me as a failure in Silver's time as commish. In case you forgot, back in 2014, the NBA owners had a chance to vote through a Draft Lottery reform that would've curtailed the benefits of tanking. Up until the last few days prior to the vote, sources around the league believed the vote would be a landslide in favor of the pro-reform side. But an 11th hour campaign lead by Sam Presti stole just enough votes for the anti-reformers to reject the proposal.
As I wrote recently, tanking isn't much of an issue at this point in time, due to a surprising majority of the NBA being in win-now mode, but with Ben Simmons expected to miss most of the season and the Sixers seemingly ready to shut him down for the season regardless of whether he's healthy or not, another Philly tank job could be on the way. Should they wind up gathering another high lottery pick, potentially another first overall selection, it's possible that Silver and the league's owners could see this Sixers' tank-fest as the final straw. A final straw that could push through another reform proposal.
Of course, I'm just speculating here, I have no sources and there have been no reports on the subject, but I have a weird feeling that this is finally the year that the Lottery gets a needed makeover.
Everyone hops off the 'Thibs Train'
Ugh, I'm sick and tired of the amount of fans and analysts jumping aboard the Timberwolves' bandwagon. If I hear anyone else say that this year's Timberwolves are feeling a bit like the 2009 Thunder, my head's going to explode. I get it, the Thibserwolves are an incredibly young, athletic, exciting team with seemingly limitless potential, but surely your analysis has to go deeper than that.
In my opinion, the reality is that although Tom Thibodeau is a fantastic coach and he's got an incredibly deep treasure chest of talent available to him, it's going to take him a while to both adjust to his new surroundings and stamp his mark on his new team. This team, while absolutely loaded with talent, doesn't quite have the right mix of players to make their dent in the Western Conference just yet.
I have a few concerns with this team, for starters it's hard to see where Minnesota are going to find enough spacing for their offense to function. Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins are both competent from deep, but aren't in anyway reliable from downtown. Karl-Anthony Towns is a good shooter for a big man, but he'll be spending most of his time closer to the basket. On top of their spacing issues, their defense ranked 27th in points per possession allowed last season. While Thibs is easily the best defensive mind in the league, there are some gigantic, gaping holes on that team defensively that will need time to remedy.
The expectations are incredibly high, I've seen quite a few experts pick them for a top four seed in the West, which is just outright absurd. This team hasn't proved anything and although the talent is there, the Wolves aren't ready to make the leap just yet. If I were you, I wouldn't be buying my ticket on the Thibs train just yet.
Chris Paul makes it out of the second round!
Yep, it's finally happening. After all of the years of heartbreak, Chris Paul is finally ready to break out of his second round cocoon.
Due to Durant ditching for Golden State, the Western Conference is left with just three -- realistic -- contenders for the conference, in the Dubs, Spurs and Clippers. Assuming that Golden State wrap up the first seed (spoiler alert: they will), it will leave the Clippers and Spurs fighting it out as the second and third seeds. What this will do is provide these two sides with a likely second round meeting in the playoffs.
The Clippers have all the tools to take down this Spurs team. Last season, Oklahoma City showed that San Antonio's kryptonite is length, athleticism and star power, something the Clippers have an abundance of. With the Spurs lacking any noticeable frontcourt speed or athleticism, the likes of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan should run riot, all while Chris Paul is destroying a decaying Tony Parker on the perimeter. A second round matchup against the Spurs could be all Chris Paul needs to break his curse.
Fred Hoiberg gets fired
Let's face it, Fred Hoiberg probably should've been fired last season. He failed to lead a Bulls team with incredibly high expectations to the playoffs, while failing with almost every aspect of coaching. He lost the respect of his locker room after he benched Joakim Noah, got basic facets of coaching completely wrong, such as knowing when to call timeout and when to roll out his substitutions and managed to make his team worse by two points per 100 possessions on both sides of the ball compared to the season prior.
And now, he has absolutely no shooters to play in his pace-and-space offense. I mean, how is he going to squeeze any shooting whatsoever out of a starting lineup that consists of Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez? Is there one reliable three-point shooter in that lineup? Is there 0.5 of one?
Long story short, I'd be very surprised if Fred Hoiberg is still in Chicago at season's end.
Dewayne Dedmon becomes the latest Spurs' gem
The Spurs have a frontcourt built for the 80s, with the likes of LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol and David Lee making up the rotation. That trio is a post-up heavy group that also rely a lot on mid-range jumpers. In addition, with their lack of speed and athleticism, they struggle to keep up against small ball centric offenses and protect the rim. In other words, Pop's new frontcourt rotation is Daryl Morey's worst nightmare.
Enter Dewayne Dedmon, a little known 7'0'' big man, with quick feet, a good defensive mind and a solid shot-blocking instincts. Basically, he's exactly the player that this team needs in their rotation to balance out the logjam of low post bangers. Dedmon can be the rim protector and big man that can switch this team needs defensively, while being someone that can roll to the rim hard on each possession to balance out the high volume of mid-range jumpers and post-ups Lee, Aldridge and Gasol will provide.
