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NBA 2019-2020 season preview and predictions

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Ryan Lemerman, 42Fifty

The National Basketball Association is now through its 73rd season. Unfortunately, this means it is the start of freezing winter temperatures, but if it means basketball, there should be no complaints. The art of basketball has evolved through the invention of peach basket, Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point dominance, the Michael Jordan era, and the legacy of the Golden State Warriors. The sport has been influential to many, teaching young individuals the art of turning hard work and perseverance into a life-long career.

In the most immense offseason in NBA history, fans witnessed the league finally restored to balance, and it would be fair to thank one individual, Kawhi Leonard. This postseason, Leonard defied all odds and not only outshined in the Eastern Conference, but defeated the unstoppable Golden State Warrior team. Granted, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Demarcus Cousins all battled injuries, but Kawhi changed the game, not only for one season, but for the benefit of many NBA franchises for a long awaiting future.

Speaking of, the biggest winner of the offseason had to be the Los Angeles Clippers. Yes, Anthony Davis is now teamed up with Lebron James, and Kevin Durant paired with Kyrie Irving on the Brooklyn Nets, but if you look at the timeline of the Clippers, it is extremely impressive. Kawhi Leonard agreed to sign with LA (just after winning a ring), and just so happened to notify the organization that he would definitely sign upon the acquisition of Paul George. This Los Angeles team happened to one of the most dangerous teams in the Western Conference last season, without the presence of an All-Star. Now they have two, making them the early favorite for the NBA title.

Now, the team that generated the most substantial loss would be the Charlotte Hornets. Not only did they lose their all-time greatest franchise player, Kemba Walker, but they struck out on free agency. They signed Terry Rozier III, a former Boston Celtic backup point guard, and held onto Nicolas Batum. It is really easy to troll the Hornets for overpaying players, having Rozier (who is nowhere near the talent of Kemba) earn more money per year than Walker did, and Batum earn $25.5 million per year, practically superstar money for nothing but a role player. Chicago Bulls legend, Michael Jordan, as the owner of the team, will rely on rebuilding and young talent for another five years before the Hornets get back to the big stage.

Not only the new settings for many pro-hoopers is what is changing the league, but over the last five years the game has adapted to the art of the three pointer. Credit to this change can be to the Warriors dynasty, of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, first setting the bar with three-point records and a couple of NBA championships. Shooting is “infiltrating the league, younger generations and how they approach the game…Everybody should shoot,” said two-time MVP, Curry. Upon head coach, Mike D’Antoni, the Houston Rockets have also portrayed this style of play, setting records in three-pointers made inconsecutive seasons. Other teams are continuing to be under the influence of new game-styles, despite the pace of any offense. Cleveland Cavaliers’ forward, Kevin Love voiced his opinion, stating it “Every position one through five is now shooting threes.” He is absolutely right, as it is awkward seeing Andre Drummond adapt to shooting, when over the past seven seasons when he has be subjective to being a dominant and physical and in the paint. Continuing the big bang effect of three pointers, NBA teams have combined to set a league record for six straight seasons, and it would not be astounding to see another one in 2020. 

With the season just getting underway, I took the time to forecast the final standings of the East and West, for the 74th season of NBA basketball. 

Eastern Conference:

*Last Season’s Finish

1. Philadelphia 76ers

A young, disciplined team has come a long way since 2015. The well-known saying, “Trust the Process,” has been perfectly represented by the Sixers, with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons developing into all-stars at an early stage. Adding veterans Al Horford and Josh Richardson will make Philadelphia scary on defense, and with Ben Simmons continuing to develop a three-pointer, the 76ers will be frightening offensively.

(Milwaukee Bucks, 60-22)*

2. Milwaukee Bucks

A fast pace, high speed offensive team turned heads last season, clinching the No. 1 seed in the East. 2019 Most Valuable Player, Giannis Antetokounmpo proved to be the best in the league, alongside the 2019 Coach of the Year, Mike Budenholtzer. Rather than adjusting to the league, the Bucks have changed the game, balancing their roster with players that can do it all. Resigning Kris Middleton was the Bucks top priority, and adding shooters Wesley Matthews and Kyle Korver will make Milwaukee an early NBA Finals bet. 

