Welcome to the 2016-17 NBA season!
Have a seat, grab some refreshments and sit back for another year of insanity. In my preparation for the upcoming season, I couldn't think of a better way to celebrate than with off-the-wall predictions.
So without further ado, here are my bold predictions, ranging from lukewarm to piping hot.
1. Kawhi Leonard will smile more than 20 times this year.
We'll start with an easy one. Over the first five years of his career, Kawhi averaged 5.7 smiles* per season - easily the lowest mark in the league. I'm calling for Kawhi to exceed the 30 smile threshold this year, which is six times more than his normal average.
I know preseason smile metrics** aren't predictive of regular season smile statistics***, but there is reason to believe that Kawhi Leonard will progress toward the NBA smile mean of 45 smiles per season.
For one, he averaged about 1.2 smiles per game this preseason, putting him on a pace for 98 smiles in a 82-game season. And second, as The Ringer's Shea Serrano pointed out, the new iLeonarOS has improved smile functionality. And third, Kawhi's smile efficiency rating (SER) has improved gradually each season, which indicates that a rise in smiles is possible. Now this is the year where he puts everything together -- the laid-back smile, the happy smile, the angry smile, the normal smile and the smirk smile, to name a few -- and delivers a career-best year in smiling.
* smile statistics are unofficial and are not counted by the NBA.
** smile statistics are not a real thing.
*** if you didn't read the first two footnotes, smile statistics don't exist. This is a joke.
2. Kawhi will average more than 25 points per game.
The 25-point threshold would put Kawhi squarely in the top five or six players in scoring. Last season, he set a career-high with 21.2 points. The year before, he set a career-high with 16.5 points. The year before that, Kawhi's 12.8 points per game was a new career-high. You get the picture. Every year Kawhi has made incremental leaps in his offensive game and, at 25 years old, he still hasn't reached his offensive ceiling.
3. Davis Bertans will surpass David Lee in the rotation.
This may not be a #HOTSPORTSTAKE, but Bertans will play more games, more minutes and make more of an impact than David Lee, a 13-year NBA veteran. Bertans makes up for the experience deficit with 3-point range, a quick release and sneaky athleticism. By the end of the season, Lee will be riding the bench more often than not. He can thank Bertans for that.
4. Dejounte Murray will play fewer than 30 NBA games.
Which would be a total, total bummer. Murray, regarded by many as the steal of the 2016 NBA Draft, will be thrust into a Spurs system that doesn't need him to contribute immediately. The point guard rotation is already three-deep without him (Tony Parker, Patty Mills and Nicolas Laprovittola) and Gregg Popovich has historically played the long-game with developing prospects. Cory Joseph, a late first-round selection, only played 29 games in his rookie year. Expect the same treatment for Murray.
5. Spurs fans will dearly miss Boris Diaw - for his on-court production.
Boris was a national treasure and we'll miss him for his cappuccino machine, #AskBoris Twitter sessions, ability to play effective basketball with the body shape of a man who spends each NFLSunday eating chicken wings at Buffalo Wild Wings, his excellent Instagram fee and his whip-smart decision making.
The Spurs will miss his positional/role versatility the most. Kyle Anderson will be tasked with filling the Boris role this year - the jack-of-all-trades, do-it-all type of player -- and he won't come close to replicating his production.
6. Danny Green will lead the NBA in 3-point percentage.
I'm going for bold predictions here, so why not bet on a good 3-point shooter's efficiency to increase? Last season's 33.2 percent mark on 3-pointers is not indicative of Green's ability. I'm buying that he's closer to the shooter in 2011-12 (when he shot 43.6 percent from 3-point range) than he was last year.
7. Gregg Popovich will be nicer to the media this season.
He seems looser in the preseason, but that could very well because it's the preseason and the games don't matter. Or perhaps it's a glimpse of the immediate future. With several rookies on the roster, Popovich will take it easy on the media in the first year AD (After Duncan). After this season, all bets are off.
8. Dewayne Dedmon will be the MVNANNPG.
MVNANNPG: Most Valuable New Addition Not Named Pau Gasol. (I excluded Pau Gasol here, because he's the obvious candidate.)
Among Murray, Bertans, Lapro and Bryn Forbes, Dedmon is flying a bit under the radar for my taste. Dedmon joins the Spurs at the right time -- the frontcourt is thin this year and he's the only reliable backup behind Gasol. Fans will love him for his energy, rim-running and, of course, the dunks.
9. Spurs will finish in the top three in offensive and defensive efficiency.
Two teams finished in the top three in offensive and defensive efficiency last season: Golden State and San Antonio.
I think that'll happen (read: could, maybe, sorta happen) again this season.
