The 2016-17 NBA season begins tonight! The Cleveland Cavaliers open up the festivities with a match up against the new look New York Knicks, the Golden State Warriors will close out the night when they take on the San Antonio Spurs and sandwhiched in between is a juicy Northwest Division showdown between the Utah Jazz and the Portland Trail Balzers. Then tomorrow night the Denver Nuggets open up on the road against the New Orleans Pelicans. With the season born anew once again the writers here at Denver Stiffs are full of optimism for the Nuggets, division when it comes to who will win the well...division and surprisingly, not as confident as you might think in the Warriors chances of winning the whole thing. To lay it all out we've taken all our hot takes, mixed them up in a giant prediction article and now serve it for your reading pleasure.
by Adam Mares
I love James Harden's game. I get that he is lazy on defense sometimes and that he can be infuriating to root against because of the way he draws the most annoying type of run-into-you-and-fall-down fouls but the guy can flat out shoot, dribble, pass, and score the basketball. He's already within striking distance of Lebron James, Steph Curry, and Kevin Durant in terms of offensive impact yet this season he has two secret weapons: A plethora of spot up shooters, and Mike D'Antoni.
The shooters only compliment what D'Antoni and Harden do best; spread the court and score the basketball. In four seasons with the Phoenix Suns, D'Antoni helped design an offense that had an average ORTG of 113.3. That would've ranked 2nd last season to Golden State, arguably the best offensive teams of all time. In the preseason, Harden is averaging 24.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 13.1 assists per 36 minutes. 13.1 assists!!! With Durant and Curry splitting votes and Lebron playing on cruise control for the regular season, Harden and his video game numbers should be enough to win the MVP.
|James Harden||Chris Paul||Damian Lillard||Russell Westbrook||Westbrook||Westbrook||LeBron James||James||James||James|
Rookie of the year
by Ryan Blackburn
This year’s race is difficult to predict after the injury to Ben Simmons. So many players in this year’s class will be asked to come off the bench at the beginning of the season, and only three players are legitimate candidates for extensive minutes this season: Brandon Ingram, Buddy Hield, and Joel Embiid (with apologies to Jamal Murray who is the fourth/fifth guard off the bench for Denver right now). The path to a starting spot will be easiest for Embiid, but he will be on a minute restriction for awhile. Ingram is the highest profile player here, but if the preseason taught the world anything, Ingram is incredibly raw as a prospect. This brings me to Hield, who will likely start on the bench but could quickly move into the starting group. His teammates in the backcourt are mostly injury prone, inept, or both, and Buddy is one of the lone bright spots on the roster outside of Anthony Davis. I expect Buddy to average about 28 minutes and score over 15 points per game, and chicks dig the long ball.
|Joel Embiid||Embiid||Buddy Hield||Embiid||Embiid||Embiid||Hield||Embiid||Embiid||Embiid|
Coach of the year
by Gordon Gross
Brad Stevens has been building quite a resume - and a reputation - for himself as a coach who maximizes the talent of his players and optimizes their deployment. He received a decent amount of votes for himself last year as Boston made themselves a team to take notice of. This year should be the year that they have to be reckoned with. There are other coaching options for this award but Steve Kerr just won it, Gregg Popovich doesn't have Tim Duncan any more, nobody who ever coaches LeBron should be eligible and other vote-getters from last year may have trouble topping their accomplishments from a season ago. The Boston Celtics top of the candidate list for this award.
|Terry Stotts||Frank Vogel||Stotts||Brad Stevens||Stevens||Quin Snyder||Snyder||Michael Malone||Stevens||Tom Thibodeau|
Sixth man of the year
by Ryan Blackburn
I just don’t want Jamal Crawford to win this award again. There were so many more deserving players last season who just don’t get the face time a veteran like Crawford receives. One of those guys was Enes Kanter, who absolutely dominated bench units last year. His defense was improved, though still bad. He rebounded like one of the best in the league, and his offensive game was an excellent combination of skill and brutality. I expect him to play even more than he did last season, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he averaged the second most points on the Oklahoma City Thunder this season. The Thunder are still on the war path, and when Russell Westbrook inevitably takes and misses a bunch of shots, expect Kanter to be the beneficiary.