(Toronto Raptors, 58-24)*

3. Indiana Pacers

The Pacers really surprised the NBA community finishing fourth in the conference, despite Victor Oladipo rupturing his right knee. Indiana is under great circumstances, with experienced head coach, Nate McMillen. This time, adding Malcolm Brodgon will certainly fill the void of Oladipo’s injury. But as soon as he returns, the Pacers are a lot more scary than one would expect, especially if center Miles Turner improves his offensive game.

(Philadelphia 76ers, 51-31)*

4. Brooklyn Nets

Losing D’angelo Russell was detrimental for a developing Nets team, but adding Kyrie Irving was even sweeter. Although he may have not shown great leadership in Boston, he gets a fresh start in Brooklyn. The frightening part is, Kevin Durant is back next season.

(Boston Celtics, 49-33)*

5. Boston Celtics

Signing Enes Kanter isn’t enough to fill the gap for Al Horford, but signing Kemba Walker is definitely enough to fill in for the loss of Kyrie Irving. Walker now is among the presence of a talented coach in Brad Stevens, and should look to nurture the Celtics to a higher seed in the East.

(Indiana Pacers, 48-34)*

6. Miami Heat

Dwayne Wade is sadly departed from such a storied franchise after fifteen seasons with the team. In his Heat career, he averaged 22.7 points per game, and won 3 glorified titles. Miami looks to a new era, the Jimmy Butler era, signing the competitive all-star to a four year, $140 million deal. If the Heat manage to hold on to Dion Waiters rather than trade him, him and rookie Tyler Herro will be an excellent shooting duo.

(Brooklyn Nets, 42-40)*

7. Toronto Raptors

An underdog in the 2018 NBA Finals, the Raptors managed to dominate the Golden State Warriors, with Kawhi absolutely carrying the team. In his absence, the Raptors didn’t gain anyone significant, but they did resign all around player and 2019 Most Improved Player, Pascal Siakam. Toronto will be a lower end East team, with hopes of improving the younger talent to fill in the empty space for Leonard.

(Orlando Magic, 42-40)*

8. Atlanta Hawks

Atlanta has one of the youngest cores in the entire NBA, and within each game, their players are getting better. John Collins is an absolute beast at power forward, while Trae Young has the ability to space the floor and pull up from anywhere. Due to depth issues, the Hawks will not compete for a title this year, but in a couple of years they are definitely a team to keep your eye on.

(Detroit Pistons, 41-41)*

9. Chicago Bulls

Local fans may not be pleased, but it is fair to say Chicago is still in the rebuilding phase. Drafting University of North Carolina point guard, Coby White gives the Bulls a safe option at that position, while Zach Lavine’s athleticism creates a fast pace offense. 

(Charlotte Hornets, 39-43)*

10. New York Knicks

You may be looking at this spot thinking, who is influencing this idea? But the Knicks can really prove the critics wrong. Despite striking out on big name free agents, the young talent copes perfectly with the veterans on the roster. RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox, Dennis Smith Jr, the list continues for the potential in New York. The right amount of guidance from Julius Randle, Elfrid Peyton, and Taj Gibson. If they decide to move on from head coach David Fizdale soon, which is probable in the upcoming weeks, I can see the Knicks making a run at a playoff spot. Or tanking, yet again that is.

(Miami Heat, 39-43)*

11. Orlando Magic

This may be a little too low for the Magic, but this team is completely average. Nikola Vucavic carries the weight, while the rest of the players on the roster offer a bit of inconsistency. If young players like Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Issac, and Markelle Fultz can provide each night for Orlando, they have a better chance to sneak into the playoffs.

(Washington Wizards, 32-50)*

12. Detroit Pistons

Clinching a playoff spot last year was big for Detroit, but before they want to contend, it would probably be best for them to trade Blake Griffin.

(Atlanta Hawks, 29-45)*

13. Washington Wizards

The Wizards spent a BAG on Bradley Beal, signing him to a two year extension, worth $72 million. With John Wall supposed to be sidelined all season, the Wizards will have to wait again before they can return to the postseason. Gonzaga rookie, Rui Hachimura is a huge sleeper, and can be a real contender for the NBA 2020 Rookie of the Year.

