2019-2020 NBA Preview

It feels like it was just yesterday that I wrote my 2018-2019 NBA Season Preview. So much has changed since last year. Let’s rewind through some of the biggest story-lines over the last several months…

  • Anthony Davis was traded to the Lakers to team up with LeBron
  • Kawhi Leonard won a title for the Raptors, then bolted for the Clippers in free agency
  • Paul George was shockingly traded to the Clippers to play Robin to Kawhi’s Batman in Hollywood
  • Kevin Durant tore his Achilles tendon and will miss most, if not all, of the 2019-2020 season… oh and he and Kyrie Irving are teaming up in Brooklyn
  • The Celtics lost Kyrie and Al Horford in free agency, but added All-Star Kemba Walker
  • The Rockets decided the James Harden and Chris Paul duo wasn’t working so they traded Paul in exchange for Russell Westbrook

As usual, the story-lines are endless after an incredible off-season. I think most people would agree that this is the most wide-open the league has been, going into a new season, for a long-time. For the last several years, the Heat and Warriors have been heavy favorites to win it all going back to LeBron’s first year in Miami. Let’s get into some predictions…

MVP – Steph Curry

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Photo Credit: SB Nation

It’s easy to forget that it was only a few years ago Steph Curry was coming off back to back MVPs. With the addition of Kevin Durant, after Curry won his second MVP, people seemed to forget how dominant and amazing Curry truly was. It’s for good reason, Kevin Durant has arguably been the best player in the NBA the last few years. Steph began to slowly remind people of his MVP days in the NBA Finals back in June against the Raptors. Although Toronto would go on to beat an undermanned Warriors team in 6 games, Curry balled out in the series averaging over 30 points a game and consistently hitting big shots.

Fast forward to the 2019-2020 season and Curry could be in line for his biggest year yet. Kevin Durant’s now in Brooklyn. Klay Thompson will be out until at least the mid-season with a torn ACL. The West is as deep as it’s ever been. This means the “load management” days, that deeper/more talented teams like the Lakers and Clippers can afford to their superstars, may not be the case for the Warriors. They’ll have to fight harder to make the playoffs.

Despite losing KD permanently and Klay for much of the upcoming season, there is some good news for Steph as they signed All-Star D’Angelo Russell. Russell tends to play a lot of isolation ball, but he will make Steph’s life easier as defenses won’t be able to focus strictly on him.

We all know Curry is probably the greatest shooter who has ever lived. He’s drastically improved his finishing ability around the rim the last several years and is still one of the best ball-handlers in the league. It’s not out of the realm of possibility for Curry to improve on his career best 30.1 PPG in 2015-2016, while almost single handily carrying the Warriors offensively to somewhere in the top 5 in the Western Conference until Klay returns. If this is the case and the Warriors finish around the top 4 or 5 in the standings at season’s end, I expect Curry to win the League MVP. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen Steph fully unleashed with no KD, so appreciate the greatness you’ll see this upcoming season!

Rookie of the Year – Zion Williamson

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Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated

Do I really have to elaborate much on this one? As much as I’d love to go out on a limb and say someone like RJ Barrett or Ja Morant wins, it’s just not logical. Zion has looked amazing in preseason. He’s averaging 23 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists while shooting 71% from the field… 71 FREAKING PERCENT! While those numbers may regress a little once the regular season starts, there’s no doubt that Zion’s freakish build and athleticism are going to translate well into the upcoming season. When you couple all this with the fact the Pelicans should have a chance to compete for a 7th or 8th seed this year, Zion coming in as a heavy favorite to win ROY at -130 (Per Bovada) makes perfect sense.

Most Improved Player – Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

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Photo Credit: CBS Sports

Shai was the prized player the Thunder received from the Clippers in the Paul George trade back in July. SGA just turned 21 in July and is only going into his second season in the league. Some people may argue that I’m a year early on this prediction. He also may be playing off the ball, with Chris Paul running the point for the Thunder this year, therefore taking away some usage/opportunities from him.

There is a lot to love about SGA and his situation this year though. He’s a very well-rounded player who can distribute, shoot the rock, is slippery in getting to the rim, and has a chance to be a stud defensively with his 6’11 wingspan. He’s come out of the gates hot this pre-season averaging 21 ppg., shooting 52% from the field, and 92% from the line.

A lot of people argue that the Thunder’s acquisition of Chris Paul could be bad for Shai and potentially stunt his growth. I’ll play “devil’s advocate” on this. First, I’d say there’s a 50/50 chance Chris Paul finishes the season with the Thunder. If they come out struggling in the beginning of the season, there will be more incentive for the team to trade him. For the time being, he’s going to start the season on the roster and this could be great for SGA.

