We have yet to receive a definitive date for the start of the 2018/2019 season. (UPDATE – October 16th Celtics/76ers has been announced as the first game). October 12th marks the final day of NBA pre-season, so the opening games will be soon to follow.
It is still two and a half months away, but the excitement for this years season is real. We’ve got a lot of stories that will dominate the course of the year:
- Will the Golden State Warriors win a dynasty-building three championships in a row?
- Can LeBron James and the LA Youth/Meme Squad overcome the strength of the Western Conference and make the finals?
- Has the path been set for the Boston Celtics to navigate the East and make a run at the finals?
- Will teams like the Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks and Sacramento Kings show signs of young star-power?
Regardless of your outlook, the hot-takes will be real.
But aside from the obvious, let’s go from expectations; to bold predictions.
Some of these might happen, some of these might not happen. Their is an element of risk to these words. But that’s what makes them fun to write about.
Let’s take a look at our bold predictions for every NBA team next season.
1. Atlanta Hawks
Bold Prediction – Trae Young makes All-Rookie First Team, and the Hawks become the best team outside of the playoff 8.
Reasoning – I see a lot of comparisons between Trae Young and Lonzo Ball coming in to this season. Both were very polarizing coming in to their first seasons, for different reasons.
Lonzo was portrayed through his Dad for the most part. He let his on-court actions do the talking, becoming a great facilitator and support man for the wings and bigs. It was a change of direction for Lonzo who played a primary role in the UCLA offense.
With Trae, I see him taking a similar path. eremy Lin, an under the radar pick-up for the Hawks, will provide a veteran outlook on offense at the point. Trae Young’s role this year, primarily, will be to facilitate. And averaging 6.8 assists at Summer League is a promising sign for that to come into fruition.
Why will the Hawks be the best team outside the playoff 8 in the East? They impressed me toward the end of last season. John Collins led the Summer League in PPG, Taurean Prince balled out after the All-Star break. Kent Bazemore and Dwayne Dedmon will have chips on their shoulders. Add in Alex Len, Justin Anderson and Jeremy Lin with Trae Young and first round pick Kevin Huerter and things are about to get interesting in Atlanta. It could equally go horribly wrong, but we’re being bold.
2. Boston Celtics
Bold Prediction – The Celtics sweep the east, with relative ease, and take Golden State to 7.
Reasoning – What Brad Stevens and Danny Ainge have done over the course of one season is nothing short of masterful. From making the Eastern Conference Finals, they followed it up by trading their best player and what looked like a Top 5 pick. And somehow, they’re better off for it.
While last year’s off-season was a win for Ainge, the course of the season proved for Brad Stevens why he’s one of the best in the business. Gordon Hayward’s absence for 81 and a half games was sorely missed, but it wasn’t until star man Kyrie Iriving made way in March due to a knee injury, that we saw the rest of the roster shine in their absence.
Relying on rookie Jayson Tatum as their offensive starlet, the Celtics managed an Eastern Conference Finals appearance and even brought LeBron James (and the Cavs) to 7 games. If that’s not awe inspiring for next season I don’t know what is. Players like Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier and Semi Ojeleye saw significant minutes in crunch time that will only improve them for future games.
I haven’t seen any major improvements, bar one or two teams, in the East from last season. With LeBron headed West, the path is set for the healthier version of the C’s to dominate and bring the best out of Golden State.
3. Brooklyn Nets
Bold Prediction – The Brooklyn Nets make the playoffs.
Reasoning – This. Is. Bold.
The Brooklyn Nets have epitomized the modern NBA tanking outfit. Through bad trades, pick giveaways, and awful performances in-between, the Nets have been a disappointing team to support over the past three seasons.
The last season gone by, however, there was a sign of improvement. A visible sign of improvement. The man above (Spencer Dinwiddie) turned out to be clutch at the best of times. D’Angelo Russell, still young in his NBA tenure, was injured for good portions of the season. Jarrett Allen proved to be a big man worth letting take the helm at the 5.
They’ve since added Ed Davis and Shabazz Napier, two very useful roster pieces, alongside starter Kenneth Faried of the Nuggets. I feel like the Nets are being slept on a little. Their upside is not tremendous, but what have the Pistons, Bulls, Hornets, Knicks or Magic added?
With other Eastern Conference teams regressing in this off-season, the Nets could sneakily be on their way to their first playoff appearance in four seasons.
4. Charlotte Hornets
Bold Prediction – Kemba Walker leaves mid-season.
Reasoning – There’s not much to cover in terms of the Hornets off-season changes. The big news, in ways, was the departure of Dwight Howard to the Nets (and then to the Wizards). The Hornets have lost an efficient veteran at the 5 but the injured Cody Zeller will return to facilitate the gap somewhat.
