Hoop Dreams: Matt and Cousin Alex Preview the 2016-2017 NBA Season

Nov 3, 2016 by

 

Matt:  Hey Alex, I am really looking forward to this NBA season, maybe more so than the past few years.  Hell, I even attended a preseason game for the first time in my life a few weeks back.  I watched the Hornets take on the Celtics with my son and father-in-law.  My son, Vincent, was excited for the first quarter but interest waned some as the game progressed.  I chalk this up to the Celtics and Hornets not living up to the game I took him to last year – The Harlem Globetrotters.  That being said, watching my Celtics gave me an optimistic feeling about this team.  Especially with the additions of Al Horford and first round pick Jaylen Brown.    Though it was only the second preseason game of the year, I thought Horford looked comfortable in the Celtics system.  Brown is raw from an offensive perspective and will take time but man is he athletic.  He will get decent minutes and am sure the Celtics will do a fine job developing him in the coming years.  I am projecting 50 plus wins and winning a first round series for the first time under Coach Brad Stevens.  After those accomplishments this upcoming season I am really setting my sights to 2017-18 season.  The Celtics will add another top draft pick via Brooklyn and land Steph Curry in free agency next summer, it will then be championship or bust for the Celtics in 2017 -18!  (I can dream.)

As the only Milwaukee Bucks fan I know, I must ask your initial thoughts on your hometown team…Do you see your Bucks landing a 7th or 8th playoff seed in the vastly improved Eastern Conference this year?  Or are you thinking lottery again?

Alex: Normally, I’d prefer the Bucks be in the lottery than get swept in the first round of the playoffs being an eight seed, but the playoff experience would be extremely beneficial for the young core we have here in Milwaukee.  Middleton’s torn hamstring obviously will hurt, but it will also give the 21 year olds (Giannis and Jabari) an added incentive to become leaders on the court and get more aggressive on the offensive end.  The 2016-2017 Milwaukee Bucks are not true contenders in the East but it is part of the process with the young core.  I love the slight risk in drafting Thon Maker who could provide valuable upside.  In our social media driven society where everyone wants instant gratification, some patience will do a Bucks’ fan some good this year.  Last year was a little step back but I remain quite hopeful for the coming years and the new arena will be an awesome added component in the near future. In my eyes this season the ceiling would be the sixth seed with the floor probably a 12th place finish.  Hopefully I am selling them short!

I’ll agree the East improved, but I will not go as far as saying they vastly improved because there is not one true contender that can compete with the Cavs as long as they are healthy.  The conference added some depth but not true star players.  A lack of competitive balance can be frustrating as a fan.  My preseason sleeper from the East to upset the Cavs and get to the Finals are the Indiana Pacers.  Any sleepers for you?

I also have to ask – Do you think Ainge has some master plan or is he doing this rebuild on the fly depending on free agency?  Do you believe Coach Stevens is a top five coach in the league already even though he has not been to the second round of the playoffs?

 

Matt:  I believe Coach Stevens will eventually be the top coach in all of the NBA. I would place him at this very moment behind only Greg Popovich in ranking the top NBA coaches.  Any Hoosier or Duke fan can give up hope now of persuading him to your program.  He will retire as a Hall-of-Fame NBA coach and will never return to the college game.

Boston continues to struggle acquiring the elite free agents.  I predict this continues into next summer.  I do not necessarily place blame on Ainge nor Stevens for not signing someone like a Durant.  The Celtics will continue to build through the draft and develop its young talent.   If the Nets can continue to stay the course of being shitty, maybe this is the year the Celtics land that coveted top draft pick via Brooklyn’s first round pick.  The future is bright but patience is required for fans wanting the 80’s playoff successes to return.

I tend to agree with your notion that a handful of teams from the Eastern Conference improved their personnel, but those offseason acquisitions did little to truly challenge the Cavs in the postseason.  The Cavs should repeat as Eastern Conference champs once again (barring any serious injury), however, they won’t cruise through the playoffs like they did last year.

The question you pose about what team in the East made the best offseason moves probably comes down to two teams – Indiana and Boston.  I would give the edge to Indiana though.  Larry Legend and the front office made some key additions by adding a solid playmaker in Jeff Teague from Atlanta along with a scoring big man in Al Jefferson; who should strengthen their bench.  Indiana could challenge Boston and Toronto for that coveted two seed.

Let me throw out who I believe will be the eight playoff teams from the East.  (Seeding included)

  1. Cleveland
  2. Boston
  3. Indiana
  4. Toronto
  5. Chicago
  6. Charlotte
  7. Detroit
  8. New York (I could be convinced to swap out NYK with Milwaukee and possibly Washington)

Agree or disagree?

