The 2016-17 NBA season is nearly upon us, and that means it’s time for some predictions. First, Today’s Fastbreak editors Jason Patt and Kelly Scaletta make their standings picks, NBA Finals participants and champion. Then, we’ll present the results from polling of the Today’s Fastbreak staff (39 responses).
Jason Patt’s picks
1. Cleveland Cavaliers — It wouldn’t be a huge surprise if the Cavaliers coasted through much of the regular season and didn’t finish with the top seed in the East, but they’re still clearly the class of the conference and I’ll still take them to earn the No. 1 seed.
2. Boston Celtics — The Celtics are deep and flush with young talent, and they made a huge offseason addition in Al Horford. Those factors, plus a great head coach in Brad Stevens, will vault them to the No. 2 spot.
3. Toronto Raptors — It’ll be tough for the Raptors to top their franchise-best campaign of 2015-16, and I think they’re going to take a small step back. That’ll be enough to drop them to the No. 3 seed, but they should safely finish there without worrying about dropping further.
4. Indiana Pacers — This is where things get tough for me in the East. It’s the start of “The Blob.” I’m not totally sold on the Pacers, but Paul George is a star and they made some nice additions this offseason, so I’ll begrudgingly take Indiana to finish fourth.
5. Atlanta Hawks — The Hawks going from Jeff Teague and Al Horford to Dennis Schroder and Dwight Howard in the starting lineup is a downgrade. However, a motivated Howard should form a superb defensive frontcourt with Paul Millsap, and Mike Budenholzer should figure out a way to make this transition work.
6. Detroit Pistons — If Reggie Jackson was healthy to start the season, I would’ve considered SVG’s crew for the No. 4 spot. But he’ll be out a few weeks, so I’m dropping them down to No. 6. This could be a dangerous team come playoff time if they come together.
7. Charlotte Hornets — The Hornets lost some key pieces from last year and Marvin Williams just broke his finger, but the Kemba-Batum-MKG trio on the perimeter is formidable, and Steve Clifford is a solid coach.
8. Chicago Bulls — The Bulls are a fascinating team that could potentially be pretty darn good or pretty darn bad. Instead, they’ll probably be just okay and will sneak into the postseason simply based on raw talent.
9. New York Knicks — The Knicks are another team with a lot of potential volatility. I do think they’ll improve upon last season and that all their new additions will help, but it won’t be quite enough to get them in the postseason.
10. Washington Wizards — I’m not sure how much stock to put in the John Wall-Bradley Beal “beef” stories, but it’s hard to believe in Beal staying healthy. The injury to Ian Mahinmi to start the year doesn’t help matters, and I just don’t see this team being good enough to make the playoffs.
11. Miami Heat — The Heat are in a weird spot. Losing Dwyane Wade is a shock to the system, and the Chris Bosh situation continues to linger over the franchise. The current core of Dragic-Winslow-Whiteside could be dangerous, but I’m not expecting a whole lot.
12. Milwaukee Bucks — The Khris Middleton injury is just a killer. The Bucks made some moves this offseason and after the injury to somewhat mitigate the loss, but I just don’t see this team being that good. Point Giannis should be fun at times, though.
13. Orlando Magic — The roster has a lot of young talent but is also super weird. While Frank Vogel is a good coach, the ill-fitting roster will lead to too many losses.
14. Brooklyn Nets — The Nets are going to be really bad and probably pretty boring. Just hope for Linsanity 2.0, I guess.
15. Philadelphia 76ers — I was prepared to bump the Sixers up heading into training camp, but the injuries are already taking a toll. Ben Simmons will be out months. Nerlens Noel could miss a month, or more. Joel Embiid will be fascinating to watch, but
1 . Golden State Warriors — No explanation needed, although I don’t think they win 70 games, and I’m not sure they come THAT close.
2. Los Angeles Clippers — The Clippers should enter this season with a sense of desperation given the potential free agencies of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. If they stay healthy, they should have a big year and are the biggest threat to the Warriors in the West.
3. San Antonio Spurs — I’m skeptical that the Spurs will win 60 games again, but they should be in the mid-to-high 50s at worst. Never count out Pop.
4. Portland Trail Blazers — I was ready to put the Jazz here, but some early injuries have marred their situation somewhat. So, I’m going to jump on the Blazers bandwagon. They’re deep, the youngsters should keep improving and Damian Lillard is a star.
