WE ARE OFFICIALLY UNDER 24 HOURS AWAY FROM REGULAR-SEASON BASKETBALL.
Yes, I'm very excited for the upcoming season. For the first time in what feels like ages, there is no clear-cut title front-runner, and it's going to be the most competitive we've seen the league in a LONG time. There are no more super-teams: the league is now full of star duos and their supporting casts, which make things much more balanced and intriguing. Although we won't see some of the game's best players this season (Kevin Durant and probably Klay Thompson), there are so many headlines to follow throughout the season, and every team has something intriguing that makes them worth watching. As a matter of fact, let's take a look at the state of each team before I hand out my official predictions.
- How many threes are they going to make?
- Can Vince Carter just play basketball forever?
- When will Steven Adams finally get traded to Atlanta?
Team MVP: Trae Young
Breakout Player: Kevin Huerter
Biggest Addition: De'Andre Hunter
Between players such as Young, John Collins, and the very talented rookie duo of De'Andre Hunter and Reddish, the Hawks will be a very fun team to watch. They're going to lack defense as a whole, but the threes will be pouring from everywhere on the court. If the Hawks can land a prototypical center (Steven Adams) then they'll be a force for the future. And no, Vince Carter is never retiring and I'm more than okay with that.
- Is this team willing to work together, or will last year's antics continue?
- Who will become the new rim protector without Horford and Baynes?
- When will Tacko Fall be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame?
Team MVP: Kemba Walker
Breakout Player: Jaylen Brown
Biggest Addition: Kemba Walker
After last year's tumultuous season, the Celtics have replaced Kyrie Irving with Kemba Walker, also losing Al Horford in the process. Losing Horford really hurts, as they don't really have a reliable rim protector, but Robert Williams could be the answer to that problem. I think Jaylen Brown is bound for a great season, continuing a great second half, and Gordon Hayward should become more comfortable in his second full season with Boston. None of these players really matter though, because Tacko Fall is a Celtic and is already one of the GOATs.
- How will Kyrie mesh with his new group of young talent?
- Will DeAndre Jordan halt Jarrett Allen's development?
- Is Joe Harris' nickname really Beef Jerky Joe?
Team MVP: Kyrie Irving
Breakout Player: Caris LeVert
Biggest Addition: Kyrie Irving
They don't have Kevin Durant this season, but they do have another superstar in Kyrie Irving leading the way. As we saw in Boston, he may not be suited for a leader role, but the cast of characters in Brooklyn is much different than Irving's scenario in Boston. LeVert was killing it last season before his injury, and should be very effective now that he's fully healthy. Spencer Dinwiddie is allowing fans to invest in his contract, and I believe that may be an investment that is worth putting some money in.
- Why didn't they break the bank for Kemba?
- When will Michael Jordan sell the team?
- Will they sign J. Cole to a 10-day deal?
Team MVP: Miles Bridges
Breakout Player: Malik Monk
Biggest Addition: Terry Rozier
The Hornets opted to (kind of) start from scratch, letting Kemba Walker leave in free agency while bringing in Terry Rozier. Him and Miles Bridges should have great seasons with the amount of opportunities they'll get. A sleeper for improvement is Malik Monk, who shot the ball real well in the preseason and made a lot of great passes to his teammates. Maybe it won't be so bad!
- Can Zach LaVine make the All-Star team?
- Does Kris Dunn get dealt before the deadline?
- Does Coby White ever lose the Afro?
Team MVP: Zach LaVine
Breakout Player: Otto Porter
Biggest Addition: Thaddeus Young
Zach LaVine is cementing himself as a bucket in the league, and if he can stay healthy, I believe his receives his first All-Star appearance. The duo of Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. works so well together, and the bench duo of Young and Daniel Gafford will keep things flowing. Porter is a weird choice for a breakout, but he had a sneaky good run with Chicago once he was dealt there, averaging over 18 PPG on almost 50% shooting from the floor and three. Jim Boylen's face may get redder than Benny the Bull at times, but the Bulls will still improve and be a fun team to track.
- Is Darius Garland and Collin Sexton the next Dame & C.J.?
- Does Kevin Love finish the season in Cleveland?