 

Alex:  Agree for the most part – now we have officially turned into those ESPN analysts who on Selection Sunday pick straight chalk.  Although, the NBA does not possess the parity college hoops does so we do have an out!  Ok, ok so I did flip a few teams around, but in the end the Cavs will only matter at #1 and represent the East.

  1. Cleveland (Auto pilot to the Finals)
  2. Indiana (100-1 to win the Championship – incredible value; let’s rob Vegas together!)
  3. Boston
  4. Toronto (Make AMERICA Great Again)
  5. Detroit
  6. Atlanta
  7. Charlotte
  8. Chicago / Milwaukee #FearTheDeer #OwnTheFuture #GreekFreak #Jabari

The Bulls drop to 8?! I say why not – Rondo, MCW, and Wade cannot shoot from the outside…especially Rondo & MCW.  Their roster lacks any down low presence with no one who will ever require a double team.  Teams will play quite compact against them which will make attacking the rack all that much harder.  The Bulls make my 8th ranking look dumb IF they 1) stay healthy 2) get out and run effectively 3) I do like Hoiberg as a coach and feel he’ll have a chip on his shoulder this year after last year’s 42-40 campaign missing the playoffs.  Oh, speaking of Chicago, screw the Cubs!

Having the Knicks and Wizards missing the playoffs does not feel right, but there is only eight spots and my Bucks have to be in there…bias alert!

The Warriors out West had the best summer retooling their already star studded squad – no doubt about it.  But the KD move to the “big four” or whatever people call it today, in my humble opinion, gives LeBron the potential to catapult himself into MJ’s lone territory as being the best ever.  Imagine if LeBron dominates the Finals again and the Cavs take down THIS Warriors team for his fourth ring.  LeBron rested up this offseason which is smart now that he is 31 years old.  The trilogy would be an awesome storyline for the NBA, its fans and incredible June TV.  I am officially looking way too far ahead now, but what are your thoughts regarding the potential catapult for LeBron into MJ territory with the assist from the Warriors All-Star team?  LeBron your regular season MVP this year or are you feeling someone else?

 

Matt:  Quick note about the Bulls.  They will make the playoffs.  Whether that comes as a 5th seed or 8th seed, there are enough awful teams to beat up on during the regular season.  Wade, Butler, and Rondo with a decent supporting cast should be enough to reach the 42 win barrier.  The Bulls will have matchup problems with the top teams from both the Eastern and Western Conferences without a doubt.  I still like their chances grabbing a playoff spot even possibly giving their first round opponent some fits.  I will take all of what I wrote back if any of the following scenarios occur within the regular season –

  • Wade’s decline becomes drastic coupled with an increased field goal attempts over his prior season.  This will cause a rift with another Marquette alum in the starting lineup.
  • Butler’s recent history of injuries continues again into the season resulting in significant time off the court.
  • Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott shoot horribly throughout the season and find themselves lost in the offense.
  • Fred Hoiberg loses the locker room.
  • Rondo abruptly retires to concentrate full time on his Connect Four passion.

Let’s talk some Cavs…..For any NBA team vying for a NBA Championship a few things must fall the right way.   When the championship parade begun on the downtown streets of Cleveland this summer even a handful of Miami Heat fans seemed compelled to give LeBron and company a slight nod of approval.  Coming back from a 3 games 1 deficit against a foe that won a NBA record 73 regular season games still seems hardly possible.  It was nice to see Cleveland fans have a reason to celebrate something for once.  Fans of the NBA for the first time in LeBron’s career unanimously showered LeBron with the respect he deserves.  His late 4th quarter block on Iguodala in game 7 might very well be the lasting image of his iconic career.  (A bronze statue of LeBron in action blocking Iguodala should be placed outside the Quicken Loans Arena in years to come.)

However, when you peel back a few layers dissecting the 2016 NBA playoffs the Cavs had much fall positively their way.  They steamrolled through the East playoffs dropping only two games.  Even when Toronto tied the series against the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals, no one thought seriously about a potential upset.  Then they find the Warriors in the finals coming off a tough seven game series against OKC.   When the Cavs were one game away from another disappointing summer result is when everything tuned on its axis.  LeBron found an extra gear, Kyrie Irving finally lived up to the hype, Draymond Green attempts to punch the King in the nuts leading to a game 5 suspension, Andrew Bogut gets injured in game 6 and never sees the court again as a Golden State Warrior, Curry appeared to simply break down as the series wore on, Klay Thompson was never a consistent scoring threat, and Iguadala lower back flairs up…..A game 7 iconic game saving block from LeBron, a late 4th quarter dagger three from Kyrie, and just like that the Cavs on their opponents floor lifted the Larry Obrien trophy and headed to Vegas to celebrate.  Somehow strangely JR Smith has not worn a shirt since the buzzer sounded at the end of game 7.

