In case you didn’t know, the 2015-2016 NBA season started this week, making now the perfect time to preview the season and predict how it will play out. Last season’s champions, the Golden State Warriors, began their title defense at home against the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday and look just as dangerous as they did last year. However, they are somewhat surprisingly not the favorites to win the title this year, with that honor going to the team the Warriors beat in last year’s NBA Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Cleveland enters the season with the same nucleus as last year, with the team centered around superstar LeBron James and his All-Star teammates Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. However, I would expect the Cavaliers to improve on last year’s regular season win total of 53 now that James, Irving, Love, and the rest of the Cavaliers have had a full year playing together. The San Antonio Spurs, champions in 2013-2014, are also one of the favorites to win the title this year. However, unlike the Cavaliers, the Spurs have added a number of fresh faces to their rotation including perennial All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge from the Portland Trailblazers and the experienced David West from the Indiana Pacers. San Antonio also returns 5-time NBA champion Tim Duncan, beginning his 19th NBA season this year, along with All-Star Tony Parker and former NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. These three teams all have a great chance of winning the NBA Championship this year, but I like the Spurs to beat the Cavs in the Finals in June, thanks in large part to their experience in big games and the depth their team has at all five positions.
Turning now to the individual awards, I predict that Anthony Davis of the New Orleans
Pelicans will take home this year’s Most Valuable Player Award as well as the league’s Defensive Player of the Year Award. The Pelicans are not expected to be very competitive this year, meaning Davis will have to shoulder most of the load of offense. Davis is already considered one of the league’s premier defenders, and this combination of defensive prowess and a plethora of opportunities of offense should lead to Davis putting up extremely impressive numbers on both ends of the floor. If he is able to guide the Pelicans into the playoffs, as I predict he will, this should be enough for him to take home the coveted MVP trophy.
Despite some stiff competition, I predict that Philadelphia 76ers center Jahlil Okafor will win this year’s Rookie of the Year Award. Okafor was very productive during his college days at Duke University and his skillset should transition well to the NBA. Furthermore, the 76ers are one of the league’s worst teams, meaning there will be plenty of opportunities for Okafor to shine as he serves as the team’s centerpiece on both offense and defense.
Now it’s time for some bold predictions. I like the Miami Heat to surprise this year and make it to the Eastern Conference Finals, where I predict they will lose to the Cavaliers in a tough and hard-fought series. The Heat have re-signed key players Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic for this season and have their main big man, Chris Bosh, returning from injury. The Heat boast one of the NBA’s strongest starting lineups, and with their bench a good mix of youth and experience, I see the Heat exceeding expectations and challenging LeBron’s Cavaliers all the way in the Eastern Conference. In the Western Conference, I like the Minnesota Timberwolves to perform better than expected. The Timberwolves are projected to be the worst team in the Western Conference this year despite having two consecutive #1 overall NBA Draft picks on their roster in the likes of last year’s Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins and this year’s #1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns. The Timberwolves may be young, but they have tons of talent, and with ageless veteran Kevin Garnett leading them every step of the way, I predict that the Timberwolves will finish above the likes of the Lakers, the Nuggets, and the Jazz in the Western Conference standings and only just miss out on making the playoffs.
On the other end of the spectrum, I think that the Chicago Bulls will underwhelm this season. The Bulls recently fired head coach Tom Thibodeau, a coach with decades of NBA coaching experience, and replaced him with Fred Hoiberg, a man who has never coached in the NBA before and whose only coaching experience comes from his time at Iowa State University. I predict Hoiberg’s inexperience, coupled with the repeated injuries to star players Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, will lead the Bulls to significantly underperform this season. Changing conferences, I don’t like the Phoenix Suns’ chances of making the playoffs this year. There are simply too many good teams in the Western Conference for the Suns to mount any serious playoff charge. Furthermore, their team lacks depth and experience, two key factors late in the season which often make the difference in deciding which teams make the playoffs and which teams are sent home.
Overall, this NBA season should turn out to be as exciting and unpredictable as any in recent memory. With so many teams so strong this year, it is difficult to predict with any degree of certainty who will come out on top come the end of the season. But no matter who reigns supreme this year, we can finally say that the long NBA offseason is over. Basketball is back, and that is something that we can all celebrate
FEATURE PHOTO/Keith Allison