The 76th year of the NBA is scheduled to start on October 18th with the Warriors facing the Los Angeles Lakers. Before the champs unveil their 4th banner in the last 8 years let’s take the time to do what we do best, blindly make season predictions based off on paper rosters. In a busy offseason that featured trade requests, rescinded trade requests and some blockbuster moves by title contenders, It’s a lot to keep up with but I have the perfect solution. Let’s go over all of the award projects as well talk about which team(s) have the best chance to be the last team standing in June.
Every year it seems to be a team to make an unlikely run throughout the year, last year those teams were the Boston Celtics and Dallas Mavericks. Both teams made some solid trades at the deadline and were among the best teams in the league past January. The Mavs took their success to a conference final before losing to Golden State in 5. Boston lost to the same Warriors team in the NBA Finals in 6 games to end their impressive season. Two years the Atlanta Hawks made it to the conference finals losing in 6 to the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks. This year, I think the New Orleans Pelicans can be that team. The health of Zion Williamson is important to make this happen. During the 86 games he has played in his career, Williamson averages 25.7 points and 7 rebounds per game. This team without the former No.1 pick took the Phoenix Suns, the conference’s top seed to 6 games last season in the opening round of the playoffs. A healthy Pels squad can challenge any team in the league. Lookout for New Orleans.
There’s a lot of player that have found their groove and are balling at a incredible pace. Which up and coming star will be crowned as the Most Improved Player? I think it’ll be Minnesota Timberwolves former No.1 pick Anthony Edwards. This guy is a menace and a true scorer of the basketball. He’s improving his range while learning the art of clutch time buckets. Last year’s six game series with the Memphis Grizzles was a dogfight as the T-Wolves gave Memphis everything they can handle. Expect Edwards to make nightly highlights, become an All-Star, and make an All-NBA in what will be a historical for the 3rd year forward out of Georgia.
During the summer we saw the future of the NBA get some reps and show us what they are capable of on the court. This summer also saw the unfortunate end to Chet Holmgren’s season before it began as the 2nd Overall pick suffered a lisfrac injury in a Pro-Am game. It’s a bummer to Oklahoma City because of what this young core could be, it’s more of a bummer to Holmgren, a guy whom I assumed would run away with the rookie of the year honors. Alas, I digress, Jaden Ivey is my pick for the award. The 5th overall pick from Perdue is match made in heaven with last year’s top pick Cade Cunningham. Imagine a young, hungry Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, that’s the comparison I think of with these two in Detroit. Ivey is a tough that can score midrange with a decent 3 pointer. Cunningham is a finesse player that can make scoring easy for Ivey. Detroit will be a fun team to watch.
The best formula to compete for a title in this league has been depth. Being able to get a much needed spark off the bench to spell your starters is usually the difference between winning and losing especially in the postseason. Miami Heat guard Tyler Herro was the first Miami player to win the award last season. He was in and out of the lineup due to injury in the playoffs which contributed to their exit in the eastern conference finals. The 6th man players starter minutes while giving starter production, that’s why this position is imperative to the success of a winning team. I think Dallas Mavericks newly acquired forward Christian Wood will check all of the boxes to secure the award. Coach Jason Kidd has talked about bringing the big man off the bench this season to see how it works. A guy with Wood’s size and athletic ability coming off the with a playmaker like Spencer Dinwiddle setting him up is a recipe for disaster for 29 other teams.
When it comes to being the most valuable player on a team, you have a different mindset every time you step on a court. Even when the game hasn’t gone your way, if your team is down and they need you, being the MVP that you are, you make the play when the team is relying on your skill set. There’s about 10 players who fit this list with the capabilities to takeover a game at any time, on any given night. We have seen this player come so close to capturing this prestigious award to the point where people said he was the most deserving for the title and not two-time reigning MVP Nikola Jokic. This is the year Philadelphia 76ers superstar center Joel Embiid brings home the award. Embiid was the first center since Shaq to win the scoring title last season for a 76ers that was the center of controversy regarding the Ben Simmons situation and James Harden trade. The 76ers had a full summer with James Harden, who resigned with the team while making moves to acquire P.J. Tucker and DeAnthony Melton to bolster their rooster. This is probably the best team Embiid has had around him. A star with the skill set of Embiid with a roster like Philadelphia’s should make this year’s MVP race easy to call.
So, which team can win it all this season? There’s so many choices, the eastern conference is catching up with the western conference when speaking on level of competition. Seven games separated the top six teams in the east last year. Thanks to trades by Atlanta for Dejounte Murray, Boston for Malcom Brogdon and Cleveland for Donvovan Mitchell, this year should be even closer. In Brooklyn, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are back to rewrite the script from last year. With a healthy Ben Simmons this Nets squad should be dangerous. The jury is still out on that. Even in the midst of some scandal regarding their head coach Boston is still the defending conference champions and pending any catastrophic changes to the roster Boston should be right back in the ECF. I believe that Philadelphia is the best chance to challenge these guys as long as they stay relatively healthy. The challenge for this is for James Harden to step up in the playoffs. He looks determined to change the outlook of his playoff career and help Philly to a deep playoff run. The Philadelphia 76ers are my pick to represent the East in the NBA Finals.
The western conference is weird because during the Steve Kerr era in Golden State, as long as the core of Steph, Klay, and Dray have been available they’ll make it to the finals. That has to change right ? It depends. Health will be the deciding factor, with that being said the team with the best roster in this conference is the Los Angeles Clippers, that team’s success is predicated on the health of Khawi Leonard. If he plays 60 games this season, similar to his 2019 campaign with the Raptors and then gets unleashed in the playoffs, it won’t even be close. Dallas is intriguing because Tim Hardaway Jr is back. A role player with the shooting touch of a guy like Hardaway Jr is something ever contender needs. Christian Wood’s impact should be felt from the opening tip of the season. The Memphis Grizzles are legit. They were 21-7 in games that Ja Morant didn’t play including playoffs last year. That speaks volumes to the depth, coaching and heart of this team. This is not to get confused though, Memphis is decent without Morant but with Morant, this team is dangerous. With last year’s playoff run look for Memphis to make believers out of some doubters. Then there’s the Suns and Pelicans, one team had the best record in the league with a second round disappointing exit, and the Pelicans were playing with house money winning the play-in tournament to be the 8th seed. Zion is back and ready to wreck havoc. I really think they can make noise in the playoffs. The Suns in my opinion have hit their ceiling, I see another second round exit in their future. I like a healthy Clippers team to come out the west, but let’s hope for the best because a healthy Khawi Leonard is better for the league.