I don’t see the Cavs repeating.  When you date a Kardashian in the offseason bad things happen.  Tristan Thompson has to know this, am I right?   He’s a lefty who wears number 13, I am not sure it can be any more obvious that those two characteristics alone get you listed on a particular Kardashian scouting report…..sorry Cleveland but the curse is real.

Whomever comes out of the West will comfortably take out the Cavs in the finals this year.  As for a LeBron James MVP winning season…..that won’t happen either.  Writers and those media members with a NBA MVP vote will continue to vote against LeBron.  When LeBron finally calls it a career, his gaudy resume will list pages of accomplishments…..what will be missing though is the bullet stating five regular season MVP’s.

Enough about the East….let’s head out West…..

 

Alex:  Speaking of Kardashians – that means the curse has been lifted off James Harden which means he will win the MVP this season…you talked me right into it Matt.  Russell Westbrook feels like the obvious choice besides LBJ’s perennial chances, but the Beard has jumped off the Kardashian train…the curse has been lifted!  Basketball is a team game so let’s get back to the importance of the squad.

  1. Golden State
  2. Spurs (by default – it’s the Spurs)
  3. OKC
  4. Memphis (must stay healthy)
  5. Clippers
  6.  Houston
  7. Minnesota
  8. Portland / Pelicans (make it if Davis stays healthy) / Utah

Over the course of the season developing depth and fluid rotations will be critical for Golden State.  David West, Zaza Pachulia and others will figure out how to contribute effectively.  The Warriors shot a league leading 41.0% from three point range last season – that equates to 61.5% from two point range.  Oh, and they shot the second best two point percentage at 52.0%.  As long as they play defense (which they are not currently doing at all vs. the Spurs in the season opener as I type this), they are the class of the West.

Pop will lead the Spurs with Kawhi, Aldridge and (Insert any other name here) to 60+ wins…Kawhi is a legitimate MVP candidate…OKC will have an edge this year…Drinks are on Conley for the year after that offseason deal!…Lob City is a show, not a contender…Houston’s scoring will rapidly increase…almost at the level of Obamacare premiums…MINNESOTA is the young, young future of the West (Midwest Finals in 2019, the Milwaukee Bucks vs. the Minnesota T’Wolves…the NBA conspiracy theorists would be laid to rest)…and to who wins the rights to the 8th seed…um, good luck.  Where did I go wrong Matt? (Can’t be the Kardashian analysis!)

 

Matt:  My dear cousin Alex, we finally reached the point of the conversation where we will disagree greatly on the Western Conference playoff picture.  I see it playing out like this –

  1. Golden State (The Dubs will grab the top seed but it will not be easy. They will enter the playoffs with home court advantage but maybe by a two game margin or so.  If the Warriors reach 63 wins, they lock up the number one seed.)
  2. San Antonio (New era/same coach – All is well. They will challenge for the top seed all season long but I believe they will still come up short during their playoff run once again.)
  3. Los Angeles Clippers (This team is built for the regular season. The talent is there and possibly a slight chip on their shoulders…..they will secure the three spot if no one gets suspended for punching out the team’s equipment manager.)
  4. Portland (Dame and company have arrived! A mid-season acquisition to bolster their front court could help to set up a surprising deep playoff run.  By the way, the best basketball shoes right now are not made by Nike or Under Armour…Adidas’ Dlillard hoop shoes are the new standard.)
  5. Minnesota (I know this is the sexy pick from most analysts and I agree wholeheartedly.)
  6. Memphis (The Grizzlies still made the playoffs last year with key injuries and roster that changed daily. Their old man YMCA offense still seems to work in their favor.  Until I am proven otherwise, the Western Conference playoffs will continue to trot out this team that ignores the trendy pace and space offense that so many NBA teams are adopting.  They roster is built to defend, back to the basket scoring from their bigs and grind out wins.  They are basically a hockey in shorts and shoes.)
  7. Houston (The Beard will average over 30. The team will score well into the 100’s each night.  The Rockets will be worth spending money on the NBA Season Pass.  If you are looking for a resemblance of defense please look elsewhere.)
  8. Dallas (Why not OKC you ask? Losing Durant and Ibaka will be too much to overcome.  Plus the Thunder no longer possess the length and size from last year.  Sure they will score and Westbrook will put up stats that make you shake your head but they will struggle stopping anyone.  Dallas has such an underrated coach in Carlisle and a roster of veterans who know how to play.  The additions of Bogut and Harrison Barnes will be enough to get in and eventually lose to the Warriors in the first round.)

