WHAT do you do when there’s no basketball for three days? You spend way to much time rehashing your award/playoff picks and give an updated version of course! Every team is nearing a return from the All-Star break as we turn for the corner and hit the home straight of the 2018-19 season. There’s still plenty up for grabs over the next 25 games for each NBA franchise, so with the addition of my All-NBA picks, here are my updated award and playoff choices.
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I haven’t previously given out my All-NBA picks, but we have about two-thirds of the season behind us right now. Below I’ve made my picks for how I think the three teams should pan out by the end of the season, taking all 55-60 games we’ve seen from the players into account.
All-NBA 1st team
G: Steph Curry, Warriors
G: James Harden, Rockets
F: Paul George, Thunder
F: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks
C: Nikola Jokic, Nuggets
YOU can pretty safely lock in the top four spots for the first team without too many arguments. Some may petition for Paul George to be pushed out with Kawhi Leonard or Kevin Durant taking his place, but George’s superior two-way play has him looking like an MVP right now. Nikola Jokic is an interesting one and considering how much heavy lifting he’s doing for a Nuggets team without any other All-Star’s (no offense Jamal Murray), I’ve given him the nod over Joel Embiid. The 76ers behemoth might be a more physical force and a better defender, but Jokic’s transcendent passing and offensive ability makes him first team worthy.
All-NBA 2nd team
G: Damian Lillard, Blazers
G: Russell Westbrook, Thunder
F: Kevin Durant, Warriors
F: Kawhi Leonard, Raptors
C: Joel Embiid, 76ers
THE only one who could move his way into the second team is LeBron in my eyes. Anthony Davis’s season is in jeopardy, the guard spots are shallow and I’ve already illustrated the Embiid situation. Kawhi Leonard seems more likely to fall out over Kevin Durant, purely based on his number of games played. Those two forwards are expected to finish as top-2 seeds in their respective conferences so it would take something special for James to leapfrog either of them.
Image from sports.yahoo.com
All-NBA 3rd team
G: Kyle Lowry, Raptors
G: Kyrie Irving, Celtics
F: LeBron James, Lakers
F: Anthony Davis, Pelicans
C: Rudy Gobert, Jazz
NOW things get interesting. Starting from the bottom and working my way backwards, after his All-Star snub Rudy Gobert gets rewarded over Karl-Anthony Towns. Both dudes have had impressive statistical seasons and KAT may just pounce on the center spot over Gobert. It’s insane to think that LeBron and Anthony Davis could finish on the third All-NBA team’s, but that’s what I’m predicting so far. AD could jump up into the second team over Kawhi if he plays out the season, but there are doubts over how his final 25-ish games will unfold. Should he get shelved, his replacement could be Blake Griffin, who would be the first player picked if we made four All-NBA teams in my eyes.
NOW to the guards, originally I tried to cheat and give Ben Simmons a nod, but due to the position constraints, he misses out. Kyrie Irving deserves one spot and hopefully, he can piece together a strong close to the season. That leaves one place for grabs with Jrue Holiday, Kyle Lowry and Kemba Walker the three lead candidates. I’ll be honest I could be swayed any way and it may come down slightly to what the voters give more weight too. Kemba (great scorer, mediocre record), Jrue (stellar defender, bad record) and Kyle (great record, subpar scorer) all make valid cases, but I’m going to go with Lowry based on his contributions (second most assists in the league at 9.2 per contest) on a dominant Raptors team outside of his PPG average.
On the outside looking in: Kemba Walker (Hornets), Blake Griffin (Pistons), LaMarcus Aldridge (Spurs), Ben Simmons (76ers), Jrue Holiday (Pelicans), Luka Doncic (Mavericks), Karl-Anthony Towns (Timberwolves), Myles Turner (Pacers)
Click here to find all my preseason award/record predictions
Rookie of the Year – Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
Previous pick: Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks
HERE’S something I wrote about Trae Young in my pre-season award predictions:
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.
NOW I don’t like to toot my horn (who am I kidding), but Young’s 40.6 FG% and 3.9 turnovers are almost bang on what I assumed we would see. What I didn’t see coming was Luka Doncic being the second rookie in NBA history to average 20/7/5 – joining the notorious Oscar Robertson. Even if he can’t keep up those lofty numbers, I think we can all agree this is Doncic’s award to lose.
Coach of the Year – Mike Malone, Denver Nuggets
Previous pick: Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics
SHOUTOUT to Mike Budenholzer, but we all expected the Bucks to take another step with him at the helm. The Denver Nuggets however? Not many people would have predicted a 56 win season, which is currently what they’re on track for. As a result, I’m giving Mike Malone a ton of credit, going from the hot seat to the top of the coaching food chain in 2019.
Most Improved Player – Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors
Previous pick: Jabari Parker, Chicago Bulls
THE MIP award is virtually impossible to predict come preseason and in hindsight, I guess I was trying to talk the Jabari Parker pick into existence. After two-thirds of the season done, there’s a pretty clear front runner though, with Pascal Siakam bursting onto the scene for the Raptors. It’s not a foreign concept to see a young player take a step in their development with John Collins, De’Aaron Fox and D’Angelo Russell all in the conversation, but Siakam is quickly becoming a fan favourite in Toronto and his improvement makes him the likely winner for this one.
Sixth Man – Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers
Previous pick: Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors
SHOULDN’T we just pencil Lou Will in for an award W in this category until he retires? Four of the past five seasons either Williams or Jamal Crawford have taken home the Sixth Man of the Year award and there’s no reason why that trend won’t continue – sorry Derrick Rose fans. With Crawford seemingly on his last legs, Williams can tie an NBA record with his third win this season and barring any setbacks, he’ll probably be the favourite to win a fourth one in 2019-20. Even if he’s joined by a superstar forward this summer.
