2015 NBA Preview – Spurs Win It All

 

LeBron James

My favorite thing to do is predict upcoming sports seasons so I can come back to it a year later and laugh at it. For example, I incorrectly picked the Clippers to win the NBA title last year. I did, however, pick the Cavaliers to lose in the Finals. And I have to say I’m pretty proud of my 11-5 record picking over/under’s and 13-3 record picking correct playoff teams. But THIS YEAR! THIS YEAR I aspire to go 16-0 and 16-0! LET’S DO THIS.

Top Stories To Follow

1 – The Rise of the Young – We have officially arrived at the dawn of the new era in the NBA. An influx of young superstars from Anthony Davis (22-years-old), my boy and 2014-15 Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins (20-years-old), Tristian Thompson, who just signed a mega deal with the Cavaliers (24-years-old), Victor Oladipo (23-years-old), and Cavaliers PG Kyrie Irving (23-years-old). And none of those players include this year’s solid draft class of  #1 overall pick Karl Anthony-Towns, D’Angelo Russell, Jahlil Okafor, Willie Cauley-Stein, and my personal favorite (and future favorite Heat player) Justise Winslow.

2 – Minutes Watch – Coming to an NBA arena near you: Superstars taking time off! Seriously. This is going to be a big story this season as more and more teams are realizing the benefits of limiting minutes for superstars in order to have them 100% healthy for the grueling playoff months. The Spurs have been on this train for almost a decade but recently the Cavaliers have hinted at a 60 to 65-game workload for LeBron James. And with recurring injuries for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook you can expect the Thunder to follow suit. We will see regular season win totals fall (more to come in the predictions section) but it should provide a more exciting playoff run.

3 – The “Melo-Drama” Part II: Electric Boogaloo – We are T-minus two weeks away from Carmelo Anthony trade talks beginning. Bill Simmons is already throwing out crazy trade ideas that include the Bulls and Heat – one of which I have verified as little more than just a crazy theory. Here’s the deal. In Knicks’ President Phil Jackson’s mission of Never Making Any Sense But Still Winning Games, you can feel in the air that Jackson is sick of Melo’s shit. And Melo still has pretty decent trade value that the Knicks can move for solid talent plus the added bonus of clearing Melo’s mega contract worth $101.4M over the next four seasons. Watch this crazy theory turn a little more serious in the coming months: Carmelo to Miami in exchange for a combination including Justise Winslow (I’d cry), Luol Deng, and Josh McRoberts or Carmelo to Chicago in exchange for a combination of picks and possibly Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler (the Bulls would be insane), and/or Joakim Noah – whose contract expires at the end of the year.

Awards

MVP – Anthony Davis, C, New Orleans Pelicans. Fear the Brow. This man is going to arrive in a big way in 2015-16. We’ve seen him improve by leaps and bounds in his first three seasons. Check it out his per game stats:

’12-’13: 13 points, 8 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 51.6% FG

’13-’14: 21 points, 10 rebounds, 2.8 blocks, 51.9% FG

’14-’15: 24 points, 10 rebounds, 2.9 blocks, 53.5% FG

I expect big things out of Davis in 2015-16. Let’s check this at the end of April (putting a note in my phone now). My projected 2015-16 stats for Davis are: 25 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks.

Rookie of the Year – Jahlil Okafor, C, Philadelphia 76ers. I BADLY wanted to take my man crush Justise Winslow but Winslow is going to play mostly off the bench in Miami behind Dragic – which is actually a perfect situation for his development. So I went with Okafor. Okafor should have been the second overall pick and could have been the #1 overall pick. I really like Okafor’s situation in Philly. He’s going to start right away and expect to be a big piece and a star in Philadelphia. For those of you screaming at your screen asking why I didn’t go with Karl Anthony-Towns or D’Angelo Russell – here’s some food for thought. When was the last time a Rookie of the Year came from a team with a superstar? I’ll answer it for you – never. Anthony-Towns is working with Kevin Garnett and rising superstar Wiggins in Minnesota while Russell is going to be busy dealing with some guy named Kobe Bryant in LA. They’re over-shadowed. Even my boy Winslow – who, again, won’t even be starting – is overshadowed by Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

The East is improved in 2015-16 but it’s still not nearly the same level as the West. The question remains the same as the last seven years: is your team good enough to compete with LeBron’s team? There’s a couple of contenders here and a couple of surprises.

