Professional sports are always quite unpredictable, with the NBA taking the cake, where one move can make or break a season, and one season can make a superstar. As we are most of the way through the 2016-17 season, we feel like we can make a few, educated predictions about what will happen throughout the bookend of the season and into the offseason, which so often defines what we see throughout the year.

Who will win Rookie of the Year? Who will end up making the playoffs and who will barely miss the postseason? In a year filled with multiple MVP candidates, who will come out on top as the league’s best player? Will we see a three-peat in the NBA Finals? All these questions answered and more, so read on to find out just how we think this season will end.

15. Embiid Wins The Rookie of the Year In A Shortened Season

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Although Ben Simmons looks like a star (despite not playing an NBA game yet) at the number one pick, the 2016 draft looks fairly weak, with no one having a season of note, leaving the Rookie of the Year potentially to a man who was drafted two years ago. Joel Embiid started this year playing limited minutes, and with Simmons already missing from the team, the Sixers were playing it conservatively, not wanting their star big man to get hurt, but as the season went on and Embiid showed more poise and maturity, they became lenient with their limit. In the end, it cost them, with Embiid going down to a season-ending injury. Despite playing less than half the season however, he will still take the Rookie of the Year, as no one else even came close to matching his output and his general impact on the league.

14. Boogie And The Brow Figure It Out… But Miss The Playoffs

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Pelicans just recently acquired DeMarcus Cousins from the Kings in a very good trade for the team, and looking at two such talented big men together has understandably got the New Orleans fanbase excited, but it also calls for some questions. How will the two work together? How will Cousins’ combustive personality fit? How will he handle being on a winning team? These may not be answered straight away, but by the end of the current season, we should know whether Cousins and Davis can work together, and so far it looks like on the court they are a perfect match, as they have been dominating together. Unfortunately, it’s a little too late for this current season, but if the team can restock with some good pieces around the two (which shouldn’t be hard, as shooters should be lining up to play with these guys), they should be in for a successful run beginning next year.

13. Denver Finally Arrives

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In a tough Western Conference that has featured the rise of the Utah Jazz, not to mention the dominance of the top four teams, the talent and potential of the Denver Nuggets has gone tremendously under the radar. With the young talent scattered all through the team from Nikola Jokic to Emmanuel Mudiay to Jamal Murray, this team may just sneak into the eighth seed this year, and if they can potentially lure a talented free agent in the offseason, they could be a major threat out West next year. As it stands, they look to be matched up against either San Antonio or Golden State in the first round this year, so they may not make much noise, but mark my words, this Denver Nuggets team will be a force to be reckoned with in the coming years.

12. Lonzo Ball Becomes A Hometown Laker

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Lonzo Ball from UCLA has been talked about almost as much as any NBA player this year, and that not may be a good thing as his father has been very outspoken about his oldest son’s ability and earning potential. Regardless, he remains one of the top prospects in the upcoming drafts. As a talented guard with the ability to do everything on the court, there are many teams lining up to draft him, but with limited top end prospects around him, he will no doubt be a top five pick, if not number one. The Sixers, Celtics and Lakers will all no doubt be in play for him, but after growing up in LA and attending UCLA (just like his two brothers have committed to do), there is only one logical destination, and if Magic Johnson wants to make an impact on the Lakers, he will keep Ball in Los Angeles.

11. Mass Exodus From The Clippers

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The Clippers have been on the precipice for the past few seasons, but after another injury- riddled season from Chris Paul, a lack of overall success and other teams in the West improving, it may be time that the Clippers current run with their big three comes to an end. DeAndre Jordan signed a huge contract in this past offseason, so he will be staying it out unless they decide to trade him, but with Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and J.J Redick all off the books at the end of the year, we may see them all head for greener pastures. Two of those will be mentioned later in the article, and it’s sad to see the lack of success that this team had, but after several years together and no deep playoff runs, it’s time for those guys to seek success elsewhere, as none of them are getting any younger.

10. The Knicks Finally Move Carmelo Anthony

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The Knicks tried desperately during the trade period to deal their biggest star, Carmelo Anthony, much to the dismay of the majority of Knicks fans, further alienating Phil Jackson from these longtime, loyal fans. This didn’t happen, and NBA fans worldwide gained much respect for Melo and the way he handled himself during this time, and for having the loyalty that so many athletes today don’t possess, but eventually, the Knicks will find a trade partner and the chance at a ring will be too much for him to pass up. Whether it’s the Cavaliers and the Kevin Love trade that was proposed before the deadline or a trade with another fringe contender like the Raptors, we probably won’t see Melo in a Knicks uniform to start the 2017-18 season.

9. Isaiah Thomas Leads The Celtics To The Eastern Conference Finals

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Standing at under 6 feet tall and being drafted with the last pick in the 2009 draft, not much was expected of Isaiah Thomas, but after less eventful stints in Phoenix and Sacramento, he has gone to Boston and become a legitimate MVP candidate, leading the Celtics back into a strong playoff position for the first time in a few years. There is definitely limitations on this young Celtics team however, as they have struggled on offense outside of IT and Al Horford, but with draft picks and plenty of cap room, they are poised to break out as a dominant side in the next few years. They are still in a good position this year however, and one should expect them to take it as far as they can. To me, that means all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals to take on the Wizards or the Cavaliers, giving this team confidence as they move forward looking to make major roster moves.

