NBA 2016-17 season review, Part 1

Didnt I tell you the Warriors would be good?

Wow, that regular season just flew by, didn’t it? It seemed like just yesterday we watched the Spurs trash the Kevin Durant and the Warriors on the road on the opening night of the season. Since then there has been a lot of Kawhi Leonard doing MVP things, assorted highs and lows from the rest of the gang, and more good times than bad.

As for the league as a whole, I previewed all 30 teams over the summer and made my predictions for the season. Here’s a look at how that went. Spoiler Alert: There were many mistakes.

Atlanta Hawks

Prediction: 37-45, 9th in the East

Actual: 43-39, 5th Seed

Aaaand we’re off to a great start. I got so much wrong here. Dwight Howard actually wasn’t a huge downgrade from Al Horford at all. The bench players I expected to be productive weren’t and vice versa. I think this passage says it all…

Speaking of awful passers, Jarrett Jack was signed to fill the backup point guard duties, and doesn’t that just say it all? Splitter’s return to health should help some –he’ll likely need to play quite a bit given Howard’s proclivity for missing games and dumb fouls– but there isn’t much inspiration to be found in ne’er-do-wells like Tim Hardaway Jr. and Kris Humphries or offensive non-entities like Sefolosha and Mike Muscala.

Jack and Splitter didn’t play a minute for the Hawks, but Sefolosha and Muscala were decent for them and Hardaway Jr. ended up being a godsend for them, and singlehandedly beat the Spurs on New Year’s Day. The Hawks are still about as exciting as your average CBS sitcom, and it’s worth noting that they seemed to give up on their season midway through the season when they dealt Kyle Korver, but inexplicably they’ve gotten a boost from Ersan Ilyasova, who came over in a trade where they offloaded Splitter’s contract to Philly.

Here’s the part I got right:

Really a 15-win campaign would be the best thing for this club, so they can draft a real co-star alongside Paul Millsap, who’s going to spend a frustrated year wondering what the heck he did to deserve this fate. (The answer, of course, is nothing. Paul Millsap is awesome and there is no justice.) It won’t get that bad for them, 37-45 seems more realistic, and that’s just so in keeping with their franchise history.

I still stand by the assertion that they would’ve been better off winning 15. And in retrospect, a 43-39 campaign and the fifth-seed is the most Hawks season ever.

Boston Celtics

Prediction: 3rd Seed in East

Actual: 53-29, 1st Seed in East

I don’t feel too bad about this one. The Celtics improved marginally, but the rest of the conference came back down to them, with the Cavs dealing with injuries and boredom and Kyle Lowry missing a bunch of games for Toronto. I still think the Celtics are a third-seed —or worse– on paper and I think they’re about to have a fight on their hands with the Bulls. Jimmy Butler is the best player in the series, which is ultra-rare for a 1-8 match-up, Dwyane Wade can still win a playoff game by himself even though he was mostly a disaster for Chicago this season and Rajon Rondo will get to face his old team, which should be fun. Boston’s scoring differential is third in the East and eighth overall and their net rating is seventh overall.

Oops:

Horford, 30, is no world beater, but he instantly becomes the Celtics’ best player

Ha-ha:

The tricky spot for Stevens here will be finding minutes for Brown, who’ll turn 20 a couple days before the opener.

LOL:

You’d think Isaiah Thomas would be their starting point guard, coming off an All-Star campaign, but perhaps he’d be better suited for the sixth-man role, especially with Turner off to Portland.

But yeah, otherwise solid.

Brooklyn Nets

Prediction: Dead last in East

Actual: Ding ding ding.

The Nets were actually a more entertaining team than they had any right to be, and they were competitive in the games Jeremy Lin played. I’m pretty sure they’ve got a good coach and a decent GM, but again I can only shake my head in dismay at the mess their owner and previous GM put this franchise in. Adam Silver should step in and create some rules to make sure no trade like that ever happens again.

Charlotte Hornets

Prediction: 7th Seed in the East

Actual: 36-46, 11th in the East

Here’s how you get in trouble when you don’t plan out your predictions carefully before writing them one by one. In my final picks, I had the NOOCH as the 7th seed, but as I was writing them, there was this gem:

So there you have it. After being one of the best stories in the league last season, I’ve got the Hornets tumbling out of the playoff race in 2016-17. They’re gonna miss Jefferson’s interior scoring and Lin’s hot streaks. Clifford’s one of the best coaches in the league and he’ll probably slow the pace down to a crawl to compensate, but I just don’t know where the points are going to come from with this crew.

