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.
With the All-Star Weekend upon us, we’re essentially at the midway point of the 2016 NBA season. Normally I discuss a topic related to the NBA’s midseason classic in the Five that precedes the All-Star Weekend, but this year, I wanted to do something a little different. This time, I wanted to look back at some predictions I made at the start of the season, and see how I’m faring so far. If you’re a regular listener of the NLSC Podcast, you know how well my NBA predictions generally turn out!
That said, I’m actually not doing too badly. While there’s still quite a few games left to play, several weeks during which time a lot of things can change, a couple of my predictions aren’t too wide of the mark. One has turned out to be a jinx, and two are looking quite precarious, but the other two stand a good chance of being correct. So, without any further ado, let’s revisit the five predictions I made for the 2016 NBA season, and see how each of them are looking at the halfway mark.
1. The Changes to Playoff Seeding Won’t Matter
So Far: If current trends continue, they won’t.
Like I said in my initial predictions column, I do think the change they made to Playoff seeding was logical, given that the NBA realigned itself into six divisions a little over ten years ago. I can’t really argue against the change, except to say I think it was partly a knee-jerk reaction to a rare situation last season. And guess what: if they hadn’t made that change, the seeding would’ve been just fine. As it stands, the three division leaders in each conference are all in the top four, and in the case of the West, the top three. While that could certainly change by the end of the year, so far the seeding is shaping up as it would have done under the old format.
Again, I’m not saying there’s absolutely no good reason for the change, but it is funny to see things work themselves out in a way that would’ve been absolutely fine had the old format remained in place. If that’s not proof that the old format wasn’t a complete disaster, consider this: without it, we probably wouldn’t have seen that great series between the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers. The most capable and deserving teams will win at the end of the day, and as it happened, the Spurs lost to the Clippers, who blew a 3-1 series lead against the Rockets, who lost 4-1 in the Conference Finals. If any of those teams “deserved” to stick around longer, they’d have gotten the job done, regardless of their seeding.
2. The East Will Start to Balance Things Out
So Far: They have indeed.
As I’ve mentioned a couple of times on the NLSC Podcast, I’m really pleased to see the Eastern Conference improve and balance out the league a little. I expect that a lot of those Western Conference teams (and their fans) who were clamouring for the league to do away with the approach of seeding Playoff teams by conference aren’t so keen on the idea right now. At present, the top eight teams in the East are all above .500, and the Detroit Pistons are right there at .500 as well. Eight Western teams are .500 or better. In fact, for much of the first half of the season, as many as ten Eastern teams were .500 or better, while the West had sub-.500 teams in the top eight.
Eastern teams have also enjoyed a better record against Western teams for most of the season so far, and right now, the conferences are looking quite even. The West has a slight edge at the top, with three of the top five records in the league, while the East has the worst team in the Philadelphia 76ers. Apart from that though, it’s mostly neck and neck. Slumps and hot streaks could still shake things up, but this is the best that the East has looked in years. Being a Bulls fan, I’m kind of partial to the Eastern Conference, so I hope that the trend continues. I also have to believe that balance is good for the NBA in general.
3. Anthony Davis Will Win His First MVP
So Far: Uh, yeah, not happening.
I feel quite confident in saying that this particular prediction won’t come to pass. Anthony Davis was selected by GMs as the one player they’d pick if they were building a team from scratch, but right now, I’d say they would probably choose Stephen Curry. Of course, even if Curry wasn’t having a season for the ages, The Brow’s chances at being named the league’s Most Valuable Player would be fairly slim. He’s an All-Star and his numbers are far from terrible, but for the most part, they’re down across the board. He’s not shooting the ball as well as he did last year, and he’s become too willing to fire up threes and long twos.
The New Orleans Pelicans are also having a disappointing year, owning the fourth worst record in the West, and the sixth worst record overall. Needless to say, that’s well below expectations after they made the Playoffs last season, and not what they had in mind when they fired Monty Williams. Between the slight decline in his numbers and the drastic decline in his teams’ performance, Anthony Davis certainly doesn’t compare to Stephen Curry in terms of MVP credentials. And again, even if Curry wasn’t having a stellar year, he wouldn’t match up to Kevin Durant, LeBron James, or anyone else in the MVP discussion. I’ll put my hand up here: I jinxed him.
4. The Clippers Are Primed For a Deep Run
So Far: Shaping up to be a fine season, but…
…it seems highly likely that they’ll run into a brick wall in the Playoffs. Assuming that the standings remain more or less unchanged through the rest of the regular season, the Los Angeles Clippers would be the fourth seed in the West. That would see them match up with the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round, a series that I believe they can win, as long as they’re healthy. In the second round, however, they’d be on a collision course with the Golden State Warriors. I don’t see them getting past the defending champions, and while advancing to the second round is respectable, it’s not exactly a “deep run”.
This is the hands down the best era in the history of the Clippers franchise. Admittedly, that’s not saying much, but they have been one of the best teams in the West since acquiring Chris Paul back in the 2012 season. I get the feeling they might be shaping up to be this generation’s equivalent of the 2002 Sacramento Kings, or the Portland Trail Blazers of the early 90s. They play an exciting brand of basketball and they’re one of the league’s top teams, but they’re peaking at a time when a better team is ruling the roost. If they want to at least make it to the Western Conference Finals, I believe they’ll need to overtake the Oklahoma City Thunder for the third seed.
5. 72-10 Will Not Be Broken
So Far: It’s definitely possible.
In fact, with each passing week, it’s looking more and more likely. The Golden State Warriors have been a force all season, handling their business against the other top teams in the NBA. In fact, just when it looks like one of their toughest challengers has them on the ropes, they dig down deep and get the job done, pulling out another victory. It’s the mark of a great team, and these Warriors are undoubtedly that. With their record start to the season, and the best start in NBA history through 52 games, it’s fair to say that the Chicago Bulls’ record is definitely in danger.
Of course, there’s still some regular season left to play, and some match-ups with good teams who can, on their best day, hang with the Warriors. The Oklahoma City Thunder were a few blown plays away from defeating them last week, and even the Philadelphia 76ers came close. In fact, all four of the Warriors’ losses have come to rather unexpected opponents. I’ll be honest here: I’m a diehard Bulls fan, and I’m hoping that they can keep the record. But if the Warriors do break it – and it’s certainly a possibility at this point – then all you can do is tip your hat to them. Or find ways to undermine the accomplishment, as people did with the Bulls in 1996. I haven’t quite made up my mind how gracious I’ll be just yet.
So, that’s how my predictions are shaping up, halfway through the 2016 NBA season. I expect that I’ll revisit them again in June, for a final tally of how I fared. How are your early season predictions looking? What do you make of the first half of the season? Let me know 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, enjoy All-Star Weekend, and please join me again next Friday for another Five.