My Celtics analysis to follow will be a lot more comprehensive, but allow me to rattle off some thoughts about the upcoming NBA season in no particular order, followed by some standings predictions.
First, for more comprehensive analysis about the other 29 teams (aka the “Who Cares” teams), I’d most recommend the Dunc’d On podcast by Nate Duncan. He offers significant insight into a salary-based way to look at players, and his and his co-hosts’ analysis is incredibly comprehensive. I also recommend Bill Simmons’ new podcast and Grantland’s Zach Lowe, especially his 35 NBA season predictions column. But you already knew of those 2 guys. Actually, this piece that I”m doing is modeled after Lowe’s 35 season predictions column, although these are generally “thoughts” and not just predictions. Without further ado, here are my thoughts about the upcoming season.
- Ignore at all costs the talking head media once the Cavs inevitably hit a minor bump in the road.
The Cavs are going to fall well below their under/over of about 57.5 wins for the season, and ESPN and others will act like it’s a big deal. Think of mid to late February when there are no more football games going on and the sports media turns exclusively to the NBA and NHL — can’t you picture every Sportscenter for a week leading off with the question, “Should the Cavs be worried???” because they’ve lost 3 out of 5 and LeBron is in a mild shooting slump? My advice to you is not to listen to it. The Bruins and Celtics will each be headed for very intriguing trade deadlines (assuming Don Sweeney realizes that his team doesn’t have capable blueliners after the Dougie Hamilton trade — damn it all), so you can find plenty of stuff to follow other than the basic sports media BS that will be out there then. The Cavs will be fine, they just won’t try their hardest during the regular season. They’ll still run through the East in the Playoffs, though maybe not as easily as last year.
- The Warriors will regress somewhat in terms of wins and point differential, but their A-Game will be just as good.
Look, professional athletes might be maniacally competitive and have a ton of pride in winning, but it’s impossible to ask a contending champ to be as hungry during the regular season as they were last year, at least in 2015-2016. We have entered a period of NBA basketball in which the smartest teams are the ones who pick and choose their times of effort during the regular season, and the Warriors are not a stupid team. They won’t repeat their historic +10.1 point differential from last year, because on some nights they just won’t care as much, especially on back-to-back nights. But they have the same team except for swapping David Lee for Jason Thompson, and that team was and is pretty freaking good.
- Derrick Rose is probably the biggest X-factor in the league, although expecting him to be 2011 Rose ever again is foolish.Maybe D-Rose will return to form. Stranger things have happened. But fans and media still talk about him like he’s the old Derrick Rose, and he talks about himself as if he expects the mega-max contract in 2 years. I highly doubt it, but that’s still not a horrible spot to be if you’re a Bulls fan. In the NBA, if you don’t have one of the 3 best players in the league or a super team like the Warriors, you need a LOT of luck to win — a lot more than the average amount of luck that any championship winner has. And for most teams, there’s not even a path to winning it all that year. There’s no amount of luck that can take you to the Larry O’Brien trophy. At least the Bulls have that much. They can’t win without Rose turning back the clock or Jimmy Butler taking yet another humongous leap, but even if there’s a 5% chance of that happening, that’s at least 4% more than any other non-Cleveland Eastern Conference team has of winning it all. That’s just the way the NBA is.
- The Bulls are a trendy pick to make a jump from last year and be the 1 seed and maybe even knock off the Cavs in the playoffs. Beware of that mindset.Why are people acting like replacing Tom Thibodeau is automatically a huge coaching upgrade? I’m sure they can improve a little on offense, but Thibs was one of the best defensive coaches in the NBA and definitely a top 10 overall coach. This isn’t like going from Mark Jackson to Steve Kerr. Thibs was a good coach, so assuming the Bulls will make a leap now that he’s gone seems like a bit of a stretch.
- Read Zach Lowe’s prediction on Kevin Durant. The more I think about it, the more he’s right. I think the Thunder will make a deep postseason run at the very least, and if they don’t win it all, he’ll pick up his option or sign a 1 year deal like Lowe says and he, Westbrook, and Ibaka will have 1 final season to chase the ring that they’ve coveted for so long. That will set up an incredibly interesting summer next season, because, in the offseason where everyone is going to get paid more than they know what to do with, there will be 1 or 2 free agents who decide to take 1 year deals with the Thunder for less money, kelp KD and Russ get a ring, and then cash in the next year.