5. Utah Jazz — If they can get and stay mostly healthy, this team should be dynamite and could easily finish fourth. But they’re still unproven as winners, and as mentioned already some injuries, namely Gordon Hayward, have occurred.
6. Memphis Grizzlies — The health of Chandler Parsons will be key to Memphis. If his knees hold up, the Grizzlies could even finish higher than this. On the other hand, if they continue to give him problems, they could potentially fall out of the playoffs.
7. Houston Rockets — James Harden is primed for a monster season, and he should be in the MVP conversation. But I still don’t see how this team gets enough stops to truly be a threat.
8. Oklahoma City Thunder — Speaking of monster seasons, Russell Westbrook is ready to go wild on the league sans Kevin Durant. That being said, the roster is flawed and I think they just sneak in the playoffs.
9. Dallas Mavericks — Rick Carlisle is a wizard, but Dirk Nowitzki is old, Andrew Bogut is injury prone and I don’t have one iota of faith in Harrison Barnes taking a step forward. They’ll still battle for a playoff spot, only to just miss out.
10. Minnesota Timberwolves — A lot of people are high on the young Wolves, and it’s hard not to be excited about them with new head coach Tom Thibodeau. Even so, I think they’re one year away from making a significant leap.
11. Denver Nuggets — The Nuggets have a lot of intriguing talent, but I’m not sure how it all fits together just yet. Mike Malone is a good coach to try to figure it out.
12. New Orleans Pelicans — Anthony Davis is Anthony Davis, but will he stay healthy? And hoow about the rest of the roster? I don’t see enough talent on the whole to seriously compete for a playoff spot.
13. Sacramento Kings — The Kings are the Kings and this roster just isn’t that good. On a positive note, new head coach Dave Joerger should bring some stability to the organization.
14. Phoenix Suns — The backcourt is potentially really fun and draft picks Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss have a lot of talent, but so many of these guys are young and they’re going to struggle to get wins.
15. Los Angeles Lakers — The Lakers will NOT be the disaster of the past few years, and they should be exciting to watch under new head coach Luke Walton. The losses will pile up, but the most important thing is development of the youngsters.
Warriors vs. Cavaliers, because they’re the clear-cut best teams given relatively good health.
The Cavaliers are the defending champs, but the addition of Kevin Durant will prove to be too much. The Warriors will regain the throne.
Kelly Scaletta’s picks
1. Cleveland Cavaliers — Let’s not kid ourselves. As long they have LeBron James, they’re the team to beat in the East. And the last I looked, they still have LeBron James.
2. Boston Celtics — The Celtics and Raptors are going to duke this one out, but over the course of the season, I like Boston’s defense and depth to win out.
3. Toronto Raptors — They kept DeMar DeRozan, but they didn’t do much to improve significantly while Boston did. That makes them the third-best team in the East.
4. Charlotte Hornets — They weren’t a fluke last year. Steve Clifford is one of the best and most underrated coaches in the league. That gives them a leg up in the 4-11 also-rans.
5. Detroit Pistons — They’re going to win games with all the shooting surrounding Andre Drummond. They’re also going to lose games because he basically has to double his free throw shooting to be as good as Dwight Howard.
6. Atlanta Hawks — Every year, I say this is the year they’re going to miss the playoffs. So, after about a decade of that, lesson learned. Mike Budenholzer is too good of a coach to miss the playoffs, even though they lost Al Horford to the Celtics.
7. Indiana Pacers — I’m not as high on the Pacers’ new look as much as some. I’m not sold that Jeff Teague is really a huge upgrade over George Hill, and I actually wonder if Hill’s better shooting made him a better fit with Paul George.
8. Chicago Bulls — The Bulls are going to be a tremendously good team to watch if you’re trying to get to sleep. They have enough talent to win exactly half their games. Maybe even every other game the entire season.
9. Washington Wizards — I’ll believe Bradley Beal can go a season without getting hurt when it happens. And the Wizards are a bit short of talent aside from him and John Wall.
10. New York Knicks — The Knicks are pinning an awful lot on a trio of players who have missed a total of 167 games in the last two seasons. It’s hard to believe that Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Carmelo Anthony all finish it healthy.
11. Milwaukee Bucks — The team I have missing the playoffs most likely to do much better than I’m giving them credit for. I’m really interested in the Point Giannis experiment.
12. Miami Heat — The Big Three era is done. In related news, the Miami Heat are in rebuilding mode, whether Pat Riley wants to be or not.
