With all of the free agency heavy lifting in the rearview mirror, NBA rosters are just about set. Not to diminish the value of the prospective 13th, 14th, and 15th men around the league, but I now feel comfortable enough with each team’s composition to develop some predictions for the upcoming season. This week I forecast where each of the 2016 first-round picks the Sixers own will wind up.
Note: These predictions are for where each team will be pre-lottery (1st pick means worst regular-season record, not lottery winner).
General Manager Sam Hinkie recently revealed that he is “heavily engaged” in trade talks, but I still think we have a pretty good idea of what the team will look like. Because of the addition of Jahlil Okafor, Philly will likely slow down a bit from the breakneck pace of the previous two seasons and morph into a more post-up heavy team. This summer the Sixers added Nik Stauskas, a theoretically good shooter who did not show it in his rookie season, to their growing stable of young floor spacers that already included Isaiah Canaan, Robert Covington, and Hollis Thompson. Another positive in projecting the Sixers’ next season is that virtually none of the players will be in line for age-based regression since they are still such a young squad. This being said, it is no secret the Sixers are still devoid of NBA-level contributors on both ends, which will hurt their 2015-16 record. Regular-season losses, as painful as they may be, bring greater chances of lottery luck, and I believe the Sixers will be in prime position to win the lottery.
Prediction: 20 wins, 1st pick
Philly owns LA’s 2016 first rounder, top-3 protected. So, the Sixers will receive the pick if the Lakers finish anywhere from 4th to 30th (following the draft lottery). If the pick is not conveyed, it will remain a top-3 protected first-round pick for the 2017 draft.
At the beginning of the summer, there was a contingent of Sixers fans who were concerned with how good the Lakers would be next season. According to them, Los Angeles would use its position as a glamor city to lure a big free agent (Kevin Love or LaMarcus Aldridge were popular choices) and to compete for a playoff spot. Needless to say, this scenario did not transpire. The Lakers will presumably improve at least a little bit with the additions of combo guard Lou Williams and elite rim protector Roy Hibbert, as well as the returns of Kobe Bryant and Julius Randle from injuries. LA had the second-worst defense in the league last season, and I don’t think the addition of Hibbert will be enough to offset the numerous minus defenders elsewhere on the roster. The other end of the court will provide its fair share of challenges, too. It looks like Nick Young is the most reliable shooter on the roster, and Hibbert’s lack of speed and offensive production will likely slow down what would otherwise be a pace-pushing squad. Although he is very talented, I expect D’Angelo Russell to struggle in his rookie season, both taking care of the ball and fitting into an NBA offense, since the majority of top college point guards do. There are too many question marks on both sides of the court for me to peg the Lakers for anywhere close to a playoff spot in the brutally tough Western Conference.
Prediction: 24 wins, 4th pick
The Sixers do not directly own Sacramento’s 2016 first-round pick, but they do have the right to execute a swap of the teams’ first-round selections. This pick swap is, in effect, protected for the bottom twenty picks of the draft, meaning the Sixers can only use it if the Kings finish in the bottom ten of the league (following the draft lottery). If the pick swap does not occur this year, it will vanish. However, the Sixers also own pick-swap rights with the Kings for the 2017 draft.
The Kings’ summer was one filled with front-office turmoil and DeMarcus Cousins trade rumors. Several leadership figures were displaced, and there were various reports of clashes between head coach George Karl and executive Vlade Divać, as well as issues between Karl and franchise centerpiece Cousins. While things in Sactown simmered down somewhat with the signing of an uninspiring bunch of veterans (Rajon Rondo, Marco Belinelli, and Kosta Koufos), the situation could very well explode again during the upcoming season. It is easy to envision a situation in which the team does not get along, and the front office feels it needs to move on from Cousins. Moreover, I have concerns for Sacramento beyond the instability of the front office and the possibility of a Cousins trade. The team struggled mightily to stretch the floor last season, and most of their heavy-minutes-getters are below-average shooters (Rondo, Cousins, Rudy Gay, Willie Cauley-Stein). I expect the Kings to improve a little bit on the defensive end next year with the addition of Cauley-Stein and further development of Ben McLemore, but I don’t think it will be enough for them to make any serious run at the playoffs.
Prediction: 27 wins, 6th pick
The 76ers own Miami’s 2016 first rounder, top-10 protected. In order for the pick to go to Philly next season, Miami must finish between 11th and 30th. If the pick is not conveyed, it will become an unprotected first-round pick in 2017.
On the surface, the Miami Heat are an absolute juggernaut of a team. The starting lineup of Goran Dragić, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh, and Hassan Whiteside could indeed be one of the best five-man units in the league. The bench has been revamped, with Amar’e Stoudemire, Gerald Green, and rookie Justise Winslow all joining the South Beach squad. If all goes well, the Heat could conceivably challenge the Cavaliers for supremacy in the East. I am not quite this bullish on the Heat, however, because most of their key contributors have so many NBA miles on them. Wade’s knees are a major worry, and I expect him to miss at least 15 or 20 games this season because of them. Bosh, Stoudemire, and Josh McRoberts have also had injury scares in the past. Whiteside was a beast last season and has much fresher legs than the rest of the team, but he has still only shown the ability to be a useful NBA player for a measly 48-game sample. He is unpredictable, both in terms of on-court production and behavior, and it would not be a major shock to see him sit out some games due to suspension. The Heat are a team full of veterans, and veterans win games in the NBA. I think they will make the playoffs fairly comfortably, but they will not have the consistency to hang with the Eastern Conference elite, at least in the regular season.
Prediction: 44 wins, 19th pick