|Andre Iguodala||Alec Burks||Eric Gordon||Jamal Crawford||Crawford||Will Barton||Enes Kanter||Barton||Barton||Barton|
Most improved player
by Mike Olson
Last year was a tale of two seasons for Emmanuel Mudiay, who saw vastly improved play after the All-Star break, with most of it going unnoticed for the under-the-radar Nuggets. Though Emmanuel still has some hiccups to contend with in this early season, his arc has been on a very positive swing right at the point that many talented point guards start to "figure it all out" in their sophomore season. If that curve continues, look for Mudiay to be having a "Who's THAT?" type of a year before the season is a third completed, and to keep surging in the Most Improved Player category through the year.
|Jusuf Nurkic||D'Angelo Russell||Zach Lavine||Nurkic||Steven Adams||Devin Booker||Nurkic||Nurkic||Emmanuel Mudiay||Nurkic|
Defensive player of the year
by Colin Neilson
With hands like bear paws and a demeanor more robotic than Tim Duncan, it's hard not to pick the San Antonio Spurs' Kawhi Leonard to repeat as Defensive Player of the Year. He's more than proven that he's a true student of the game, eagerly picking up on Popovich's defensive focus. While Kawhi's shown a truly remarkable offensive repertoire, his true genius is on the defensive end. He combines the sheer basketball IQ of Shane Battier with the physical gifts of J.R. Smith, and simmers them all down into a preternaturally calm, relentless focus. A true two-way player, Leonard will help keep the Spurs competitive for years to come as they transition away from the Duncan era.
|Rudy Gobert||Paul Millsap||Kawhi Leonard||Anthony Davis||Hassan Whiteside||Draymond Green||Gobert||Leonard||Leonard||Leonard|
by Colin Neilson
Perennially one of the league's most competitive divisions, the Northwest looks poised for a shakeup with Kevin Durant's departure to the Golden State Warriors. While Russell Westbrook will almost certainly carry the Thunder to a playoff berth, I think the Thunder will take a step back this coming season, making room for the Minnesota Timberwolves and the imminent superstardom of reigning Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns. Timberwolves' head coach Tom Thibodeau will also have some tough decisions to make mid-season about struggling point guard Ricky Rubio, but the Wolves seemed poised to make the leap to the playoffs. The Nuggets, Jazz, and Trail blazers will all be in a dogfight for the final three spots in the division this season, and if any injury woes beset the Thunder, they could be scrapping for a playoff spot with the Timberwolves. As it stands, the Timberwolves and Thunder should headline the division, with the Nuggets, Jazz and Trailblazers following closely behind.
|Trail Blazers||Jazz||Trail Blazers||Thunder||Thunder||Thunder||Jazz||Thunder||Trail Blazers||Timberwolves|
by Kayla Osby
This is a no-brainer. Golden State was absolutely dominant last season, and what did they do during the offseason? Acquire one of the most dominant scorers in the game. They are going to be absolutely unstoppable at times on offense, with MVP Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant leading the way. Combined with Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and the deep bench, they will surely put up one of the best records in the league this season. Still, I'm going to predict that they will not beat their number of wins from last season. I think the change of adding another superstar that will require a lot of time with the ball in his hands will take some time to get used to. Don't get me wrong, talent will take over in the end. They will still win this division by as many as 15-20 games, depending on how improved the Los Angeles Clippers will be. The Los Angeles Lakers, Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns don't stand a chance to compete with those two teams for the division title.
by Evan Fiala
It's hard to believe that Tim Duncan will no longer be playing after nearly two decades with the Spurs, but even in his absence San Antonio remains the team to beat. The Spurs have the best two-way player in the NBA behind LeBron James in Kawhi Leonard, who will be in the running not only for Defensive Player of the Year but for MVP as well. They also have one of the best power forwards in the league in LaMarcus Aldridge, a seasoned veteran replacement for Duncan in Pau Gasol and the leadership of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli. Depth could be a concern for this team but they have a handful of solid players on the bench that will fit in nicely to Popovich's timeless system. Will they win 67 games again? No. But none of the other teams in the Southwest have done nearly enough to take control of the once hyper-competitive division.
by Ryan Blackburn
This is truly a two team race to the top between the Toronto Raptors and the Boston Celtics. While many will point to the addition of Al Horford as a reason to simply move the Celtics over the Raptors, I believe in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Lowry is in a contract year, likely the last big pay day of his career, and DeRozan just signed one of the biggest deals in league history. There will be inefficiencies at times, but two underrated players in DeMarre Carroll and Jonas Valanciunas reside on the roster as well. Both are healthy and ready to contribute, with Carroll serving as an ideal small ball 4 when DeRozan moves to the 3. Valanciunas in particular is ready to take more responsibility, and I have him pegged as a breakout candidate this year simply due to more playing time. I think Bismack Biyombo was very overrated based on his playoff performance, and the team shouldn’t miss much. They should win just enough games to outpace the Celtics for the division lead.
