Culture of Hoops

Ten Somewhat Bold NBA Predictions for 2017

Well folks, another year is nearly in the books, and that means it’s time for my almost-annual “Ten Somewhat Bold NBA Predictions” column! Last year I went four for ten, so I’ll make going .500 with these predictions my New Years Resolution since that’s normally something I don’t participate in.

A player will score 60 points in a game in the 2017 calendar year

Fun fact: I’ve written this column for 2014 and 2016 and made this prediction each time, and each time there have been TWO players who dropped sixty in a game in that calendar year. In 2014 LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony scored 61 and 62 points respectively against the Charlotte Bobcats just one month apart. And last year, well I guess it’s still technically this year … let’s just say in 2016, Kobe Bryant scored 60 in his career finale and Klay Thompson torched Indiana for 60 points less than a month again.

So who are the candidates in 2017? Well, any one of the Warriors trifecta of Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and Thompson feels like a safe bet considering the Warriors are somewhat regularly scoring upwards of 125 points in games. Kyrie Irving went for 57 two years ago and Anthony Davis scored 59 points in a February 2016 game. DeMarcus Cousins had two games of 55 or more in 2016 (more than any other player in the league). There are plenty of candidates. The league’s pace is increasing, more three’s are being shot and more points are being scored. Who knows, maybe 60 point games will soon start occurring with the same frequency that we’ve become used to seeing 50 point games.

The Golden State Warriors will become the first team since 1992 to average 115 points per game 

At the moment the Warriors are scoring just over 117 points per game, and that’s a mark that only 16 teams in the three-point era have hit. I nudged the total down to 115 points per game to give myself a little room since I don’t want to fail to hit my New Year’s Resolution and be like all of those people who say “I’m going to go to the gym regularly and get in better shape this year.” I was that person before. My Junior year of college my buddy Weston and I planned on going to the gym five days a week after the calendar page turned from December to January. We went one time, then just decided to play pick-up basketball five days a week. But no muscles were to be had.

Anyway, the Dubs could very well stay above 117 points per game. Even if that total did dip down to 115, only 35 teams have managed to score at that clip since the NBA/ABA Merger back in 1976. Something else to note: only five teams in all of NBA history have averaged 30 assists per game. The 1984-85 Los Angeles Lakers currently hold the record of 31.4 assists per game. At the moment, the Warriors are averaging 31.1 assists per game. It’s in play.

The Miami Heat will enter full-fledged tank mode by the All-Star Break 

And by All-Star Break I mean Martin Luther King Day. If you don’t think that slimy soap opera villain Pat Riley isn’t going to end up with the #1 pick and a shit load of cap space, you don’t know how this whole thing works. I hate that guy.

The Toronto Raptors will at least briefly overtake the Cleveland Cavaliers for 1st place in the Eastern Conference 

It’s bound to happen. Ty Lue shouldn’t overextend any of his three stars (particularly not the now 32-year-old LeBron James … Happy Birthday LeBron!) and J.R. Smith is already out for the next couple of months. The Cavs will start dropping winnable games, resting the Big Three in back-to-backs or four-in-five situations, and everyone will overreact and wonder “What’s wrong with the Cavs?” when in reality we should all just take a deep breath and remember one thing:

If you’re a fan of an Eastern Conference Playoff team, just close your eyes … 

Nobody in the Eastern Conference can beat a healthy Cleveland Cavaliers team in a best of seven series, even if they had home court advantage.

And if you don’t think Ty Lue, LeBron James, Dan Gilbert, and every Cavs fan out there doesn’t know this you are sorely mistaken. With that said, Toronto has had a successful regular season thus far and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if they did indeed enter the postseason with the best record in the Eastern Conference. There’s a caveat though: If the Cavs find themselves within striking distance of being able to beat out Golden State for the best record in the NBA, they’ll make a push. An NBA Finals Game 7 in Cleveland is something the Cavs would very much be interested in.

Russell Westbrook will end the season averaging a Triple Double  

A few weeks ago I suggested the Westbrook’s Triple-Double chase was a good thing for the Oklahoma City Thunder, and I feel justified now that I’ve done the proper research and found that the Thunder are 12-3 this season when Russ finishes with a Triple Double and 8-10 when he doesn’t. Two things: First, it’s outlandish that we’re nearly half way through the season and Russ has almost as many games with a Triple-Double as he does without one. I know, he’s averaging a Triple-Double at the moment, so that kind of ratio of games with to games without was bound to look something like this, it’s just silly when you break it down that simplistically.

