By Trevor Hass
I don’t know about you, but I’m particularly excited for the NBA season this year. Granted, I get giddy just looking at a basketball, but I really do think we’re in for a treat this season.
While the Warriors are the clear favorite, and will likely repeat, I’d say there are five other teams (Cavaliers, Thunder, Rockets, Celtics, Spurs, in that order) that have a legit shot at dethroning the champs.
Nothing will beat the Mavs’ run to the title in 2011, but every year I come into it hoping we’ll see something like that. Dirk and LeBron faced off in a series and Dirk won! How dope is that? Nothing even against LeBron…Dirk’s just the man.
Anyway, I digress. Back to 2017, where if you’re not on a team with three superstars you’re doing something wrong. It was crazy how the dominoes ended up falling this offseason. Kyrie Irving, Paul George, Gordon Hayward, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Paul Millsap, Jimmy Butler and Isaiah Thomas are all on new teams. That’s wild.
It seems like nearly every team is different, except maybe the Spurs, who will likely still have the same nucleus in 2030 – perhaps with Tim Duncan’s kid thrown into the mix.
I say this every year, but I think the overall identity of the NBA is often misconstrued. Some people don’t like watching because they already know what’s going to happen. Will the Warriors win it all? Probably. Will people talk about Lonzo and LaVar Ball way too much? Probably. Will the Sixers tank? Probably not, so that’s cool!
But that’s not where the fun is. The fun is in the unpredictability and the chaos, the triple-doubles and the comeback wins. Think of it like going to see a movie, even though you likely know what’s going to happen. I mean, Harry was always going to kill Voldemort, but that didn’t make it any less exhilarating when it happened. I think this season will be the best one in a few years, so without further ado, here’s a preview:
1) Cleveland Cavaliers (54-28) – I could see this going either way. I think the Celtics and Cavs will finish with about the same record, but I think the Cavs will ultimately get the 1 seed. Losing Kyrie will hurt in the Finals, but getting D Wade and Isaiah ain’t too shabby. Their starting lineup is obviously great, but have you seen their bench? Derrick Rose, Jose Calderon, J.R. Smith, Kyle Korver, Iman Shumpert, Jeff Green, Tristan Thompson and Channing Frye is honestly one of the deeper benches ever. It might be the best. I mean that group of eight is pretty much a fringe playoff team in the East this year.
LeBron’s made the Finals seven straight years, so I see no logical reason to bet against him. Though the gap is dwindling, he’s still clearly the best player in the NBA. I think what’s really interesting here is how the Cavs will match up with the Warriors in the likely tetralogy.
I think Isaiah Thomas will have trouble guarding either Steph or Klay for extended stretches. With Kyrie gone, a lot of the scoring onus will fall on Kevin Love, and I think he’s going to have a big year. The Cavs can match the Warriors shooting 3s at nearly every position, and I think they’re deeper and more experienced at several spots, so it will be fun to see how it unfolds.
2) Boston Celtics (52-30) – It’s truly astonishing how much Danny Ainge and Co. chose to overhaul a 53-win team that made the Eastern Conference Finals. It’s kind of like going to one college and liking it, knowing it doesn’t benefit you long term and transferring to a new one and a potentially better life before it’s too late.
I wrote a full Celtics preview, that you can check out here, but to sum up: I think they’ll be very good, really fun to watch and a step better than last year. It’s still LeBron’s East, though, at least for the time being.
3) Washington Wizards (51-31) – People seem to forget that the Wizards have just about everyone back from a team that was a normal Kelly Olynyk shooting night away from the Eastern Conference Finals. John Wall’s entering his prime, Bradley Beal’s one of the better two-way 2s and Otto Porter can do no wrong. The Wizards should be solid again this year, especially with the East in semi-disarray.
4) Milwaukee Bucks (44-38) – Everything in Milwaukee starts with Giannis Antetokounmpo (spelled it right on the first try. Midseason form, baby!). The Bucks have a really solid core around him, and I expect them to make a jump this year. They might even win a series.
5) Toronto Raptors (43-39) – The East, while far inferior to the West, isn’t that terrible. I mean if the Raptors, who are a very good team, could finish out of the top three, that tells you something. They’re kind of stuck in no man’s land, like the Grizzlies – very good and fun to watch, but unable to get over the hump.
