Welcome to my 3rd, nearly annual NBA predictions/preview.
I didn’t play ball at a high level, and I don’t begin to understand the advanced metrics of the Lowe’s of the world, but I LOVE hoops obsessively and have seen thousands play, from the playground to being an NBA season ticket holder. So this is based on my instincts and eye tests as a mega fan, and since I’m a gigantic nerd, they are sometimes correct. Enjoy reading and enjoy the season, can’t wait for hoops!
1) Boston: 2nd best starting 5 in the league, longest bench, healthy return of two all-stars, top 3 coach, trip to last years East finals…barring catastrophe, this is one of the easier picks to make. Jaylen Brown is your 5th best player, Rozier your 6th…it’s an embarrassment of riches and they all seem to be buying in, all the time. Oh, and to boot, if they get in any kind of trouble, injury or personnel wise, they have a bevy of resources to make moves from for a playoff run. The team to beat in east.
2) Toronto: Kawhi is healthy and engaged, added to one of the deepest rosters in the league. This could easily be best defensive squad, the antidote to the modern NBA is wings/bigs who can rotate 1-5. Running Kawhi, Danny Green, OG, Ibaka, Siakam with a bunch of chippy perimeter defenders is really intriguing. High on Toronto making a deep run. Only wild card is how new coach Nick Nurse fits in and uses his pieces, or if he can even coach, which we don’t know. If that situation gets bad and Kawhi starts eyeing the door, it could go south pretty fast. Being said, with guys like VanVleet and Powell being the 9 & 10 pieces on your bench, the ceiling isn’t very low regardless.
3) Milwaukee: This is a sexy pick for a lot of people. The assumption that Giannis with Popeye arms and Mike Budenholzer are guaranteeing the next step for the franchise. This is likely, and possible. They still have some questions at guard, what is Bledsoe’s ceiling and most of your shooting guard minutes being used by Brogdon and rookie DiVincenzo. Thon Maker is still an intriguing prospect, who could potentially cause all sorts of length problems for opposing teams if he can lock in. Lopez adds a big man perimeter threat to stretch the floor and Ilyasova helps what was a thin bench. Looking up for the Bucks.
4) Indiana: I know it’s uncommon to see the Pacers this high, but to me, this is a team that plays the right way and has the continuity and improved health of last seasons starters. They filled a hole drafting Aaron Holiday late, who I think can be a steal of the draft. Suring up some the ball handling, improved shooting with McDermott and some added scoring/slashing from Tyreke Evans, who can play multiple positions, could see 30+ minutes a night and should contend for 6th man of the year. I’m bullish on the Pacers, and their depth puts them over the other mid-tier Eastern teams.
5) Philadelphia: Can’t say enough about Joel and Ben, and if the offseason is any indication they’re development has continued and both should be even more effective this season. Saric is a strong piece, but still a lot of question marks here. Fultz being the obvious, as we have only a small sample as to what he can be. Bellinelli and Ilyasova played big roles off bench that went largely un-filled in offseason. Unless Wilson Chandler turns into something we didn’t know about, or Ben puts some makeup on that ugly jumper, the team seems too short to wind up much further than they did last season, perhaps a small step back.
6) Charlotte: This will be the sneaky good team of the East. Under new coach Barrego, who plans to run with Kemba and pick up the the pace. With finally moving past Kidd-Gilchrist starting, using him as utility man will better serve his skill set. Miles Bridges one of the steals of draft, he’s NBA ready and will take heavy minutes off the bat. Can imagine Tony Parker helping in the locker room, and especially helping his friend Batum play to his potential all season long.
7) Washington: Old Washington. Wall/Beal/Porter alone are enough to talent themselves to 45 wins. WE all know that. One thing we also know, EXACTLY what Dwight Howard is. I can’t understand all the analysts taking the Dwight bait, again, demanding it’s intriguing. It’s not, it’s obvious, and we know exactly what he’ll do. Probably around 14/10, bad plus/minus and create some kind of tension in the locker room, which the Wiz have in abundance already. But asides from that, the lengthening of bench with Jeff Green and Austin Rivers were two under radar moves that should provide a lot of relief, particularly on offense, and keep them in the mix.
8) Miami: They are almost too boring to write about. Most interesting thing will be whatever weird stuff Whiteside does. But, in the East, Dragic and Richardson and some capable bigs mixed with a great coach is enough to get in playoffs and I don’t imagine make very much noise. Jimmy Buckets starts wearing pastel shirts in the sun, obviously a different story.
9) Detroit: Can’t hate on the Drummond/Griffin front court, it’s malleable and dynamic. But, after that their success is weighted on things like Reggie Jacksons health and the development of guys like Kennard, not too high on their chances of breaking through. Would not be shocked to see Dwayne Casey pull more out of this squad and cracking the playoffs.
