I’d like to think I’ve evolved as a writer. I used to think the only thing people really cared about were my specific record predictions, and that the paragraphs in between were just filler. I realize now that’s something for my Twitter feed (@dan_olinger), not my blog. So this year, I’m changing up my NBA preview a bit.
While I do not gamble and do not plan to gamble at any point in my life, I do admit that Vegas does a great job in crafting their over/under win totals. These were the numbers I was able to find, and I went ahead and gave my prediction for how every team would fare this season.
At the very end there will be a few more of my thoughts about the NBA at large, as well as some standard predictions, and of course, my pick for who will win the 2020 NBA Finals.
Let’s get started. Enjoy!
Milwaukee Bucks – Under 57.5 wins
I’ve recently come to a realization: The 2019 regular season Bucks weren’t as great as we remember them. Yes, the advanced stats loved them and they finished with the best record in the league, but 60 wins doesn’t make you historically great by any stretch of the imagination. You’re a good team, yes, but not a team that can simply roll out of bed and hit that 60 mark like the Warriors in 2017.
I feel like after last year’s failure in the conference finals, this team is going to embrace the whole “wait for the playoffs” mentality we’ve seen from the Warriors and LeBron-led teams over the last decade. They don’t care about getting the one seed or being good enough to get a second all star along with Giannis this year. The only thing they want to do is make the Finals and use that success to convince Giannis to sign that super max extension this summer.
I think this team has been criminally underrated by the sports media in the off-season. Giannis should only get better. Middleton does what you need him to. Even if they don’t sound appealing, George Hill, Pat Connaughton and Sterling Brown all contribute to winning basketball in meaninful ways. We might have to get a new unintentional comedy scale after the Lopez brothers shatter the ratings this season. I’m picking the under, but that only means I think they fall from 60 to 57 wins. Slight regression should be expected after a break out, and it says more about the nature of the NBA than how good this Bucks team is.
Philadelphia 76ers – Over 54.5 wins
I’m terrified to write this. Never in my life have both my Philly teams had so much uniform support from the media. I was wary of the Eagles in my NFL preview, and it seems now that my concerns were legitimate. I just have a hard time believing that any of my Philly teams are ever capable of living up to their expectations. I know in the bottom of my heart that these things just can’t go right for me.
Despite all of that …. I’ve talked myself into this team as a title favorite. I’ve written about how Joel Embiid looks awkward and actually bad at times, then you look up and see that the Sixers outscored the Raptors by 89 points in the minutes Embiid played in that series, and were outscored by 108 POINTS IN THE 100 MINUTES HE SAT. HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE??? I don’t believe in Ben Simmons the shooter at all, but I also think he is still a regular season wrecking ball that is going to love playing with a pick and pop big like Horford. Speaking of Big Al, his presence should mitigate the disasters the Sixers had when Embiid sat, as any coach not named Scott Brooks has the wisdom to stagger the two big men. Switching from J.J. Redick to Josh Richardson trades off some shooting numbers but in return gives the Sixers an incredible run of switchable defenders on the perimeter.
While we’re talking about defense, I feel obligated to talk about Matisse Thybulle for this entire paragraph. I loved him coming out of Washington. I love everything I’ve seen from him thus far. I may or may not be getting a mural of him put inside my dorm. The dude is already a deflection god with his freakish seven foot wingspan, as he waits for the man in front of him to put the ball in precarious situations before he lunges forward with those go-go gadget arms of his. A lot of fans are dubbing him as the Sixers’ new Robert Covington, but I think he’s even more than that. He’s way more attentive in off-ball defense than RoCo ever was, and on offense he cuts with a ferocity and a bounce that the Sixers have been missing in their role players. I love Matisse and I fully believe in him going forward.
Really there are only a couple of things that worry me. I did not like the Tobias Harris’ mega extension, as he flamed out in the playoffs and really disappointed as a floor stretcher post all-star break. I kind of think the Sixers will be better in crunch time if they swap Matisse in for him and smother teams with defense. Brett Brown’s offenses aren’t particularly inspiring, and if this team struggles the fire-Brett rumors will rise quickly. Most importantly, it’s just hard to fathom that this clunky team I’ve watched fail so miserably time and time again is actually going to put it all together. But I just can’t help myself. I love this team and I think they’re putting it together this year. All Sixers fans have the right to blame me if this all goes south.
Boston Celtics – Under 49.5 wins
One giant problem I see with the Celtics—they can’t play their best five players at the same time. Specifically, a lineup of Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum would get dominated on the boards overrun defensively. That means you have to have one of Enes Kanter, Daniel Theis or the immortal Time Lord Robert Williams on the at all times.
