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.

 

 

2018-2019 NBA Season Preview

It’s finallyyyyy here. The NBA is back! People who know me well, know that the NBA is probably the sport I follow closest. I couldn’t be more excited for tip-off. The story-lines headed into the season are tasty per usual…

  • How are LeBron and the new look Lakers going to look?
  • Is this the last run for this group of Warriors, with the impending free agency of Durant and Klay in the summer of 2019?
  • How will the Jimmy Butler saga end?
  • Are the Celtics the biggest threat to the Warriors?
  • Will Kawhi Leonard flourish with the Raptors and embrace Toronto… or is he counting down the days until he can get to LA?
  • Has Markelle Fultz fully healed from his “shoulder injury?”

I could go on and on with this list. The story-lines in the NBA never end, whether it’s the off-season, regular season, or playoffs.

Here are some predictions of mine for the upcoming season…

MVP – Anthony Davis

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Photo Credit: Sporting News

Anthony Davis is a baadddddd man. I’m not sure people around Boston realize just how good he was last year. Davis was 2nd in the league in scoring, 5th in rebounding, 1st in blocks, 15th in steals, 16th in FG percentage, and even in the top 40 in FT percentage. The guy does it all on both sides of the court. The scary thing about Davis is that I think he’s only getting better. With DeMarcus Cousins bolting for Golden State, Davis’ usage and stats should only increase. The Pelicans brought in Julius Randle to replace Cousins. He should be a good compliment to AD. Randle is one of the better passing bigs in the NBA, which should only help to benefit Davis.  While Davis is shockingly somehow already going into his 7th NBA season, let’s not forget he doesn’t even turn 26 until March. The sky is the limit for this guy. He’s becoming a better shooter every year. Last year he made a career high 55 3’s and shot a career high 34% from deep. I’ve actually seen a handful of analysts predict that New Orleans’ won’t even make the playoffs. I think Davis is on the verge of a very special season. I envision him essentially carrying the Pelicans into a 5 or 6 seed and blowing away the field for MVP.

Rookie of the Year – Deandre Ayton

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Photo credit: Yahoo Sports

Some people may not think I’m going out on a major limb here, but you may be surprised to know that Mavs rookie Luka Doncic is the odds on favorite to win ROY, according to Bovada. Collin Sexton and Wendell Carter are names that have been mentioned as dark horses. There are a lot of strong candidates, but I think Ayton will get a lot of opportunity to pad his stats in the Suns run and gun offense, under new coach Igor Kokoskov. If you didn’t watch Ayton in college, the man is a flat out beast.

His combination of size, power and athleticism are something you don’t often see in a 7 foot center. People compare him to David Robinson and Shawn Kemp, which is very high praise. Ayton should be able to adapt to the NBA rather quickly. He’ll be starting from day one and the Suns will give him every opportunity to develop throughout the season. Ayton should be a walking double-double in his rookie season and for years to come. I’m expecting him to average around 17 points a game and 10 rebounds. Should the Suns make a push to the playoffs and make it as an 8 seed, which isn’t out of the realm of possibility, it should only increase his ROY chances compared to Luka, Trae Young, Sexton, etc.

Most Improved Player – Jamaal Murray

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Photo Credit: NBA

I’ve long been a fan of Jamaal Murray going back to his days at Kentucky. Murray is bound for a big season headed into his 3rd year in the NBA. He’s always had a smooth stroke from 3 point land. I think Murray will make his mark on the league this year as one of the best young shooters/scorers. Murray just turned 21 in February, so he’s still learning his way around the league. Let’s also not forget that at Kentucky he played Shooting Guard. Since being drafted by the Nuggets he’s been asked to take on Point Guard responsibilities. Anyone who plays the game of basketball knows how much of a transition that is. A lot of responsibility comes with being the floor general for a team. At this time, Murray’s defense is still leaving a lot to be desired. Should he improve on that end of the court, it would only help strengthen his case to win the award this year. If he can continue to make strides as a play-maker, combined with his shooting and scoring ability, then Murray should be one of the finalists for MIP.