- Can Tristan Thompson make it one season without any outside drama?
Team MVP: Kevin Love (given he plays)
Breakout Player: Cedi Osman
Biggest Addition: Darius Garland
Gone are the days with LeBron and Kyrie, and in is the new guard duo of Darius Garland and Collin Sexton. Sexton had a great second half last year, and Garland showed a lot of promise during his brief stint at Vanderbilt. I'm really pulling for Kevin Porter Jr. to have some important minutes this season, as I believe he'll be one of the biggest steals from the draft.
- How good will the Porzingis-Doncic combo be?
- What type of restrictions will the Mavs have on Porzingis?
- Is Boban Marjanovic actually shooting threes?
Team MVP: Luka Doncic
Breakout Player: Jalen Brunson
Biggest Addition: Kristaps Porzingis
This is Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis' team. Dirk is unfortunately gone (but does remain on the Mavs' court), but KP and Luka are the selling factor for this team. Seth Curry can go off on any given night, and Boban Marjanovic is a statistically one of the greatest players of all time (based off PER), which is impressive. Brunson had a solid rookie season and could surprise a lot of people in his sophomore season.
- Are they the most complete team in the NBA?
- Can Nikola Jokic win MVP?
- What type of impact does Michael Porter Jr. have this season?
Team MVP: Nikola Jokic
Breakout Player: Malik Beasley
Biggest Addition: Jerami Grant
The Nuggets have so much depth that their bench could beat some teams' starting five. Jokic is a (literally) walking highlight reel, and Jamal Murray really stood out as Denver's second option, especially during their playoff run. MPJ is one of the more intriguing players this year; he has looked good so far this preseason but I'm expecting Denver to be cautious with him. Last year, Malik Beasley carved his way into a rotational spot, and if he can improve on the defensive end, we could easily see him take over Gary Harris' starting spot.
- Is this team ever going to eclipse a .500 record?
- Does Blake Griffin get dealt before the deadline?
- When will Derrick Rose steal the starting PG job from Reggie Jackson?
Team MVP: Blake Griffin
Breakout Player: Christian Wood
Biggest Addition: Derrick Rose
The Pistons have been stuck in a state of "meh" for what seems like forever, but there's still plenty of reasons to believe in them squeezing in the playoff mix. We saw a new version of Blake Griffin last season that dominated his way to an All-NBA team, and Andre Drummond is a constant threat for rebounding leader every year. Derrick Rose came back to life last and it's always great to see him prosper. Wood was just recently given a guaranteed roster spot, and given his performance he should see some important time at the backup big-man positions.
Golden State Warriors
- How much will not having KD or Klay hurt?
- Could Stephen Curry win his 3rd MVP?
- Which players will they target mid-season to help bolster their bench?
Team MVP: Stephen Curry
Breakout Player: Marquese Chriss
Biggest Addition: D'Angelo Russell
As long as Steph Curry is on the court, the Dubs are a lock for the playoffs. It's very possible we see an MVP-caliber year out of Steph, especially with D'Lo on board. It may be one of the worst defensive back-courts in the league, but they'll kill you from anywhere on the offensive side. Chriss has thrived in the Warriors' offense as of late, and he's been showing flashes of why he was the #8 overall pick just a couple of years ago.
- Can James Harden and Russell Westbrook coexist?
- Will we see Harden steal the ball from Westbrook or vice versa?
- Will Eric Gordon have a chance to prove why he was given an extension?
Team MVP: James Harden
Breakout Player: Danuel House
Biggest Addition: Russell Westbrook
I'm a believer in adding Westbrook to this Houston offense, as this is his first time playing with a squad full of capable three-point shooters. With that being said, this team is going to live and die by the three ball, and if they go cold (see 2017 WCF, Game 7), they're doomed. If they're hot, then watch out. House is my pick for a breakout season, as he was a stud in the time that Houston gave him last year, and will become a bigger name if continues to shoot like he did last year.
- How good can this team get when Victor Oladipo comes back?
- How the combo of Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis work?
- What in the world happened to Tyreke Evans?
