The 2016-17 NBA season is right around the corner and that means it’s time for prognosticators and talking heads around the country to attempt to find the crystal ball and predict what will happen this season. I thought I would take it a step further by predicting how each individual team will fare on the hardwood this season from Atlanta to Washington.
Will Golden State come close to challenging their own wins record? Will the new look New York “Super team” Knicks find their way back into the postseason or (gasp) 50 wins? Which plucky young western conference team makes the leap this season? Keep reading to see what the Hoop Doctors project in 2016-17.
The Hawks underwent a definite re-tooling this off-season after seeing that although the previous incarnation was good and gelled, it was never going to be good enough to legitimately compete with the Cavaliers to get out of the east.
As ESPN writer Zach Lowe wrote over the summer, the Hawks had one of the most incredibly interesting days of free agency. In a 24 hour span they alternated between having Horford back and signing Howard to team up with him and Paul Millsap, dealing Millsap and rolling with Horford and Howard, and ultimately ending up with Howard and Millsap and no Horford.
The Hawks made the (very smart decision) to bring back 3-and-D and former bench celebration extraordinaire Kent Bazemore to shore up their defense and add more athleticism. Adding in Howard and much more Schroeder makes the Hawks much more athletic this season if not quite as refined. I think Howard has a bit of bounce back season and Dennis Schroeder feels up the stat sheet and the Hawks remain a tier two eastern conference contender.
Record Prediction: 46-36 (4th seed, 1st in Southeast Division)
The Celtics had a good off-season after a breakout season in 2015-16 by acquiring Al Horford in free agency. Horford’s experience, I.Q. and ability make the Celtics a better team on both sides of the ball and provide them the sort of mainstay in their front court that they were missing last season.
The Celtics seem to have the toughness, coaching and leadership to be the toughest test in the eastern conference for the Cavaliers and I see them making another jump to a 50 plus win team and the clear second fiddle in the east.
I still have a hard time seeing them being able to actually seriously compete for an NBA title though when their go-to offensive player in the final few minutes of a game is 5’9″.
Record Prediction: 53-29 (2nd, 1st in Atlantic Division)
The Nets organization has seen better days, they are fully experiencing the aftermath of completely mortgaging their future to completely overpay for two over the hill stars (Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce) to add to a mediocre roster that only mustered one playoff series victory. Devoid of picks and young talent, the Nets finally have salary cap flexibility, but got it when roughly 80% of the NBA had and swung and missed for even mid-level talent. There is not much to like or get excited about this season and a team with Brook Lopez and Jeremy Lin as its two biggest stars is destined for failure. I think Rondae Hollis-Jefferson could become a two-way psuedo star ala Andre Igoudala, but the cupboard is bare and the 2016-17 season will be a slog.
Record Prediction: 18-64 (worst record in the NBA)
The Hornets were one of the surprise teams of the NBA last season, seeing their win total increase by 15 games and coming tantalizingly close to winning their first playoff series since the original Charlotte Hornets franchise made the 2nd round in 2002.
The team will have Michael Kidd-Gilchrist back and re-signed do everything forward Nic Batum, but lost valuable role players Courtney Lee and Jeremy Lin and previous face of the franchise Al Jefferson. Their biggest mistake this off-season was not throwing a ton of money at a player like Bismack Biyombo to return and shore up their rim protection and front court.I have a feeling they will take a step back this season.
Record Prediction: 40-42 (10th in the East, tied for 3rd in the Southeast Division)
From a construction stand point this team makes absolutely zero sense for the NBA in 2016 and seems to be built the opposite of most teams, with guards who can’t shoot and big men who do most of their damage away from the hoop. Watching Rondo and Wade try to co-exist will be fascinating and seeing how their front court rotation evolves will be interesting. There is too much basketball experience and I.Q. for this team to be a complete disaster save for injuries, but I say they miss the postseason.
Record Prediction: 41-41 (9th seed eastern conference, 4th in the Central Division)
The reigning NBA champions and the team that provided us with the most dramatic, entertaining and historically significant comeback upset victory in NBA Finals history last season returns about 80% intact with a few minor additions. You still have the best player in the world in LeBron James in the tail end of his prime, newly minted champion, big shot maker and young superstar in Kyrie Irving, a top 5-10 power forward in Kevin Love and hustle, glass cleaner extraordinaire in Tristan Thompson. Losing Dellavedova’s toughness and defensive ability in the second unit will hurt and J.R. Smith incredibly is still un-signed. Whether Kay Felder can actually fill the backup point guard role for this team is their biggest question mark. At the end of the day though these guys have elite chemistry, leadership and talent and LeBron James in the eastern conference, that means coasting to 55-60 wins and another NBA Finals appearance.
