2015-16 NBA Season Preview: A BOTJ Discussion

As we embark on another NBA season, it is now time for the Back of the Jersey staff to offer up some predictions.  One of the more exciting off-seasons in recent memory brought new faces to new places.  Which coaches, players, and teams will stand out this year?

DeAndre Jordan.

Can this finally be the year the Clippers compete for a championship?
(Photo courtesy of Fox Sports)

Tyler Michels

Team to watch: Los Angeles Clippers

With the dramatic re-signing of DeAndre Jordan (you mad, Mark?) and the addition of some notable names (Paul Pierce, Josh Smith, and Lance Stephenson), it’s hard to claim that a team had a better off-season than the Los Angeles Clippers.

The team added depth that they lacked in the past – with talented bench players such as Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson.  Of course, with their volatile personalities and egos, you’ll need to have a leader.  Paul Pierce, to the rescue…

Doc Rivers is trying to be the GM, and the coach. It rarely works, but he’s done a damn good job these last few months. With a main core of DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin, and Chris Paul – I have to believe with the new and recognizable names – the Clips are finally deep enough be a true championship contender.

Player to watch: Doug McDermott

I know what you’re thinking – isn’t there a superior, more flashy name you could’ve picked for the ‘player to watch’ category? Yes, there probably is.

It’s also precisely why I am picking Doug McDermott.  After a historic college career at Creighton, McDermott’s rookie campaign was riddled with injuries and inconsistent playing time. Now that Tom Thibodeau has departed from Chi-city and been replaced by Fred Hoiberg, McDermott’s fortunes may change. He could be that wing scorer that propels the Bulls from playoff mediocrity to serious contenders – stay tuned for a big season from “Dougie Fresh.”

Rookie of the Year: Jahlil Okafor

Out of all my picks, I feel the most confident about this one. The Sixers are headed for another down season, probably winning 25 games max. Okafor will be featured offensively, and will almost surely post a 20/10 season. Defense could be an issue for Okafor – he didn’t guard anyone at Duke, and I don’t expect him to become Bill Russell anytime soon.

Defense doesn’t matter – stats do. Okafor will do plenty of that, and if the Sixers (somehow) win in the process, he may be vying for league MVP, not the Rookie of the Year award.

2015-16 NBA Champion: Cleveland Cavaliers

I picked the Cavs last season, and it almost worked out. It’s not the boldest to pick them again, but I’m trying to be accurate…right?

With Iman Shumpert, JR Smith, Matthew Dellavedova, Timofey Mozgov, and Tristan Thompson all back, it’s hard to pick against a team this loaded. Plus, how many more years does LeBron have in him? The window is closing, and I’d argue faster than most would like to consider.

Kyrie, K-Love, LeBron, and that cast of role players – there’s a great chance the Cavs are raising a banner come mid-June.

Jim Armstrong

Team to watch: Oklahoma City Thunder

I would argue that the no team has more hype surrounding their roster than the Oklahoma City Thunder. This roster includes first year head Coach, Billy Donovan, who was wooed from Florida where he had been the head coach for the last 19 seasons.

Since their unexpected run to the 2012 Finals, this team hasn’t been healthy come playoff time. Westbrook tore his meniscus in the 1st round of the 2013 playoffs against the Rockets, Ibaka severely strained his calf in the 2014 Western Conference Finals and Durant played all of 27 games last season after undergoing three right foot surgeries to repair a jones fracture, while Ibaka missed 18 games as well.

Both Westbrook (on 11/12) and Durant are now 27 years old, while Ibaka is 26. They’re not the youngsters that gave the Lakers everything they could handle in the 2010 playoffs anymore. While they’re not old, this might be the last run for the team as its currently constituted, with Durant set to explore free agency in the summer of 2016.

