This NBA season is set to be among the more intriguing in recent memory. After an offseason where we saw the highest number of NBA all-stars change teams in NBA history, fans are eager to get the season underway.
Excitement is building as the 2017-18 NBA Season is set to tip-off Tuesday evening. Without further ado, here is my NBA season preview full of insights, analysis, predictions for major awards, conference standings, players to watch, and much more.
Most Valuable Player - Kawhi Leonard
Leonard was my pick before last season to win the MVP award. There are those that believe he should’ve won this past season despite berserk performances from Russell Westbrook and James Harden. (Put me in that camp as well)... This season I’m deciding to run this pick back again.
With Westbrook, Harden, LeBron, Durant, and Curry now all on teams with multiple time all-stars, the door is completely wide open this year for Kawhi to take home this award.
Being the lone superstar on a 55+ win team should be enough coupled with Leonard’s outstanding talent on both sides of the ball.
Leonard’s impact can't be overstated enough. He’s been the league’s premier perimeter defender for years now, and he’s developed his offensive repertoire into elite status.
Take a look at his numbers from last season. -- 25 points, 3.5 assists, 6 rebounds, with a PER of 27.62. He had the league’s 3rd best PER. -- Leonard posted these impressive numbers while leading the Spurs to 61 wins, the 2nd seed in the West, and to the Western Conference Finals.
His numbers are impressive, but they don’t even begin to tell the whole story of how great Leonard's actually was last season. I would be remiss in failing to mention the fact that Leonard shoots almost 50% from the field (48%), near 40% from 3 (38%), and nearly 90% from the free throw line (88%).
If it wasn’t for a dirty play from Zaza Pachulia, the Spurs likely would’ve given the Dubs a real run for their money. Don’t forget the Spurs were up by at least 23 points in that game before The Klaw went down.
If the Spurs win around 55-60 games this season, look for Kawhi Leonard to be hoisting the MVP trophy come spring time.
Most Improved Player - Gary Harris
With a newly signed 4 year $84 million dollar extension in hand, the Denver Nuggets have demonstrated their faith in 4th year SG Gary Harris. Harris has shown flashes of his abilities as an off-guard. He can shoot the ball from both midrange and three point range. He shot 50% overall and 40% from three in 57 games played last season. Aside from his shooting, Harris can put the ball on the deck and finish around the rim.
With another year of seasoning under his belt, look for Harris to be a top candidate for Most Improved Player.
An important focus area of improvement for Harris is shooting the ball more while maintaining his already impressive efficiency. He only shot the ball about 11 times per game last season. He must also show a full commitment to playing defense. When interested, Harris has shown flashes of being a strong wing defender. However, whether he can sustain it game to game over a full 82 remains to be seen. Both of these improvements will likely come with age, playing time, and experience against other premier guards.
Harris has shown, though through a small(ish) sample size, that he can be a high level NBA guard for Denver. With Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic likely to garner the bulk of the defense's attention, Harris should thrive this season.
The Nuggets have shown faith in the 23-year-old guard, and now Harris is going to have to step up to prove his is worthy of this type of investment.
Defensive Player of the Year - Draymond Green
Plain and simple, Draymond Green was a step above every other elite defender last season. His versatility on the defensive end made Golden State one of the league’s premier defensive teams.
Green is a smothering defender that can guard every position on the floor. At 6’7” it’s absolutely amazing that he can serve as a rim protector and cover elite wing players on the same play. The fact that he can guard both DeMarcus Cousins and Chris Paul at a high rate is pretty remarkable.
He makes defending pick and rolls significantly easier for his team with his ability to cover every position. While his teammates (KD and Curry) often get most of the praise, upon closer look it’s Green’s superb defensive talent that allows the Dubs to be so great.
Also, Green was second in the league in Defensive RPM last year behind Utah’s Rudy Gobert.
Players like Kawhi Leonard, Rudy Gobert, and DeAndre Jordan are sure to give Green strong competition for this award, but Green’s versatility on defense will be too hard to overlook.