(Chicago Bulls, 22-60)*

14. Cleveland Cavaliers

Still deep into the rebuilding phase, it is expected that the Cavs will spend this season tanking, yet again. Collin Sexton and rookie, Darius Garland will look to develop as a concrete duo in the East. 

(Cleveland Cavaliers, 19-63)*

15. Charlotte Hornets

For every NBA team, it would be fair to say each roster has an all-star caliber player. For the Hornets, I just can’t do that.

(New York Knicks, 17-65)*

Western Conference

*Last Season’s Finish

1. Los Angeles Clippers

There is no doubt the Clippers are a top threat in the NBA, already becoming the early favorite to win the title, by many NBA analysts. Kawhi Leonard alone is enough to make a team a contender, while trading for Paul George was significantly helpful. LA did get rid of a big part of their future, shipping off five first round picks, to eventually get PG. Coach Doc Rivers is a top leader at his job, and should have no problem cruising through the West.

(Golden State Warriors, 57-25)*

2. Houston Rockets

James Harden broke NBA scoring records for the Rockets last season, basically playing alongside himself, a banged up Chris Paul, and an insufficient Clint Capela. Now, Houston brought in Russell Westbrook, who is still a top-3 point guard in the entire league. Russell and James go back to the 2012 Oklahoma City days, tying together good chemistry to the whole Rockets organization.

(Denver Nuggets, 54-28)*

3. Utah Jazz

The Utah Jazz have a team full of high chemistry guys and defensive studs. If their offensive game isn’t going well, the Jazz can always rely on the defense to hold it down. Long known all-star Mike Conley and young-stud Donovan “Spida” Mitchell lead the backcourt, while Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles, and two-time defensive player of the year, Rudy Gobert handle the frontcourt. A team that lost playmaker Ricky Rubio to the Phoenix Suns, got much better by adding Conley and Bogdanovic, and can seriously be considered as a sleeper for the NBA title.

(Portland Trail Blazers, 53-29)*

4. Denver Nuggets

Personally, I am not a fan of Nikola Jokic’s slow moving game, always looking to be a playmaking scorer, with lackluster defense. Although, a lot of NBA fans love him, and he can be respected as one of the most underrated players in the entire league. Alongside the 7’0 bigman, are shooters- Jamal Murray, and Gary Harris who have perfect roles on this Nuggets team. Denver’s depth is what makes them so lustful, having Jerami Grant, Malik Beasley, and Monte Morris. The best part is, the future is bright, in high-potential rookies, Michael Porter Jr, and the beloved Bol Bol.

(Houston Rockets, 53-29)*

5. Los Angeles Lakers

Yes, Lebron James and Anthony Davis is a very hard duo to stop. But, I didn’t make the mistake last year like most NBA fans did, in picking the Lakers to be a high seed in the playoffs. Finishing at 37-45, was disappointing for the King, but a new, defensive minded coach Frank Vogel will certainly give improvement to LA, and not let down half the Bron-bandwagoners.

(Utah Jazz, 50-32)*

6. San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs certainly didn’t gain much over the offseason, but they now have their young-gun point guard Dejounte Murray back from a torn ACL. Lamarcus Aldridge is always a consistent player, and Demar Derozan is certainly an efficient player. It’s hard to leave San Antonio out of playoff contention with one of the greatest basketball coaches of all time, Greg Popovich.

(Oklahoma City Thunder, 49-33)*

7. Minnesota Timberwolves

Cold like Minnesota, yes sir. The Timberwolves have strong potential to be a Western Conference contender after putting together a very solid offseason. Andrew Wiggins will look to step up, and be the second option on this slept on team. At the end of the 2019-2020 season, I believe Karl-Anthony Towns will prove himself to be the Most Valuable Player.

(San Antonio Spurs, 48-34)*

8. Portland Trail Blazers

Damian Lilard is a very talented basketball player, and a talented rapper. Seriously, he can do everything. The Blazers will sneak into the playoffs after a lackluster 1st half of the year. Jusuf Nurkic should be absent for at least 30 games, but adding Hassan Whiteside was detrimental to get Portland back to a contender. I really like the Blazers this year, and I feel like they can finish anywhere between 5-8 in the Western Conference.

