LAST TIME ON, “DON’T CALL IT AN NBA PREVIEW”:
Of note: Bob and I both correctly predicted that the Cleveland Cavaliers would emerge last season as NBA Champions. As you might remember, LeBron James and his squad got there only after overcoming a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors, who it just so happened had won an NBA record 73 regular season games and were led by the first unanimous MVP in league history, point guard Stephen Curry.
This year, a new contender enters the DCIAB fray. Bob is busy practicing his insider trading and his ability to maintain conversations at water coolers for upwards of 2 minutes, so I brought on fellow degenerate NBA fan and Notre Dame student Nik Valdiserri to make the other half of DCIAB’s picks this year. ENJOY:
1. Cleveland Cavaliers — Predicted record: 55-27
The Cavaliers are going to take it easy in the regular season. LeBron might rest for weeks at a time. Kyrie Irving is going to avoid injury as much as possible. Hell, J.R. Smith might not even put a shirt on until February. But they’re still by far the most talented team in the East and they are the lockdown favorites to take the first seed in the conference.
2. Boston Celtics — Predicted record: 52-30
Boston’s acquisition of Al Horford was the second-biggest move of the summer, and should launch them from the pesky middle-seed tier into the championship-contender-if-several-injuries-cripple-the-Warriors-and-Cavaliers tier.
3. Toronto Raptors — Predicted record: 49-33
I remain a big hater of this Toronto team, primarily because I think DeMar DeRozan is just straight up bad. But their coaching is good, the bench is better than I expected, and Kyle Lowry is still skinny. This team should be a lock for a top-3 East seed barring injuries … unless that injury is to DeMar DeRozan, in which case the Raptors would skyrocket into potential championship contender status (their point differential was up in the mountains with Golden State and San Antonio last year when Lowry was on the floor and DeRozan sat on the bench).
4. Charlotte Hornets — Predicted record: 47-35
Welcome to the easiest over-under bet of the season. The Hornets have been selected by Vegas odds to win around 41.5 this season. For me, this is the easiest over bet in the NBA. Consider: Charlotte won nearly 50 games last year without the best defender on their team, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Now, they could expect some regression from that point due to injuries to other players such as Kemba Walker, but the Hornets should only lose a few wins off that total at most. I have them at 47 wins and the four seed in the East, which would set them up for an insanely fun first round series against the…
5. Atlanta Hawks — Predicted record: 45-37
To me, this is where the Eastern conference becomes a 5-7 team grouping without much separation. Losing Al Horford for Dwight Howard hurts, and that makes it difficult to imagine a situation in which Atlanta is better than last year’s edition. Perhaps Kyle Korver shows up to play basketball this season — that would help. But the biggest loss for this team is at the point guard position, where Jeff Teague left to make room for Dennis Schröder to start. Schröder makes dazzling plays from time to time, but his inconsistency could sink the Hawks this season. Still, I’m optimistic about Coach Mike Budenholzer’s ability to pull this team together and finish several games above .500.
T-6. Washington Wizards — Predicted record: 44-38
Am I a homer? I’m trying not to be. I originally had the Wizards finishing right at .500 this season, but then I looked back to last year. Despite all the random catastrophes — injuries to nearly every key player, poor coaching, questionable chemistry — the Wizards still managed to finish just a couple games out of the playoffs. I like them to improve a bit under Scotty Brooks, just enough to eek out a match-up with the 2nd or 3rd seed in the East. Look out for Otto Porter to have a great year, back-up point guard to be a massive issue, and the Wizards’ defense to be a top-seven unit in the league if Ian Mahinmi returns to decent form by Christmas.
T-6. Detroit Pistons — Predicted record: 44-38
This is a tough pick. Detroit is clearly on the upswing, and many analysts are picking them as the up-and-comer four seed in the East, not unlike the Jazz in the West. But unlike the Jazz, the Pistons have a few holes on the roster (shooting, power forward depth, back-up point guard) and the depth isn’t quite as solidified. Plus, Reggie Jackson just suffered an injury that should cost this team a few wins. I see Detroit as a bigger postseason threat than a regular season power because of the way they can lock down opposing offenses. Their offense just doesn’t feel like it’ll be quite consistent enough, so I have them tied for sixth.