So, partial credit then? The Hornets wound up finishing 19th in pace and in the middle of the pack in scoring, but Batum was indeed the disappointment I figured he’d be. It turned out that Isaiah Thomas had the Iversonian season I pegged for Walker, but the Hornets were a disaster with Walker on the bench. Oddly, they didn’t defend anywhere near as well as one would expect with Batum and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on the wings.

Bottom line the Hornets weren’t really good at anything and painfully average at almost everything. What really killed them is they went 0-9 in games where the final margin was between 1-3 points, which sounds impossible.

Chicago Bulls

Prediction: 10th in East

Actual: 41-41, 8th Seed who clinched a spot on final day of season.

Nothing about the Bulls made sense, even as everything about the Bulls made sense.

It will never, ever, not be weird to see Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo in Bulls uniforms. Someone will bring it up tangentially in a basketball conversation 20 years from now, “Hey, remember when Rondo and Wade were both teammates with the Bulls that one year?” and you’ll lose five bucks betting that there’s no way that happened. Well, not unless something disastrously memorable happens, like them openly brawling with one another on the court, which seems conceivable. There are so many combustible personalities here, including Butler, and so many mismatched pieces, that the only thing that could possibly unify this roster at all is their shared disrespect for coach Fred “The Mayor” Hoiberg, who was so in over his head in the pros last season that he’d have a better chance of preventing violence if he was the actual mayor of Chicago.

The trio of Butler, Wade and Rondo indeed had zero chemistry and there was much friction. Ironically, it was the volatile Rondo who served as peacemaker once the stars lashed out at their teammates and at management. Also, the team played better once Wade got hurt and Rondo got his rotation spot back. They also regained their mojo after trading Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott to OKC.

Chicago was the worst three-point shooting team for much of the season and they only made the playoffs because Nikola Mirotic, who was terrible for the first four months, had a contract surge in March and April. Also, they were pretty good against good teams and crummy against bad teams. I’m feeling pretty good about that prediction, overall.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Prediction: 2nd Seed in East

Actual: 51-31, 2nd Seed in East

Call me crazy, but I think motivation will be an issue, at least during the regular season. That they’re safely ensconced in the warm, comforting bosom of the Eastern Conference will only exacerbate that. What do they care about finishing with home court at this point? Who is LeBron James afraid of in the East at this point? Toronto? Boston? They could put together an All-Star team composed of the rest of the conference and the Cavs would still probably be favored against them in the playoffs. If they’re not set up to be the ultimate “light switch” team this season, then I don’t know anything and I’ll offer everyone a 100 percent refund for this preview.

/blows on nails, dries them on shirt

The bench looks thin, but you know they’ll sign a couple of ring-chasing vets after the trade deadline for peanuts.

They added Deron Williams, Kyle Korver, Andrew Bogut, Derrick Williams and Larry Sanders. Two of the four haven’t worked out and the other three are looking iffy, but still.

Dunleavy’s about to turn 36 and had an injury-plagued season with the Bulls last year, but he can still shoot threes decently well and he’s one of the league’s most notorious sneaky goons, so Spurs fans are almost obligated to like him. I can already see him planting an elbow in Draymond Green’s solar plexus next June.

Nope, traded to Atlanta, for Korver. Oops. I’m still sticking with my prediction that even though the Cavs could make the Finals if they wanted to, that LeBron will tank it so the Raptors can be the sacrificial lambs for the Warriors.

Dallas Mavericks

Prediction: 7th in West

Actual: 33-49, 11th in East

My whole preview was basically a Harrison Barnes rant, including this line:

By almost any measure, Barnes is a glaring downgrade from Chandler Parsons

I regret nothing. Barnes started well but crashed down to Earth over the second half of the season and finished with a 16.3 PER, which seems sub-optimal for a max player. The Mavericks as a team started terribly, never really recovered despite having feel-good stories like Yogi Ferrell and Seth Curry, and wound up trading Williams and Bogut mid-season. They suited up 24 players overall and if Mark Cuban had his way it would’ve been 25, with the final one being a recently retired 37-year-old former NFL quarterback. The Mavs are still a side of wilted broccoli, and Cuban knows it. That’s why they have to resort to publicity stunts. Dirk Nowitzki and Rick Carlisle’s talents are wasted here.

