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Opinion: Predicting the 2015-16 NBA season

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Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) drives to the lane during an exhibition game against the Memphis Grizzles at the Schottenstein Center on Oct. 12. Credit: Muyao Shen / Asst. Photo Editor

The seemingly protracted preseason has ended and the 2015-16 NBA season officially tips off on Tuesday night. There is a lot to look forward to this season, with some highly regarded rookies beginning their NBA careers, superstars returning from injuries and other stars making their debuts with new franchises.

Here are some predictions for the upcoming NBA season:

Eastern Conference champion: Cleveland Cavaliers

The Eastern Conference has improved some since last year, but I do not see a team capable of beating LeBron James and the Cavaliers in a four-game series. I think the Miami Heat will be their toughest test with an appealing starting lineup of Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside, along with two of the most underrated free agent pickups to bolster their bench in Gerald Green and Amar’e Stoudemire. The Cavs should prevail, but not without a little competition.

Western Conference champion: Oklahoma City Thunder

There are so many good teams in the Western Conference that the title will be up for grabs among at least five franchises. No team had as big of an addition as the San Antonio Spurs did with their signing of LaMarcus Aldridge. Other teams like the Los Angeles Clippers trading for Lance Stephenson and the Houston Rockets acquiring Ty Lawson improved their benches. I believe the defending champion Golden State Warriors with their guard play and the Spurs adding another offensive threat in Aldridge, who will not be a ball stopper in coach Gregg Popovich’s system, will be the Thunder’s toughest competition.

NBA champion: Cleveland Cavaliers

The NBA Finals could be impacted by health, much like last season with many stars falling victim to season-ending injuries. If James has Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love at his side on the court — instead of on the sideline like last season— this year, offense will be created at a much higher efficiency with more spacing for James to navigate and create shots for his teammates.

MVP: Russell Westbrook

Kevin Durant has been regarded as the top player on Oklahoma City ever since Russell Westbrook has entered the league. I think that opinion will change this year, as Westbrook will overtake Durant as the lead man on the Thunder. Westbrook has the ability to finish and/or draw a foul at the rim due to his strength and athleticism, and he has mastered the pull-up jumper at the elbow.

All-NBA First Team: (G) Stephen Curry, (G) Russell Westbrook, (F) LeBron James, (F) Blake Griffin, (C) Anthony Davis

Even though Westbrook is the MVP, he is not the best player in the league. That title still belongs to James. Look for the reigning MVP Stephen Curry, James, and my newly predicted MVP to be joined by the two best big men in the league on the All-NBA team: Blake Griffin and Anthony Davis.

Rookie of the Year: D’Angelo Russell

Shots could be hard to come by for D’Angelo Russell this year with scoring guards Kobe Bryant, Lou Williams and Nick Young expecting to play lots of minutes. I still expect Russell to lead all rookies in scoring and create efficient shots for his teammates with the extra spacing the NBA offers, which leads me to believe the former Ohio State Buckeye will be named Rookie of the Year.

Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert

Rudy Gobert is the most underrated player in the NBA, and his defense is the reason why. Once the Utah Jazz traded Enes Kanter and inserted Rudy Gobert into their starting lineup, they quickly became one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. Before the Kanter trade, where Gobert played role minutes, the Jazz were ranked 27th in points allowed per 100 possessions. Once Gobert entered the starting lineup and played starter’s minutes, the Jazz jumped to first in points allowed per 100 possessions. Even if Gobert does not block a shot at the rim, he is able to alter it and rebound at a very high rate.

Sixth Man of the Year: Isaiah Thomas

Even though Thomas does not start with the Boston Celtics, he still plays starter’s minutes because of his scoring ability. The Celtics will rely heavily on Thomas to score from the point guard position, as they did last year.

Most Improved Player: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

Last year, Jimmy Butler won the award with the Chicago Bulls. He increased his scoring from 13.1 points per game to 20.0. This year, I think Caldwell-Pope will have a similar season, as he averaged 12.7 points per game last year with the Detroit Pistons. He has an inconsistent jump shot, but if it improves this year and he combines it with his elite athleticism, he will be this year’s breakout star.

Coach of the Year: Billy Donovan

I believe the rookie coach will be able to mold all of pieces he has with stars Westbrook and Durant to lead his Thunder to one of the best records in the NBA. He has a luxury of big men in Serge Ibaka, Kanter, Steven Adams, Mitch McGary, Nick Collison and Dakari Johnson. His most difficult task will be managing his team’s off-guards’ minutes. Andre Roberson can be an offensive liability, while Anthony Morrow can space the floor but is a defensive liability, and I question whether or not Dion Waiters can successfully fit with this team.

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