We are now five days away from the NBA opener, which is also the amount of wins the 76ers will get this season. Every year, we as fans believe we know how the season will play out. But every year, the season proves us wrong. For example, the Phoenix Suns made a run for the playoffs after being a projected lottery team last season and are now in the hunt again for a Western Conference playoff seed. It already seems that we are in for a tumultuous season. There are so many questions that will be answered… “How will the Thunder fare without Kevin Durant?” “Will LeBron James’s return to Cleveland end with a Finals victory?” And, “Why, oh god why, is Kobe Bryant taking 50 shots a game?” Now, to get ready for another NBA extravaganza, I have decided to comb my brain and make some daring predictions. Surely, all of them will be correct (Full disclosure: they won’t)
1.The Portland Trailblazers Will Not Make The Playoffs
This is something that I have brought up before, in the West Over/Unders. As great as the Trailblazers’ starting five is, I truly doubt that the rest of their roster has enough to make the playoffs again. Every team in the West has an enormous amount of depth. The Spurs have won games where Tim Duncan and Tony Parker have taken off, the Clippers have Jamal Crawford and Spencer Hawes coming off their bench and, even with the Durant injury, the Thunder still have competent players down to their twelfth man. On the other hand, the Trailblazers are relying on backups such as Steve Blake and Chris Kaman to play meaningful minutes. If any one of the Trailblazers’ starting five is out for an extended period of time due to injury, I don’t believe that they could consistently compete in a loaded Western conference.
2.Blake Griffin Will Win The MVP
Shush. Calm down. I know, it’s crazy, but it makes sense. Former winner Kevin Durant is essentially out of the running due to his foot injury that will sideline him for an extended period of time, and there will surely be some early trouble in Cleveland due to chemistry and a new system. (I’m not saying the Cavs will be bad but with a new coach in David Blatt and many new players trying to acclimate to each other, I can see them starting pretty slow.) With the two usual favorites out of the race, there are only a few viable candidates. I see it coming down to James Harden, Steph Curry, Anthony Davis, Joakim Noah and Blake Griffin. Due to defensive lapses and changes around them, a new point guard and small forward in Houston and a new coach in Golden State, James Harden and Steph Curry will be great after the All-Star Break but will be out of the running by then. Anthony Davis will cement his rising star as one of the best players in the league this season, however I do not see a scenario where the Pelicans make the Playoffs, thus kicking him out of the race. Finally, as great as the Bulls will be this season, I see it being more of a team effort with the Pau Gasol addition and Derrick Rose stealing some of Noah’s thunder. This leaves Blake Griffin all by his lonesome. The Clippers have one of the best rosters in the league, top to bottom, one of the best point guards, Chris Paul, feeding Griffin and a top-5 coach in Doc Rivers. All of these factors will give Griffin time to flourish and play some MVP-worthy basketball. Also, Griffin’s shooting has apparently improved in workouts and game footage which is the final step for the best big-men. Griffin will be a monster this season and the publicity his dunks get will just be another indicator of his rise as one of the NBA elite.
3.The Toronto Raptors Will Win Over 50 Games And Be The Third Best Team In The East (By Far)
It may not be as competitive as the West, but the Eastern Conference has dramatically improved from last season. The Wizards added Paul Pierce, the Bobcats picked up Lance Stephenson and the rest of the East has matured and will ensure that they are not that much of a laughingstock. With all that said, there are only three teams that really have a chance to make the NBA Finals. Of course, there are the Cavaliers and Bulls but running in the third spot is the Toronto Raptors. Perhaps the most complete team in the Eastern conference, the Raptors are stacked from the top-down. They are led by gritty, future all-star point guard, Kyle Lowry, who cemented himself as a top-30 player in the NBA. Fellow man in the backcourt, DeMar Derozan, who made the All-Star squad last season and has the potential to be a top shooting guard in the league, joins him. The Raptors may not be the flashiest or the most entertaining team, but night-in and night-out, they can compete against anyone and will build upon a great season from last year.
4.The Atlanta Hawks Will Be A Top Four Team In The East
At one point last season, before the Al Horford injury and a series of other bang-ups, the Hawks were one of the top teams in the East. When Horford went down for the year, it seemed the Hawks would tank, however Mike Budenholzer, one of the best new coaches in the league altered the offensive system and the Hawks slid into the eighth seed. After giving the Pacers a run for their money, the Hawks showed potential once their best post player returned. At every position, the Hawks have a competent player and their offensive scheme is perfect for their players. Atlanta will be tremendously entertaining as they hoist up three after three, led by shooting-star Kyle Korver, and will also prove their dominance in the East. I predict the Hawks to get the fourth seed and win at least 45 games. They may not be at the forefront of the NBA conversation, but they will be soon.
5.The Lakers Are Going To Be Really, Really, Really Bad
Led by future Hall-of-Famer and one of the best players to ever pick up a basketball in Kobe Bryant, the Lakers are going to plummet this season in a loaded Western Conference. For one, their coach, Byron Scott, is preaching to his team not to shoot three-pointers and instead settle for longer jump shots inside the perimeter. Has Scott not watched basketball in the last decade? Study after study has shown the importance of the three and every champion has utilized this shot in their arsenal. Just last year, the San Antonio Spurs used the shot to perfection as it stopped any Miami Heat run and increased the growing lead at the same time. Also, besides the fact that their coach is a raving madman, the Lakers have an extremely limited roster. When you’re anxious for Nick “Swaggy P” Young to return from an injury, you know things are bad. Kobe Bryant may average 30 points a game but the Lakers might average 75.
Follow Greg on Twitter @gott31 and listen to him on “The Round Table” Thursdays 6-7pm