NBA Regular Season Review

Now that the NBA regular season is complete, we’re going to look back at how my predictions panned out. Not only the accuracy of the predictions, but also how we got here. This is only the regular season and playoff predictions. I’ll do a separate post for my award’s predictions.
 
Eastern Conference
 
Atlantic Division
 
Boston Celtics
Prediction: Over 55.5
Record: 55-27 Miss
 
Brad Stevens has proven that he can take lesser talent to the greatest possible ceiling. Not only has he done it with the Boston Celtics, but also in college at Butler. The only reason Boston missed its mark this season is because of the Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving injuries. They lost, by far, their two best players, one for the entire season, and still almost won 56 games. It’s incredible.
 
Toronto Raptors
Prediction: Under 48.5
Record: 59-23 Miss
 
Dwane Casey deserves a ton of credit for the Raptors this year. Casey took a group that we were all starting to get bored of and energized the team. He is not my coach of the year, because how hard is it to acknowledge where the league is going (spacing, 3’s) and adjust your offense toward that? But I digress. And the bench is a big reason why. Fred Van Vleet is the biggest surprise, but the Raps own the deepest bench in the league. Combine that with Casey pushing the right buttons at the right time, and you have the #1 seed Raptors. Now they have to prove it in the playoffs.
 
Philadelphia Sixers
Prediction: Under 41.5
Record: 52-30 Miss
 
Joel Embiid stayed healthy, it’s pretty plain and simple. Given his injury history, there wasn’t any reason to believe he would play close to a full season. 63 games later, Embiid is a superstar and the Sixers could be ready for a run, not only in this playoffs, but for years to come. Ben Simmons has also been one of the best rookies we’ve seen in awhile.
 
New York Knicks
Prediction: Over 30.5
Record: 29-53 Miss
 
Hornacek is out, and the Knicks continue to run the mediocrity treadmill. They hit the over if Porzingis stays healthy, but he didn’t, and they didn’t. Meh.
 
Brooklyn Nets
Prediction: Over 27.5
Record: 28-54 Hit
 
This is both a credit to coach Kenny Atkinson and a knock on the level of talent in Brooklyn. Brooklyn hasn’t had it’s own first round pick since 2013, so they’ve been trying hard to win games. The talent is so depleted, they won 28 games. Atkinson is their coach of the future, and maximizing given talent is going to be his expertise.
 
Central Division
 
Cleveland Cavaliers
Prediction: Over 53.5
Record: 50-32 Miss
 
Lebron had way more to deal with this season than anyone could have expected. Ty Lue took time off to take care of his mental space, Kevin Love missed time with injuries and Isaiah Thomas was a circus on his own. Oh, and the roster was completely overhauled at the trade deadline. Lebron is the best to ever do it, but at 33 years old, he can only carry so much.
 
Milwaukee Bucks
Prediction: Over 47.5
Record: 44-38 Miss
 
In my awards predictions, I expected Giannis Antetokounmpo to make the leap this year into superstardom. And while he hit that next level, the rest of the Bucks didn’t follow. Jabari Parker missed a lot of the year again, and second year Malcolm Brogdan didn’t elevate much from his Rookie of the Year campaign. The Bucks next coach needs to come in prepared to help this team leap into the next level. Otherwise, Giannis may start looking for a new home.
 
Detroit Pistons
Prediction: Under 38.5
Record: 39-43 Miss
 
Stan Van Gundy is a great coach. He is not a great coach/president of basketball operations. He has more than likely worked his way out of the second role, and may lose his job as coach as well. Detroit has some pieces, but they need pieces that work together. Having the parts to a Volkswagen and trying to build an Audi doesn’t work.
 
Indiana Pacers
Prediction: Over 31.5
Record: 48-34 Hit
 
I definitely thought the Pacers would be better than 31.5 wins. But I still had them finishing 4th in the Central division. This iteration of the Pacers is far beyond what most people thought the ceiling would be. Victor Oladipo has been reborn in Indiana and if Myles Turner takes another step forward, the Pacers could be a problem for awhile.
 
Chicago Bulls
Prediction: Under 22
Record: 27-55 Miss
 
Lauri Markkanen is one of my biggest misses. I didn’t believe in him at all. Not only was he one of the best rookies this season, but Denzel Valentine and Bobby Portis looked good. Hell, even Kris Dunn seems to have figured some things out. Things are looking up for Chicago.
 
Southeast Division
 
Washington Wizards
Prediction: Over 48
Record: 43-39 Miss
 
Only when there is a track record of injuries (see the Sixers prediction) do I factor in injuries. So while John Wall missing the majority of the season may be the reason, the Wizards have still be a disappointment this season. There were many games along the way that they had no business losing, yet here we are. This is will be an interesting franchise to watch going forward.
 