 Quick note…I initially typed Phoenix for the 8th spot.  I then quickly decided to hit the backspace key and played it safe with Dallas.  Maybe next year for the Suns….

So let’s wrap up this piece with the following predictions –

MVP, ROY, Coach of the year, Defensive player of the year, most improved player of the year, what teams are playing in the finals, and who takes the title?  I will let you take the first stab at it…..

 

Alex:  Man, Minnesota the 5 seed already…it’s a process and that’s a massive jump for the youngins’ over the course of 82 games…I do like them though so hopefully it happens.  Adidas…Lillard – my mother (most incredible person walking this planet) works for them and has a lifetime discount…it’s what I wear…great to hear your thoughts on them and honestly I think your prediction on the Blazers may be better than mine on that one after further thinking about it…time will tell.  OKC will make the playoffs…first cousin bet…$20 I say they make it?

 

MVP – Harden (stats wise – Mr. Westbrook)

ROY – don’t really care about this award – let’s go Joel Embiid

Coach of the Year – Pop, the perennial greatness gets rewarded (other candidates – Pop’s disciple – Budenholzer from the ATL is a dark horse if they surprise….Coach McMillan (100-1 NBA Champs!)….Whoever coaches the 76ers – win 30 games and that’s an 18000% return on investment from last year…)

Defensive Player of the Year – Kawhi Leonard

Most Improved Player of the Year – see Matt for this one; I do like Dennis Schroder’s game and now he gets more run with Teague gone

Finals – Cavs vs. Warriors

Champ – Warriors win the trilogy

Final thoughts – Mark Cuban, MAKE THE DALLAS MAVERICKS GREAT AGAIN!  If anyone is still reading, thanks for your time in this social media, instant information driven world.  Enjoy some hoops this winter, blouses!

 

Matt:  Annual awards time!  I see it like this –

MVP – Kawhi Leonard.  (Harden and Westbrook will have the pretty stats but not enough team wins.  Curry and Durant will cancel each other’s votes.  LeBron is the league MVP every year but like I said before, those who possess a vote like to keep it interesting and unpredictable.   Also look for Kyrie Irving and Dame to receive a handful of votes.  The Spurs will vie for the top seed in the West and they will go as far as Kawhi takes them.  He should have a very special year on both ends of the floor.)

ROY – Joel Embiid (I like

Coach of the Year – Terry Stotts (This is a lock.)

Defensive Player of the Year – Kawhi Leonard (Hassan Whiteside from Miami could contend for this award.  It’s still Kawhi hardware for the next year or so.)

Most Improved Player of the Year – Julius Randle (Possible candidates – Andrew Wiggins, T.J. Warren, and Jonas Valaciunas)

6th Man – Zach Randolph

Finals Matchup – Cavs will take on the Warriors once again but this is in no way a lock.  Something tells me a major injury could disrupt this match up from occurring.

NBA Champion – Golden State Warriors.  (A mid-season acquisition of a rim protecting big will be needed to vastly improve their chances.  That being said, the team with the most talent tends to win out and the Warriors possess this trait significantly over any other team.)

Lastly…..a few thoughts about KD leaving OKC.

Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City to join the Oakland Warriors primarily for one reason and that reason is named Russell Westbrook.  KD headed home dejected after another playoff disappointment.  I believe immediately after losing game 7 to the Warriors, Durant decided then he was not coming back to the Thunder.  Durant’s OKC Thunder could not close out the Warriors even after leading 3 games to 1 in the Western Conference finals and I believe he secretly blames Westbrook for this.  Durant no longer trusted his all-star teammate.  OKC had trouble all last year in closing out games especially against quality opponents making a run at them in the 4th quarter.  Westbrook, the primary ball handler and ultimately the one who has to make the crucial decisions when it matters most, could no longer be trusted by Durant to put OKC over the hump.

So Durant picked up and left cattle country for Oakland.  End of story.

 

Alex:  So was that a yes to my $20 bet regarding OKC making the playoffs?

 

Matt:  Yes

 

 

 

 

 

 

468 ad

Leave a Comment