6th Man of the Year – Domantas Sabonis 

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Photo credit: 8 Points 9 Seconds

The Pacers were a great story last year. Everyone destroyed them for their Paul George trade, but it turned out to be a great deal for them. They got Victor Oladipo who was an All-Star and won Most Improved Player. They also received Domantas Sabonis who I think will now go on to win 6th Man of the Year in the ’18-’19 season. Sabonis will come off the bench with Tyreke Evans (who could also be a candidate for 6th Man of the Year). Tyreke showed last year that he’s still a very valuable player. Evans and Sabonis will feed off each other to form one of the best 1-2 combos in the league, off the bench. Sabonis is a very strong player in the pick & roll and this is a major strength of Evans as well. Sabonis is also a great rebounder and an above average passer (especially for a 6’11 Power Forward/Center). He has a good feel for the game and is headed into his 3rd season in the league, which is a good time for players to begin to mature and fully breakout.

Defensive Player of the Year – Kawhi Leonard

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Photo credit: Ball is Life

I’m going to make this one simple. When healthy, Kawhi, “the Claw”, Leonard is the best defender in the NBA. People may have forgotten after his injury prone 2017-2018 season, but he will quickly refresh the memory of fans in Toronto. He’s won the award twice (2015 and 2016). Toronto ranked 7th in defensive efficiency last year. Trading Demar DeRozan for Kawhi was the only big move they made in the off-season. With the arrival of Kawhi, I expect them to jump into the top 5 this season… in large part due to Leonard. The way he changes a game on the defensive end of the floor is special. He can fill up the stat sheet with steals, blocks, and defensive rebounds. Then he can also be asked to defend a quick guard, stud wing scorer, or big man who roams around the 3 point line or can play in the post. There have not been many guys who have played in this league, who can defend just about every position on the court like Leonard.

Kawhi… how do you feel when people say Rudy Gobert or Draymond Green is the best defender in the league now?

 

NBA Finals Prediction – Celtics over Warriors

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Photo Credit: SB Nation

Last but not least… I’m predicting the most common NBA Finals match-up. But unlike most people, I think my hometown Celtics will dethrone the Warriors in a classic series. The Celtics match-up defensively with Golden State as well as anybody in the NBA. They have the athleticism and length to not get pick and rolled to death into bad-switches (which the Warriors run on a lot of teams). Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Marcus Morris, Marucs Smart and Al Horford are all very good defenders. Brown and Tatum made serious strides defensively throughout the second half of last season and playoffs. They should only improve with another year under Brad Stevens. The Celtics have as good a bench as any team in the league. Terry Rozier, Marcus Morris, Marcus Smart and Aaron Baynes could arguably be starting for a handful of teams around the league. I think the Celtics have a stronger bench than the Warriors.

Both teams have 2 major questions heading into the season… and they probably won’t be answered until the second half of the season. For the Celtics, will Gordon Hayward return to his All-Star form after last years injury? Brad Stevens has already said Hayward will be limited to 25-30 minutes at the start of the season. I don’t think anybody is expecting Hayward to come out guns blazing in the start of the season. Everyone knows that it’s going to take some time for him to be back to his former All-Star self, but will it take him until February or will it take him a full year?

The Warriors on the other hand signed DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins this off-season. Cousins has made 4 straight All-Star teams. The question with Cousins is never his talent or skill. Instead, it’s his work ethic and character. He’s also coming off a torn achilles and will most likely miss the first few months of the season. With Cousins we need to see first, if he’s healthy when he returns from injury and second, will he fit in well with the Warriors or will he prove to be a cancer in the locker room (like we’ve seen in years past)? A healthy and engaged Cousins will make the Warriors next to impossible to beat, but I don’t think we’re going to see both of those traits this year.

One item to keep a close eye on throughout the year is who finishes with the better record. Home court advantage is as big in the NBA as any sport. Oracle Arena (home of the Warriors) is one of the most electric home court advantages in any sport as well. If the Celtics can get to the Finals and have home court advantage in the series, it will make me feel a lot better about this prediction.

It should be another amazing year in the association. Enjoy it… and GO CELTS!!!!