Charlotte Hornets
Prediction: Over 42.5
Record: 36-46 Miss
 
I plain missed this one. There was reason to be hopeful about this Hornets team. Kemba Walker has been fantastic all season, but combinations of injuries and a general lack of talent helped the outcome. Also, Malik Monk was one of my favorite players in the draft, but has been disappointing. He’ll figure things out, but this season wasn’t that time. Kemba seems to love Charlotte, but Michael Jordan needs to do more to show some love back.
 
Miami Heat
Prediction: Over 43.5
Record: 44-38 Hit
 
Everything I said about Brad Stevens can be copy and pasted for Erik Spoelstra. He’s a great coach and gets the most out of the talent given to him.
 
Orlando Magic
Prediction: Under 33.5
Record: 25-57 Hit
 
I, like most people, saw the opening stretch for Orlando and didn’t understand. Beating the Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers, San Antonio Spurs, New Orleans Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies in the first eight games of the season is impressive. Once the glow faded and the shooting percentage dropped, the Magic were stuck being the Magic. Frank Vogel is looking for another job, and Orlando stays on that same treadmill of mediocrity as New York. Until next season!
 
Atlanta Hawks
Prediction: Under 25.5
Record: 24-58 Hit
 
Atlanta is on the rebuild track, and with a base of young talent already there, they set up well for a few years from now. They’ll take this years top pick and start to build something nice.
 
 
Western Conference
 
Northwest Divison
 
Oklahoma City Thunder
Prediction: Over 50.5
Record: 48-34 Miss
 
I blame Billy Donovan. Carmelo Anthony should have been on the bench, or at least playing less than 30 minutes a game, for awhile now. Donovan either doesn’t have the chops to bench a Hall of Famer, or there’s some serious internal issues. Either way, unless the Thunder do one of those two things, they won’t hit their ceiling in the playoffs. And even that may not take them far.
 
Denver Nuggets
Prediction: Over 45.5
Record: 46-36 Hit
 
Oh Denver. You waited way too long to give a shit. I like the young core they have there, but Jokic needs to work on his defense if the Nuggets are going to make any sort of leap forward. Mike Malone should get another year, but his seat is going to be very hot.
 
Minnesota Timberwolves
Prediction: Under 48.5
Record: 47-35 Hit
 
I’ll say it now; Minnesota is going to get smacked in the playoffs. Tibs runs those guys into the ground and they aren’t going to have the stamina to keep up with Houston. Houston was set up to beat anyone they played, but Minnesota will go down in 4 or 5.
 
Utah Jazz
Prediction: Over 41
Record: 48-34 Hit
 
Donovan Mitchell is definitely a top 2 Rookie of the Year candidate. He and Ricky Rubio carried the Jazz through the Rudy Gobert injury, and with Gobert back, the Jazz are the Western Conference team nobody wants. The Western Conference playoffs, from top to bottom, is going to be a lot of fun to watch.
 
Portland Trailblazers
Prediction: Under 42.5
Record: 49-33 Miss
 
Swing and a miss. The Raptors and Trailblazers are very parallel teams, and that includes their ability to outplay my expectations. Similar cast coming back to make another run at it, with a key new contributor coming off the bench (Van Vleet, Zach Collins). I love Damian Lillard, and Portland, so I’m very happy to be wrong here.
 
Pacific Division
 
Golden State Warriors
Prediction: Over 67.5
Record: 58-24 Miss
 
The biggest takeaway from this season has been the effect many runs to the Finals has on a team. We’ve seen it with every team that makes 3 Finals in a row. The year following the third run, the team falls apart. The only player that seems to be immune to the toll it takes is Lebron James, but he’s 33 and not getting younger. The Warriors are more vulnerable than ever.
 
Los Angeles Clippers
Prediction: Over 43.5
Record: 42-40 Miss
 
Blake Griffin might have bumped the Clippers over the 43.5 mark, but I prefer the Boban, DJ and Tobias Harris pregame dance off. I have never liked Doc, Austin or the Clippers in general. But dammit if Boban didn’t soften my heart.
 
Los Angeles Lakers
Prediction: Over 33.5
Record: 35-47 Hit
 
The Baby Lakers still have a lot of room to grow. This offseason will be critical for what direction this franchise takes going forward, so it’s hard to project. If they choose to keep building around young talent, I like the Lonzo Ball-Brandon Ingram base. Kyle Kuzma will be a great contributor off the bench and Julius Randle could still be on the cusp. With an expected late first round pick this year, the Lakers need to hit on it or in free agency.
 