6) Miami Heat (41-41) –The Heat are somewhat brash, and I think they think they’re better than they are, but sometimes that can help. As long as Dion Waiters is there, this is a team to watch. Championship or bust, am I right?
7) Detroit Pistons (39-43) – Avery Bradley was one of the most underrated acquisitions of the offseason. He’ll be a nice complement to Reggie Jackson and will help him get more uncontested looks. Bradley’s a lockdown defender, and when you put him with Tobias Harris, Stanley Johnson and Andre Drummond, good things are going to happen on that end of the floor.
8) Charlotte Hornets (38-44) – The loss of Nicolas Batum to start the season hurts, but this should still be a playoff team. Fun fact about Dwight Howard you might not suspect: He’s made the playoffs every year but one since 2007. He’s still dominant on occasion, and I think he, Kemba and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist can lead them to the postseason.
9) Indiana Pacers (37-45) – This team has 9-seed written all over it. Myles Turner is one of the bright young stars in the league, and Victor Oladipo will help, but the Pacers are still in that in-between territory.
10) Philadelphia 76ers (36-46) – Sorry, I just don’t see it. Not yet, anyway. I think the Sixers will definitely make the playoffs next year, but I don’t think they’re quite there. Ben Simmons, though incredible in transition, is a turnover machine. Joel Embiid, even with his new paycheck, is incredibly injury-prone. J.J. Redick helps. They actually have a lot of shooting now, between Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Redick and Jerryd Bayless, but I think they’re going to struggle defensively and with turnovers. Next year. They’re certainly on the rise, though, and they’re way too good to tank.
11) Brooklyn Nets (36-46) – Recently, the Sixers and Nets have been battling for the No. 1 pick, and soon they’ll be battling in the playoffs, but right now they’re battling for mediocrity. D’Angelo Russell’s cool and all, but what makes people think he’s going to lead them to the playoffs when he’s still so unproven? Give it time, people. I will say that the Nets are tough. Sean Kilpatrick, Allen Crabbe, Trevor Booker and DeMarre Carroll are all fierce competitors, but I don’t see it meshing perfectly quite yet.
12) Orlando Magic (33-46) – The Magic have some nice pieces, especially Nikola Vucevic, but they don’t have enough firepower to make the playoffs. I think Jonathan Isaac will play a lot and could be in the running for Rookie of the Year.
13) New York Knicks (31-51) – Melo’s (finally) gone, which opens the door for Kristaps Porzingis to be the face of the franchise. There’s just one problem. I don’t think he’s destined to be the best player on a contender. He’s a great player, but I think he’s better suited as a No. 2 or 3 option. For now, though, it’s his team. Tim Hardaway Jr., Joakim Noah and Courtney Lee are all solid players. I don’t think the Knicks will be a train wreck, but I don’t think they’ll sniff the playoffs, either.
14) Atlanta Hawks (27-55) – The Atlanta Hawks might be a train wreck. They’re counting on Dennis Schroder to be a star, which he’s naturally not, and they’re also expecting an awful lot out of Kent Bazemore and Taurean Prince.
15) Chicago Bulls (24-58) – Yep, I think it’s true. I think the Bulls really are the worst team in the East, and thus the league. Rose, Butler, Gasol, Deng, Noah and Michael Jordan are all gone. This team ain’t what it used to be. Bobby Portis and Zach LaVine should have big years stat-wise, but I don’t see this team winning too many games.
1) Warriors (67-15) – Ho-hum. Excited to see Swaggy P and JaVale celebrate in June.
2) Rockets (59-23) – Yep, I think they’re that good. The main question is whether Chris Paul and James Harden can mesh well together, and I think the answer is a clear-cut yes. They’re both going to have the ball a ton, and having two truly elite playmakers, who can both shoot, pass and dribble, will help immensely.
Chris Paul really needed a change, and now he has one. I also think the Rockets’ supporting case is criminally underrated. Nene, Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza, Eric Gordon, Clint Capela and P. J. Tucker are all very solid role players, and Mike D’Antoni has them playing the right way. I think this is a team that can win 60-plus games.
