Here are some early predictions for records and awards for the 2015-2016 NBA season, Free Agency is not over yet and there will certainly be more trades ahead, but the big pieces seem to be fairly set.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers (63-19)
Cavs should be able to carry through momentum from the end of last season on and won’t have much competition getting the 1st seed.
2. Chicago Bulls (56-26)
Pau Gasol was the Bulls’ healthiest and most consistent player last season. If some of the other guys can stay healthy, there’s no reason the Bulls can’t have a good season and get the wide open 2nd seed.
3. Miami Heat (51-31)
With Bosh back, and Wade, Deng and Dragic all staying as well as well as draft pick Justice Winslow competing for Rookie of the Year, the Heat might get back into contention in the east with some small chance of upsetting the Cavs in the playoffs.
4. Toronto Raptors (47-35) – Atlantic Division Champs
The Raptors made some solid signings, they won’t get any worse, but their record last year was a bit of a result of their health at the start of the year and other teams figuring out new rosters/coaches. Their record will dip a little, but they can still get the 4th seed as division champions in the East (Just need to do better than the Celtics, Nets, 76ers and Knicks).
5. Atlanta Hawks (49-33)
Hawks, Wizards and Heat will all be competing pretty closely for the Southeast Division, Hawks will regress a little with their players aging, Korver coming off an injury and Demarre Caroll in Toronto.
6. Washington Wizards (47-35)
Like I mentioned above, the Wizards will have a positive record, I don’t see them getting much worse, Pierce was not a huge part of their regular season success. I also don’t see them getting any better, so I’m putting them behind the Hawks and Heat.
7. Milwaukee Bucks (43-39)
The bucks nearly had a positive record last year, this year with Monroe and Parker they will probably get more wins than losses, but I don’t see them as more than a 7th seed, however, playoff spots in the east will likely be a little tougher to come by next year.
8. Indiana Pacers (39-43)
Pacers might be the Eastern team under .500 in the playoffs that everyone always critisizes, hopefully we are getting a healthy Paul George, but he doesn’t have the support or familiarity he had before the injury when he met with regular season success.
9. Boston Celtics (36-46)
I don’t see the Celtics making the playoffs again, the Heat will almost certainly be taking a spot, and I’d expect to see the Pacers more so than the Celtics.
10. Detroit Pistons (34-48)
The Pistons lost Monroe, but Drummond, Jackson and their other young players are only getting better, and lots of people are predicting that Stanley Johnson is going to be a draft steal.
11. New York Knicks (31-51)
I don’t see the Knicks doing much next year, but I think they can win a close race to being the best team in New York now that Carmelo has a little backup with Lopez and Afflalo. Though that 8th seed is up for grabs for almost any team, my money isn’t on the Knicks.
12. Brooklyn Nets (28-54)
The team that everyone had high hopes for when they moved to Brooklyn (Big name players with bigger salaries and hopes at Dwight Howard) is all but fallen apart now.
13. Orlando Magic (26-56)
The magic will improve, but won’t take the next step just yet.
14. Philidelphia 76ers (18-64)
Embiid may have had the most potential of any big man we’ve seen in years, however, it does not look like he will play any time soon, Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor might make for an interesting duo worth watching, but I don’t see the 76ers winning many games.
15. Charlotte Hornets (14-68)
Big Al regressed last year, and MKG and Kemba Walker have underwhelmed so far in their careers, and while they have room to improve, they won’t be enough to make the Hornets a competitive team next year.
1. Golden State Warriors (61-21)
The Warriors probably won’t get another 67 wins, but anything over 60 should be enough to get the 1st seed
2. San Antonio Spurs (58-24)
Aldridge is obviously a big addition, but I don’t see the spurs getting more wins than the Warriors, Popovich will likely limit Duncan, Parker and Ginobili’s minutes, Kawhi Leonard is not quite a superstar yet, but he is a great 2 way player, and Danny green is a solid 2 way player as well, people will probably consider the Spurs the favorites in the West to make the finals.