Sacramento Kings
Prediction: Over 27.5
Record: 27-55 Miss
 
I had high expectations for De’Aaron Fox, and I still do. He played behind a very unhappy George Hill for most of the season, and still needs to work on his game. I still have faith his drive to be great is going to fix a lot of his gaps. Plus, those city jerseys are flames. The Kings are looking up (kind of).
 
Phoenix Suns
Prediction: Under 29
Record: 21-61 Hit
 
Not too much patting on the back here. The Suns are awful, with no end in sight.
 
Southwest Division
 
Houston Rockets
Prediction: Over 55.5
Record: 65-17 Hit
 
The Rockets have been every bit the team as advertised and they are operating a historic offense. But…. Until James Harden and Chris Paul can bring a team to the Finals, there will be a cloud over their heads. Paul has at least performed well in high pressure situations, but the Rockets will need both it’s superstars to elevate in the playoffs.
 
San Antonio Spurs
Prediction: Under 54.5
Record: 47-35 Hit
 
Even with Kawhi, the Spurs were going to take a dip this season. Without him, they took a full-on slide. By only the grace of Popovich, they still have the 4 seed, but missed on 50 wins for the first time in the Popovich era, save the shortened 1998-99 season. They won 74% of their games that season.
 
Memphis Grizzlies
Prediction: Under 37.5
Record: 22-60 Hit
 
Grind City came to a grinding halt. ANYWAY, it’s time to reset the deck in Memphis, and with likely a top 3 pick in a loaded draft on the way, they should be set.
 
New Orleans Pelicans
Prediction: Under 39.5
Record: 48-34 Miss
 
Anthony Davis stayed healthy, DeMarcus Cousins didn’t, and then AD turned into Clark Kent. If you ever had a doubt Davis is a top 5 player in the league, this season fixed that for you. He dragged a very “first-run-of-Lebron’s-Cavaliers-esque” team to the playoffs, even after Cousins’ injury. Jrue Holiday has also been great this season.
 
Dallas Mavericks
Prediction: Under 35.5
Record: 24-58 Hit
 
Dirk deserves better. Between Nerlens Noel’s new found love of hot dogs, the Mark Cuban issues with his front office, and Wesley Matthews injury, it’s been a long season. Hey, at least they have Dennis Smith Jr.
 
Eastern Conference Playoffs Predictions 
Missed all seeds
 
Boston Celtics – Hit Playoffs
Cleveland Cavaliers – Hit Playoffs
Washington Wizards – Hit Playoffs
Milwaukee Bucks – Hit Playoffs
Toronto Raptors – Hit Playoffs
Charlotte Hornets – Miss Playoffs
Miami Heat – Hit Playoffs
Philadelphia Sixers – Hit Playoffs
 
Western Conference Playoffs Predictions
 
Missed all seeds
 
Golden State Warriors – Hit Playoffs
Houston Rockets – Hit Playoffs
Oklahoma City Thunder – Hit Playoffs
San Antonio Spurs – Hit Playoffs
Los Angeles Clippers – Miss Playoffs
Denver Nuggets – Miss Playoffs
Minnesota Timberwolves – Hit Playoffs
Utah Jazz – Hit Playoffs

2017-18 NBA Most Improved Player Preview

One of the most unpredictable awards is also my second favorite (behind Rookie of the Year). I love this award because there is nothing better than a player making the leap from good to great and making himself someone to be taken seriously. Or maybe he just got more minutes this season. Either way. Regardless, I am really intrigued by all five players on my list and think they could all be making a jump this season.

1. Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers

Ingram is so raw that there is a lot of room to grow for him. That helps. What else helps is having someone with the vision and pass-first mentality of Lonzo Ball as your new point guard. The Baby Lakers are going to be a lot of fun to watch and they could even win a handful of games if the young guys gel around Brook Lopez. What might be crazier is I have three players from last years Lakers on my list.

2. Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics

Jaylen was raw last year as well, but come the playoffs, he showed flashes of his potential on defense in particular. He has the defensive potential to be one of those few players that could bother Lebron (although by the time Brown gets to that point, James won’t be peak Lebron anymore). I think the Celtics best move is to start Brown this season, so I think the combination of additional minutes plus more development could launch Jaylen to the MIP award.

3. D’Angelo Russell, Brooklyn Nets

(Former) Laker #2. I love Russell’s potential and given his fresh start in Brooklyn, I’d like to see the Nets turn the keys over to him and let him fly. The Lakers weren’t big on Russell as everyone knows by now, and it was obvious that they weren’t letting him reach his full potential. I still expect big things from D’Angelo.

4. Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers

And Laker #3. Normally this is an award directed toward younger (yes I know Randle is only 22) players, mostly second year players. But I’ve been hearing that Randle has put in crazy work this offseason and could be a monster this year. I really hope so. Randle seems like one of the genuinely great people in the league and I’d love to see him make that leap into a real force at the 4.

5. DeAndre Bembry, Atlanta Hawks

Bembry was turning some heads last season, before the Hawks lost Tim Hardaway Jr., Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard and went into full rebuild mode. He won’t start, but the Summer League standout will earn significantly more minutes this season and if he continues to impress, could sneak away with the award.

2017-18 NBA Coach of the Year Preview

Similar to the Most Improved Player award, there are two different methods for how coaches win the award. Either they are the coach of a good team that exceeds a bit and maybe plays its way into a seed or two higher in the playoffs, or they go from having a bad or mediocre team to surprising people and either making the playoffs or ending up in the top four of their conference. Fittingly, there’s a mix of both on the list this year, although the coaches with better teams usually have a better chance of winning. With that said…

1. Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics

For years, Boston has been playing above its head, which most attribute to coach Brad Stevens. Now, Stevens has some real talent. The acquisition of Gordon Hayward was huge obviously, and with the trade completed for Kyrie Irving, the Celtics will be extremely formidable on the offensive side of the ball. They can take a real shot at throwing Cleveland off the throne and establish themselves going forward as the team to worry about in the East.

2. Mike D’Antoni, Houston Rockets

If Houston was coming back with the same team as last year, D’Antoni wouldn’t have made the list. He’s done a great job with the Rockets, but coaches never win the award twice in a row. No seriously, it hasn’t happened. However, if anyone has a chance at it, it might be D’Antoni. The Rockets added Chris Paul for basically nothing this summer, and they could challenge Golden State for the wins record in the regular season. Golden State could rest more this season and not worry about giving up home court to Houston. I think if Houston finishes the regular season with the best record in the NBA, D’Antoni could be the first back to back winner of the award.

3. Brett Brown, Philadelphia Sixers

If the Sixers stay healthy this season, they will probably make the playoffs. If they make the playoffs, even with a middling record, Brown will be getting a lot of love from the media for the job he’s done there. Whether you want to give him the credit for having 98 top 3 picks in the last few seasons is debatable, but the Process will finally be paying some dividends for the fans in Philly.

4. Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors

Here is your alternative to the scenario with the Houston Rockets. Golden State could come out on fire, ready to make a run at back-to-back championships, and light everyone up. I’ll keep this short and sweet. If the Warriors set the record (again) for wins in a season, Kerr stands a good chance at winning the award.

5. Jason Kidd, Milwaukee Bucks

I might as well have put Giannis Antetokounmpo’s name instead of Jason Kidd’s. Kidd is a fine coach, but the only reason he has a chance at this award is because of the Greek Freak. If the team makes a leap this season, playing it’s way into a 3rd or 4th seed in the East, Kidd could potentially win the award. It’s not likely but stranger things have happened. (Mike Brown and Byron Scott have Coach of the Year awards in the last ten years)

REVISITED: Why the Cavs-Celtics Trade is STILL Perfect

The Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics completed, somehow, the craziest trade of the offseason tonight. The Cavaliers are sending Kyrie Irving to the Celtics in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, Brooklyn’s 2018 first-round pick, and a 2020 2nd-round pick.

When the Irving stuff first started getting leaked, I saw a tweet from FS1’s Jason McIntyre basically laying out this trade, but with Guerschon Yabusele instead of Zizic. I loved the idea then, so to see it play out is really interesting. Here’s why both teams won this trade.

Cleveland won the trade because…

Kyrie was unhappy, wasn’t going to resign with Cleveland in two years, and was going to make the whole season super awkward for everyone. The Cavs needed to dump him, and they needed to maximize what they were going to get for him. I believe they did that. Thomas is injured, and unlikely to resign with them, but he isn’t the key to this deal. Crowder is on one of the best contracts in the league and the Celtics really liked Zizic as a role player, possibly as a replacement for Al Horford as he ages. But the real prize is the Brooklyn pick. Even with the Nets looking much more competent for this upcoming season, they will still probably yield a top seven pick, and this years draft is extremely talented up top. If the Cavs can turn an unhappy Kyrie into Zizic, a vet in Crowder to put around Kevin Love, and can get a guy like Luka Doncic in the draft, they will set themselves up for the future. This is a big deal because it’s clear by this move that the Cavaliers believe Lebron James is going to Los Angeles after this year. Even the 2020 pick could prove valuable in a rebuild. Best case scenario, James is happy Irving is gone and decides he wants to stay. Worst case scenario, he leaves and you’ve got a young core that you can start to rebuild around.