The Warriors will likely own the league's best defense, and Green will be a huge reason for that. Look for another stellar defensive season from the league’s most versatile defender.
Sixth Man of the Year - Eric Gordon
In last season’s NBA Preview article, I accurately predicted Eric Gordon would shoot his way into winning the Sixth Man of the Year award. I see no reason to change my player prediction for this season, as Gordon will likely have even more reason to fire away from deep with Chris Paul now his teammate alongside James Harden.
Last season was a bounce back season for Gordon after a few subpar years in New Orleans. He thrived playing for Mike D’Antoni last season and should be even better this season. With Paul and Harden getting all the attention, Gordon is going to get plenty of open looks.
After averaging 16 points per game last season, Gordon is set for another strong campaign in 2017-18 as first man off the bench.
Rookie of the Year - Ben Simmons
Lost in all the Lonzo Ball hype (and Kyle Kuzma hype for that matter) is another high-profile rookie that we were all raving about before he broke his foot last offseason.
Ben Simmons is back on the scene, healthy and ready to play.
Simmons is the starting point guard for the Philadelphia 76ers, if you let him tell it. Meaning that he will be the primary ball-handler for the Sixers with fellow rookie and this year’s #1 pick, Markelle Fultz, playing primarily off the ball (and apparently coming off the bench to start the season).
Standing at 6’10” 230 pounds, Simmons will be a joy to watch in the point-forward role as he should be Lamar Odom-esque on steroids if he lives up to his potential. We saw glimpses of his superb ability to pass the ball in last year’s summer league and more recently throughout the preseason. He reads the floor beautifully and see plays a step or two ahead of his peers.
Simmons can score the ball as well. The primary issue in Simmons’ game will likely be his jump-shot. His shot will improve with time, but could be an issue for him this season. Defenses will sag off of Simmons to prevent him from driving to the rim. If he can't knock down the open jump-shot, this will clog up Philly's offense at times.
While rookie’s like Lonzo Ball, Dennis Smith Jr., and De’Aaron Fox may have plenty of opportunity to shine in their rookie campaign’s, I believe Simmons will have the most overall impact.
Look for Simmons' stat line to read 16 ppg, 7 apg, 4 rpg, en route to winning the Rookie of the Year award.
Coach of the Year - Steve Kerr
Steve Kerr is a great coach with by far most talented roster in the NBA. His offensive system is perfectly tailored to the supreme talent at his disposal. More importantly, his players truly enjoy playing under his guidance.
The past 3 seasons the Warriors have absolutely dominated the NBA in an unprecedented run of excellence. Kerr’s record over that time span is 207-39, with a winning percentage of .841. He’s the fastest NBA coach to win 200 games in the history of the league.
With Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green all in their respective primes, the Dubs reign atop the NBA food chain has likely just begun.
Coming off an NBA Championship, the Warriors will be brimming with confidence coming into this season. Most nights they will completely wipe the floor with their opponent.
Look for the Dubs to win around 68 games with Steve Kerr leading the way from the sidelines. If they get near another 70 win season it’ll be hard to give this award to anyone else.
Let’s hope Kerr’s health allows him to be available for all 82 games this season.
Eastern Conference Standings Projections
1. Cavaliers (55-27)
2. Wizards (51-31)
3. Celtics (50-32)
4. Raptors (50-32)
5. Heat (46-36)
6. Bucks (44-38)
7. Hornets (43-39)
8. Sixers (39-43)
Eastern Conference Champions - Cleveland Cavaliers
After losing in the NBA Finals last season to the stacked Golden State Warriors, the Cleveland Cavaliers are back with a new look.
As we all know, Kyrie Irving took his talents to Boston, and Isaiah Thomas, Derrick Rose, Jae Crowder, and Dwyane Wade all brought their respective talents to The Land. With 10 fresh faces on the roster, look for the Cavs to have a renewed sense of hunger.
