With the rise of emojis in popular culture, one of the most frequently-used is the fire emoji. Whether to indicate that a song is dope or something is literally hot to the touch, the flame gets a lot of usage. Not so coincidentally, along with the emoji, the use of the term “hot take” has shot through the roof in the last year. It’s not uncommon to see a tweet begin with some form of “[fire emoji] Hot take alert.” That way, people know what you are about to say goes against the conventional way of thinking.
With actual, meaningful basketball set to be played tonight, let’s take a look at some bold predictions for the upcoming season.
Atlanta Hawks: Dennis Schröder comes out of the gates real hot and looks amazing. The boost given by the extra playing time and the lack of proper scouting on him will work wonders. That said, teams will quickly adjust and I think he’s in for a very inefficient season, with a turnover ratio closer to 1:2 than 2:1. By the end of the year, the Hawks are going to regret trading away Jeff Teague.
Boston Celtics: Jaylen Brown is going to win Rookie of the Year. A lot of people panned his selection by the Celtics, but this kid is legit. He’s an athletic freak who is also very intelligent. Boston only has Crowder ahead of him in the depth chart and while Brown’s stroke isn’t pretty just yet, he will put up points from attacking the rim. He will also draw a bunch of fouls from his aggression. Get ready to love this guy, Boston.
Brooklyn Nets: You heard it heard first, Brooklyn will make a strong push for that 8th seed in the east. Considering Boston gets the lower of theirs and Brooklyn’s pick this year, it’s in the Nets’ best interest to be as good as can be. The lower seeds in the East are up for grabs and Brooklyn will be better than people think. Jeremy Lin is finally in a position to succeed and Brook Lopez is one the best offensive big men if he can stay healthy. I’m sort of banking on that right now. Look for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to break out this season too. Remember this when the Nets are still fighting for the playoffs come March.
Charlotte Hornets: After a tough year dealing with injuries, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will be a borderline All-Star this year. The time off has allowed him to completely re-work his offensive game, namely his jump shot. If that’s on point now, there are no holes in MKG’s game. He’s already a terrific defender who rebounds well and is a terrific transition player. Fantasy owners who got this guy in late rounds this year will be thrilled with how he performs.
Chicago Bulls: The team with the lowest three point percentage with a minimum of at least 300 attempts are the 86-87 Los Angeles Clippers. I’m not saying Chicago will break that record, but they’ll sure give it their best (worst) effort.
Cleveland Cavaliers: I’m picking the Cavs to repeat this season. I believe in LeBron James more than I believe in any other super team being built out there. James has no monkeys on his back for the first time in his career and will put up monster stats because of it.
Dallas Mavericks: People have been hating on Harrison Barnes all summer, so much so that they seem think he’s not a competent NBA player anymore. Barnes will have a nice season for Dallas and surpass expectations. I can see a line of 17 points per game, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists on the horizon. The Black Falcon will fly once more!
Denver Nuggets: Come mid-season, Denver will explore trading Emmanuel Mudiay for some good assets. He’s a perfectly fine point guard with oodles of potential but with Jamal Murray coming in, it makes for an awkward situation. Both should ideally be playing the 1 and I think Murray will be better from day one so it’s going to force Denver’s hand. Sacramento could use an actual point guard; maybe look there.
Detroit Pistons: Stan Van Gundy is going to win himself the Coach of the Year award when he guides Detroit to a top four finish in the East. All of this will happen despite injury concerns from Reggie Jackson who will miss time. Van Gundy knows how to work with star big men and has assembled a team fit to surround Andre Drummond. This will be his third year with the team, so his vision should start to come together. The Pistons will be a very good team this year.
Golden State Warriors: Is it bold to say that the Warriors won’t win the championship this year like everyone seems to be predicting? Not bold enough? How about this: the Warriors won’t even make it to the Finals this year!
Houston Rockets: They’re playoff bound. A first round exit sure, but playoff bound nonetheless. The entire reason for that is James Harden. He is going to have an individual season for the ages. A lot of attention has been directed at Russell Westbrook, and for good reason. That said, if anyone can duplicate Kobe Bryant’s 2005-06 where he carried a terrible Lakers squad to the playoffs by putting up 35 each night, it’s Harden. He makes Houston a staple on my League Pass “must watch list” by himself.