Boston won the trade because…

The best player in the trade ended up on Boston’s roster. Plain and simple. Boston is signaling that they’re gunning for the Finals this season, and it’s broken that terrible cycle they were in of gathering assets AND trying to contend. They finally decided to be aggressive, and it will pay off for them, even if they don’t resign Irving. Also, they clear up some of the logjam at the wing spots by dumping Crowder, even if it meant losing his contract. We still aren’t sure if he and Gordon Hayward were going to gel anyway.

Ultimately, both teams did well given the circumstances, and this trade helps the league by stealing the spotlight right before we head into football season.

Boston Celtics 2017-18 Offseason and Preview

Offseason Signings

Signed: Aron Baynes, Gordon Hayward, Shane Larkin

Received in Trade: Kyrie Irving, Marcus Morris

Drafted: Jayson Tatum, Semi Ojeleye, Kadeem Allen, Jabari Bird

Offseason Losses

Free Agents: Gerald Green, Jonas Jerebko, Amir Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, James Young, Jordan Mickey

Traded: Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, Avery Bradley

Projected Starting Lineup

  1. Kyrie Irving
  2. Jaylen Brown
  3. Gordon Hayward
  4. Marcus Morris
  5. Al Horford

Updated: 8/22/17

NBA Preview: Defensive Player of the Year

TOM REEL, STAFF / SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS

This is my personal favorite award. It may have something to do with the very creepy Mike Ryan song about Draymond Green from a couple seasons ago found here. But I’ve always appreciated the emphatic block or jump into the lane for the breakaway steal more than the dunk that follows. While nobody can defensively light up the crowd like Steph Curry does with his 3’s, these players get the nod as the most likely to do so.

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

Leonard is the reigning two-time DPOY and it’s easy to see why. Averaging 6.8 rpg, 1.8 spg and 1.4 bgp last season, he is definitely helped by the Spurs culture and commitment to defense. However, with Tim Duncan retiring this offseason, Kawhi is now the face of the franchise (not named Gregg Popovich). Look for him to take that mantel and run with it. Kawhi also had a fantastic 26 PER as well, and finished tied for second in defensive win shares (5.5).

Ideal Starting Lineup: Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol

Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors

Probably the most versatile defender in the league, Draymond has definitely made a name for himself. Last seasons issues in the playoffs not withstanding, he is still one of the best defenders in the league and will continue to be that for the Warriors this season. Earning a 19.3 PER and averaging 9.5 rpg are impressive numbers for a guy that’s listed at 6’7” playing the 4/5 positions. However, Green’s numbers don’t reflect the presence he has on the court, as well as the effect he has on his teammates defense. I don’t know that he will be able to overshadow the Warriors offensive players, but if he can anchor their defense, he could finally breakthrough for the award.

Ideal Starting Lineup: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Zaza Pachulia

Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons

Drummond is the centerpiece to the Pistons rebuild, and in year two of the Stan Van Gundy era, many expect them to make a leap this year. Drummond is a big reason for that. He averaged 14.8 rpg last year, and with a 24.5 total rebounding percentage, he knows where to be at all times. He was also tied with Leonard in DWS (5.5). Van Gundy has gotten the best out of a defensive center in the past (Dwight Howard) and could have another gem on his hands.

Ideal Starting Lineup: Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris, Andre Drummond

Al Horford, Boston Celtics

Horford has never been awarded any defensive awards in his 9 year career, and only had 4.5 DWS last season. He averaged 1.5 bpg and had a block percentage of 3.6. Now enter the Celtics. Their commitment to team defense, as well as the length and athleticism on the outside, are the reason Horford is a darkhorse for DPOY this year. Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder could easily be on this list as well, but I believe if anyone on that team has a chance, it’s Horford. The DPOY award usually benefits the front court players, with acknowledgment to Kawhi.

Ideal Starting Lineup: Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson, Al Horford

Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat

The biggest question is if Whiteside loses motivation now that he has his big contract. If he does, which is a very real possibility if the Heat struggle without Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, then Miami will look like fools. However, if he elevates even further, and develops himself as a more pure defender, we could be dealing with something flat out terrifying. Since joining the Heat, about a season and a half worth of games, some off the bench, he is averaging 11.1 rpg, 3.2 bpg, and has a PER of 25.7. He is an exceptional athlete and if he harnesses his potential, Whiteside may walk away with the award and lead the Heat into the playoffs again.

Ideal Starting Lineup: Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters, Justise Winslow, Josh McRoberts, Hassan Whiteside

My Pick: Kawhi Leonard