THANK god ball is back! With a new NBA season already underway, the content machine that is the NBA is only going to ramp up its production in the coming days, weeks and months, shedding light on stories and headlines that will routinely dominate the Twittersphere. Throughout the year more topics will arise and become talking points, but as we gear up to watch the other 26 franchises commence their 2019-20 campaigns, I’ve compiled a list of the 20 most pressing, burning questions that everyone wants to be answered.
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Q1. Can 2020 Steph Curry outperform 2016 Steph Curry?
“To me, he’s at his peak physically, mentally. He’s seen every defense that people have thrown at him now during his career, and he’s ready to have a great year.” – Steve Kerr on Steph Curry entering the new season
IF Steve Kerr is correct, we should all be very, very afraid. Steph Curry’s preseason numbers support the above statement from his coach with the two-time MVP averaging 39.5 points per 36 minutes in his four warmup games. This Golden State core is rapidly different from the one that has made five straight Finals appearances leaving their status as contenders up the air. One thing that can be assured is without Kevin Durant or Klay Thompson providing an offensive punch, Dub Nation will be relying on Curry to frequently catch fire and keep them in the mix out West. That could lead to an all-time season from Steph, which is saying something after his memorable 2015-16 campaign in which he set multiple scoring and 3-point records.
Q2. How much Michael Porter Jr will we see?
DENVER is out to prove their success a year ago was no fluke and any contribution they can get from Michel Porter Jr will be a welcomed one. As a junior MPJ was a scoring force, however, injury issues throughout college and his would have been rookie year has us re-evaluating the one-time touted prospect. A stiff Porter Jr has laboured his way up and down the court throughout the preseason, confirming that he still has the ability to score the rock. Porter also showed us he’ll also take some time to fully get his legs back under him and if things go according to plan the former Missouri product may become a key cog of Denver’s rotation in the back half of the year.
Q3. Who wants CP3?
NOW residing on the fourth team of his career, Chris Paul joins the OKC Thunder without an expiry date. As part of the return package Oklahoma received for trading away Russell Westbrook, CP3 brings with him a wealth of knowledge and experience that can benefit a young list, making his potential stay much more than a quick pitstop. The catch is, through their offseason maneuvering, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander arrived at the franchise with the expectation he’ll be the air apparent at point guard. Paul and SGA could co-exist and help OKC put a winning product on the court buoyed by Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams, but a future trade appears more than likely for the 9x All-Star. Will the Heat be tempted? Perhaps the Lakers? Or could there be an outside suitor we aren’t suspecting? Time will tell.
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Q4. Ja Morant & Jaren Jackson Jr or Trae Young & John Collins; who would you rather build your list around?
THERE really isn’t a right or wrong answer here with the Hawks and Grizzlies both owning a pair of promising stars that can launch a rebuilding roster. However, each pairing brings something different to the table and it’ll be fun to watch these players grow and develop to see who outperforms the other. Atlanta’s duo will be hard to quell offensively, with Trae Young already possessing the tools to be a problem on that side of the ball. My vote sides with Memphis’ two though, with Morant’s passing/athleticism and Jackson Jr’s defensive chops providing the Grizz with difference-makers on both sides of the ball.
Q5. Surely the Spurs can’t do it again, right?
IN 1998 I was just six years old, Michael Jordan won his final championship, ‘Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets’ was released and Google was born. ’98 also marked the beginning of the San Antonio Spurs’ postseason streak, with the franchise shooting for history this year. If they manage to qualify for a 23rd straight playoffs, they will overtake Philadelphia and Syracuse for the longest streak in NBA history, but in the ever-competitive Western Conference, I have my doubts over their place among the top-8. They will welcome back Dejounte Murray after he missed all last year with an ACL tear, but the Spurs didn’t load up this past summer to reinforce the rest of their roster. Don’t be surprised if their annual date with basketball in May doesn’t occur in 2020.
Q6. Is this FINALLY the year Phoenix starts to climb?
WITH just one winning season in the last decade, Phoenix haven’t given their fans much to be excited about. The signature of Ricky Rubio isn’t exactly going to plant bums on seats, but his steady presence at point guard may finally help them ascend back up the standings. This Suns team is still full of youth and inexperience, so don’t expect a playoff berth in the near future. With Monty Williams now calling the shots and Devin Booker able to thrive off the open lanes Rubio and fellow guard Tyler Johnson create, this might finally be the year that Phoenix shows signs of growth and posts closer to 30 wins – or more. It’s time to stop contending for the first overall pick.
Q7. Can Zach LaVine lead Chicago to relevance?