8. Indiana Pacers — Predicted record: 43-39
I really hated Indiana’s offseason. Trading George Hill for Jeff Teague is a mystery that I still can’t understand. It allows the Pacers to lock up a decent point guard for longer, but Teague’s fit with Monta Ellis is infinitely worse than Hill’s. This backcourt is now one of the worst defensively in the league, and they’ve coupled that by letting their second-best defender (Ian Mahinmi) walk away and replacing him with Al Jefferson. Something tells me dropping one of the best head coaches in the NBA (Frank Vogel) for a sub-par retread (Nate McMillan) who can’t coach defense won’t be too beneficial either. This just all reeks of mediocre fit to me, even if the talent level of the individual players has stayed about the same as last year’s team. Paul George will save this team enough to keep it above .500, but not much more than that. Just missed: New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls, Orlando Magic.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers — Predicted record: 54-28
I side with Matt here. There will be drama, rest, and unimportant rumors, but I still expect the Cavaliers to easily win the East. Once sealed, they’ll immediately take their foot off the gas and end up with fewer wins than last year because of it. As for questions marks, there is a need for a backup point guard, and can Kevin Love return to what he was before the Finals? I’m certainly not worried about the latter question, but I do expect the Cavaliers to sign or trade for more bench depth. It’ll be hard to rely on Richard Jefferson, Mike Dunleavy, and Iman Shumpert in the backcourt for an entire 82-game season.
2. Boston Celtics — Predicted record: 51-31
I’m a fan of their direction. The Celtics went out and…. DRAFTED DEMETRIUS JACKSON. Actually though, I really enjoyed their summer. Al Horford was a big-time signee for this team. He’ll fit in nicely with the already-pesky bigs and adds another dimension to the team. They are still another shooting wing from being a championship-caliber team, but should get their shot at the Cleveland Cavaliers in May. Oh, and Brad Stevens in my hero.
3. Charlotte Hornets — Predicted record: 49-33
Matt and I finally disagree. As a Hornets fan, I’m a little biased, sure, but it’s hard to understand why the Hornets don’t have more love entering this season. After a 48-34 record last season, marking their best since professional basketball returned to Charlotte, the Hornets should be as good if not better this season. Nicolas Batum is back on a max contract and Marvin Williams took a pay-cut to return. Kemba Walker is finally going to be an All-Star, and it’s finally time for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s breakout year. All is aligned for the Hornets to return to the playoffs, where they won’t have to face Dwyane Wade and a ridiculous Game 6 performance.
4. Toronto Raptors — Predicted record: 47-35
I expect the Raptors to take a step back this season, but not because they are worse. Instead, it’s the teams around them that have improved. Sure, a healthy DeMarre Carroll will be nice, but it just appears the Raptors are stuck. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are who they are, and can we really trust Jonas Valanciunas? And with no Bismack Biyombo this year, is there enough to rely on in the frontcourt? I don’t see it. Still, they are consistent enough to notch the 4-seed and have a chance at the second round of the playoffs.
T-5. Washington Wizards — Predicted record: 46-36
The “Charlotte Hornets” of this 2016-17. In other words, they’ll be the team that had a weird season the year before, and will put it together this season and be back in the playoffs. I thought the Wizards had a quietly good offseason. First off, they got healthy. Secondly, they hired a new coach to get a clean slate. And thirdly, they added players at affordable contracts. Andrew Nicholson, Ian Mahinmi, and Trey Burke are all players who could contribute in various ways throughout the season. Don’t call it a comeback, but John Wall will lead an MVP-type season and get the ‘Zards back where they belong.
T-5. Indiana Pacers — Predicted record: 46-36
The Pacers have added better players this offseason, but were they the RIGHT players? I guess we’ll see. But I cannot wait to see what first-year coach Nate McMillan does with his Jeff Teague-Monta Ellis backcourt. They both like the ball, and so does their superstar Paul George. The Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson pickups were very uplifting. While we all enjoy how much Lavoy Allen hustles and creates second-chance points, adding another scoring threat at the SF/PF is what the Pacers needed. And while Myles Turner is the starting center, Al Jefferson did great work coming off the bench for the Hornets last year, and is a much better option than Jordan Hill was last year. People have their doubts, but I’m intrigued, which is why I have them in the 5/6 seed range this season.