Unless, and here is the key to the Celtics’ success this season, Jayson Tatum can play small ball five. If Tatum adds physicality and savvy to his game, he might be able to do it and suddenly this team has a much higher ceiling. As much as I like Kemba, this team goes as far as Tatum does. The most important thing to have in the NBA is a tall wing who can defend at a high level and create shots off the dribble late in the shot clock. Kemba is 5’11”. Gordon Hayward just doesn’t have it anymore. Jaylen Brown lacks the necessary fluidity. It’s all on Tatum.
I don’t think he can be any worse than last year, as he averaged a truly horrible 0.63 points per isolation last year, one of the worst marks of all time. He’ll be better, but I need to see it before I think he can be the best player on a 50 win team.
Indiana Pacers – Under 47.5 wins
Anyone who reads this blog consistently knows that Zach Lowe and Bill Simmons are my two top authorities when it comes to NBA opinions. Maybe that’s why I’ve hopped on their, “The Pacers are missing the playoffs,” bandwagon. A compelling case can be made.
We’re not sure when Oladipo is coming back and if he’ll even be the same guy after that gruesome injury. The Turner-Sabonis pairing is still doesn’t quite fit. I would’ve prefferred having one of them swapped for Jaylen Brown at the deadline last year. Malcolm Brogdon is going to be this team’s primary shot creator for the first three months, a role he seems under qualified for. Most importantly, I think Bogdanovic meant way more to this team than people think. He shot a career best 42.5 percent from three, initiated the offense in crunch time and was the only Pacer that didn’t completely wilt against the Celtics last year.
This is a great talent vs culture test case. Guys like Jeremy Lamb and T.J. Warren are going to play a lot, and if Nate McMillan can coax 48 wins out of roster like this, then the Pacers should be a playoff lock for the next three years. I just don’t see it. They do get bonus points for having T.J. McConnell, T.J. Warren and T.J. Leaf all on the same team. A+ for unintentional comedy.
Toronto Raptors – Over 46 wins
This is the bold take I’ve been sitting on leading up to the season. I know losing Kawhi and Danny Green obviously makes them worse, but that’s literally all they lost. Every other player that matters is returning, and the Raptors went 17-5 in games without Kawhi Leonard. To me that indicates a winning culture for the time being.
We could also see some new variables that boost this team up. I liked some of the free agent fliers they took, specifically Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Beside having an all-time name, he’s a nice live body that can get to the rim with some herky-jerky moves and was just a part of a winning culture. The big x-factor is Pascal Siakam. I love that they signed him to that max extension. His lanky, finish-at-all-angles game is awesome to watch and I think we see him take a step forward this season to all star level at the very least.
The Raptors are my pick to finish as the third team in the East, and if this were Zach Lowe’s 35 Crazy Predictions column, I’d probably ride it all the way out and take them to make the Finals. I believe in Toronto this year.
Brooklyn Nets – Under 45 wins
Are we sure … the Nets won’t have a worse record this year. They largely out performed their talent last year, yet barely scraped the playoffs with a 42-40 record. Kyrie could at any time start incoherently babbling about the light of the earth and simultaneously piss off every single young guy in the locker room. I’m also concerned that Kyrie and Durant could pressure Kenny Atkinson into starting the DeAndre Jordan’s corpse over the up and coming Jarrett Allen. As a side, why was Jarrett Allen playing in summer league this year??? It remains inexplicable and I need answers.
I might have gone full Skip Bayless and shouted that they were going to miss the playoffs with Durant sidelined for the year if not for one things. Caris LeVert. Watching the Nets play my Sixers in the first round last year, no one scared me more than Caris LeVert. It felt like he could always get a big to switch onto him, and from there he wasted no time. He went into a fierce combo of dribble moves, pulling up if the big sagged off, and getting to the hoop if they leaned in too close. He averaged 21 points on 46 percent shooting from three in those five games.
So while I’m taking the under, I still think they can reach around 43 or 44 wins even with my questions. The important thing is to keep the ship afloat for 2021 when Durant returns. Come that season this team is a legitimate title contender. No doubt about it.
Miami Heat – Over 43 wins
Let me start with this: I think I’m the only guy left who thinks Tyler Herro isn’t good. I know, he’s absolutely lit the pre-season on fire, but I’m trusting what I thought about him back at the draft. He’s a terrible defender with a T-Rex wingspan, he doesn’t bring anything to his team’s offense beside shooting and even with his shooting, I’m not confident he’s great at that. I talk all the time about how I judge shooters by the way their threes go in, and Herro’s threes at Kentucky had a tendency to roll around the rim before slowly falling through. To me, that indicates that his shots were off by a vital margin and he was just getting a lucky roll on a couple of indications. It’s highly likely that I’m stupid and this take is completely wrong, but I’m sticking with it for now.
I also have serious doubts about Jimmy Butler as the guy. Last year in Philly, he was actually very disappointing in the regular season, only averaging 18 points per game and limiting the offense with his lack of off ball activity. Come playoff time, he turned it on, but I don’t think he can be the leader of a 50+ win team in the regular season.
