With the 2017-18 NBA regular season officially over and the postseason beginning today, the TECKnical Foul crew reflects on everything that went down. From the biggest surprises to the most petty moments, they cover it all.
1. Biggest surprises of the 2017-18 NBA season?
Tim: The rise of the Utah Jazz was crazy to watch. My assumption, like many others, before the season was that they really didn’t have anyone to consistently get buckets or takeover the game when needed. Sure the defense was there, but that was it. Them starting the season 18-26 was really not surprising but finishing the season 30-8 truly was shocking. The return of Rudy Gobert and ascension of Donovan Mitchell, paired with Ricky Rubio’s improvement helped this hard nosed team finish the season strong. The Memphis Grizzlies imploding was pretty hard to watch: from the injuries to David Fizdale being fired to the most exciting player being Tyreke Evans (wild, I know). One more big surprise was the Los Angeles Clippers trading the face of their franchise, Blake Griffin. Most people thought LA was blowing their team up but they kept every other piece so the whole situation threw me for a loop.
Eric: I thought that the Indiana Pacers would be one of the worst teams in the league coming into the year and they wound up being in contention for a top four seed in the East all the way up until the last week of the season. I’m still not sold on them long term but Victor Oladipo has been a revelation. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if they got swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers and wound up in the lottery after next season.
Camille: Who saw Donovan Mitchell and the Utah Jazz coming on like this?! I know that I didn’t. Going into the season, I thought that the Jazz were through. They lost some key players while it appeared that the competition around them got stronger. I thought Mitchell would have a great rookie campaign but I didn’t foresee him becoming the engine to make the Jazz go. Gobert and Mitchell stepped up and took lead them to a fifth place in the West. Amazing.
Ken: What surprised me the most was the Boston Celtics and their rollercoaster season. People had such high hopes for them this season after picking up Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, but Hayward experienced a gruesome ankle injury just five minutes into the first game of the season. Some people figured that their season was over before it even began, and they got off to an 0-2 start. Kyrie Irving stepped up as the team leader and they started winning like crazy but then he got hurt too. Injuries became a theme for the Celtics this year. Even will all of these injuries, the Celtics were able to pull off a great season with a 55-27 record and the 2 seed in the East. Even with all of the injuries, a first-round playoff loss would be deemed a failure for this team.
2. Biggest disappointments of the 2017-18 NBA season?
Tim: Got to go with the Charlotte Hornets and the Milwaukee Bucks. Before the season started, I had pretty high aspirations for both teams. Last season the Bucks were humbled in the playoffs by the Raptors but they showed a ton of promise so I expected them to take another leap this season. WRONG! Even with the same nucleus of players (which should’ve helped chemistry) this team struggled to maintain any form of consistency, fired its head coach, and barely stayed afloat in the hunt for the playoffs. Oddly enough...these sentiments also apply to the Hornets to the tee. The amount of talent on that team led by Kemba Walker left a lot to be desired.
Eric: The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Milwaukee Bucks. The Cavaliers almost ran away with the distinction of biggest disappointment prior to the Trade Deadline but they were able to make some stabilizing moves and right the ship enough that I still have them as a *slight* favorite to win the East. The Bucks have been wildly inconsistent and frustrating all season. They can play up or down to any team in the league. The only silver lining is that they fired Jason Kidd in January so they’ll have a new coach next season (apologies to Joe Prunty).
Camille: While injuries are a part of the game, it feels like they were so unforgiving this year. The two guys that I want to highlight had injuries that prematurely ended their seasons and could change the trajectory of their careers: Gordon Hayward and DeMarcus Cousins. Hayward’s injury during the FIRST few minutes of the FIRST game of the NBA season was hard to watch and disappointing to see. Cousins was having one hell of a season before an achilles injury robbed him of the first chance to finally play some postseason basketball. That’s right: since being drafted in 2010, Cousins has never played in the postseason. I felt extremely bad for both guys and hope that both return stronger than ever (also want to shoutout Isaiah Thomas...get well soon).
Ken: I’m with Camille, it’s got to be all of the injuries across the NBA. In addition to the two players she named, we also saw significant injuries derail Kawhi Leonard, Mike Conley, Markelle Fultz, Kristaps Porzingis, John Wall, Kyrie Irving, Paul Millsap, Kevin Love, Isaiah Thomas, Chris Paul, and Steph Curry. The injury bug definitely ran rampant this year and it altered the season a lot, leaving a lot of fans wondering what could’ve been. Maybe the NBA should think about shorting the season to help with the player’s health.
3. How did you do with your postseason predictions?
Tim: I got 12 of 16 possible playoff teams right, six teams in each conference. My picks of the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers were close to making it though! Especially the Nuggets who lost a “play-in game” on the last day of the season. In the East, The Detroit Pistons and the Charlotte Hornets were two of my picks to make it in the East...that didn’t work out at all.