The Cavs have a ton of reasons to be motivated to dominate the East. Let’s go down the list:
I could go on and on about why the Cavs will be extremely motivated this season.
The roster has fresh faces on it that will be playing with a massive chip on their shoulders. Most importantly, expect to see a fully motivated LeBron James this season. James is still the best player in the league and by far the best player in the Eastern Conference. If he decides to go all out during the regular season, the Cavs will easily win 55+ games en route to the top seed in the East. Look for the Wizards, Celtics, Raptors, and maybe even the Heat or Bucks to battle like hell for the top seed.
Ultimately, the Cavs have too much talent to lose to any other Eastern Conference foe. I expect the Cavs to bounce the Wizards, 4-3, in the Eastern Conference Finals en route to their 4th straight Finals appearance.
Western Conference Standings Projections
1. Warriors (69-13)
2. Rockets (62-20)
3. Spurs (55-27)
4. Thunder (51-31)
5. T’Wolves (48-34)
6. Nuggets (46-36)
7. Clippers (43-39)
8. Jazz (42-40)
Western Conference Champions - Golden State Warriors
After last season's championship run, The Dubs are going to be even more lethal this season. The West has definitely gotten a bit tougher, but the Warriors themselves have added even more depth to an already deep roster. With Curry, Iguodala, Durant, McGee, and Pachulia all re-signing, plus the additions of Omri Casspi and Nick Young, the Dubs are more than prepared to defend their NBA crown.
The Rocket and Thunder have both improved their rosters in hopes of giving the Dubs a run for their money, but it won’t be enough as Golden State’s talent and on-court chemistry may be the best we've seen in the history of the league.
Look for Curry, KD, Klay, and Draymond to all have career year’s in terms of efficiency while coasting to nearly 70 wins and the #1 seed.
The Rockets will put up a fight in the Western Conference Finals, but will ultimately go down in 5 games as the Dubs head to The Finals for the 4th consecutive year.
NBA Champions - Golden State Warriors
For the fourth straight year, the Warriors will be the most dominant team in the NBA. And for the third time in four year’s they will take home the NBA Title, officially becoming a dynasty.
As long as the Warriors have Curry and Durant in their respective primes, it’s hard to imagine another team being the favorite to win the NBA Championship. The Dubs are loaded with stars, 4 to be exact, and have countless roles players that fit seamlessly around their core-four.
There is no need to belabor the obvious, The Warriors are the creme of the crop until they are dethroned and it’s hard to see that happening this season.
Look for the Warriors to face off against the Cavaliers in the Finals for the 4th consecutive year. LeBron and Co. were able to somehow squeeze a win out during last year’s Finals, which kept things a bit interesting. The Warriors will get the clean sweep this time around with Chef Curry snagging the Finals MVP award.
Most Surprising Team - Toronto Raptors
Picking a most surprising team wasn’t the easiest task this season, as we know for the most part which teams have likely taken a step forward and which teams have likely taken a step back. In the case of the Toronto Raptors, my pick for the Most Surprising Team this season, I think many pundits are prematurely projecting them to take a step back this season.
Over the past 4 seasons, the Raptors have won 48, 49, 56, and 51 games each season, respectively, while nabbing a top 4 seed in the East.
The Raptors are projected by ESPN’s BPI (Basketball Power Index) to fall back to 47 wins this upcoming season.
Coupling their notable losses this offseason like Cory Joseph, DeMarre Carroll, and Patrick Patterson, and a lackluster performance in the postseason this past spring, it’s easy to understand why many are down on the Raptors. While I don’t have a ton of faith in this team come playoff time, given their track record, I do believe they’ll be very impressive throughout the regular season.
DeRozan and Lowry will have something to prove after uninspiring play this past postseason. DeRozan claims he’s been in the gym all summer shooting 3’s. Maybe he finally realizes he needs that shot in his arsenal to take his game to the next level. Improving his shooting from distance, hell even showing a willingness to shoot 3s, will give the Raptors more space on the court.
