The 2015-16 NBA season wasn’t quite some tumultuous as its NCAA counterpart, however that’s not to say there weren’t a fair share of ups and downs for some teams along the way. Of the sixteen teams that made the bracket this year, five did not return from last year’s playoff scramble and missed the bracket entirely. Not pictured this year: Brooklyn, Washington, Chicago, Milwaukee, and New Orleans. Teams that made it this year that couldn’t even hack it last year are few and far between, but somehow Miami, Charlotte, Indiana, Detroit, and Oklahoma City all rebounded nicely.
It’s been an interesting dynamic all year long, and although records don’t mean anything if you can’t win when it matters, the West seems to be outplaying the East at the higher level teams, but falling towards the middle. The top four teams in the West all have records better or within a game or two of the best two in the East. Teams three through six in the East have the same record, which is better than five through eight in the West. Seven and eight in the East have better records than five through eight in the West. Choosing which half of the league is dominant or more competitive is hard to judge and this year is no different. Should we deem the West more challenging because several of its teams rose to record setting records? Or the East because overall it features the better recorded teams?
The Golden State Warriors are in their prime and still hitting their stride. They’ve had some missteps along the way and hiccups that cost them games they shouldn’t have lost, however they achieved a record-breaking 73 win season with less than ten losses to their name. That’s definitely something, especially coming off a championship win over Cleveland last year. Whether or not they can establish an argument for best team in recent years and possibly all-time remains to be seen. What is clear is they can only go up from here. Let’s look at their 9 losses really quick in perspective, keeping in mind a few came due to the loss of Steph Curry at key times.
Their first was a thirteen point dropped game to the Bucks, their second a twenty-three point reaming from Dallas, and third a two point loss to the Nuggets. The fourth was an eighteen point loss to the Pistons, to which they rebounded mightily with a nearly thirty point win in a championship rematch against Cleveland in the next game. Their fifth loss came as a surprise blowout of thirty-two points from Portland behind Damian Lillard’s 51 points. The sixth loss was a seventeen pointer to Kobe in his farewell to the Warriors, the seventh an eight point contest between Western rival San Antonio, and the eighth was a three point game dropped to Boston. Now, the ninth and final loss came thanks to the Timberwolves who extended their lead to seven points in overtime for the victory. The Warriors have proven that they are great, even if they aren’t infallible or perfect. So theoretically taking out the games they lost by less than ten points, we could’ve been looking at a 77-5 Warriors team.
But enough of that. Let’s look to the future of teams other than the Warriors, Cavaliers, Spurs, and Thunder. Let’s look at the mid-level teams who missed the cut this year but could do great things based on how they played, not fared. And let’s look at the teams who made the cut and could potentially keep doing so for a long while. The Raptors were a strong force to be reckoned with, only one game separating them from Lebron and the number one seed in the East, however I think the true danger in this conference lies in the teams that went 48-34. Excluding the Heat, who seem to dwindle when they can least afford it, I see the Hawks, Celtics, and Hornets doing great things. Particularly those first two teams.
The Hornets never seem to have much luck in the playoffs with their matchups, but give them a few more wins and say a season ending at 50 or more and they could secure a rare third or fourth berth and be on their way to advancing for the first time in a while. Let’s not forget how surprisingly deadly the Celtics have turned out to be these past few years, even if they have been discounted by many lately. I see them improving upon their five seed in the next season. The Hawks have the ability to grow if they choose to do so, but only time will tell which of these two teams is the more dangerous. The Pacers should be a constant if they keep up the work they have put in, but I don’t see them destined for greatness any time soon just yet.
As for those who missed the cut, I think the Bulls and Wizards could definitely do more next year and potentially even reclaim slots in the 2017 playoffs as well. The Bucks have proven to be giantslayers at times, but whether or not this translates into actual success and a winning record remains to be seen as well. I do see them winning 40+ games next year however if they can do this, and maybe getting lucky enough to secure themselves a playoff berth as well. Heading over to the West side, the Clippers look like one of the most dangerous teams I’ve ever seen and recounting their performance this time last year it’s easy to imagine them doing it all over again next year as well. I think they can definitely improve themselves and topple the giants standing above them.
The Mavericks, Grizzlies, and Rockets all got lucky with the cutoff, however the closer they get to batting 500, the closer the get to slipping off the radar of relevance as well. I foresee the Rockets being just clutch enough to nail a seven or eight slot next year, but the other two coming back with less than stellar results, having been replaced along the way. The Jazz came fairly close to relishing their victory and celebrating with a playoff berth, but that one or two games eluded them. I think they could improve to be a 45 win ball club and distance themselves from the pack. I’m also choosing to be optimistic here in saying so, but I foresee the Pelicans and Lakers both rebounding to marginally more successful seasons. Whether this entails playoff runs or not remains entirely to be seen, however the Lakers should win more than 30 games first if they want to even talk, Kobe or no.
So let’s put this all together now. Let’s look at just how dangerous these teams I’ve talked about could be and how they might stack up based on this year’s performance and where they might be able to go in the future.
Danger Rangers Unite
- Clippers: I’ve got to put these guys first. They may have only had the sixth best record in the NBA at a staggering 53 wins, but it’s hard to deny the threat they can pose to dominant teams.
- Raptors: They had the second best record in the East, only one game behind the Cavaliers. And compared to the West they would’ve been a third overall seed in that conference, sitting at fourth in the league in terms of records.
