10 Things to Expect from the 2016-2017 NBA Season
A list of intriguing storylines for the 71st season
In a classic tale of the rich getting richer, the Golden State Warriors added 2013-14 Kia NBA Most Valuable Player Kevin Durant to a team that won an NBA-record 73 games last season and averaged more points (114.9) than any club since the 1991-92 season. Durant brings four scoring titles and a career average of 27.4 points to a team that already features two-time reigning MVP Stephen Curry, who led the NBA in scoring in 2015-16, as well as 2016 All-Stars Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Golden State, the 2015 NBA champion, is seeking its third straight trip to The Finals.
LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers produced a storybook ending last season, overcoming a 3-1 deficit against the Warriors in The Finals to give the franchise its first NBA championship. Much of that team’s core is back for another title run, led by James, who begins his 14th NBA season needing 114 points to pass Hakeem Olajuwon (26,946) for 10th place on the all-time scoring list. The Cavaliers are looking forward to having a healthy Kyrie Irving to begin the season. Irving is coming off a brilliant postseason in which he averaged 25.2 points, including 27.1 in The Finals.
Old Faces in New Places
Kevin Durant wasn’t the only star player to switch teams in the offseason. The New York Knicks made a splash by acquiring longtime Chicago Bulls teammates in former Kia NBA MVP Derrick Rose and ex-Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah. The Bulls remade their backcourt with the addition of 12-time All-Star Dwyane Wade and four-time All-Star Rajon Rondo. Chicago’s retooling also included the departure of six-time All-Star Pau Gasol, who signed with the San Antonio Spurs. Among the other big men on the move were eight-time All-Star Dwight Howard (who left the Houston Rockets for the Atlanta Hawks) and four-time All-Star Al Horford (who joined the Boston Celtics from the Hawks).
A record 26 international players were selected in NBA Draft 2016 presented by State Farm. The headliner is the No. 1 overall pick, Philadelphia 76ers forward Ben Simmons (Australia), who will miss the start of the season with a foot injury. The list also includes Phoenix Suns forward Dragan Bender (Croatia), New Orleans Pelicans guard Buddy Hield (Bahamas), Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (Canada), Toronto Raptors center Jakob Poeltl (Austria) and Philadelphia guard Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (France). In addition, the Sixers have two more highly touted international rookies who were drafted in 2014 but are making their NBA debuts this season: 7-foot center Joel Embiid of Cameroon and 6-10 forward Dario Saric of Croatia.
Twelve teams have a different head coach than they did at the start of last season. That list includes three first-time head coaches: Kenny Atkinson of the Brooklyn Nets, David Fizdale of the Memphis Grizzlies and Luke Walton of the Los Angeles Lakers. Walton served as the Warriors’ interim head coach for the first half of last season, guiding the team to a 39-4 record during head coach Steve Kerr’s health-related absence.
For the first time in two decades the Lakers won’t have Kobe Bryant in their lineup. Instead, the focus will be on developing their cache of young players: guards D’Angelo Russell, 20, and Jordan Clarkson, 24; and forwards Brandon Ingram, 19, Julius Randle, 21, and Larry Nance Jr., 23. Overseeing the youth movement is the NBA’s youngest head coach, 36-year-old Luke Walton.
Life After Tim
Tim Duncan has retired after 19 seasons and five championships with the Spurs, but don’t expect too many changes in the team’s approach. “We’ll hang our hat on defense,” said head coach Gregg Popovich. That’s a good place to start for a team that led the NBA in defensive efficiency last season en route to a franchise-record 67. Newcomer Pau Gasol joins two-time reigning Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard and 2015-16 All-NBA Third Team selection LaMarcus Aldridge to form a strong front line. Guards Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are back for their 16th and 15th seasons, respectively.
State of the East
Last season, the Nos. 3-10 teams in the Eastern Conference—playoff clubs Miami, Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Indiana and Detroit, as well as Chicago and Washington—all won 41 to 48 games, finishing behind Cleveland (57-25) and Toronto (56-26). Whether any of those teams can break out of the pack bears watching. Two particularly intriguing teams from the list are the Celtics, who added All-Star big man Al Horford to a deep, tenacious group, and the Pacers, who solid veterans Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson and installed Nate McMillan as their new head coach.
It’s a testament to Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook’s prodigious talent that after notching 18 triple-doubles in 2015-16 (including seven in one month) and joining Oscar Robertson as the only players in NBA history to average at least 23 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds for a season, many feel the two-time reigning NBA All-Star Game MVP still has another level to reach. He’ll begin the climb without Kevin Durant, his teammate the last eight seasons, and with a supporting cast that features several new faces, including veterans Victor Oladipo and Ersan Ilyasova and rookies Domantas Sabonis and Alex Abrines.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are a popular choice to be the breakout team of 2016-17—and with good reason. Minnesota features the last two Kia NBA Rookies of the Year (Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns), the 2016 draft class’ pick for 2016-17 Rookie of the Year (Kris Dunn) and several other young, emerging players. Under new head coach Tom Thibodeau, the Timberwolves will look to jump from 29 wins last season to the thick of the playoff hunt this season. Minnesota has gone 12 seasons without a postseason berth, the NBA’s longest active streak.
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