#1 – Cleveland Cavaliers (Under 56.5 wins – 55-37)

The only mission is to win the NBA Championship. The regular season takes a back seat to make sure Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, and LeBron James are 100% come late April. That doesn’t mean the Cavs won’t win 50 games, however. They’re far and away better than every team in the East – it’s just a matter of how exactly they decide to play the regular season. Worst case: third seed as Atlanta and Chicago sell out for the regular season. Best case: #1 seed. Either way – take the UNDER 56.5 wins. I like the Cavs at 55.

#2 – Atlanta Hawks (Over 50 wins – 53-29)

I still can’t believe the Hawks rattled off 60 wins last season. And they did it without leading any team statistical category. Of course we all saw the 4-0 drubbing in the Eastern Conference Finals courtesy of the Cleveland Cavaliers coming, but no one saw 60 wins. Despite adding Tiago Splitter, the Hawks won’t be quite as good this year but I still love the OVER 50 wins.

#3 – Washington Wizards (Over 46.5 wins – 48-34)

John Wall is in limbo. He’s not quite a superstar but he has transcendent talent. The only way for Wall to solidify himself as a top dog in the league is to win playoff series. I feel like this is the best chance he’s had. Sure, the Wiz lost Paul Pierce but they get back Bradley Beal who missed 19 regular season games last year with an ankle injury. It’s not a big ask to get one more win than last year to hit the over 46.5.

#4 – Chicago Bulls (Under 49.5 wins – 47-35)

Love him or hate him former Head Coach Tom Thibodeau got this team to overachieve. Now the Bulls are in the hands of Fred Hoiberg who, given the meteoric first coaching season of another former-Bull-turned-head-coach Steve Kerr, faces what could be unreasonably high expectations. The storyline remains mostly the same – if Derrick Rose is healthy, they’ll be ok. But there’s new concerns: Joakim Noah is in the final year of his contract and is increasingly injury prone. Pau Gasol turned 35 this summer and Taj Gibson turned 30. The Bulls will still be an interesting team to watch (with or without Rose) but going over Vegas’ asking price of 49.5 wins doesn’t sound plausible with an oft-injured Rose and a new head coach.

#5 – Miami Heat (Under 47 wins – 46-36)

The Heat are the sleeper team of the year. Yes, last year was a disappointing 37-win campaign that fell two spots short of the playoffs. But we never got to see the complete Miami Heat after Chris Bosh’s freak health issues and Hassan Whiteside missing the majority of the second half of the season. Miami is going to have one of the most exciting backcourts in the NBA with Goran Dragic at the point and Dwyane Wade at the two and rookie sensation Justise Winslow coming off the bench at point guard. The forwards are an interesting rotation of newcomer Amar’e Stoudemire off the bench, Whiteside, Luol Deng, Josh McRoberts, and Bosh.

#6 – Milwaukee Bucks (Over 45.5 wins – 46-36)

This is an interesting and unfamiliar spot for the Bucks who, in the matter of a year, have convinced myself and other NBA experts that they’re an up-and-coming force in the East. However, I’m not completely sold on them yet and am for sure not ready to proclaim them a Top 5 team in the East. They’ll win some games (46 of them, in fact) and compete for a playoff spot but they’re far from turning the corner.

#7 – Toronto Raptors (Under 46.5 wins – 45-37)

There is a lot to like about this Raptors squad. But I question they’ll be better than last year’s 49-win team. The catch is last year’s 49 wins guaranteed them a Top Four playoff spot – which is, ironically, exactly where they finished. But the East is improved this year and so is the abysmal Atlantic Division. I say Toronto wins a respectable 45 games (still take the UNDER 46.5) and makes the playoffs.

#8 – Boston Celtics (PUSH 44 wins – 44-38)

I really like what head coach Brad Stevens and GM Danny Ainge are building in Boston. This is a team loaded with young talent, ridden of their old crummy multi-million dollar contracts that felt more like an anchor than a propeller in recent years, and still put up 40 wins and #7 spot in the playoffs this year. I see the Celtics improving by four wins at minimum and may even contend for the fifth spot.

See You Next Year …

Pacers – They’ve changed from big ball back to small ball and get Paul George back. But I don’t see much of an improvement and definitely don’t foresee them being the Top Three powerhouse they were just a few years ago. (OVER 40.5 wins – 42-40 record).