After bringing aboard Serge Ibaka at the the trade deadline last season, Ibaka now has a level of comfort with his teammates that was impossible to have last postseason. Additionally, young talents like Delon Wright and Nolan Carroll will add some much needed life and young legs to the rotation in place of Carroll and Joseph.
Look for Toronto to impress throughout the regular season and hit their 3rd consecutive season with at least 50 wins. Lowry and DeRozan will both make the all-star team, barring injury. I project them to get the 4-seed in the East, behind the defending Conference Champs, the Wizards, and the Celtics.
What they will do once they hit the playoffs, though, is another question.
Most Disappointing Team - New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans are a mess of a franchise. The trade for DeMarcus Cousins last season was an absolute steal, even though the fit with Anthony Davis has been anything but seamless so far. When you're the Pelicans and you can add a talent like Cousins for a minimal return, you do it and figure out the rest later.
Later is here for New Orleans as they’ve yet to prove they can build a contender around Anthony Davis, and Cousins will be a free agent after this season concludes.
The franchise is on the clock to get this thing right.
Brow and Boogie are sure to bring some fun moments to this season for the Pels. They’ll be a bear for the opposition to deal with and I’m sure they’ll dominate their share of games. Past those two it’s just hard to be very optimistic about this team. The rest of the roster leaves so much to be desired that I’m not sure I see how the Pelicans win 40 games this season despite many predicting they’ll squeeze into the playoffs.
After Cousins, Davis, and Holiday the rest of the roster gets pretty bad pretty quickly. More than being bad players, the players are bad fits around the roster’s two stars. Their ideal starting lineup is likely to include Rajan Rondo, Jrue Holiday, and Solomon Hill alongside Cousins and Davis. First things first, any team starting Rondo at point guard is going to be a middling team at best. Second, since when is Jrue Holiday a shooting guard? Third, Hill as a starting 3 is probably the definition of an average starting wing in the NBA.
Sidenote: Solomon Hill & Rajon Rondo, 2 starters, are now hurt for at least the start of the season.
Moving along to the bench... the pieces are just odd. The bench unit will consistence of some mix of E’Twaun Moore, Dante Cunningham, Jordan Crawford, Tony Allen, Ian Clark, Cheick Diallo, Alex Ajinca, and Darius Miller. Color me unimpressed.
This has letdown written all over it.
Maybe the Pelicans will fit together better than expected and ride the combo of Cousins and Davis to the playoffs. I believe a more likely outcome is that the Pelicans fall significantly short of their playoff aspirations winning around 38 games or so. It’s unfortunate that New Orleans couldn’t surround Cousins and Davis with some better talent.
Best Newcomer - Chris Paul
Picking the best newcomer this season is significantly harder than in recent years. This summer countless all-stars changed teams making this a tough choice.
The most obvious candidates for this selection include the Jimmy Butler (now on the T’Wolves), Gordon Hayward (now on the Celtics), Kyrie Irving (now on the Celtics), Paul George (now on the Thunder), and Carmelo Anthony aka #HoodieMelo aka #Stretch4Melo (now on the Thunder), to name a few.
My pick for best newcomer is Chris Paul of the Houston Rockets.
I believe CP3 is going to thrive, as so many point guards have, under Mike D’Antoni’s tutelage. While his numbers may not be as gaudy as one might think this upcoming season, Paul is going to take the Rockets already supreme offense to another level while simultaneously easing the burden both him and Harden have faced over the past few seasons.
Paul averaged 18 points and 9 assists per game last season for the Clippers while carrying the offense through another injury-riddled season for Blake Griffin.
Some are questioning how well Harden and Paul will fit together as they are both ball-dominant guards, and those apprehensions are fair. The upside is just too high here as the CP3/Harden pairing will allow the Rockets to have premium point guard play for 48 minutes every night. Imagine the torment CP3 or Harden will place on opposing second unit point guards night in and night out.