Eric: My seeds were hella wrong but I correctly predicted 14 out of the 16 playoff teams. The two teams that I missed on were the New Orleans Pelicans and the Indiana Pacers—by a mile; I had the Los Angeles Clippers (good call) and the Charlotte Hornets (bad call) in their place.
Camille: Correctly predicting 13 out of 16 playoff teams is pretty good in my book. Going into the season, I thought that the Charlotte Hornets would be a playoff team in the East but the Indiana Pacers had something to say about that. In the West, I thought that both the Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets would be playoff teams over the New Orleans Pelicans and the Utah Jazz but I was wrong there too. Both squads came close (especially Denver) but they just didn’t have enough to make it this year.
Ken: Well let me just say this...my postseason predictions were pretty good! Not great, but good. In the East I only missed the Indiana Pacers making it in over the Charlotte Hornets. In the West, I had every team correct except for one—I thought that the Los Angeles Clippers would be a playoff team. The Utah Jazz made it to the playoffs instead of the Clippers, but I can live with my predictions.
4. How will the postseason unfold?
Tim: Hot take alert: The Cleveland Cavaliers will not make it to the Eastern Conference Finals and neither the Houston Rockets nor the Golden State Warriors will make it to the Western Conference Finals. The Cavaliers don’t play defense well enough to make it and this team doesn’t have as much playoff experience as previous teams. The West is crazy talented, the Warriors are hurting bad, and I don’t trust the Rockets. I have the San Antonio Spurs over the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference Finals and the Toronto Raptors over the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Raptors beat the Spurs to win it all.
Eric: I’ve got the Cleveland Cavaliers beating the Philadelphia 76ers to win the East and the Golden State Warriors beating the Houston Rockets to win the West. I was *this* close to picking Houston over Golden State but I just couldn’t do it. I can easily see that series going seven games though. Warriors in six in the NBA Finals. BONUS: I think we’ll see at least three first round upsets.
Camille: I have absolutely no idea and that makes me even more excited for playoff basketball! I’m going to guess that the Western Conference Finals will be the Houston Rockets beating the Golden State Warriors and the Eastern Conference Finals will be the Toronto Raptors beating the Milwaukee Bucks. And before you say ANYTHING about me having the Bucks gong this far...yes, this is a rare moment of my fandom getting the best of me. Just let me have this moment of extreme optimism no matter how unlikely that scenario may be (and trust me, I know it's not probable). Fandom and jokes aside, my NBA Finals prediction is that the Houston Rockets will defeat the Toronto Raptors.
Ken: I believe that the postseason will unfold like this...
First Round: Rockets sweep the Timberwolves, the Warriors complete a gentleman's sweep over the Spurs, the Trail Blazers beat the Pelicans in seven, and the Thunder beats Jazz in seven. Head to the East and I see the Raptors sweeping the Wizards, “Bucks in six” over the Celtics, the 76ers get the Heat out of here in a gentleman’s sweep, and the Cavaliers beat the Pacers in six.
Conference Semifinals: In the West, I see gentleman sweeps for both matchups (Rockets over the Thunder and Warriors over the Trail Blazers). In the East, I got the Raptors over the Cavaliers in seven and the 76ers sending the Bucks home in five. Conference Finals: Both matchups will be seven game series with the 76ers over the Raptors and the Rockets over the Warriors.
NBA Finals will see the Rockets become the NBA Champions over the 76ers in six. You read it here first.
5. Who would you pick to win the end of season awards?
Coach of the Year
Tim: Mike D'Antoni, Houston Rockets. People thought that I was crazy when I had him in my #TECKTop5 best current coaches but he deserves it. The ability to get superstars to come together and play well is an amazingly difficult trait due to player’s egos. Houston is on another level right now and their coach is a big reason why.
Eric: Dwane Casey, Toronto Raptors. He just nudged out Quin Snyder and Brad Stevens, but his ability to completely revamp his team’s identity was amazing.
Camille: Quin Snyder, Utah Jazz. There are honestly a few deserving candidates for Coach of the Year (Casey, Popovich, Stevens) so I wouldn’t be mad if Snyder didn’t win the award. I just think what he’s done with this Utah team has been amazing.
Ken: Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics. Like I said above, the work he was able to do with such a depleted team speaks volumes as to what great coaching can do.
Sixth Man of the Year
Tim: Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers. BAKED CHICKEN!! EASY MONEY!! He played in 79 total games, started 19, and he averaged 22 points per game. He went on an absolute tear this season and even had a 50 point game. The man can flat out score and would have given any bench in the league a tremendous boost.
Eric: Lou Williams. He was damn near an All-Star. Case closed.
Camille: Lou Williams. As Eric said, he was almost an All-Star this year...there’s no competition here.
Ken: Lou Williams. Just check the numbers: 22.6 points per game, 2.5 rebounds, and 5.3 assists.
Defensive Player of the Year
Tim: Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz. Although he missed too many games in my opinion, he was absolutely the best defensive player during this injury riddled season. I’d round it out with Jrue Holiday, Robert Covington, Joel Embiid and Anthony Davis.
