By Brianna Patton
With the 2016-2017 NBA season underway, many are anticipating how the season will play out with a talented rookie class and big free agent moves.
It’s that time again for my NBA season predictions.
Rookie of the year: Jaylen Brown.
Many analysts have the top-2 draft picks Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram as the most likely to win the award. While they may have more upside in the long run than Brown, Brown’s athleticism matched with the talented group of players he is surrounded by will highlight his abilities. When the Celtics selected Brown No. 3 overall by the, many Celtic fans and experts around the league believed Boston drafted him too high. However, Brown’s summer league and preseason play showed his leaping ability and tenacity on defense has changed the perspective many had on him. Being surrounded by the likes of Al Horford and Isaiah Thomas will only help him flourish as a rookie.
Most Improved: Dennis Schroder.
With Jeff Teague being traded to the Pacers during the offseason, Schroder is now the starting point guard and leader of the Atlanta Hawks. Schroder has the potential to have his coming out party this season because the Hawks will be in need of his scoring ability with Teague and Horford being gone. He has the ability to become a 20 ppg scorer with an increase in minutes.
MVP: Russell Westbrook.
Westbrook has already established himself as one of the most physically dominant players in the league. He nearly averaged a triple-double last season with 23.5 ppg, 10.4 apg, and 7.8 rebounds per game according to ESPN stats. Now that Kevin Durant moved on to play for Golden State, Westbrook is the clear leader and best player on this team.
Westbrook averaged 28 ppg without Durant, expect Westbrook to average over 30 ppg throughout the season. It is hard to imagine him being more aggressive than he already is, but Westbrook will come into the season playing with a vengeance and tenacity that has not been seen before.
Eastern Conference Champions: Cleveland Cavaliers.
No surprise here. After winning Cleveland’s first title in 51 years, the Cavs will win the East and have the chance to defend their title.
With teams like the Celtics, Bulls, and Knicks making major improvements in the offseason through free agency, the East will be more competitive than it was last year. The Celtics added Al Horford and drafted Jaylen Brown. The Bulls added Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo to pair with Jimmy Butler. The Knicks added Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, and Courtney Lee to give Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis some help.
Unfortunately if you play in the East and do not have LeBron James on your team, the Eastern Conference Championship is as far as that team will get. Kyrie Irving had a strong finals series. After not showing up the first two games, Irving dominated the remainder of the series. He nailed the winning 3-pointer over Steph Curry in Game 7. Irving along with King James, who averaged 29 ppg in the finals, are too strong of a tandem for any team in the Eastern Conference to contend with.
Western Conference Champions: Golden State Warriors.
Again, no surprise here.
This past offseason, Golden State made arguably the biggest move in free agent history by acquiring Kevin Durant. Yes, just imagine Durant on a team that just broke the wins record by going 73-9 and already has the two best shooters in the league. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green will all on one team. Adding the second best player in the world (Durant) to a team that was already dominant is scary for the rest of the league.
Golden State could be on track to win by 20+ points and score 120+ points every night. While the West is loaded with the Clippers, Blazers, Rockets, etc., none of these teams have the depth to hang with Golden State in a seven game series.
NBA Champions: Golden State Warriors.
We all know the story, Golden State infamously blew a 3-1 lead with the first unanimous MVP on the team. I do not see this being the case in the 2017 finals rematch with the Cavs. The Warriors replaced Harrison Barnes with Kevin Durant providing a major upgrade at the small forward position. Durant will more than make up for the abundance of missed shots in the finals by Barnes. On the Cavs side, James and Irving are going to get theirs no matter what; but the star power of Golden State will be too much for the Cavs to handle on the defensive end.
The Golden State Warriors will win the 2017 NBA Finals series 4-2.
Bold Prediction: Demarcus Cousins will finally get what he’s been wanting for years.
Before the trading deadline, the Sacramento Kings will finally move Cousins. Cousins, who is arguably the best big man in the league, has made his frustrations with the Kings organization known throughout the years. The talent that Cousins is, he deserves to be surrounded by a stable organization that takes the necessary steps to improve by placing the right pieces around him. Look for Cousins to be traded to the Celtics, Cavs, or Milwaukee Bucks.