(Los Angeles Clippers, 48-34)*

9. Dallas Mavericks

Despite barely missing the playoffs last season alongside Rookie of the Year. Luka Doncic, the Mavericks will not have enough again to make it this year. Adding Kristaps Porzingus was big, especially for complimenting Luka, but Dallas lost a lot of depth in doing so. If the Mavericks want to contend in the West they might want to pick up some shooters at the trade deadline.

(Sacramento Kings, 39-43)*

10. Phoenix Suns

Yes!!! The Suns have finally escaped the wreckening 15 seed, and could potentially sneak into the playoffs at the 8 spot. Devin Booker is one of the purest scorers in the league, and new head coach Monty Williams provides Phoenix with the defensive-mindeness they once lacked.

(Los Angeles Lakers, 37-45)*

11. Oklahoma City Thunder

Paul George is gone, as is Russell Westbrook, but the grit in Oklahoma City is not. All-Star point guard Chris Paul seems to be touching down in a Thunder jersey for a short period of time, but after these first seven games it seems as if OKC doesn’t even need him. Shai Gilgegous-Alexander is the most underrated player in the NBA, who puts up 20+ and can lock down your team’s best backcourt guard. Right now, the Thunder are predicted to finish outside the playoffs, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see them sneak into the eighth spot or at least contend for a playoff position, in such a competitive Western Conference.

(Minnesota Timberwolves, 36-46)*

12. Golden State Warriors

How the tables have turned. Once the most empowering basketball franchises of all time turned to a couple of injured all-stars and second round picks. It would make sense why all the bandwagoners have faded off to the other team in LA. Recently, reports announced Stephen Curry to have suffered a broken left hand, which would leave him out for at least three months. Now, newly acquired D’Angelo Russell can fill in, but the problem is that without it’s starting five, Golden State has some serious depth issues, forcing to have players on the minimum contract.

(Memphis Grizzlies, 33-49)*

13. New Orleans Pelicans

If this was August, the Pelicans would be a playoff team, but with the absence of Zion Williamson, struggles will loom in New Orleans. Has Zion even played a real NBA game yet? No, but if you have any sort of basketball knowledge you can recognize the drastic potential of the nineteen year old. Besides the league’s most exciting rookie since Lebron, Brandon Ingram has looked really well on the offensive side of the ball, currently averaging 25.9 points per game. Like the Hawks, the Pelicans have one of the NBA’s youngest cores, and if Lonzo Ball can finally step up and be a consistent player the future is bright in New Orleans.

(New Orleans Pelicans, 33-49)*

14. Sacramento Kings

Besides adding twenty-six year old power forward Rashaun Holmes, the Kings didn’t seem to make many offseason moves. At least not adding anyone new. The Kings resigned Harrison Barnes to a four year, $85 million deal, and Buddy Hield to a four year $86 deal. Yes, the potential is through the roof in Sacramento, with young, flashy point guard De’Aaron Fox, and dominating big man Marvin Bagley III. Although, this roster isn’t developed enough to contend in the Western Conference.

(Dallas Mavericks, 33-49)*

15. Memphis Grizzlies

Early on, it was growing on me that the Grizzlies could sneak into the eighth seed. Though a lack of bench depth will hurt this team. A franchise that always resembled defensive success will get Jaren Jackson Jr. back after last year’s quad injury. I am not one to sleep on the hype for Ja Morant, who modifies Russell Westbrook’s speed, Damian Lilard’s shooting, and Jrue Holiday’s defensive ability. Morant and other rookie Brandon Clarke have an immense amount of potential, both of which were ideal selections in the 2019 NBA Draft.

(Phoenix Suns, 19-63)*

Award Predictions:

Most Valuable Player: Karl Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves

Rookie of the Year: Rui Hachimura, Washington Wizards

Defensive Player of the Year: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Most Improved Player: Devonte Graham, Charlotte Hornets

Coach of the Year: Quin Snyder, Utah Jazz

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