Elsewhere, Jeremy Lamb has show a steady improvement, Miles Bridges looked good at Summer League.. OKAY I’m going to say it, poor Kemba Walker.
Walker has been the best Point Guard on the worst team for the past how-many seasons. He’s entering in to his final season of his current contract that will make him an unrestricted free agent next summer. It might be the best move for both teams. Walker can still be the franchise PG for years to come, but the Hornets front office haven’t showed many signs of building around him
They’ve had an intriguing approach for the past two seaons – not good enough to make the playoffs, but a being a little better than tanking. The Hornets must decide this season their faith, and with that will be a decision on the future of Kemba.
5. Chicago Bulls
Bold Prediction – A star will emerge from the Bulls, but it won’t be named Jabari Parker or Zach LaVine.
Reasoning – The Bulls acquisition of Jabari Parker was a great story. Parker is returning to his hometown, and now injury-free, can make a go as a starter in a team he has room to breathe into.
Zach LaVine rumours were put to rest this off-season signing a 80 million, 4-year contract to stay in Chicago. LaVine, another player that has been injury plagued, is looking to expand his role with the Bulls and see where an 82 game season can bring him if healthy.
While a lot of the chatter and stories will revolve around those two men, don’t sleep on the real star of the Bulls. Lauri Markkanen (above) proved in his first season he can be a modern Dirk Nowitzki – a foreign player having a franchise changing impact – just replace the fadeaway 2’s with sharpshooting 3s.
Markkanen, coming in to last season, was one of the most heavily criticised picks at 7. However, he silenced his doubters by putting up solid numbers of 15.2/1.2/7.5 along with being the fastest player to reach 100 NBA 3-pointers. Next season is built to be the season of Lauri. Let’s wait and see.
6. Cleveland Cavaliers
Bold Prediction – Sorry Cleveland, but it’s time to say goodbye to playoff basketball..
Reasoning – Last season proved to be LeBron’s worst supporting cast statistically since the post Miami era. And now, they are left, LeBron-less..
Kevin Love’s contract extension has dominated the headlines in the Cavs hemisphere. Going all-in on Love signals that the Cavs owners don’t want to do the natural thing and build towards the draft. They believe they can make a run with Love as their star-man. But they might be a bit delusional.
There’s no doubt in my mind that at one point in his career, Kevin Love was a star-man that could carry a team. It will be interesting to see if he can improve on this years slight performance decline, injuries were no doubt a factor but having more room to expand with James in L.A will be make or break for Love.
Elsewhere though, there’s not much upside. The likes of Kyle Korver and J.R Smith were spot-up shooters built for a LeBron team. Jordan Clarkson and George Hill were underwhelming last season. Tristan Thompson was valuable in the playoffs but ghosted during the regular season. Rodney Hood showed flashes of brilliance, and constant inconsistencies.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are doomed, basically. The only way I see them making the playoffs is if Collin Sexton has a Donovan Mitchell Rookie Year and carries the team. That or Super Kevin Love returns. But both are unlikely. They will be close, maybe a 9 or 10 team in the East, but I believe playoff contention is a big ask.
7. Dallas Mavericks
Bold Prediction – Luka Doncic is Rookie of the Year, but it’s not enough for Dallas to return to the playoffs.
Reasoning – Let’s take a look at Dallas potential starting 5.
Dennis Smith Jr. Luka Doncic. Harrison Barnes. No legs Dirk. DeAndre Jordan.
That’s not a bad starting five. Throw-in minutes from Dwight Powell, Wesley Matthews, Jalen Brunson and J.J Barea and we have ourselves a nifty squad. But let’s remind ourselves. This is the Western Conference. And unfortunately for Dallas, you have to do better.
All eyes will be on FIBA Final Four MVP Doncic rolling in to this season. The Slovenian has had a lot of basketball this year already, so he wisely sat out Summer League. It might have been the steal of the draft for Dallas at 5, with a little thanks to Atlanta, but they have themselves a real gem in Doncic. At just 18 years of age, he stood out as the MVP in the NBA light (Euroleague) which is an impressive feat in itself.
He has the size, the moves, the track record at a high level. It just all depends how his game translates to the NBA, and if Dallas is the right fit. With Dirk and other vets, he is surrounded by the right people. Welcome to the Doncic show.
8. Denver Nuggets
Bold Prediction – Nikola Jokic proves he’s not worth a max contract.
Reasoning – Can I first start off by saying a ‘Nuggets won’t make the playoffs’ is not a bold prediction, so I went with the next best thing. I’m rooting for Jokic, but this season gone by was meant to be his ‘breakout’ year of such, and well, he coasted it.