IT’S tough to pin down what exactly Chicago will be this season. They have promising pieces in their frontcourt like Wendell Carter Jr and Lauri Markkanen, who many expect to take a big leap in their development, but the rest of the roster leaves a lot to be desired. If they want to make a climb and remain competitive in the East then Zach LaVine will need to finally deliver on the flashes of promise he’s shown through five seasons with the Timberwolves and Bulls. Injuries have curtailed LaVine in the past, but he was able to average 23.7 PPG a year ago with Chicago handing him a lot of offensive responsibilities. If he can eliminate a lot of the pull-up long two’s he has fallen in love with and turn them into three-point tries or smarter at-the-rim shots, there’s no reason why LaVine can’t climb into the 25 PPG club and steer the Bulls to relevance.
Q8. Which new star duo will mesh the fastest?
WITH so many moving parts this offseason a lot of contending teams are entering the new season with a newly formed dynamic duo headlining their list. Getting off to a fast start is always important, but the more pressing issue at hand is for Star A and Star B to learn how they can quickly complement each other to reap the benefits and emerge as a legit force. Both L.A. franchises have thrown their hat in the ring after a summer of moves with the Rockets, Warriors, Sixers and Jazz just a few of the other candidates who will be out to gel quickly.
Q9. What can we expect from Markelle Fultz?
ANYTHING Markelle Fultz does on the court could be viewed as a positive following a virtually lost 2018-19 season. His mid-season trade to the Magic presented an opportunity for a fresh start, one that I’m sure the former No. 1 overall pick will relish. Throughout this preseason Fultz has shown that the former bucket getter that thrived at Washington is still hiding in their somewhere, but he’s got a long way to go to fully get back to his best.
“Get right, and everything will take care of itself,” he said. “Nobody here is rushing me. Everybody here is just open to me getting right and healthy first.” – Markelle Fultz on not feeling pressed to return to the court as soon as possible
HE may never live up to the hype he was once associated with, but for an Orlando team that has been crying out for a franchise calibre point guard, they’re happy to bide their time and give Fultz every chance he can to succeed. I hope for the sake of everything involved things work out, but as long as his clunky jump shot hangs around I’ll still have my doubts.
Q10. Has Damian Lillard peaked?
ANNUALLY underrated in the eyes of some, Damian Lillard captured everyone’s attention a year ago, with his playoff achievements something that will live on long after he retires. Qualifying for the West Finals for the first time in his career is a testament to Lillard and the Blazers organisation after they were smacked with criticism over their decision to keep Lillard and C.J. McCollum together. It worked a year ago, but it will be tough for Portland to advance that far again, especially with the rest of the conference getting stronger around them. Having averaged 25+ PPG for four straight seasons the clock is ticking for Dame to make the most of his prime and lead his franchise to the promised land. One player can only do so much, but if Lillard doesn’t have another level to reach the Blazers may have plateaued as a team.
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Q11. Which West team is the creme of the crop?
IT’S a question that will be asked for the entire season and one that we probably won’t have the answer too until the very end of proceedings. Success in the regular season, as opposed to the playoffs, isn’t measured the same way, but I’m a believer of the Houston Rockets and their quest for a No. 1 seed. Harden and Westbrook have fallen apart before and there are no guarantees now that they are reunited things will be different this time around. LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard will be eager to push their cases as the leader of the West’s best franchise and it may come down to playoff seedings and the draw to see which one of them (or another candidate) is the biggest threat from this side of the bracket.
Q12. Is D’Angelo Russell trade bait or a part of the future?
KEVIN Durant and Klay Thompson have left a gaping hole in Golden State’s repertoire, which makes the franchise’s acquisition of D’Angelo Russell so much more valuable. As soon as D-Lo landed in the Bay, questions surfaced over how long he’ll be residing in San Fran, with some viewing the All-Star guard as an expendable piece. Moulding him into a similarly lethal outside threat like Curry or Klay is an appealing prospect and makes me think he’ll be around for the long haul at Golden State. However, there’s no reason why the Warriors would rule out any possible trade scenarios with a move for additional pieces that address depth issues one such option I’m sure they’d entertain.
Q13. Which East team will take advantage of their crappy conference and book a surprise postseason berth?
THE playoff picture in the West is expected to be an extremely competitive one making it hard to find a clear cut eight teams who will make the postseason. There is also an air of uncertainty around the Eastern conference, but for a very different reason. Labelled as the inferior side of the ledger for years, the final few playoff spots are annually reserved for teams who catch fire at one point throughout the year and hover around .500 by season’s end. The Pistons, Magic, Bulls, and Hawks are all expected to vie for these final few spots and a hot fortnight/month could ultimately be the difference in missing postseason basketball or qualifying.
Q14. When will Paul George/Victor Oladipo return?