10) Chicago: With a healthy Maarkanen, I projected them to sneak around the 8 seed. Even with no interest in defense, that lineup looked potent enough to 120+ there way into 37+ wins. Now with his injury projecting long, and them in no rush this season, I don’t think so anymore. The shortening of the bench with Portis taking heavy minutes will thin them out early. Dunn/LaVine backcourt one of biggest question marks of season, they’re development paramount to any version of success.
11) Brooklyn: I have bias, this is my team, I’m a season ticket holder and because of this, have fan hood optimism. In reality, this season is about next season, and a surprise run to the playoffs doesn’t suit the Nets particularly well, as they are going into 2019 with their own first round pick in what feels like 80 years, and the ability to sign two max players. Now, my dilemma is this. Seeing the landscape of available free agents next season, who are we getting? Part of me believes a continuation of winning and culture and building is the best medicine, and getting your young core, particularly Jarrett Allen and Caris LaVert some playoff run might be better in the long term, and also more attractive to free agents. Expect another humdrum year from D’Angelo Russell and the Nets moving past him after season.
12) Cleveland: Tristan Thompson’s pre-season delcration that they are the team to go through in the East is not only wrong, it was plainly stupid. Now, with all the things this team has to worry about, he put a target on their back from the top 3 teams in the conference. Love will have 50 Wolve- era type games, mostly for naught. Could see big jump from Rodney Hood going into contract year and starter level minutes from Sexton
13) Atlanta: I don’t hate the Trae Young move as much as most. It was bold and clear, and while Doncic should out-perform in his current situation, taking a spark plug at a premium position who can fill seats for a team primed for another lottery run regardless, why not? He’s a fun player with unlimited range and ridiculous vision for his age, with the amount of volume he’ll see, my choice for ROY. That being said, shouldn’t translate to too many wins, biggest questions are if Collins and Prince are pieces to built around moving forward.
14) New York: As usual, Knicks fans are making Kevin Knox out to be the next Willis Reed. I live here and legitimately feel bad for Knicks fans, they’re optimism stems from a wonderful fanhood, one as a Nets fan I’m jealous of. But, being said, this year is about losing. Would like to see development from Ntilikina and Knox, and see if they got the right guy in coach David Fizdale, which I think is a great hire for this town. All about some culture building and who you can piece with a healthy Porzingis next season.
15) Orlando: Not many interesting things to watch here. Is Gordon a franchise player, probably not. Curious about development of Isaac and Bamba, but that’s about it, they’ll be pretty terrible and in position for next years #1.
1) Houston: Reigning MVP Harden looks sharp this offseason and the team is primed for a big regular season. Ariza is a very nice player, but the idea he is the key to the demise is overblown. Ennis is a plus defender and Carmelo fills in the perimeter void. Think this team is primed for 65+ regular season wins here, they’ll be far more motivated to grab that number one seed and will push harder for it than the Dubs. Wondering if Brandon Knight can give them anything, if he manages to scratch his health and potential, would be huge ball handling upgrade over MCW. I expect Melo to have highest shooting percentages in years, perhaps his career.
2) Golden State: We all know what they are, but, they are not built for the regular season 82 grind anymore. Past Iguoadala/Livingston, the bench is eerily thin, and one of them will have to start and the others log heavy minutes if/when Cousins returns to take real minutes. Draymond is starting banged up, with the normal nicks, bruises and caution they use with playoff certainty, I think they’ll suffer in regular season wins and not come atop the West. Playoffs, different story entirely. This is the season Steph Curry reminds everyone how damn good he is, and will take his 3rd MVP trophy, I can’t believe he has managed to be underrated.
3) Utah: Undervalued thing in the NBA is continuity, and the team who will compete with Toronto for best defense in league is Utah, for that very reason. With Gobert anchoring, they’re fluid and long and talk and have ability to shut down offenses. Mitchell wasn’t a flash in the pan, and Quinn Snyder seems like the Rubio whisperer. This team is fun, and chippy and can get in peoples heads, give me Joe Ingles all day long.
4) Denver: Love this squad, it’s deep and fast and hungry and most of core is on at least 2nd or 3rd season together. Jokic is so dynamic, and paired with Millsap, who most forget from average 17/18’ campaign what kind of player he is. I imagine those two being one of the craftier, better shooting and rebounding front courts in the NBA. Murray is a budding star and Will Barton has always had a chip on his shoulder, can imagine a breakout campaign with the forthcoming starters minutes. Lyles and Beasley look nice in offseason, firming up the bench.