7. Atlanta Hawks — Predicted record: 45-36
The Hawks may have lost Al Horford, but Dwight Howard was the best consolation prize on the market. In fact, Howard may even be a better fit than Horford. I know, I know, it’s a stretch. I’ve already had dreams of Dennis Schroder and Howard pick-and-rolls, and now Paul Millsap GETS ALL THE SPACE HE NEEDS! Expect a bigger uptick in Kent Bazemore’s production, and it’ll be nice to see a fully healthy/comfortable Kyle Korver back on the hardwood. However, there is a cap on this team.There are still questions regarding their bench, and Howard may be past his prime when it comes to rim protection and rebounding. So, it’s hard to see them being any better than last year, and with a lot of good teams ahead, they may slip to the 7-seed (where we’d get a Celtics-Hawks rematch!!).
8. Orlando Magic — Predicted record: 42-40
I was going back and forth between the Magic and Pistons for a good hour and a half. But I finally bought into the Magic. For the Pistons, the Reggie Jackson injury that may last up to three months is going to set Detroit back far enough where they may not be able to recover. As for the Magic, this is a HUGE season. A lot of pressure surrounds the club in convincing Serge Ibaka to return and making outside free agents buy into their young core. Bringing in Frank Vogel was a great decision, as he’ll have plenty of players to toy around with as the season goes along. The team also added veterans such as Jeff Green and went out and spent the extra dollar on the athletic Bismack Biyombo. It should be a fun season in Orlando, and maybe this time Aaron Gordon rightfully wins the dunk contest.
1. Golden State Warriors — Predicted record: 72-10 (lol)
The Warriors are going to win this many games by accident. They could rest two starters and still put out a top 5 roster. This season is going to be comical.
T-2. Los Angeles Clippers — Predicted record: 56-26
The Clippers remain completely incapable of figuring out that Luc Richard Mbah a Moute isn’t going to cut it at the starting small forward spot. Alan Anderson might be able to fill that hole well, but he’s been hurt for over a season now so it’s hard to expect too much. Regardless of that though, this team still has a solid coach and the second or third-most starpower in the league.
T-2. San Antonio Spurs — Predicted record: 56-26
I’m a bit worried about the Spurs this season. Losing Tim Duncan wasn’t the end of the world, but replacing him with Pau Gasol is going to really impact their defensive rating. The Spurs were able to survive a pretty meh offense (by their standards) last season by just grinding out possessions on the other end. We’ll see if Gasol’s offensive versatility outweighs his inability to move on defense. I have a feeling that it won’t, and the Spurs will still win a lot of games while looking vulnerable for the playoffs.
T-4. Utah Jazz — Predicted record: 49-33
As Zach Harper put it so eloquently on the Eye on Basketball podcast a couple weeks ago, “FIND ME THE HOLES ON THIS TEAM.” There are none. The only way the Jazz don’t finish near 50 wins this seasons is if they have some of the worst injury luck in the league, and that’s only happened, well, the last two seasons to them. So we’ll see. But they have so much depth that even with one or two bruises, the Jazz can survive. Look out for the Rudy Gobert breakout season.
T-4. Houston Rockets — Predicted record: 49-33
I shocked myself by putting the Rockets this high, but I just like what they bring to the table more than the Trailblazers or the Grizzlies. There are very few worlds in which James Harden is not a monster in Mike D’Antoni’s offensive system, and the rest of this loaded offense should follow suit. My bold-ish predictions: Harden reemerges as an MVP candidate with crazy per-game averages, and new starting center Clint Capela is a strong candidate for Most Improved Player.
T-6. Portland Trailblazers — Predicted record: 44-38
Portland is going to be great on offense again, but there’s reason to think they were a bit lucky last year in a weaker West than usual. I like Damian Lillard, but an improvement on defense from both him and backcourt mate C.J. McCollum could offer this Blazers team some much-needed stability.
T-6. Memphis Grizzlies — Predicted record: 44-38
Memphis has more talent than the two teams above, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable placing them there because of injury risk. For some teams, you just discount potential injury because any issue would be a freak accident. Not so for the Grizzlies, whose three best players (Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Chandler Parsons) have all missed significant time in the past few seasons due to injuries. Parsons adds a new dimension to this offense that could lead to 50 wins, but I needed to lop a few victories off their original total to account for potential missed time.