- Celtics: These guys have a real shot at leapfrogging some people to make their way higher up the ladder, tightening the noose on other teams along the way. There’s definitely talent here.
- Thunder: After taking a step back and reevaluating things as they were, the Thunder only improved themselves this year and continued to post their magic numbers and usual rate of success. They’ve got some challenges coming to them but should fare well enough.
- Hawks: These guys are also a really talented bunch and sit within that competitive cluster of teams situated dead center in the East. Whether they can ascend to greatness remains to be seen.
- Hornets/Heat: It’s crazy to put these two teams on the same level after they also both ended up with the same records for the year, especially after the different approaches they took along the way. The Heat started off hot and cooled down while the Hornets forced themselves to heat up. Let’s see who does better next year.
- Wizards: I was pretty shocked that they didn’t take themselves more seriously and do a better job of asserting themselves given their success last year. They batted exactly 500 and it was just a few games shorter than what they needed. I definitely think that’ll be the well-needed kick in the rear to get them going again.
- Bulls: These guys missed the cutoff in the East by one game, somehow slowing down to a crawl in the final few months and letting their mistakes and injuries and troubles pile up on them. Avoiding that, they got a real chance to make things right in the coming year.
- Jazz: They were in the same boat the Bulls were in come time for playoff decisions to be made. They missed that cutoff by one game and I know they’re just tallying all the losses that should’ve been victories because of that. Revenge is best served cold after all.
- Pacers: They’re not as dangerous as they could be and they’re certainly not a team to bust or fold, but they’re still a constant underlying threat if you don’t take them as seriously as you should. There’s a good chance they could be in the playoffs again this time next year as well.
- Bucks: They feasted at times this year when the big boys were foolish enough to not take them seriously. That mistake probably won’t be made so readily the next time around, but then they’ve been battle-tested as well.
- Grizzlies: Despite losing twice to the talented team that is the Warriors and all but ensuring that the Warriors got the place in history they deserve, the Grizzlies are a talented defensive power and that should never be underestimated on the court.
- Mavericks: These guys are like the Pacers of the West. They’re there, and technically although they have the same record they’re a higher seed than the Grizzlies. But they just don’t follow through a lot of times, even though they’ve been a constant in the playoffs before.
- Lakers: Seventeen wins. If this were football I’d imagine that would be quite a good thing, but it’s not. As it was, the Lakers lost more games than twenty-seven teams in the league did. If they’d won 65 games they would’ve had the third highest record in the league. Even with Kobe’s 60 point departure, I see these guys surviving and injecting themselves with some fresh blood. They’re not the worst, even after a year like this.
- Rockets: These guys just barely made the playoffs and I do mean just barely. And now they’re looking at another near blowout by the Warriors for the second consecutive year in the playoffs. Just like Harden and his turnovers, the Rockets are due for a crash landing soon.
Now, that’s half the league I’ve covered here. So just where exactly do the other fifteen teams fall into the mix? Well I’m glad you asked (or wondered, or didn’t- whatever you’re getting told anyways). Here’s about where I see people next year.
All the Danger Rangers United
- Spurs | 60+ Wins | Guess: 65 | This Year: 67 | -2
- Warriors | 60+ Wins | Guess: 64 | This Year: 73 | -9
- Cavaliers | 55 Wins | Guess: 55 | This Year: 57 | -2
- Clippers | 55 Wins | Guess: 55 | This Year: 53 | +2
- Raptors | 50 Wins | Guess: 50 | This Year: 56 | -6
- Celtics | 50 Wins | Guess: 50 | This Year: 48 | +2
- Thunder | 45+ Wins | Guess: 48 | This Year: 55 | -7
- Hawks | 45+ Wins | Guess: 48 | This Year: 48 | +/-
- Trail Blazers | 45+ Wins | Guess: 46 | This Year: 44 | +2
- Hornets | 45+ Wins | Guess: 46 | This Year: 48 | -2
- Heat | 40+ Wins | Guess: 43 | This Year: 48 | -5
- Wizards | 40+ Wins | Guess: 43 | This Year: 41 | +2
- Bulls | 40+ Wins | Guess: 43 | This Year: 42 | +1
- Jazz | 40+ Wins | Guess: 42 | This Year: 40 | +2
- Pacers | 40+ Wins | Guess: 42 | This Year: 45 | -3
- Pistons | 40+ Wins | Guess: 41 | This Year: 44 | -3
- Bucks | 40+ Wins | Guess: 41 | This Year: 33 | +8
- Grizzlies | 40+ Wins | Guess: 41 | This Year: 42 | -1
- Mavericks | 40 Wins | Guess: 40 | This Year: 42 | -2
- Magic | 40 Wins | Guess: 40 | This Year: 35 | +5
- Nets | 35+ Wins | Guess: 37 | This Year: 21 | +16
- Lakers | 30+ Wins | Guess: 34 | This Year: 17 | +17
- Rockets | 30+ Wins | Guess: 32 | This Year: 41 | -9
- Pelicans | 30 Wins | Guess: 30 | This Year: 30 | +/-
- Knicks | 30 Wins | Guess: 30 | This Year: 32 | -2
- Kings | 30 Wins | Guess: 30 | This Year: 33 | -3
- Nuggets | 25+ Wins | Guess: 28 | This Year: 33 | -5
- Timberwolves | 25+ Wins | Guess: 27 | This Year: 29 | -2
- Suns | 20 Wins | Guess: 20 | This Year: 23 | -3
- 76ers | 15+ Wins | Guess: 17 | This Year: 10 | +7