With the NBA season tip off just hours away, I thought I’d post some of my final thoughts on the upcoming season. Here are ten (semi-bold) predictions for the NBA season.
1. The Clippers will go OVER on 56.5 wins (from Sportsbook) and are the favorites to grab the No. 1 overall seed in the Western Conference.
The Clippers won 57 games last year with a point differential that indicates they may have left some wins on the table. They had the league’s most efficient offense last season even though Chris Paul missed 20 games and starting shooting guard JJ Redick played in just 35. The lineup of Paul-Redick-Barnes-Griffin-Jordan played only 90 minutes last season, but scored 117(!) points per 100 possessions in those minutes per 82games.com. Redick’s presence will greatly improve the Clippers’ spacing and give them a solid secondary ball handler and passer next to Paul.
In addition to the benefits of improved health (hopefully, anyway), the Clippers added big man Spencer Hawes via free agency this offseason. Hawes has his limitations, but he will be a huge upgrade over the variety of back up bigs the Clippers trotted out last year and will eat up all of the Hollins-Jamison-Mullens minutes while providing much needed floor spacing (41.6% from three last year) and generally being an NBA caliber player. He is the perfect fit for the Clippers as a third big man.
Whether or not the Clippers have what it takes to reach the NBA Finals, or even the Conference Finals remains to be seen, but in terms of the regular season, they should be able to build on their already successful 2013-2014 campaign. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Clippers win upwards of 60 games and surprising people by grabbing the No. 1 seed.
2. Jabari Parker will win the Rookie of the Year award…and it won’t be close.
When I wrote about the ROY race back in August, I felt that Jabari Parker was the obvious choice, and I still feel that way today. No rookie approaches the skill set that Jabari brings to the table. While I am worried that he might be misused, he’s simply too talented not to shine on this Bucks team. He’s a lock for big minutes and I would be surprised if he fell below 15 ppg.
On Sportsbook’s site Jabari is 2-1 to win the ROY. Let’s just say that was too good of value to pass up. In my opinion, Jabari is a heavy favorite over the field for this award.
3. The Indiana Pacers will have a top-4 defense.
Without Lance Stephenson and Paul George the Pacers will obviously be worse this season, especially on offense. However, there is still reason to believe they can be a competitive team due to the fact that their defense will keep them in games.
Last season the Pacers’ defense was historically dominant. Their No. 1 ranked defense (96.7 points allowed per 100 possessions) was as far away from OKC’s No. 5 ranked defense (101) as as OKC’s defense was from the 20th ranked Boston Celtics (105.2).
Between David West and Roy Hibbert the Pacers will still be a top-5 defensive rebounding team, and they will still be able to effectively protect the rim. Roy Hibbert is easily one of the league’s three most impactful defenders, and his presence alone virtually guarantees them a spot in the top-10. George Hill is a plus defender at the point guard position, and their excellent defensive strategy will drive their performance.
The Pacers will obviously take a step back defensively this season, but even a big step back doesn’t rule out a top-5 finish. Although they might finish 29th offensively, the Pacers will still be an incredible defensive team next season.
4. We will quickly realize how bad Tyrone Corbin and Maurice Cheeks/John Loyer were last season and their teams will look much better under new direction.
Both the Jazz and the Pistons were brutal last season, and both made coaching changes that figure to be huge upgrades in Quin Snyder and Stan Van Gundy. These teams aren’t the most talented teams around, but they were certainly mismanaged last season.
Last season the Jazz were certainly too talented to post the league’s worst defensive rating, while the Pistons struggled mightily with offensive strategy and lineups. Stan Van Gundy realized these problems right away, swearing off the Smith-Monroe-Drummond trio and bringing in sharpshooter Jodie Meeks.
These teams will look better on both sides of the ball this season. Even though these changes may not translate to playoff appearances, both of these teams are in much better shape now than they were a year ago.
5. The Bulls will not compete with the Cavaliers for the title of best team in the Eastern Conference.
Right now it’s the Cavs, the Bulls, and the field in the Eastern Conference. However, I think there are simply too many “ifs” for the Bulls to consider them a serious threat to the Cavs. The defense is going to be excellent, but the offense is still a question mark.