Defensive Player of the Year – Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder
Previous pick: Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
PRESEASON pick Rudy Gobert could still very well take this one out, but I love seeing perimeter players win the Defensive Player of the Year award. No offense to the big men in the middle, but George has routinely had to match up with some of the league’s best scorers in James Harden, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard, coming out on top in multiple matchups. Here’s to hoping the league-leader in steals can hold on.
Most Valuable Player – Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Previous pick: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
I’M sticking to my guns and backing Giannis in to claim this year’s MVP award. I’m well aware of how many points James Harden is averaging, but Antetokounmpo is leading his team to the best record in the league, projected to win over 60 games. Harden, on the other hand, has a shooting percentage lower than the league average and faces an uphill battle to win even 50 games. I know who has my vote.
PRESEASON RECORD PREDICTIONS
1. Milwaukee Bucks – 43-14
2. Toronto Raptors – 43-16
3. Indiana Pacers – 38-20
4. Boston Celtics – 37-21
5. Philadelphia 76ers – 37-21
6. Brooklyn Nets – 30-29
7. Charlotte Hornets – 27-30
8. Detroit Pistons – 26-30
I had the same five teams in the top-5 of the East before the season tipped off, but my order is slightly wonky. Funnily enough, the Milwaukee Bucks are on track to finish the year at 61-21 the exact same record I thought Boston would accumulate to finish atop the conference. At this stage the Raptors and the Pistons are sitting in the exact same spots I predicted, with Brooklyn the highest risers after I guessed a 33-49 season was on the cards.
Image from wfan.radio.com
1. Golden State Warriors – 41-16
2. Denver Nuggets – 39-18
3. Oklahoma City Thunder – 37-20
4. Portland Trailblazers – 34-23
5. Houston Rockets – 33-24
6. Utah Jazz – 32-25
7. San Antonio Spurs – 33-26
8. L.A. Clippers – 32-27
TO no-one’s surprise the Warriors are on track to finish in the same position that I and everyone else predicted; atop the West standings. I had the Nuggets as a 50 win squad and the Spurs are on track to finish exactly where I picked them – as a seven seed with 45 wins. I, for a handful of reasons, had my doubts over the Trailblazers and they are proving me wrong along with the L.A. Clippers, who have taken the place of the Lakers and Pelicans from my slated top-8.
SECOND CHANCE PICKS
1. Milwaukee Bucks – 62-20
2. Toronto Raptors – 56-26
3. Philadelphia 76ers – 53-29
4. Boston Celtics – 52-30
5. Indiana Pacers – 51-31
6. Brooklyn Nets – 41-41
7. Charlotte Hornets – 40-42
8. Detroit Pistons – 39-43
THERE’S every chance that the Miami Heat can take Detroit’s final place in the postseason, but it will barely matter. The rest of the playoff spots are all but locked in and I have faith in Philly/Boston will piecing things together enough to claim homecourt advantage in the first round. Shoutout to the Pacers for outperforming everyone’s expectations right now, but Victor Oladipo’s absence will catch up with them eventually.
1. Golden State Warriors – 59-23
2. Oklahoma City Thunder – 54-28
3. Denver Nuggets – 54-28
5. Portland Trailblazers – 49-33
4. Houston Rockets – 49-33
6. Utah Jazz – 48-34
7. San Antonio Spurs – 45-37
8. Sacramento Kings – 44-38
I wouldn’t be stunned if the Warriors went on an absurd 15-1 streak in the near future, but regardless I think they’ll top their conference when the regular season is done. There is a little bit of seed shuffling, but the teams virtually remain the same, with the exception of the Sacramento Kings. They jump into the mix and knock the Clippers out of contention, however, they have some work to do with L.A. owning a 3-0 lead in the head-to-head ledger AND a two-game advantage at the moment. If things play out this way then LeBron James would miss out on playoff action for the first time since 2005. Yikes.
PREVIOUSLY I had picked the Celtics and Raptors to play in the East Finals, with Golden State and Houston duelling on the other side of the bracket. I went on to pick the Warriors to claim another championship in five games over the Celtics, but I’ve made a few small tweaks to my last guesses.
Eastern Conference Finals – Toronto vs. Milwaukee (Bucks in 7)
THE East Finals are shaping up as a mouthwatering contest with Boston, Philly, Toronto and Milwaukee all in the mix to go all the way to the championship round. I’ve chopped and changed my mind multiple times over which two squads will be left standing, but I have faith the best two teams in the conference will come through. Philadelphia presents the biggest challenge with their newest acquisition Tobias Harris giving the Sixers a daunting line-up. However, I think they have their work cut out to try and find a winning formula before the postseason and Boston hasn’t been anywhere near as consistent as I expected which could spell doom for the Celtics earlier than they would like.
Western Conference Finals – Oklahoma City vs. Golden State (Warriors in 6)
OKC, Houston and Denver will all stake their claim as the biggest challenge for Golden State out West, but I have the Thunder coming through with the goods and qualifying for this round. Seeding and playoff matchups may just change that, but I have scepticism over whether the Nuggets can go all the way to the West Finals in their first playoff berth since 2013. Houston may have the best player in the conversation in James Harden, but his iso-dominant style of play will be tougher to maintain in the postseason.
NBA Finals – Milwaukee vs. Golden State (Warriors in 5)
WHY did I even bother, the Warriors in 5 is still the most popular pick in the sport. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bucks could steal another game from Golden State with one win coming from a huge 3-point shooting night and a bonkers Giannis game handing them another one. However, when it’s all said and done the Warriors should (and probably will) complete the rare back-to-back-to-back title chase.
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