A stat-line of 18.5/10.7/6.1 is nothing to snuff about. Especially considering Jokic is only 23. But as a big man, small ball lineups are slowly phasing out their dominance over the league. Jokic can adapt accordingly with his impeccable court vision and passing ability. But should you rely on a 5 to air all that distribution?
Looking at the Nuggets, they have a great young core in Jokic, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris. Throw in the new Michael Porter Jr and it’s an interesting fold. That’s another angle, how will Jokic fit with a ball dominant 4?
At the end of the day, there’s more reason to believe Jokic is worth the max then not. All I’m saying is, his untraditional big attributes might be holding him back more than people think.
9. Detroit Pistons
Bold Prediction – Blake Griffin averages his highest PPG ratio to date.
Reasoning – Stop the lights! Blake Griffin is injury free and 29-years-old. Well, that’s great news! What’s next for him?
Hear me out.
We’ve yet to see a full season of Blake without either DeAndre Jordan or Chris Paul. Paul, rightfully, leads the offense on most teams and with the Clippers, he and Jordan established a pick-and-roll partnership of the ages. Ultimately, Blake now has a more freed system whereby he is clearly the number one offensive option.
The Pistons will put the ball in Griffin’s hands more often than not, for need more so than necessity. No one on the Pistons current roster averaged more than 15 PPG last season. Griffin’s offensive prowess may be used more this season than ever before.
The Pistons are an experimental team next season. The bottom half of the Eastern Conference is as open next season as any, so the playoffs aren’t out of reach. A lot will ride on Griffin’s fit for 82 games and his ability to stay healthy, and what I believe will be his best offensive year yet, even if other stats are lacking.
10. Golden State Warriors
Bold Prediction – …The Warriors don’t win a third NBA Championship? Heck, I don’t know.
Reasoning – The Golden State Warriors will probably be the most predictable team next season, for all the right reasons.
Houston posed the Warrior’s greatest challenge last season – taking them to 7 games in the Western Conference Finals. The East couldn’t provide a strong enough challenge, with the underwhelming Cavs being swept in 4.
The addition of All-Star DeMarcus Cousins in the off-season has only strengthened GSW in what was already the only 4 man All-Star team in the league. It remains to be seen if Cousins will be a good fit among a team that tends to avoid relying on play in the post, but on paper he will only strengthen their potential.
But against Houston, the Warriors showed they were not untouchable. Steph had off nights, Durant had off nights. Collectively, having 4 All-Stars allows certain players to step up each night. But the Rockets almost proved to be the perfect foil to upset the former champs until Chris Paul bowed out with an injury.
The Rockets aren’t necessarily stronger this year, the addition of Carmelo Anthony could end up being more bad then good, but the West is getting stronger and stronger. With the addition of LeBron in an already stacked conference, Golden State are going to have to go to work harder than before getting to a finals. And at the top of the west, any team can win on any given day.
11. Houston Rockets
Bold Prediction – It’s not going to be two Western Conference appearances in a row. Sorry Houston.
Reasoning – The Rockets may be one of the losers of the off-season. There is a lot of uncertainty going in to this year, but they have managed to keep their core of Chris Paul, James Harden and Clint Capela intact. That’s a plus.
It might go relatively unnoticed, but the loss of wings Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute might be felt considerably next year. The stat lines may not suggest much of a loss, but losing two competent wings that fitted Mike D’Antoni’s system well is a cause for concern.
The addition of Carmelo Anthony is an on-paper replacement, but Anthony is not a traditional 3 & D wing. His usage rate equals that of Ariza and Mbah a Moute put together and was a disastrous fit with ball dominant Russell Westbrook last year. Anthony needs to learn to adapt to being a role player to succeed later in his career, either that or the Rockets take a gamble and give him an elevated role on the offense.
PJ Tucker was the preferred choice to start over Ariza and Mbah a Moute deep in the playoffs. But over the course of the regular season, the Rockets will be relying on giving out of favour Ryan Anderson more minutes, who barely featured in crunch time in the post-season. Throw in a new-look L.A, a Carmelo-less Thunder, an improved Jazz, and the likelihood that Harden won’t repeat back-to-back MVP seasons – it’s easy to be the sceptic when it comes to the Rockets.
12. Indiana Pacers
Bold Prediction – The Pacers finish Top 2 in the East.