Indiana Pacers: Two of the three teams who took part in the Jeff Teague deal will regret it. Atlanta was the first one, Indiana is the second. Teague is a good starting point guard but he doesn’t really fit the mold for the Pacers. The outgoing George Hill was an excellent defender who made open shots and didn’t need the ball too much to impact the game. Teague dominates the ball, distributes fairly well but isn’t a guy you would think of as a spot up shooter. Defensively going from Hill to Teague is a huge downgrade and finding a way to make Teague and Ellis work together in the frontcourt is going to be nightmarish.
Los Angeles Clippers: This will be the last year that this core is given the chance to win a ring. If they fail again, which they will, expect Blake Griffin to be shipped out. Chris Paul might also be dangled around considering he isn’t getting any younger. So enjoy your team, Clippers fans, because it’s about to get blown up. Everyone knows you’re really just Lakers fans in disguise.
Los Angeles Lakers: These guys are still going to be really bad, so making any sort of bold prediction is a bit tough. Ingram needs time, Russell will be better but is still learning, Randle is an incomplete project as of now. All of these things are expected. I will say that I think Mozgov will prove to be a pretty good signing. Is he a world beater? No, but in a league that is trending small, he should be able to rack up rebounds and dunks for LA. He might not translate much towards an increase in the W column, but he won’t be a hopeless signing either. Jim Buss has done far dumber things during his tenure with the Lakers.
Memphis Grizzlies: This is the year the wheels fall off and Memphis misses the playoffs. We keep hearing Marc Gasol is healthy but I don’t believe it. He’s on the wrong side of 30 and foot problems just don’t go away for big men. Randolph’s career is starting to wind down and Tony Allen is in his mid-30s. Their best reserve swingman is Vince Carter. I love VC but 2016 is not the time to be relying on the guy for minutes. Do we really think an overpaid Mike Conley and an oft-injured Chandler Parsons is enough to combat all these issues?
Miami Heat: If you want someone who’s going to really break it this year that doesn’t seem to get much talk look no further than Justise Winslow. With Dwyane Wade gone to chuck inopportune threes in Chicago, Winslow should benefit from a lot more minutes. The guy is built in the mold of a Kidd-Gilchrist or Kawhi Leonard. He’s got an impressive motor and just doesn’t quite on defense. Because Miami figures to be mediocre at best, Winslow will get a good amount of shots up per game too. The NBA just isn’t ready for Justise.
Milwaukee Bucks: Good or bad, these guys might be the most watchable team in the NBA in 2016-17. There’s no way not to love Giannis Antetokounmpo as a point guard and the numbers will prove it. Forget Harden and Westbrook, if anyone is going to put up a triple-double average this season, it’s the Greek Freak. He’s going to be riding his true breakout year right into an all-star selection and the key to the city of Milwaukee too. By the way, the bold prediction here is that a team featuring Greg Monroe is the most watchable team in the NBA.
Minnesota Timberwolves: It’s playoff time in Minnesota.Karl-Anthony Towns is going to continue to progress and, with coach Tom Thibodeau in his ear, Andrew Wiggins is going to start making strides towards becoming a lockdown defender. They will also be right up there with Milwaukee in how fun they will be. Do you like dunks? Well then you’ll love watching the playoff-destined Minnesota Timberwolves.
New Orleans Pelicans: With Eric Gordon out of the picture and JRue Holiday dealing with his healing wife (we’re happy to know that the brain surgery went well, Lauren) Tyreke Evans will be the NBA’s Most Improved Player. There will be a lot more touches for him with the absence of the other two, and Evans thrives as a ball handler. Maybe he won’t capture the magic of his rookie season ever again, but you can reasonably expect a very well-rounded statline from Evans. He just needs to realize that he should pass to Anthony Davis as much as possible.
New York Knicks: There’s plenty of ways I could go with this. Lock in my prediction as this: Derrick Rose is done as a basketball player and Brandon Jennings will have completely overtaken his starting role by the all-star break.