Player to watch: Anthony Davis

Davis might be legitimately the best player in the NBA this season. He slapped up 24.4 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 2.9 BPG & 2.2 APG last season and increased these outputs to 31.5 PPG, 11.0 RPG, 3.0 BPG & 2.0 APG in the playoffs. He finished 5th in MVP voting last season and dragged the Pelicans to the #8 seed (and altered the entire landscape of the playoffs by beating San Antonio to claim that #8 spot, which dropped the Spurs from the #3 seed to the #6 seed).

I regrettably only caught Davis live a couple of times last season. I’m not making that same mistake again in catching the most precocious 22-year old basketball player on the planet.

Rookie of the Year: Karl Anthony-Towns

I’m not getting too creative here and I’m going out on a limb by picking the #1 overall pick to be Rookie of the Year. I feel awful about Flip Saunders…just awful. My thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time. He was universally regarded as an amazing coach and leader, he will be missed dearly by the Minnesota franchise and community. Sam Mitchell steps in as the interim head coach for Minnesota.

I love what this organization is doing (outside of giving 39-year old Kevin Garnett an outlandish 2-year, $16 million contract). Pairing Towns with Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine on the wings, Ricky Rubio at the point and bigs Nikola Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng, forms a dynamic young core. They also drafted Duke point guard Tyus Jones, and have veterans Kevin Martin, Tayshaun Prince and Kevin Garnett that will help aid the development of Towns and the team. I like the situation that Towns landed in, and due to the presence of talent and enough veteran leadership, Towns will secure the rookie of the year.

2015-16 NBA Champion: Golden State Warriors

I’m tempted to choose the Cavs as well, since their path to the NBA Finals is exponentially easier than that of any Western Conference contender. The issue I have with the Cavs is that none of their players are healthy heading into this season. LeBron just received an injection in his back, Kyrie isn’t due back until early 2016 and Kevin Love is still working his way back from major shoulder surgery. I haven’t even mentioned that Timofey Mozgov underwent knee surgery in the offseason and isn’t in shape, while Anderson Varejao is still not 100% after tearing his achilles last year.

The only team in worst shape injury-wise heading into the season is the New Orleans Pelicans, who literally might not be able to field a team on Tuesday. This is the reason I’m choosing the Warriors and not the Cavs to win the title this year. The Warriors are deep and lost only one notable player, David Lee, in the offseason. Even that wasn’t a huge loss, as David Lee had become their 9th/10th man and was not a regular contributor after the first 20 games of the season (when Draymond Green took over his starting position).

I like the Warriors because they still have a chip on their shoulder (many inside the team feel slighted that they are not championship favorites heading into this season), and their team is still young (unlike the Spurs). I’m putting my chips all-in on the Warriors for their 2nd straight title and first team to win back-to-back since the LeBron’s Heat accomplished that feat from 2012 – 2013.

 

Rory Goulding

Team to watch: Sacramento Kings

I’m a fan of what Sacramento did this offseason. Namely, nothing outlandishly stupid, which is usually the norm for a team with the dysfunction the Kings have seen since their last post-season trip in 2006. It’s been a big change for a fan base that had gotten used to seeing a competitive team during Rick Adelman’s tenure as head coach (from ’98-’99 to ’05-’06) that went to the playoffs in eight straight years. Since Adelman’s departure in 2006, the Kings have gone through seven different coaches (now on #8 with George Karl), two owners and approximately 400 episodes of The Real Housewives of Orange County. I tried looking up how many general managers they’ve had in that span, too, but the first four links in my google search for “list of former Kings GMs” didn’t yield any results, so I gave up. Speaking of incompetence, the Kings haven’t won 30 or more games since 2008, this in large part to apparently going with the rarely used draft strategy of “closing your eyes and pointing to any random player on your draft board” which, as you can imagine, hasn’t quite panned out. The Kings drafted Willie Cauley-Stein this year, which has the potential to be their best draft pick since DeMarcus Cousins. But as a I said, this isn’t too difficult because Sacramento has been a bastion of incompetence over the four previous drafts. As a reminder:

2011: #7 – Bismack Biyombo (traded to the Bobcats for Jimmer Fredette, lolz1)

2012: #5 – Thomas Robinson (drafted one pick before Damian Lillard, traded after a year in a multi-player deal featuring Cole Aldrich & Toney Douglas, double lolz)

2013: #7 – Ben McLemore (average 10.5 ppg over his first two NBA seasons, which is good by comparison, I guess?)