For the first time in his career, Paul is going to be able to play off the ball some, which will allow him to fire away from deep. Paul shot a career high 41% from three last season. The addition of Paul also allows Harden to return to his OKC roots a bit, as he’ll finally be playing alongside an elite PG talent again. This will allow Harden to have even more space on the floor to catch-and-shoot or catch-and-penetrate.
I could go on and on about how much I like this addition. Perhaps the happiest person about the presence of CP3 on the Rockets is Clint Capela. He’ll be sure to lead the league in most dunks this year with all the lobs he’ll have thrown his way.
Look for Chris Paul to have the most efficient season of his career as the Rockets make their way to a Western Conference Finals showdown against the defending champs.
5 Breakout Players
KAT is already a well-known commodity among NBA fans. But man, we’ve got to be excited for the crazy upside this young man possesses. After averaging 25 points and 12 rebounds a game last season, the sky is truly the limit for Towns.
He can score in every way imaginable. He dominates the paint, shoots a beautiful ball from mid-range, and has shown a consistent stroke from 3 as well. 36% from 3 last season to be exact. The best part is that Towns is only 21… 21!
Towns is already an elite player and a favorite among GM’s around the NBA, as he was voted the #1 player GM’s would want to start a team with for the second year in a row.
One major area of improvement for Towns is his defense. He has the talent to be an elite defender and rim protector. Like most young players, it’ll come with dedication, repetition, and playing time. He has the right coach and system in place to thrive on that side of the floor. It's all about effort.
Look for KAT to become even more dominant this season.
Entering his third season, the Zinger will finally get his opportunity to play as the focal point of the offense with Melo no longer on the roster. I for one am excited to see what Porzingis can do in this role.
The Knicks are going to lose a ton of games, but Porzingis is more than enough reason to watch them. The Knicks have been a League Pass favorite of mine since drafting Porzingis, and I’m even more excited to see what he can do with a core of young talent around him.
Zing has impressed under the duress of Melo’s unhappiness and Phil Jackson’s overall awfulness. This year with the spotlight completely on him, he’ll have an opportunity to make the All-Star team while showing the world he can handle being the lead-dog.
Let’s see what the proclaimed Zing-God can do with this new opportunity.
Turner is an All-Star in the making. He’ll have a real opportunity to thrive now that Paul George is no longer a Pacer. The Pacers are smartly embracing a youth movement and that starts with Myles Turner, who has showed his ability to play both the 4 and the 5 at a relatively high level.
Last season Turner averaged 14 points and 7 rebounds with a PER of 18.51, which is well above league average. These numbers are impressive for a player in their second year.
He shoots the ball relatively well for a big man (34% from three), can run the floor well, and finish in the paint.
While the Pacers will likely be one of the league’s worst teams, their goals right now are primarily based in developing their young talent. Turner has the most potential to be a star of anyone on their roster and it will be exciting to see if he can take a big leap this season.
With CP3 now member of the Houston Rockets, Blake Griffin will now be the focal point of the Los Angeles Clippers.
For years many have wondered what Griffin could do in a point-forward role with the ball in his hands as a playmaker. While we may not see him in that role as much as say LeBron James or Ben Simmons, the Clippers seem committed to giving Griffin more ball-handling duties this season.
With this new freedom and responsibility on offense, I expect we’ll see another layer of BG’s game that we haven’t seen much before. He can be a nifty passer from the forward position. Given the chance to control the ball more often and have the offense run through him, we should see more of his dynamic playmaking ability.
Hopefully the Clippers can add some much need ball-movement and fluidity to their offense as well.
While Griffin isn’t your typical “breakout player” considering he’s already a perennial all-star, I believe Griffin is going to take his game to new heights as the focal point of the Clippers offensive attack.