by Adam Mares
Is there even another plausible choice? Cleveland should win this division by early March even if LeBron takes another two-week vacation in the middle of the season. This team is in year three of the Lebron-Kyire-Love era so familiarity and execution should be at it's highest point. The only obstacle for their regular season success will be health and boredom. And boredom is a real threat, teams that are head and shoulders above the competition get bored and start getting distracted by things like how messy the locker room is. But on the court, this team has no contenders in the east and one, giant challenger in the west. Indiana and Detroit will be under rated teams all year and might even make things interesting in a playoff series but the Cavs should be able to run away with the division title without ever stepping on the gas pedal.
by Zach Mikash
Quite possibly the toughest division to predict in all of the NBA (it's this one or the Northwest). The Miami Heat is the reigning champ, but with Dwyane Wade's exit and Chris Bosh's health struggles the Big Three era is officially over in Miami where they look headed towards a rebuild. Meanwhile the Atlanta Hawks still have a talented roster capable of a deep playoff run, and half the stiffs staff are riding that train. Yet, without Al Horford and Jeff Teague anymore there's enough questions to warrant another team taking the division title. For me, that team is the Charlotte Hornets. The Hornets return much of the same roster that earned them the sixth seed last season, but with the continued improved play of Kemba Walker, Charlotte looks primed to take the next step. Walker is surrounded by quality players like Nicolas Batum and Marvin Williams and theres enough depth on the roster to keep the team competitive when the reserves check in. Like every team in the Southeast the Hornets have some holes to fill but they look like they have enough to beat out the Hawks and the Washington Wizards for the division title.
Eastern Conference Finals
by Gordon Gross
The Celtics went out in the first round of last year's playoffs, outmanned by a talented Atlanta squad. As a response, they signed Al Horford away from Atlanta and doubled down on talented players who need coaching up by adding Jaylen Brown in the draft. The only team in the East that is demonstrably better now is the Cavaliers, which means seeding matters. The Celtics showed they can maximize wins in the regular season and will need to do that again to avoid seeing the Cavs before the ECF. Brad Stevens has a squad full of willing defenders and maxed-out roleplayers, but if Isaiah Thomas can replicate his All-Star Season and Horford keeps being Horford then neither Toronto nor Atlanta has a leg up on Boston. And that's before the deadline deal that Ainge is no doubt craving that will add more talent to this squad.
None of which will help the Celtics if they do reach the Eastern Conference Finals as we predict. Stevens can coach his way to playoff series victories against teams like Detroit and Charlotte, but Cleveland is a different beast. The best-shooting team in history could neither speed the Cavaliers up nor bury them from outside. Cleveland will likely rest LeBron more this year, the way Pop monitored Duncan's minutes, but that will only leave him fresher for the playoffs. Like it or not, the best player of his generation and one of the greatest to ever lace them up still rules the roost, and the Celtics don't have anyone able to contaiin or match him. Basketball may be a team game, but the best players matter and Cleveland has the absolute best.
|Cavs over Celtics||Cavs over Celtics||Cavs over Celtics||Cavs over Celtics||Cavs over Celtics||Cavs over Celtics||Cavs over Celtics||Cavs over Raptors||Hawks over Cavs||Cavs over Raptors|
Western Conference Finals
by Daniel Lewis
I believe that the Golden State Warriors will lose to the Portland Trail Blazers in the playoffs, failing to reach the Conference Finals.
"But wait, the Warriors are easily the best team in the league. Adam, please fire this man!" I can hear the cries already. But if the Warriors and the Cavaliers were to each make the NBA Finals again, that would be the first time in NBA history that the same two teams meet in the Finals for three straight years. If the Showtime Lakers and the Larry Legend Celtics couldn't do it in the 80s, then the Warriors and Cavaliers won't be able to do it now.
One of the teams that I am highest on for the 2016-17 season is the Trail Blazers. The front office spent big in the offseason, adding Evan Turner, Festus Ezeli, Shabazz Napier and reaching agreements with Allen Crabbe and Moe Harkless. With my pick for league MVP Damian Lillard leading this team, I think they have the ability to defeat the Golden State Warriors in the second round of the playoffs, in what will be one of the greatest playoff series of the decade.