8. Oklahoma City Thunder — Predicted record: 42-40
Hot take: after Kevin Durant departed from Oklahoma City, Russell Westbrook became one of the most overrated players in the league overnight. Of course he’s an incredible athlete and one of the 5-10 best players in the league, but he’s not good enough to carry the rest of this roster on his own as many media members are predicting. Save your Westbrook MVP picks for another year; perhaps one where his team’s third-best player isn’t a toss-up between Enes Kanter and Victor Oladipo. The narrative is nice, but losing Durant and Serge Ibaka is going to take double digit wins off this team’s total. Just missed: Minnesota Timberwolves, (then a decent-sized gap), Pelicans/Mavericks/Nuggets.
1. Golden State Warriors — Predicted record: 65-17
I’m not as sold on the…. KIDDING. We just witnessed the best regular season team in NBA history, and while the record may not tell it, this year’s Golden State Warriors are even better on paper. This year’s Warriors team will not be as focused on their record, but instead will let it all show in the playoffs. Seriously, how does anyone beat this team?
2. Los Angeles Clippers — Predicted record: 58-24
I’m on the Clippers train this season. This is the only team that could seriously give the Warriors a shot, and by that I mean stretching a series to six games. Anyway, this may be the last chance for this Clippers unit, and therefore, I fully expect them to be as good as they’ve ever been together. Unfortunately, they always decide to be good in the wrong moments.
3. San Antonio Spurs — Predicted record: 56-26
Matt brings up a good point. Pau Gasol isn’t very good at defense. Also, similar to the Warriors, I expect the Spurs to tone it down a bit this season. I won’t buy in to the LaMarcus Aldridge rumors quite yet, but for the Spurs to reach their peak they need Tony Parker at his best. Unfortunately, we appear to be past those days, and I’m not sure Kawhi Leonard and LMA can do enough for this team to compete for a title, especially with the Warriors there.
4. Portland Trailblazers — Predicted record: 48-34
I’m on the totally opposite side here. Last year was not a fluke, and if it was, I see improvements from the Rockets and Jazz, while the Spurs and Thunder fall off a bit. Plus, the 6-8 seeds don’t really pose any major threats to a well-balanced team. With a Damian Lillard-MVP-season and improvements in depth and SF/PF-play, I expect the Trail Blazers to be even better than last year.
T-5. Houston Rockets — Predicted record: 47-35
Last year was weird. It looked like the Rockets weren’t ready to defend the top-2 spot in the West from making the Western Conference Titles in 2014-15. Well, it’s a new season and James Harden is a point-guard. I LOVE IT. Harden could potentially end up in the top-2 in assists this season. It’s an experiment I’m intrigued to watch because he now has formidable counterparts in Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon. Also, I expect Clint Capela to step in and be a 10-10 guy immediately. They’ll be a tough out in the West.
T-5. Utah Jazz — Predicted record: 47-35
My choice for League Pass Team of the West. I can’t wait. They are definitely ready to take their next step, and they couldn’t have added a better point guard to their scheme in George Hill. Outside of Hill, every starter is entering/just in the beginning of their peaks, and it’ll be fascinating to see the whole team get better throughout the season. This is a 5/6 seed that could battle with the 1/2 seed in the second round of the playoffs. They bolstered their bench, added veterans and are healthy (for now)!
7. Memphis Grizzlies — Predicted record: 44-38
What Matt said. I love everything about this team, EXCEPT for health. If I were drafting a fantasy team, I’d draft very similarly to the starting five of the Grizzlies with exception of Tony Allen and JaMychal Green needing to hit jump shots.
8. Oklahoma City Thunder — Predicted record: 42-40
Ok. Matt went a little overboard. BUT, I do agree with the fact that Russell Westbrook is not good enough to take this team anywhere beyond the 7/8 seed. He’ll put up crazy numbers and be on highlight reels all season, but won’t be happy with getting knocked out of the first round.
Most Valuable Player
Matt: Kevin Durant
This is a really tough year to pick the MVP. Any top tier team that rises 5-10 wins above their projected total will have a strong contender for the award (Cleveland – LeBron James, San Antonio – Kawhi Leonard, LA Clips – Chris Paul, Houston – James Harden), but I just can’t imagine that the media will watch this Golden State spectacle for an entire season and not feel obligated to award the trophy to one of its players. This team is just going to decimate opponents whenever they feel like it. 30-point margins of victory against 50-win teams are not at all out of the question. Ultimately, I chose between Durant and LeBron, and I just think LeBron won’t win it unless he plays 70-plus games. Other contenders: LeBron James, Chris Paul (love him as a dark horse this season), Steph Curry, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, Anthony Davis.
