he 2016-2017 NBA season will basically come down to one question: can anyone stop the Golden State Warriors or Cleveland Cavaliers from getting back to the NBA Finals? With the move of Kevin Durant to the Warriors and no other major names moving over to the East, most people would bet on the Warriors and Cavaliers returning to the Finals. Even with this looming factor, the 2016-2017 season will have some interesting things to watch out for.
3 Teams to Watch (Outside of the Warriors or Cavaliers)
The Celtics had a huge offseason starting with their 6 draft picks, highlighted by #3 pick Jaylen Brown out of California. In addition to a stellar NBA Draft, the Celtics picked up Al Horford and other key veterans in free agency. Look for Boston to be the main contender in the East for the #2 seed.
San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs yet again pulled off their typical draft strategy of acquiring high value players with late draft picks. The Spurs picked up Dejounte Murray with the 29th pick of the draft. Many experts and analysis believed Murray could have been a lottery or mid-1st round pick. Although the Spurs lose future Hall-of-Famer Tim Duncan to retirement, they replace him with another future Hall-of-Famer in Pau Gasol. With the core of the team coming back, don’t be surprised if San Antonio finds its way into the NBA Finals.
The Timberwolves are an interesting team to look at this season. With a very young but talented core, and a great coach in Tom Thibodeau, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Timberwolves ended up either top-three in the West or bottom-three, it could really go either way depending on how well their young players do in Thibodeau’s system. With new draft pick Kris Dunn added to the mix, the Timberwolves have a sky-high potential. The development of Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins will decide how far the Timberwolves go.
3 Underrated Teams
After a mass exodus of the team’s roster from 2015-2016, many people would not expect the Heat to do big things this season, but Miami may still be a playoff team in the East. With a young promising core in Hassan Whiteside, Justice Winslow, Tyler Johnson, and Josh Richardson, plus seasoned veterans Goran Dragic and Chris Bosh, the Heat should be in position to make the playoffs yet again.
Oklahoma City Thunder
With Kevin Durant leaving, so does the Thunder’s chances of being seen as an NBA Championship caliber team. Although they won’t be viewed as a favorite team, with a solid backcourt in Russell Westbrook and Victor Oladipo, matched by solid big men in Steven Adams and Enes Kanter, the Thunder have the pieces to return to the Western Conference Finals.
In recent years, the Pacers haven’t been a team that people think of when it comes to good Eastern Conference teams. This season could change all that with the addition of Jeff Teague at the point guard and a developing Myles Turner. The Pacers had a solid draft and a good free agency. Add that to a league superstar in Paul George and it doesn’t sound crazy to think that the Pacers can compete.
3 Overrated Teams
Even through they have revamped their roster with the additions of Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo, the Bulls have no threatening 3-point shooters in their starting rotation. They will be elite on defense, but offense will be hard to come by. Although the East is the weaker conference, no one should be shocked if the Bulls miss the playoffs
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers have exceeded their prime and should not be considered a Western powerhouse. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan just keep getting older and without younger talent to replenish the team, the Clippers will continue to get worse.
The Atlanta Hawks have been consistently making the playoffs, but their team is falling off. Losing Jeff Teague and Al Horford were fatal blows to the Hawks, and will hinder how successful they can be. Picking up Dwight Howard seems like a quality move on paper, but recent years have shown he’s a team cancer no matter where he goes.
NBA Award Predictions
MVP: Russell Westbrook, with the exit of Kevin Durant Westbrook, is now the unquestioned Alpha Dog of the Thunder. Last season, with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook led the NBA in triple-doubles and averaged a double-double. With a solid core group to work with Westbrook should be in a good spot to win the MVP.
Rookie of the Year: Ben Simmons, this year’s #1 pick is in a great spot to win the rookie of the year award. He’s one of the few bright spots of the 76ers and with his passing ability and versatile ability to score he’ll be a favorite to win rookie of the year.
Most Improved Player: D’Angelo Russell. With Kobe Bryant gone, that means more shots to go around. Russell will have a great sophomore campaign with the freedom to be a scorer and the ability to be a playmaker with Jordan Clarkson and Brandon Ingram. Look for Russell to be LA’s go-to guy this season and walk away with the Most Improved Player Award.
Defensive Player of the Year: Kawhi Leonard. He just keeps getting better and better, and with the way the Spurs focus in on defense, look for him to collect back-to-back-to-back defensive player of the year awards.