Team MVP: Myles Turner
Breakout Player: Malcolm Brogdon
Biggest Addition: Malcolm Brogdon
A lot of people are sleeping on the Pacers this season. They were able to stay afloat while Oladipo was out last season, and this squad looks much more improved than last year's. Brogdon is one of the most efficient guards in basketball and now finally has a chance to run an offense, and Myles Turner impressed while playing for Team USA this summer. Sabonis played extremely well in the limited minutes he saw last season, and now that he's signed a long-term extension to stay in Indiana, he should see increased numbers with more minutes.
Los Angeles Clippers
- Is this the best defensive team in the league?
- How concerning is Paul George's shoulder?
- How many people will Patrick Beverley trigger this season?
Team MVP: Kawhi Leonard
Breakout Player: JaMychal Green
Biggest Addition: Kawhi Leonard
We all know the Clippers pulled off the heist of the decade by landing both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in the same night. Not only do they have arguably the two best two-way players in the league, they have a great supporting cast coming off of a great, but brief, postseason performance from last season. One of those players was Green, who did a great job against Draymond Green that series, and his play should be rewarding of the long-term extension he signed this summer. Also, Patrick Beverley's Air Force 1 Defense is always fun to watch.
Los Angeles Lakers
- Can Anthony Davis stay healthy?
- Can they acquire more depth at the deadline?
- How many times will KCP make Lakers fans scream?
Team MVP: LeBron James
Breakout Player: Avery Bradley
Biggest Addition: Anthony Davis
Showtime is back in session with the addition of Anthony Davis, and this group is hoping to put last year's fiasco behind them. While I don't think the Lakers are as deep of a team as the Clippers, you can't overlook Danny Green and Avery Bradley, who are better players than the box score suggests. This could be a very good team that makes a Finals run, or this whole thing could implode just last last season, only time will tell. But one thing is certain, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will make Lakers fans curse at least once per game.
- Is Ja Morant a clone of Pre-ACL Tear Derrick Rose?
- Can Jaren Jackson Jr. avoid the sophomore slump?
- When will Andre Iguodala get traded?
Team MVP: Jaren Jackson Jr.
Breakout Player: Bruno Caboclo
Biggest Addition: Ja Morant
It's going to be a tough year for Memphis, but at least they have an uber-explosive point guard in Ja Morant to maintain hope for their future. JJJ could take a big leap as well, as he'll likely be one of the top scoring options on the bleak roster. I can't expect to see Iggy on the team for much longer, regardless of what they get back for him. Mr. "Two Years Away From Being Two Years Away", Bruno Caboclo, could play a bigger role this year, as he had a strong finish to last season and played well in the preseason.
- Is Jimmy Butler enough to get the Heat back into the playoffs?
- How good will Tyler Herro be in his inaugural season?
- Is Waiters Island sinking before our eyes?
Team MVP: Jimmy Butler
Breakout Player: Tyler Herro
Biggest Addition: Jimmy Butler
Miami brought in the controversial star Jimmy Butler, once again inserting themselves in the playoff mix. The days of D-Wade are gone, but a new young shooting guard is in town: Tyler Herro. He balled out in the summer league and preseason, and is already looking like a steal of the draft, showing flashes of another former Kentucky guard named Devin Booker. Derrick Jones Jr. will jump out of your TV screen at least three or four times this season, and yes, this looks like it might be the end of our stay at Waiters Island.
- Can anyone stop Giannis Antetokounmpo?
- Could Kyle Korver help turn Giannis into a lethal shooter?
- Will Mike Budenholzer's face turn into a permanent state of disbelief?
Team MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Breakout Player: Sterling Brown
Biggest Addition: Wesley Matthews
The Milwaukee Bucks are coming off of a great season, and I believe that we still haven't seen the best version of the Bucks. Giannis is, well, a freak, and Khris Middleton is out to prove that he's worth the max. The one spot that's going to be up for grabs is the starting shooting guard spot, and by year's end, it should be Sterling Brown's to lose. Mix the fact that he's in a contract year with how he played in the preseason, and he's due for a leap year.
- Can this team pick up some defensive intensity?
- Can Andrew Wiggins do something encouraging?
- What type of impact does Jarrett Culver have in his rookie season?