Reasoning – From analysing roster changes this off-season, the Pacers have approached it in the right way. They’ve made some useful signings to add to their rotation, even if they overpaid for some of them. It’s clear they want to make a run at things this season. No one saw them improving without Paul George, and I believe they have a few tricks up their sleeve this year. Here’s why:
Victor Oladipo is their obvious star-man. A clear All-Star last year, the ex-OKC Thunder guard balled out to become Most Improved Player. He clearly relishes his leadership role with the Pacers so it’s only up from here. Trey-McKinney Jones and Lance Stephenson provided Shooting Guard backup for Oladipo last year, which wasn’t exactly ideal. With off-season changes, the Pacers guard lineup can be two of any of the following:
- Darren Collision
- Victor Oladipo
- Tyreke Evans
- Cory Joseph
- Aaron Holiday
That’s pretty deep, but most importantly, allows the Pacers to alleviate some of the pressure on Oladipo. The addition of Tyreke Evans was a steal. Evans had a standout season with the Grizzlies last season and was one of the most sought after Free Agents in February.
Other notable additions include Doug McDermott and Kyle O’ Quinn. The Pacers already have Thaddeus Young, Domantos Sabonis and Myles Turner at 4/5 chart but McDermott will be a solid bench replacement with O’Quinn providing replacement size in the rotation. I feel if they gel, they will be a very hard team to beat, and in a thinner Eastern Conference, I fancy them to take #2 behind the Celtics.
13. Los Angeles Clippers
Bold Prediction – The Clippers come close to the Playoffs. Again.
Reasoning – What are the Los Angeles Clippers going to look like without Chris Paul, Blake Griffin & DeAndre Jordan?
The obvious answer for the Clippers this season was to tank. Losing three of your biggest stars – that were arguably in the Top 5 most influential Clippers franchise players of all-time – only meant one thing. Given they had two high draft picks, 12 & 13 (12 was traded to the Hornets), they could have taken a gamble on a Michael Porter Jr, and went for it. But instead, they have slowly become the most average team in the NBA.
The Clippers went against tanking, and have put together a tidy roster of players that are not great, but not bad either. You’ve got Marcin Gortat at the 5. Tobias Harris at the 4. An injury-plagued Danilo Gallinari at the 3. Avery Bradley at the 2. An injury-plagued Patrick Beverley at the 1. There’s no doubt they are lacking stars, but they actually have a considerable depth.
I haven’t even mentioned Luc Mbah a Moute, Boban Marjanovic, Milos Teodosic and bench player of the century Lou Willimas. Also, not to mention the exciting prospect of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. This is a pretty deep squad. With no stars. Destined for 9th in the West. And that’s not bad a season after losing their three centrepiece players.
14. Los Angeles Lakers
Bold Prediction – LeBron brings L.A to a Western Conference Finals.
Reasoning – There are many sceptics surrounding the LABron experiment. While the Lakers struck gold landing the best player in the league, they failed to surround James with other stars. Instead, they’ve turned L.A into a glorified meme squad.
The strange additions of Rajan Rondo (when you already have a young pass-heavy guard in Lonzo Ball), Lance Stephenson (when you have that history of beef and kiss-blowing with LeBron) and Michael Beasley (where do we start with Michael Beasley) round off a summer of unusual Lakers additions.
It’s even more strange to add these fringe-starters amongst the Lakers available young core. Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart & Brandon Ingram are an enticing four-piece the Lakers should build around. LeBron slots in perfectly to show them the ropes and bring a winning mentality. But with all these characters on the team, next season is as confusing of a prospect as any.
But we saw last season, LeBron was playing with possibly his worst supporting cast in Cleveland and brought them to a Finals. Bear in mind, this was in the shallow East, but even still, teams like OKC, the Rockets and the Jazz have a lot to prove next year. LeBron has shown wherever he goes, he brings his teams to finals. If he can gel with the young Lakers, and the meme squad can operate accordingly in rotational roles, the Lakers can give Golden State a run in the West.
15. Memphis Grizzlies
Bold Prediction – Jaren Jackson Jr. becomes a franchise altering talent.
Reasoning – When you looked at the projected Top 5 of this years NBA draft, you had the accolades and accomplishments of Luka Doncic, the size and dominance of DeAndre Ayton, the block highlight reel of Mo Bamba. Everyone had that star quality, but then comes Jaren Jackson Jr. in to the fold.
There wasn’t anything particularly flashy or highlight reel-esk about Jackson Jr., because he is so well polished at such an early age. At just 18 years old, in Summer League he showed he can lead an offense, score ridiculous 3s and still operate as a defensive big man primarily. If I were a Grizzlies fan, I would be buying a Jackson Jr. jersey.
The Grizzlies will welcome Mike Conley back with open arms to bolster their offence. Marc Gasol may have shown signs of regression, but with the return of Conley and possibly Jackson Jr. at the 4, the onus on his shoulders will be lifted somewhat. In a stacked West, it wasn’t long ago when the Grizzlies were taking it to the Spurs in the playoffs with Conley as their sharp shooter.