Say what you want about Paul, but he’s always been one of the best defensive guards in the league. He’s a great floor general and has really improved his jumper from earlier in his career. These are traits that SGA wants to eventually master. Having Paul around to mentor him could help SGA’s game continue to grow even more dramatically this year. I also believe that Billy Donovan will do his best to stagger some of the minutes between SGA and CP3, so that SGA will have the opportunity to have the ball in his hands more often. While in the long run CP3 getting shipped out of OKC may improve SGA’s chances to win Most Improved Player, CP3’s presence (at least in the beginning of the year) will pay dividends toward the development of SGA.

NBA Finals – Lakers defeat the Sixers in 6 games

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Photo Credit: CBS Sports

If you had asked me my prediction 2 months ago, I would have said the Clippers beat the 76ers in the NBA Finals. I cannot stress how much I love the team the Clippers have built around Kawhi and Paul George. They have the perfect blend of scoring, defense, and role players. I expect guys like Lou Williams, Pat Beverly, Montrezl Harrell, JaMychal Green, etc. to fill their roles flawlessly for this team.

On the flip side, there’s part of me that has this eerie feeling that Paul George or Kawhi won’t be fully healthy in a Western Conference Finals match-up against the Lakers. I could also see Paul George’s absence in the first month or so of the season, coupled with some “load management” days, costing the Clippers in the standings and then losing in the second round of the playoffs because they don’t have homecourt advantage.

So, I think the 1-2 combo of Anthony Davis and LeBron James will carry the Lakers to their first title since the Kobe and Pau Gasol days. The Lakers made a very smart move this off-season after acquiring Anthony Davis. Instead of using the rest of their cap space to try and bring in a 3rd star like Kemba Walker or Jimmy Butler, they spread their money out to fill their needs for the rest of the roster. They were able to re-sign solid role players like Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell Pope, and Javale McGee, while adding Avery Bradley, Danny Green, Dwight Howard, Jared Dudley, and Quinn Cook in free agency. Many of the aforementioned players are at points of their career where winning a ring is more important than getting their numbers. They’ll be able to play small or big, depending on what other teams throw at them.

Now let’s get to the 76ers. Boy it pains me so much to say this as a Celtics fan and a big hater of the 76ers… but I really think they’re getting to the finals this year (as I always say I’m nothing but fair… don’t call me biased). I believe the additions of Josh Richardson and Al Horford will make them the best defensive team in the NBA. I think that when we look back at the end of the season, one of the best signings in free agency will be Al Horford. His ability to stretch the floor as a big man who can shoot, his defensive smarts, and his leadership will go a long way for this team. He’ll also be able to take some of the weight off Joel Embiid’s back defensively, potentially keeping Embiid fresher at the end of games… and the end of the season. When I envision a potential Eastern Conference Finals of the 6ers and Bucks, I believe the 6ers ability to throw different looks at Giannis, whether it be Ben Simmons, Horford, or even Embiid, is going to be the difference. Giannis is next to unstoppable, but I think the 6ers will be his most difficult match-up in the league.

Should the Lakers and 76ers meet in the finals, I think the pure talent and best 1-2 combo in the NBA in LeBron and Anthony Davis will be too much for Philly. I believe the Lakers have the right blend of talent and experience in guys like LeBron, Rondo, and Danny Green (hell, throw Dwight Howard in there if you want) to be the difference in the series. It feels like this might be LeBron’s best chance at a title for the rest of his career. Between a wide-open league, coming into a season as fresh as he ever has, and getting a top 5 player in the league added to his team, there’s no excuse for him if they don’t compete strongly for a title. The one x-factor in this series could be if Ben Simmons has developed a jump shot. If he can at least keep defenses honest this year, it could change how I feel about this potential series. Until I consistently see it, I’m going to expect that Simmons still can’t shoot and it’ll end up coming back to haunt the 6ers if these two teams meet in the finals.

I hope everyone has their NBA league passes ordered and is ready for an amazing season. Also don’t forget if you don’t want to buy the full league pass package, you can purchase the 4th quarter of NBA games through league pass.

 

 

The Nightmare is Finally Over for the Celtics

The Celtics’ season has finally come to an end. I have to say there’s a slight part of me that’s relieved. This team made me want to throw my remote through the TV numerous times throughout the season. I’ve been saying for months that quite frankly, this just hasn’t been a fun year. They weren’t a likeable team… especially after the run they had last year falling just short of the NBA Finals. It felt like every time they faced adversity, they just rolled over and tapped out. It never felt like the team was on the same page as a collective unit. I don’t want to go as far as to say they didn’t like each other, but I think it was evident that they weren’t exactly all best friends and inseparable on and off the court.

