By way of a series of congratulations notes, here are our predictions for players and teams during the upcoming season. Why wait for the whole year to go by when you can just be grateful now?
Congratulations to James Harden for winning MVP after having one of the greatest individual seasons ever.
Kevin O’Connor: In the 2016–17 season, Harden joined Oscar Robertson as the only player ever to average more than 25 points, 10 assists, and five rebounds. He was so incredible that people have even stopped harping on his defense. Shout-out to Daryl Morey and Mike D’Antoni, a GM-coach tandem that was destined to be together.
Congratulations to the Utah Jazz for knocking out the 75–7 Warriors in the second round of the playoffs.
Danny Chau: We knew it was going to be good; the 2–2 season series was decided by a total of 11 points. But still: what a series. The superest team ever against the deepest team in the league. And it lived up to expectations. Building on the Warriors-beating strategies of teams past, the Jazz’s ever-shifting platoon of long, tall, and physical defenders at every position kept Golden State out of rhythm. The ability Golden State demonstrated all season long to simply drown out opponents with open 3s just wasn’t there against the best 3-point defense we’ve seen in years. So it was awfully disappointing to see the Jazz get swept by the Spurs in the Western Conference finals, leaving them 1–12 against San Antonio in their last three playoff meetings.
Congratulations to the San Antonio Spurs on winning the NBA Finals.
Chris Ryan: We came into the year respecting the Spurs, but not fearing them. We should have been scared out of our minds. LaMarcus Aldridge settled in and become an offensive fulcrum, developing incredible chemistry with his frontcourt mate, Pau Gasol; Danny Green got his vision back; Kyle Anderson played point forward, and Dejounte Murray played young point god. Oh, and what about that MVP-caliber Kawhi season? Hard to believe that back in October we were talking about chemistry problems and doubting whether Pop could come up with an answer to the Warriors. Turns out he didn’t have to. He just had to come up with an answer to LeBron. Again.
Actually, congratulations to the Warriors for winning the NBA Finals in a sweep.
Sean Fennessey: Let’s not overthink this. Fans from all over had been treating Kevin Durant’s potential departure (a.k.a. #KD2TK) as a franchise-saving possibility from Boston, down the Eastern Seaboard to Washington, D.C., all the way across the map to Los Angeles. That he joined one of maybe three teams that just didn’t really need him makes Durant the “divorced parents means twice as many presents on Christmas” of NBA free agents. Dig, if you will, a picture:
This is quite literally the most versatile scorer in the league joining the most versatile offense in the sport and two of the most devastating shooters in basketball history. Picking the Warriors isn’t intellectually stimulating, dangerous, or even very interesting. It’s just right.
Congratulations to Harrison Barnes for cashing out at the perfect time.
Jonathan Tjarks: He cashed out at the perfect time. Losing playing time to Justin Anderson couldn’t have been the plan at the beginning of the season, but getting those checks certainly was, and he still has three more years of cashing to do. He is getting a lot more of a return on investment on that max contract than the Mavs ever will.
Congratulations to Karl-Anthony Towns, the new Kevin Garnett.
O’Connor: He finished top three in MVP voting and became just the fourth player to average 20 points, 10 rebounds, two assists, and two blocks in a season before a player’s 22nd birthday. This isn’t just about him, though: The Wolves made the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
Congratulations to Anthony Davis on winning his first MVP award.
Ryan O’Hanlon: Sure, every muscle fiber, joint, ligament, and bone in his body requires a day-to-day parenthetical.
But we’re only one year removed from Davis being The Guy among the NBA’s front-office cognoscenti. Here’s the narrative: KD and Steph split the Warriors vote, LeBron uses the regular season as an extended tune-up, James Harden still plays defense like James Harden, the Wolves and Karl-Anthony Towns crumble (read: miss the playoffs) under the weight of unrealistic expectations, and — close your eyes and really use your imagination here — Davis finally stays healthy for a full season. New Orleans snags the seventh seed, and voters are happy to give the award to the first big man in a decade.
Congratulations to Joakim Noah on becoming the heart of the New York Knicks.
Juliet Litman: Congratulations to Joakim Noah on becoming the heart of the New York Knicks. He’s got ties to a bunch of places, but Noah is really a city kid. In his first preseason game at Madison Square Garden as a Knick, he requested to be introduced as a guy from Hell’s Kitchen — not Florida, not France. What else do New Yorkers need to know before anointing him King of New York? Noah has been as the emotional center of every team he played on. Now he can also be the heart of the city.
Congratulations to Jeff Hornacek, who is maybe a doctor?