Next season will be interesting for various reasons, but I expect the Grizzlies not to be as god awful as last season. The most interesting element will be watching the growth of Jackson Jr, who in my opinion, will lead this franchise to bigger and better things for years to come.
16. Miami Heat
Bold Prediction – Spoelstra’s coaching won’t be enough for another playoff appearance.
Reasoning – I (rather aptly) called the Los Angeles Clippers the best average team in the NBA. If you were splitting up the best average team by conference, the Miami Heat would take that in the East.
Miami have admitted it themselves, they have too many good players, and not enough great players. Unfortunately it’s easy to address that problem after you’ve given out big contracts to average guys. Miami didn’t have the cap room they could have to lure a LeBron or Kawhi. And now, franchise legend Dwayne Wade is 50/50 about returning. That would be a blow.
Wade is past his prime, but we saw glimpses of vintage Wade in the Heat’s playoff run vs. Philly. If anything, it’s a valuable scoring option off the bench. A indisputable head scratcher is Hassan Whiteside still being a Miami Heat player in August. Whiteside, vocal about his role and playing time, heavily criticised the team after their playoff exit last season. Unless things have miraculously been fixed, it was the perfect opportunity to lob off Whiteside’s contract. Also given the fact that sophomore Bam Adebayo is a promising feature at the 5.
Lots was said about Erik Spoelstra’s coaching last season, pushing Miami to sixth in the East. Unfortunately, great coaching can only get you so far, and with a lack of big names or reliable scoring options, Miami will struggle next season.
17. Milwaukee Bucks
Bold Prediction – Antetokounmpo wins MVP for the first time.
Reasoning – The Bucks have shown gradual signs of improvement over the past few seasons. From one of the NBA’s worst teams, they have cemented themselves as a dangerous outfit in the East – bringing Boston to 7 games last season.
The big outlier for the Bucks is of course – Giannis Antetokounmpo. The ‘Greek Freak’ is a player touted for greatness. There is no disputing that. I think he will come one step closer to this weight placed on his shoulders next season. But my main reasoning might not be due to him standing out above the rest.
Looking at the trend of MVPs, the top players in the league have arguably already won the award. For Steph Curry & Kevin Durant, Golden State’s dominance can often overlook their impact. Can James Harden or Russell Westbrook outdo themselves from their MVP seasons? Can LeBron eclipse his runs with Cleveland (the first time) and Miami in his prime?
If someone outside of the usual few stand out, I feel they’re more likely to win. Anthony Davis didn’t start last season well, albeit he was playing alongside Boogie Cousins, but Giannis was consistent from the get go. He will be the glaring omission of a player that hasn’t won it, and the writers will flock to him. That’s my reasoning for Antetokounmpo for MVP 2018/2019.
18. Minnesota Timberwolves
Bold Prediction – Jimmy Butler gets traded mid-season.
Reasoning – The Minnesota experiment last season was great on paper.
You had a former All-Star guard in Jeff Teague, an All-Star offensive weapon in Jimmy Butler, a ROTY in Andrew Wiggins, a valuable role player in Taj Gibson and a future franchise player in Karl Anthony Towns. It’s the making of a great team, but things didn’t go as well as people thought.
Minnesota battled it out in a strong Western Conference, but their 47-35 record was only enough to get them through to the playoffs after the very last game. Tom Thibodeau is a problem. LeBron James averaged the most minutes per game last season, but outside of LeBron, Minnesota were the only team to have all five starters feature in the Top 40 minutes per game clocked. Thibodeau’s reliance on his front 5 has been to his detriment.
Jimmy Butler is not in a good place with the organisation. Reports were leaked that Butler was ‘fed up’ with team-mates for not having a winning mentality. There is talk he won’t sign a contract extension, so if the frustrations grow, Butler could be on his way out sooner than later. At 28, Butler isn’t getting younger. And with a history of bowing out early in the playoffs with the Bulls, his desire to win a ring might be the biggest factor here. Will he get that with the Timberwolves? It doesn’t seem like he thinks so.
19. New Orleans Pelicans
Bold Prediction – Despite AD’s heroics, the Pelicans don’t make the playoffs.
Reasoning – The West is getting stronger and stronger. LeBron’s entry has only made next year’s playoff stakes even higher, and the Pelicans were only 3 wins above the totem pole. One or two games and a slip-up can cost a playoff appearance in the West next season.
As mentioned before, AD took awhile to get in to rhythm. Maybe it was the fact he was adjusting to life with another big beside him in Boogie Cousins. There is no doubt that AD picked it back up heading in to the New Year, and looked monster-like to close off the season. But I’m not convinced he can replicate that for 82 games.