Hood will find himself with much more responsibility in Utah now that Gordon Hayward has gone East. At age 24, Hood still hasn’t had a season with an above league average PER. Last season’s averages of 12 points, 1.6 assists, and 3.4 rebounds per game, leave a bit to be desired even for a guy that was nothing more than a role player last season.
Despite all of this, the tools for Hood to breakout are there. And now, so is the opportunity.
Hood has shown the ability to attack the rim, shoot the ball from mid-range, and from beyond the arc. He shot 37 percent from 3 last season. His FG percentage needs some improvement, but if he cuts some of the excess fat from his shot selection he should see a significant uptick in FG percentage this season. He’ll also be asked to shoot more than the 11 shots he took per game last season.
Hood can be tentative at times, but the Jazz are going to need him to be more consistently aggressive this season if they are going to be any type of threat on offense.
Additionally, Hood has shown that he can handle the ball well enough to run pick and roll action along with Rudy Gobert and/or Derrick Favors. He should see his ball-handling duties increase this season as well.
Hood has the tools to be a high-level 2-guard for the Utah Jazz. After playing in the shadow of Gordon Hayward the last few years, Rodney Hood as a real shot at a breakout season.
Players who need to “Put up or Shut up.”
For the second year in a row, DeRozan has had an offseason beef with Sports Illustrated in result of their ranking of him in their annual Top 100 players list. Last offseason, SI ranked DeRozan 46th in the Top 100 and this offseason they ranked him at 36th. Needless to say, DeRozan wasn’t too thrilled. He even went as far as tweeting “F SI” on his twitter page.
While DeRozan believes that his play and accolades are worthy of a higher ranking, SI wasn’t too far off the mark with their ranking. Being ranked behind players like Bradley Beal and Khris Middleton, which the average NBA fan might think is ludicrous, isn’t so crazy when you think about it deeper.
DeRozan is somewhat of a one-trick-pony. And he is really freakin’ good at that one trick. His mid-range game and scoring ability are at an elite level. It’s just the rest of his game leaves much to be desired.
Bench lineups starring DeRozan as the lone starter are pretty damn dreadful, due to the fact that he struggles playmaking for others and he doesn’t spread the floor. DeRozan won’t shoot threes unless he absolutely has to. One would assume he’d at least incorporate the three into his game to some extent by this point in his career. And while he has physical attributes to be solid defender, he often just doesn't put much effort into it.
Not too mention, come playoff time the Raptors become significantly easier to defend due to the fact that DeRozan refuses to shoot 3’s.
While DeRozan has every right to be annually unhappy with his ranking in SI, he should use it as motivation to improve those areas of his game that critics poke holes at. It’s time for the Compton native to elevate his teammates play and guide the Raptors deep into the playoffs.
Irving in all his bizarre weirdo babbling glory demanded a trade out of LeBron James’ shadow in hopes of taking more control of his own destiny. The former Duke star is now the point guard of a revamped Boston Celtics roster and there is a fair amount of pressure on him to produce. If he wants to prove his biggest doubters wrong, he’s going to have to show that he’s more than just a scoring/shot-making machine.
He claims that he wants the opportunity to become a “complete point guard,” as he didn’t feel he could do so as LeBron’s sidekick. While he’s probably right about that, LeBron served as a mask for a lot of the issues in Kyrie’s game. Irving is a bad defender, to put it bluntly. Also, when on the floor without LBJ last season, his assists per game didn't go up yet his shot attempts did. He needs shift his focus to making his teammates better instead of going for his all the time.
For him to prove he can be the best player on a contending team, Irving is going to have to show us dedication to an all-around game we’ve yet to see from him so far in his career.
As the new face of the Celtics, Irving is going to have to dedicate himself to better playmaking for his teammates and enhanced effort on the defensive end of the floor.
The Celtics will be good no doubt, but the burden is on Kyrie to decide whether they'll be great.
Before last season, I predicted that D’Angelo Russell would win the Most Improved Player award and that he’d be a breakout player. Obviously, I was completely wrong about both. I was pretty underwhelmed with the season Russell had because I am a true believer in the potential he has to be an all-star caliber point guard.