Now the questions in the coming days will begin with, “Who’s most to blame?”

Is it Kyrie Irving, who constantly threw his teammates under the bus early in the season and seemed to have had a change of heart regarding his commitment to resigning with the Celtics? Did it rub off on his teammates that he just “didn’t care”? (see his post-game conference after game 4)

Is it Brad Stevens who seemed to be unable to mesh together a team with egos and high expectations? This was a challenge he hadn’t been tasked with as yet, in his tenure as the Celtics head coach.

Is it Gordon Hayward who looked like a shell of his former All-Star days in Utah? As most people know by now, this isn’t exactly a fault of his own after his catastrophic injury back in 2017.

Is it Danny Ainge who didn’t try and cash in on the all-time high value of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier by trading any of them to land a star like Kawhi Leonard or Jimmy Butler to team up with Kyrie? Was it because he didn’t try to trade a package for Anthony Davis in the middle of the season, once Davis made his trade demand?

For me the blame starts with Kyrie Irving. He wanted the challenge of being “the guy” after forcing his way out of Cleveland, so he didn’t have to play in LeBron’s shadow. Unfortunately, Kyrie displayed multiple times throughout the season that he’s just not ready to be a leader.

Whether it’s on the court, field, or office, a team is always going to feed off their leader. Back in February, when the Celtics were struggling, he was asked if he’s worried that the struggles would continue into the playoffs. He responded with, “Nah we’ll be fine, because I’m here.” What about the players surrounding him and his coaches?
He then went on to have arguably the worst 4 game stretch of his entire career in the playoffs against the Bucks, shooting 25-83 from the field, looking disengaged, and playing lazy defense.

Earlier in the season, he took the liberty in announcing to the media that he called LeBron to apologize for his antics as a young guy. “I had to call ‘Bron and tell him I apologize for being that young player that wanted everything at his fingertips,” said Irving. The funny thing is I actually don’t think he meant for his comments to come out as indirectly taking a jab at young guys like Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and crew, but it just goes to show he doesn’t have the mental awareness to lead a team.
When your leader deflects the blame in tough situations on his or her peers, doesn’t show up in the biggest moments of adversity, and starts answering questions with “who cares” in playoff post-game press conferences, then teammates aren’t going to follow your lead.

So now the next question for Kyrie, Brad, and the Celtics is, “What’s next?” The first matter of business is whether or not Kyrie will re-sign. I know that if you currently asked most Celtics fans whether or not they want him back next year, the answer would be no. For me, I can still EMPHATICALLY say I want Kyrie back in green next year. Did he deserve a lot of blame this year? Yes, of course, but like I mentioned earlier, there were plenty of other people to pin blame on. Who knows where this season would have gone had Gordon Hayward returned to his All-Star caliber days in Utah?

Although, it feels like a long time ago (and it was), let’s not forget when Kyrie was healthy in the 2017-2018 season, the Celtics were a top 2 or 3 team in the NBA. Hell, they won 16 straight games at one point.

One thing appears clear, this Celtics team must choose a direction moving forward. Do you build around Kyrie and unload some of the young assets and draft picks for an All-Star (Anthony Davis please), or does Kyrie leave and you commit to building around Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and the young core moving forward? Time will tell and you can bet that the media will beat this story-line to death in the coming months.

The Celtics Biggest “Trade Deadline Acquisition” is Ready for a Big Finish to the Season

Now is the time for Gordon Hayward…

It has been a wild first two-thirds of the season for the Boston Celtics. They currently sit at 37-21, which is good for a tie at fourth place in the Eastern Conference. 37-21 sounds good, but for anyone who’s been following this team, they know it’s been far from a smooth ride. From the crappy 9-9 start, to home losses to the lowly Knicks, Magic, and Suns, drama between Kyrie Irving and “the young guys”, the list has been never-ending for eye-brow raising moments. The Celtics’ season has been one of the most intriguing story-lines to follow during this NBA Season, albeit for maybe the wrong reasons.

Even with all these issues, I don’t believe anyone is realistically counting this team out on making a deep playoff run. There’s still a lot to look forward to as they prepare for the rest of the season. Kyrie Irving, despite all his drama, is in the midst of the best season of his career. Gordon Hayward looks like he may finally be ready to “turn the corner” and the Celtics entered the All-Star break with 2 straight wins, including a win at Philly (without Kyrie).  Some people consider the 76ers to be the Eastern Conference favorite after their trade to acquire Tobias Harris. The Celts came back with a solid home-win the next night to illustrate a little consistency after the big Philly win, something they’ve struggled with throughout the season.