Record Prediction:59-23 (No. 1 seed eastern conference)
The Mavericks are one of those teams you can see going either way this season, from the five to eight seed to the middle of the lottery depending on how things turn out for them and their aging roster. On one hand a starting lineup featuring Dirk, Wes Matthews, Andrew Bogut, Harrison Barnes and Deron Williams and coached by Rick Carlisle can really do some damage if relatively healthy. On the other hand, a team relying on an aging Dirk Nowitzki, a declining Deron Williams, an aging and creaky kneed Andrew Bogut, an unproven in his current role Harrison Barnes and a player still trying to find his previous form in Wes Matthews could spell disaster. Add in a lot of unproven bench players and that could be a 35 win team.
I forsee Seth Curry and Justin Anderson establishing their NBA value and the aging starting lineup gelling and being able to maintain their health as much as an older team can and Rick Carlisle waving his magic wand again. This team will be a pleasant surprise in the west.
Record Prediction: 44-38 (7th seed western conference, 3rd in the southwest division)
The Nuggets have been in the same position as a franchise for the past five years or so now. A lot of depth at a few positions, but no star and no real identity. A forgettable team that doesn’t generate many headlines or garner much attention. Expect much of the same in 2016-17.
There is some things to like about this team, including the emergence of Nikola Jokic and the idea of Jamal Murray as a go to scorer combo guard. They need to deal Kenneth Faried and it will be interesting if Danilo Gallinari can have the same level of production and how Emmanuel Mudiay will progress. This is still a team that won’t sniff the postseason in the west though.
Record Prediction: 32-50 (12th place in the western conference, fifth place in northwest division)
The Pistons broke through last season and made their first postseason appearance in seven years en route to a 44-38 record. Reggie Jackson proved he is a good starting point guard and Andre Drummond showed he is a star. Stan Van Gundy worked his magic and they were a pleasant surprise.
Missing Reggie Jackson the first month or so will hurt but Ish Smith should be able to pick up some slack. Tobias Harris will have a full season to fit into Stan Vandy Gundy’s system and maybe fill the Rashard Lewis role and Jon Leuer will prove to be a good signing to spread the floor with shooting. Will Stanley Johnson improve and will Marcus Morris be on the whole team the whole season? We’ll see.
Record Prediction: 44-38 (7th seed in the east, 3rd in the central division)
Here we go, possibly the most supremely talented and highly scrutinized (I’m assuming) team the NBA has ever seen. If the Warriors had a death lineup the last few seasons, this year’s version featuring Kevin Durant is ethnic cleansing level destruction, sorry that may have been a little dark. So will this team mesh from day one and actually challenge their mark of 73 wins last season? Will it be a disaster (as much as it could be with this team) with chemistry issues with their new star and their incumbent trio and they only win 50-55 games? I say somewhere in between. This may be the biggest championship or bust team of all-time and they will be under the microscope every night.
Record Prediction: 63-19 (No. 1 seed in the western conference)
The Rockets are going to be fun to watch this season, there is no denying that. Combine James Harden, at point guard no less (less minutes for Patrick Beverly) Mike D’Antoni and his system, Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon, and you have a lot of offense and very little defense.
How will James Harden fair in the Steve Nash role? We’ll see considering I feel as though he may be the anti-Steve Nash that puts up amazing numbers but doesn’t possess leadership abilities and doesn’t have the admiration of his teammates. Unless Clint Capela is the best defensive center in the league I see this team struggling to win a high number of games.
Record Prediction: 40-42 (9th in the western conference, 4th in the southwest division)
The Pacers underwent a complete roster retooling and talent infusion this off-season. Out are George Hill (severely underrated), Solomon Hill and Ian Mahinmi. In are Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young, Al Jefferson, and Aaron Brooks.
The Pacers want to pick up the pace (even though they were in the top half of the league in pace last season) with their starting lineup, but the signing of Jefferson means more of a slog with the second unit which is pretty incredible when you think about it, a team playing two completely different styles with different lineups.
This team will be highly intriguing with the potential of winning 50 games and being the biggest competition for the Cavaliers in the east, or a team that doesn’t fit and struggles to make the postseason all together. Shocker, I am in the middle on this one.
Record Prediction: 47-35 (5th seed in the east with home court, 2nd in the central division)
It feels like the Clippers have been in the same position for a decade now. highly talented and have the capability of finally breaking through and winning the west with their dynamic big three of Paul-Griffin-Jordan, but destined to win 55 games or so and have a huge letdown in the playoffs while everyone projects them to blow it all up.