However, much like the Clippers were exhausted after their epic series against the San Antonio Spurs a few seasons back, the Trail Blazers will run out of gas following their epic series. The Clippers, rested after dispatching the Spurs, use home court advantage and edge the Trail Blazers in an up-and-down seven game series. Aided by the veteran additions they always make midseason, the Clippers have an experience edge and are able to eke out enough points to win four games.
Strange things happen in the NBA that are difficult to explain - a turnaround jumper with 0.3 seconds on the clock, a block on a shot attempt as the ball reaches the apex of its flight, or a muscle pull on a puddle of flop sweat that knocks out the unanimous MVP in the playoffs. Chris Paul and the Clippers winning the Western Conference is just one of the strange things that I think will happen that makes the NBA so much fun to enjoy.
|Warriors over Clippers||Warriors over Clippers||Clippers over Trail Blazers||Warriors over Spurs||Warriors over Spurs||Warriors over Clippers||Warriors over Spurs||Warriors over Clippers||Warriors over Clippers||Warriors over Spurs|
by Adam Mares
So here's the thing, I don't like this pick. At all. I already feel terrible making it. In part because I want the Cavs to win (assuming that the Nuggets aren't in the running, of course). It's not that I have a problem with super teams or hate Golden State, or anything like that. I actually really like the Warriors. But Lebron James is the best player I've ever watched and him leading the Cavs to another ring just elevates his legacy. And since my number one rule in sports is never predict the thing you want to happen to actually happen, I already feel sick picking the Cavs.
But the more I think about it, the more I think it really might happen. Sure, the Warriors are going to be unguardable. They'll score 140 points in a game this season, maybe multiple times. They'll set shooting records and they'll (hopefully) push the boundaries of what the game of basketball can and should be. But they have a few weaknesses that just might be the perfect types of weaknesses for Lebron and the Cavs to exploit.
1) They prefer playing fast and in two straight NBA Finals, Lebron has managed to slow the game down to a crawl.
2) They don't have a rim protector and Lebron is unguardable when a team doesn't have a rim protector.
Look at the series that Lebron has lost in in his career: 2007 Spurs, 2009 Magic, 2010 Celtics, 2011 Mavericks, 2014 Spurs, and 2015 Warriors. ALL of those teams had great rim protectors. The 2012-13 Pacers also had a great rim protector and pushed the Heat to the brink.
The Warriors are good, but they're weak in two areas that Lebron and the Cavs were designed to exploit. That's why they are my pick. (Please don't dig this article up next June.)
|Cavs over Warriors||Cavs over Warriors||Cavs over Clippers||Cavs over Warriors||Warriors over Cavs||Warriors over Cavs||Warriors over Cavs||Cavs over Warriors||Warriors over Hawks||Cavs over Warriors|
Denver Nuggets record
by Kayla Osby
I went on the high side with this prediction, probably causing a lot of people to wonder if I'm being slightly biased. But, it's hard not to look at this team and not be optimistic for the season. The Nuggets had a lot of weaknesses last year, and the team definitely addressed a lot of those weaknesses this offseason. The remaining improvements will come from the players that are healthy that were not for the majority, or the entirety, of last season. Wilson Chandler and Jamal Murray will greatly help the team's scoring. Danilo Gallinari will hopefully stay healthy through the majority of the season, continuing to show why he is the team's best player. Jusuf Nurkic staying healthy, along with Chandler, helps the team's defensive versatility. And then there's the other young guys, Juancho Hernangomez and Malik Beasley, who could very well contribute more than anyone thought when they were drafted. All the meanwhile, the entire team will improve as they have one year of experience under their belt with the coaching staff. Obviously, there will still be struggles and the team's youth will show at various points. But with the new talent, combined with the players returning from injury, I think 46 wins is within reach. If there was an award for "most improved team," I think the Nuggets would earn it this season.
***Stiffs Night Out***
We will be hosting SNO on opening night (October 26) at our home sports bar, Jake's Sports & Spirits in Denver's vibrant RiNo neighborhood at 3800 Walnut Street, Denver CO. Located conveniently across the street from the new 38th and Blake Commuter Rail Station and just five minutes (by car) from Coors Field. Jake's will extend happy hour for all Stiffs attendees.
The event is free to attend and all ages are welcome. It's a great way to meet fellow Nuggets fans and Stiffs readers in a fun and friendly environment. We look forward to seeing you there!