5) OKC: I’m high on OKC, as I feel they’re best talents are built to withstand Warriors like systems. With Carmelo gone, this immediately is a top 3 defense and a year of chemistry building with Russ/PG/Adams should really show. Schroeder, I imagine will benefit greatly from being around Russ, who loves swag when you deserve it and hates it when you don’t show up. Exactly what a guy like that needs, and I think we’ll see Dennis’s strongest pro season. Fear is the chunk of time Russ and Roberson miss early will affect their standings too much, only takes a few games to slip out of it in the stacked West.
6) LA Lakers: I know I’m not supposed to judge the preseason, but it’s hard not to once you get your eyes on something. I really liked the idea of this Lakers team, on paper. Seeing some of these guys on the floor together and getting a glimpse how it would operate scares me. Rondo is a good option, a winning option, but he needs to carve and dribble to do work. I trust he’s smart enough to make it work, by all accounts he’ll be coaching some day, but the eye test is low. That being said, it’s LeBron, in LA, everything will be stacked in their favor and the league is dying for them to get in, one way or another it’s gonna happen. .
7) New Orleans: Anthony Davis is an absolute monster, who is going to just make the playoffs and than leave New Orleans. Sorry, he has no choice. The front court of AD/Mirotic/Randle is intriguing, and should get them up past 40 wins, another 6/7wins based on AD’s pure dominance and underrated Jrue Holiday. With Payton now in tow to spell ball handling duties, which they needed badly last year, I see them around 6/7 seed.
8) Portland: Almost same roster returning from last season with a few small losses. Anticipating a jump year from Zach Collins, who showed very interesting flashes last year. Evan Turner is an underrated piece who can handle and truly anchors the bench. This 8 seed is entirely dependent on Jimmy Butler, and if he stays with Minnie all year, Portland is my team to get knocked out of playoffs.
9) Memphis: Not far removed from Gasol/Conley being a perennial playoff pair, they are being billed as back and healthy, along with Chandler Parsons and the signing of Kyle Anderson to improve the wing. Some nice young players in Dillon Brooks and rookie Jaren Jackson. I could see this team winning 50 or 25, but I’m leaning towards solid and un-playoff bound 42-45 wins or so.
10) LA Clippers: This team could surprise people. Tobias Harris is the real deal, and on the cusp of an all star season. A healthy backcourt starting Beverly/Bradley could be lockdown, spelling with Lou Williams and Gilgeous-Alexander, who I think will be top 5 ROY candidate. So much here depends on health, and I think some major pieces will get knocked up enough to keep them out of playoffs. But expect strong season and good set-up for next season, which could also include a big late season trade. An interesting team.
11) San Antonio: The deal they got back for Kawhi was about as good as you can get with no leverage. My heart is telling me, of course, the Spurs will be in it by the end. But when I I really examine these rosters and with the recent injuries to 2/3 of their primary ball handlers (Murray/White), I can see the mighty falling out, and I’ll not so boldly predict so. Welcome to a new era.
12) Minnesota: As I write this, Jimmy Butler is scheduled to play game one and be part of the team. I’m sure he’ll play well, and who knows what this does for team in the long run. But as it stand, I see the beginning of the year as more of a showcase and expect him to be traded. I’m nearly done with Andrew Wiggins and his “untapped” potential, which leaves KAT and a bunch of old Bulls. This setup leaves them well short of playoffs, if Thibs manages to see this through with no incident, they are a playoff team and would move Portland out of the top 8.
13) Dallas: I expect this team to be fun, and competitive. Sportscenter will get lit up when Smith, Doncic and Jordan are doing their thing. This is a retirement tour for Dirk and another rebuilding year for Mavs. Carlisle will surely have them competitive and fun, but short on wins.
14) Phoenix: This is a team, roster wise that is trending up. Booker is a young all-star, Ayton looks like the real deal and a couple young pieces could still flourish. On the down side, they have almost no ball handlers and as usual, a totally manic front office that instills no calm in the seas. Not optimistic about Bender and Jackson either, could’ve been two straight bad drafts. Where’s Thunder Dan and KJ when you need them?
15) Sacramento: Fox is the only starting caliber player currently on roster, back to the top of the lottery. Curious about Bagley, could see breakout year for Harry Giles, that’s about it, true punching bags of the West.
East Conference Finals : Boston/Toronto
East Champion: Boston
Western Conference Finals: Warriors/Jazz
Western Champion: Warriors
Finals Champion: Warriors
MVP: Steph Curry
6th man: Tyreke Evans
Defensive Player: Anthony Davis
Rookie of year: Trae Young
Coach of year: Quinn Snyder
Most Improved: Kemba WalkerExecutive of the Year: Jon Horst