Every season there’s always interesting questions to be answered like: Wilt or Russell, 95′ Bulls or 86′ Celtics, and did David Stern really freeze the envelope? Don’t worry, the LWOS NBA 4 for 5 Crew (four writers/five questions) has got you covered!
After breaking down each individual team’s two key factors to success, in addition to previewing all six divisions, it’s time for some official predictions. Be sure to check out our Coast 2 Coast podcast preview of the season, and kick off the NBA tipoff with our LWOS NBA Predictions Roundtable!
LWOS NBA Predictions Roundtable
Who wins Rookie of the Year?
Chris Voloschuck, Pro Basketball Contributor: Buddy Hield, SG, New Orleans Pelicans. With Tyreke Evans and Quincy Pondexter both nursing injuries, Hield, the sixth-overall pick in June, will have plenty of opportunities to help the young Pelicans with his explosive scoring ability. He averaged 25.0 points per game for Oklahoma last season while shooting just over 50 percent from the field (45 percent in threes), and brings with him a level of maturity at age 22 that many of his fellow rookies might not have yet.
Daniel Scheer, Pro Basketball Contributor: With Ben Simmons out for a good chunk of the year, the rookie of the year award is up for grabs. With that being said, I’m giving my vote to Buddy Hield. The 6″4 phenom was the focal point for a very offensive Oklahoma team in college and i can very well picture that happening again in New Orleans alongside one of the best in the business, Anthony Davis.
Harrison Marcus, Senior Basketball Editor: Ben Simmons is out indefinitely with a fractured foot, which makes this year’s Rookie of the Year battle a more compelling competition. Joel Embiid and Brandon Ingram should enjoy plenty of success this year, but I have to go with the former Providence guard Kris Dunn. The Wolves selected him fifth overall with the expectation he becomes their starting point guard of the future. If Ricky Rubio gets hurt or is traded – which are both likely situations – then expect Dunn to see plenty of minutes and thrive alongside a young and talented Minnesota team. Kris Dunn is a big time talent.
Joe Garcia, Pro Football and Pro Basketball Contributor: Kris Dunn. Web Search NBA Rookie of the Year and Kris Dunn, and you can’t help but coming across Ricky Rubio trade rumors. And it makes perfect sense. Thibs loves defense (Dunn), and needs someone that can run the offense and shoot (not Rubio). Working in favor of Dunn too, rumors of Rubio and Dunn playing simultaneously. An experimental coach + a rookie in need of huge minutes.. When’s the last time a team had back-to-back-to-back ROY’s!?
Which contender is actually the biggest pretender this year?
Voloschuk: Los Angeles Clippers. There remains nothing truly scary about this team, and everyone is another year older. They’re good enough to win 50 games and a top-four seed, but they will probably lose before the conference finals, because there’s just something missing with this group, even though it features a Hall of Fame floor general Chris Paul. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan will combine to form, arguably, the most athletic front court in the league, but it hasn’t helped get the team past the second round of the playoffs in any of their seasons together. Head coach-general manager Doc Rivers was able to bring back Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers and Paul Pierce, and added depth by signing Brandon Bass, Marreese Speights, Raymond Felton and Alan Anderson. J.J. Redick, Wesley Johnson and Luc Mbah Moute are all back to round out the rotation. But the core that has underachieved will remain the same, and Rivers has yet to recapture the magic that led to two Finals appearances and a title in Boston. A rebuild may not be far off for this team.
Scheer: New York Knicks. This one was also a tough one to decide but I had to give my nod to the Knicks as the most overrated team going into the 2016-2017 season. The Knicks just acquired injury prone Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, signed Courtney Lee and Brandon Jennings, and while they could all be effective players, people are already penciling this team getting into the playoffs before even playing one game. No one knows how this team will mesh as a group, so it will be exciting to see how they work together once the season starts. Right now, though, I don’t see much reason to believe this team will be that much improved.