3) San Antonio Spurs (56-26) – Ho-hum, part two. But seriously, do you really think Pop would let the Spurs dip below the three seed? I don’t. And that’s without them even caring about the regular season. They’re just too good.
4) Oklahoma City Thunder (53-29) – The Thunder are one of the teams I’m most intrigued to watch. They’re almost built like an all-star team. I think having Russ and Paul George around him is going to open things up a lot for Melo. He’s been dominant in the Olympics when he hasn’t had to take every shot, and I think playing with other stars will really benefit him.
It isn’t just the big three, either. Steven Adams is as tough as they come. I’ve never been a huge Andre Roberson guy, but he shouldn’t have to take very many shots now, which will bring out the best in him. The Patrick Patterson pickup is also stealthily huge. He’s terrific. There was certainly a lot of change, and there are a lot of ball-dominant players on one roster. But hey, maybe it’ll all work out. Either way, they’ll be a fun team to watch.
5) Minnesota Timberwolves (48-34) – You better believe it. The Wolves are playoff-bound this year. Karl-Anthony Towns could be a sneaky MVP candidate, Jimmy Butler is entering his prime and Jeff Teague, Andrew Wiggins, my man Gorgui Dieng and Taj Gibson is a heck of a supporting cast. Oh, and where’s the offense off the bench coming from, you might ask? Why, from Jamal Crawford, one of the most prolific sixth men in NBA history.
The Wolves are legit. The rebuild is over, and now it’s time to win. If it ends up being Thunder-Wolves, getcha popcorn ready.
6) Denver Nuggets (44-38) – Don’t look now, but the Nuggets are the kind of team that could potentially stage an upset in the first round. They’re a little inexperienced at guard, but they’re absolutely stacked at forward/center. Nikola Jokic, Paul Millsap, Kenneth Faried and Mason Plumlee is a heck of a foursome. Millsap was probably the other most underrated signing, along with Bradley, and I think he’s poised for a fringe 20 and 10 year if he stays healthy. He and Jokic should pair well together, as they’re both unselfish and play at a similar pace. The Nuggets should turn some heads this year.
7) Utah Jazz (42-40) – The Jazz lost Gordon Hayward, but they’re still stacked. Ricky Rubio will be a nice fit there and open things up for their shooters. Rodney Hood’s a rising star and Rudy Gobert is one of the most reliable players around.
8) Portland Trailblazers (41-41) – Which Blazers team will we see this year – the one that started last year slowly or finished last year strong? I think it’ll be somewhere in the middle. They’d be a clear playoff team in the East, but in the West it’ll be tough. Jusuf Nurkic will help Dame and C.J., and I think they’ll sneak into the playoffs.
9) Memphis Grizzlies (41-41) – As long as Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are there, this is a solid team. Hopefully Chandler Parsons bounces back this year. Tyreke Evans’ health could be a big factor, and Ben McLemore will give them a nice scoring boost off the bench. I don’t see them making the playoffs, mostly because the West is so loaded. In the East, they’d be a 5 or 6 seed. They’re in no man’s land, and this could be the year they break it up.
10) New Orleans Pelicans (40-42) – Wait, the Pelicans have Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Jrue Holiday…shouldn’t they make it? They should, but they won’t. their supporting cast might be one of the worst around. Once Rondo comes back, that should help, but until then it might be tough treading.
11) Los Angeles Clippers (38-44) – The Clippers are a curious bunch. They lost Chris Paul and J.J. Redick, but if Milos Teodosic is all he’s cracked up to be they still could be good. If Blake stays healthy they’ll be fine, but in the West nothing is given.
12) Los Angeles Lakers (34-48) – The Lakers have a rookie who’s going to change the face of the NBA. He played in the Pac-12 and was a first-round pick. His name…is Kyle Kuzma…No, but seriously, Kuzma’s really good. Lonzo? I guess we’ll have to wait and find out.
13) Dallas Mavericks (29-53) – I want better for Dirk, but this might be his destiny. Part of me wants him to go to a contender, but most of me doesn’t because that goes against everything I believe.