13. Philadelphia 76ers — The Sixers have a lot of potential to improve a lot. Of course, when you’re as bad as the Sixers were, you can improve a lot and still be bad. If and when Ben Simmons returns, it could get better.
14. Orlando Magic — This frontcourt mess they made is not going to work. I feel the scalding heat from the Magic fans heading at me on Twitter already.
15. Brooklyn Nets — These are dark, dark days for the Nets. But Brook-Lin is the most genius plan ever by a losing team.
1. Golden State Warriors — How about I just say, “Yes” and leave it at that?
2. Los Angeles Clippers: Chris Paul has his best chance ever to get past the second round. He does, only to lose in the conference finals.
3. San Antonio Spurs — The Spurs still win 50-plus even without Tim Duncan, but they’ll take a clear step back.
4. Utah Jazz — They are arguably the deepest team in the league now. And they have near-All-Star potential through the starting five. But they’re absent that elite scorer. Good enough for 50 wins, but not good enough to upend the Dubs.
5. Houston Rockets — James Harden is going to have an epic season. Numbers like 30/10/7 aren’t impossible. They’re not even improbable. His counting stats will mirror Russell Westbrook’s, but he’ll be much more efficient.
6. Minnesota Timberwolves — Don’t underestimate the Tom Thibodeau effect. He’s an extraordinary player development coach. Look for Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine to break out.
7. Memphis Grizzlies — I had them higher in our offseason review roundtable, but now I’m rethinking things. I like the addition of Chandler Parsons, but I wonder if they’re going to be able to put enough points on the board.
8. Portland Trail Blazers — Damian Lillard is an amazing offensive player and leader, but his defense is awful. He works hard on his game, though. Hopefully he improves that this year.
9. Oklahoma City Thunder — Russell Westbrook is going to go so ham this season that he’s going to just be one giant ham sandwich. Twitter takes will fly, especially if they miss the playoffs.
10. Dallas Mavericks — Dirk Nowitzki won’t be enough to carry them anymore, as enduring as the old German has been. And Harrison Barnes sure isn’t going to pick up the slack.
11. Sacramento Kings — Another year, another bottom-10 finish. Much more of this and we’re going to have force the NBA to rename them the Subjects.
12. Phoenix Suns — They have a lot of young talent, but it needs to develop. And the Western Conference is a tough place to do that.
13. Denver Nuggets: They have a lot of young talent, but it needs to develop. And the Western Conference is a tough place to do that. Is there an echo in here?
14. New Orleans Pelicans — Last year they were the most injured team in basketball. This year, Anthony Davis already is nursing an injury, Jrue Holiday has the issues with his wife’s brain cancer (thankfully surgery and her recovery seems to be going well) and Tyreke Evans is still dealing with an injury. Not good.
15. Los Angeles Lakers — I’m convinced that when the whole Chris Paul thing went down, there was a legitimate fringe event which crossed the timelines of the Clippers and Lakers, and now the Lakers are compelled to be the moribund doormat of the West.
Warriors vs. Cavaliers
Warriors over Cavaliers because we all know that’s what’s going to happen.
Today’s Fastbreak staff picks
1. Cleveland Cavaliers
2. Boston Celtics
3. Toronto Raptors
4. Indiana Pacers
5. Detroit Pistons
6. Atlanta Hawks
7. Charlotte Hornets
8. Washington Wizards
9. New York Knicks
10. Chicago Bulls
11. Milwaukee Bucks
12. Miami Heat
13. Orlando Magic
14. Philadelphia 76ers
15. Brooklyn Nets
1. Golden State Warriors
2. San Antonio Spurs
3. Los Angeles Clippers
4. Utah Jazz
5. Portland Trail Blazers
6. Houston Rockets
7. Memphis Grizzlies
8. Oklahoma City Thunder
9. Dallas Mavericks
10. Minnesota Timberwolves
11. New Orleans Pelicans
12. Denver Nuggets
13. Sacramento Kings
14. Los Angeles Lakers
15. Phoenix Suns
Eastern Conference NBA Finals Team
37 votes for Cleveland, 1 vote for Boston, 1 vote for Toronto
Western Conference NBA Finals Team
36 votes for Golden State, 2 for San Antonio, 1 for Los Angeles Clippers
30 votes for Golden State, 6 votes for Cleveland, 2 votes for San Antonio, 1 vote for Boston