Boogie was carrying the Pelicans for the start, AD for the end. Jrue Holiday coasted parts of the regular season. Losing Rajan Rondo won’t be a huge factor, adding Julius Randle will strengthen them. Having Nikola Mirotic for a full season can only be good too. But I don’t think they should be feared. If the Lakers & the Nuggets make the playoffs next season – which I expect them to – that leaves the Pelicans out of the fold. I have the 8th place boiling down to the Pelicans or Portland, and I’m taking a gamble on Portland.
20. New York Knicks
Bold Prediction – Trey Burke goes from relative unknown – to winning Most Improved Player.
Reasoning – The Knicks have probably the clearest path to tanking next season in my estimation. Without Kristaps Porzingis, they are a completely different team.
Porzingis’ freak injury changed the Knicks trajectory completely, from fringe playoff contenders to perennial tankers. It doesn’t look like the Knicks have any more tools to dig themselves out of that hole until Kristaps returns. But one shining light toward the end of last season was watching the growth and development of Point Guard Trey Burke.
Burke hasn’t had the smoothest of starts to his NBA career. Drafted 9th overall by the Jazz in 2013, Burke has bounced between Utah, the Wizards and now New York never properly finding his feet. After balling out for the N.Y Knicks G League Team (averaging 26.6 points per game), Burke was called up to the big leagues in January to join the guard rotation alongside Frankie Nicotine and Jarrett Jack. To say he held his own is an understatement.
On February 22nd, Burke averaged 26p/6a against the Magic. Two days later, he averaged 26p/8a against the Celtics. On March 10th, he put up 42 points against the Hornets, along with 12 assists. According to Newsday, Burke became the first Knicks player to put up 40+ points and 10+ assists in one game since Stephon Marbury in 2005. If he can carry over his form from the end of last season, I believe he’s in the discussion for MIP.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder
Bold Prediction – OKC, welcome to the PG era.
Reasoning – Just like Paul Pierce carried the Celtics franchise for years, Russell Westbrook has been the one constant in Oklahoma for a decade. Players have come and gone, but Westbrook has provided year after year.
This past year however, we really saw the definition of ‘too many cooks, spoil the broth’. The OKC Big Three of Westbrook, George and Anthony didn’t entirely fit, so the Thunder has reduced it to two over the off-season. It reminds me of 08′ Boston, Pierce was the constant, but Kevin Garnett was the X-Factor. Now George has the room to breathe and become the talisman.
George, in many ways, is one of the league’s best 3 and D wings. He showed he can be the main option on a team in Indiana, but after signing an extension to stay in Oklahoma for the foreseeable future, he’ll want to return to his old ways.
The departure of Carmelo Anthony leaves one less pair of hands to be filled. Andre Roberson will return to bring his defensive prowess. George and Westbrook can steer the Thunder offense in the right direction, with the help of Steven Adams on occasional Pick
& Roles. It’s all being set up for a strong season from OKC. Throw in Dennis Schroder’s alleviation of the burden on Westbrook, on top of the Nerlens Noel experiment, and we could have a very interesting year. This could be the beginning of the PG era in Oklahoma.
22. Orlando Magic
Bold Prediction – The Orlando Magic will be the worst team in the NBA next year.
Reasoning – There. I said it.
I don’t like being negative just for the sake of it, so far my positive bold predictions nearly doubly outweigh the negative ones. But there comes a team every year where there’s just very little positive things to say and Orlando is definitely one of them.
They have brought back Aaron Gordon on a long-term contract, who has yet to prove whether he’s worth investing in or not. Yes, the situation in Orlando is that confusing. At one point this off-season they had Nikola Vucevic, Bismack Biyombo (since traded) and Timofey Mozgov all at the 5 and they traded Mo Bamba at 5, who plays at the 5. Again, confusing.
They failed to address their lack of a Point Guard during the off-season and probably should have bit the Isaiah Thomas bullet that many teams failed to address. Two positives for Orlando next season can be watching how Jonathan Isaac operates when fully healthy, and how Mo Bamba transitions in to the big leagues. That’s about it. They will be the worst team in the NBA, without a shadow of a doubt. Bold, I know.
23. Philadelphia 76ers
Bold Prediction – The Philadelphia 76ers will fail to make the Eastern Conference Finals.
Reasoning – It’s all trending upwards for Philly fans. Ben Simmons had a Rookie of the Year caliber season, Joel Embiid solidified himself as a Top 10 player in the league and other young pieces are becoming useful players. They have the makings of a great, great team. But next year won’t be their season, sadly.
Looking at the bigger picture with the 76ers – they haven’t made any notable changes to their roster. Wilson Chandler was probably their biggest acquisition, and he’ll likely act as backup for Power Forward Dario Saric. Slightly more pressure will be added to the development of Markelle Fultz as he looks to ease some of Ben Simmons’ minutes. And hell, who knows, maybe Philly will work towards pairing Simmons and Fultz on the floor.