Popovich will give him ample opportunities because nobody else on this squad fills his role and will coach the hell out of him for the first time in his career (in Orlando he was coached by Jacque Vaughn and Scott Skiles, yikes), making him an ideal candidate to be the Spurs' next product from their factory of gems.
The Pelicans make the playoffs
The Pelicans will always get injured, it's just a fact of life, but this season, they might have the depth to deal with those injuries. The Pellies made smart, shrewd offseason signings to boost their depth, with players such as E'Twaun Moore, Solomon Hill and Terrence Jones all coming in. These signings all make the Pelicans just that little more adapt to deal with the multitude of injuries bound to devastate their squad this season.
The signings of Moore, Hill and Jones all allow for the Pelicans to play in a small ball system a lot easier too. Hill and Jones lineup as very good fits next to Anthony Davis at center, as they both have the ability to stretch out and hit jumpers and defend smaller, quicker fours. This will give Alvin Gentry more options than last season, when he was all but restricted to either going big with a normal center next to Davis, or playing the defensively impaired Ryan Anderson next to AD. E'Twaun Moore's signing helps to add more wing depth to further allow the Pelicans to play in this system.
So not only does New Orleans finally have the right pieces to surround Davis, but they have Anthony freaking Davis. Remember this guy? They guy that just a season ago was expected to be the one to take the crown of LeBron's head as best player in the league? Well, he hasn't changed much, if anything he has gotten better. He is still a two-way force that is unstoppable on either end. At his peak, he is easily a top 5 player in this league, and any team with that kind of talent should make the playoffs.
Serge Ibaka makes his first All-Star team
It's a perfect storm for Serge Ibaka's chances of becoming an All-Star for the first time in his career. He's shockingly the number one offensive option on a Magic team bereft of alternatives, meaning he'll fill up the stat sheet. He's in a contract year, so he's got all the motivation he needs to have a good season, especially in the NBA's new cap climate. And he's also playing in the Eastern Conference for the first time in his career.
Pencil him in folks.
DeMarcus Cousins gets traded
This rumor has been around since late 2012 and it still hasn't happened, so what makes it different now?
Well, even though the Kings have made it very clear that they don't want to trade Cousins and want to keep a roster as competitive as possible due to their shiny new arena, I have a feeling that the ingredients are there for Boogie to finally get traded. First off, this is Cousins' seventh season in the association. Can a guy that is this much of a star really go much longer on a team as incompetent as the Kings? Then you have to consider that DeMarcus' contract is slowly but surely coming to an end. In 2018 Cousins becomes a free agent and given how tumultuous his time in Sacramento has been, what are the odds he stays with the Kings? Are those odds higher than 1%? If the Kings don't want to lose their most prized asset for nothing, they will have to deal him sometime between now and February 2018's trade deadline.
On top of all of this, even though Cousins has got a great, respected coach in place with Dave Joerger, this might be the most volatile locker room he has ever been in. I mean, they acquired both Matt Barnes and Ty Lawson this offseason. They've already got one headcase in place with Cousins, then they grab another two, one of whom might actually get in a fist fight with their star player.
With the Kings' lack of success surely catching up to Cousins, his contract expiry on the horizon and a locker room ready to boil over, this could finally be the year that DeMarcus is set free.
Kawhi Leonard takes home the MVP
The popular opinion amongst NBA fans is that Russell Westbrook will take out the MVP honors due to the inflated stats he will receive in Kevin Durant's absence. But as many will point out to you, the MVP almost always goes to players on teams that win copious amounts of games. In fact only three players in league history have won the MVP while winning less than 55 games. So that rules out a host of candidates including Westbrook, James Harden and Paul George.
So the question we should be asking is, which teams will win 55 games? To my eye, the Cavs, Spurs, Warriors and Clips are the only teams that will achieve this feat. That leaves LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul as viable MVP candidates.
It's hard so see how Curry and Durant won't split votes as co-alpha dogs on the Warriors, so I'll rule both of them out. Meanwhile in Cleveland, with already 13 seasons under his belt, it's about time LeBron took a meaningless regular season off (or at about 80% effort) to rest his body for a push at his fourth title. This narrows my pick down to Kawhi Leonard and Chris Paul. Seeing as Kawhi is already the best defensive player in the league (a whole half of basketball is played on this side of the ball by the way), rapidly expanded his offensive repertoire last season and will probably do the same this season, I see him as the prime candidate for MVP.
Here are my Eastern and Western Conference standings predictions that I tweeted out:
Eastern standings predictions: Cavs, Celts, Raptors, Pistons, Hawks, Pacers, Wiz, Hornets, Knicks, Bulls, Magic, Bucks, Heat, Nets, Sixers— Brad Winter (@BradWinter12) October 25, 2016
Western Conference: Dubs, Clips, Spurs, Jazz, Blazers, Rockets, OKC, Pellies, Grizz, Mavs, Wolves, Nuggets, Kings, Lakers, Suns https://t.co/yMnSv6uHUN— Brad Winter (@BradWinter12) October 25, 2016
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