As we get ready to start the last 2 months of the season, the biggest story-line on the court is clearly Gordon Hayward. Let’s be fair to Gordon, anyone who thought he’d come into the 2018-2019 season and immediately flash his pre-injury athleticism and form would’ve been naive. It was always going to take him time to get back to even 90% of what he once was… never mind 100%. But at times during the season, the frustration with him has been warranted. We’ve seen him drop 30+ points twice. Both games came against the lowly T-Wolves. He’s had other very solid games, but they always seem to occur against bottom of the barrel teams like the Wolves, Cavs, and Knicks.

Hayward will go out and have a strong all-around game against one of these lower-echelon teams, then go out the next game and become invisible on the court (e.g. the Warriors game). The biggest hurdle that Celtics fans have been waiting for, other than a full-recovery from his injury (which we know may not happen this year…or ever), is to see him get over his inconsistency and step up his game against higher competition in the NBA.

If you paid attention to the last 3 games he played before the break, it should have opened your eyes. The Philly game in particular stands out. In a huge road game, that most people gave the Celtics no chance to win without Kyrie Irving, Hayward went out and lead the Celtics in scoring with 26 points. He shot the ball with extreme confidence, took the ball to the hoop aggressively (getting to the line 7 times) and resembled the Hayward of his pre-injury days.  He then went out the next night and had another efficient game shooting 5/8 from the field with 18 points, 8 assists, and 5 boards against the Pistons in 34 minutes, a great sign to see in back-to-back nights.

He gave us the two things we’ve been waiting to see, consistency in a stretch of multiple games (he also led the Celtics in scoring in the collapse against the Clippers), and more importantly in my eyes, stepping his game up against maybe the Celtics’ biggest competition in the East (the 76ers).

This is the most excited I’ve been about Hayward since his debut in October of 2017. How he continues to progress throughout the rest of the season may not only determine the ceiling for this team, but may also impact the upcoming Free Agency decision that awaits Kyrie this summer.

I know I’ve been guilty of the fact that when I think of this team moving forward, I look at Kyrie+ Tatum or Anthony Davis, as the guys we ideally want to build around. I think at times we’ve almost forgot that we brought Gordon Hayward here to be an All-Star and the 2nd or 3rd best player on a team with championship aspirations.

Should Hayward continue to get back to his pre-injury form, it may force Kyrie to re-think his outlook on the Celtics future. It may also force Danny Ainge and the front-office to re-think their plans in the upcoming off-season for acquiring Anthony Davis. All of a sudden, with a Big 3 centered around Kyrie, a re-born Gordon Hayward, and budding superstar Jayson Tatum, the Celtics original plan prior to the Hayward injury, may have some life to it again….

 

What in lord’s name does Charles Barkley have against our Celtics?

It’s crazy to think that as we sit here today on January 18th, we’re exactly one month out from the NBA All Star Game and 3 months and one day removed from the gruesome Gordon Hayward injury that occurred on opening night. The first 3 months of the NBA season have flown by!

The Celtics are sitting here just beyond the halfway point with a 34-11 record. I think I speak for all green teamers when I say that the first half of the season has been all we could ask for and more considering the Hayward injury and turnover to the roster from last year. They’ve answered just about every challenge their schedule has thrown at them. They’ve already beat the top 7 teams in the NBA in terms of win-loss record (only team to do that). They have the second best record in the league, and have played one of the most condensed schedules in the first half of the season, due to the road trip to London for a game with the 76ers last week.

Despite having the best record in the Eastern Conference, it seems that the media continues to underestimate just how good this team is. Nobody has gotten under my skin more than Charles Barkley when it comes to disrespecting the Celtics. Some of you may have heard his comments regarding his thoughts on the Celtics when they played the Warriors and Rockets. For those of you who haven’t, let me remind you.

Back in November, Barkley had this to say before the game against the Dubs.

“They’re not gonna beat the Golden State Warriors tonight, and they’re not gonna hold the Golden State Warriors to 94 points,” Chuck said. “I promise you that.”

Then at halftime, Barkley decided to chime in again with his thoughts on the Celtics as they trailed the Warriors by 5.

“I’m sitting here watching, and I’ve watched them play maybe five times. They would not be favored in the Eastern Conference,” Barkley said. “I’m not even talking about Cleveland. I’m not sure they can beat Toronto or Washington. I’m just saying. I don’t know how they’re winning these games.