Oklahoma City Thunder: No doom and gloom from me. I think the Thunder will be better than many realize and nab themselves a top four finish in the west. If that happens, go ahead and write Russell Westbrook’s name on the MVP trophy right now because he is going to be the entire team. Any given night, NBA fans will be on Russell watch because he is likely to put together some very memorable stat lines.
Orlando Magic: Nikola Vucevic is not going to be in Orlando by the end of the season. He doesn’t fit new coach Frank Vogel’s vision and the rest of the roster seems to be built on defense. Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo will be the guys Vogel will want to roll with as the 4 and 5 because of their defensive prowess and while Vucevic is a lot of things, he is not a very good defender. Many teams would love to have his skillset and it would make a lot of sense for Orlando to cash in while the price is high.
Philadelphia 76ers: Because of their bigs’ injury concerns, Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor are both going to stay in Philly throughout the year. Logic dictates you have to trade one of them but it’s tough to pull the trigger. Noel, Embiid and now Ben Simmons have all had significant injuries, what happens if you send away one of these prized bigs and you lose a few to injury? The team is still going to be bad, so why not keeping “trusting the process” one more year and wait until the summer to make a move?
Phoenix Suns: Make way for the young kids. Phoenix is going to keep Eric Bledsoe, because he’s an absolute stud when healthy, but otherwise they will let their new crop of guys find their sea legs. Tyson Chandler doesn’t even want to be there so he can sit, Brandon Knight won’t be a Sun much longer. Devin Booker and TJ Warren get the keys to the offense and Alex Len, Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss are on deck for big men. It won’t be a winning season, but the Suns blowing up their older guys is much needed, and this is the season it happens.
Portland Trail Blazers: It’s a hard-knock life in Portland this season. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum make for an offensively dynamic backcourt but with added scouting, they are going to get ripped apart on defense. Terry Stotts’ platoon of big men can only remain effective for so long because they honestly aren’t that good. They probably still make the playoffs, but it won’t be any higher than the 7 seed.
Sacramento Kings: Everyone and their mother is expecting them to trade DeMarcus Cousins this season. I am going completely against the grain here. Cousins still has another year left after this one on his contract. He’s an elite big man in a world where that is an extremely hot commodity. Everyone knows he wants out. They aren’t getting anywhere near his value in a trade right now. Cousins still goes out and plays his heart out every night, why not keep him and hope to find a combination of players that work together? They have to trade Rudy Gay, they don’t have to do anything with Cousins just yet. Cousins remains in California’s capital for one more year.
San Antonio Spurs: This gets said every year. It’s been tradition since 2010 or so, but this is the year things start to go south for the Spurs. Hear me out. Tim Duncan’s absence means way more for the team than any stat you can throw at me ever will. His defensive instincts, leadership and calming presence is something no team can get away from missing. Their other roster loss this summer is going to hurt too. No Boris Diaw means you lose one of the best playmaking big men in the NBA. Tony Parker isn’t getting any younger and has never been a traditional passing point guard, so who is going to conduct that end for San Antonio? Kawhi Leonard is a monster but if he has a weakness, it’s that he’s never been one to create for others. We have no indication he can do it at all. The Spurs are a playoff team, but they’re not top four in the west anymore and they sure aren’t true contenders.
Toronto Raptors: With Jared Sullinger out for a while, Bebe Nogueira, once he comes back from his own injury, is going to show he belongs in the NBA. Forget Bruno, he’s never becoming anything of worth in the pros but Bebe has already started to show some of his stuff. He’s long, bouncy and extremely active on the boards. He alters shots and offense, he’s a dunking machine. Once the instincts start catching up to the natural abilities, the Raptors are going to have themselves a really good Biyombo replacement.
Utah Jazz: Welcome to the team I am most excited to see on the court this year. Calling 50+ wins for the Jazz this season. The real bold prediction? THIS will be the team that knocks the Warriors out of the playoffs.
Washington Wizards: If Markieff Morris can stay relatively sane and not do any off the court dumb stuff, he’s having a career season. Catching passes from Wall all season can do wonders for a player’s average and Morris has talent of his own. If the Wizards have any shot at the postseason, it’s going to come from Morris’ emergence as a top option as a stretch-four in the NBA.