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 NBA Live, NBA 2K, and other basketball video games, as well as the real NBA, and other areas of interest to our community. The feature is presented as either a list of five items, or in the form of a Top 5 countdown.
The 2016 season is close to being in the books, and could be over in two more games. I’ll be honest: it hasn’t been my favourite NBA season. The fact that the Chicago Bulls had a disappointing year definitely doesn’t help, but apart from the Golden State Warriors’ impressive, record breaking performance, I didn’t find it to be especially noteworthy. I found myself tuning out during the year, and there were a couple of months where my subscription to NBA League Pass Broadband was definitely going to waste. While there have been some good games, and a couple of exciting moments in the 2016 Playoffs, I’ve mostly been underwhelmed by this season.
Having said that, I made five predictions before the season began, which I later revisited as the year progressed. Now that the 2016 campaign has almost wrapped up, I thought I’d look back at those predictions one last time, and tally up the final results. So, how did I do? Did I manage to at least do a little better than my record in the Bold Predictions segments of the NLSC Podcast? Well, let’s take one last look at my five predictions for the 2016 NBA season.
1. The changes to Playoff seeding won’t matter
Final Result: They didn’t, really.
I’ll repeat what I said in my previous articles. I’m not saying that the decision to seed the top eight teams in each Conference regardless of Division – i.e. no longer automatically awarding a top four seed to the Division winners – was a bad idea. Once the league realigned the teams and expanded from four divisions to six, there were a few seeding rules that could potentially be problematic. I think those problems were blown out of proportion though, and that any team that had a legitimate chance of winning the championship would succeed regardless, but it’s always worth evaluating the current system, and seeking to improve it whenever possible.
The thing is, there will always be anomalies. There will be several seasons when everything works out fine, and every so often, a season when it doesn’t. We did not see a repeat of last season’s incredibly close race in the West, though we did see a four way tie in the East. Having said that, the top three seeds in the East represented the three Divisions in the Conference, and three of the four teams who were tied are in the same Division. Out West, each Division was also represented by the top three seeds. Furthermore, the top seed in each Conference made the NBA Finals. I’m not saying the change was bad, just that it didn’t matter in the end, and the issue was overblown.
2. The East will start to balance things out
Final Result: It did.
Emphasis on “start”; in some ways, it’s still certainly the weaker of the two conferences. The two best teams were out West, and while the top two seeds in the East both came close to winning sixty games, the Conference only had two fifty-plus win teams as opposed to four in the West. However, the lower four seeds in the East had superior records to the fifth through eighth seeds in the West, and two Eastern teams who were .500 or better – the Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards – ended up missing the Playoffs. Only eight teams were .500 or better in the West, with the Houston Rockets qualifying for the postseason after a 41-41 season.
Of course, one might be inclined to point out that there’s stiffer competition out West. While that might still be true by the numbers, the gap was certainly narrowed this year. The Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs set league and franchise records this season, but there was a bit of a drop-off from last year’s competitive Western Conference. While the West had a winning record against the East this season, the gap was only fourteen games, the closest it’s been since 2009. In fact, early on this season, the East had a winning record against the West. As I said before, I’m glad to see that the East is catching up a little, though there’s still a ways to go.
3. Anthony Davis will win his first MVP
Final Result: He certainly didn’t.
Stephen Curry began the season as a strong candidate to repeat as the league’s Most Valuable Player, and remained so throughout the year, becoming the first unanimously chosen MVP. I would argue that Russell Westbrook deserved some first place votes, and that the unanimous selection is being blown out of proportion by a lot of people, but without a doubt, Curry was the MVP this year. Even if Anthony Davis had had a spectacular season, like Westbrook, it would’ve come at an inopportune time, understandably overshadowed by what Curry and the Warriors were able to achieve.
However, The Brow didn’t have a particularly outstanding season in 2016. It wasn’t a terrible season apart from the fact it was cut short at 61 games, but it was still disappointing. The New Orleans Pelicans were bitten by the injury bug, and were unable to follow up on last year’s promising campaign, losing fifteen more games and sliding down in the standings. For his part, Davis posted more than respectable numbers, but his assists and blocks dropped, his two-point and overall field goal percentage dipped as he took more threes and long twos, and his PER dropped to 25 from a league-leading 30.8 in 2015. It wasn’t bad, but not a breakout MVP year.
4. The Clippers are primed for a deep run
Final Result: No, they weren’t.
Even though the Los Angeles Clippers have gone from being one of the league’s running jokes (sorry, Pat) to a perennial Playoff team, they continue to be haunted by bad luck. Injuries saw them win three fewer games in the 2016 regular season than they had in 2015, but they still entered the Playoffs as one of the best teams in the league, albeit not on the level of the Warriors, Spurs, or even the Thunder, who finished a couple of games ahead of them for the third seed. Then Chris Paul and Blake Griffin went down with injury, and the Portland Trail Blazers eliminated them in six games in the first round.
In all fairness, we can’t say for sure that they wouldn’t have fared a little better had they remained healthy all season. It turned out to be a disappointing year for them, but given the circumstances, it was more of an unfortunate, derailed season than a lacklustre campaign where they performed poorly. Maybe that’s splitting hairs and getting dangerously close to using some weasel words, but it’s worth noting all the same. Unfortunately for the Clippers and their fans, they’re shaping up to be the 2002 Sacramento Kings or early 90s Blazers of the modern era: peaking at a time when another team is ruling the roost. Speaking of which…
5. 72-10 will not be broken
Final Result: Yes, yes it was.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping that it wouldn’t happen. Look, I’m a diehard Chicago Bulls fan with fond memories of the 1996 season, and I was hoping that the record would stand a little longer. However, twenty years is a respectable amount of time, and records are made to be broken. With the final game of the 2016 season, the Golden State Warriors picked up win number 73, and carved out a place in history. You can only tip your hat to them, though as I said on this week’s Podcast, if winning 72 games didn’t automatically make the ’96 Bulls the best team in history – and a lot of people have disputed that it did – then that’s a topic that’s still up for debate.
Although I was happy to see the Warriors win the title last year, I’ve found myself souring on them due to their cockiness, and the dirty play of Draymond Green. It hasn’t helped that the word “haters” is thrown around way too much, especially by Warriors fans. It’s getting to the point where anything less than gushing praise is considered “hating”, which is really ridiculous. Of course, none of that takes away from what they accomplished. Though I will reject the notion that the Bulls played in a terrible league and thus the Warriors’ record means more, a prediction I’ve been making for two decades finally went the other way.
So, when it’s all said and done, I was two-for-five in my predictions. That’s a better percentage than my Bold Predictions in the Podcast, and it’s clear that I jinxed both Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Clippers, so naturally those predictions were going to be incorrect. In any event, which parts of the 2016 NBA season were the most and least surprising for you? Have your say in the comments section below, and as always, feel free to take the discussion to 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.