It seems to be a two-team race between the Spurs and Clippers as top competition to the Warriors in the west and the Clippers will be in that race all season.
Record Prediction: 54-28 (3rd in the western conference, 2nd in the pacific division)
The Lakers are still in the midst of a rebuild and can now finally move on past the Kobe Bryant era which they were hanging on to to their detriment the past few seasons. They have some young pieces in place in DeAngelo Russell, Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle, mixed with some filler veterans in Luol Deng, Timofey Mozgov, and Lou Williams. Their will be development but this team will be bad once again.
Record Prediction: 24-58 (Last place in the western conference)
The Grizzlies are another boom or bust team depending solely on their level of health for the 2015-16 season. They have the experience and pieces to be a legitimate top tier contender if things break the right way and win 50 games or they can deal with a rash of injuries again with their aging or injury prone players and miss the postseason all together. What will it be? I say the injury gods smile on them after a rough season and they get their groove back en route to a great season.
Record Prediction: 50-32 (5th seed in the west with home court advantage, 2nd in the southwest division)
The Heatles era in Miami is long gone, LeBron, Bosh and Wadem, yes even Dwyane Wade, are all gone. This Heat team has the least amount of buzz or excitement coming into a season for quite some time. There is some young two-way talent on this team and a proven point guard in Goran Dragic, but this team has very little chance to return to the postseason in the east in my opinion. They should hope for Dragic to find his Phoenix swag, Whiteside not to lose focus after cashing in, Winslow and Josh Richardson to take a step forward and Dion Waiters to perform a passable poor man’s version of Dwyane Wade. I am not confident in most of that and I can see Riley deciding to blow it up even more and tank mid-season.
Record Prediction: 30-52 (13th in the east, 5th in the southeast division)
The Bucks took a big step back last season after breaking out and tasting success a little early in 2014-15 for their very young core. Their big time acquistions at the 2015 trade deadline and in free agency have flopped and both are available for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at the moment, I’m talking about Greg Monroe and Michael Carter-Williams of course. Now with a devastating injury to key asset Khris Middleton the Bucks sorely lack wing depth and look like a roster in flux outside of their star in the Greek Freak and Jabari Parker. They will both excel but the team will be stuck in neutral yet again.
Record Prediction: 33-49 (12th in the east, 5th in the central division)
Ah yes everybody’s young darling, the Timberpups. Pencil in western conferenc domination for the next decade and a few titles. Before we get too excited about a very exciting young core too soon, let’s remember they play in the typically brutal western conference and still have an obscenely young and inexperienced team. Karl Anthony-Towns will be great, Kris Dunn is ready to step in and be a two-way force right away and Andrew Wiggins will continue to develop, I just don’t see them quite making the postseason in 2016-17.
Record Prediction: 40-42 (10th in the west, 4th in the northwest division)
The Pelicans have dealt with more bad luck with injuries than any franchise in the NBA for the past four seasons. That is partially bad luck and partially the result of having numerous injury prone players in Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans. They are already dealing with issues with Holiday and Evans yet again and Davis already has a sprained ankle in the preseason. They brought in a number of under the radar free agent acquisitions that should fill roles and compliment Davis well like Solomon Hill, Terrance Jones. E’Twuan Moore, Langston Galloway and Lance Stephenson. They also added NBA ready Buddy Hield to provide much needed shooting. I just think injuries will be an issue once again and Anthony Davis will be watching the postseason from home.
Record Prediction: 36-46 (11th in the west, 5th in the southwest division)
After two years of being boring, lacking talent and generally lacking interest from a typical NBA fan, the Knicks went all in for mediocrity this off-season and brought in a number of NBA names such as Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Brandon Jennings. Will the talent and experience influx result in more wins? Absolutely. Will Rose and Jennings be an upgrade to Calderon, Galloway and Grant? Yes. Is this a super team capable of competing with the Cavs in the east? No. Is this a mid tier playoff team or high level lottery team? That is where the real question lies.
I say they squeak into the postseason.
Record Prediction: 43-39 (8th seed in the east, third in the Atlantic division)
The Thunder are still reeling from losing their face of the franchise to what was their biggest rival last season and now must move forward and give the complete keys to RUSSELL WESTBROOK!!! who lives his life in all caps. Add in another aggressive, athletic back court mate in Victor Oladipo and more opportunity for Enes Kanter to be a go-to scorer and this team could be alright.
Record Prediction 48-34 (4th in the west, 1st in the northwest division)
The Magic had the most bizarre off-season in the NBA to follow-up a bizarre trade at the trade deadline and are extremely front court heavy. They will have to trade Vucevic after acquiring Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo and Jeff Green and although Frank Vogel is a great coach and a great hire, this team just doesn’t fit and will get lost in the shuffle in a deeper eastern conference.
