The Tartan

NBA season may have few surprises but some excitement

Giannis Antetokounmpo may have an MVP award in his future

Giannis Antetokounmpo may have an MVP award in his future

By Robert Ragsdale, Staff Writer

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With the NBA season getting started, it’s time to breakdown all 30 teams, ponder possible playoff scenarios and the look at the outlook for teams who brought in new players this summer.

The 2017 offseason was anything but unforgettable. It may very well go down as the most hectic offseason in the history of the NBA. Several all-star players switched teams, former MVPs signed in free agency and a draft class that most people agree was the most talented in over a decade. We’ll begin the season breakdown by looking at the eastern conference.

This year’s eastern conference may very well be the weakest it has ever been. Over the summer the conference last all-star players Jimmy Butler, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. For now, it seems fairly likely than Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers will easily take the conference and head back to the finals for the fourth straight season.

To lead off  how the eastern conference breaks down, we’ll look at the raining one seed Boston Celtics. Boston led the east in wins last year but was eliminated in the conference finals by Cleveland. Over the summer they signed all-star forward Gordon Hayward, unfortunately it seems like they will be without Hayward for the season after he suffered a gruesome injury just six minutes into their season opener on Tuesday. Boston also added forward Jayson Tatum with the 3rd pick in the draft, Tatum looks to see an increased workload after the injury to Hayward. Lastly Boston made a blockbuster trade late in the offseason in which they traded all-star point guard Isaiah Thomas, forward Jae Crowder, rookie center Ante Zizic and the Brooklyn Nets unprotected 2018 first round pick in return for all-star guard and all around super star Kyrie Irving. This trade was shocking too many because rivals rarely trade with one another, especially with such big name players. When you combine all the new assets in Boston they seemed to be an improved team offensively, but a step back defensively with the loss of Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley. However after the injury to Gordon Hayward the Celtics outlook is wide open. I still believe in coach Brad Stevens and am projecting the Celtics to take the 5th seed in the east, with guard Kyrie Irving winning the NBA scoring title.

Cleveland is up next, the defending conference champs made a ton of moves this summer as well. They lost superstar point guard Kyrie Irving, veteran forward Richard Jefferson but gained former MVP Derrick Rose, superstar Dwyane Wade, all-star Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Jeff Green and Jose Calderon. The Cavaliers look to head back to their fourth straight NBA finals, and I’m not going to dwell on why I believe they’ll go because it is actually very simple. Lebron James.

Next are the Toronto Raptors, the Raptors come into the season the reigning three seed and look to make the playoffs once again. The team remains nearly identical to last years, and as long as all-stars DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry remain healthy they look like a lock to return to the playoffs.

The Washington Wizards are the next team we’ll look at, similar to the Raptors they had a fairly quiet off season. Most notably the gave a max contract to their up and coming star forward Otto Porter Jr. The Wizards look to improve on last season, with their pair of all-star guards in John Wall and Bradley Beal they look to be a lock for a top seed in the east. With the injury to Gordon Hayward and the regression of the Celtics we could very well see the Wizards in the conference finals facing off with the Cavaliers.

Last year’s four seed, the Atlanta Hawks, are our first playoff team from last season who will most likely take a big fall this season. They lost all-star power forward Paul Millsap, as well as center Dwight Howard. The Hawks began their decline late last season and will likely continue to stumble into this year. I do not believe the Hawks will come close to the playoffs, and will begin to rebuild for the future.

Next is the team that may have the 2018 league MVP. The Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks look to move up in the east this season assuming their young star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo can make a leap from good to great. They will also gain forward Jabari Parker at some point in the season, after he suffered a second torn ACL late last season. I believe the Bucks could climb all the way to the 2nd seed in the east, and could even provide an interesting playoff series against Cleveland, but this all depends on Giannis.

The Indiana Pacers are next on our list, the defending seven seed looks to make another run at the playoffs, but it will be difficult with the loss of their All-NBA forward Paul George. The team is built around guard Victor Oladipo and young center Myles Turner. The team looks to build around center Myles Turner who has shown brief flashes of greatness in his first two seasons. I believe that with the weak talent in the east that the Pacers will be able to sneak in as an eight seed.