8. Russ Gets Some Help In OKC

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Ever since Kevin Durant left for the Golden State Warriors, all eyes have been on number 0 as he looked to prove that he was one of the best players in the league, and with a historic season, he has done just that with virtually no help around him. Sure, he has Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo, but their offensive inconsistencies and lack of ability to create for themselves has forced Westbrook to virtually play one-on-five every night in an incredibly tough and deep Western Conference. It shouldn’t be hard for the Thunder to lure in a free agent to play alongside Westbrook, and they might have found their perfect target in Blake Griffin, as he is exactly what they need to contend. With incredible athleticism, great offensive talent both in transition and with his back to the basket, Griffin would be perfect to slot into the lineup alongside Westbrook.

7. New Orleans Brings Back CP3

via sportsteamhistory.com

When the Pelicans acquired DeMarcus Cousins recently, fans immediately thought they would be a dominant force in the West, but without adequate help, they may struggle in 2017 just as they have so far this season. This could come in the form of the team”s former Rookie of the Year, Chris Paul, as his veteran leadership could be the perfect addition to the young core, and could control the unbelievably talented twin towers down low. Of course they would need to add some more pieces, with a playmaker off the bench and an all-round talented small forward to take the pressure off the star players. We don’t know if they could compete with elite teams like the Rockets, Warriors or Spurs, but an addition like Chris Paul would definitely be a huge step in the right direction.

6. Boston Takes The Next step

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Ever since they got rid of the big three that brought them their latest Championship, Boston have struggled to break out of their mediocrity, but with a star point guard in Isaiah Thomas, they now find themselves back at the top of the East, yet still have a plethora of cap space and draft picks to work with to continue building for their future. The team still has a chance to draft the highly touted Lonzo Ball, but I believe their best course of action would be to go out and acquire a superstar to go alongside IT and Al Horford, and this could be current Jazz forward Gordon Hayward. The team has already exceeded expectations under Brad Stevens in 2016, but if they were to make this move, they could be considered favorites to represent the East in the finals next season.

5. Houston Gives Golden State All They Can Handle

Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Ever since 2014 when Steph Curry led the Warriors to the NBA finals, they have been on the most dominant stretch in recent NBA memory, and that was all before they acquired a top five, former MVP player in Kevin Durant this past offseason. That gave the team a different but for the most part better dynamic, but ever since KD went down with an injury, the team has struggled, and they’ve been overtaken by the Spurs. The Spurs are a great team, but they won’t be the ones to defeat the Warriors. If there’s any team out West can do so, it’s the high-powered offense of the Houston Rockets. Led by James Harden and their three-point-happy offense, this seems to be the way that the Western Conference Finals will turn out. When Durant returns to the lineup, no one will be able to defeat Golden State, but this will be a barnstormer of a seven game series.

4. Russell Westbrook Finishes With A Historic 40 Triple-Doubles

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret to any basketball fan that Russell Westbrook is having an absolutely historic season, but when you consider just how amazing his year is, you really appreciate the work he is doing with limited help around him. As of writing, he is currently sitting at 32, and in second place all time in single season triple-doubles, making his season almost unmatched. Sure, people will comment on his inefficiency and the fact that he turns the ball over so much, but with limited support around him, his season becomes even more impressive. No one will match Oscar Robertson for single season Triple-Doubles, but Westbrook has had an unbelievable season regardless, and he brings back memories of players of old who play very hard and have a great, competitive attitude towards the game.

3. The Wizards Dethrone The King

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

For the past six years, LeBron James, whether it be as a member of the Heat or his current Cavaliers, has reigned supreme in the much weaker Eastern conference, but in 2016-17, the competition has begun to present itself in the form of the Celtics and Wizards. With the struggles of the Cavs, their dethroning could come much quicker than expected, as the young Washington team will take them out in a thrilling seven-game series this year. Many may scoff at this just because the Cavs are currently struggling while the Wizards have been surging for the past few months, but the youth and depth of the Wizards led by John Wall and Bradley Beal have the talent and mentality to take out the Cavs.

2. Westbrook Averages A Triple-Double But Misses Out On MVP

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve spoken at length about the drama that Russ has had to endure throughout the off-season and the NBA year, but it really can’t be understated just what a historic year he is having on the court, with only Oscar Robertson even coming close to matching the jaw-dropping triple-double numbers he has put up this year. Although we’ve seen him put up triple-double after triple-double, there has often been a question mark over his ability to average a triple-double in points/rebounds/assists, but as the season winds to a close, it’s obvious that he will do it, and do it with impressive ease. He will average over 30 points a game as well as close to 11 rebounds and assists per outing, and although he may not win the coveted MVP, Russ has had a season that will long be remembered in the annals of NBA history.

1. James Harden Wins MVP

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Ever since 2017 began, the MVP has been virtually a two-man race. But as the season winds down, with Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook having all had fantastic seasons, there is really no question who the MVP should be. James Harden may not match the defense or all around play of Leonard or James, and he may not have had the triple-double numbers like Westbrook, but he has been a consistently brilliant leader for a team who lacks other stars, and may finish in the top three in a very tough Western Conference. You could make a case for all four of these guys to be given MVP, but at the end of the day, if you take away Harden’s leadership and pure offensive brilliance from the Rockets, they will definitely struggle. With him on the team, they could be the team to take out Golden State in the West.

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