There’s nothing more fun than making predictions.
Well, that’s not quite true. What’s more fun than making predictions? Going out on a limb and making bold predictions.
Sure, there’s a chance they might not work out — that’s why they are bold. But if they do? Well, there’s a whole summer ahead to brag about them before the next season comes, and another round of bold predictions is required.
Here are 10 such prognostications about a combination of players and teams from around the NBA, and how much success — or lack thereof — they will experience this upcoming NBA season.
1. The Timberwolves win 50 games
Anyone who has watched or followed this space all summer knows how much I believe in the Timberwolves. Minnesota already had the best group of young talent in the league, led by future megastar center Karl-Anthony Towns, and now pair it with one of the best coaches in the NBA in Tom Thibodeau. Behind Thibodeau and that young core, which also includes Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and Ricky Rubio, the prediction here is the Timberwolves can jump from 29 wins to 50 — much like the Oklahoma City Thunder did in 2010, when they went from 23 to 50.
2. The Warriors will have three players finish with over 200 three-pointers
Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have been rewriting the record books over the past few seasons, finishing 1-2 in three-point shooting in the NBA each of the past three seasons, and finishing first and third the season before that. Kevin Durant has never hit 200 three-pointers in a season before, but this team is going to play fast and have a ton of open looks, so the prediction here is all three stars will set an NBA record by having three teammates make that many in a single season.
3. Toronto, not Cleveland, will have the best record in the East
Cleveland is the best team in the East, and LeBron James remains the heavy favorite to make it back to the NBA Finals for a seventh straight season. But the Cavaliers have no reason to push themselves during the regular season; they believe, and rightly so, they can win anywhere and against anyone in the East. Toronto, however, will come into this season motivated to get home court in the East after losing to Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals last season, and that motivation — combined with Cleveland’s lack of it — will allow the Raptors to leapfrog them in the standings.
4. The Celtics will finish with the league’s best defense
The Celtics were fourth in the NBA last season in defensive efficiency, trailing only San Antonio, Atlanta and Indiana — and that was with Jared Sullinger starting most of the season at one of the big spots. Replacing Sullinger with Al Horford should make a significant impact for Boston defensively, giving the Celtics a pair of versatile defensive bigs in Horford and Amir Johnson. That, combined with expected improvement from young players like Marcus Smart, will allow Brad Stevens to create a murderous defense for opposing teams to face every night.
5. D’Angelo Russell will average 20 points per game
To say Russell had an eventful first season in the NBA is an understatement. He was constantly at odds with his coach, Byron Scott, and had a certain social media faux pas involving teammate Nick Young. But Russell got the fresh start he needed this season under new coach Luke Walton, who brought some of what he did with the Warriors as an assistant coach the past two seasons. So far, the results have been promising, and with Walton fully handing the team over to Russell, the second-year point guard is well positioned to take advantage of the opportunity.
6. Houston will have the NBA’s No. 2 offense
There are reasons to doubt the Rockets. The defense could be atrocious, and key players like Patrick Beverley, Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson are talented, but injury prone. But here’s what can’t be doubted about Houston: its ability to score in bunches. Between Mike D’Antoni being the coach, handing the keys of his high-powered offense to James Harden and a fleet of capable outside shooters, Houston should be in one high-scoring game after another this season, and should be better than any offense in the league — at least, any offense this side of Golden State and its quartet of stars.
7. Dwight Howard and Jeremy Lin will make the All-Star team
Both Howard and Lin changed teams this summer, going to Atlanta and Brooklyn, respectively. And both players should benefit greatly from the change. Howard will be back in his hometown, playing for a Hawks team with an outstanding medical staff that should help him maintain as much explosion and athleticism as he can. Lin, meanwhile, will be given his own team to run for the first time since he left Brooklyn for Houston four years ago. That should lead both of them to put up big numbers and make the All-Star team this season in the East (though the prediction here is that Lin will make it is because he’ll be voted into the game as a starter).
8. Nerlens Noel will be traded at some point this season
The situation in Philadelphia has already gotten ugly, with Noel saying before and at media day the 76ers will have to trade one of their three young centers — Noel, Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor — and now Noel is out with a groin injury that could keep him sidelined beyond the season opener. Noel is going to be a restricted free agent next summer, making him expensive faster than the others — and, because of that, he’s the most likely option to be dealt.
9. The Clippers will finally break through and make the West finals
For the past few years, the Clippers have seen their season end in bizarre fashion. From Blake Griffin spraining his ankle in practice to the team collapsing in the final minute at Oklahoma City to giving away a 3-1 series lead against Houston to losing both Griffin and Chris Paul for the rest of the playoffs in the same game, the Clippers can’t seem to catch a break. This year, though, things seem wide open for them to finally break through and reach the Western Conference finals. The guess here is that they finally will.
10. Oklahoma City will miss the playoffs
Before training camp began, the expectation was the Thunder were still going to be a mid-tier playoff team in the Western Conference despite losing Durant and Serge Ibaka this summer. But that was before I saw the Thunder play on multiple occasions during the exhibition season. It’s always dangerous to base too much on the preseason — especially when much of it was played without Steven Adams, easily Oklahoma City’s second-best player and best defender. Still, the preseason exposed two significant issues in Oklahoma City: a lack of shooting offensively and a lack of defensive talent, period. That’s a devastating combination in today’s NBA, and will prove to be Oklahoma City’s undoing — no matter how many times Russell Westbrook puts up insane stat lines this season.