Before I start, there should be a full disclosure that these predictions should be taken with a grain of salt. Some predictions I’m hoping that they happen, some are intended to be funny, and some are just bizarre. My friend Jeff and I have been doing these crazy prophecies for about ten years as a way to kick off our sports New Year. We are both fanatics of any type of sport or competition and happen to cheer on the same teams with generally wildly different views of them. If we could bet on what color car will be the next one to drive down the road, we’d probably wager against each other. He calls it delinquency, I call it a healthy addiction. Let’s call a spade a spade; we have issues.
For 2017, I will focus on the NBA scene. I’m sure it’ll be a disappointment to Jeff to limit the possibilities but, only because that means I can’t predict Brett Favre coming out of retirement three times in one calendar year. On to the meat and potatoes.
1. Russell Westbrook will average a triple-double
Ok, ok- not so bold to start things out since he is already averaging a triple-double heading into the start of the calendar year. Westbrook plays with an unmatched intensity on the floor. Nobody wants “it” more than he does; and it shows in his numbers and his team’s performance. Not only can Westbrook average a triple-double for an entire season but he can do it while leading his team to a playoff birth (and possibly home court advantage for the first round). Other ball-dominant stars have usually had a hard time experiencing team success at the same time, but not Westbrook. Barring injury, he has the MVP locked up already.
2. Montrezl Harrell will be a common name found on championship fantasy rosters
After Clint Capela went down with an injury, Harrell became the immediate beneficiary of minutes. Currently, he is still coming off the bench behind Nene Hilario but, he will have staying power with Houston’s second unit even when Capela returns. Harrell has a big presence in the paint though he is undersized for a post position. When he figures out that his offense will come secondary to his defense and rebounding, he will get plenty of minutes, and plenty of stats. A deep bench / waiver wire find for 12 points, 6 rebounds, and a block per game is not out of the question for owners when referencing Harrell
3. Lonzo Ball will not enter the NBA Draft
A loaded draft class this year will not be the reason Ball does not declare for the draft. Many experts have him projected as a top three pick in the upcoming draft (queue shameless plug for my first mock draft coming soon). The kid is a stud that can shoot, pass, and defend; he even has decent size at the Point Guard position. So why wouldn’t he declare? His brothers both just committed to playing at UCLA. If he sees a chance to win a National Championship with his family, it may be enough to entice him to stay.
4. Dominant post players will become relevant again
While offense in the post has taken a bit of a snooze in the past few years, it will reemerge as a skill needed to compete in the NBA. A post game is extremely effective for teams looking to space the floor (the same is said about having four shooters and a slasher). The reason for the small ball movement has been the focus of teams’ offensive schemes launching the highly effective three-point shot as it generates the most points per attempt other than shots around the rim. Teams trying to defend small ball have had to place five guys on the floor that are versatile enough to defend the perimeter and players that can drive to the hoop. Karl Anthony-Towns and Joel Embiid are breaking the trend as they are displaying great post games while being able to defend all spots on the floor. The problem is that teams are limited on defenders that can defend both; Draymond Greens do not grow on trees
5. The Raptors will finally get the respect they deserve around the league
Nobody ever takes them seriously as a legitimate contender. Why? Because the Cavaliers still play in the Eastern Conference. In all seriousness, they have some great pieces in Kyle Lowry, Demar DeRozan, and Jonas Valancuinus. They also fill out the remainder of their roster with great complimentary players that are ready to perform at a moments notice. They have a less successful, infant, Spurs feel to their organization in terms of remaining competitive for a lengthy period.
6. A top 20 player gets moved before the trading deadline
The Kings seem like the logical choice to move DeMarcus Cousins at the deadline but, from a writers standpoint, the organization is too dysfunctional to try and waste time figuring out a trade scenario for him. So other than Cousins, the three names to watch are: Paul George, Hassan Whiteside, and Blake Griffin.
7. The NBA Draft Lottery picks will be all college Freshman
This will be marked the year of the one-and-done. My only hesitation saying this is that some players from this stacked class will see a brighter future and higher draft slot next year if they return to school. Other than that, the upperclassmen and the international pool is weaker than most years. If any player other than a Freahman breaks into the lottery, it could be Ivan Rabb, a Sophomore from California.
8. The NBA Finals will only feature one of either the Warriors or the Cavaliers
Both teams have the superstars needed to win; both teams are lacking the depth and health they have had in years past. Back-to-back long playoff runs and the Summer Olympics will take its toll on some of these guys and a new team will get its chance to prove they are worthy of being labeled a championship contender.
9. Kelly Olynyk will realize that he is 7’0″ tall and stop flailing and flopping around like a wounded seal every time somebody breathes on him
My Celtic Pride showed a little bit on that prognostication but if Kelly plays like the Kelly of every second half and just eliminates first-half Kelly, he will land himself a big contract in the offseason. He is incredibly skilled offensively and positions himself well defensively. He just lacks the force that you would expect from someone his size as he gets bullied around in the paint for rebounding position and doesn’t absorb contact well, at all. And Kelly, you do realize you can shoot over most everyone defending you on the perimeter, right? I like Kelly, I do. He could just be so much better and become the go-to scorer on the Celtics’ second unit that they need so the can take the next step as a franchise. Maybe that should be my prediction, instead. He will figure it out.
10. Last but not least, a team that does not try to tank and is not expected to win the NBA Draft Lottery, wins it
A team is rewarded in one of the best drafts in years by playing hard while trying to win games, the right way. Detroit, Indiana, Portland and Denver- you heard it here first. You’re welcome!
Here’s looking to a great 2017! Have a safe and happy New Year. Please join me with my next article, the first mock draft of 2017.