His 15 points and 5 assists per game simply just weren’t good enough last year for the Lakers.
With a new opportunity as the face of the lowly Brooklyn Nets, it’s time for Russell to show us what he’s made of. I know he’s only 21 and has plenty of room to grow, but now is the time to push Russell to reach his full potential.
The time for talk is over. Russell needs to show us the goods this season.
Shooting 38% from the free throw line is unacceptable for any professional basketball player. Not only is Drummond terrible at free throws, he’s literally the worst shooter in NBA history from the FT line.
Aside from his FT shooting, the rest of Drummond’s game is in need of some maintenance as well. Drummond has no go-to moves in the post and has been almost useless on offense if he’s not catching lobs or receiving passes that lead to easy layups and dunks.
The Pistons were better last season statistically with him off the floor than on it, which doesn’t bode well for their supposed “franchise player” who they are paying $23 million this season.
Drummond isn’t all bad of course. He averaged 13 points and 13 rebounds last season. He's a rebounding machine who can score around the rim through contact. When he wants to be he can be a good rim-protector, though his motor leaves a lot to be desired at times. Drummond is aware of this though, as he had nasal surgery this offseason to allow for better breathing.
For the Pistons to find their way back to the playoffs Drummond must prove he's worth the money Detroit has invested in him. If not, the Pistons could look to move him at the deadline or next offseason.
Jackson does the opposite of make friends wherever he goes. I won’t go as far as to say he makes enemies, but dang it doesn’t seem that his peers enjoy playing with him too much.
The Pistons were a mess last season. There was constant inner turmoil, discontent, and disagreement. This somehow all seemed to revolve around the players and their issues with Reggie Jackson.
Jackson battled a knee injury that threw off his season causing him to have a disappointing second full season in Detroit. Once he returned from injury, he lacked his normal explosiveness and it showed as he couldn’t finish around the rim or knock down shots consistently.
Jackson shot the worst FG percentage he has since his rookie year last season at 41% in only 52 games played.
If the Pistons want to find the road back to relevance, a lot is riding on the shoulders of Reggie Jackson. He wanted to run his own team and these are the pressures that come with it. Now he has to find a way to lead the Pistons to some wins and a playoff berth if he wants to earn back some of the respect he may have lost.
Players I’m most excited to watch
Magic Johnson anointed Ball the new face of the Lakers, which to say the least is a lot of pressure on a 19-year-old prospect. Ball is a tantalizing talent with amazing court vision, savvy passing skills, and the ability to elevate the play of those around him. For the first time since Kobe’s departure, the Lakers are among the more exciting teams in the league. Most of this due to the presence of Ball.
If any young player can handle the media fire, the scrutiny, and the overall pressure of being the guy in LA, Lonzo Ball seems to have what it takes.
Ball’s passing alone is worth the price of admission into Staples Center. If his shot stays consistent Ball will be a dynamic offensive threat throughout his rookie season. Expect for Ball to be among the top candidates for Rookie of the Year while leader the Lakers to one of the more enjoyable 30 win seasons in recent memory.
With Ball running the point, the Lake Show will be a League Pass favorite this season.
John Wall came out gunning last season averaging a stellar 23 points and 10 assists a game while leading the Washington Wizards to the cusp of the Eastern Conference Finals. Some would argue he’s elevated himself to Top 10 player status after an impressive playoff performance last spring.
The only other players to average 20 & 10 last season were The MVP Russell Westbrook and the runner-up James Harden. That’s remarkable company to be in for Wall. (For those counting at home, Wall finished 7th in the MVP voting last season.)
Wall was a dominating force throughout the playoffs averaging 28 & 10, as he showed off his significantly improved shot and an improved ability to finish at the rim.
Wall had the best season of his career after an offseason where he had double-knee surgery. This offseason Wall was able to focus on improving his game and conditioning. (Wall admitted he ran out of gas in Game 7 in the Semi-Finals against the Celtics.)
