With the NBA season less than two weeks away, it’s time to predict the winners and losers of the 2016-17 season.
James Harden will be the NBA’s 2016-17 Most Valuable Player. Last year Harden put up gaudy numbers like 29 points per game, 7.5 assists per game and 6.1 rebounds per game, all while shooting 43.9 percent from the field. The most important statistic surrounding Harden this year will be his usage percentage, basically the amount of possessions a certain player uses each game. Considering players who played in at least 50 games last season, Harden was second only to DeMarcus Cousins in usage percentage. With Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni announcing that Harden will make the switch from shooting guard to point guard this season, Harden will have more of an impact on his team than any other player this season. New additions to the Rockets like sharp-shooters Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson will space the floor in Mike D’Antoni’s fast-paced offense, giving Harden more room to operate than ever before. Expect Harden’s points and assists numbers to be the highest of his career.
The Philadelphia 76ers will be winners this season, sort of. Philadelphia has combined for 199 losses the past three seasons, by far the most losses in the NBA. The 76ers can rejoice this season as they will no longer be the NBA’s worst team, a title that will be held by the Brooklyn Nets. Philadelphia will actually be above-average at something this year, depth in the frontcourt. Nerlens Noel, Elton Brand, Jahlil Okafor, and Jerami Grant will all fight for minutes with rookies Joel Embid and Dario Saric, both of whom have already shown progress in the preseason. 76ers fans can look forward to watching Embid and Saric all season; for years only draft picks and symbols of “the process” in Philadelphia, these two bigs will finally be on the floor in uniform this season. What 76ers fans will be looking forward to most this season is January, when No. 1 overall pick and potential franchise-changing player Ben Simmons is slated to make his debut. Earlier this month Simmons underwent surgery to repair a broken bone in his foot. Recovery for this surgery will require Simmons to sit at least three months. Hopefully for Philly fans everywhere, some combination of Simmons, Embid, Saric, Noel, and Okafor will be on the floor together at the turn of the new year.
The Utah Jazz will win at least 50 games this season. Utah will mix young stars with solid veterans to form one of the most solid line-ups from top to bottom in the NBA. Averaging 19.7 points per game last year, Gordon Hayward will look to continue his ascension to the top of the small forward ranks with another all-star caliber season. Hayward will be joined in the backcourt by Rodney Hood, a shooting guard who can score in a multitude of ways, and George Hill, a Utah newcomer who will bring reliability and elite defense to the table. The Jazz starting five will likely be rounded out by Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert. Using their size to their advantage, Utah will play bigger than most teams this season, hoping that Favors and Gobert will be a formidable duo in the paint after combined averages of 25.5 points, 19.1 rebounds and 3.7 blockers per game last season. Utah will also be joined by Alec Burks, Boris Diaw, and Joe Johnson off the bench who will provide scoring, experience, and reliability.
Russell Westbrook will face his share of challenges this year. While Westbrook is poised for huge numbers this season, those numbers will come from a lack of a supporting cast. With Serge Ibaka leaving for the Orlando Magic and Kevin Durant leaving for the Golden State Warriors in one of the biggest free agent moves of all time, the Thunder will be without a combined 40.8 points per game from Ibaka and Durant. There will be several turnover-filled nights for Westbrook due to his high usage rate and lack of offensively skilled teammates. Oklahoma City’s best attribute last season was the ability to play big. The line-up of Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Durant, Ibaka, and Steven Adams was a lethal mix of size, speed, skill, athleticism, and length that forced teams into turnovers and led to huge advantages for OKC in transition and on the glass. Without Durant and Ibaka, OKC will have to employ line-ups that are much smaller. The overall length that Ibaka and Durant supplied will be sorely missed in Oklahoma City. To make things worse for Westbrook, he will have to answers questions all season about his former running mate Kevin Durant, who will be enjoying himself in Golden State to a tune of a likely appearance in the NBA finals.
The New York Knicks will continue to disappoint fans this season. Offseason acquisitions of Derrick Rose, Courtney Lee, and Joakim Noah will prove to only be false hope for the Knicks. In typical Knicks fashion, they have simply put together a mix of players, rather than building a team. It is hard to imagine a scenario in which an over-the-hill core of Rose, Anthony, and Noah will be able to succeed together. In an age where NBA offenses are getting faster, and moving the ball with quick passes, Rose and Anthony both need the ball in isolation scenarios to succeed. The use of the triangle offense will continue to stymie the growth of the Knicks and will prove especially difficult to run with Rose, a point guard who does not have a reliable outside shot. If the Knicks struggle this season, look for management to finally give up on the Carmelo era and instead begin building around future star Kristaps Porzingis, the Knicks’ only source of optimism.
The Los Angeles Clippers will fall short of the Western Conference once again. While the Clippers will have a familiar core of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and Deandre Jordan with help from J.J Reddick and Jamal Crawford, they neglected to address the glaring hole at small forward during this offseason. Seemingly always one piece away, the Clippers will likely start Luc Richard Mbah a Moute this season at small forward, an unexciting move for Clippers fans. With a Western Conference that has only gotten better this offseason, Los Angeles will most likely endure another playoff series loss to a superior team because of a lack of firepower on the perimeter.
[Featured Image by Eric Risberg/AP Images]