“Like if I’m the Wizards or I’m Toronto, I’m like, ‘this is a toss-up series. We can beat this team.’ This team right here, they put zero fear in anyone’s heart.

The full clip is right here for those of you who want to see it.

 

The Celtics would go on to beat the Warriors that night and hold them to only 88 points. Well below the 94+ points Barkley suggested they would score.

A little more than a month later, with the Celtics down big at half to the Houston Rockets, Chuck felt compelled to let the national audience know that the game is “O-V-E-R. The Celtics would go on to rally from 26 points down, the largest comeback in the NBA to date and beat the Rockets that night.

Image result for charles barkley celtics

Now I don’t have a problem with Charles Barkley thinking the Celtics won’t advance to the NBA Finals. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and the Celtics are by no means a lock to get all the way there.

On the other hand, to say “this team right here, they put zero fear in anyone’s heart” is a slap in the face to Kyrie, Al, Brad and the entire squad. I’m not sure there’s a single team in the NBA who plays harder or is better coached. They had won 13 games in a row and had the best record in the NBA. Then to come back a month later and once again essentially count them out and declare a game “O-V-E-R” illustrates the lack of attention Barkley has paid  to the Celtics this year.

So many of you probably read Barkley’s comments and think “okay so he made a few dumb comments but has surely learned his lesson and understands the Celtics should be taken seriously.” Well believe it or not, on Monday night Chuck may have shown his biggest lack of respect yet.

I was sitting in my parents living room watching pregame for the Cavs vs. Warriors game on MLK night with my mother.  For those of you wondering, Yes… I’ve brainwashed my mother to sit down and watch any big NBA game with me these days. She’s even putting in NBA DraftKings lineups on her own. But anyways, I almost fell out of my seat when I heard Charles Barkley in this pregame segment on Monday night…

 

The Milwaukee Bucks!!? A team that hasn’t even won a playoff series since the 2000-2001 season. I immediately lashed out in anger to my mother when I heard this.

So let’s set the record clear “Chuck”, a team that won 13 straight games at the time of your comments in November This team right here, they put zero fear in anyone’s heart, a team that won 16 games in a row and has the second best record in the league isn’t even mentioned when asked just a few days ago who is going to beat LeBron James  to get to the NBA Finals.

Yet the 23-21 Milwaukee Bucks and Jabari Parker who’s coming off his second  torn ACL in in the last 4 years and has averaged 15.8 points per game in his NBA career could “put fear in another teams heart.” 

I almost hope that Barkley has just been trying to troll Celtics fans at this point because of the hate he’s recieved from them on Twitter the last few month for his comments. If he truly believes his comments and overlooks the Celtics like this, then he has lost all credibility in my eyes.

Charles Barkley isn’t the only one who still hasn’t jumped on the Celtics bandwagon. As of Tuesday night the Cleveland Cavaliers who have lost 9 of their last 12 games and sit in third place of the Eastern Conference with a 26-17 record are still the heavy odds on favorite in Las Vegas to advance to the NBA finals. The Cavs are -140 to advance, while the Celtics sit at +240.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with betting terms, this means you would have to bet $140 on the Cavs to win $100, while a $100 bet on the Celtics would win you $240 if they advanced to the NBA Finals.

I don’t disagree that the Cavs shouldn’t be the favorites to win the East. Sorry green teamers but until LeBron is knocked off in the East, he deserves to be the favorite and you should know/respect this if you’re a Patriots fan with Tom Brady’s history. LBJ has made 7 straight NBA Finals appearances, a pretty amazing stat when you take a step back to take it in.

On the other hand, -140 vs. +240 is a huge discrepancy in the betting world. It’s a clear sign that Vegas and sports books have yet to take the Celtics as a true threat to the Cavs.

To my fellow green teamers, it’s been one hellueva ride so far this season. I look forward to a long playoff run and hopefully knocking the Cavs off with home court advantage in the East Conference Finals. If you’re someone that hasn’t totally jumped on the bandwagon yet, I suggest doing so now. A lot of people have a lazy argument that they don’t watch the NBA because “there’s no defense” or that “the players don’t always try.” I can promise you that the Celtics don’t fall into either of these categories. You’ll quickly fall in love with them if you follow them night in and night out… and I promise you, you’ll understand that they are a serious threat to become the first non-Lebron led team to get to the NBA Finals since our own Celtics last did it in the 2009-2010 season.

Feel free to share any thoughts on Chucks idiocy , if the Celts can take down the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals, or if any other team has a chance to get to the finals instead of Boston or Cleveland in the comments section below.