- The Los Angeles Clippers will not give a single damn about the regular season.Once the Celtics proved that they could win it all, the Celtics didn’t care about the regular season in 2010, 2011 after Perk was traded, or 2012. The Clippers beat the Spurs in that first-round heavyweight fight, and now Doc and Paul Pierce will have the same mindset that they did a half decade ago. Health will be more important than seeding for them.
- The Houston Rockets will get the 1 seed.
I guess this is my bold prediction, at least for the top tier of teams. I have way less confidence in James Harden, Dwight Howard, and Ty Lawson in the playoffs than the regular season, but for the first 82 games, they’ll be beasts. Ty Lawson will be more motivated than ever, and his presence is underrated, as far as I’m concerned. Having a legitimate point guard with great speed has to be helpful for the Rockets, and they seem like one of the few Western Conference teams who will take the regular season very seriously.
- Indiana won’t get a playoff spot, and Milwaukee will keep theirs.Zach Lowe predicted that Miami would get Brooklyn’s spot in the playoffs, and that I agree with. He said that the only other difference between the 2015 and 2016 playoffs would be Indiana replacing Milwaukee. That’s where I disagree. yes, Paul George is back, and yes, Paul George is a beast. And we all know of Roy Hibbert’s futile play late in the 2014 season. But he is an awesome defensive center, and Lavoy Allen, Jordan Hill, and something called Shayne Whittington can’t replace him. And I don’t think that Myles Turner will be ready to make a huge impact in his rookie year. Larry Bird is a great GM, but I don’t think that a team with George Hill and Monta Ellis as its 2nd and 3rd best players can beat out the Bucks for a final playoff spot, even if Frank Vogel is a great coach. The Pacers get the dreaded 9 seed.
- The Wizards’ chances of serious damage in the playoffs will come down to Otto Porter.It’s obvious that John Wall needs to continue to climb and Bradley Beal needs to make another leap and stay healthy, but the Wiz have no chance if that doesn’t happen, anyway. Whether or not Porter can fill some of Pierce’s role and carve his own role as well will be huge for the Wiz. I’m still a believer in Porter, and so was Paul Pierce, as evidenced by his awesome interview with Jackie MacMullan. I see the Wiz taking a step forward that mirrors Porter’s own step forward.
- The Celtics will win the Atlantic Division and play in the 4-5 series.I swear, this isn’t a homer pick. You’ll see more of my reasons for believing in this team in my Celtics preview that will drop tomorrow before the first game, but just know that they’re a team that’s lurking. They’re the most obvious over/under choice either at 42.5 or 43.5, both of which have been floating around casinos.
Finally, here are my predictions for seeding and playoff results:
- Nets (Nets will have 5th highest chance of #1 pick. I want better but I’m keeping my expectations relatively low.)
- Mavericks (Mavs will get 9th or 10th pick — let’s say 10th, and give the pick to the Celtics)
- Trail Blazers
- Lakers (Not a homer pick… well, maybe a little.)
1 Cavs def 8 Bucks in 4 games
2 Bulls def 7 Raptors in 5 games
3 Hawks def 6 Heat in 7 games
4 Wizards def 5 Celtics in 7 games
Yes, that final pick hurts. if it’s any consolation though, I think the Wiz-C’s series will be just like the Celtics-Bulls series in 2009: An amazing series that the losing team uses to put itself on the map, and within 2 years they were a major free agent destination and had earned the 1 seed. Celtics will not go down easily, and their arrow will be pointing up even after another 1st round loss.
1 Rockets def 8 Jazz in 6 games
2 Warriors def 7 Pelicans in 5 games
3 Thunder def 6 Grizzlies in 5 games
5 Clippers def 4 Spurs in 6 games
1 Cavs def Wizards in 6 games
2 Bulls def 3 Hawks in 7 games
5 Clippers def 1 Rockets in 6 games
3 Thunder def 2 Warriors in 7 games (As you might assume, I expect this to be an amazing series)
1 Cavs def 2 Bulls in 5 games
3 Thunder def 5 Clippers in 7 games
Cavaliers def Thunder in 7 games, MVP LeBron James
NBA Season MVP: Anthony Davis in a runaway vote
Coach of the year: Gregg Popovich, Voters might finally realize that he deserves it every year
Rookie of the Year: Karl-Anthony Towns
Celtics All-Stars: None, although Marcus Smart will be considered by some to be a snub. He’ll make it his 3rd year.
There you have it. Happy NBA Season.