Denver Nuggets

Prediction: 11th in West

Actual: 9th in West, eliminated by Russell Westbrook heave.

The good:

They don’t have the P.R. of Boston or even Minnesota, but make no mistake, the Nuggets are building something here, slowly but surely, right under all our noses…

Simply put, the only young seven-footers in the league who are more untradeable than Jokic are Karl Anthony-Towns and Kristaps Porzingis, and you might get an argument about the latter.

The bad:

Mudiay wasn’t quite as eye-popping on the stat sheet –he needs to massively improve on finishing around the rim– but he provides Denver with a rare commodity these days: A pass-first point guard. He’s also got prototypical size and athleticism for the position and is already a solid rebounder and promising defender. I’m not sure he’ll ever develop into an All-Star, but it already seems clear that the Nuggets didn’t screw up the pick.

The ugly:

Jusuf Nurkic’s sophomore campaign was marred by injury and he slumped badly, but he’s only 21, good enough to start for a few teams and a perfect complement for Jokic.

Nurkic has indeed shown he’s a quality starter in the making, possibly even a star, but he sulked his way out of Denver.

The Nuggets young core is indeed promising and they were one of the most fun watches in the league, but the jury’s still out on Mudiay and they’re going nowhere as long as their defense continues to be horrid.

Detroit Pistons

Prediction: 6th in East, upset of Celtics in first round!

Actual: 37-45, 10th in East

Way to go, idiot boy. A starting lineup that looked quite solid on paper by Eastern Conference standards blew up in Stan Van Gundy’s face, to the point where he experimented with starting Jon Leuer instead of Tobias Harris, who wound up being Detroit’s leading scorer. Both Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson were utter disasters, and I’m guessing that SVG has severe doubts at this stage about whether he can win anything with either of them anywhere near this organization. Ironically, the Pistons bench was halfway decent, with Leuer, Ish Smith and the former Spurs trio of Beno Udrih, Aron Baynes and Boban Marjanovic all playing well when called upon, but none of them got to play major minutes.

Then there was this passage:

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was someone who I didn’t think had a chance to stick in the league when I first saw him as rookie, and he’s still not much of an outside shooter, but his defense has progressed so far that he’s now a major piece of their culture. KCP is kind of an old-school player in that he can shoot it fine from the mid-range and even the long two, but he just doesn’t have the range beyond that. He can also get to the rim and finish around there. It’s not a PER-friendly kind of game, but real-adjusted plus-minus is a fan.

Caldwell-Pope wound up shooting a respectable 35 percent from outside but only 39.9 overall. The Pistons are just a collection of random C+ to D+ players, and there might not be a single building block to a contender here.

Golden State Warriors

Prediction: 1st in West, winning it all

Actual: Nailed it.

What other choice do I have? The Giants? The Giants treat ninth innings as poorly as I treat my body.

The Giants’ season ended by them blowing a three-run lead in the ninth inning. I was at the game. Good times. Also the Warriors are even better and more unlikable than I imagined. They’d be the most annoying thing in the world if not for all the other things.

Houston Rockets

Prediction: 9th in Western Conference

Actual: 55-27, 3rd in the West, and a solid bet to beat the Spurs in round two.

Here’s the money quote:

You would think there would be a sense of joyous optimism within the locker room, a real boost to the esprit de corps now that the black cloud of Dwight Howard and his endless farts are off to lift up the gentlemen’s establishment economy in Atlanta, but I’m not sure being happier and being able to breathe without an oxygen mask will be enough to improve the Rockets. Here was a team that was roundly and rightfully criticized for their lazy, inattentive defense and their off-season solution is to sign Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon and to hire Mike D’Antoni to coach them? That takes stones, man.

It turns out that not only is Daryl Morey a better GM than me, but he’s also a licensed oncologist. The Rox underwent chemotherapy, added some volume shooting and voila, they’re scoring monsters. They’re also the one team in the West I trust the Spurs to be able to score against in the playoffs, so we’ll see how that goes. I’d still rather play them than the Clips.

Indiana Pacers

Prediction: 4th in East, losing to Raptors in Eastern semis

Actual: 7th in East, losing to Cavs in first round

October conclusion:

I feel like I should be more excited about the Pacers than I am. I like most of their individual pieces and the moves they made in the off-season and think they can fit well together. But I’m not thrilled about their two-guards and I believe they’ve downgraded at coach. It will probably take time for all the new guys to mesh and I don’t know if there will be much leadership and cohesiveness on the roster if they struggle early. On paper they should be no worse than a four seed, but it won’t be a smooth ride to get there.

