Well, that offseason quickly. Let’s talk expectations/predictions for 2016-17. Once again, we appear locked in with prohibitive favorites (Golden State and Cleveland) and some legit contenders who might be able to score an upset if everything breaks right. Here’s a quick rundown of the conferences:
The Cavs are still the class of the East and have, by far, the best player in the East in LeBron James. Are there any arguments that the Cavs won’t win the conference? Sure. LeBron or Kyrie Irving could get hurt or LBJ could just simply run out of gas. As has been noted, LeBron has been to six straight NBA Finals and, in the modern NBA, no one has really come close to that mark.
Despite these possible issues, I just don’t see how that Cavs miss the Finals again. The sole serious threats to Cleveland are Boston and Toronto. Both are good teams but neither appears to be ready to leap up. Toronto rise and falls with Kyle Lowry, who was at his absolute peak last season. Lowry is more likely to regress slightly than stay the same or get better and they don’t have any other players who look ready to improve either.
As for Boston, they are balance, well-coached, and have a huge addition in Al Horford. Their avenue for making a huge leap will be on defense, where they were a solid 13th but have some room to improve. Interestingly, they have lost two of their three best players via win shares (Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger). Still, the Celtics solid defense appears to be more a result of coaching and slotting Horford for Sullinger should be an improvement. The total effect means that Boston is an upward trajectory and should be very competitive this season but not quite in Cleveland’s class.
After those three teams, we have mishmash of teams trying to get those last five slots. All of this group has one major weakness or another (if not more). Detroit, even without Reggie Jackson, still has a solid team, Andre Drummond, and a tough defensive coach. Washington, Orlando, Atlanta, Indiana, New York, Chicago, and Charlotte, all appear to have some shot at the playoffs. Finally, Miami will probably nuke their team and the Nets and Philly just aren’t good at this time.
- Hawks (I don’t like their off-season moves but they are well-coached and still solid enough)
- Charlotte Hornets
- Indiana Pacers (Coaching change and losing George Hill are net losses)
- Orlando Magic (A little heavy in the frontcourt)
- Chicago Bulls (I just don’t believe they will shoot well)
- New York Knicks (Derrick Rose gambit makes little sense and Joakim Noah is too injury prone at this point)
- Milwaukee Bucks (Khris Middleton injury kills them)
- Miami Heat (Rebuild appears to be looming)
- Brooklyn Nets
- Philadelphia 76ers (At least they are definitely trying!).
In the West, all the talk is of super teams. Are they good or bad? The answer is clear. Super teams are great for the NBA. The NBA is a star driven league and more fans will flock to watch Golden State now. It is possible that having a super dynasty could be tiresome at some point but no one got sick of Michael Jordan’s Bulls, so it would take quite a while for Golden State to get to the point of fan fatigue. Further, most fans don’t really appreciate the battle of very good teams without glitz (I don’t remember anyone waxing nostalgically for Nets/Spurs 2003 Finals). So, this narrative against super teams is mostly silly.
The second part of the super team talk is whether Kevin Durant is taking the easy way out and joining a great team. The answer to this question is similar to the answer we had when people questioned LeBron’s jump to play with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in 2010. KD is sort of taking the easy way out but who cares? He wasn’t winning in OKC and he will ultimately be historically judged by how many rings he wins (this isn’t fair way to judge most players but that’s the way most people do it). So, why not go to the best team you can?
As for play on the court in 2016-17, it’s hard to see anyone beating the Warriors. Yes, the Cavs beat them last year but it took: (1) Steph Curry being somewhat hampered by his knee, (2) Harrison Barnes’ shot going AWOL, (3) Draymond Green getting suspended, (4) Andrew Bogut getting injured, and (5) LeBron playing at a supernatural level. Even after all this, the Cavs still barely won. The Cavs certainly earned their title but the margin was thin and there is little reason to think the stars will align again to keep the best team from getting the title this season.
The competition in the West has degraded a bit from years past. The Spurs are still GS’s primary threat in the West but have lost Tim Duncan. TD was the Spurs’ best player by DPM and replacing him will require more from LaMarcus Aldridge (who is great in PER but curiously tepid in VORP and BPM) and Pau Gasol. Gasol has gotten mixed reviews defensively but DPM still likes him (he actually had a career high last year). The fact is that Kawhi Leonard has been and is the Spurs best player and even without TD and aging to Tony Parker, this team should still be really good again.
The next tier below the Spurs is very high variance in the sense that we see teams that could win 50 games or be below .500. The Clippers look like the third best team because of the Chris Paul-Blake Griffin-DeAndre Jordan core but the rest of the rotation is not good. Utah has fared really well in the projection models with George Hill and Dante Exum in the backcourt. The Rockets are talented but require a return to acceptable team defense, which is not necessarily a Mike D’Antoni forte. A lot went right for Portland last year but Damian Lillard and depth should be enough to make them pretty good again.
There will be a scramble for the final two playoff slots between Oklahoma City Thunder sans Durant, the aging teams (Grizzlies/Mavs), and the talented newbies (T-Wolves/Nuggets). The Hornets have Anthony Davis and not much else. The Kings have a bit of talent but are a total mess on the management end. The Suns and Lakers will be bad.
- Timberwolves (Thibodeau and the developing young talent should help jolt this team up a bit)
- Grizzlies (Getting older but still just enough to beat the pack)
- Thunder (Don’t think they have enough to win the battle for the eight-seed)
- Nuggets (Intriguing young bigs)
- Pelicans (I get the sneaking suspicion that AD’s peak years will be wasted)
- Mavericks (Trying to compete for Dirk’s sake but the talent isn’t there)
- Kings (Rudy Gay said it best)
NBA Finals: Warriors over Cavs, 4-1.
MVP: Kevin Durant
Rookie of the Year: Buddy Hield