INDIANA VS GOLDEN STATE
A rematch? Seriously?! BORING!
OK, maybe not that boring. The Warriors won comfortably last year against a 7 seed that went on a run to the finals. But this year’s Pacers are different and this is shaping up to be a really great matchup. We’ve got Steph vs. Westbrook!
Seriously, I don’t really know how anybody else is supposed to win the title for the next three years. If Westbrook keeps getting the greenest light, the longest leash, the highest usage of all time and total compliance from his teammates to pad his stats (see below), there’s no stopping Indiana for the foreseeable future. Blake Griffin. Rudy Gobert. Paul George. Seriously, Paul freaking George is this team’s fourth best player. They’ve been on a tear since the big trades. And Indy still has a lottery pick. Ugh.
But anyway. Let’s do something I did two years ago in the finals when it was too close to call and break down the individual matchups.
POINT GUARD: Steph Curry vs. Dennis Schroeder. Curry takes this one. Two-time MVP. Been on fire with KD out.
SHOOTING GUARD: Klay Thompson vs. Gary Harris. No contest. I love Harris’ game and how he’s developed this year but Thompson is just better and somehow manages to score 20 points a game even when he plays like trash.
GUARD: JJ Barea vs. Russell Westbrook. Moving right along.
SMALL FORWARD: Khris Middleton vs. Paul George. This one is actually interesting. George would be the obvious pick here, but Middleton has been terrific since coming back from injury and especially lately. PG13’s production is just overall better, though, so he gets the nod here.
POWER FORWARD: Myles Turner vs. Blake Griffin. Both great players. But we all know it’s Griffin.
FORWARD: Andre Iguodala vs. David Lee. Two very different players, but Lee is a bit player in San Antonio and Iggy is filling in for Kevin Durant. Advantage Iggy.
CENTER: Brook Lopez vs. Rudy Gobert. Lopez has been really good this season, starring as The Only Player On Rhe Nets Who Can Play Basketball, but Rudy Gobert’s ascension this season especially has been monumental. The guy’s a monster. Advantage Indy.
FLEX: Bojan Bogdanovic vs. David Nwaba. Yikes. David Who?
So that gives each team four advantages a piece. Buuuuuut Westbrook is playing four games this week. That’s a bonus 75 points right there, and that’s probably enough to give INDIANA the win and its first Real Deal NBA championship. Congrats to the two finalists.
Let me just take this moment to say again that I think this was our best year yet. Lots of intrigue this season, lots of action on the trade market and I think our participation was close to 100% this time. Thanks for a great year, everyone, and thanks for reading.
Miami did something we’ve never seen before and might not see again for a long time in taking down a #1 seed as the bottom seed in the playoffs. That’s awesome. But in round 2, they lost to the team that scored the second-worst point total by over 100 points. The Heat are a team that, each year, seems like they’re still fighting for a playoff position at the end of the season – but they’ve made it in consistently. We haven’t seen them take that next step, but at the same time, this is a team that finished 20 games above .500 this season. It’s a good team. The path to greatness isn’t particularly difficult to see. There are only two contracts on the roster worth more than $7.5 million a year, Chris Bosh and Joakim Noah, and they’re both amnesty candidates, opening up even more cap room. Miami has both of its first round picks over the next two seasons, and most of its important players are either still quite young (Harrison Barnes, KCP, Jonas Valanciunas) or still in their prime (Goran Dragic, Marcus Morris). As presently constituted, this is a pretty run-of-the-mill low-seed playoff team. But things in the East are shifting. Atlanta is not as infallible as previously perceived. Chicago is facing tough contract/cap situations (more on that later). With some smart moves, Miami can easily pass the likes of Milwaukee, Cleveland and Toronto and pull even with a team like Charlotte. The path is there, even if it’s a bit shrouded.
Expiring contracts: Marcus Morris, Austin Rivers, Brandan Wright, Raul Neto
This team is going to have major cap trouble next year, even after jettisoning the Jordan Clarkson contract. Whiteside is still on the books at $46.5 million for one more year, eating up nearly half of the cap, and the Bulls will owe costly extensions to Wiggins and Gordon if they want to keep them. Still, this is a team that is still built to win now. Assuming the Bulls find a way to keep at least Wiggins and Gordon, they should be a top three team in the East again next year. Having Durant out for the playoffs was a massive blow, and I wonder how things would have played out if he were in the lineup. With Indiana’s resurgence, Chicago has won its last division title for a while, but that doesn’t mean they’re not still an elite team. Whiteside, however expensive, is still terrific. Ricky Rubio looks amazing under Thibs. Even Derrick Rose was a fairly reliable contributor (as long as you weren’t actually watching the games), and youngsters like Tobias Harris (yeah, he’s still only 24 somehow) can continue to grow. The most interesting thing about Chicago for me this offseason – besides the contract situations – is what they do with Lance Stephenson and Chandler Parsons. Do the Bulls hold onto them and hope they bounce back? Or do they trade them to another team that thinks they will?