Marcus: The Atlanta Hawks. They lost two of the franchise’s best players over the past half decade in Jeff Teague and Al Horford, replacing them with Dwight Howard. Yuck. Some think Howard will be able to turn his career around in Atlanta, but I’m not buying it. The dropoff from Horford to Howard is significant, especially for a team like the Hawks that relies so much on ball movement and a free-flowing offense. Many pundits and fans still seem to view the Hawks as a middle tier Eastern Conference playoff team, but I don’t see them winning more than 40 games this year.
Garcia: Chicago Bulls. Fastest way to ruin a team? Bad coach + mismatched parts. Think: The Kobe/Nash/Howard/Gasol/Mike Woodson 2012 Lakers. Or anything the 76ers have put out the past few years! This year’s version: Rondo/Wade/Butler/Hoiberg. Big question, how do you get three ball dominant guards to share the ball? Bigger question, how does a bad coach innovate an offense to overcome that massive flaw?
Which team will be most improved?
Voloschuk: Detroit Pistons. It’s tempting to pick Golden State here, but Detroit is one team in a weak Eastern Conference that is trending upward under Stan Van Gundy, who has built similar rosters before in Miami and Orlando. For starters, it shouldn’t be tough to move up the playoff seeding hierarchy in the East, but the Pistons are also building a legitimately talented roster featuring tons of youth, length, toughness and athleticism: Andre Drummond, Stanley Johnson, Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris, Reggie Jackson, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope make for a solid top six. And Van Gundy has gone out of his way to add depth, signing center Aron Baynes, and bringing in 7-foot-4 Boban Marjanovic, and power forward Jon Leuer this summer. He also has tried to address the team’s lackluster 3-point shooting by adding point guard Ish Smith. Last year, they shot 34 percent from distance, but still finished 44-38 and earned the No. 8 seed in the playoffs. A 50-win season could be the next step for this group.
Scheer: Minnesota Timberwolves. This one was tough to pick but I have to go with the Timberwolves. The T-Wolves didn’t make any huge splashes during the offseason but this team will be much improved from within the organization. Andrew Wiggins is entering his third year in the NBA and will be looking to go from an up-and-coming talent to a proven star in the NBA. It’s hard to believe that Karl-Anthony Towns is going into only his second year in the NBA, and is already a top five center. This team is on the rise and the time for this team can be as early as next season. Towns said it best: “A lot of people tend to think we’re the Timberwolves and we’re at the bottom of the barrel. I just want people to know that we’re coming. Just remember us because where we were the last 13 years, things are about to change.”
Marcus: This may not be a popular pick, but I really think the Orlando Magic have a shot at being a middle of the pack playoff team in the East. They made plenty of questionable moves that have probably sacrificed the long term potential of the team, but each acquisition should help the team in the short run. They paid a steep price for Bismack Biyombo, but he and the newly acquired Serge Ibaka should form a dominant defensive tandem in the frontcourt. The re-signing of Evan Fournier, despite the pricey contract, will also be very important for the team next season. Perhaps most important was the addition of Frank Vogel to the sidelines; Vogel is the perfect coach for this young, defensive-minded roster. The new additions – combined with the expected improvements of Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton, and Mario Hezonja – should help the Magic take a huge step forwards in 2016-17. I doubt that their recent transactions will help them in the long run, but for now, the Magic should be in a much better position to make the playoffs.
Garcia: Wolves or Knicks, right!? I can see the Wolves leapfrogging New Orleans, Denver, and Sacramento for at least 33-49 (+4 wins), but I’m not betting against Contract Year Derrick Rose, second year Kristaps Porzingis, Olympic Melo, Noah’s intangibles, Jeff Hornacek‘s coaching upgrade, and Phil’s Zen. That’s at least worth them jumping the Bucks, Wiz, and Bulls for +10 wins.
Who wins the MVP Award?