Team MVP: Karl-Anthony Towns
Breakout Player: Andrew Wiggins
Biggest Addition: Jarrett Culver
The T-Wolves are another team that could have a really good season, or it could implode very quickly. Contrary to most, I still have some faith in Andrew Wiggins, and he flashed some promise in the second half of last season when he was able to control the ball more often. A backcourt of Culver and Josh Okogie sounds very tantalizing, as I can see both of them turning into very good two-way players.
New Orleans Pelicans
- Will Jrue Holiday ever receive the credit he deserves?
- Can Lonzo Ball take a step forward this season?
- How will injuries affect Zion and the rest of the young guys?
Team MVP: Jrue Holiday
Breakout Player: Nickeil Alexander-Walker
Biggest Addition: Zion Williamson
Out goes Anthony Davis, and in comes Zion Williamson into the Big Easy. I'm praying that Zion doesn't end up like Greg Oden 2.0, he's a freak of nature that is basically a superhero. Holiday continues to be one of the NBA's most underappreciated players, and I'm excited to see how the younger guys like Lonzo, Brandon Ingram, and Jaxson Hayes develop this season. However, the player of the preseason may go to Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who looked great on both ends and is a serious threat off the dribble.
New York Knicks
- Is it possible to force an owner to sell their team?
- How much of a workload will R.J. Barrett have?
- Is this Frank Ntilikina's last chance?
Team MVP: Julius Randle
Breakout Player: Mitchell Robinson
Biggest Addition: R.J. Barrett
Ah, the Knicks. What an offseason they had. They struck out on literally every player that their fan base wanted, an aside from Barrett and Randle, every other player they signed was just a disappointment. On the bright side, they didn't hand out any bad long-term deals, and they still have a competitive team with all of the veterans they signed. Mitchell Robinson looks like he'll be a great rim protector, he just needs to be a little more disciplined.
Oklahoma City Thunder
- Is it possible to have too many draft picks?
- At what point will they decide to blow their team up?
- At one point can we have an in-game dunk contest between Hamidou Diallo and Terrance Ferguson?
Team MVP: Chris Paul
Breakout Player: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Biggest Addition: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Damian Lillard essentially sent the Thunder into rebuilding mode this summer, as we saw Paul George and Russell Westbrook exit within a couple weeks of each other. They're likely to send CP3, Steven Adams, and Danilo Gallinari to new teams once they're eligible, which means they won't be great. However, they still have some building blocks to work with in SGA and Ferguson, as they have both shown some promise in recent history.
- Can they prove that last year was not a fluke?
- Who will step up and hit the three for them?
- What will we see from Markelle Fultz this season?
Team MVP: Nikola Vucevic
Breakout Player: Jonathan Isaac
Biggest Addition: Al-Farouq Aminu
The Orlando Magic caught fire and surprised many by nabbing the 7th seed in last year's playoffs, and are looking to surprise people once again. Either Aaron Gordon or Jonathan Isaac are bound to take another step this season, and I'm leaning towards Isaac. His size and defensive prowess are already there, and he can improve his shooting stroke then he'll be in contention for MIP. As for Fultz, I'm pulling for him, and I think that he'll make a nice rotational piece for the Magic this year. We could see a slow start, but I think he'll progress as the season moves along.
- Who will provide some outside shooting?
- Will Ben Simmons try to fix the aforementioned problem?
- Who will stop Joel Embiid in the East?
Team MVP: Joel Embiid
Breakout Player: Josh Richardson
Biggest Addition: Al Horford
The Sixers' season ended in heartbreak, but they're back with arguably a better team than last season. Sure, they'll miss the contributions of Jimmy Butler and J.J. Redick, but the Al Horford pick-up is a deadly one; he was the best defender against Joel Embiid last season, and now they both play together. Richardson and Tobias Harris are probably the best three-point shooters they have, and who knows, maybe Ben Simmons will take some this year!
- Can the Suns escape the basement?
- What will we see from Deandre Ayton this season?
- Could Monty Williams be the most underrated signing of the summer?