14) Sacramento Kings (26-56) – The Kings are going to struggle offensively. Zach Randolph, as bullish as he is, is their main threat, and that’s not ideal. De’Aaron Fox will be a star in a few years, but it could be a rocky start on a team without much punch. But Vince Carter is there, so who knows?
15) Phoenix Suns (25-57) – Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker and Josh Jackson is a really nice core, and I think they should think twice before breaking it up. They’re just so young, though, and the West is so loaded. We shall see.
1 Cavs over 8 Hornets in 5
2 Celtics over 7 Pistons in 5
3 Wizards over 6 Heat in 6
5 Raptors over 4 Bucks in 7
1 Warriors over 8 Blazers in 5
2 Rockets over 7 Jazz in 5
3 Spurs over 6 Nuggets in 6
4 Thunder over 5 Wolves in 7
1 Cavs over 5 Raptors in 5
2 Celtics over 3 Wizards in 7
1 Warriors over 4 Thunder in 6
2 Rockets over 3 Spurs in 7
1 Cavs over 2 Celtics in 6
1 Warriors over 2 Rockets in 6
1 Warriors over 1 Cavs in 6
NBA Finals MVP: Kevin Durant
Regular season awards:
1) Kawhi Leonard
2) LeBron James
3) Kevin Durant
4) Karl-Anthony Towns
5) Russell Westbrook
Rookie of the Year:
1) Jonathan Isaac
2) Dennis Smith Jr.
3) Josh Jackson
4) Ben Simmons
5) Kyle Kuzma
Coach of the Year:
1) Mike Malone
2) Jason Kidd
3) Tom Thibodeau
4) Mike D’Antoni
5) Brad Stevens
1) Kawhi Leonard (29.4)
2) Kevin Durant (27.6)
3) James Harden (26.8)
4) Karl-Anthony Towns (25.9)
5) Giannis Antetokounmpo (25.7)
6) Russell Westbrook (25.6)
7) DeMar DeRozan (24.8)
8) Steph Curry (24.6)
9) Devin Booker (23.9)
10) DeMarcus Cousins (23.6)
1) Rudy Gobert (13.7)
2) DeMarcus Cousins (13.4)
3) Dwight Howard (13.2)
4) Hassan Whiteside (12.8)
5) Andre Drummond (12.6)
6) Karl-Anthony Towns (12.2)
7) Anthony Davis (11.8)
8) Giannis Antetokounmpo (10.4)
9) Nikola Jokic (10.4)
10) DeAndre Jordan (10.2)
1) Chris Paul (11.4)
2) John Wall (10.9)
3) Russell Westbrook (10.4)
4) Jeff Teague (9.9)
5) Ricky Rubio (9.5)
6) LeBron James (9.1)
7) Jrue Holiday (8.7)
8) Steph Cury (8.3)
9) James Harden (8.1)
10) Draymond Green (7.8)
Buy or Sell:
Lonzo Ball a future superstar – Sell
Lonzo Ball a solid starter – Buy
Sixers make the playoffs this year – Sell
Sixers make the playoffs next year – Buy
Chris Paul and James Harden gel – Buy
Devin Booker all-star – Buy
Grizzlies make a trade – Buy
Dirk Nowitzki retires – Sell
- Jimmy Butler will have a huge year
- Jeff Hornacek will be fired mid-season
- Klay Thompson will flirt with 50/40/90 but won’t get it
- Paul George will average less than 21 PPG
- The Raptors will look very different after this season
- Isaiah Thomas won’t play until February
- Giannis will be considered one of the best of the best players in the league when the season ends
- Brook Lopez will have a sneakily good year for the Lakers
- Dwyane Wade will play fewer than 50 regular-season games
- Paul Millsap will be exactly what Denver needs
- Blake Griffin will either get injured or have a huge year – not in the middle
- Bradley Beal will average over 23 PPG
- Kevin Durant will shoot 90 percent from the line
- J.J. Redick will lead the league in 3-point percentage
I’m sure all of these predictions will be wrong, but that’s not what matters here. What matters is that the wait is over! The NBA is back!
I’m sure all of these predictions will be wrong, but that’s not what matters here. What matters is that the wait is over! The NBA is back!