Record Prediction: 37-45 (11th in the east, 4th in the southeast division)
The 76ers have been atrocious for a while now while “trusting the process” and have ended up with three centers and a power forward who can’t shoot as a result of this process. There was some legitamate optimism this off-season as the 76ers got the No. 1 pick after trying for three years and potentially got a transcendent player in Ben Simmons. Simmons now has a serious foot injury and will be out three months and they still need to deal either Jahlil Okafor or Nerlens Noel. This will be a very bad team once again.
Record Prediction: 21-61 (14th in the east, 4th in the Atlantic division)
The Suns have finally (thank you lord) embraced a legitimate rebuild for the first time in their franchise history this off-season by not engaging in the spending party and getting two talented and diversly skilled forwards in Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss. Bledsoe will have a huge rebound year, Devin Booker will continue to develop and flash his star potential and veterans like Tyson Chandler, Jared Dudley and Leandro Barbosa will add plenty of leadership and kumbaya that this team has been missing the last few years. They will be entertaining and pesky, but still not very good this season and that is completely fine.
Record Prediction: 29-53 (13th in the west, 3rd in the pacific division)
Portland was the pleasant surprise and NBA darling in the 2015-16 season winning 45 games and making the 2nd round of the playoffs behind the star ability of Damian Lillard, a huge breakout season from C.J. McCollum and a bunch of role players. I didn’t like their off-season giving big money to Evan Turner whom they don’t necessarily need and I think they are due for the natural regression of a young team that over performed the year before, circa the 2014-15 Suns and 2015-16 Bucks.
Record Prediction: 41-41 (8th seed in the west, 3rd in the northwest division)
The Kings are a mess, plain and simple. They have a highly talented star center who can’t seem to get along with a coach or most teammates and struggles with real maturity issues after six seasons in the NBA. They have a front office that doesn’t seem to know what it is doing and currently have 27 centers on their roster (a little hyperbole). Many players including Rudy Gay and Ben McLemore want to get out of Dodge and the franchise seems destined for the lottery once again. Look for even more losing in 2016-17.
Record Prediction: 24-58(last place in the west, 5th in the pacific division)
The Spurs will feel a little different this season without No. 21 on the court, but with Pau Gasol in the fold, who let’s be honest was born to be a Spur, and the remaining talent such as Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge among others and the best coach in NBA history in Gregg Popovich, this team will coast to 50 plus wins once again.
Kawhi Leonard is an under the radar MVP favorite this season and the Spurs have plenty of depth in the front court, back court and on the wing. They could take a minor step back defensively with Gasol in place of Duncan, but they will be a little better offensively. There are three things you can count on in life, death, taxes and the San Antonio Spurs winning 50 games.
Record Prediction: 57-25 (2nd seed in the west, 1st in the southwest division)
The Raptors made a huge leap to a 56 win team last season and went from a team that hadn’t won a playoff series in 15 years to a team two wins from the NBA Finals.
Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan were the 2nd best back court in the NBA behind the Splash Brothers (sorry Lillard and McCollum) and they have developed a much better defense and home court advantage. Losing Bismack Biyombo will affect their ability to defend the paint, but a healthier DeMarre Carroll and the addition of Jared Sullinger adds more talent and skill to a 56 win team. They may not be able to win 56 again but 50 is well within reach.
Record Prediction: 52-30 (3rd seed in the east, 2nd in the Atlantic division)
The Jazz are one of two sexy teams this off-season that many people expect to take a leap into the postseason this season (the other is the Timberwolves) and some think they will be a top four seed and win 50 games. A lot to like with George Hill as a very competent and defensive minded point guard to pair with a play making wing player in Gordon Hayward and the best rim protector in the NBA in Rudy Gobert. Adding veterans Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw add much need depth, experience, leadership and ball handling to a younger team and the Jazz are for the first time in a long time one of the more talented teams top to bottom in the west. Not having Hayward for 20 games will hurt, but having Johnson and Rodney Hood will help.
Record Prediction: 46-36 (6th in the west, 2nd in the northwest prediction)
Washington may be the most confusing and hard to gauge team in the NBA this season with a decent ceiling and a lower floor. They could win 50 ish games as John Wall and Bradley Beal assert themselves as a top three back court and Otto Porter, and Kelly Oubre are two-way 3-and-D guys on the wing and Gortat is effective on the pick-and-roll while Mahinmi protects the rim. You could also see the injury bug hitting and this team falling apart and winning 35 games. I lean toward the better outcome for the Wizards.
Record Prediction: 46-36 (6th in the west, 2nd in the southeast)