In spite of all of that, I think they still get to around 45 wins. Two years ago, they won 44 games two years ago and the addition of Jimmy plus a potential breakout all-star in Bam Adebayo has to at least get them to that threshold again. They’re also a huge candidate to trade for another star/starter, as Goran Dragic’s expiring contract looms as a huge trade chip. They’ll play hard and find a way to be a quality team, meaning we’ll be treated to Dion Waiters in the playoffs. Marvelous.
Orlando Magic – Over 41.5 wins
At first I was thinking a huge over with the Magic, but I’ve since cooled to a soft-over projection at around 42 or 43 wins. It’s clear that the Magic front office LOVED making the playoffs to the point that they completely doubled down on their seven seed from a year ago. I’m a member of the “Evan Fournier is a boss” camp. The most valuable thing in the NBA is having a tall wing that scores efficiently off the dribble, and the Magic have two of the few players who can stop those kinds of guys in Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac. Nikola Vucevic is still a top ten regular season center despite the fact that he was eaten alive by Marc Gasol in the playoffs last year.
The concerns over whether last season was a fluke are legitimate. The Magic had won 35 games or fewer for six straight seasons prior to last year’s breakout. They ranked as net negatives in Real Offensive and Defensive rating in each of those seasons, and were still bad on offense last year, but compromised that with the league’s best defense post-all star break.
The depth is not as bad as you think. I like the Al-Farouq Aminu pickup. No matter his fit issues he always can serve in a rotation due to his defensive versatility. Terrence Ross is an underrated heat check guy. Michael Carter-Williams weirdly works for what they try to do. Really the only players I don’t believe in on this roster or Markelle Fultz and Mo Bamba. I don’t believe in them as anything more than a 43 win, six seed, but fortunately that’s all they need to hit the over.
Detroit Pistons – Over 37.5 wins
No team in the NBA is easier to despise than the Pistons. Blake Griffin whines for calls incessantly. Andre Drummond is constantly run off the court by younger big men who are actually willing to run. Somehow this is Reggie Jackson’s Jackson’s sixth year in Detroit, which means a sixth year of him wasting time in the shot clock before wildly charging in for a layup that isn’t there. The Pistons are not a fun team to watch and they’re stuck in this aimless middle of the NBA until Blake’s contract is up in 2022.
But that number is too low to go under. In the Drummond-Jackson era, the Pistons have won 41, 39, 37 and 44 games in the last four seasons. I really want to go under on them. I don’t like the way they play and I’d feel good about picking a younger, friskier team like the Bulls or Hawks to steal their playoff spot from last season, but I just don’t see that happening. They have enough talent where they can’t bottom out and be absolutely terrible.
I think they come in around 40-42 as we all collectively shrug our shoulders and wait for this franchise to finally get out of its own way.
Atlanta Hawks – Over 34.5 wins
I’m not going to lie and say I’m not intimidated by that over/under number. In all honesty I kind of think the Bulls have more player by player talent than them. So naturally, anticipating my own stupidity, I’m picking the Hawks to go over and the Bulls to go under.
The main reason I think the Hawks can do that is not Trae Young, but John Collins. I remember freaking out on draft night two years ago when he somehow slid to the 18th pick. I was floored at how the NBA front offices couldn’t see his enormous potential as rim-running, hyper-athletic small ball five. The Hawks were 3-18 in the games he missed due to injury and 26-35 in games he played. The only thing I really want to see is the Hawks sell high on center Alex Len and get a tall, shot-creating wing, thereby freeing up time for Collins to play his true position at the five.
There are certainly a lot of ways in which they could still lose a lot this year. Their top seven includes two rookies and two second-years, which often correlates to a terrible defense, and certainly is the case when it comes to Trae Young. For all his dynamic passing abilities, Trae is a sieve on defense and has always been overrated as a three point shooter. That said, I’m sticking with the over. Call this my, “I love John Collins,” prediction.
Chicago Bulls – Under 32.5 wins
This is a theme you’ll see in a lot of my picks: I go against my general feeling if I’ve been wrong about the team in the past. Last year, I was oozing confidence in the Bulls as a fringe playoff team. I’m still enamored by Lauri Markkanen’s scoring upside, Wendell Carter’s intuitive feel, Otto Porter flirting with 50-40-90 shooting splits and even Zach LaVine’s scoring stats turning into something more than that.
But like I said, I felt super good about this team prior to last season, and they preceded to fire their coach mid-season, form a seven man leadership council among the players for reasons that remain unclear and finished 22-60. I’m honestly still scarred by it.
I like this team. Tomas Satoransky and Thad Young were quality signings, and expecting significant growth from the young core is reasonable. I just can’t do it. Too often this team lets me down when I think they’re ready for a breakout. Give me the slightest of unders for them this year.
New York Knicks – Under 28 wins
Remember when this team had Zion, Kyrie and a healthy Kevin Durant? Ah, those were good theoretical times. Rather than landing any of that dream haul, the Knicks are left with RJ Barrett, half of the league’s power forwards and two years to talk themselves into Giannis as a free agent in 2021. It’s honestly pretty sad, even if I’m reveling in this as a Sixers fan.
They’re going to win more than 17 games this year, but 12 more? I don’t see it. What I do see is problems arising from Dennis Smith Jr. and RJ Barrett’s ball dominant tendencies even though neither can score efficiently off the dribble, absolutely no dependable three point shooting outside of maybe old man Wayne Ellington and inevitable mid-season drama. What’s the over/under for the amount of time Marcus Morris and Bobby Portis punch each other this season? Eight and a half???
The only scenario where I could see the Knicks hitting that over is if Mitchell Robinson breaks out as an all star and even a potential third team All-NBA center. That’s more realistic than you think. If he can clean up his alarming foul tendencies, he’ll put up monster volume stats as he was limited to 21 minutes a game last season, and still averaged 2.4 blocks and 6.4 rebounds with a 69 percent true shooting. There’s a reason basketball reference lists one of his nicknames as, “The Block Ness Monster.” I think he’s going to be great one day, but I just can’t see him taking the full step with the level of selfishness and bad basketball I see on the perimeter of his team.
Washington Wizards – Over 27 wins
A week ago, I was planning all these jokes to go in tandem with my prediction that Bradley Beal would be traded sooner rather than later. That idea came crashing down faster than John Wall’s career. Bradley Beal is now under contract with the Wizards for the next four years and will be on the team for the entire 2019-20 season, as players who are given extensions increases of more than 5 percent can’t be traded for the next six months, which in Beal’s case extends beyond the February trade deadline.
Don’t think Washington is immediately going to tank this season either. Tanking would have made sense last season, yet the Wizards nearly ran Bradley Beal into the ground as he led the league in minutes, crossing the 3,000-minute threshold. It honestly reminded me of when the 2014 Dallas Cowboys threw care for their player’s health to the wind and ran DeMarco Murray a ludicrous 392 times that season. His body immediately deteriorated in the following years. Basketball and football are very different in terms of wear and tear, but I still worry that Beal is going to waste mass amount of time and health trying to revive this moribund franchise.
It’s really hard to see the rest of this roster doing anything positive. If I listed them from best to worst in my eyes, it goes as such: Thomas Bryant, Davis Bertans, CJ Miles, rookies Rui Hachimura and Admiral Schofield, Justin Anderson, Ian Mahinmi, Isaiah Thomas’ and his defunct hip. Not exactly a murderer’s row. However, I’m getting the feeling that the Wizards think they’re better than they are and that they just need to wait it out till they get John Wall back. That’s a terrible idea. Wall is never going to be an all star again, as prior to injury he had already eaten his way out of the top twenty players in the league. But I feel like one of the basement teams in the East has to go over their projected total, and Bradley Beal is the only player on any of these teams capable of doing that.
Cleveland Cavaliers – Under 24.5 wins
Do we have any explanation as to why the Cleveland front office is turned off by defense? Seriously, every single player they draft or sign is a net negative on that end, leaving poor Larry Nance Jr. to try and cover for the plethora of mistakes going on around him. Part of the reason I’m taking the under with them is that when tank season rolls around after the all star break, the Cavs can bust out a few lineups that would blow fellow tankers right out of contention. Just imagine Colin Sexton and Darius Garland dying on ball screens, Cedi Osman reacting too slowly to stop the action in time but trying hard enough that he can lightly foul the defender and give him an and-one opportunity, all while Kevin Love and Kevin Porter Jr. wander around the court without a care in the world.
Maybe I’m being harsh. This team could surprise lazy contenders on certain nights. Darius Garland, despite all the fit issues he has with Sexton, has already proven to be an awesome shooter and capable shot creator. I hated Kevin Porter Jr. when I was scouted him, but I’ll admit his pre-season flashes have impressed me. If Kevin Love actually tries this season he’s still a top-50 player and could put up at least like a 23-7 stat line.
But I can’t go over knowing that Colin Sexton is going to have the ball in his hands more than any other player on this team. FiveThirtyEight spent all summer developing a new metric to better measure individual basketball players, and that metric painted Colin Sexton not only as the worst player in the NBA last season, but as one of the worst players in NBA history. Yikes. Those numbers back up what I see: a point guard who loves to create for himself and beat his chest after every small victory, even though his style in total lacks the patience to actually contribute to winning basketball.
Charlotte Hornets – Under 24 wins
The Charlotte Hornets are currently paying Nicolas Batum, Terry Rozier, Bismack Biyombo, Marvin Williams, Cody Zeller and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist around $95 million for just this season. My condolences to the Carolinas.
With the Wizards locking down Beal, this team is my pick for worst record in the league. I see so much combustible scenarios it’s honestly frightening. Like, if you told me that halfway through the year Terry Rozier tried to beat Malik Monk with a led pipe and that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was purposely directing his misses so they’d beam Biyombo upside the head, I’d find that totally believable. This is the worst constructed roster I’ve ever seen, and even if they have enough playable veterans to theoretically eclipse 24 wins, I think the mid-season blow-up is inevitable with this team.
Los Angeles Clippers – Over 53.5 wins
The Clippers are messing me up man. Everyone is calling them the team to beat and a mortal lock for at least the conference finals. They’ll hurt from no longer being able to sneak up on teams with their new stature. The Paul George injury situation could get messy, as he really seemed to be laboring post all-star break with those shoulders.
I also have something I need to get off my chest: I think Kawhi has become a little overrated. I know how stupid that sounds, but let me defend myself. I think the Raptors’ title last year had less to do with his individual brilliance and more with the totality of the Raptors rotation. I thought what killed Golden State was that every single Raptors players was scoring at least ten and maybe even twenty every single game. They seemed worn down from having to defend so many capable scoring options. Also, if you go back and watch that Bucks series, you’ll see that the Raptors really should have lost game three, five and six. It’s a dirty little secret that I don’t think anyone wants to talk about.
All of that said, I’m still taking the over. This team won 48 games last year and I can’t see how the additions of Kawhi, Paul George and quality depth doesn’t at least add six wins, even if there is an abundance of load management. Although I do have to give two thumbs down on the new cursive-lettered uniforms, if that counts for anything.
Houston Rockets – Over 53.5 wins
Save for Harden’s first Houston year in 2013 and the 2016 Dwight Howard-James Harden blowup, the Rockets have finished with at least 53 wins in the five other seasons of this era. Russell Westbrook is my least favorite player in the NBA, but he is still a better player than Chris Paul at this point in his career, and I don’t see how adding him could suddenly make them worse. The fit issues are real but there were fit issues with Harden and Paul too.
I won’t lie and say there isn’t blow-up potential here. Every star that plays with Harden gets thrown into trade rumors soon into the tenure. The Mike D’Antoni coaching situation remains queasy. Who even knows what the heck will happen with the Daryl Morey vs. China saga?
But there’s a simple formula here that can’t be overlooked. Harden plus decent shooters around him equals a contender. I’m not banking on a repeat of the 65 wins from 2018, just a solid 55 to hit that over.
Utah Jazz – Under 53.5 wins
I’m lower on the Jazz than most, and a lot of it has to do with their wings. I love both Joe Ingles (how could you not?) and Bojan Bogdanovic, who I thought was the main reason the Pacers didn’t crater after Oladipo’s injury. But I’m not sure I like them together. I just feel that a team like the Clippers or the Lakers eats those two alive, overwhelming them with both speed and power. I’m all in for the idea of small ball, but the guys playing the four have to be switchable enough on defense. They could throw in one of my favorites, Royce O’Neale, but he hard caps the shooting they’ve desperately needed the last few years.
I also have some Mike Conley concerns. Even at the peak of his powers, Memphis was still only a middling playoff team, never a true threat to win the conference. Yes, I know they made the 2013 WCF and had the Warriors on the ropes in round two of 2015. Those were great and all, but we all knew they weren’t making the Finals in either case. I fear that Mike just doesn’t provide enough dynamic shot creation in crunch time scenarios, leaving a lot on the shoulders of Donovan Mitchell. As we saw last year, the more the load on Mitchell, the less pretty his game becomes.
They’re not headed to a disaster scenario where they blow up the team after year one of this experiment. But despite all their off-season moves, I’m picking them to finish fifth in the West yet again.
Denver Nuggets – Under 53 wins
This is going to sound weird. I loved everything about the Nuggets. Nikola Jokic is my favorite non-Philly player in the league save for T.J. McConnell. I would describe myself as a Jamal Murray optimist. Torrey Craig is a member of the “fringe wing starters that I want to see get more playing time” club. Jerami Grant for a first round pick was an absolute steal.
But here’s the problem: the Nuggets greatly over achieved last season. They went 34-7 at home and I doubt they can repeat that sustained success. Opponents shot a league worst 34 percent from three against the Nuggets and that most certainly will regress to the mean. More importantly, this team is still very inexperienced and lacks the “Wow” factor of other top contenders in the West. Last year, they took advantage of teams not going all in, rolling over because challenging Golden State seemed foolish. This year, at least six different teams in the West are driving 200 down the freeway trying to beat each other to that conference crown. I’m not sure this team is ready for that level of competition.
This is where my prediction gets REALLY weird: I like them more in the post-season than the regular season. Jokic had one of the best post-seasons ever last year, backed up by the new Raptor metric at FiveThirtyEight. Come playoff time, Joker’s ability to command attention by dominating in the post and then play off of that by creating shots for others is only going to get better. The Nuggets are going to be really good and are perfectly capable of making the Finals. I have to pick two of these top five to go under, and I see a roadmap where they finish at 52-30.
Los Angeles Lakers – Over 50 wins
I’m shocked this number isn’t higher. I kind-of, sort-of hate the Lakers, yet even I can admit that this team is insanely talented. LeBron and Anthony Davis compliment each other perfectly as pick and roll partners, and Davis is looming as a dark-horse MVP candidate.
While the supporting cast is questionable, it’s not devoid of hope. Danny Green is overrated in my eyes as he actually shot lower than 38 percent each of his last three seasons in San Antonio before resurrecting last year, but I admit he fits great with LeBron. Kyle Kuzma will win a couple of games just on his raw scoring ability. Rondo and JaVale McGee will make plays where you remember that they still matter.
The Lakers aren’t going to be a 60-win juggernaut. LeBron’s teams rarely are. However, I could see this being like his second return year in Cleveland. The Cavs reached 57 wins that year despite a lot of bumps a long the way. Even if I’m rooting against it, I’m confident the Lakers finish with at least 52 wins this season
Golden State Warriors – Under 48.5 wins
The whole off-season I was preparing a huge rant about how the Warriors were being criminally underrated. For a time I was even considering making them my Finals pick, boldly claiming that Curry + Draymond + Kerr’s Coaching + Klay Thompson’s return = awesome team that has run the West for half a decade and that’s not going to change.
Then I watched the preseason. Then they cut Alfonzo McKinnie to keep the “clueless to the point it’s concerning” Marquese Chriss. Then I heard some noise that Klay might not even return at all this season given the recent history of the Warriors’ training staff. Then I saw D’Angelo short-arm at least 10,000 pull up jumpers that missed the rim. I then washed my eyes out with bleach.
As much as I will always be a Golden State truther, someone who thinks Curry is already one of the twenty greatest players of all time and that Kerr runs one of the most beautiful offenses I’ve ever seen, I just can’t see this roster getting to 49 wins. Do you realize that Jacob Evans, Alec Burks and Damion Lee are going to be critical parts of this rotation? Three guys I’ve watched and never found out what they are actually particularly good at on the basketball court? If I had any real guts I’d call for them to miss the playoffs. Unfortunately, I’m a total coward and I feel much safer predicting 44 wins and the eight seed.
Portland Trail Blazers – Over 46.5 wins
Why do I do this? Seriously, I feel like I have to start off every new breakdown with a different translation of, “Man, I really think I’m going to regret this.” I hated Portland’s off-season. Hassan Whiteside has and always will be a net negative no matter what the blocking and rebounding numbers tell you. They’re suddenly depending on Rodney Hood as their small forward just because he finally had one good playoff series. A supporting cast of Mario Hezonja, Anthony Tolliver and the artist formerly known as Kent Bazemore screams lack of dynamic play. I wanted to slam the under on this team and call for them to miss the playoffs.
Problem is I’ve done that two years in a row now. Both times, I proudly announced that Portland was done and that Dame show had officially run its course. Yet somehow, some way this team always wins enough to get the three seed. I don’t know how they do it. Just last year they were 16-15 and headed for a lost season, only to end up playing in the conference finals. As much as I love stats over generalizations and assumptions, I just can’t do it to myself again. I can’t pick against Portland only for them to do exactly what they’ve been doing for years now. They’ve consistently overcome roster flaws to beat out flashier teams, and I’ll bank on them doing that again.
Also, bonus points for the 50th anniversary court with the white-painted key. It’s absolutely beautiful.
San Antonio Spurs – Over 45.5 wins
Very similar to what you just read about the Blazers. I don’t like their roster. DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge are prime regression candidates. Dejounte Murray is good but I think we’re overrating just how much of a difference he actually makes on the defensive side of the ball. The Spurs’ archaic mid-range based offense seems destined to fail.
But these are the Spurs, and you pick against them at your own expense. They’ve made the playoffs for literally two complete decades, and I’m not going to be the one to say it’s all about to come crashing down. I need to see it happen first. If the Spurs miss the playoffs this year, then I’ll feel comfortable predicting them to under achieve for the foreseeable future. Until then, give me the over on the Spurs every time.
Dallas Mavericks – Over 40.5 wins
No, they’re not making the playoffs. The eight West playoff teams are the eight that Vegas projects. I’m aware that’s a boring prediction. I still like the Mavs to win about 42 games this year. I believe in Luka that much. If we assume basic year one to year two growth for him, he’ll average around 24 points, 9 assists and 8 rebounds. That’s somehow incredible yet totally believable for an offensive force like Luka.
Porzingis will struggle at first, but I think the floor-stretching, layup-swatting monster that guided the Knicks of all teams to a winning record through January two seasons ago is still in there. The role players, while not the best, aren’t risks to sink the team either. Justin Jackson just produces. Seth Curry is a dream fit next to Luka. Maxi Kleber has gone from full-fledged meme to a perfect modern center. I’ve always been a Hardaway Jr. fan. He just never seems to miss when I’m watching.
I could go on and on, but the point is that I like a lot of the players on this team and I think Luka breaks out as an All-NBA caliber player this season.
New Orleans Pelicans – Under 39.5 wins
This is probably my most controversial pick. On the Bill Simmons podcast, all three of Bill Simmons, Joe House and Ryen Russillo picked the over and were fairly confident in it. I have two major reasons for concern.
One—Zion’s health. It was already announced that he’ll miss the first few weeks of the season due to a knee injury, putting a severe damper on what was a highly anticipated opening game against Toronto. I don’t think he’s injury prone, but I do think that the Pelicans are intent on baby-ing him. Any fatigue or bump, and he’s immediately sitting out the game and getting a check in. They benched him for summer league after that first game because they were so scared. I’d wager he only plays around 55 or 60 games this year.
Two—they have two many good players. Yes, I know that sounds stupid, but trust me it’s a thing. It happened with the Rockets in the mid-2000s, and it happened with the Celtics last year. When so many guys deserve to play, it’s hard to keep everybody happy and get each guy playing the amount of minutes he needs to produce. Nickeil Alexander-Walker looks awesome, but where is he going to find time when Jrue Holiday, Lonzo Ball, J.J. Redick, Josh Hart and even E’Tuan Moore have established themselves as rotation players. Same goes for Jaxon Hayes, who sits behind Derrick Favors, Jahlil Okafor and the shooting big man the Pelicans specifically signed to play next to Zion, Niccolo Melli. They’d do well to make a three-for-one trade at some point this season, and the unintentional comedy of them trading back for Buddy Hield would be off the charts IMO.
Sacramento Kings – Under 38.5 wins
Something doesn’t feel right with this team. They had all this mojo going last year before they decided to trade Justin Jackson for Harrison Barnes and his albatross contract at the deadline. Not only did the Kings fizzle out after the trade, but they inexplicably extended Barnes for $85 million over the next four years. They followed this up by firing their well-respected head coach Dave Joerger, signing meh veterans Cory Joseph and Trevor Ariza to lucrative contracts and are now in a stand-off with their two best young shooters, Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic.
Of course, none of this could matter if De’Aaron Fox and maybe even Marvin Bagley make the leap this season. If Fox averages say 25 points per game and Bagley becomes at least a John Collins-level threat at finishing lobs, then that alone might could be the engine to a successful half court offense, which was the achilles heel of Sacramento a year ago.
At least one or two of these fringe playoff teams in the loaded West has to disappoint if you do the math. My money is on the Pelicans and the Kings.
Minnesota Timberwolves – Over 35.5 wins
I pride myself on having a great memory, especially when it comes to pointless NBA tidbits. Yet I was completely shocked when I saw that Minnesota won 36 games last year. For some reason, I remember them being much more terrible than that. Karl-Anthony Towns deserves a medal for carrying this G-League level roster to relative competency.
Trust me, I don’t feel good about picking a team with Jeff Teague and Andrew Wiggins to overachieve. Saying Wiggins’ very name makes me want to vomit at times. I’ve never seen a player with so much potential go completely MIA in big games and somehow decrease across his stats across the board in what should have been his breakout season.
But I just can’t see a team that didn’t lose much beyond Tyus Jones suddenly sink in the win column. Robert Covington looks awkward at times and um, can’t physically dribble, but the advanced stats always say he’s a positive. Jarrett Culver’s cutting and defense-first feel is a good complement next to Towns. Josh Okogie cuts with frightening aggression. I’m taking the over and I’m fully ready to slam my head against the wall when Wiggins is complaining mid-January.
Oklahoma City Thunder – Over 32.5 wins
I thought this number would be higher. Do we really think a Chris Paul-led team can’t win 33 games? One might counter that CP3 will be traded mid-season, but I doubt that notion too. I don’t see anyone talking themselves into that contract, especially considering that Paul is no longer a top thirty player.
The starting five has a lot of options and counters to opposing schemes. Paul and Shai Gileous-Alexander provide playmaking, Gallinari can create his shot off the dribble, Steven Adams will dominate the boards now that he no longer has to defer to Westbrook and Andre Roberson should be eager to finally play defense again. The bench is admittedly lackluster, relying on either on guys who have iffy locker room reputations (see Dennis Schroeder and Nerlens Noel) or have a tattoo of Mario on their shoulder (yes, it’s Mike Muscala).
Oklahoma City doesn’t want to tank and turn off its rabid small-market fan base. I think there’s talent here and they’ll scrounge together at least 35 wins.
Phoenix Suns – Under 29.5 wins
I don’t like Devin Booker. There, I said it. I hated him pouting because he got doubled in a pickup game. I hate that he skipped out on Team USA when they needed him. I hate that he shot a career-worst 32.6% from three last season. I just don’t think you can be even an average team if he’s your best player.
