The 2016-17 NBA season is upon us and the league has never looked stranger as we have transitioned out of the “superteam” era and into the “super-duper-universal-domination” team era. The Golden State Warriors, fresh off a 73-win season, added a player – a former MVP – that can be, on any given night, the best player on the planet.
The “Hey! That’s unfair!” cries started immediately after Kevin Durant signed with Golden State on the Fourth of July, and many asked about the 2016-17 season, “what’s the point?”
Well, the intrigue with this season will sit in two areas.
1. Just how dominant can the Warriors be? Will they average 35-point blowout wins this season? Will they look to hit 80 wins this season?
2. The entire league is now the David to the Warriors’ Goliath. So basically, there are now 29 “good guy” teams and one “bad guy” team. Even the defending champion Cavs, with the passive-aggressive King, LeBron James, are “good guys” now. It’ll be fun, and yes – intriguing – to see the entire league gang up on the bully by the Bay. There will be a point to the 2016-17 NBA season after all – even though there’s a 98.6 percent chance that Durant and the Warriors will win the title next June.
2016-17 NBA MVP Prediction
There will be so much hatred, even among MVP voters, for Steph Curry, Durant and the Warriors that one of those two players winning MVP will be next to impossible. Both players will undoubtedly see their statistics dip.
As for Lebron - this is a regular season award only, and here’s guessing the Cavs will take a giant chunk of the regular season off. In fact, it's easy to see the Cavs as a 3 or 4 seed in the East come April. With LeBron and Cavs playing possum for five months – his status as the best player in the league will take a small hit. So no, LeBron is not your man.
This leaves Russell Westbrook as your MVP. The guy is going to go all scorched earth on the league, obviously (never underestimate an NBA hipster scorned), and should average at least 30 points per game. In Durant’s injury season in which he played only 27 games, Westbrook averaged 28.1 points per game. Even if the Thunder are a 7 or 8 seed in the West (which I think they will be), Westbrook will get the most MVP sympathy votes of all-time.
Your 2016-17 NBA MVP: Russell Westbrook
Bovada MVP odds
Russell Westbrook +200
Stephen Curry +450
LeBron James +450
Kevin Durant +1000
Anthony Davis +1000
Kawhi Leonard +1000
James Harden +1000
Paul George +2200
Blake Griffin +3300
Damian Lillard +3300
Kyrie Irving +3300
2016-17 NBA Rookie of the Year Prediction
Here are the past five NBA rookie of the year winners: Karl-Anthony Towns (Timberwolves), Andrew Wiggins (Timberwolves), Michael Carter-Williams (76ers), Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers), Kyrie Irving (Cavaliers). What do they all have in common? They all played for suck teams. Those teams averaged 23 wins per season – with only Lillard’s 2012-13 Blazers eclipsing the 30-win mark (33 wins).
This effectively rules out the Celtics’ Jaylen Brown, who will play for a top Eastern Conference team.
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft – Ben Simmons – is out for at least three months.
Buddy Hield is getting some ROY buzz, but voters like flash and potential out of rookies. We know what Hield is – a good shooter whose ceiling is “borderline All-Star.” A guy like Brandon Ingram - though - who has a Kevin Durant-like look to him, should get most of the casual attention this season. It also won’t hurt that he’s playing in Los Angeles. Ingram pumped in 21 points against the Warriors this past week in a pre-season game and Lakers fans think they already have the 2023 NBA title won.
In sum, Ingram will show flashes of brilliance in front of an LA crowd, the Lakers will suck, his stats will be inflated, and he’ll win Rookie of the Year.
Your 2016-17 NBA Rookie of the Year: Brandon Ingram
Bovada Rookie of the Year odds
Kris Dunn +350
Buddy Hield +375
Ben Simmons +400
Brandon Ingram +550
Joel Embiid +600
Denzel Valentine +1600
Jaylen Brown +3000
2016-17 NBA Finals Prediction
Guys, it’s not going to take Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green more than three minutes to figure this thing out. They will be the greatest shooting team ever assembled and at times will look like the 1992 Dream Team playing against Angola.
We really shouldn’t overthink this. They’re going to be beyond great.
When LeBron joined the Heat, Miami’s win total jumped from 47 wins to 58 wins. This transition will be easier for the Warriors, but for the sake of argument let’s say the Warriors’ win total also climbs by 11. This would mean the Warriors would go 84-0 in an 82-game season (don’t rule it out).
So let’s pencil in the Warriors out West.
In the East, I’m going with something of a surprise.
The Cavs are destined to have one of the worst NBA regular season hangovers of all-time. LeBron is 31-years-old and has the basketball mileage of a 41-year-old. He’s already been smart enough to coast during the regular season (remember those ‘Will LeBron ever be the same?!’ arguments on First Take?), and now that mountain of pressure is off him in “The Land.”
The Cavs are going to play “bored” for five months. The difference this time is that they won’t be able to turn it back on come playoff time as - surely - some strange drama will hover over them when it matters. Here’s guessing the LeBron – Kyrie alpha dog thing will get a little messy at some point. Hell, Tyronn Lue said just last week that “Kyrie is Kobe and LeBron is Shaq,” and Kobe-Shaq was only the biggest public basketball beef all all-time. And oh yeah, and the Cavs still have JR Smith.
So, who will rise from the sea of mediocrity that is the Eastern Conference (how many years in a row have we said that? Get your s*** together, East)?
There’s only one team that has a current Eastern Conference Finals–worthy roster AND enough assets to land whichever star player comes available via trade before mid-February. It’s the Boston Celtics, and here’s saying they’ll be the ones to reach the 2016-17 NBA Finals for the right to get swept by the Warriors.
Pau Gasol was dealt by Grizzles to the Lakers in 2008 at the deadline and the Lakers wound up making that year’s Finals. Rasheed Wallace was traded to the Pistons in 2004 at the deadline and Pistons wound up winning it all that year. Neither the Lakers or the Pistons had the type of assets the Celtics currently do – so it’s entirely conceivable that Danny Ainge will bring in Player X via trade to push them past a Cavaliers team that peaked last year.
There are several big name players that could be available if things go south for their team early this year (Jimmy Butler, DeMarcus Cousins, LaMarcus Aldridge ... and more will emerge), and Ainge will be at the forefront of trade talks if a team decides it’s best to head into tank mode.
Your 2016-17 NBA Finals: Warriors over Celtics in 4
NBA Championship odds