Losing Duncan hurts the Spurs' defensive ceiling quite a bit, but having two elite perimeter defenders in Leonard and Danny Green may mitigate the impact a tad. San Antonio is a well-constructed regular season team and a lesser defensive unit could still push its way into the top five, if not the top three. Although the playoffs will be a different story.
10. Spurs will lose (again) to the Clippers in the semifinals.
Look, I think the Spurs will be a fantastic regular season team and a top-three seed in the Western Conference. The playoffs worry me. The first-round shouldn't be a problem, but the potential semifinals matchup against the Clippers isn't ideal. Chris Paul has been a problem the Spurs have never solved, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan can bully the Gasol-Aldridge frontline with brute force and athleticism, and the Clippers can mask its depth with a shorter playoff rotation. San Antonio, top-to-bottom, has more rotation-level players than the Clippers but that advantage doesn't mean much when rely on the top seven players for heavy minutes. Until next season...
11. Pau Gasol will be the star of this year's H-E-B commercials.
There's a few things going for Pau Gasol, entering his first H-E-B commercial season.
- He's the new guy. People like new guys.
- He's likeable.
- He's a professional basketball player, which is important.
- He's a Spurs-y personality already, so the normal H-E-B commercial developmental curve doesn't apply.
12. People will stop tweeting about Tim Duncan retiring by mid-January.
Just kidding. Tim Duncan forever and ever.
13. People will stop tweeting about Pau Gasol's contract.
Yes, Pau Gasol is making a lot of money. He's a professional basketball player - if you needed a reminder after No. 11 - and those dudes get paid a lot of money. By the trade deadline, when Gasol is averaging a respectable a 16-10 and playing semi-inspired defense, fans will appreciate Gasol for what he is, instead of grilling him for what he isn't.
Besides, he signed a two-year contract with a player option after the first year. This isn't a crippling long-term investment by any means.
14. The team will dunk 350 times this season.
The 2015-16 Spurs finished with 206 dunks last season according to Basketball Reference - or about 2.5 per game.
350 dunks for the entire team. Call it the Dedmon effect, the Hopefully-Murray-Plays-Effect and the Kawhi-Leonard-Is-Dope-Effect or whatever you'd like. But there will be more dunks.
15. Four Spurs will post a Player Efficiency Rating over 20.0.
Those four Spurs will be: Kawhi Leonard (nods), LaMarcus Aldridge (thumbs up), Pau Gasol (double thumbs up) and Manu Ginobili (you heard me).
16. Manu Ginobili won't retire after this season.
The writing is on the wall when a 39-year-old player with thousands of minutes in the NBA and at the international level signs a one-year, $14 million contract. This should be his last season. But I'll hold out irrational hope, because I don't want to lose Manu and Duncan in consecutive years.
17. You stopped reading this article after No. 10.
Probably the biggest lock all of my predictions so far. Moving on.
18. Since you're not reading, I can predict absolutely insane things with impunity.
Danny Green will dribble a basketball without hitting his foot.
19. When Pop sits Tony Parker for a random game in January, Mills will attempt 25 shots and score 31 points in a Spurs blowout victory.
And then fans will absolutely call for Tony Parker to be traded and/or benched for the rest of the season. This is a 98 percent lock.
20. This season will be worth watching, even if the Spurs have a "down year."
My prediction: 57-25 record during the regular season, second seed behind the Death Star Warriors, a second-round exit and, most importantly, optimism for the future.
Take off the Spurs shades for a second and let's be real. San Antonio won't beat the Warriors in a playoff series, barring an unforeseen injury or science advancing far enough to allow Popovich to clone Kawhi five times. They might not even beat the Clippers.
Yet this could still be a fun season! There's plenty of interesting things to watch. I'll list a few.
- Dejounte Murray!
- Manu Ginobili's last NBA season.
- Pau Gasol's indoctrination in the Spurs system.
- LaMarcus Aldridge's second-year, and whether he can quell the trade rumblings.
- Kawhi Leonard doing anything.
- Gregg Popovich doing anything.
- The brilliant Pop plan to stop the Warriors that other teams will use in the playoffs.
- Davis Bertans 3-point bombs.
- Dewayne Dedmon dunks.
- David Lee sitting on the bench.
I'll stop there, but you get the point. Yes, the Spurs are always held to championship standards -- and deservedly so, given its impeccable track record -- but it's not reasonable to maintain those high expectations in Year 1 of the Kawhi Leonard Era. San Antonio absolutely has a title chance in a normal NBA season, but this won't be a "normal" NBA season thanks to the Golden State Warriors.
21. Tim Duncan will return mid-season and lead the Spurs to a sixth title.
This isn't a real prediction, but a Spurs fan can dream, right?