Yup, I guessed most of this stuff. Jeff Teague was good individually, but he and Monta Ellis couldn’t play together and the Pacers tried C.J. Miles and Glenn Robinson for 29 and 27 games, respectively, in the starting lineup. Myles Turner wasn’t quite the revelation in his second season I thought he’d be, and it’s probably why they didn’t win a few extra games. Also, Nate McMillan was of no help, as we figured. The Pacers will go down in five quiet games or perhaps four and not a soul will miss them. The only thing of consequence about them is whether they’ll be able to nail down a contract extension for Paul George or trade him in the summer.

Los Angeles Clippers

Prediction: 2nd seed, losing to Warriors in Western Conference Finals

Actual: 4th seed, losing to Warriors in Western Conference semis.

This might be my favorite prediction, ever.

The only interesting piece on the bench as far as I’m concerned is rookie Brice Johnson, a 1st-Team All-America power-forward out of North Carolina who averaged 17 and 10 for the Tarheels last year and was very impressive in the Orlando Summer League as well, showing no difficulty adjusting to a higher level. Whether Doc Rivers will give Johnson a chance to leapfrog a vet in his rotation is my question. Oh, and in the second round they got center Diamond Stone out of Maryland, a mortal lock to win the prestigious “NBA Player Whose Name Most Sounds Like He Would Win a Paternity Suit Against Three of His Teammates” Award.

Johnson played 9 minutes this season. That’s 15 fewer than Stone, the paternity suit guy. That’s 268 fewer than Paul Pierce, who died three years ago. Doc Rivers couldn’t identify Johnson in a police lineup even if the other four guys were basketball bloggers.

There was also this nugget of genius:

I know it’s going to be an unpopular opinion on a Spurs blog, but I think the Clippers have the best chance of giving the Warriors a series in the Western Conference.

I forgot to factor in that the Dubs absolutely despise them, that they will never forgive Rivers for suggesting that they were “lucky” to win the 2015 title, and that nothing gives them more joy than curb-stomping these pretenders to the throne every time they meet. The Warriors swept L.A. by an average score of like 160 to 43 this season. I don’t imagine actual meaningful games will change that calculus. That written, thanks not tanking to the sixth seed, Clippers!

Los Angeles Lakers

Prediction: 13th in West

Actual: 14th in West after a spring of tanking and then a bizarre winning streak in April

I’m not going to take any credit for predicting that the Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng signings not working out. None of the kids can shoot or defend so far, but what conclusions am I supposed to have about Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram when they’re 22, 20 and 19, respectively? Jordan Clarkson’s plateaued, he’d already 24 and they need to move on from him, but aside from that what thoughts about the Lakers am I supposed to have other than “boy, are they going to look dumb if Philly winds up with their pick.”

I will say that at the moment it sure does seem silly to suggest that their future looks brighter than Minnesota’s or Denver’s. Karl Anthony-Towns and Nikola Jokic are just too good to bet against, franchise history be damned.

Memphis Grizzlies

Prediction: 5th in West, losing in first round to Blazers in seven thrilling games in a compelling series that would offer an interesting contrast in styles

Actual: 7th, losing in first round to Spurs in five ugly games in a boring series that will offer an interesting contrast of thrown rocks.

And now, it’s time for another episode of Stampler, M.D.:

When you think about it, the Grizzles had almost the perfect summer…

They then were able to sign Chandler Parsons, one of the best free agents on the market, to give them a wing scorer for what, the first time in the history of the franchise?…

…apparently the Grizzlies’ medical staff felt confident he’ll recover fully. It’d be impossible to categorize Parson’s two seasons as anything but disappointing since he was able to play all of one playoff game for them, but he did shoot career-high percentages from the field and the three-point line last year, so if he can recapture his old explosiveness to go with the newly-calibrated jumper, the Grizzlies will have someone almost worthy of the contract they gave him.

(Do not hire me to be your doctor.)

Anyway, the Grizz got great seasons out of Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph transitioned well to his bench role, and they had a bunch of contributing role players like JaMychal Green, Tony Allen, Vince Carter, James Ennis and Troy Daniels. The Grizzles are no longer a very good defensive team, except when they play the Spurs of course. They’re gonna make for an annoying next two weeks.

Source: Pounding The Rock

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