2016-2017 NBA season predictions

Movie quote of the day:

“Brennan, I can’t even make eye contact with you right now. Your voice is like a combination of Fergie and Jesus. For a second, I think you took on the shape of a unicorn.”

– Dale Doback, “Step Brothers” (2008)

Cleveland SF LeBron James celebrates with his teammates after winning the NBA finals.
Cleveland Cavaliers celebrate after winning the 2016 NBA finals.

The NBA regular season begins tomorrow, which means it’s time for me to come out with some season predictions. For the record, I don’t pretend to be an expert in professional – or college – basketball. However, I like to think that I know enough about the NBA to come out with preseason predictions.

Award winners:

MVP: PG Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
DPOY: SF Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
ROY: PG Kris Dunn, Minnesota Timberwolves
6MOY: SF Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors

Eastern Conference division champions:

Boston head coach Brad Stevens.
Boston head coach Brad Stevens.

Atlantic – Boston Celtics

Brad Stevens has done an incredible coaching job in Boston despite not having top-tier talent. I’m not sure the Celtics are going to take a huge jump in the win column this season and contend with the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference, but I expect improvement. Isaiah Thomas is probably the most underrated player in the league and I think he’s going to build off his All-Star season last year. I think signing Al Horford was a great move in free agency for the Celtics. Horford should help improve Boston’s front-court presence. Also, I think small forward Jaylen Brown will turn out to be a better draft pick than people originally thought – eventually working into the starting lineup and be under consideration for rookie of the year.

Cleveland SF LeBron James.
Cleveland SF LeBron James.

Central – Cleveland Cavaliers

Cleveland is by far the best team in the East. The reigning champions just have too much talent on its roster – LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, and J. R. Smith. Cleveland also has a ton of depth, which will help in the regular season if the coaching staff wants to give players a rest. I hate saying that a team is a “lock” to do anything in sports, but saying Cleveland will win the Central division and be the front runner in the East is the closest thing to it.

Atlanta SG Kyle Korver.
Atlanta SG Kyle Korver.

Southeast – Atlanta Hawks

Atlanta lost Al Horford in free agency, but it gained Dwight Howard. Even though I’m not a fan of Howard, he’s still a beast in the paint and arguably the best center in the league. The Hawks still have veterans like shooting guard Kyle Korver and power forward Paul Millsap. Atlanta also has an experienced roster that has made the postseason each year since 2008. I think the Hawks are still the team to beat in the Southeast division.

Other playoff teams in the East (alphabetical order):

Chicago SF Jimmy Butler.
Chicago SF Jimmy Butler.

Chicago Bulls

After trading away injury-prone point guard Derrick Rose, the Bulls added veterans Rajon Rando and Dwyane Wade to compliment Jimmy Butler. I do think Chicago will miss Joakim Noah, but Robin Lopez isn’t the worst replacement. Also, I think Denzel Valentine was one of the best picks in the draft and I think he’s going to be productive this season. The Bulls barely missed out of the postseason last year, and I think they’ve improved their roster. They need to get better in some areas, but they’re still good enough to squeak in the postseason.

Detroit C Andre Drummond.
Detroit C Andre Drummond.

Detroit Pistons

Detroit has a solid core of young, talented players with Andre Drummond, Tobias Harris, and Reggie Jackson. Also, the Pistons have a proven head coach who knows how to get to the postseason – Stan Van Gundy. Detroit made the playoffs last season and gave Cleveland a run for its money in the first round. I expect the Pistons to build off their performance last year and only get better.

Indiana SF Paul George.
Indiana SF Paul George.

Indiana Pacers

If Cleveland wasn’t so good, I’d say Indiana could be the front runner to win the East this season. Paul George is a top five player, and the Pacers have solid supporting players around him like Monta Ellis, Myles turner, and Thaddeus Young. They also added Jeff Teague – who is one of the more underrated players in the league – in the offseason to give them some much needed help at point guard. Indiana ought to win a lot of games this season, but the Pacers play in a tough division.

Miami C Hassan Whiteside.
Miami C Hassan Whiteside.

Miami Heat

Miami will likely miss Dwyane Wade’s leadership but I still like this team to make the postseason. The Heat still have Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside – both are good players. Miami plays in the weakest division of the East, so, I think the Heat will win some games. However, I think they’re going to be a lower-seeded team because I think more teams are more improved than the Heat.

Toronto SG DeMar DeRozan.
Toronto SG DeMar DeRozan.

Toronto Raptors

Toronto is still going to be a good team this season, but it’s pretty much just a two-man operation up north with guards DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. The rest of Toronto’s roster is average, but the addition of Jared Sullinger should help. I don’t think this team will repeat as the Atlantic division champions because I think Boston has caught up with the Raptors. That being said, I think Toronto will still be a top four or five seed in the East.