Pistons – It’s been an interesting off-season for the Pistons having whiffed on all of their target free agents. But all is not completely lost for Detroit as they have a young team with a good coach that should be playoff ready in a season or two. (OVER 36.5 wins – 38-44)

Magic – I like the pieces the Magic have but I need to see the cohesion before I buy the farm. (OVER 34.5 wins – 35-47)

Hornets – That Lance Stephenson thing didn’t really work out last year, did it? The I don’t think Michael Jordan going all-in on Frank Kuminsky is going to solve anything anytime soon, either. (UNDER 33.5 wins – 31-51)

Nets – This team is so bad (down to the new ugly “Subway Tile” court design) that I find it so hard to believe they’ve fallen this far this fast. (OVER 28 wins – 30-52)

76ers – I made the joke last season they should change their name to the Philadelphia 15ers for how many games they would win. They wound up winning 18. It was a joke, everyone. A joke that, well, wasn’t that far off. This year they’re the Philadelphia 20Somethingers (UNDER 27 wins – 20-62).

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Ahhhhh. The best overall conference in sports. It’s legitimately stacked from top to bottom. OK, except for maybe Portland, the Lakers, Sacramento, and Denver. But everyone else, yes!

#1 – San Antonio Spurs (Over 57 wins – 60-22)

I’m in love with the roster San Antonio put together this off-season. They landed the most-coveted free agent available in LaMarcus Aldridge, and David West. The questions are the same when it comes to the core (yes – they probably have one more run in them). And coach Gregg Popovich is a minutes maestro. They’ll be ready.

#2 – Golden State Warriors (Under 59.5 wins – 57-35)

It’s really hard to be down on a team who won the NBA Championship and put up a masterful 67-win season – if you can call a 57-win season “down”. But I have to believe being without head coach Steve Kerr for the first part of the season is going to hinder this team a bit in the early going. That said, this team will be ready come playoff time to defend their title.

#3 – Houston Rockets (Over 56 wins – 57-35)

There’s no doubt this team is going to score – and score a lot. I love that they drafted Sam Dekker – who will essentially become the new Chandler Parsons as his career goes on. But I don’t particularly like their forwards outside of Dwight Howard but that won’t be a big issue until playoff time.

#4 – Los Angeles Clippers (Under 57.5 wins – 56-36)

What an interesting offseason that was, huh? Well, when I mean Clippers offseason I really mean DeAndre Jordan’s about-face. The Clippers will be by and large exactly what they were last year – a 50-something-win team, a top contender in the West, and ultimately a playoff disappointment. I picked them to the win the title last year. Boy, was I wrong.

#5 – Oklahoma City Thunder (Under 57 wins – 55-37)

I’m hesitating hardcore on the Thunder right now. Here’s a legitimate concern: Kevin Durant has had foot injuries. Foot injuries in the NBA can be complete game changers. We don’t know that he’s going to be what he was four years ago. And we don’t know if Russell Westbrook can sustain 100% health all year long, and even if he does, we do know that he and KD don’t necessarily gel well on the court. But I have to believe there’s enough overwhelming talent on this roster to carry them to the Top Five in the West (let alone the playoffs).

#6 – New Orleans Pelicans (Over 48 wins – 53-39)

Anthony Davis is going to win the MVP – so we can count on the Pelicans being a force thanks to Davis. But there are a plethora of question marks such as new head coach Alvin Gentry and the rotation of Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, and Ryan Anderson. I may be way too high on the Pelicans with a 53-win prediction but I’ve got to believe they’re going to be a force.

#7 – Memphis Grizzlies (Over 51 wins – 52-40)

Memphis has been a perennial disappointment in the playoffs as of late. I’ve been predicting them to make the next step for the last three seasons and the furthest they’ve gone since their Western Conference Finals appearance in 2012-13 was the second round last year. This roster is filled with too many “meh” players. Again, “meh” means 50+ wins in the West.

#8 – Minnesota Timberwolves (Over 28 wins – 41-41)

Surprise! I LOVE this team. Yes, they’re young. Yes, they’re dealing with the sad and untimely death of head coach Flip Saunders. But this is a real roster. Just look at the starting five:

PG – Ricky Rubio

SG – Andrew Wiggins

SF – Tayshaun Prince

PF – Kevin Garnett

C – Karl-Anthony Towns.

See You Next Year …

Suns – I like what the Suns have put together but I’m still not sold that they have enough talent to make the playoffs in a loaded Western Conference. I feel like this is 41-41 team that will fall just short of the playoffs.

Jazz – The Jazz are pegged by Vegas to win 42.5 games. I’m not a fan of what the Jazz have put together. This feels more like a 38-win team.

Mavericks – This team got old in a hurry. I still like the OVER on 36.5 but it won’t be much over.

Kings – Good luck with the Rajon Rondo and De’Marcus Cousins experience.

Lakers – The final year of Kobe’s contract. This should be fun to watch play out because Kobe has hinted he’s not done yet and the Lakers have hinted (for now) that they’re not interested in dishing out another 3-year bajillion dollar deal. Meanwhile it’ll be fun to watch the development of D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle. This team has a bright future that should add some nice pieces in free agency for the 2016-17 season.

