Over the last week here at Today’s Fastbreak, a group of writers submitted some team predictions and awards predictions for the 2015-16 NBA season. Now, as the Managing Editor, it’s my turn to get in on the fun. Here are my sure-to-be-wrong picks for this upcoming season.
Most Valuable Player
Kevin Durant: First off, I fully expect Anthony Davis to go HAM on the league this year. But I’m not confident the Pelicans are going to win quite enough games, and I’ve found myself hopping on board the Kevin Durant/Oklahoma City Thunder train. Yes, I know all about the multiple foot surgeries. But last time we saw a fully healthy KD, he was the MVP, and he looked pretty darn good in the preseason. I’m all in on KD.
Rookie of the Year
Jahlil Okafor: Okafor had his share of struggles in the preseason, but ultimately, he’s going to put up pretty big numbers for a rookie. The Philadelphia 76ers just don’t have all that much in terms of high-level talent, so Okafor is getting to get a lot of touches. I know that means defenses will focus in on him a lot, but he’s just so skilled and will adapt. I don’t know if he’ll be the most impactful rookie, but I think he gets this award.
Sixth Man of the Year
Isaiah Thomas: The Pizza Guy tore it up when he got to the Boston Celtics last season, and that’ll continue this year on a Celtics team that’s set to improve upon a 40-win total. The Sixth Man of the Year award typically goes to a gunner off the bench, and Thomas fits that mold perfectly.
Defensive Player of the Year
Rudy Gobert: Gobert was the anchor of the league’s best defense the second half of last season. I don’t think the Utah Jazz will be that prolific defensively throughout an entire season, but they should still be very good, and Gobert still has room for improvement even after already becoming the premier rim protector in the NBA last year.
Most Improved Player
Bradley Beal: This award is a crapshoot that nobody knows how to vote for, but I like Beal here as long as he stays healthy. With the Washington Wizards transitioning to a small ball approach and Beal putting more emphasis on shots that aren’t long twos, he’s poised to become a star.
Coach of the Year
Billy Donovan: The Thunder are set to take a big leap in the standings, and while a lot of that’s a function of the team’s stars being healthy, they’ll be so awesome that Donovan will get a good amount of credit.
Which team will be the biggest surprise?
New York Knicks: I don’t expect the Knicks to make the playoffs this year, but I like some of the pieces they’ve added (I love their draft) and they can at least be in the conversation for the eighth seed as the season winds down. They certainly should be much better than the 17-win disaster of last year, and a 20-win improvement (maybe even more?) isn’t out of the question.
Which team will be the biggest disappointment?
Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks made a huge jump in the standings last year after finishing with the league’s worst record in 2013-14. However, Milwaukee struggled after the Michael Carter-Williams trade, and I’m still not sure there’s enough offense there even after adding Greg Monroe, a move that could hurt the defense. I still like them to make the playoffs, but barely sneaking in.
Who will win the Western Conference?
Oklahoma City Thunder: The West is ridiculous and you could legitimately pick five, maybe six, teams to reach the Finals. The Golden State Warriors bring everybody back from a historic title team. The San Antonio Spurs added LaMarcus Aldridge. The Houston Rockets added Ty Lawson. The Los Angeles Clippers added Paul Pierce and other talented parts (which may or may not fit). But as I mentioned above, I’m going all in on Oklahoma City. They have gobs of elite talent and nice depth to boot.
Who will win the Eastern Conference?
Cleveland Cavaliers: As a Chicago Bulls fan, I wish I could say I have more confidence in them. But I don’t. The Bulls are among a group of second-tier Eastern Conference teams that could challenge the Cavaliers if things break right, but Cleveland is just too talented not to pick here. The Cavaliers have some issues of their own right now, but nothing matters until the postseason, and they’ll make it to the Finals again if relatively healthy.
Who will win the NBA title?
Thunder: LeBron James faces off against Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka in the Finals once again. This time around, KD and Co. get the best of The King in an epic series, dropping LeBron’s Finals record to 2-5. As I said, I’m buying all of the stock in the Thunder this year. Perhaps that’s against my better judgment, but I’m sticking to it. Here’s to a great season.