2014: #8 – Nik Stauskas (traded to the 76ers in July and hasn’t been seen since2)

All Cauley-Stein has to is show up to practice for the rest of the season, and he’ll be the best player they’ve drafted in five years. Go Kings!

 

Player to watch: Rajon Rondo

(Photo courtesy of readingeagle.com)

(Photo courtesy of readingeagle.com)

I almost picked Kobe, but then I watched him in the preseason and got sad. I’m also pretty sure that my entire section, in its entirety, would be deleted by Jim & Tyler if I wrote 10 more words on Kobe Bryant. Quickly: here’s the thing about him this season, I just think tha- okay, okay, we’re moving on. My bad.

Hedging a lot of my NBA interest and predictions for this season around a team that I just spent the previous paragraph dressing down for their sheer ineptitude in rostering a competitive professional basketball team over the last decade. Sounds about right.

But man, Rajon Rondo. Less than three seasons ago this guy had just come off back to back seasons leading the NBA in assists-per-game. Since then, he’s been on three teams, butted heads with two coaches3 and revealed himself to be somewhat of a Connect Four savant. I like players that bet on themselves, though, and that’s exactly what Rondo did by taking agreeing to take a 1-year, $9.5 million deal to play with Sacramento.4 Look for Rondo to have a huge bounce-back year with the Kings. Or be involved with DeMarcus Cousins in the first on-court teammate vs. teammate brawl under Commissioner Adam Silver’s tenure. It’s really only one of those two options, and nothing else.

 

Rookie of the Year: Jahlil Okafor

My would-be complete homer pick, Julius Randle, is ineligible to win ROY because he played 13 minutes last season and because the NBA is stupid. He’s poised to have a breakout season, averaged a solid 11 & 6 in the preseason and looked downright awesome in his first action since fracturing his leg in 2014. That doesn’t matter though, because like I said, he is disqualified for a rookie of the year award for playing 13 minutes of one NBA game. Cool stuff.

Randle aside, I’m in agreement with Tyler on this one. Okafor should (easily) be the rookie of the year this season. Huge talent aside, he’s basically the only player on the roster who can score, and probably the only player that’s guaranteed not to be traded at some point this season for a future draft pick. By the way, if you’re reading this, Sam Hinkie, you can’t (repeat: CANNOT) use future first and second round draft picks as players in an actual game. I just looked it up to make sure. So in the off-chance you’re not hibernating or Googling “how many draft picks can an NBA team have at one time”, starting “2nd round pick, 2018” at shooting guard isn’t a viable option. I’m at least like 97% sure it’s not.

Jahlil Okafor for ROY. Book it.

 

2015-16 NBA Champion: San Antonio Spurs

What do you mean I’m boring? YOU’RE boring! I will continue to pick the Spurs, over and over, until they all retire/die of old age. Even then I might still take them because Gregg Popovich is so good he could probably take a team of dead bodies to the finals, as long as they were given enough rest during the regular season. The Spurs bring back a team that was one Chris Paul shot away from advancing to the 2nd round of the Western Conference Playoffs, and bring in the front-line depth that they needed last season in LaMarcus Aldridge and David West. They also signed Jimmer Fredette, which somehow will be their best signing because, like I said before, Gregg Popovich has the ability to raise the dead.

Okay let’s quickly get out of here before I try and write more words on my favorite basketball player of all-time and why this could be his last season and also how important it is to realize the end of an era and- alright I’ll stop. I won’t even say his name again. I’m restrained. We’re ok.

 

Kobe.

 

Dammit.

 

 

About Tyler Michels

Tyler is an NC State alum living in Raleigh, NC. Growing up in Northwest New Jersey, Tyler developed a love for New York sports teams, driving his desire to become a writer. In his free time, Tyler can probably be found on a golf course.

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