3. Los Angeles Clippers (56-26)
The Clippers did fairly well without Blake for a good portion of the year, but when Blake came back, he was playing like an MVP candidate. This will put the Clippers Slightly ahead of the Rockets.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder (52-30) – Northwest Division Champs
In order to get the 4th seed, the Thunder just have to be better than the Northwest Division (Blazers, Jazz, Nuggets, Timberwolves). I don’t see them having perfect health all of a sudden after a chaotic season, but they should be able to lead their division easily.
5. Houston Rockets (55-27)
The Rockets are still a great team, Dwight is still a great defensive player even after the injuries have limited him. Even if he is no longer a top 5, or even top 10 player, James Harden certainly still is, Terrence Jones and Patrick Beverly should be playing by the start of the year as well, right now Josh Smith’s future is in question and Ariza may be on the trading block, but they should still be solid at every position if they keep one or the other or get an apt replacement.
6. Memphis Grizzlies (53-29)
The Grizzlies haven’t gotten any worse, but if the rest of the stars in the west recover from the injuries the Grizzlies will probably only manage the 6th seed, but any western team could pull off an upset in the playoffs.
7. Dallas Mavericks (49-33)
After the Deandre Jordan situation many people are reporting the Mavs might not make the playoffs, I don’t see the Jazz (Or anyone else, excluding the thunder) passing them just yet. The Mavs lost Tyson Chandler but they did make some solid additions in the backcourt and got Zaza Pachulia.
8. New Orleans Pelicans (47-35)
The Pelicans really didn’t change anything in the offseason, but they did sign Anthony Davis to a long term deal, the best young player in the game will solidify them as at least fringe contenders for years to come. If he gets some help on his roster he may be able to contend for a championship, but even getting out of the 1st round next year would take an upset.
9. Utah Jazz (43-39)
The Utah Jazz surprised a lot of people down the stretch last year after the emergence of Rudy Gobert when they ended the year going 19-10 after the all star break. But assuming the Thunder and Pelicans can maintain good health a little more this year the Jazz will end up just outside of the playoffs.
10. Portland Trail Blazers (38-44)
Everyone other than Damian Lillard left, the Blazers front office and their young players are basically hitting the reset button. Lillard and the Blazers will surprise people by not being at the very bottom of the conference but still won’t have any chance at taking a playoff spot in the West.
11. Sacramento Kings (34-48)
The kings could probably compete for the 8th seed in the East (Though I think the top 7 in the east is getting a little more competitive, but number 8 is up for grabs), but they don’t have much chance in the West.
12. Minnesota Timberwolves (31-51)
The Timberwolves have the last 3 #1 picks, and some other great young players, but they aren’t yet ready to make the next step.
13. Los Angeles Lakers (28-54)
The Lakers added a few pieces, their starting lineup should look very different than it did most of last year, but they still probably can’t do much until Kobe’s 24 million is off the books.
14. Phoenix Suns (25-57)
The suns ended last season losing 5 games in a row. Their roster has not gotten any better, Tyson Chandler won’t make this team competitive.
15. Denver Nuggets (18-64)
I don’t see the Nuggets doing much in the near future unless some drastic changes are made.
MVP: LeBron James (Though if I were betting, I’d probably go for Anthony Davis or Blake Griffin to get better odds, LeBron will probably be the best player and likely be on the best team in the league)
Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert (I would like to see Anthony Davis win this too but his team will not be a top 10 defensive team, effectively ruling him out, then again, it could easily go to Kawhi Leonard or Draymond Green since they are the best defensive players on elite teams. The Jazz will probably not make the playoffs but could easily have a top 10 ranked defense anyway behind Gobert)
Rookie of the Year: D’Angelo Russell (Kobe’s health will still be a question next year, Russell will have a wide open chance to show what he means to the future of the Lakers)
Most Improved: Rudy Gobert (Rudy’s offense still needs some work, but starting for a full year will show statistical improvements accross the board, expect him to compete for leading the league in blocks with Hassan Whiteside and Anthony Davis)
NBA Champion/Finals MVP: Cavs, Lebron (There are teams as good as the Cavs in the west, but Lebron’s road to the finals will be far easier, if the Spurs or Warriors make it to the finals, they will probably have a better chance than the Cavs of taking it all, but they will have tough roads through the west)