Second, I don’t see any signs that this ridiculous pace Russ is on will slow down, and normally I’d factor in fatigue, but I’m not sure Westbrook gets tired. I’m serious. I’ve watched almost every Thunder game this year because there isn’t anything more entertaining in the NBA right now than Russell Westbrook, and I haven’t once thought to myself, “Man, Russ looks like he needs a breather,” and that’s startling because even machines need a break every once in a while.

Anyway, unless Russ gets injured in a way where he can still play but not as effectively, it’s my opinion that we’re just months away from seeing a dude blow Oscar’s 1962 season out of the park. We shouldn’t be seeing someone average 30-10-10, or anything remotely close to that in 2017. The fact that it happened at all, even in 1962 when teams were averaging 125 offensive possessions per game, is a historical outlier. If (and when) Russ manages to pull it off it’s something completely foreign to what we have seen before.

The Portland Trail Blazers will remain on the outside of the Western Conference Playoff Picture 

Actual footage of the Portland Trailblazers at this very moment:

A bonus prediction: I’ve got the New Orleans Pelicans grabbing that 8th seed (apologies to H & H’s TJ Macias, a Dallas Mavericks writer and Sacramento Kings fan). New Orleans is 11-8 since Jrue Holiday returned, and it doesn’t hurt that the Pelicans have Anthony Davis and every other team does not.

The Memphis Grizzlies will become the fourth team in the 3-Point Era to win over 45 games but shoot worse than 43 percent from the field 

Surprisingly, these Grit and Grind Grizzlies haven’t done this before. You would think that with their tendency to look inept offensively yet find ways to churn out wins, they’d have done this, or something similar before. The last team to do so was the 2002-03 Detroit Pistons, who made the Eastern Conference Finals in 2003 and won the NBA Finals the following season. Don’t expect the same fate for these Grizzlies. It feels like this season is a last gasp effort for a team that was never quite equipped to truly contend for a title, but good enough to make you think they could.

The “Maybe Rudy Gobert is the best Center in the league” chatter will continue 

The Stifle Tower is currently 1st in the league in field goal percentage (70 percent!), 2nd in blocks per game and 5th in rebounds per game, and right now he’s on a ten game tear where he’s averaging 16 points, 14 rebounds, and 3 blocks per game while shooting 78 percent (!!!!!) from the field. It’s not sexy, nothing about the steady Utah Jazz is, but it’s damn effective, and when the Jazz are fighting for home court advantage in a 1st Round series in early April, we’ll point to Gobert’s newfound two-way brilliance and recognize that it’s a big reason why the Jazz are living up to the high expectations we set for them before the season.

The 2017 NBA Finals will be the most watched of the 2000’s 

I nailed this one last year, and if we get Warriors/Cavaliers III, the rubber-match, the conclusion of the trilogy, this is the biggest lock of all of these predictions. Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals was the most watched NBA game since MJ’s last with the Bulls 18 years prior and the third most watched NBA game ever (only toppled by 1998 NBA Finals Game 6 and 1993 NBA Finals Game 6). There’s no way to tell until we get there (and fuck I really hope we get there), but I think if the amount of people who would watch the Cavs and Warriors in another Game 7 could surpass the near 36 million who watched Jordan hit a game winner over Bryon Russell and the Jazz in ’98.

At least one old-timer will lose their mind when Warriors/Cavs are compared to Lakers/Celtics

Even though seven of the 25 best players in a 30 team league are on the Warriors and Cavaliers and we’re on track to see Golden State and Cleveland do something that Los Angeles and Boston never did (play three straight times in the NBA Finals), some dude who played in the seventies, eighties or nineties will go ape shit, do the whole “get off my lawn” routine and find a way to suggest that neither of these teams would have been able to cut it when he played because they’re soft or not talented or one-dimensional or shoot too many threes or make too much money or some other stupid reason that does nothing more than suggest that dementia is setting in. Honestly, it will probably be Pat Riley who says something.

Happy New Year to every one out there. Except for Pat Riley. I hate that guy.

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