We made it! Another NBA Opening Night could not come soon enough. Last year I sniffed out a 41-41 Pistons season, Jazz push at 50 wins, and a Doncic ROY season. I also picked the Warriors over 62 wins, Celtics to be the 1st seed, the Bucks a 5th seed, and the Blazers to miss the playoffs .. so what do I really know? Time to learn from my mistakes and try to give this another shot. See all of my over-unders, standings, playoffs, awards, and x-factors below.
Philadelphia 76ers – 54.5 – OVER – Best defense in the NBA?
Boston Celtics – 48.5 – OVER – Kemba gets them 50 wins in East
Brooklyn Nets – 43.5 – OVER – Kyrie will be on a mission
New York Knicks – 26.5 – UNDER – Are they trying to win games?
Toronto Raptors – 46.5 – OVER – Win 50 without Kawhi, but no title chances
Chicago Bulls – 32.5 – UNDER – Fun development year without expectations
Cleveland Cavaliers – 24.5 – UNDER – They have to trade Love, right?
Detroit Pistons – 37.5 – OVER – Seems like another 41-41 season to me
Indiana Pacers – 46.5 – UNDER – Would go over if Dipo is back before 2020
Milwaukee Bucks – 57.5 – UNDER – Expect regression without Brogdon
Miami Heat – 43.5 – OVER – Butler gets the opportunity to win 45
Charlotte Hornets – 23.5 – UNDER – Blatant tanking opportunity
Washington Wizards – 26.5 – OVER – Beal carries them to 29 wins
Atlanta Hawks – 33.5 – OVER – One season away from 40+ wins
Orlando Magic – 41.5 – OVER – Another step forward for this young squad
Golden State Warriors – 47.5 – OVER – Curry wins his 3rd MVP
Sacramento Kings – 37.5 – UNDER – One season away from playoffs
Los Angeles Lakers – 50.5 – UNDER – 8 of last 9 years team with Dwight goes under
Los Angeles Clippers – 53.5 – OVER – Enough talent to win immediate title
Phoenix Suns – 28.5 – UNDER – Need a big developmental year for Ayton
Dallas Mavericks – 40.5 – OVER – Doncic & KP are a special young duo
Houston Rockets – 53.5 – UNDER – Adjustment period with Russ
New Orleans Pelicans – 39.5 – UNDER – This is their warmup for next year
San Antonio Spurs – 46.5 – OVER – Have Spurs ever hit the under?
Memphis Grizzlies – 27.5 – UNDER – A fun Ja Morant rookie season
Denver Nuggets – 52.5 – OVER – Enough talent and depth to win title
Utah Jazz – 53.5 – UNDER – They need a full season out of Conley
Oklahoma City Thunder – 31.5 – OVER – Roster has 40 win talent
Minnesota Timberwolves – 35.5 – OVER – Disgruntled KAT equals 36 wins
Portland Trail Blazers – 46.5 – OVER – Dame MVP season potential?
