YES, I know I’m a day late but who cares, the NBA is back! Finally, the long hiatus is over and meaningful basketball games are underway. I’ll be honest I started to write a generic NBA preview a few days ago and I was struggling to find motivation. So instead I’ve bucked the trend and decided to focus on the 20 biggest questions approaching the new NBA season. Of course, I want to make my playoff/award picks too, so on the off chance I end up being right, I can prove I had it on record at the beginning of the year.
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20 BURNING QUESTIONS
1. Where will Jimmy Butler land?
THE hottest question on everyone’s lips, where will Jimmy Butler go? Clearly, he can’t stay in Minnesota, despite Thibs wanting to keep him on the roster. My guess, Pat Riley finds a way to get Butler to take his talents to South Beach and he signs on for the long-term.
2. How much can Mike Budenholzer improve the Bucks?
MILWAUKEE hasn’t had a ton of success in the 21st century recording 50 wins just once. I really think hiring Mike Budenholzer will change that though with the Bucks a chance to double their 21st century, 50 win tally this year. Coach Bud already has the squad playing at a faster pace and shooting a bunch more three’s and with Giannis expected to make an MVP push 50 wins might be the floor of this Bucks team if everything goes right.
3. Who will be a first-time All-Star?
THE easy pick is to take one of the top-3 rookies from a year ago in Ben Simmons, Donovan Mitchell or Jayson Tatum. My pick comes from an entirely different place though, with Nikola Jokic bound to crack the All-Star rotation this season. A 19-11-6 type of line combined with a few more Denver W’s should get it done.
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4. What can we expect from Markelle Fultz?
PHILLY’S decision to start Markelle Fultz over J.J. Redick is pretty telling considering the rookie year Fultz had. Given the roster’s current construct having a lethal three-point threat like Redick starting with Ben Simmons and Joel Embid looks like the better floor spacing option. I’m sure Brett Brown has some stuff up his sleeve, but how he deploys Fultz will go a long way to determining if the Sixers can really challenge for the NBA title.
5. How quickly can LeBron and the Lakers mesh?
LEBRON’S new supporting cast is full of interesting characters and promising youngsters. Guys like Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram could emerge as great sidekicks for the King, but they will be under pressure to help the Lakers return to glory as soon as they tip off. Certain expectations hover around a LeBron led team and there is a realistic scenario in which the Lakers are left on the outside of the playoff bubble looking in. I have faith this team will find it’s mojo before too long though.
6. Can Tyronn Lue actually coach?
PERSONALLY, this is one of the biggest questions I have for the entire season. His own health issues and LeBron James’ presence led to Tyronn Lue receiving little praise for the 128-77 record he has led the Cavs to during his time in charge (including a 41-20 playoff record). While Lue didn’t have the easiest transition into NBA coaching life, he will now have full, free reign over Cleveland and the next chapter in the franchise. Time to see how good Ty Lue really is at his job.
7. Who will lead the league in scoring?
I picked Anthony Davis to claim his first scoring title this season. With little help around him, Davis will have his hands on the rock as much, if not more than any other player in the league. With a mediocre supporting cast Davis will need to fill it up to keep the Pels in the playoff race, so expect a bunch of eye-popping numbers once again from the Brow.
8. Can the Nuggets stop losing to bad teams?
LAST year Denver came within minutes of a playoff spot before they were forced to watch the postseason action from the sidelines. That loss to the Timberwolves on the final night of the regular season was the final tipping point, but the Nuggets found themselves in that position because of their previous shortcomings. 10 losses to teams under .500 simply isn’t good enough from a team that wants to be a playoff side, especially in the ultra-competitive West.
9. Should the Clippers aim upwards or downwards?
LOSING DeAndre Jordan in free agency and trading away Blake Griffin has left this team searching for its identity and pondering their future blueprint. They have enough decent players to challenge for the postseason and a deep rotation makes up for their lack of a franchise calibre guy. However, they aren’t even in the same conversation as some of the West juggernauts, meaning their postseason would likely be a short 4-5 game trip if they do manage to qualify. Loading up on future picks and investing in the draft to build a future contender might prove to be the smarter route, with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson starting the trend.
10. How does Brad Steven juggle Boston’s rotation?
THERE’S only so many minutes to go around and adding two healthy All-Star’s in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back into the fold gives Stevens a plethora of lineup options. Short, tall, fast, shooters, you name it Stevens has it as his disposal, and while it is a blessing to have so many talented bodies, finding minutes for them all isn’t an easy task. Balancing egos and workload is going to be an ongoing challenge for Boston’s lead man.
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11. Will Marc Gasol and/or Mike Conley get moved?
