Way-too-early Predictions for the 2017–18 NBA Season
We are still closer to the end of the 2016–17 NBA season than the start of the 2017–18 season, but I am going to declare my predictions on what I think will happen during the upcoming season. I’ll post a follow-up to this article to see how accurate the predictions are as the season progresses.
Markelle Fultz will not make the NBA All-Rookie First Team
I’m a 76ers fan, so I found that sentence tough to write. But looking at it objectively, I can’t see Fultz making the First Team unless there is another untimely injury to Ben Simmons. Simmons is expected to run the point for Philly this season, meaning that much of Fultz’s court-time will be played at shooting guard.
Simmons, Phoenix’s Josh Jackson, Dallas’ Dennis Smith Jr. and Lakers’ Lonzo Ball will all have a lot more of the ball in their hands than Fultz. Boston’s Jayson Tatum and Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox have been stars of the NBA Summer League also. Fultz could realistically have the 7th or 8th biggest output of all rookies this coming season, and that won’t be enough to make the All-Rookie First Team.
This is not to suggest that Fultz won’t be a great player, it’s way too early to be making calls like that. In a talented rookie class however, Fultz is unlikely to have enough usage to be in the top 5 rookies at the end of the season.
Houston will have the best regular-season record in the NBA
Even if Houston can’t pry Carmelo Anthony from the Knicks, they will have a formidable roster. Adding Chris Paul to a team that won 55 games last year is likely to make them even better. CP3 can defend, shoot and handle the ball. The Rockets had to give up a handful of players to secure Paul from the Clippers, but of these, only Patrick Beverley is going to hurt — and Paul does everything better than Beverley, playing the same position.
The Rockets are a model of efficient basketball. They essentially take three-pointers, close shots and free-throws, which any analyst will tell you is the most efficient way to score points. Adding Paul (and maybe Anthony, depending on how the Knicks situation plays out) gives the Rockets more versatility. The Spurs defeated the Rockets in the 2nd round of the playoffs by forcing less accomplished shooters to take more shots, and forcing Harden to shoot from the mid-range. Paul loves the mid-range, which will allow the Rockets to attack smart defences. I think the addition of Chris Paul gives Houston an extra 8–10 wins, which takes them to 63–65 wins. It is entirely possible (likely even) that Golden State win more games than this, but there is no fun in predicting Golden State to have the best record in the NBA.
Donald Trump will still be President when Cleveland or Golden State miss the Finals — but we’ll get one more year of Cavs vs Warriors
This prediction requires the assumption that a Republican House and Senate will not vote to impeach the President. I’m not very qualified to speak on US politics. There isn’t a lot of precedent in impeaching a President. Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson were successfully impeached by the House of Representatives, but both were acquitted by the Senate. Richard Nixon resigned prior to a vote on his impeachment. Trump being impeached in the House of Representatives and then found guilty in the Senate would be unprecedented, and isn’t particularly likely while the Republicans control the US government, but a lot of things in Trump’s presidency are unprecedented already, so who knows?
Back to basketball, there is no doubt that the entire NBA is chasing the Warriors. Golden State will begin the season with much the same roster they dominated last season with. The Spurs and Rockets are the only realistic challengers to the Warriors in the West this year, but neither have a better team than the Warriors, and Golden State should walk into the NBA Finals for a fourth straight year.
The Cavaliers have had a tumultuous off-season, firing GM David Griffin and failing to bring in any additional talent to bolster the roster that lost 4–1 to the Warriors last season. (Full respect to Jose Calderon and Jeff Green, but neither are making the Cavs any better). Cleveland’s biggest rivals in the East are Boston and Washington. Washington have not made any notable additions, but have one of the best backcourts in the NBA. Boston won the Gordon Hayward sweepstakes and added Marcus Morris and high draft pick, Jayson Tatum, but lost Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk, Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko. Neither side will have enough to topple the Cavs this year.
LiAngelo Ball will not get drafted
This is a hard one to call, as the younger brother of Lonzo has yet to play a college game. LiAngelo has committed to play for UCLA, the same college where Lonzo performed so well, but early predictions of his talent are not as promising. LiAngelo has been classed as a 3-star recruit. The Ball brothers’ outspoken father, LaVar, stated that of his three sons, LiAngelo is the least likely to make it to the NBA. LaVar certainly isn’t short of confidence in his children, so this must be a hard pill to swallow for the middle-child of the family.
Kristaps Porzingis and Joel Embiid will head the list of first-time All-Stars
With 3 of last year’s East All-Stars moving West (Butler, George, Milsap) , and only one West All-Star moving East (Hayward), a couple of spots will open up on the East roster for All-Star debutants. A third spot will open up if Carmelo Anthony ends up at the Rockets too. The most likely players to take these positions are 7’3” Latvian forward, Kristaps Porzingis of the Knicks, and enigmatic Cameroonian Centre Joel Embiid of Philadelphia.
Porzingis has averaged 16 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks per game through his first two seasons in the league, and should continue his meteoric rise. While the Knicks wont be good next year, the Zinger will be a bright star in their otherwise stagnant offence, and his numbers should improve further.
Embiid has been limited to just 31 games in his first 3 seasons, but showed exactly what he could do despite minute-restrictions last year. Embiid averaged 20 points, 8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game in just 25 minutes. Should Embiid be able to stay on the court, he will be one of the most dominant big men in the game. His popularity amongst the fans will ensure he makes his first All-Star roster.
Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton and Miami’s Hassan Whiteside will also be a chance to make their first All-Star roster.
The Phoenix Suns will be the most fun team in the league… but won’t win many games
The Suns won’t be a very good basketball team next season. Phoenix won just 47 games across their last two seasons and failed to add any significant talent in the off-season (except of course Josh Jackson, drafted with pick 4). The Suns have the 3rd youngest roster in the league, packed full of interesting talent. Devin Booker had a breakout year last year, averaging 22 points including a breathtaking 70 in a loss against the Celtics. Booker is only 20, and will continue to improve. The rest of the roster is packed full of versatile talent, and improvements should come from Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender. Josh Jackson has been tearing up NBA Summer League and the Suns look to have drafted wisely.
In a loaded Western Conference, the Suns will struggle to put wins on the board, but there are lots of reasons to watch. Suns fans will be well-rewarded if they can remain patient.
The Philadelphia 76ers will make the Playoffs
Much has been written about the way Philly have amassed their talent. Under Sam Hinkie, the 76ers embarked on what is now known as ‘The Process’, a multi-year tanking program and trading strategy to obtain a vast array of draft picks and assets. Philly have won just 75 games in the past 4 seasons which is, by any measure, awful. A combination of choosing not to fill out a weak roster with seasoned veterans, and a horrific run of injuries to their high draft picks has led to this atrocious record, but in all that gloom, they have established one of the most exciting young rosters in the league. Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, Dario Saric and free-agent acquisition JJ Reddick make an formidable starting 5, and the addition of Amir Johnson from Boston adds valuable experience. Staying injury-free will be the key to their success.
The East has been the weaker conference for over a decade now, and was made weaker again through off-season moves. The Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks and Indiana Pacers have all become significantly worse, and Philly have timed their run perfectly. While the 76ers wont be a major player in the post-season, this coming season should see them return to the Playoffs for the first time since 2011–12.