Nik: Damian Lillard
DAMIAN LILLARD WASN’T EVEN ON MATT’S LIST! To me, it appears as if everyone is picking LeBron James as MVP because they felt bad for doubting him in the Finals last season. Well, I picked the Cavs to win that series, so LBJ and I are all good. Honestly, the toughest opponent to Lillard here was James Harden. I wanted to pick Harden so bad. Instead, Lillard takes the crown and again makes us all feel bad that he wasn’t an All-Star last season. For a team that wasn’t even supposed to make the playoffs last year after losing four of five starters, notched the 5-seed and made it to the second round of the playoffs. While that may be the ceiling for this team as well, I do expect Lillard to go bananas. I also think people will witness how much Lillard’s consistent presence affects the success of the Trail Blazers. It’s a reach, but one that Steve Kerr even agrees with! Other contenders: James Harden, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Kawhi Leonard.
Rookie of the Year
Matt: Joel Embiid
With Ben Simmons out for months and few other rookies stepping into the limelight, I think Joel Embiid is a near-lock for this award. He’s got the best social media presence in the league, which matters for ROTY because it builds a fun narrative, and he’s a complete freak on the court. Defense will be tough for Embiid this season, but they don’t give Rookie of the Year to players for their defense. The kid is going to get buckets. Other contenders: Ben Simmons, Kris Dunn, Buddy Hield.
Nik: Domantas Sabonis
I have no clue who to pick, so why not go with the farthest stretch of them all. Unlike some rookies, Sabonis will get to start right out of the gate. His passing ability and touch around the rim make him such an interesting prospect. Therefore, he’ll win one of the weirdest ROTY awards in recent memory. Other contenders: Joel Embiid, Jamal Murray, Ben Simmons, Kris Dunn, Buddy Hield.
Defensive Player of the Year
Matt: Draymond Green
To me, there are only three real candidates for this award in 2016: Kawhi Leonard, Draymond Green, and Rudy Gobert. Gobert will win it if Utah is the #1 defense in the league, Draymond will win it if the Spurs’ defense falls back to Earth a bit, and Kawhi will win it if neither of the previous two statements come true. With Tim Duncan gone, I like the second outcome as the most likely of those three to occur. Draymond finally gets his DPOY. Other contenders: Kawhi Leonard, Rudy Gobert, Deandre Jordan if everything goes right.
Nik: Draymond Green
What Matt said. At least as of lately, each year’s winner has been close to winning the year before. That was the case for Kawhi Leonard and now Draymond Green.
Coach of the Year
Matt: Brad Stevens
Steve Kerr got his COTY reward last season, but Golden State’s high expectations mean this year’s award is completely up for grabs. I like Brad Stevens to win it, because god forbid we give Al Horford his due credit for making a team better (and also because Stevens is a fantastic coach). Other contenders: Steve Clifford, Quin Snyder, Mike Budenholzer, Doc Rivers, Steve Kerr, Tom Thibodeau.
Nik: Quin Snyder
It’s going to be such a fun season, even though we all agree on who will win it all. After nearly making the playoffs last season, Snyder will lead the Jazz to a mid-playoff seed and take home the award. It’s crazy to think that Snyder struggled as a coach near the end of his reign with the University of Missouri 10 years ago. Other contenders: Brad Stevens, Steve Clifford, Steve Kerr, Doc Rivers
Most Improved Player
Matt: Clint Capela
This award is always a complete toss-up, so I’ll go with an exciting young player stepping into a starting role on a likely playoff team. Other contenders: Otto Porter, a gajillion others.
Nik: Aaron Gordon
It totally is a toss-up. I’ll go with the young Magic forward. Gordon is a lot more than dunking, and when his jumpers gets going this season, he’ll solidify himself as one of the more promising young players.
Full Win Total Projections
Warriors over Cavaliers in 4 games; they achieve the 4-4-4-4 on their way to a title.
Warriors over Cavaliers in 6 games.
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