The 2016–17 NBA season is here, with expert predictions that will invariably be wrong, and optimism that is misplaced. Yet, there is something magical about the return of ball season. Here are the four major storylines to follow this upcoming season.
1) Golden State is the best team in the league . . . again.
The Warriors got over the disappointment of being the first team to lose a 3–1 lead in the NBA finals by signing Kevin Durant two weeks later, via free agency. This iteration of the Warriors possesses the past two MVPs of the league in Durant and Stephen Curry. Surrounding them are the second best shooter in the league, Klay Thompson, and the two-year defensive player of the year runner up, the enigmatic Draymond Green. Rolling out a lineup featuring those four players means that this team figures to be the best offensive team — possibly of all time. This season is going to feel a lot like last year’s, when the Warriors won 73 games, because the talent discrepancy between the Warriors and the rest of the league is outlandish.
2) The Cleveland Cavaliers want to spoil another Warriors party.
Despite being major underdogs in last year’s finals, the Cavs won their first title and Cleveland’s first major sports win in 52 years behind the legendary LeBron James. James solidified his place as best player in the league with a great finals, which saw him averaging 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 2.6 steals, and 2.3 blocks per game. With the entire squad returning, the Cavs look set to reach the finals for a third straight season. Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, and J.R. Smith will look to shoulder some of LeBron’s burden during the regular season. The Cavs’ eyes are again set on the Warriors out west, as they look towards a third straight finals matchup with the Oakland-based team.
3) This is Russell Westbrook’s world, and we are all living in it.
With Kevin Durant’s departure, Russell Westbrook is now the man in Oklahoma City. Westbrook’s ferocious attacks on NBA defences figure to be a routine fixture now, and this season might be the greatest individual season by a player in the modern era. The Westbrook show will feature athleticism, power, and speed that is unmatched by any point guard in the game today and if he can lead his team to 50 wins there will be a strong narrative for Westbrook as the MVP. Three games into the new season, Westbrook has already had the first 50-point triple-double in the NBA since 1975, and won the Western Conference Player of the Week. Apart from the Warriors, Westbrook is guaranteed entertainment and must-watch TV this season.
4) The MVP race is wide open.
It is hard to imagine Steph Curry three-peating as the MVP, and even harder to imagine Kevin Durant reclaiming that trophy as a new member of an already championship-level team. With the two splitting votes being on the same team, the MVP debate this season opens up as LeBron James, a four-time MVP, looks to regain the award and players like Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Kawhi Leonard figure to make a push for the honour. Harden in Houston has an offensive genius head coach in Mike D’Antoni figuring to make him an even better player, and Kawhi in San Antonio looks to be the franchise player with the retirement of Tim Duncan. Westbrook, of course, figures to be a one-man wrecking crew for the entire season. Team success invariably plays a role in MVP selection, so in the tradition of making predictions early, I pick the two-time defending Defensive Player of the Year, Kawhi Leonard as my pick for MVP.