IT appears like both Paul George and Victor Oladipo will be back on the court sooner rather than later as they continue to rehab from their respective ailments. PG underwent surgery on both shoulders after an MVP calibre season with the Thunder and is expected to miss at least the first 10 games as a result. Oladipo’s injury was much more severe with the explosive guard suffering a ruptured quad in January, slowly building his way back for a return to the court. He was cleared for modified 5-on-5 play not so long ago and all reports indicate he could be back around the same time as George in late November/early December. Both fan bases would like to see their stars in uniform as soon as possible, but I wouldn’t rule out George and/or Oladipo resting for longer than expected to keep them at 100% when the games really count in June.
“He’s not dead, guys” – Alvin Gentry addressing Zion Williamson’s injury
Q15. How will the Pelicans manage Zion Williamson?
THE Pelicans will be without the crown jewel of their franchise for around two months to start the year after Zion Williamson suffered a torn right meniscus. It is the latest in an eyebrow-raising timeline of injury woes for the viral athlete, with the general NBA public divided over his weight and how he will be used by NOLA. Whether he stays the same shape, size and stature, New Orleans has to tread lightly and make sure they don’t ruin the best thing they have going for them. Hopefully, this injury won’t be a recurring theme with Zion’s pro career, but despite the promising, budding roster they have, it’s important to keep their eye’s on the 10-year plan rather than boosting Williamson’s responsibility to potentially claim the 6th or 7th seed this year.
Q16. Can the Rockets breakthrough in the postseason?
ONE of the biggest enigma’s entering the new season is the Houston Rockets. With James Harden and Russell Westbrook re-united the sky is the limit for what Houston can achieve this year, with a real possibility this Rockets outfit captures the best regular-season record in the entire league. They won’t be measured by their wins & losses in the lead up to April though, once again, judgment on Houston’s season will be reserved until the end of the playoffs. Seven consecutive postseason trips have lead to an 0-2 record in the West Finals and no trip to the big stage as of yet. The Rockets have been on the brink of success multiple times, but it’s fair to say anything short of an NBA Finals berth this year will resemble another lost opportunity.
Q17. Will point-forward Justise Winslow work alongside Jimmy Butler?
JIMMY Butler’s arrival in Miami presents a lot of obstacles for the Heat, but also, a lot of opportunities. With an All-NBA calibre shot creator and offensive force on their roster, building the correct list around Butler and complimenting his strengths is the smartest tactic for Miami. Enter Justise Winslow, who clocks in at an almost identical height and weight as Butler, but is far from the same player. When Goran Dragic missed time a year ago, Winslow was put in charge of running the offense, a role that he played with varying success. Throughout the preseason, Winslow has maintained some responsibility running the show for the Heat with his seven points, six rebound, 12 assist game against Orlando a good insight into what he’s capable of. If Winslow can continue to grow in his point-forward role and share a backcourt with Butler, then this Heat tandem could achieve great things together.
Image from miamiherald.com
Q18. Will Kevin Love still be a Cavalier by seasons end?
THE toughest part of any Kevin Love hypothetical deal is finding a suitor for the former All-Star. Injury issues and Cleveland’s fall from grace in the post-LeBron era have led to Love becoming partially irrelevant with his four-year, $120 million dollar contract another potential roadblock in trade negotiations. However, Love can clearly still play meaningful basketball and help aid the cause of a team with championship aspirations. I’m sure the Cavaliers would take any chance they could to gain additional assets for the future and let Love play out his days in differing circumstances, but who will put their hand up as a buyer?
Q19. Who is the third-best team in the East?
MILWAUKEE and Philadelphia remain a class above the rest of the conference in my opinion, and the argument over who comes next in the East pecking order divides a lot of people. The Heat, Pacers, Nets and Raptors all present feasible cases for the honour but for now, my vote is going to the Boston Celtics. The loss of Al Horford in the middle certainly presents issues that could only be solved by a great basketball mind like Brad Stevens. Another step in development from his young wings and the positive off-court traits that Kemba Walker brings to the table help alleviate some of those woes and could even lead to Boston superseding one of the big two as a genuine powerhouse in the conference.
Q20. Is LeBron James still the best player in the league?
IT’S a topic that has been discussed ad nauseam over the past 12 months, so much so that I had to put in my two cents last week. Different interpretations could lead to many different answers for this question, but put bluntly, LeBron appears to have lost his mantle as the best player in the NBA. However, he is by far still the most popular athlete in the league, potentially in the world and there is no reason why he can’t recapture that title with a stereotypically dominant 2019-20 season. For his future aspirations and championship goals, prioritising rest and James’ longevity should and probably will see him take a lesser load in this next phase of his career. Until I see Playoff LeBron stumble though, I expect him to remain a force in the final 6-8 weeks of the NBA calendar.
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