As sad as it is to say, there is no telling how Derrick Rose will perform after two serious knee injuries in as many years. He wasn’t nearly as effective last season in the limited time before his injury and after his poor performance in the FIBA World Cup it is unknown whether or not he will ever return to form. If Rose cannot catalyze the Bulls offense like he once did, there is no way they can hope to win more than 50 games and compete for a spot in the Finals.
The Bulls have no other reasonable replacement for Rose and a lot is riding on his shoulders. Even if Rose is a big plus for the Bulls this season, the notion that Tom Thibodeau can lead this team to a top-10 offense seems unlikely. The Bulls will be good, just not that good.
6. The Warriors will be the league’s most interesting team.
This one is completely subjective, but I think it’s fair. The newly hired head coach of the Warriors Steve Kerr has his work cut out for him here. Mark Jackson has been ripped in the media again and again for his overly simplistic and iso heavy offense, and people around the league have high expectations for Kerr’s new ball movement based offense.
The Warriors have the talent to compete for a title, and an improvement on offense could mean they end up well into the top-10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. However, if the Warriors struggle the spotlight will definitely be on Kerr.
Not only will it be interesting to see what Steph Curry and the rest of the team looks like in this new system, but it will be compelling to see what happens if the Warriors slump at any point this season. Pundits will be keeping a close eye on this team throughout the season. Time will tell if they can make the leap into contention.
7. Dwyane Wade will be a monster…when he’s on the court.
Last season the Heat relied on LeBron James to carry the offense, saving Wade’s legs for the playoffs and using the season to prepare for a deep postseason run. With LeBron in Cleveland, the nature of the situation has changed, and Wade will have a new role in the offense.
While it’s unclear how much Wade will actually play, he will be dominant when healthy (a huge if) and lead Miami’s offense. His usage rate should get back up above 30% and we will get a chance to see what 32 year Wade can do as a primary ball handler. There are a wide range of outcomes for both DWade and the Heat this season, but the top end of that range could be scary good.
8. For the second consecutive year, the 76ers will play at the league’s fastest pace but with its worst offense.
While I completely understand what the Sixers are doing, part of me wonders if this is a poisonous environment for their young players to develop in. This season, the Sixers will continue to push the tempo, avoid mid range jumpers and move the ball. However, they will be doing this with a collection of players that mostly do not belong in the NBA. While this season will result in another top draft pick for the team, it will also mean another year of an offense that simply can’t execute at all.
9. The Lakers will be unwatchable.
This is extremely unfortunate considering how often they will be on national TV, but the Lakers are going to be terrible. While being terrible doesn’t necessarily equate to being unwatchable, in this case, it does.
The combination of questionable strategy, an aging egotistical superstar, and a lack of young talent are going to be brutal to watch this season. The Lakers are not a team I would chose to watch once on league pass, much less on TNT every week.
There has already been a lot of negative chatter about how the Lakers get so much national TV time when Anthony Davis isn’t on at all, and I couldn’t agree more. For real NBA fans, the Lakers being on national TV is a disgrace.
10. The Spurs will beat the Cavs in the Finals.
Unforeseen injuries and matchups will always be a huge factor in what happens in the postseason. Realistically speaking, it’s way, way too early to be making Finals predictions, but I guess I’ll make one anyway.
The Spurs are bringing the entire crew back for another shot at the title, and while the team is getting old, I have too much confidence in Pop and Duncan to pick against them. LeBron will be playing for a new team this time around, and while I do think the Cavs are more equipped to battle the Spurs than last year’s Heat team, I still think the team that comes out of the West has to be the favorite.
In my mind, there are really only four true contenders. Right now, the Spurs, Thunder, Clippers and Cavs are the only teams I could see winning the title. Teams come in and out of the picture every year and there is a lot (all) of basketball yet to be played, so I guess we’ll see where we end up. One thing we know for sure is that this is going to be one hell of a season, and it all starts tonight.
*All stats per NBA.com