Rounding out our playoff teams from last season, and probably the team in the league who will fall the farthest this season. The Chicago Bulls. The Bulls lost three starters from last season, all-stars Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade as well as point guard Rajon Rondo. The Bulls will almost certainly not make the playoffs again, and may even be the worst team in the NBA.

After running down last year’s playoff teams, I’ll quickly go over the non-playoff teams, most of whom probably won’t make the playoffs this year either.

The first of two non-playoff teams who I think will make it this season are the Miami Heat. The Heat just barely missed the playoffs last season, finishing off the year 32-11 in their last 43 games. The Heat are returning all their starters and added center Bam Adebayo in the draft. I believe the Heat are a lock to make the playoffs this season, and head coach Erik Spoelstra could be a potential coach of the year candidate.

The second team I believe will make the playoffs this year are the Philadelphia 76ers. The 76ers are getting two number one overall picks this season in Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz, Simmons who missed all of last year with a foot injury. They are also getting a healthy Joel Embiid, someone who I believe has the potential to be one of the greatest players in league history but has only played 31 games in his first three seasons. The 76ers are my going to be my favourite team to watch this year, and I think if they stay healthy they should be able to secure a playoff spot despite them being so young.

To wrap up the east we will go through the teams who I believe will miss the playoffs again. The New York Knicks are the most interesting team in this group, star forward Kristaps Porzingis will finally get his own team with the departure of Carmelo Anthony, while I do not think the Knicks will make the playoffs, they will still be a fun team to watch. After the Knicks we have the Detroit Pistons, Charlotte Hornets, Orlando Magic and Brooklyn Nets. All of these teams will probably look to tank, especially since upcoming rule changes make this the last year you can effectively tank. However I still find some of these teams interesting, like the Hornets who have a spotlight shown on rookie Malik Monk.

In the east, I’m predicting the Cavaliers, Wizards, Raptors, Bucks, Celtics, Heat, 76ers and Pacers to make the playoffs and once again the Cleveland Cavaliers will win the conference.

The western conference is more competitive than the east, for fourteen teams. Then there’s the Golden State Warriors. It may not be a hot take, but I am one hundred percent confident in Golden State and Cleveland returning to the finals to rematch for the fourth straight year. Despite the mostly closed western conference, there are still tons of fun storylines.

The Golden State Warriors begin our breakdown of the west. Let’s do this quickly, the reigning champions added three point specialists Nick Young and Omri Casspi as well as a defensive minded rookie in Jordan Bell. The Warriors barring injury will win at least 65 games and take the one seed easily. Let’s move on.

Last year’s two seed San Antonio Spurs will make the playoffs this year. As long as Gregg Popovich is the coach, that statement will remain true. Superstar forward Kawhi Leonard looks to lead his team to a top three seed once again, and may even win MVP. The Spurs did get a year older, which isn’t helping their veterans in Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker (who is injured headed into the season). Despite their aging Popovich will find a way to get these guys to at least a three seed, and probably 60 wins.

The Houston Rockets made a big splash this summer when they traded for superstar guard Chris Paul. The Rockets look to pair all-stars James Harden and Chris Paul to make one of the greatest offensive teams in league history. While there may be some bumps in the road to start the season, I believe the Rockets will take the second seed in the west and be a threat to beat any team on any night with their high powered offense.

The Los Angeles Clippers will have an identity change this season after losing point guard Chris Paul, and signing guard Milos Teodosic and forward Danilo Gallinari. In my opinion the Clippers and Chris Paul are a prime candidate for the Ewing theory, meaning that I believe they could improve despite losing arguably their best player. They are luckily getting Blake Griffin back to begin the season. I think the Clippers are a lock to make the playoffs, and could be one of the most entertaining teams to watch with the flashy passing of Teodosic and the dunking of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.