Nuggets – The Nuggets might have the Rookie of the Year in Emmanuel Mudiay. Unfortunately there’s not much around him for the time being but I see the Nuggets winning more games than they should.

Trailblazers– This was a hard pill for me to swallow – and I’m not even a ‘Blazers fan. This team got decimated this off-season and it all falls on Damian Lillard’s shoulders now – who will likely leave the team as well when his rookie contract expires at the end of this season.

The Playoffs

EAST

Round 1

#1 Cavaliers vs. #8 Celtics

This matchup in about a year or two will be far more entertaining but a six-game series will still be entertaining.

Winner: Cavaliers in 6

#4 Bulls vs. #5 Heat

This will be reminiscent of the 2011-13 years of the LeBron Heat and Rose Bulls. If both teams are healthy we’re looking at a 7-game series. I still like Miami’s bench (and starting five talent) way better than I like Chicago’s.

Winner: Heat in 7

#2 Hawks vs. #7 Raptors

Atlanta is the East’s version of the Warriors. They can shoot the daylights out of the ball. I’m not sure Toronto will be able to keep up over the course of a series.

Winner: Hawks in 6

#3 Wizards vs. #6 Bucks

This series will be much more interesting live than it sounds on paper.

Winner: Bucks in 6

Round 2

#1 Cavaliers vs. #5 Heat

Here it is, Heat fans! The series you’ve waited two years for! Will the Heat finally get revenge on LeBron and the Cavs?! Once again, this comes down to health. Let’s fantasize for a minute what this matchup would look like if everyone was healthy:

Pos.            Heat                                   Cavaliers

PG              Goran Dragic                   Kyrie Irving

SG              Dwyane Wade                  JR Smith

SF               Luol Deng                         LeBron James

PF               Chris Bosh                        Kevin Love

C                  Hassan Whiteside          Timofey Mozgof

That’s one hell of a matchup. Seriously.

Winner: Cavaliers in 7

#2 Hawks vs. #6 Bucks

Winner: Hawks in 6

Eastern Conference Finals

#1 Cavaliers vs. #2 Hawks

A re-match of last year’s ECF features largely the same roster. And I think it’ll produce just about the same result.

Winner: Cavaliers in 5.

WEST

Round 1

#1 Spurs vs. #8 Timberwolves

The Timberwolves crash back to reality.

Winner: Spurs in 4

#4 Clippers vs. #5 Thunder

As always with playoff series the healthier team is going to prevail. If all things are equal I have to believe the Thunder have slightly more talent to prevail in a playoff setting.

Winner: Thunder in 6

#2 Warriors vs. #7 Grizzlies

The Warriors are far and away a better team than the Grizzlies and this series won’t feel like a six-game series.

Winner: Warriors in 6

#3 Rockets vs. #6 Pelicans

If the Pelicans truly are as good as advertised, and we know the Rockets can score at will, this series is easily the most interesting of the first round.

Winner: Rockets in 7

Round 2

#1 Spurs vs. #5 Thunder

I’m interested to see exactly how the Durant-Westbrook pairing plays out of the course of the season. If it’s as magical as advertised then this series is a knock-down, drag out seven-game series. These teams actually matchup very nicely at full strength.

Winner: Spurs in 7

#2 Warriors vs. #3 Rockets

A re-match of last year’s Western Conference Finals in which Golden State took down Houston in five games and beat them by 13.5 points a game. This time it’ll be much closer but the result will be the same.

Winner: Warriors in 6

Western Conference Finals

#1 Spurs vs. #2 Warriors

Ahhhhhh. Here we go. The young, spry defending champions versus the old dog who’s been here (how many times?!) before. Look, the Spurs have the better team on paper. Can the Warriors shoot as well as they did last year for as long as they did last year? Maybe. Can the Spurs stay healthy all year and will LaMarcus Aldridge’s presence be enough to propel the Spurs back to The Finals? Maybe. Either way this series is going to be epic.

Winner: Spurs in 7

NBA FINALS

Cleveland Cavaliers vs. San Antonio Spurs

LeBron’s old nemesis back again. Let’s not forget LeBron is 1-2 against the Spurs in the NBA Finals and 5-11 against them in Finals games. This is a matchup that, if both teams are healthy, would likely make for one of the most epic Finals in history. Pound-for-pound the matchup is great and the story is great. Let’s just play it right now, please.

2015-16 NBA CHAMPIONS: San Antonio Spurs in 7.

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