It’s worth noting who Philadelphia have lost. Ersan Illyasova and Marco Belinelli might not be world-beaters, but they strengthened the Philly secondary by quite a margin. Their 3 point shooting ability allowed space on the floor for Embiid & Simmons to attack the basket. They will feel this loss, somewhat, but I’m defending it for other reasons.
The 76ers had the cap room this season to acquire a LeBron James or a Kawhi Leonard. After failing to bring a star to Philly, they could have easily overpaid on contract extensions for the likes of Illyasova or Belinelli. Instead, they have opted to gamble on having another impressive season and hoping they can take a big name in 2019. That’s the best long term option, and 76ers fans should be grateful.
24. Phoenix Suns
Bold Prediction – Welcome to the modern Kobe & Shaq.
Reasoning – To say next season is intriguing for the Phoenix Suns is an understatement. After a slew of high draft picks in recent years following the Nash/Stoudemire era, it’s about time Phoenix has shown us what they have been building.
Devin Booker has gradually proved himself to be arguably the most exciting offensive prospect in the NBA. At just 21, he averaged 24.9 points per game last season. Never has an NBA Player reached their peak at 21, so to see those type of numbers put up early in to a career is exciting. But there are downfalls.
Booker has strides to overcome defensively, and has been a liability guarding some of the West’s best. Paired with an Andre Roberson, or an Avery Bradley defensively-minded guard might be the best option. It’s almost as if he’s like an early Kobe. Offensive first, with defense hopefully maturing with age. Things get even more exciting considering his partnership with #1 draft pick DeAndre Ayton.
Ayton, similar to Booker, has questions about his defence but overall is touted for a strong rookie season. He brings an element of old-school big back to the league with his post game. Booker increased his assists tally to 4.7 per game, but even if he’s not the main distributor on the Suns – Ayton & Booker can carry them offensively for the next ten years. The potential is high, the reality is another issue, but all is trending upwards for the Suns future.
25. Portland Trail Blazers
Bold Prediction – Portland will struggle to make the playoffs. From 3rd in the West to 7th/8th.
Reasoning – What makes Portland a playoff perennial team is their offensive output and consistency. While it might not translate to the playoffs, an 82 game-regular season allows Lillard and McCollum to have off-nights and not pay the price too heavily.
Let’s not forget, three games separated the third place in the West and ninth last season. Someone will have to make room for the Lakers to make the playoff 8. That leaves it all the more competitive. Portland haven’t prepared for the competitiveness of the West this off-season, adding Seth Curry can hardly be enough preparation.
There’s no doubt Lillard is in his peak prime. Making All NBA First Team last year, he will want to put his name back in the MVP picture. With McCollum and the rest of the team, they have a point to prove that they aren’t a one man team.
But the downside outweighs the upside, and it doesn’t look like Portland will be any stronger next season. I expect the Warriors, Rockets, Thunder, Jazz, Spurs & Timberwolves to all better Portland, and then it’s a fight for the last two playoff spots.
26. Sacramento Kings
Bold Prediction – Sacramento will be the most fun team to watch next season.
Reasoning – Many of the teams I have written about above have lofty expectations placed on their shoulders. With Sacramento, it’s hard to know what to think. Shall we tank again perhaps?
The acquisition of Marvin Bagley with the second overall pick was a clear power move. They don’t see D’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, or Bogdan Bogdonavic being the leader. Bagley is the centre-piece and his play demands it.
Looking at the stats, the Kings have a high percentage of 3 pointers made, but one of the fewest attempted. With Bagley primarily being a post-player, they’ll be relying on most of the roster to work on their catch and shoot game. Essentially, it’s going to be an experimental year for the Kings.
But with these young pieces, adding in Bagley only takes them deeper in to a rebuilding phase. No one has any expectations for the Kings to do well. It’s all about finding a system that works for them. It’s going to be fun watching the youth, the Bagley/Fox partnership, and the rest of the roster develop. Other teams should envy the Kings. They have the freedom to do whatever they want. I feel like that will make them a fun team to watch next year, whether it goes right or horribly wrong.
27. San Antonio Spurs
Bold Prediction – San Antonio will be better next season without Kawhi Leonard.
Reasoning – On paper, losing your biggest star can be tough. Few teams can recover, and most enter in to some sort of rebuilding phase.
Last year, we got to see a San Antonio Spurs outfit without their best player, and they coped alright. They secured a playoff spot, took one game from the Warriors, all with ancient relics Tony Parker & Manu Ginobili as important pieces to their guard rotation. There’s no doubt their experience can combine to be very helpful in a playoff run. But in 2018, the Spurs are understanding it’s time to look to the future.