Western Conference division champions:

Oklahoma City PG Russell Westbrook.
Oklahoma City PG Russell Westbrook.

Northwest – Oklahoma City Thunder

Even though Kevin Durant left for Golden State, Oklahoma State still has a great roster. I think Russell Westbrook is set up for a MVP-type season without Durant, and Enes Kanter and Steven Adams are a great duo in the paint. Also, the Thunder made a great acquisition in the offseason trading for shooting guard Victor Oladipo. Oklahoma City has the most talented, experienced roster in the Northwest division.

Golden State SF Kevin Durant.
Golden State SF Kevin Durant.

Pacific – Golden State Warriors

Golden State is the favorite to win the West again. The Warriors still have Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, and now Kevin Durant. Golden State’s starting lineup is too good and the Warriors are hands down the best team in their division. It’s likely that Golden State will be the best team throughout the regular season and could contend to break its own record of wins in a season.

San Antonio SF Kawhi Leonard.
San Antonio SF Kawhi Leonard.

Southwest – San Antonio Spurs

Tim Duncan is retired, but the Spurs are far from not contending for another title. San Antonio still has its main contributers – Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, and LaMarcus Aldridge. Gregg Popovich is a future Hall of Famer and easily the best coach in the NBA. This team will still be really good, and the Spurs are set up for another title run.

Other playoff teams in the West (alphabetical order):

Dallas PF Dirk Nowitzki.
Dallas PF Dirk Nowitzki.

Dallas Mavericks

Dallas may not have the most eye-popping roster, but the Mavericks have some good players like Dirk Nowitzki, Deron Williams, and Wesley Matthews. Dallas also added veterans Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut – who is one of the league’s best rim protectors. The Mavericks also have a good coach who has won a title. I don’t think Dallas will compete for a championship, but the Mavericks will still be a playoff team.

Los Angeles Clippers PG Chris Paul.
Los Angeles Clippers PG Chris Paul.

Los Angeles Clippers

Like with Dallas, I don’t think Los Angeles misses the playoffs this season. The Clippers still have Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan on the roster, and have Doc Rivers as head coach. The Clippers also added veteran Paul Pierce to the roster – which adds another leader in the locker room. The door might be closing to win a championship, but the Clippers are still a good team and will be in the postseason come April.

Memphis C Marc Gasol.
Memphis C Marc Gasol.

Memphis Grizzlies

I think Memphis might be the most underrated team in the NBA. It’s a point guard-driven league now and Mike Conley is a very capable one, and Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph are forces in the paint. The Grizzlies also added Chandler Parsons who is a pretty good small forward when healthy. Memphis hasn’t missed the postseason since 2010 and I don’t expect that to change this year.

Minnesota PF Karl-Anthony Towns (left) and Andrew Wiggins.
Minnesota PF Karl-Anthony Towns (left) and Andrew Wiggins.

Minnesota Timberwolves

This selection might raise some eyebrows. Minnesota has some young players who could be future superstars in this league – Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. The Timberwolves also have some good role players like Shabazz Muhammad and Zach LaVine. I think Kris Dunn is going to be up for the Rookie of the Year award at season’s end, and will be a very good player after he gets some time to develop. Minnesota also has veteran head coach Tom Thibodeau – who has had success at developing talent and getting teams to the postseason. Predicting the Timberwolves to make the postseason might be a year early, but they’re still a team on the rise.

Portland PG Damian Lillard.
Portland PG Damian Lillard.

Portland Trail Blazers

Many thought Portland might struggle last year after the departure of LaMarcus Aldridge, but Terry Stotts did an excellent coaching job and the Trail Blazers found their way back to the postseason. Like I’ve said before, it’s a guard-driven league now, and Portland has two really good ones – Damian Lillard and C. J. McCollum. Not to mention, Al-Forouq Aminu is a decent small forward. The Trail Blazers also added Evan Turner and Festus Ezeli to their roster which will help with depth. I expect this team to make the playoffs for a fourth-consecutive season.

finals

NBA Finals prediction:

San Antonio Spurs vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

Winner: Spurs in six

If you know me, you know that I don’t like to pick a team to repeat as champions in the preseason. It’s really hard to do (ask the Warriors) and the odds of doing it are slim. I think Cleveland is going to have a great team, but I think the Cavaliers will face some obstacles that will prevent them from repeating as champions. I know that Golden State is the sexy pick in the West because of the addition of Durant, but I think that it will kill depth. The Warriors already had a thin bench before aquiring Durant, and now it’s even thinner with good players. I think the Warriors will suffer from attrition in the postseason, and the next best team in the West in San Antonio. The Spurs have a great roster with a lot of talent and a great head coach. I think they would match up well with Cleveland in the NBA Finals.

Thanks for reading

Shane Price
Follow me on Twitter – @priceisright53

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