Tuesday, October 27, 2015

2015-2016 NBA Season Preview

  The 2015-2016 NBA Season starts tonight with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors in action. I will attempt to build on last seasons NBA predictions (+215 in mythical dollars) with Friday predictions against the point spread for entertainment purposes only. I’ll need about six weeks worth of data before I use my basketball prediction program to make my picks. Until then I’ll be basing my predictions on my eyes and ears and will use this post to share my views on the upcoming season.

Teams on the downswing
  The San Antonio Spurs ‘won’ the right to pay highly sought after free agent LaMarcus Aldridge and expect he will be the bridge between the current Tim Duncan/Tony Parker/Manu Ginobli based dynasty to form a new core with Kawhi Leonard. The pundits are mesmerized by the Spurs’ record of success and expect the move to pan out. I am not so sure. Aldridge is 30 years old and has missed time the last two seasons with wrist and back injuries. In order to free up cap space for Aldridge, the Spurs had to trade their starting center (Tiago Splitter) and lost valuable backup point guard Cory Joseph to free agency. I don’t see Aldridge as a transcendent free agent, Tim Duncan will be the starting center at the age of 39, and there isn’t much depth at point guard behind the often injured Parker. The Spurs will easily make the playoffs but I don’t see anything close to a championship run in their future this season.

  Another team I’m expecting to see drop out of championship contention is last year’s Eastern Conference finalist Atlanta Hawks. Last year the Hawks surprised the NBA with an east best 60 wins. They struggled to beat the Nets and Wizards in the playoffs before being swept by the Cavaliers in the finals. The architect of the team was General Manager Danny Ferry who has parted ways with the team in the aftermath of his racially insensitive comments being made public. The new GM is Coach Mike Budenholzer who is an excellent coach but an unknown as a General Manager. Last year’s Hawks were a team that was greater than the sum of its parts but were exposed by injuries and the lack of a superstar in the playoffs. I think the league has caught up to the Hawks style and the Hawks will struggle to get to the 50 win mark.

Teams that will pleasantly surprise
  The Orlando Magic has been a downtrodden franchise with three 50 loss seasons since losing superstar center Dwight Howard to free agency after firing Coach Stan Van Gundy in an attempt to placate Howard. During their losing seasons, the Magic have used their high draft picks to assemble a talented core of players in guards Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, forward Tobias Harris, and center Nikola Vucevic. In the offseason the Magic hired Scott Skiles to be their new coach. Skiles reminds me a lot of the great Yankee player and manager Billy Martin. Like Martin, Skiles had a long playing career despite marginal talent and has been able to improve every team he has taken over. Again like Martin, Skiles is intense leader whose acerbic style leads him to wear out his welcome sooner rather than later. I expect Skiles to get this young Magic team doing what they need to do to improve immediately and predict the Magic will make the playoffs in the still weak Eastern Conference.

  The Los Angeles Lakers are the fallen royalty of the NBA, missing the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since the 1970’s. With $24 million dollars of their precious cap space tied up in the fading and often injured Kobe Bryant, the Lakers have had no choice but to rebuild through the draft and were snakebit last season when top draft pick Julius Randle broke his leg in the season opening game. Randle is back at forward along with top draft pick D’Angelo Russell at point guard and Bryant for as long as he can stay healthy. The team uncovered another promising guard last year in Jordan Clarkson and managed to obtain center Roy Hibbert from the Indiana Pacers for a second round draft pick. The Pacers had become disgruntled with Hibbert's failure to become an offensive threat and the league has mostly forgotten what a fearsome defender he was during the Pacers' three year run as championship contenders. I think Hibbert is going to be a steal for the Lakers and is just what they needed, a defensive presence that won’t need to command the ball on offense. I am not predicting the Lakers to be a playoff team yet but I predict the ship has been turned around and the team will show a 15 game improvement to get to 36 wins.

Championship prediction
  I can’t see anyone stopping the Cavaliers from getting back to the NBA finals unless the team is derailed by injuries in the playoffs. That scenario is already starting to play out with guards Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert sidelined for the first half of the season and LeBron James starting the season by getting back injections. I believe the Cavaliers are taking the necessary precautions to make sure they have a healthy roster for the playoffs even if they have to give up home court advantage in the playoffs to do so. The Oklahoma City Thunder look like a championship team and I would pick them except that they look like a championship team every year until they are derailed by injuries. The Golden State Warriors won the championship last year and I think success will go to the young team’s collective heads and they will not have the same hunger or luck in avoiding injuries they had last year. My pick to win the Western Conference and the NBA championship is the Los Angeles Clippers. The team will be driven after last year’s playoff collapse at the hands of the Houston Rockets, the team has added proven veterans Paul Pierce and Josh Smith to their bench, and still have two MVP contenders in Chris Paul and Black Griffin. Teams that suffer devastating playoff losses follow with a breakout season or a further collapse the next year and I believe the Clippers will use their embarrassing collapse as fuel to have the best record in the league and use their home court advantage to win the championship.

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