Jason Concepcion: Back in September, when new Knicks coach Hornacek said, “I don’t think we’re going to have injuries,” no one believed him. Since 2014, Joakim Noah has missed 68 games, Rose 47 games, and Carmelo 52 games. Brandon Jennings injured his Achilles and missed 75 games over the last two seasons. I thought he could have at least qualified it by saying “many injuries” or “significant injuries.” But he was right. Looks like those sacrifices to Lucifer paid off. You know, for now.
Congratulations to Devin Booker for almost firing the Suns into the playoffs.
Ryan: LeBron warned us. We just didn’t know it would happen this fast. Devin Booker started the preseason as the best teenager in the world …
… and ended it as one of the best young players in the league. The Suns were deep, athletic, and fun as hell, in a classically Phoenix sort of way. And while Eric Bledsoe had a bounce-back year, Brandon Knight anchored the bench, and Marquese Chriss put up an impressive rookie campaign, it was Booker, the Splash Little Brother, who became the franchise cornerstone. Routinely capable of going for 30 or more, and always looking to set up his teammates, Booker nearly shot the Suns into the 8-seed.
Congratulations to Blake Griffin on making it through the entire season.
Litman: He’s been through a lot. A blown-out knee is totally normal. A staph infection (February 2015) is kind of weird, but it happens. A broken hand from punching his friend and coworker is not regular — especially given that Blake was already rehabbing a partially torn left quad at the time. It’s been an imperfect two years for Griffin, but 2016–17 will be the season he plays every game. Last week, he told the media that he changed his summer workouts to strengthen his lower body. Blake can focus on being DeAndre Jordan’s best friend (move over, KD) and basketball, too.
Congratulations to the Sacramento Kings on trading DeMarcus Cousins.
O’Connor: Sure, Cousins was the franchise, but we all knew he’d boogie out the door once he hit free agency in 2018. Now the Kings have a young core with two top-10 picks in a loaded draft. Sacramento’s future is finally looking bright. Just don’t screw it up, Vlade and Vivek.
Congratulations to the Sacramento Kings (and Goran Dragic) on securing the no. 8 seed in the playoffs.
Fennessey: Erik Spoelstra went out of his way to debunk the rumor that the Heat had engaged with the Kings in “Darren Collison and Rudy Gay for Goran Dragic” trade talk. This is a terrible trade and it shouldn’t happen. But not if the Kings replace Collison and Gay with Ben McLemore and Skal Labissiere. The Kings always seem to be one beautiful ball handler away from being interesting, but Dragic, in many ways, could be the magical realist that DeMarcus Cousins has always needed. In one fell swoop, he becomes Boogie’s best (non–Team USA) teammate ever, and capable of a pick-and-roll the likes of which Cousins hasn’t seen since John Wall hit him on the roll to yam on a series of Hoosiers.
Dragic-Afflalo-Gay-Cauley-Stein-Cousins is a legitimate NBA lineup, good enough for 44 wins. Miami doesn’t want success in the midterm. Boogie wants playoffs. The Kings need a Dragon. Congrats all around.
Congratulations to Evan Turner for staying true to his word.
O’Connor: Remember what he said: “It’s Evan M. Turner, and the ‘M’ is for midrange.” He didn’t attempt a single 3-pointer all year, even when defenders double-dog dared him to.
With that said, maybe it’s time to get back to the 3-pointer. While his season was as great as his his summer, I hope he’ll make it priority this summer to start hitting those 3s. I believe in you, ET.
Congratulations to Will Barton on the move.
Tjarks: Being traded to the Hornets was the best thing that could have happened to Barton’s career. He took over their second unit and instantly became one of the best players in the Eastern Conference. It was Isaiah Thomas to Boston all over again, and his ability to get to the rim and make plays was one of the keys to the Hornets pulling off an upset in the first round.
Congratulations to Mason Plumlee on his triple-doubles.
Concepcion: I’ll be the first to admit it: I thought he was tripping. Over his first three years, he managed only 31 double-doubles and never had 10 assists in a game. He never had eight assists in a game! So, before the season, when he and his teammates were talking about him pulling down triple-doubles, as in plural, as in more than one triple-double, I thought OK, maybe pump the brakes, my dudes. Consider me schooled.
Congratulations to Zach Randolph on surviving a season playing for a top-five pace team.
Chau: Congratulations to Z-Bo! He survived! The Grizzlies ended up a top-five team in pace, after finishing in the bottom five of the league in the previous four seasons. David Fizdale arrived in Memphis to bring the Grizzlies into the future, and people were scared Randolph wouldn’t make it. Like the Charlotte Hornets last season, the Grizzlies have successfully undergone a modern face-lift, and he was a part of it! He hadn’t played that little basketball since he was a 20-year-old getting into trouble back when he played for Portland, but he was awesome in the minutes he got. His time on the floor was the cigarette for dessert after a 5K run. His time on the floor was an inspiration.