Team MVP: Devin Booker
Breakout Player: Mikal Bridges
Biggest Addition: Ricky Rubio
As I've mentioned before, the Suns have been very bad as of late, but there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic in the Valley. Devin Booker is one of the best scorers in today's game, Deandre Ayton has a coach that wants to get him the ball, and the Suns actually have an NBA-caliber point guard in Ricky Rubio. Mikal Bridges and Kelly Oubre make up the Stretch Bros., and Bridges is one of the most underrated defenders in the league, as he finished 8th in steals during his rookie season.
- Are the Trailblazers being doubted once again?
- Who will receive a diss track from Damian Lillard this season?
- What does Hassan Whiteside bring to Portland?
Team MVP: Damian Lillard
Breakout Player: Anfernee Simons
Biggest Addition: Kent Bazemore
The Trailblazers had a terrific postseason run until they were matched up against Golden State, and Damian Lillard proved why he's one of the coldest players in the league with his dagger over OKC. They did lose a lot of guys from that run, but were able to bring in players like Bazemore and Whiteside who will provide depth alongside Rodney Hood and Zach Collins. Simons rarely received any action last season but looked strong over the summer, and will probably be the backup point guard this season. When Jusuf Nurkic comes back, this team will, once again, become a sneaky good contender.
- How good can the trio of Fox, Hield, and Bagley get?
- Did they spend too much money this summer?
- Will their new head coach last longer than a year?
Team MVP: De'Aaron Fox
Breakout Player: Marvin Bagley III
Biggest Addition: Dewayne Dedmon
The Kings have now locked up Buddy Hield for the foreseeable future, and he deserves every penny of his new contract. When it's time for De'Aaron Fox to receive his deal, he should settle for no less than the max, as he's one of the NBA's brightest young talents. I'm not a fan of most of their free agency signings, but bringing in Dedmon was a good move. And Bagley's numbers improved throughout the season, and I think he's going to be a front-runner for Most Improved Player.
San Antonio Spurs
- Is this the end of an era for the Spurs?
- Who will emerge as the key contributor from the PG logjam?
- Is Gregg Popovich molding Tim Duncan into his replacement?
Team MVP: LaMarcus Aldridge
Breakout Player: Dejounte Murray
Biggest Addition: DeMarre Carroll
The Spurs have managed to squeak their way into the playoffs the past couple of years, and they will likely have to do the same again this year. DeMar DeRozan had a good first season in San Antonio, and Aldridge has earned the nickname Mr. Reliable at this point. Dejounte Murray is back from his ACL tear, and with a new extension in place, should have a bounce-back season. Analytic lovers will HATE this team, but San Antonio just plays damn good basketball.
- Will the loss of Kawhi be enough to keep them out of the playoffs?
- How will Pascal Siakam perform as the #1 option?
- How many players will Drake talk trash to this season?
Team MVP: Pascal Siakam
Breakout Player: OG Anunoby
Biggest Addition: Stanley Johnson
The trade for Kawhi Leonard paid off, as the Raptors brought their first trophy north of the border, but they lost both pieces in that deal in Leonard and Danny Green. They weren't able to make many moves this offseason, but they still have a deep enough roster to contend for the playoffs. Siakam should improve off a great campaign last season, and Kyle Lowry shut up all the doubters in last season's run. Anunoby actually missed the playoffs with an injury, but pre-injury looked really strong, and he'll have to fill the big void left by Kawhi.
- Are they, not the Clippers, the best defensive team in the league?
- Will the addition of Mike Conley lead to even more opportunities for Donovan Mitchell?
- How many more people will Joe Ingles surprise this season?
Team MVP: Rudy Gobert
Breakout Player: Royce O'Neale
Biggest Addition: Mike Conley
The Jazz has been one of the best defensive teams in the league as of late, and a lot of that credit must be given to Rudy Gobert and coach Quin Snyder. They play a slow pace on offense, and the players who they've added, like Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic, fit that mold perfectly. Royce O'Neale is typically a small forward, but with the addition of Bogdanovic, O'Neale may be seeing time at the 4, as the Jazz would run smaller.
- How much will they miss John Wall?
- Could Bradley Beal average 28+ PPG?
- Should we expect anything out of Isaiah Thomas?
Team MVP: Bradley Beal
Breakout Player: Troy Brown Jr.