Expiring contracts: Andrew Wiggins, Aaron Gordon, Tony Snell, Alex Len, Reggie Williams
With all of the injuries they had this year, the Spurs were kind of like the West’s version of the Cavs (three stars and little help elsewhere), except they’re way more sustainable and projectable. Despite scoring the most points during the regular season, this team really begins and ends with the big three of Kawhi Leonard, Karl Towns and Andre Drummond. The Spurs had a mixed experience with good luck and bad this season. Wilson Chandler and Trevor Booker both had career years, but Jeremy Lin and Evan Turner missed big chunks of the season out injured. Kawhi looks like an MVP and KAT made the next step forward, but Drummond regressed. It’s really a shame everything didn’t click at the same time for this team, but at the same time it’s kind of hard to feel bad for them when they started things off with Kawhi and fell into the #1 pick, which happened to turn into a generational big man. Make no mistake: this team will be back with a vengeance next season. With no meaningful expiring contracts and healthy cap space, I’m expecting this team to do some minor re-tooling and remain a top 3 seed in the West.
Expiring contracts: Kosta Koufos, Tyler Ennis, Nicola Laprovittola
For a long time, the Pelicans were a sleeping giant. I complained about them constantly, pointing out all of the assets they had that they could be using to be a contender. After two mediocre years, the beast finally stirred as New Orleans claimed the West’s top seed. Finally, the team with Anthony Davis and Kyrie Irving made the freaking playoffs already. This has very much been a work in progress: over the past two seasons, star after star was brought in. LaMarcus Aldridge and Eric Bledsoe last year. Isaiah Thomas and Jrue Holiday this year. Joel Embiid became a living meme, but also a really good basketball player in the 12 minutes he played this season. MKG and Taj Gibson are terrific role players for this team. And Ben Simmons will play (lol, maybe) next season. The scariest part about this team? They’re still so freaking young. AD is 24. Kyrie just turned 25. Embiid just turned 23. Simmons will be 21 at the start of next season. Even Bledsoe and Thomas are still in their prime at 27 and 28, respectively. Like their rival Spurs, New Orleans fell victim to some poorly-timed injuries. They could have won it all this year. But they’ll be back next season.
Expiring contracts: Joel Embiid, Reggie Bullock
The Bucks defied my expectations all year long. I ranked them as a borderline playoff team in my preseason rankings, but they were a good 5th seed and made it all the way to the conference finals. I’ve trashed this team’s strength of schedule enough; it’s time to give credit where credit is due. I did not expect Giannis to be this good this quickly. And the dude is still only 22. Elfrid Payton transformed from a can’t-shoot, can’t-actually-really-do-anything point guard into someone who has nearly averaged a triple double over the last month (?!?!?!?!?!). Serge Ibaka is still good, and so is Thad Young, kinda. Delon Wright looks legit. It’s a shame Lord Bob missed most of the playoffs – that guy is for real. Bebe Nogueira’s development has been encouraging. The Bucks will return with a solid core next season, but a lack of picks and fairly modest cap room will limit how much better this team can get. Ultimately, though, the sky’s the limit when you’ve got Giannis. This is a team to keep an eye on after an improbably, really fun to watch conference finals run. They were just no match for Indiana.
Expiring contracts: Elfird Payton, Solomon Hill, Semaj Christon, Treveon Graham, Michael Gbinije
Hell of a year for the Blazers, due majorly in part to some majorly beneficial trades. This team went from selling off LaMarcus Aldridge for picks to reaching the conference finals. Well done. Utah was my pick to win the division before the season, and Portland started off by trading Porzingis for DeAndre Jordan, so my expectations weren’t extremely high for this team. The Blazers started off red hot, fell behind Utah for a stretch, and roared back at the end of the year to win the title and ride a hot streak to the finals. Damian Lillard has fallen out of favor a bit in some circles but was still dominant this season. Jimmy Butler was phenomenal and the Blazers will be keeping an eye on where he goes this summer. Jordan was an upgrade over Porzingis, at least for this year. I worried about this team’s depth at the start of the year, but now it’s one of the deeper squads in the league. Terrence Ross, Meyers Leonard and two picks turned into Pau Gasol and Dirk Nowitzki. Then Pau Gasol and a pick turned into Jae Crowder, Tim Hardaway and Pat Beverley. Portland is probably the team that improved the most over the course of the season (except Indiana), evidenced by their thrilling playoffs run. The Blazers won’t have to do much this offseason; they’ll come into next year with three 50 PPG players, a solid supporting cast and developing youngsters like Rodney Hood, Mo Harkless and Hardaway.
Expiring contracts: Rodney Hood, Nik Stauskas