And yet, I have this nagging feeling with them. They finally have a legitimate rotation, composed of vets like Rubio, Tyler Johnson, Kelly Oubre and Aron Baynes. For as laughable as the way they went about it was, I actually really like the picks of Cam Johnson and Ty Jerome. They’re smart players that can absolutely stroke it from three, at 46 and 40 percent respectively. I buy Mikal Bridges as a future all-defensive player. DeAndre Ayton gives the necessary stats if nothing else. Dario Saric will do Dario things.
That said, they still need to prove it. They’ve finished with less than 25 wins four years in a row, and for the time being, I’m calling for a fifth.
Memphis Grizzlies – Under 27 wins
If I were to rank teams just by my interest level in them, I’d have this team in the top ten. I love Brandon Clarke. I love Triple J. I was unsure of Ja Morant but I think he landed in the perfect situation. And the uniforms, oh the uniforms. The light blue was good enough but the return of the Vancouver turquoise takes it to another level.
My original thought was that the Grizzlies would be wise to suck this year and build upon their rollicking young core. However, I remembered that because the Grizzlies defied the odds and shot up to the second overall pick this last year, they still owe the Celtics a top-six protected first round pick this year, and the protections keep getting lighter the further in the future the pick goes. Memphis might try to win enough so they can simply convey the pick this year, or they could bet on their promising core, go full tank mode this year in order to acquire another top asset and hope that when the pick does convey they’ll no longer be in the basement of the Western Conference.
I have no idea what’s going to happen with them and I absolutely love it. I would love to be wrong, but some team in the West has to suck, and a team as young as this is the most likely candidate.
Final Thoughts and Predictions
My East playoff teams will be, in order: Sixers, Bucks, Raptors, Celtics, Heat, Magic, Nets, Pistons. The Pacers just barely miss out at 9th in the standings.
It’s foolish to even try and predict seeding in the West, but then again so is writing a near 8,000 word NBA preview for your personal blog rather than studying for your midterms, so here you go: Clippers, Rockets, Lakers, Nuggets, Jazz, Blazers, Spurs, Warriors. The Mavs are left out and there’s a good chance the top six there all have over 50 wins.
Quick rundown of the awards: Even though injuries are a concern, Zion Williamson is going to be so awesome that he’d have to play less than 50 games not to win it. Should he turn an ankle I’d probably take my beloved son Matisse Thybulle. Don’t judge me.
Most Improved Player is nearly impossible to predict, but it typically goes to a second, or third-year player coming off meh seasons to start their careers. I’ve really like Lonzo Ball with an improved shot form is a tempting choice. So is a breakout year from Tatum. Even though I don’t fully believe in it, I could see Aaron Gordon making his first all-star appearance and the media riding that narrative to get him the award.
Just give Sixth Man of the Year to Lou Williams. I don’t care if a three-peat highly unlikely, I need someone to take Lou’s crown before I predict otherwise.
I’m not joking when I say that I considered Matisse Thybulle for Defensive Player of the Year. However, I have to hold off lest on my love for him lest he turn an ankle and I be responsible for jinxing him. I don’t think Rudy Gobert can win it three years in a row while still being unable to truly switch on defense, so I’ll go out on a limb and call for Giannis to take DPOY in 2020.
You know Coach of the Year is a stupid award when Greg Poppovich has only won it once in his career, and Mike “regular season-god” Budenholzer has two. It’s all about narratives, and I think a monster Sixers season will give Brett Brown the undeserving honor this year.
I’ve been burned on MVP a couple of times, and I feel no more confident this year. I don’t think either Clippers star can win it because they’ll lack the necessary raw counting stats and will miss a good chunk of games. The Sixers overall depth of talent will cancel out Joel Embiid’s potential to win it. Steph Curry will deserve it but you can’t win it if your team finishes eighth in the conference. I think the Bucks and Nuggets will take small steps back so that knocks out Giannis and Jokic. In the end, I have to go with James Harden. He’s the lone safe bet to have an awesome season in my opinion. No matter what goes on around him, he’ll always put up numbers and the Rockets only have to perform just well enough for him to fit the voters’ winning bias.
Random notes: Siakam is an all-star starter in the East and makes third team All-NBA. The Pacers trade Domantas Sabonis and another quality asset for Jaylen Brown near the deadline. Klay Thompson doesn’t play at any point this season for the Warriors. The Pelicans don’t resign Brandon Ingram come free agency. I don’t know. Who does at this point?
Finally, the moment you’ve all been waiting for. I’ve gone back and forth for a long time and I’m sure that an hour after I publish this I’ll be regretting my decision and wanting to go back and change it. Oh well. Might as well let if fly like a heat check on Waiters’ Island.
Lakers over the Sixers in Seven. Lakers as 2020 NBA Champs.