BOTH Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are on the downward slide of their primes, with the Grit & Grind heroes the last players left from those stellar defensive Memphis lineups. There’s no point looking back at yesteryear and it’s quite obvious that the Grizzlies are moving into the next phase of their franchise’s history. Don’t be surprised if one or both of these Memphis legends are whisked away by a contender.
12. How can the Raptors keep Kawhi in Toronto?
SPEAKING of contenders you would have lost your mind if I told you the Raptors were going to trade DeMar DeRozan after winning a franchise record 59 games at the start of last year. You might have settled down slightly if I told you that Kawhi Leonard was the return, but there is no guarantee the former Spur will stay north of the border beyond this season. An upcoming free agent next summer, the Raptors will be doing everything in their power to keep Leonard in town, starting with contending for the East crown.
13. When will DeMarcus Cousins return?
LET’S be honest it doesn’t matter when Boogie returns because when he does most of us assume it’ll be game over for the rest of the league. If Cousins struggles to get his legs back and mesh into the Dubs system though then another title might not be such a formality. Expected to rejoin the team in early 2019, every minute Cousins can get with his new teammates before the playoffs will be crucial.
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14. Will the new shot clock/offensive rebounding rule have a big impact?
THIS season if a team snares an offensive rebound the shot clock will reset to 14 instead of to a full 24. The new rule is being enforced to try and speed up the game and will no doubt lead to more possessions for teams. It will also lead to fewer second-chance points with teams now facing the prospect of getting a decent shot in half the time they are accustomed to.
15. Did Houston get better, worse, or neither?
I’M leaning towards the worse camp, but they might be very similar to the team they unleashed a season ago. Houston has lost some guys on the defensive side of the ball with Trevor Ariza, Luc Mbah A Moute and retiring assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik, but one could argue they are better equipped offensively with Melo leading the second unit and new faces Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss eager to have an immediate impact.
16. Doncic or Young: who has a better rookie year?
YOU’LL see who my ROY pick is a little further down, but to save you some time I think these two will be 1A and 1B this season. Both Trae Young and Luka Doncic enter the NBA with incredible skill sets, able to both score and distribute with ease. I will be very interested to see if Young can make the most of being Atlanta’s go-to guy or if Doncic can use his better winning position to put forth a more impressive rookie campaign.
17. Which coach NEEDS a good start?
EFFECTIVELY, this question can be rephrased as which coach will get fired first? The obvious pick is Tom Thibodeau who, as you are well aware is in a bit of strife. Hoiberg, Kenny Atkinson and Scott Brook will start to sweat if things don’t fall their way, but my sights are set on the West. Mike Malone, who may have cost Denver a playoff spot last season is coaching for his job this year and anything short of a playoff berth would be a huge failure. Getting off to a slow beginning going say 3-8 or 5-14 could leave the front office with no choice but to let Malone walk.
18. Who is the 2nd best team out East?
WE know Boston is in a class of their own, but I think the #2 seed is up for grabs. Both Toronto and Philadelphia will have plenty to say about it and the likes of Milwaukee and Indiana will stay in the chase for portions of the year. On paper, it’s hard to go past the Sixers, but I personally think they overachieved a bit last year. One thing I can guarantee is it won’t be the Cavs.
19. Who is the 3rd best team out West?
SIMILARLY in the West, we have two giants in the Warriors and Rockets who will likely occupy the top-2 spots in the standings. After that is anybody’s guess. You could argue that the Thunder, Jazz, Lakers, Nuggets, Blazers, Timberwolves, Pelicans and Spurs all have a shot at being the 3-seed and to be honest, your guess is as good as mine right now.
20. Warriors VS. The Field. Who wins?
THE big one, can Dub Nation go back-to-back-to-back? If you were giving me the field against Golden State I’d take the other 29 right now, but not with confidence. We saw the Warriors falter slightly against Houston last year and they could once again find themselves locked in a seven-game bloodbath once the West playoffs commence. Regardless, they’ll probably come out unscathed and canter to another chip. Fuckers.
Rookie of the Year – Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks
DEANDRE Ayton also deserves special recognition along with the aforementioned Luka Doncic as Trae Young’s best competition for this award. He might only shoot 41% from the field and average 3.8 turnovers for the season, but Young will have every opportunity to put up numbers. The narrative is important in NBA award races and if Young can have a few viral shooting nights and dazzle with his passing ability (which is better than his three-point shooting prowess, that’s right I said it), then he could become the first Atlanta Hawk to claim ROY honours.
Coach of the Year – Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics
HONOURABLE mention to Coach Bud and Kerr here but Stevens finally gets the crown this year. I just can’t see a scenario where the Boston Celtics don’t win a bunch of games in the 2018-19 season. They are so deep and Stevens has this group so well drilled that the skies the limit. Claiming close to (or north of) 60 W’s would push Stevens to the top of the pile.
