[Editor’s Note: Daniel Fotinich is a regular reader, and a good friend, who wanted to throw his hat in the ring with some bold predictions prior to the commencement of this highly anticipated NBA season. I won’t give anything about his work away here…just give it a read! – Elijah Abramson]
One of my favorite things about the NBA is debating outrageous claims made by others. It seems that almost every year, a few things that basically nobody predicts happen (and the few that predicted them have an ego that skyrockets). Many people have different definitions of a “bold prediction”, but I will use this one: A bold prediction is one that is significantly different than what the general consensus is among NBA fans and writers. So, even though plenty of Golden State fans might think that “Stephen Curry averaging 30ppg this year” is actually highly likely, the average impartial fan or writer would think the chance of that is very slim. Keep in mind that this is also a matter of degree; most people around the NBA believe that the Heat will decline, but saying that they will miss the playoffs with both Wade and Bosh would qualify as a bold prediction.
Without further ado, here are 9 bold predictions for the 2014-2015 NBA season:
The Indiana Pacers will miss the playoffs.
In fact, I don’t even think it will be close. The only teams in the East that I am confident will be worse than Indiana are Philadelphia and Orlando. I’ve always liked Indiana and their hard-nosed defense—I picked them to make the NBA finals last year over Miami. However, their well-publicized decline in the second half of last season was extremely concerning. Zach Lowe noted that over the last 30 or so games that Indiana had the worst offense of any team in the league besides Philadelphia. Now, that already-putrid offense loses the only two guys who can actually create their own shots. Lance Stephenson is now in Charlotte (more on that later), while Paul George fractured his tibia and fibia and is unlikely to play this season. They replaced those two with… Rodney Stuckey and CJ Miles? David West has had a great run in Indiana, but he’s already 34 and will have much less space to shoot his patented 18-footers. Hibbert has almost no offense to speak of, and the rest of the team is full of complimentary offensive players. A team with a bottom-five offense and a middle-of-the-road defense (Stuckey and Miles are obvious defensive downgrades from Stephenson and George) isn’t a playoff team. I think the Pacers will be lucky to win 30 games even if George makes a miraculous return. So who will take their place? Well…
The New York Knicks will make the playoffs.
In fact, I have them as the sixth seed and possibly winning a playoff series. Carmelo Anthony just signed for five years, and now that he can finally afford to feed his family, he should be solely focused on winning a championship in New York City. Jose Calderon isn’t a great defender, but he is a significant upgrade over Ray “Cheeseburger” Felton, and his pass-first style will help create better shots for Carmelo, Shumpert, and others. Although both Carmelo and new GM Phil Jackson have talked about this being a transition year, I don’t see either of them being satisfied with missing the playoffs. Additionally, I wouldn’t rule out a mid-season trade that would help them this year and in the future. Of course, the Knicks are banking on next summer when Amare Stoudemire’s atrocious contact expires, but I think they’ll be better this year than people think.
Lance Stephenson will average 20+ppg and 5+apg and clearly make the all-star team.
Instead of signing a five-year deal with somebody else, Lance chose to bet on himself this offseason and signed a three-year deal which will make him a free agent again when he turns 26. Lance has had obvious maturity issues, but these mask the fact that he just turned 24 and has made significant improvements in his game every single year. Going from Indiana to Charlotte will help his stats, of course, but I think that in the long-run, Lance deserves to be paid significantly more than he does today. As long as he doesn’t blow in Michael Jordan’s ear, he’s making the All-Star team this season.
Ricky Rubio will learn how to shoot and earn a long-term contract starting at ~$10m/year.
This is a complete shot in the dark, and Rubio could easily shoot 36% this season and struggle to sign for the mid-level exception in the offseason. However, it just doesn’t make sense to me how a guy as talented as Rubio cannot shoot more than 38% in a season. The best example of a guy who figured it out is Jason Kidd - in his first three seasons, Kidd shot 38.5%, 38.1%, and 36.9% from the field. In his fourth season, he picked it up to 42.3%, and the rest is history; he finished his career 3rd on the list of the most 3-pointers made. Of course, Rubio is already an excellent passer, and if he can shoot over, say, 42% in a season, he will earn himself a long-term contract. I have no idea how good Minnesota will be this season with Wiggins/Bennett instead of Love, but I believe that Rubio will get his shooting percentages up into the low-40s.
Kevin Love will average under 20 pgg.
The return of King James and the trade for Kevin Love has made Cleveland a clear favorite to the win the Eastern Conference, and possibly, the NBA title. However, sacrifices must be made. Most people believe that Love will sacrifice some numbers playing with James, but I think that it will occur on a much larger scale. Last season, he averaged 26.5ppg, but this was with a very high usage rate, playing on a horrible Minnesota team. With James and Irving around, Love should be third in the pecking order, and it’s not as if Dion Waiters and Tristian Thompson won’t get some shots. No way does Love score remotely close to how much he did in Minnesota. I’m of the mindset that this season will reveal Love to be a far worse player than everybody thinks, even though Cleveland’s offense should be among the best in the league.
The Golden State Warriors will have the best defense in the league.
Surprisingly, a team starting Stephen Curry and David Lee actually had the third best defense last year, after Indiana and Chicago. Chicago should be a very good team, but I think that Golden State has more room for improvement this season. While the loss of coach Mark Jackson is disappointing, Klay Thompson should continue to improve as a defender, and David Lee’s inevitable decline (he is on the wrong side of 30, after all) should open up more minutes for Draymond Green, who is a significantly better defender. The Dubs’ offense was disappointing under Jackson, so if Steve Kerr is able to bring in new and more creative offensive sets, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them in the top-10 on offense. These two should combine for a top-four seed in the West.
The Houston Rockets will be a 7th seed or worse.
For the first time in the Daryl Morey era, the Rockets had what seems to be a pretty horrible off-season. They started by declining Parson’s 5th year option (which would have paid him $960k) and made him a restricted free agent, only to watch the Mavs swoop in and offer him a contract starting at $15m/year. Next, they traded Jeremy Lin, another solid starter, to the Lakers for chump change. Then, they were spurned by both Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony. Not to be outdone, James Harden won the award for “misguided comment of the year” by referring to all of his teammates besides Dwight Howard as “role players” (even if it’s true, you don’t say that about your teammates), and then made several comments about finally starting to play defense (really…?). Parsons and Lin are both solid starters, and even though the Rockets are clearly desperate for their 3rd star, losing those two will hurt them this season. Going forward, I just don’t see which star player will fit in well with Howard and Harden, and they definitely aren’t going to find one this season. I wouldn’t be shocked if they miss the playoffs in the ultra-competitive West, but I’ll predict that they just sneak in as a 7 or 8 seed.
The Dallas Mavericks will win the battle of Texas.
I won’t go as far as to pick them to have a better overall record than the Spurs (I learned that the hard way last year when I predicted the Spurs would barely make the playoffs), but I think they will have the best record in their games against other Texas teams (Houston, San Antonio). I already discussed that I think Houston will be a worse team this year, but I think Dallas will be better than expected. Their offense last year was the best in the league after the all-star break, and after adding Tyson Chandler to shore up the middle, Dallas will match up extremely well against San Antonio. Additionally, they took the Spurs to 7 games in the first round last year.
The Los Angeles Lakers will make the playoffs.
And Kobe Bryant will average 25+ppg. No explanation for this one, I’m just a Lakers fan. :)
This column is the original work of Daniel Fotinich. Follow him on Twitter here: