Another NBA season is here! The Warriors are going to be great, LeBron and the Cavs will be solid. A bunch of teams in the West like their chances, because optimism is always brimming at the start of the season. But, like every year, there will be some things that are tough to predict. That won't stop me from trying.
1. The Warriors won't challenge their own record of 73 wins, but only because they don't want to.
Golden State is still the prohibitive favorites to win it all. If the Warriors wanted to, they could probably win 75 games with this roster. But Steve Kerr knows the importance of not wearing yourself out during the regular season, so expect a lot of minutes managed and starters resting toward the end of the season. Which means the Warriors will probably approach 70 wins, but not surpass it.
2. LeBron James will win his fifth MVP award.
LeBron has not collected an MVP award since 2013, but the narrative is set up this season. Without Kyrie Irving, there's a perception that this is LeBron's weakest supportive cast since his return to Cleveland, and at age 32, if LeBron continues performing at the same level, and carries the Cavs to the top seed in the East, we'll come around to appreciating not just how great he is, but his consistency and ability to remain the game's best player as he nears his mid-30s.
3. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are going to make dad jokes all year.
LeBron and D-Wade have been reunited in Cleveland and spent their first evening back together as teammates. A few days later, Wade made fun of LeBron's hairline on Snapchat while they were working out at the gym. These two are going to lead the league in dumb jibes this season.
Watching Wade & Bron's snaps thinking "At least they're having fun. That's all that really matters". KD going to GS turned me into my mother- Larry Beyince (@DragonflyJonez) October 11, 2017
4. The roster turnover in Cleveland is the most overrated storyline of the season.
The Cavs are vying for a fourth consecutive Finals appearance, but will be doing it with plenty of new faces. A Derrick Rose-Wade backcourt presents spacing issues around LeBron. Isaiah Thomas's health is up in the air. Kevin Love will be starting at center. Jeff Green and Jose Calderon are expected to contribute as rotation players. Those are a lot of moving pieces, and the Cavs might take awhile to figure it all out. But they'll be there as the best team in the East and on their way to the Finals again at the end of the season.
5. Kyrie Irving will have at least three head-scratching quotes this season.
We might have to bump that number up to five. Or 10. After requesting a trade out of Cleveland and landing in Boston, Irving seems intent on carving out his own identity off the court this season. He's said some baffling things since leaving the Cavs, including how Boston feels like a "real, live sports city" compared to Cleveland. I'm prepared for anything that comes out of Irving's mouth this season.
6. Giannis Antetokounmpo finishes top-five in MVP voting and has records a quadruple double along the way.
At 22, Giannis is already one of the best players in the league, and so much of it is still based solely on his freakish athleticism. Is this the season we find a more consistent jumper, and in the process, a top-five player in the league? I think we're headed there, and will see some ridiculous box scores from Giannis this season. The Bucks aren't ready to contend in the East yet, but Giannis' individual brilliance will be something to watch.
7. Three teams in the West will approach 60 wins.
You've got the Warriors, and then pick two out of the Thunder, Rockets and Spurs. The conference discrepancy is going to be more glaring than ever this season, which is why Adam Silver isn't ruling out re-seeding the playoffs in the near future and doing away with conference standings altogether.
8. The Oklahoma City Thunder will get off to a fast start.
Many are wondering how the hierarchy of Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony should work (it should work in exactly that order), but there's just too much talent among the three for them not to figure it out, and to take turns beating up opponents during the regular season.
9. Meanwhile, it will take a bit longer for Houston.
Already in the preseason, we've seen an adjustment period for Chris Paul, who has to figure out how to share ball-handling duties with James Harden. It is an awkward fit, and things might not run as smoothly on offense in Houston as it did in Mike D'Antoni's first season. There will be nights when Paul is simply a spot-up shooter. On other nights, Harden might have to alternate between a playmaker and scorer while being mindful of Paul's touches. The Rockets are going to be one of the best teams in the league once they figure it out, but they'll probably need the first few months of the season to do just that.
10. Klay Thompson will have another random crazy scoring quarter.
Remember when Klay Thompson scored 37 points in a quarter against the Kings?
Klay's still got the best shooting stroke in the league and he's playing alongside Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, which means we're going to get another huge quarter from Klay again this season.
11. But Dion Waiters will have the highest scoring game this season.
In what universe do you not root for a Dion Waiters 80-point game?
12. The Jazz will miss Gordon Hayward less than you think.
Utah won 51 games last season and made it to the second round of the playoffs. Those results will be hard to duplicate this season, but expect the Jazz to approach the same win total this season. Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors should see an uptick in their offensive numbers. The additional touches for Rodney Hood means he can make up for some of Hayward's offensive output. Ricky Rubio, for all his flaws as an offensive player, will fit in seamlessly with this team. Add in the fact the Jazz should be a top-10 defensive team this season, and it would not surprise me if they approached 50 wins this season, even if it won't be very pretty.
13. And to a lesser extent, the same will apply to the Clippers without Chris Paul.
The Clippers are perhaps the highest variance team this season. A significant injury to one of their top players would mean they'll miss the playoffs in the West. On the other hand, the Patrick Beverley-Lou Williams guard combination is intriguing, as is Blake Griffin with more ball-handling responsibility on offense. If Danilo Gallinari can stay healthy, Doc Rivers has some fun five-man lineups he can deploy. There are plenty of ifs with these Clippers, but they're another team that wouldn't surprise me at all if they won 50 games.
14. The Memphis Grizzlies will be the most interesting team at the trade deadline.
Zach Randolph is in Sacramento. Tony Allen is in New Orleans. The Grit and Grind Grizzlies are no more, and they won't be in playoff contention this season. If that is the case, should the Grizzlies consider a full rebuild? It would make sense, and they have two players who would draw significant interest in the market at the trade deadline: Marc Gasol and Mike Conley Jr. Both players would represent a significant asset acquisition for any team looking to contend for a title. If the Grizzlies, as expected, get off to a slow start, we might see some mid-season trade activity from them this season.
15. The new All-Star game format won't make the game more fun, but will spark plenty of controversy.
If you didn't know, athletes have very huge egos. So, what could possibly go wrong now that the NBA has decided to let the leading vote getter in both conferences pick their own All-Star teammates? Just about everything. Imagine LeBron snubbing Irving. Or Steph Curry just picking all of his Warriors teammates (actually, that's exactly what he plans on doing). This will be the best fantasy draft ever.
16. Joel Embiid's per-36 minutes numbers are going to be out of this world.
We have no idea how many games Joel Embiid will play this season, but after suffering a meniscus tear in his left knee last January, and having played just 31 games since being drafted in 2014, no one is counting on the 23-year-old center to be fully healthy throughout the regular season. When Embiid was on the floor though, he was dominant, averaging 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in 25.4 minutes per game last season. In his pre-season debut, Embiid had 22 points, seven rebounds, three assists and shot 18 free throws in 15 minutes. The per-36 numbers are going to be historical this season.
17. The Knicks will be more fun than you think, and Michael Beasley will win over MSG.
After the Isiah Thomas era, Knicks fans thought they had seen rock bottom -- and then Phil Jackson arrived. The Zen Master is now gone, though. Carmelo is in OKC. The Knicks have a point guard rotation that includes Jarrett Jack and Ramon Sessions. They're paying Tim Hardaway Jr. a ton of money. They're not going to be very good. But they won't be a miserable 30-win team this season. They'll be fun. Kristaps Porzingis will do some incredible things, and the Garden will certainly embrace Beasley. It's another year out of the playoffs for the Knicks, but at least they'll be enjoyable to watch.
18. The Brooklyn Nets will be the surprise team in the East.
We're almost done reminding everyone the Nets gave away all their draft picks to acquire Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in the twilight of their careers. Sean Marks has done a remarkable job acquiring assets and rebuilding the Nets, and now they have a collection of young talent including D'Angelo Russell, Caris LeVert, Allen Crabbe and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who are all intriguing. Kenny Atkinson's teams always play hard, and while "playing hard" sounds like a low bar, that might be enough for the Nets to grind out enough wins to make the playoffs in the East this season.
19. The Pelicans will be the next team to lose their superstar player.
Even if the Pelicans rebound from two straight disappointing seasons, it's hard to see how they can elevate themselves to the top tier in the West before Anthony Davis becomes a free agent in 2020. Even if the DeMarcus Cousins pairing works, and he is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, New Orleans is paying eight-figure salaries to Jrue Holiday, Solomon Hill and Omer Asik. There's really not much upside on this roster. We can probably start thinking about Davis's next NBA destination by the end of this season.
20. Milos Teodosic will be the new human highlight reel and will surpass 20 assists at least once this season.
Dominique Wilkins earned the original nickname with his picturesque dunks, but I'm re-assigning the nickname to 30-year-old Clippers rookie guard Milos Teodosic, who eats cheeseburgers for breakfast and then takes the court and makes incredible passes like these:
The Clippers will miss Chris Paul, but there's a breath of fresh air about them and they're about to be fun again. We're ready for Lob City 2.0.
21. The Bulls will finish with the worst record in the NBA.
Just a few months ago, the Bulls were up 2-0 on the Celtics as the eighth seed in the first round of the playoffs. The trio of Jimmy Butler-Dwyane Wade-Rajon Rondo were finally coming together ... and then they lost four straight to Boston, None of those three aforementioned players are in Chicago anymore. It's going to be a long season for Fred Hoiberg and the Bulls.
22. At least three coaches will be fired this season.
Last season, no coach was fired for the first time in 46 years. The odds say that someone will be let go this year. Look around the league, and there are plenty of teams who are on the clock, like Alvin Gentry in New Orleans, or if things go south, Dwane Casey in Toronto and Billy Donovan in Oklahoma City. There's new management in both Orlando and Milwaukee, which means those front offices might not be especially tied to Frank Vogel or Jeff Hornacek. This has never been a patient league when it comes how much time teams allow coaches to develop their teams, or weather a rough stretch.
23. At age 40, Vince Carter will dunk over somebody.
Carter still unleashes some ridiculous dunks in warm-ups and I think he's going to turn back the clock and have one more memorable in-game dunk for us before he retires. In case you forgot, here are some of Carter's finest works:
24. Lonzo Ball and Dennis Smith Jr. will compete for the Rookie of the Year award.
Lonzo Ball is going to be the story in Los Angeles this season (with apologies to Kyle Kuzma, who has been so impressive in preseason), and the Lakers will build their new identity around him. It's a similar situation in Dallas, where the Mavericks are rebuilding and finally have a blue-chip prospect in Dennis Smith Jr. Expect the two to compete for the ROY award.
25. Russell Westbrook will wear a blank white t-shirt and a conspiracy theory erupts that he's taking a shot at Kevin Durant.
Westbrook wore an "Adopt a Cat" shirt in pre-season and it turned into an entire saga of whether he was sending a message to Durant. Going back to when Westbrook posted a photo of cupcakes on Instagram the day Durant signed with the Warriors, we've been trying to pick apart every single subtweet being sent by Westbrook, like when he showed up to Golden State in a photographer's vest last season, trolling Durant's role as an amateur photographer at Super Bowl 50. I think we will eventually get too ridiculous with our theories this season, when Westbrook shows up to the arena to face the Warriors in a blank white t-shirt, leading many to wonder if it's commentary from Westbrook that he thinks Durant's personality is very bland.
26. My top five over/under win totals picks.
Brooklyn over 26.5 wins.
Denver over 43.5 wins.
Philadelphia under 40.5 wins.
New Orleans Pelicans under 40.5 wins.
Oklahoma City over 52.5 wins.
27. The following teams will make the playoffs in the East.
28. The following teams will make the playoffs in the West.
1. Golden State
2. Oklahoma City
3. San Antonio
7. Los Angeles Clippers
29. The conference finals participants.
Cleveland; Washington; Golden State; Oklahoma City.
30. The Cavs and Warriors will meet for the fourth consecutive year in the Finals.
I promise there's plenty of reasons to watch the NBA before then, but we're headed for another Cavs-Warriors Finals. Warriors in six.