The Utah Jazz are the first team from last year’s playoff teams who look to take a fall in the west. Over the summer they lost their best player in Gordon Hayward, they also lost starting point guard George Hill however they signed Ricky Rubio. The Jazz seem like a team who still have great talent in Rudy Gobert and Joe Ingles, and I believe they will sneak into the playoffs as a 7 or 8 seed.

The Oklahoma City Thunder may be the most transformed team in the league. The franchise had a busy summer with the additions of All-NBA forwards Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. These two combined with reigning league MVP Russell Westbrook make for a potentially deadly trio, but the three players are all notoriously ball dominant and may take a while to get on the same page. Regardless of how well they mesh, I believe they simply have too much talent to not be a top 4 seed in the western conference, and they probably pose the largest threat to the Golden State Warriors.

The Memphis Grizzlies are the team that confuse me the most. On paper I do not think they should be any better than an 8 seed in the west, but with their coaching and young talent in players like JaMychal Green, I think we could see them make a push for a 6 or 7 seed.

The Portland Trail Blazers are the team most poised to make jump in the western conference. Young stars Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum look to continue improving, and the team’s record could benefit substantially from a whole season with budding star center Jusuf Nurkic. The Trail Blazers are a team to keep an eye on, as I think their ceiling could be a top 5 seed in the western conference.

Those eight teams round out last season’s playoff teams from the west, but there a few teams who I believe could make a fight to take some of those spots in this upcoming year.

First are the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets put together a nice season last year behind the beautiful play of their young star center Nikola Jokic. The Nuggets also signed all-star power forward Paul Millsap this summer to pair with Jokic, I believe this duo will give them enough star power to make the playoffs.

Secondly I believe the Minnesota Timberwolves could make a playoff run this season. They may be an extremely young team, but with the addition of Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson, I believe they have gained a defensive identity and will be able to take a 7 or 8 seed in the west this season.

Lastly I think the New Orleans Pelicans may be able to make a playoff run, simply because they have the two best big men in the league. In a league where most teams are going small, the Pelicans are going big. I honestly do not know if they will be able to overcome their abysmal collection of guards, but the combo of Demarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis may be enough to capture an 8 seed.

The final four teams in the west, the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings all have little to no chance to make the playoffs, but they do all have incredibly exciting rookies to watch this year. The Lakers and Lonzo Ball will dominate sports media all year long. The Kings and Mavericks both have uber athletic point guards in De’Aaron Fox and Dennis Smith Jr. respectively, both players should have plenty of highlights throughout the season. Lastly the Phoenix Suns have third year guard Devin Booker, who scored 70 points in a game last season and is a threat to drop 50 on every night making the Suns a great team to watch.

When asking people about the season, the thing people seem to be the most excited for are the Philadelphia 76ers, one of my friends, Blake Dust, had this to say about big man Joel Embiid “He really is incredible… he could be one of the best big men ever if he can stay on the court”. This seems to be a pretty common sentiment surrounding the hype for Embiid and the 76ers.

To close my NBA season preview, I’m going to predict the championship and the award winners.

My NBA championship prediction probably doesn’t belong in the world of hot takes. I, boringly, believe that the Golden State Warriors will defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games.

For the NBA awards my predictions may be more out there, for league MVP I’m picking Giannis Antetokounmpo, I believe he will take the leap this season and lead his team to 50 plus wins while putting up absurd statistics. For defensive player of the year I am choosing Rudy Gobert, he came close last year and I think voter fatigue for Draymond Green and Kawhi Leonard will allow him to swoop in and win it. My pick for sixth man of the year is JR Smith, the sixth man award usually just goes to the highest scoring bench player and JR, who was a starter last year should be set up nicely to score 10 plus points per game. Finally, my choice for rookie of the year is Ben Simmons, Simmons gets the advantage of having spent the last year around an NBA team so he should be able to take advantage of that and separate himself from the other rookies.

Despite my prediction of the outcome of the season being the exact same as last year, I think this season is one of the most exciting in a while. There are dozens of exciting rookies to watch every night as well as a bunch of super star level players who swapped teams this summer. All of these things should add together for a very exciting NBA season.

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NBA season may have few surprises but some excitement