Most Improved Player – Jabari Parker, Chicago Bulls
I was tempted to side with his teammate Zach LaVine for a while, but in the end, I chose Jabari Parker to make a huge jump. While some are out on him, I think he can still be a great scorer, especially if he can string some games together. 20 PPG isn’t out of the question for Parker which would put him in well and truly in the conversation.
Sixth Man – Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors
THIS is a legacy pick with Andre Iguodala having never claimed a 6th man award. Arguably the best bench player over the last 4-5 seasons, Igyy is probably over the hump a bit now and will most likely fail in an effort to put up award-worthy numbers. There are a few other bench sparkplugs (Will Barton, Fred VanVleet Bobby Portis and Rodney Hood) should compete, but Iguodala deserves the honour for his body of work and I’m determined to make it happen.
Defensive Player of the Year – Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
FOR the first time since Kawhi Leonard all the way back in ’15 & ’16, I’m predicting a back-to-back DPOY winner. The defensive player award is the one that tends to see a lot of repeat winners and Gobert managed to be the top defensive dog last year despite playing in just 56 matches. Give him a full season and we can expect Gobert to reclaim his mantle as Utah’s defensive anchor and one of the best players on that side of the ball in the league.
Most Valuable Player – Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
I’M all in on the Giannis Antetokounmpo most valuable player train. James Harden and Russell Westbrook have their MVP awards now, Steph Curry has a few, Kevin Durant won one back in the day and LeBron has enough trophies. Anthony Davis is the seemingly biggest threat to The Greek Freak’s crown as we could see an almost passing of the torch from an MVP perspective. Expect Davis and Giannis to duke it out all season with Milwaukee’s star edging out the Pels big man in the end.
REGULAR SEASON RECORDS
1. Golden State Warriors – 64-18
2. Houston Rockets – 57-25
3. Utah Jazz – 51-31
4. Denver Nuggets – 51-31
5. Oklahoma City Thunder – 51-31
6. Los Angeles Lakers – 49-33
7. San Antonio Spurs – 45-37
8. New Orleans Pelicans – 44-38
9. Minnesota Timberwolves – 42-40
10. Portland Trailblazers – 41-41
11. Dallas Mavericks – 39-43
12. Los Angeles Clippers – 36-46
13. Memphis Grizzlies – 34-48
14. Phoenix Suns – 28-55
15. Sacramento Kings – 26-56
ONCE again we seem set for pandemonium in the West. Playoff spots were hotly contested last year and that will be the case this season as well. As it stands, I have the Timberwolves and Trailblazers dropping out from a season ago with the Lakers and Nuggets taking their spots. Ordering the seeds 3-8 is an almost impossible task but of those teams, I have the most faith in Utah and Denver to crack the top-4.
1. Boston Celtics – 61-21
2. Toronto Raptors – 54-28
3. Milwaukee Bucks – 50-32
4. Philadelphia 76ers – 49-33
5. Indiana Pacers – 46-36
6. Washington Wizards – 44-38
7. Miami Heat – 43-39
8. Detroit Pistons – 40-42
9. Charlotte Hornets – 38-44
10. Cleveland Cavaliers – 33-49
11. Brooklyn Nets – 33-49
12. Orlando Magic – 29-53
13. New York Knicks – 25-57
14. Chicago Bulls – 24-58
15. Atlanta Hawks – 19-53
WHILE playoff spots must be earned out West, the 8th seed in the East is basically a throw away this year. Assuming the top-7 teams I have listed hold their postseason spots a lot of people are asking who will replace the Cavaliers in the playoffs? Detroit is the obvious one, with a healthy Blake Griffin and Reggie Jackson shifting the needle considerably. There’s no certainty they can stay on the court though with an opportunity well and truly up for grabs for the Nets and Hornets. Or the Cavs?
Eastern Conference Finals – Boston vs. Toronto
LAST year I went out on a limb and predicted the Wizards to make the East Finals. I’m not going to be as cavalier in 2019, predicting the top-2 seeds in the conference to be the last two standing. A series win would go a long way to helping Kawhi stay in Toronto, but I think Boston will break their hearts making amends for their Game 7 East Final shortcomings a year ago.
VERDICT: Celtics in 7
Western Conference Finals – Houston vs. Warriors
I’M hoping that this matchup will deliver the similar amount of drama and highlights as last year’s West Finals did, but I have my doubts. The step backwards Houston inevitably takes defensively won’t rear it’s head too much in the regular season but in the playoffs? Expect Durant and Curry to TORCH Houston this time around.
VERDICT: Warriors in 5
NBA Finals – Boston vs. Warriors
SHOCKER. A boring Finals pick doesn’t necessarily mean a boring Finals is in store. Boston has the talent to challenge the Warriors and cause headaches both offensively and defensively. Do any of us really believe that anyone can beat the Warriors though?
VERDICT: Warriors in 5
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