Five Bold NBA Predictions for the 2017-2018 Season
The NBA season is upon us, and while many will bemoan the “predestined” NBA Finals Part IV, there is still plenty of intrigue along the way. Never before in NBA history have the same two teams met four straight times, so take Warriors v. Cavs IV as gospel at your own potential peril. Boston, Washington, and Toronto could certainly have a voice in the settling of the East, and if injuries/age/miles finally influence a Cavs core that is comprised of some older and injury-prone players, things could bust wide open.
Likewise, I don’t dispute the Warriors as the clear class of the West (and the entire NBA) but it isn’t like Houston, OKC, San Antonio or Minnesota were just sitting around waiting for the dynasty to decline. There is some SEROUS talent out West, and overlooking the litany of challengers would be a little overly simplistic.
** Editor Note: I had a fade of Boston as one of my five bold NBA predictions. I wasn’t sold on them automatically remaining in the East’s Top Two. In light of Gordon Hayward’s devastating injury, it seems a little ‘less bold’ at this point. But here’s sincerely hoping he can somehow get recovered by the Playoffs, no matter how grim it looks right now.
#1. The Timberwolves & Sixers Challenge for Top Four Seeds
Everyone knows these two teams possess the best collections of young talent in the NBA. But most people expect both to still be a year away. I’m not so sure, especially in the case of the Wolves. Karl-Anthony Towns isn’t “next.” He is NOW. I expect the Big KAT to surprise a lot of folks and make a real run at Top Three MVP balloting. He is my favorite value wager in the MVP race, and if Minny can pass Houston, OKC or San Antonio and get home court in the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs, his “winning team” factor will actually be a plus as opposed to a negative.
I know Minnesota is perceived as “young” but in truth, they are more “prime” than “young.” Jimmy Butler is an established All-Star and veteran, and to a lesser degree, so is Jeff Teague. Karl-Anthony Towns is young, but he is entering his third year – a year in which many superstars take that big leap into the stardom stratosphere. Andrew Wiggins shooting deficiencies are well-publicized, but he improved his three-point shooting drastically last year. If he can make a similar 3% bump this season, this team has very few holes.
Both Teague and Butler are good defenders, as is Towns. Wiggins shortcomings can be masked (or even improved upon – I am not convinced he can’t become a slightly-above-average defender. He certainly possesses the athleticism.
That Core Four is on par with anyone in the league not named Golden State. I think they collectively make a HUGE leap this season and become a scary contender.
Meanwhile, “The Process” has gone from derisive humor to inspiring rallying cry in the City of Brotherly Love. The talent there is unquestioned. But MAN are they young…
In the West? Maybe they miss the postseason altogether. In the East? A top Four seed – especially in the wake of the Boston disaster injury, isn’t out of the question. I think they most likely settle in closer to sixth, but if Simmons/Fultz are even CLOSE to NBA-ready, and I think Simmons in particular is, then this squad is going to be legit and a sure-fire playoff team.
The addition of JJ Redick is a big add. He gives them some desperately needed floor spacing, and some much needed locker room leadership and veteran maturity. He’s been through the circus with the Clippers the last three years. He will likely enjoy the oddly more mature Sixers.
But the lynchpin of The Process coming to fruition is the man who has bestowed himself with the same nickname, Joel ‘The Process’ Embiid. Is his health a question mark? Sure. Is his stamina and ability to carry the load for an entire season still FAR from proven? No doubt. But the talent and results from when he IS on the floor? Stunning. I’ll go on record now – he will be an All-Star starter (his social media savvy helps his cause, but he will be a deserving one as well). If healthy, this guy is a fringe Top Five MVP candidate.
#2. The Warriors Are Pushed for the Top Seed in the West, Often Look Lethargic and Inspire Doubt in Their Dynasty… and Still, Win the Title By Going 16-2 in the Postseason
Coach Kerr took a nice dump on the Opening Night party by casually mentioning his team will be in “full-on Spurs’ mode” this season, employing rest at every turn, nursing injuries with hypochondriac-like paranoia, and generally treating the regular season as a useless biding of time until the real season begins. Will they still win 60? Yup, even if on accident. Will they make another run at 70? It doesn’t sound like it.
