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As we approach the 2015-2016 NBA season, I figured I'd give my two cents on the outlook of the season upon us. I like to do this because it gives me a reference to what I thought before the craziness of the NBA occurs. Chances are, I'll strike out on a portion, I'll be right on a couple others, overall, it gives me a median or "standard" at which to hold players' and teams' to throughout the season. This offseason, there had been lots of free agency movement, teams who really moved into that "win now" mode. I look at teams like the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, L.A. Clippers, Cleveland Cavaliers, and others that added key pieces to potentially "put them over the top". But of course, some of these teams will flame out or underperform, while others may overachieve. Still, the thing I find quite shocking about early title predictions and pundits, is the Golden State Warriors being completely overlooked to make it to the finals. I think many people around the league believe that while they are a good team, they caught fire at a good time and had everything fall their way (IE: Cleveland being banged up, the Clippers losing and imploding against the Rockets, etc.). I think I may have just gone into my first prediction here, so below you'll find all my predictions and why I believe in them.
2015-2016 NBA Championship
East: Cleveland Cavaliers
I think its fair to say that the Eastern Conference is a one-horse race and you'd be naive and crazy to believe anyone other than the Cavaliers will be in this years' Finals. With the additions, returning players, and the best player in the world, I don't see how they stumble, crumble, or lose to any other Eastern Conference team. Even without Kyrie and Love, I can realistically see ways that this team makes the playoffs and gets to another NBA Finals. Do they win the championship without them? I don't know. But I have a good feeling this may be the year we see Cleveland finally get a championship and some of us can end our "Will LeBron ever win" storyline. I think David Blatt is an underrated and under appreciated coach, both in and outside of the organization. You can tell some of the players, including LeBron, didn't have much respect for him in game situations. I hope to see David Blatt not be criticized in public by his players this season, but I believe no matter what he's on the hot seat if they don't gain a title this season. LeBron will come into the season with a chip on his shoulder from not winning M.V.P. and I think they'll be firing on all cylinders to prove people right.
West: Golden State Warriors
As far as the Western Conference, of course its tough. I feel like 1st through 6th you can always make a case as to why that particular team could win the title or get out of the West. Most people seem to have either the Spurs and Clippers as their favorites out west. Both make very good arguments, as San Antonio added David West and LaMarcus Aldridge, while L.A. added DeAndre Jordan (in a way I guess), Lance Stephenson, Paul Pierce, and other role players. I can see either making the finals, but I am picking another team. A team people are continuing to overlook in the Golden State Warriors. Not only are they young, they have depth, talent, and coaching that meshes seamlessly. The Curry-Thompson "1-2 punch" is by far and away the best back court in the league. While flashy, fun to watch, and entertaining, they also have a patient, ball-movement based approach that is very difficult to defend. With the players always moving the ball around the court and teams focusing their attention on Curry and Thompson, its a handful to deal with, making it very difficult for teams to stick around through all four quarters. While the Warriors didn't add a ton in the offseason, they get a year older with a championship season under their belt, and possess a style of play that will always give them a chance of winning. The Warriors know they can comeback at any time, which can be dangerous because you can't rely on comebacks all the time, but it's incredibly telling of the mentality and stability of this team. I like the make-up of this team and love what Steve Kerr as a coach is doing in Golden State. I can't bet against them and think they'll have another very successful run to the NBA Finals.
Most Valuable Player
Realistically, LeBron could've probably won the past 5 or 6 MVP's but I think the NBA really likes to hand these awards to the "deserving" player. The player everyone doesn't take for granted. I think LeBron is quite possibly the best we've ever seen and people don't appreciate it. They look for other players and excuses as to why he can't be MVP. There's, in essence, a stigma attached to giving an MVP to a player three, four, or five years consecutively, so people don't feel as though LeBron hasn't earned that or that his teams aren't good enough. Bottom line is, I think Lebron runs away with this award this season. People know he's the most gifted and talented basketball player on the planet. They saw what he did in the playoffs and I think he'll come with that same passion this season. King James is an easy answer to the MVP discussion, but he has everything going for him this season to make that true.
