The NBA season opens on October 17 in a game between the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers, which couldn’t be more perfect considering these two teams pulled off a huge trade a month ago where they swapped superstar guards. I felt that just under a week left until the start of the regular season would be the perfect time to give my predictions on how this season will play out. This will be a 3-part series, much like my postseason MLB series, with top-10s by position coming tomorrow and a top-100 coming Friday. However that one I’m considering breaking up into multiple parts. Stay tuned for that. For this preview I will project awards, All-NBA teams, and the playoffs. So without further ado, let’s get to it.
NBA MVP: Kawhi Leonard-F-San Antonio Spurs
After flirting with the idea of Leonard as MVP for a few years now, I think this is the year he finally gets it. Leonard has been the best player on the Spurs for some time and that’s saying something, considering the team is typically littered with Hall of Famers and has the best coach in the game in Gregg Popovich. Leonard is a stud defender who also puts up over 20 points per game and will lead this Spurs team on another deep playoff run.
Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert-C-Utah Jazz
Truth be told, I thought Gobert should have won this award last year. His 8-foot wingspan along with his 7’1 height make it damn near impossible to score in the paint, as he consistently swats away any shot that has the audacity to approach his territory. I think he gets this award this time and gets the recognition he deserves after a few years of really strong defensive play.
Sixth Man of the Year: Andre Iguodala-F-Golden State Warriors
This is always a hard award to predict and it feels like kind of a cop out to pick Iguodala here. The guy could not only start for most teams, but be their best player (looking at you, Nets). Yet on this stacked Warriors team, he comes off the bench and he does it as well as anybody. How many players can say they were Finals MVP while coming off the bench? Just Iggy.
Rookie of the Year: Dennis Smith Jr-G-Dallas Mavericks
I was really tempted to choose Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, or De’Aaron Fox for this spot, but I felt that Dennis Smith Jr would ultimately be the guy to go with. He’s locked down the starting point guard job for the Mavericks already, coming off a really strong summer league performance that reminded me of Damian Lillard’s quick ascension. I think Smith is in the best position to succeed early out of any rookie in the league (and I’m not counting Ben Simmons for this even though he technically still qualifies. He had his chance at a ROTY in my book and couldn’t stay healthy).
Coach of the Year: Brett Brown-Philadelphia 76ers
I don’t know if Brown will do anything otherworldly, but if you check my playoff predictions below, you’ll know why I have him winning coach of the year. After years of Trusting the Process, it seems that the 76ers are primed and ready to be relevant again. I think they have the pieces in place to make a playoff run if they can stay healthy. And that’s a BIG “if.” But I think they will be healthy enough and capture the 8th seed in the East. And since Brown will be at the helm of this resurgence, he will get the honor of Coach of the Year.
Comeback Player of the Year: Chandler Parsons-F-Memphis Grizzlies
Parsons struggled mightily in the first year of his big contract from the Grizzlies. His points per game was cut in half, his FG% dropped from 49.2% to 33.8% and his 3-point shooting, his best trait, was down from 41.4% to 26.9%. A shooter of his caliber should not have a lower 3-point percentage than DeMarcus Cousins (36.1%). I think he bounces back this season and gets recognized for his return to shooting prominence.
Most Improved Player: Myles Turner-C-Indiana Pacers
Myles Turner is a guy oozing with ability and I was praying he would fall to the Celtics at 16 in the 2015 NBA Draft. The Pacers took the Texas product at 11 and have reaped the benefits thus far, as he has averaged 12 points per game and 6 rebounds per game over his career. However when you watch him play, it is pretty clear that those numbers should be higher as he is seemingly always around the ball and the loss of Paul George for the Pacers will open up more opportunities for him to get big numbers this year.
G-Stephen Curry-Golden State Warriors
G-James Harden-Houston Rockets
F-LeBron James-Cleveland Cavaliers
F-Kawhi Leonard-San Antonio Spurs
C-Anthony Davis-New Orleans Pelicans
G-Russell Westbrook-Oklahoma City Thunder
G-Kyrie Irving-Boston Celtics
F-Kevin Durant-Golden State Warriors
F-Giannis Antetokounmpo-Milwaukee Bucks
C-Karl-Anthony Towns-Minnesota Timberwolves
G-Damian Lillard-Portland Trail Blazers
G-John Wall-Washington Wizards
F-Paul George-Oklahoma City Thunder
F-Kristaps Porzingis-New York Knicks
C-Rudy Gobert-Utah Jazz
Projected Playoff teams with Seeds
- Cleveland Cavaliers
- Boston Celtics
- Washington Wizards
- Toronto Raptors
- Milwaukee Bucks
- Charlotte Hornets
- Detroit Pistons
- Philadelphia 76ers
- Golden State Warriors
- San Antonio Spurs
- Houston Rockets
- Minnesota Timberwolves
- Oklahoma City Thunder
- Portland Trail Blazers
- Los Angeles Clippers
- New Orleans Pelicans
Playoff Round-by-Round Predictions:
(1)Cavaliers def. (8)76ers
(2)Celtics def. (7)Pistons
(3)Wizards def. (6)Hornets
(5)Bucks def. (4)Raptors
(1)Cavaliers def. (5)Bucks
(2)Celtics def. (3)Wizards
(1)Cavaliers def. (2)Celtics
This conference is really a 2-man race between the Cavaliers and Celtics. The Wizards and Raptors may make things interesting, but overall Cleveland and Boston are the teams to beat as they will duke it out for the Eastern Conference championship for the second straight year. I have the Cavs winning it over the Celtics for a second straight year and fourth straight overall as they are just too deep for the much-improved Celtics to compete with. It won’t be as lopsided a series as it was last year, but the Cavs will prevail.
Eastern Conference Champions: Cleveland Cavaliers
(1)Warriors def. (8)Pelicans
(2)Spurs def. (7)Clippers
(3)Rockets def. (6)Trail Blazers
(5)Thunder def. (4)Timberwolves
(1)Warriors def. (5)Thunder
(2)Spurs def. (3)Rockets
(1)Warriors def. (2)Spurs
Unlike the East, the West has 5 teams that I could envision winning it, however the Warriors will win once again because they are just that much better than everyone else. As long as Gregg Popovich coaches the Spurs, they will compete for a title but they aren’t quite as deep as they have been in years’ past. The addition of Chris Paul will be big for the Rockets as James Harden has a world-class distributor to feed him the ball. The Timberwolves had a fantastic offseason and they have the look of a team that is sick of losing. I think the Thunder will struggle out of the gate with their new Big 3, but I think they will put it together by the end of the year in time for a run. There are a lot of mouths to feed in OKC and that could lead to some on-court issues between Westbrook, George, and Carmelo Anthony. But again, the Warriors are just better than everyone else and they will win the West.
Western Conference Champion: Golden State Warriors
(1)Warriors def. (1)Cavaliers
I’m getting pretty sick of this matchup but it doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. I have the Warriors and Cavs meeting in the Finals for the fourth straight year, which has never happened before and will beg the question: is this a better inter-conference rivalry than Celtics-Lakers? I think the Warriors take it in 7 and Steph Curry wins Finals MVP. Fun fact, Curry didn’t win Finals MVP either time the Warriors won under his tutelage.
NBA Champions: Golden State Warriors (MVP: Stephen Curry)
Those are my picks for this NBA season. I’ll revisit them at some point this year. Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.