If they WANTED to, I think this team could challenge their own record of 73 wins. But it seems abundantly clear they have no interest in that “running on a treadmill” exercise. They’ll run once they hit the road that leads somewhere. In the meantime, I love the fade on 66.5 wins this season.
#3. The Los Angeles Clippers Fail to Make the Playoffs – and Finish Back in their “Rightful Place” of Second in the City of Angels
I KNOW Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are excellent players. But are they better than Anthony Davis and Boogie Cousins? Look how well THAT duo did last year without reasonable guard play. So who is going to spread the floor for Blake and DeAndre? Who is going to get the ball to them? Who is going to score once Blake misses three months with injury?? The Clippers just aren’t GOOD without Chris Paul.
Ok, the last one was a bit of a cheap shot, but aren’t the Clippers OBVIOUSLY one Blake Griffin injury away from a sure-fire Lottery Team? I think they are heading there even if he IS healthy, but getting a bonus cushion in the wager by betting on him not playing a full season feels like a ton of safety.
You can fade the Clippers even making the Playoffs at +150. I love this wager. There are five obvious and clear playoff teams; Golden State, San Antonio, Houston, Oklahoma City, and Minnesota (yes, Minnesota is obvious, I don’t care about the last 13 years). That leaves three spots. Are the Clippers clearly better than ANY of them? Denver, Portland, Utah, and Memphis? No. Are they even better than Dallas, Phoenix or the Lakers, especially if anything happens to Blake?
And thus the bold part of the prediction. I love the fade on LAC, but won’t be surprised if it gets so bad that the Lakers finish ahead of them in the standings. The Lakers could be a surprise 30-ish win team with a little development from Ingram and the precocious offensive guidance of Lonzo Ball. And the Clippers have been teetering on the verge of outright implosion and mutiny for several years. Doc Rivers’ grip on the team feels more tenuous than ever, and with their entire backcourt gone; Paul, Redick, and Crawford have departed, and especially in the new NBA, you have to have solid backcourt play.
Things could get ugly in LAC with a rough start and any key injuries.
#4. This Year’s Rookie Class Will Be the Best Since 2003
There will be some rookies who will make major playoff impacts; Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz will be two of the four or five most important Sixers and key contributors on a team I expect to be playing meaningful games in April. Likewise, ESPECIALLY with the freak injury to Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum becomes quite possibly the most IMPORTANT rookie in the NBA.
Other rookies are poised to become faces of their respective franchises. You can sell me Brandon Ingram all you want, Lonzo Ball is ALREADY the face of the Lakers. I expect his play will merit the hype. Dennis Smith Jr has a chance to do big things in Dallas, and will likely get the minutes if nothing else, even if he can’t get the Mavs to the Playoffs.
There are some pretty solid recent classes; 2011 was nice, but it took Kawhi and Klay a while to become who they are today. Ditto for Jimmy Butler. 2009 was also a slow burn while Steph and Harden morphed into perennial MVP candidates. But in terms of IMMEDIATE impact, there are going to be some rookies in MAJOR roles this season.
#5. The Washington Wizards Earn the #1 Seed in the East
Look, Cleveland doesn’t CARE about such nonsense, so the #1 seed is wide, wide open. Some think Washington missed their window, but I don’t think we’ve seen the ceiling for Wall and Beal quite yet. The X-Factor is Otto Porter, Jr. If he can emerge as a legit Big Three member, the interior rotation of Gortat/Mahinmi/Markieff Morris is solid. Mahinmi can bring energy to the second unit, and Markieff can get them some buckets. This team has had some tough injury luck the past few years but still seems to find themselves winning a round in the playoffs.
Wall and Beal could be the best backcourt in the NBA (if you count Durant and LeBron as 3’s). And in the East? That could be enough to grab 55 wins and steal the #1 seed.