Wall is in the best shape of his life and determined to be considered by everyone as real candidate for MVP. Look for Wall to build off last season with another 20 & 10 season, averaging around 24 points and 11 assists.
Wall is coming for that 1st Team All-Defense spot as well.
John Wall’s goal is to bring the Wizards to the Eastern Conference Finals, and I believe he’ll finally accomplish that goal this season.
About 4 years too late, Melo is finally willing to play full-time at the stretch-4 position. This was a long time coming for him. I am totally juiced for Melo to play off of other elite talents (Russ & PG13) for the first since… well ever.
I have believed for years that Melo would be best serving as the 2nd or 3rd option on a contending, instead of as a lead dog. Melo’s skillset is perfectly tailored for the role of a 3rd star and the fit in OKC is near-perfect.
Melo will get plenty of open looks with Russ and George garnering much of the defense's attention. Melo is a great catch-and-shoot player from 3 and will be able to work with more space than he has in years.
It’s about time that something positive happened for Anthony. He got his wish to seriously compete for the chip, let's see what he does with it.
Brow and Boogie
Fire and Ice, as they call themselves, are too good to not work out… right?... I’m not so sure.
What I do know is that I am very intrigued by the possibilities of this duo. Whether they play beautifully together or it’s a complete disaster, it sure will be entertaining to watch.
After a rocky start to their time together, Cousins and Davis began to show signs of on-court chemistry as last season concluded. While they still have a bit of a ‘your turn, my turn’ thing going so far, the duo’s chemistry should improve with more time on the floor together.
The Roster around Brow and Boogie isn’t pretty. They have no shooting, no dynamic playmakers, and a lackluster cast of guards. It’s Brow, Boogie, (and Holiday, I guess) or bust.
Davis and Cousins are both dominant players that can score from all over the floor, but the question remains, are the better separately than together?
We’ll find out this season.
Can we please get a healthy Joel Embiid!? NBA fans truly deserves this.
Embiid is perhaps the league’s most talented big man when healthy and on the court. For 31 games last season, Embiid took the NBA by storm with his seemingly unmatched skillset. He can score from anywhere on the floor, runs like a gazelle, and is one of the league’s best rim-protectors. There is no question that Embiid is among the league’s absolute best talents, but his healthy is always a gigantic question mark.
Embiid's averages of 20 ppg and 8 rpg don’t do his impact on the Sixers justice, as his team went from doormat to near dominant with him on the floor. His per 36 minute averages of 28 ppg and 11 rpg indicate how dominant Embiid would be if he could play a normal amount of minutes. He only played 25 minutes per game last season while under a minutes restriction.
The Sixers rewarded Embiid for his 31 games of play over the past 3 years with a “Designated Player Extension” worth approximately $148 million of 5 years.
Here’s to hoping we get at least 55 games of Embiid these season. That would be a win for all NBA fans. Either way, the Sixers will be an intriguing team to follow throughout the season.
Bonus: Dennis Smith Jr.
Dennis Smith Jr. is the most exciting prospect the Dallas Mavericks have had since Dirk Nowitzki. The Mavs are notorious for not taking the draft too seriously since the Dirk era, choosing to assemble their team through free agency and trades, for the most part.
Smith fell to the Mavs at pick #9 in the draft and now the Mavs have their PG of the future. More importantly, Mavs fans have a player to believe in as the Dirk era begins to come to a close.
The former NC State star is a highlight machine. He attacks the rim with fearlessness and may be the best dunker in the league this side of Zach LaVine. Smith can shoot the ball or put in on the floor to attack the D.
With Dirk’s career likely on it’s last legs and Dennis Smith Jr. being one of the most promising prospects from this year’s draft, the Mavs are worthy of some serious League Pass love this season.
Smith was nearly my pick for Rookie of the Year… Don’t be surprised if he takes home the award.