Voloschuk: Russell Westbrook. Westbrook has already been in the MVP discussion for the last two seasons. After finishing fourth in 2015 and 2016, the departure of Kevin Durant could open the door to a monster statistical season, who is now the unquestioned leader and heartbeat of the Oklahoma City Thunder. One of the most competitive and fiery players in the league, the 6-3 point guard is coming off a season in which he averaged 23.5 points, 10.4 assists and 7.8 rebounds in just under 35 minutes of action per game. He is also a triple-double machine, posting a whopping 29 in the last two years, including 18 last season. Though Durant is a huge loss, the cupboard isn’t completely bare: big men Enes Kanter, Steven Adams and the newly-acquired Joffrey Lauvergne. He will also share the backcourt with Victor Oladipo and Andre Roberson.
Scheer: Russell Westbrook. Russell Westbrook is one of the most dominant and explosive players in the NBA today and playing without Kevin Durant might make him even better. Westbrook averaged almost a triple double last season averaging 23.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 10.4 assists per game, but don’t be surprised if you see those numbers improve this coming season. Russell Westbrook will rise up to the challenge without Durant, lead the Thunder to the playoffs and take home the MVP award.
Marcus: Is it possible that the 2x defending MVP – one of which he became the first player to do so unanimously – is now underrated? Yes, Stephen Curry came up small in the NBA Finals when it mattered most, but that doesn’t take away from his historic regular season in which he shattered multiple records and led his Golden State Warriors to a record breaking 73-9 season. The addition of Kevin Durant won’t help his MVP chances, but I don’t think Curry is ready to give up his throne quite yet.
Garcia: James Harden. Love the head coach + supercharged offense + perfect superstar pairing! Houston has averaged 118 points/game in the preseason, AND Harden’s just heating up: 20.2 points/gm, 10.6 assists, 6.2 rbs, 46.5 fg % on just 29.5 minutes per game!
Who wins the Championship?
Voloschuk: Golden State Warriors. It’s incredibly hard to picture a scenario in which a team featuring Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green in the same lineup could be beaten four times in a playoff series. Cleveland pulled off an incredible rally in the Finals, but Durant could make it nearly impossible for any opponent to stop them.They have Curry, Green, and Durant that can all run the point. Zaza Pachulia and David West boost their rebounding plus add toughness along with the returning Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala. Length, speed, shooting prowess, intelligence and a surprising lack of ego throughout the roster has to make the Warriors the clear front runner to win a second title in three years.
Scheer: Golden State Warriors. I hate to jump onto the bandwagon, but how can anyone go against the Warriors winning the Championship this coming season? With the addition of Kevin Durant and even Zaza Pachulia, this team can be one of the greatest teams to ever step onto the court. Just take a moment and think about a death lineup featuring Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Igoudala and Kevin Durant. No one, not even LeBron James, will be able to take out this offensive juggernaut.
Marcus: In what could’ve very easily been a three-peat, the Golden State Warriors will win their second title in the past three years. Now that the Dubs have four of the top twenty players in the league, it would be even more shocking if they didn’t win it all this year than it was last year. I’m not sure if there has ever been a time in the history of the league that a team was as heavy of a favorite as the Warriors will be this year. Kevin Durant should fit right into the high energy, loose style of play that has allowed the Warriors to be so successful the past two seasons. Will this year’s Warriors top 73 wins? Probably not, but the odds that they fall up short in the Finals again seems next to impossible.
Garcia: Golden State. But at what point do they start rolling during the season where all hope is lost for the rest of the League. Here’s what everyone forgets. Last year they were one of the best teams in transition ever and have now added Durant. Jumping to that Raptors preseason game this year. For the first quarter and half they struggled to find a groove, even down 44-50, and then all of a sudden with 2:32 left something clicked and they were off and running – Curry rebound, Iggy assist, Durant 24 foot 3 pointer, and then next possession Draymond rebound, Curry assist, Iguodala dunk. Like finding something they had lost, only it never was, it just had to be rediscovered. What happens when they ignite the half court offense… game over.