Dejounte Murray was named to All-NBA Defensive 1st Team this year and seems to be gelling in to a great, young all-rounder. The Spurs drafted Lonnie Walker IV out of Miami, one of the more exciting guard prospects in the draft. If they can work together, that’s their future guard lineup for the best part of a decade.
But Walker will likely be sitting under the learning tree of one of the best Shooting Guards in the league – DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan is an offensive masterpiece, who was the key to the Raptors #1 seed in the East. Pairing him with defensively minded Murray is a match made in heaven. Throw in LaMarcus Aldridge, who carried the team offensively last season, and the Spurs are a strong outfit. Kawhi is arguably a top 3 player in the league, but the new look Spurs could go far under the guidance of Gregg Popovich.
28. Toronto Raptors
Bold Prediction – Toronto will be worse next season with Kawhi Leonard.
Reasoning – It’s the easiest answer to the above San Antonio prediction. The Raptors have taken a big gamble landing Kawhi, as he could opt out after a year in Canada. But something needed to change, and Toronto gambling on Kawhi may have been their only option.
There was no doubt that Kawhi was done in San Antonio, having missed games for what his team-mates felt wasn’t a significant injury to warrant the absence. Throw-in not supporting his team during the playoffs from court-side and things got a little fishy. But how is Kawhi coming in to this season? Is he fully healthy?
There are a lot of unknowns when it comes to Kawhi and his physical health. No one really knows where he’s at in his recovery, but recent pictures suggest he’s preparing for the season in full health (Re – LeBron, KD practice photo). How does he fit with the Raptors if healthy?
Rookie OG Anunoby carried the Small Forward duties last season and held his own. Now with DeRozan departing, they’ve lost a chunk of their offensive output. Can Kawhi carry the team with 25, 30 point games over an 82 game season? There are too many variables to answer here, the easy answer is to say he’ll return to his DPOY form and add unparalleled value. But I’m going to be the sceptic here, and say it’s not as smooth sailing as last season.
29. Utah Jazz
Bold Prediction – Rudy Gobert, reigning, defending, MVP will be a liability next season.
Reasoning – Now, this is bold. Who would dare say a bad word about the defensive stalwart that is Gobert? I’ve taken a bit of a leap here, but this is based off last years playoffs. There are two Rudy Gobert’s to analyse here.
Rudy Gobert #1 – A regular season machine (when healthy). Gets the better of the majority of other big men. Defends the post. Plays two thirds of the season but that alone is enough to be a DPOY candidate. Leads his team to winning streaks in the West.
Rudy Gobert #2 – Playoff Rudy. Operates well against teams that go through big men in the West – not so good against small ball lineups. Can’t defend guard lineups, often mismatched. Not a great plus/minus on the floor.
The sad reality is, if the Jazz are going to progress in the West they may not be relying on Rudy Gobert for success. The top two teams in the West – the Rockets and Warriors, primarily operate with hybrid big men that are comfortable guarding outside the paint. If the Jazz are to progress to that level, Gobert’s ability may be limited. We could see a stark improvement in this aspect of his game next season, but if it repeats itself, he may be more of liability to the Jazz come playoff time, against the big 2 at least.
30. Washington Wizards
Bold Prediction – Bradley Beal will be the Wizards franchise man, not John Wall.
Reasoning – I may be swayed here by my devoted affection for Bradley Beal. As a Boston Celtics fan, I watched Beal put on an offensive masterclass against the Celtics in Game 7 of an Eastern Conference Semi-Final playoffs, but it wasn’t enough to get the W.
Last year, Beal had more room to breathe with John Wall’s injury, and put up All-Star calibre numbers. It’s true, he may not have had the bench or rotation players to provide a strong regular season record (8th in the East), but he did his damn best.
An interesting fit for next season is the John Wall/Dwight Howard partnership. It could be a match made in heaven or go horribly wrong. Howard hasn’t gelled well with ball dominant guards (Bryant, Harden) and Wall is one of them. But Wall has an unselfish ability that made Marcin Gortat look like an All-Star at times so that could transfer over to Howard.
If Wall’s plays are taken up with facilitating Howard and others, the Wizards will be looking to Beal to step up offensively and almost, just almost, be the primary option. Wall and Howard will demand a lot of defensive attention, so Beal should have even more room to grow in to what could be his best season yet. The Washington experiment is another risk-taking endeavour, but Beal will be the one constant. That will become evident next season.
Thank you for reading. I spent quite a bit of time writing this, and hope you enjoyed it. Don’t forget we have a Podcast, where I mention these predictions and explain my through-process even more. It’s available on all podcast platforms. – Jonny