Eric: Rudy Gobert. Joel Embiid, Anthony Davis and Giannis Antetokounmpo rounded out my ballot.
Camille: Rudy Gobert. Even though he missed over a fourth of this season, the way he affects the game defensively is nearly unmatched. He’s a key reason that the Utah Jazz have the best defense in the West (and second best in the entire NBA).
Ken: Rudy Gobert. The Jazz finished the season strong once Gobert returned from injury.
Most Improved Player
Tim: Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers. He has improved in virtually every stat category from last season and is easily the best player on the 5th seeded Pacers. This season he established himself as one of the best perimeter players in the league.
Eric: Victor Oladipo. I would be shocked if this wasn’t unanimous.
Camille: Victor Oladipo. Another category where I feel that there’s honestly no competition. When the Indiana Pacers traded Paul George to the Thunder for Domantas Sabonis and Oladipo, we thought that the Pacers got fleeced. Instead, the Pacers got a young All-Star that helped lead the team fast past all expectations.
Ken: Victor Oladipo. Last year, his per game numbers were 15.9 points, 2.6 assists, and 4.3 rebounds. This year, he averaged 23.9 points, 4.3 assists, and 5.2 rebounds per game while becoming an All-Star.
Rookie of the Year
Tim: Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz. I would have said Simmons but he’s technically in his second year and has been around a professional team with the coaches, players and staff for a full season. Donovan Mitchell—whom I predicted would be the winner before season start—was phenomenal. During his FIRST season in the NBA, he has helped the Utah Jazz become the 5th seed in the West and one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. Need him to take over and score? No problem. Need him to play great defense on the league's top guards? No problem. Want to give him the reigns of your 18-26 team and see what happens? NO PROBLEM!
Eric: Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers. Donovan Mitchell was my favorite prospect in the draft (CHECK THE TAPE!) but even I was surprised by how good he was in his rookie season. Both he and Simmons had outstanding years but Simmons is already one of the top defenders in the league so that gave him the edge over Mitchell.
Camille: Ben Simmons. It SHOULD be Donovan Mitchell but Simmons put up numbers across the board and that’ll probably give him the edge with voters. I don’t think Simmons is the right choice, but oh well. Plus, if he loses...76ers fans will lose their f’n minds.
Ken: Ben Simmons. Crazy numbers. Even though he is not a “true rookie,” the NBA classifies him as one so that’s just how it is. Donovan Mitchell would’ve won this award if Ben Simmons played last year, but that's just how the cookie crumbles.
Most Valuable Player
Tim: James Harden, Houston Rockets. Harden led the league in scoring and led his team to the best record in the NBA while became virtually unstoppable on the offensive end. This season, he averaged 8.8 assists per game while increasing his points per game, field goal percentage, steals, blocks and assists to turnover ratio from last season. He clearly makes the players around him better and has been a marvel to watch this season.
Eric: James Harden. I think that this has been Harden’s award to lose since the first month of the season. LeBron James made a late push but his complete lack of defense (Harden at least tried) taints his candidacy.
Camille: James Harden. Do you know how many 60 plus win seasons the Rockets have? One, and that’s because of this year’s team going 65-17. Harden has the stats and team success to grab MVP this year.
Ken: James Harden. I know that some people would probably choose Lebron James or even Russell Westbrook, but I chose Harden because he never let up this season. He made everyone around him better, actually played defense, and orchestrated the offense. This is just his time and he deserves it.
6. BONUS: What was the most petty moment of this season?
Tim: The most petty moment of the season has to be everything that happened with the Paul Pierce jersey retirement; nothing worked out for Pierce. First there was him getting mad about a possible Isaiah Thomas tribute video on the same night. Then on the day of his jersey retirement, the Celtics got absolutely blasted and the cameras kept panning to him to see his reactions. I thought it was great for TV but I felt kind of bad for him. Kind of.
Eric: J.R. Smith throwing soup at his coach. Granted, it was Damon Jones (and who doesn’t want to throw things at that guy), but that was absolutely insane and it spawned a bunch of memes on NBA Twitter. I wanted to go with the Los Angeles Clippers-Houston Rockets tunnel fight but the facts of the situation ruined all the jokes.
Camille: From J.R. Smith throwing soup at coaches to Eric Bledsoe tweeting “I don’t wanna be here,” to LeBron James calling Donald Trump a “bum,” there are so many great petty moments to choose from. Like Eric, I was REALLY close to choosing the Clippers-Rockets tunnel fight but I’m going to have to go with Kevin Durant having burner Twitter accounts. He legit catfished fans to defend himself while putting down his former teammates in the process. Pet-tea.
Ken: Most petty moment of the year goes to J.R. Smith. Who the hell throws hot soup on somebody? You have to be a different type of crazy to do something like that. Runner up is Ray Allen trying to spill on the tea on his old team mates in a new book. Let us also not forget how he got caught up sexting while he has a whole wife at home.