Biggest Addition: Rui Hachimura
To make it frank: the Wizards are not going to be very good this season. Outside of Beal and Thomas Bryant, there aren't a ton of key contributors to watch out for. Rookie Rui Hachimura should see a lot of action, as well as second-year forward Troy Brown. He's hurt as of right now but is expecting to step into a starting spot, and he was a fun player to watch in college.
Phew. As you can see, a lot has changed in the association, but every team has at least one consistent story-line that you can follow. That, in turn, makes every game so interesting and worth following. Now that we've covered every team, let's take a look at my standings prediction for this season:
1. Milwaukee Bucks
2. Philadelphia 76ers
3. Boston Celtics
4. Indiana Pacers
5. Brooklyn Nets
6. Orlando Magic
7. Toronto Raptors
8. Miami Heat
9. Chicago Bulls
10. Detroit Pistons
11. Atlanta Hawks
12. New York Knicks
13. Cleveland Cavaliers
14. Washington Wizards
15. Charlotte Hornets
1. Los Angeles Clippers
2. Utah Jazz
3. Denver Nuggets
4. Los Angeles Lakers
5. Houston Rockets
6. Golden State Warriors
7. Portland Trailblazers
8. San Antonio Spurs
9. New Orleans Pelicans
10. Dallas Mavericks
11. Sacramento Kings
12. Phoenix Suns
13. Minnesota Timberwolves
14. Oklahoma City Thunder
15. Memphis Grizzlies
The Western Conference is difficult to gauge, as there are so many teams that are similar in talent that it could look so different at the end of the season. I do think that the Warriors will stay on track and make it to the playoffs with a great season from Curry, as well as the Spurs managing to squeak into postseason action once again. The younger teams like New Orleans, Sacramento, Dallas, and Phoenix will have to wait one more year before they become serious threats in the West, are there are simply too many established teams to compete with.
As for the Eastern Conference, I have two teams that I'm very high on entering this season. The Indiana Pacers have still been a constant threat since Paul George left, and this might be the best squad since those days with him and David West. Even with Oladipo injured for a large portion of the season, they have enough depth with players like Jeremy Lamb and T.J. Warren being able to take over the scoring load. Another team I'm really high on is the Orlando Magic, as I believe that their young players are about to take a huge leap. This includes Jonathan Isaac, who is my pick for Most Improved Player, Markelle Fultz, who will work his way into the rotation and play quality minutes for them, and Mo Bamba, who will be known for more than a song by Sheck Wes. However, none of these aforementioned teams will work their way into the Finals....
Eastern Conference Finals: Bucks over Celtics in 6
Western Conference Finals: Nuggets over Clippers in 7
In the East, I'm more confident in the Bucks than any other team. They have the most depth in the East, have the most talented player in the East, they run a perfect offense for said player, and have a great defense and coach as well. And they're probably going to get better as the season goes on, especially around February when the buyout and trade markets heat up. In the West, every team has gone through a whole lot of change except one contender: the Denver Nuggets. I think that's going to be huge this season, as they've already meshed together and the chemistry is there, and like the Bucks, they have a ton of depth on their squad. Having Jokic on the court is a positional nightmare, and while I think the Clippers are bound to win a title sometime soon, it just won't be this season, as I can see Denver winning a seven-game series. This leads to my Finals prediction where Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks will emerge victorious and bring their first championship to Milwaukee since Kareem and Oscar did so in 1971.
NBA Finals: Milwaukee Bucks over Denver Nuggets in 6
Finals MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee
MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee
Coach of the Year: Michael Malone, Denver
Rookie of the Year: Ja Morant, Memphis
6th Man of the Year: Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers
Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert, Utah
Most Improved Player: Jonathan Isaac, Orlando
If you made it to the end, you are a trooper, and I thank you for reading my article. It's crazy how the simple orange ball can make such a difference in everyday life and how much of an impact it has on me and so many others. I can't wait for the season to begin and for teams to (probably) prove my predictions wrong. Between last year and this offseason, we saw that anything is possible and that nothing is guaranteed, which is what makes this league so great. So, let's kick back, relax, grab some popcorn and gear up for the next eight months, because it is going to be one chaotic, dramatic, and exhilarating ride.
All Stats Courtesy of Basketball Reference, unless stated otherwise.