Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! The Friday Five is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to basketball video games, the real NBA, or another area of interest to our community, either as a list of five items or in the form of a Top 5 countdown.
Have you grown impatient waiting for the 2016 NBA season to begin? Fortunately, the wait is almost over, as we’re less than a week away from opening night! The NBA’s 70th season tips off on October 27th, with the Chicago Bulls hosting the Cleveland Cavaliers and the defending champion Golden State Warriors taking on the New Orleans Pelicans at the Oracle Arena. Another year of exciting basketball, dazzling highlights, and intriguing stories all around the league; if you’re a hoops fan, chances are you’re feeling pretty pumped right now.
With the offseason behind us and the pre-season drawing to a close, the time has come to start making some predictions about what’s going to happen in the NBA this year. Earlier this week, the GMs of all 30 teams chimed in with some of their predictions for the season, along with their ratings and rankings. Since this is the last Friday before the new season tips off, I thought I’d use this week’s Five to join in the fun, and offer up five predictions for the 2016 NBA season.
1. The changes to Playoff seeding won’t matter
In case you missed the official announcement back in September, the NBA will now be seeding the top eight teams in each conference by record. As such, winning the division will no longer guarantee a top four seed, and we won’t see oddities such as the fifth and sixth seeds owning home court advantage in the first round. Now, while I don’t think those oddities completely ruined the NBA Playoffs, it’s a logical change to the format, following on from the previous change that meant division winners wouldn’t be guaranteed a top three seed. Once the league went from four divisions to six, these issues were bound to crop up a bit more often than they once did.
It’s a logical move, and I don’t disagree with it. However, I’m going to predict that it won’t really matter this season. By that, I mean that I believe the seeding will work itself out fairly well, with the division winners being among the top three or four records in the conference, and fewer tied records. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think the NBA should’ve made the change, but it only stands to reason that now they’ve addressed the issue, it’ll resolve itself through an outcome that could’ve happened anyway. In other words, there’s a better format in place, but the records and seeding will work out as if the old format was still being used. Because life is weird like that.
2. The East will start to balance things out
The Eastern Conference has been considerably weaker than the Western Conference from some time now, and it’s led to suggestions that the conferences be scrapped, or that the top sixteen teams in the league make the Playoffs regardless of conference. I still think that from a structural and organisational point of view, the conference system has merit. I’m also fine with the Playoff format retaining the approach of the top eight teams in each conference. For the sake of replacing one or two teams in any given year with one or two others that will likely be going home early anyway, I don’t think it’s a big deal. However, the fact remains that the East is the weaker conference.
That said, I think that might start to change this season…injuries permitting, of course. The Cavaliers should have another fine year, and with more chemistry than they had at the beginning of last year, probably will have the top record in the East. The Bulls, if they’re healthy, could improve a little on last year’s 50 win season. The Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards are young teams that are already better than average, and on the rise. The Atlanta Hawks will probably drop off a bit, but still be relevant. The Boston Celtics, Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks, if healthy, are capable of winning records and Playoff contention. The balance of power will still be in the Western Conference, but it won’t be quite as lopsided.
3. Anthony Davis will win his first MVP
In the aforementioned NBA GM survey, Anthony Davis was selected as the player that GMs would sign if they were starting a new franchise, garnering a whopping 86.2% of the vote. As I said in the Forum, I don’t disagree with the reasoning, and I believe that The Brow is indeed at that level. However, it’s a big swing away from LeBron James, who topped the list with 50% of the vote last year. In that respect, it’s a little surprising, but again, I’d suggest that it’s a fair evaluation of Davis’ talents and value as a franchise player. Despite that distinction, NBA GMs still pegged LeBron to win his fifth Most Valuable Player award this season.
While that’s not exactly a stretch, I will disagree with that prediction, and suggest that Anthony Davis will get the nod instead. First of all, I believe he’ll turn in MVP-level numbers this season. Second, I expect the Pelicans to win a few more games, which always helps a player’s standing in the MVP race. Third, with Davis being singled out as a player you can build around, I think there’ll be a buzz around him – not undeservedly, mind you – which will surely influence the MVP voting. LeBron will naturally be in the discussion, along with the other top stars in the league, but a lot of eyes will be on Davis this year. With a strong performance in the spotlight, I expect him to get recognition in the form of the MVP.
4. The Clippers are primed for a deep run
My apologies in advance to our own Pdub, and any other Los Angeles Clippers fans, if this turns out to be another jinx. However, it’s something that simply has to be acknowledged: the Clippers are relevant. And not just relevant in terms of being good enough for a few respectable seasons and some token Playoff appearances. We’re talking relevant as in one of the top teams in the Western Conference – and the NBA for that matter – and knocking on the door of being a championship contender.
Yes, I know, it feels weird to say that. The Clippers have been a punchline for pretty much their entire tenure in Los Angeles, and the West is quite stacked at the moment, even with the Portland Trail Blazers likely to drop off. I’m not declaring the Clippers the frontrunners to win it all, nor would I say they’re in the top three. But they’re at least on the fringe of that conversation; I could see them making it to the Western Conference Finals. In Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan, they have three quality players who are either in their prime, or entering it. They’ve made some solid acquisitions in the offseason, including a capable veteran presence and NBA champion in Paul Pierce. Doc Rivers is an accomplished coach. They’re legit.
5. 72-10 will not be broken
When the Chicago Bulls celebrated the 20th anniversary of their first championship back in the 2011 season…I started to feel a little old. It’s how older fans watching the NBA in the 90s must have felt, whenever an NBA home video looked back on the 70s. The players they grew up watching were now becoming coaches, and front office executives. Memorable moments that felt as though they only happened yesterday, actually took place fifteen to twenty years ago. The promising young players were now established veterans, and in some cases, close to hanging it up.
Earlier this year, it was the 20th anniversary of Michael Jordan’s first comeback: a very memorable event for any NBA fan in the 90s, love him or hate him. And this year, it’ll be the 20th anniversary of the Chicago Bulls’ fourth title, which capped off their incredible 1996 season in which they went 72-10. It seems like every year, there’s talk of another team reaching the 70-win mark, and besting the record. I’d suggest that it’s easier said than done, though we may indeed see it happen some day. Having said that, I’ll predict that it won’t be this year, allowing the record to stand for two whole decades. Alright, maybe it’s wishful thinking, and residual fanboyism from the 90s. But I stand by the prediction!
So, those are five predictions for the upcoming season I felt like putting out there. What are some of your predictions for the 2016 NBA season? Sound off in the comments below, and join in the discussion taking place in the NLSC Forum! That’s all for this week, so thanks for checking in, have a great weekend, and please join me again next Friday for another Five.