Eastern Conference Standings (Wins)
- Philadelphia 76ers (60)
- Milwaukee Bucks (55)
- Boston Celtics (50)
- Miami Heat (48)
- Toronto Raptors (48)
- Indiana Pacers (45)
- Orlando Magic (45)
- Brooklyn Nets (44)
- Detroit Pistons (41)
- Atlanta Hawks (39)
- Chicago Bulls (31)
- Washington Wizards (29)
- New York Knicks (18)
- Charlotte Hornets (16)
- Cleveland Cavaliers (15)
Western Conference Standings
- Denver Nuggets (58)
- Los Angeles Clippers (56)
- Utah Jazz (51)
- Golden State Warriors (50)
- Houston Rockets (50)
- Portland Trail Blazers (49)
- San Antonio Spurs (48)
- Los Angeles Lakers (47)
- Dallas Mavericks (45)
- Oklahoma City Thunder (42)
- New Orleans Pelicans (38)
- Sacramento Kings (37)
- Minnesota Timberwolves (36)
- Phoenix Suns (23)
- Memphis Grizzlies (16)
76ers beat Nets in 5, Bucks beat Magic in 6, Heat beat Raptors in 7, Celtics beat Pacers in 6
Nuggets beat Lakers in 7, Clippers beat Spurs in 5, Blazers beat Jazz in 6, Warriors beat Rockets in 6
76ers beat Heat in 5, Bucks beat Celtics in 5
Warriors beat Nuggets in 7, Clippers beat Blazers in 7
76ers beat Bucks in 6, Clippers beat Warriors in 7
76ers beat Clippers in 7
MVP: Steph Curry
DPOY: Joel Embiid
ROY: Ja Morant (Not convinced Zion will play enough games)
Executive: Lawrence Frank
Sixth Man: Lou Williams
Most Improved: Jonathan Isaac
Coach of the Year: Mike Malone
Sportsmanship: Nikola Vucevic
NBA Cares Award: LeBron James
Atlanta Hawks: Trae Young – Trae impressed as a rookie as a playmaker. The Steph comparisons were always unfair in terms of shooting. Young will continue to run the offense and an incremental improvement to his shooting efficiency combined with his passing instincts will make the Hawks a must-watch league pass team. The playoffs will probably have to wait for next season.
Boston Celtics: Jayson Tatum – Tatum began his NBA career with a bang. Shocking everyone with his scoring acumen as an integral piece to the Celtics conference finals run in 2018, the swingman plateaued in his sophomore season. Is he Rudy Gay or is he going to make strides with his playmaking and defense? We will find out this year.
Brooklyn Nets: Caris LeVert – LeVert was the Nets best player to start the season and their star in the 1st round series against the 76ers. Russell is now replaced with a higher usage star – Kyrie. So why didn’t I pick Kyrie as the x-factor? We know what Kyrie is. LeVert is still the unknown. If LeVert becomes a more efficient player as the secondary scorer and drops 20/5/5 this season, the Nets may not even need KD to make a deep run in the East.
Charlotte Hornets: Terry Rozier – Scary Terry got paid. So the Hornets better hope he is their x-factor after replacing their star from the past decade. Rozier is no Kemba Walker as scorer, shooter, or passer. He is a gritty high-energy competitor that can bring some dynamism to the backcourt of a rebuilding team. Expect a lot of L’s this season with the progress of Rozier as playmaker being monitored by management.
Chicago Bulls: Wendell Carter Jr. – Carter quietly had a very effective rookie season before injuries. This year he will be their 5-man and provide much needed interior defense and rebounding. Thankfully he showed he possesses the ability to expand his offensive repertoire and the Bulls can be an interesting playoff-spot contender with LaVine and Markkanen carrying the offense.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Darius Garland – Kevin Love is obviously the Cavs best player and his presence will help them get a few wins. Unfortunately this season isn’t about winning. The Cavaliers will need to give Garland the keys to the offense and see if he can live up to the hype he garnered from the highlight tapes of his limited action in college. Ideally he is more of a dynamic scorer + playmaker in the mold of Lillard.
Dallas Mavericks: Kristaps Porzingis – Luka should have an impressive sophomore season with the potential for a MVP consideration if the Mavs make the playoffs. Porzingis is the x-factor because his health and production will determine whether the Mavs have a chance at the postseason. A big KP season makes this deep team a force.
Denver Nuggets: Jamal Murray – Jokic is their MVP. Porter is their most intriguing unknown. And yet Murray is still their x-factor if they want to win a title. Jamal has been one of the most inconsistent players since entering the league – sometimes flashing shades of Steph Curry, other times flashing shades of Mudiay. Less volatility in his scoring with improvements in his playmaking will alleviate pressure from Jokic to drop 40pt triple doubles in 7 game playoff series.
Detroit Pistons: Blake Griffin – It’s ironic that a player as exciting to watch as Griffin, who has continued to improve important facets of his game through the prime of his career, is the poster child of a franchise that continues to be the embodiment of 41-41 basketball. The reality is if Griffin can play 70 games the Pistons can stay above .500 and if he gets hurt they should consider tanking.
Golden State Warriors: Steph Curry – Curry is one of the few players in the league that can truly carry a team on his back. Another unanimous MVP season would be required from him to carry this proud franchise to another NBA final. Will D’Angelo Russell play a role or will he get traded? I expect him to stay for this season as they rehab Klay. Draymond and Looney will have to hold down the fort defensively. Sleep on this dynasty at your own peril. Durant is gone, but Steph has already won a title without him.
Houston Rockets: Russell Westbrook – Westbrook’s career has come full circle. At OKC, first Harden was traded and then Durant left, which allowed the Thunder to roll out the red carpet for a Russ triple-double MVP season. Now he joins forces with his former bench player on a team that has built their entire offensive mantra around the incredible scoring ability that James Harden possesses. Can Russ adjust playing off the ball more? This is Harden’s team which is precisely why their title chances hinge on how Russ becomes comfortable with this new reality.
Indiana Pacers: Myles Turner – Turner has a knack for quietly performing. A center that can protect the paint and drop 3’s with ease is the ideal for 2020 NBA basketball. With Oladipo hurt, Turner, along with his frontcourt mate Sabonis, will have to elevate their offensive output. With greater power comes greater responsibility, and a bump in usage doesn’t give Turner permission to ignore his current levels of efficiency. The Pacers consistently outperform expectations and this year will require Turner to lead them in doing so again.
Los Angeles Clippers: Kawhi Leonard – Kawhi proved last season that if healthy in the playoffs he can carry a talented team all the way to a title. The Clippers would be wise to follow the Raptors blueprint for getting Kawhi peaking for winning time. With Harrell and Williams coming off the bench the Clippers are well-equipped with depth to compete for the top seed in the regular season once Paul George returns. Once the postseason roles around it will be Kawhi’s turn to push them over the top.
Los Angeles Lakers: Anthony Davis – LeBron is at a stage of his career where he cannot do everything on his own to carry a team to the title. LeBron and AD both played less than 60 games last season. If Davis plays 70+ the Lakers will not only have a chance for the playoffs but a chance to win every series in the postseason. Davis will need to be the fulcrum of their defense and play at DPOY level if they want to compete for a title.
Memphis Grizzlies: Ja Morant – My pick for ROY with the freedom to impose himself on the Grizzlies offense. Expect a fun season of buckets and dimes to overshadow the classic rookie learning pains and turnovers. If Ja can develop chemistry with Jackson and Clarke this season will be a huge step in the right direction for the Grizzlies.
Miami Heat: Jimmy Butler – Jimmy came to Miami this summer so he could be “the guy”. If Butler follow Kawhi’s lead by blazing a path through the Bucks and 76ers to win the East and bring another title to South Beach he can earn legendary status. Spoelstra is the right coach for maximizing the potential of this intriguing rotation of players.
Milwaukee Bucks: Giannis Antetokounmpo – The MVP will need to take another step in the playoffs to send the Bucks to the finals. Without Brogdon he may need to shoulder even more of the offensive load. Further improvement on the defensive end will be a game-changer.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Karl-Anthony Towns – Picking Towns as the Wolves x-factor is almost unfair because no individual can carry a team on his own in the West and that seems like Towns will have to do on offense. So the reality is if he can become a dynamic engaged defensive force the entire team may be inspired to follow his lead and fight for a postseason spot.
New Orleans Pelicans: Jrue Holiday – Even before the Zion injury, this season, the Pelicans were always going to be Jrue’s team. The roster is deep and Jrue has a fun opportunity to lead his team into the playoffs in a deep Western conference. Already a difference-maker on defense, Jrue’s playmaking will be the key to unlocking this team’s full potential.
New York Knicks: Mitchell Robinson – The Knicks are rebuilding. Developing Robinson is by far the most important theme this season to find out if he can be a star in this league. His shot-blocking prowess is undeniable and he will have to make strides with his defensive IQ to avoid foul trouble. Otherwise the Knicks may have to run 5 power-forward lineups when Robinson picks up his 6th foul.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Chris Paul – The old head on this exciting rebuilding squad has a knack for carrying teams to the playoffs. Can he do it again? I wouldn’t count him out. Health is the bugaboo for the diminutive 34 year-old point God. The Thunder are otherwise an intriguing combination of young talent and reliable veterans that Paul can elevate with his natural ability to make others better.
Orlando Magic: Jonathan Isaac – The Magic took a big step to make the playoffs last year. Isaac becoming a star will be required for them to do some damage in the playoffs this year. Jonathan oozes a unique combination of length, defensive versatility, and improving offensive playmaking and shooting. Will the Magic enable him with opportunities in the offense this year, and will he take advantage?
Philadelphia 76ers: Ben Simmons – Joel Embiid will be an MVP candidate this year. The rest of the roster is rounding out nicely based on pre-season performances. Simmons can be the difference between 50+ wins and actual title contention for this giant squad. Hopefully he isn’t relegated to the “dunker spot” in the offense during the postseason.
Phoenix Suns: DeAndre Ayton – Ayton can score. That’s a great start. This season he will have to prove that he can do more. Protect the paint, expand his range, and improve his vision passing out of the post will be the 3 skills I will be looking to see improvement in. The Suns may start the season praying for a freaky run into the playoffs with Rubio running point. The big picture is their long-term outlook still depends on Booker and Ayton becoming a dynamic duo on both ends of the court.
Portland Trail Blazers:Anfernee Simons – Probably a surprising choice, Simons finished last season with an epic 37 point game teasing his scoring, shooting, and passing. We know what Dame and CJ are capable of. This means the Blazers ceiling will depend on Simons’ development and their defense. Zach Collins will also need to impress. They can’t rely on Whiteside to completely replace Nurkic as the Bosnian rehabs to full health from a gruesome leg injury.
Sacramento Kings: Marvin Bagley – Fox is the Kings engine. This means Bagley will have to be their finisher. Fox and Bagley are the duo this franchise expect to lead them to eventual contention. This will require Bagley to become a more effective modern big. He flashes incredible scoring instincts, footwork, strength, and some playmaking instincts. So what’s the problem? He lacks a reliable jump shot or rim protection. Fox made a huge stride in his sophomore season so let’s hope the coaching staff can do the same with their player development process for Bagley.
San Antonio Spurs: DeJounte Murray – The Spurs most dynamic player missed an entire season and they still made the playoffs. With Murray back in the fold and already exhibiting his elite defensive abilities in the preseason, the natural next step is to hand him the playmaking responsibility. A stellar season from Murray could mean the Spurs return to status of “nobody wants to play us in the playoffs”.
Toronto Raptors: Pascal Siakam – Most improved player last year got paid and earned the role of go-to star on offense with Kawhi now in LA. The Raptors can still be a force in the East with Siakam doing his best Kawhi impression. Expect Lowry and FVV to run the backcourt and OG to take advantage of more playing opportunities.
Utah Jazz: Mike Conley – The Jazz made an aggressive move to acquire Conley. When healthy Conley has stealthily been an elite floor general and defender. Both of these attributes are going to be huge for the Jazz to make a title push this season. This will require one simple thing: for Conley to stay healthy. Something he has unfortunately not been able to do for a few seasons.
Washington Wizards: Rui Hachimura – Bradley Beal will probably have a huge season running this offense. The Wizards however aren’t playing for postseason glory. Developing Hachimura into a star will be their ultimate priority. Hachimura is an old soul that has matured into an aggressive scorer. As with any rookie the natural urge is to temper expectations in terms of efficiency. I’m curious to see how Rui handles cold shooting nights. If he can bounce back and learn from his bad nights there is no reason to believe he can’t become an elite scorer in this league.