Rookie Of The Year
I've been a huge believer in playing overseas before heading to the NBA. I like what Brandon Jennings did and I saw what he could do his rookie season, the same thing applies to Mudiay. He's got experience playing the professional game that no one in college had. World basketball and the global game has improved immensely and I believe that works in Mudiays' favor. But there is a lot more than just playing overseas that I think Mudiay possesses. In summer league, he was quick to react, played with a toughness, and created openings and space for teammates to score. Drawing defenders, movement off the ball, and his vision on the court makes him a talented point guard in this league for a long time. I think with Denver, he's coming into a situation where he'll get 30 minutes a night with a very solid starting five to utilize and work with. Playing with some talented NBA starters, Mudiay should be able to create some easy buckets for teammates, and in doing so allowing more opportunities at the rim for himself. I think he averages close to 16 points and 8 assists a night.
Most Improved Player
3J, CJ as they like to call him in Rip City, is a consensus pick around the NBA for this award. His performances in the playoffs, growth as a player, and loss of returning starters on the team all factor into CJ being a trending pick. From what I gathered, his offseason sounded more like training camp 2.0, then an offseason. He worked with Steve Nash and coaches in the offseason to improve on all aspects of his game. Along with work in Canada, he went to various locations around the country practicing, working out, and looking for ways to best prepare himself for the season ahead. He knows that he will be in an increased role and judging by last seasons playoffs he can certainly take on the challenge. Against the Memphis Grizzlies, one of the best defensive teams in the NBA, McCollum shot over 47% and averaged over 17 points per game. Showing glimpses of good defensive efforts, he creates turnovers, and has shown improvement in off-screen defending. His offensive game has continued to progress from what was already good. McCollum has range, can really hit jumpers off the dribble, and has great handles. Coming off screens, CJ has been terrific, and with the additions of Plumlee, Vonleh, that should only increase his off screen shots. All of these reasons make him a very likable pick for Most Improved Player in the 2015-2016 NBA season. He's shown great improvement and has a great opportunity to be one of the go-to guys on this young Blazers team.
Defensive Player of the Year
DJ is an easy pick in my mind because of how good the Clippers could be this season. They are touted to be one or two in the Western Conference and as long as he plays like he has, I think he'll be the consensus pick for this award. Without DeAndre, I think the Clippers would really struggle to get in the top-4, even top-6 of the Western Conference. He's a difference maker for that team, especially on the defensive end of the floor. He led the league in rebounds, defensive rebounds, and has solidified himself as a good rim protector. If the Clippers are among the top two or three in the NBA, I think DeAndre Jordan gets the award.
6th Man of The Year
As the Bulls have a new coach and new scheme, I think Mirotic is a viable option for this award. Last season, he made a late run at claiming an argument for 6th MOY, but Lu Williams was chosen. Mirotic, has the size and versatility to play in both front court positions as well as open driving lanes for other players with his shooting ability. A stretch-four with the ability to really knock down a jumper, Mitotic is my pick for this award because of the new coach in Chicago. Fred Homburg has a very open and offensive style of coaching, so I can see a lot of places where Mitotic fits into that scheme filling in for Pau Gasol, Noah, and others. As long as Chicago can keep pace with a top four spot in the East, I think Nikola has a very good opportunity to win this award.
Coach of the Year
I'm going to go against my gut on this one. First off, I have a soft spot for George Karl and the teams he coaches. I think he is one of the most under appreciated coaches in the league and has an opportunity to shock people around the league if the Kings can make some noise (grab a playoff spot). He coaches ball movement and pace, field goals coming off of assists, and generally a pressured defensive scheme. Karl's coaching will only work if Rondo, Collison, Gay, and Cousins buy-in to his style. If they do, it could be a very dangerous team to play as the season continues on. If they don't, your looking at a similar situation to what the New York Knicks had with J.R. Smith, Stoudamire, and Carmelo in their last year. I have a feeling we are going to see the Kings really get a shot at doing something and making a run at a playoff spot. I am a huge George Karl fan and love the way he coaches his teams. I think if the Kings can get an offensive scheme that allows Boogie Cousins to still get "his", then this could be a very entertaining and exciting team to watch this season.