NBA 2019: New Year, New League, New Threats

Updated: Oct 20, 2019

Oh, NBA, how we’ve missed you so much!


After one of the most entertaining off-seasons of the past decade, fans all around the world are ready to see the new-look NBA in action. Almost none of last year's top contenders retained the entirety of their cores. We saw some of the biggest names switch teams and form a new era of superteams. In this preview, we will look at each team and what to expect from them, playoffs and awards predictions, and a few bold predictions. So sit back, take a seat, and get ready for one of the most entertaining NBA seasons we have had in a while.


Standings Predictions


Eastern Conference

1. Milwaukee Bucks

2. Philadelphia 76ers

3. Brooklyn Nets

4. Indiana Pacers

5. Toronto Raptors

6. Boston Celtics

7. Detroit Pistons

8. Miami Heat

9. Orlando Magic

10. Atlanta Hawks

11. Chicago Bulls

12. New York Knicks

13. Cleveland Cavaliers

14. Washington Wizards

15. Charlotte Hornets


Western Conference

1. Los Angeles Clippers

2. Houston Rockets

3. Denver Nuggets

4. Los Angeles Lakers

5. Utah Jazz

6. Portland Trail Blazers

7. Golden State Warriors

8. San Antonio Spurs

9. New Orleans Pelicans

10. Minnesota Timberwolves

11. Dallas Mavericks

12. Sacramento Kings

13. Oklahoma City Thunder

14. Memphis Grizzlies

15. Phoenix Suns


EASTERN CONFERENCE


1. Milwaukee Bucks


Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Eric Bledsoe

SG: Wesley Matthews

SF: Khris Middleton

PF: Giannis Antetokounmpo

C: Brook Lopez


When you have the reigning MVP and the best player in the conference, you’re going to be the favorite in what is a weak east. Throw in the supporting cast Giannis has, and opponents should be terrified of this team. Bledsoe looks to build on last year, and even though he is not a top PG, he is a quality guard who will get the job done. In a league where three-point shooting is vital for success, retaining Khris Middleton was a necessity for Milwaukee. The Bucks added Robin Lopez, Wes Matthews and sharpshooter Kyle Korver to a team that lost some of its depth with Malcolm Brogdon’s departure. The Bucks now have one of the most reliable benches in basketball, which is extremely important for a deep playoff run. Giannis will control the paint and be the most feared player in the east for a second straight year. If the Bucks stay healthy, and their new acquisitions play their part, they will end up right where they left off. The east is a cakewalk; the big question is whether this team will be able to compete with the powerhouses out west.


2. Philadelphia 76ers


Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Ben Simmons

SG: Josh Richardson

SF: Tobias Harris

PF: Al Horford

C: Joel Embiid

Last year, Philadelphia tried to build a superteam by acquiring both Harris and Jimmy Butler during the season, but fell short of a deep playoff run after losing in a crushing game 7 versus the to-be champs, Toronto. After trading away Butler and losing sharpshooter JJ Redick in free agency, the 76ers look to fix their issues and make a run for the title. Al Horford will be a major help on both sides of the court, and Josh Richardson is about to enter his prime, so we haven’t even seen the best of him yet. Look for the Sixers to be a possible trade deadline destination for many players, as their lack of depth may present an issue as the season progresses. At the end of the day, this team runs through Embiid and Simmons. If Embiid can stay healthy, we’re looking at one of the most gifted big men the sport has ever seen. Simmons, on the other hand, needs to fix his shooting issue right now. There has been some off-season footage which shows that he has improved his shooting game, which is a good sign, but it means nothing if he cannot shoot like that in an NBA game. The path in the east is an easy one, so expect this Sixers squad to be one of the last teams fighting for the title.


3. Brooklyn Nets


Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Kyrie Irving

SG: Caris LeVert

SF: Taurean Prince

PF: Rodions Kurucs

C: DeAndre Jordan

Injured: Kevin Durant


This Brooklyn team looks nothing like their team from last year. This off-season they added two superstars in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, and landed DeAndre Jordan and Taurean Prince as well. The Nets’ core young players stay the same, with LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Kurucs and Spencer Dinwiddie still on the team, but their playmakers will look completely different. Despite being sidelined for at least the majority of the 2019-20 season (and perhaps even the whole season), Kevin Durant was a massive signing for the Nets franchise and gives fans a lot to look forward to for years to come. Expect the Nets to still be around in May due to a weak east, but this team is not at their peak yet. In addition, chemistry could be a major issue with this team, as we’ve seen it take Kyrie some time to adjust to being in a new city. Being consistent championship contenders is on the horizon, but they aren’t yet.


4. Indiana Pacers


Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Malcolm Brogdon

SG: Victor Oladipo

SF: T.J. Warren

PF: Domantas Sabonis

C: Myles Turner


After losing star Victor Oladipo early in the 2018-19 season, a lot of people thought the Indiana Pacers were going to fall down the eastern standings. But the whole team picked up the slack and played hard for the rest of the year. Despite being swept by the Celtics in the first round, I think that given the circumstances it was a good season for the Pacers. Young frontcourt duo Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner is one of the best in the league, and will be giving teams problems on both ends of the court. As a whole, the Pacers are one of the best defensive teams in the league, and getting former rookie of the year Malcolm Brogdon will only help them be elite in that department. With all of this said, make sure to watch out for Oladipo. He may be a little rusty when he comes back, which may not even be at the beginning of the season, but once he returns to what he was, the Pacers could be a legitimate threat to the top teams in the east. But, for now, they are a dark horse candidate.


5. Toronto Raptors

Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Kyle Lowry

SG: Norman Powell

SF: OG Anunoby

PF: Pascal Siakam

C: Marc Gasol


The Raptors did not have a fun time this off-season. After winning their first championship in franchise history, the Raptors thought they had done enough to keep Kawhi in Canada in the long run. But they were wrong, and he left for sunny Los Angeles. As every team in the east went to stock up on more weapons for the upcoming year, the Raptors did not do much to fill the gaps left by Leonard and Danny Green. However, they still have a good roster mixed with potential and experience. Veterans Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka look to lead the group this year. Pascal Siakam will be a force to be reckoned with, as he will be getting even more offensive attention this year. Even without Leonard, teams will get extra motivation from beating the defending champs, so expect this to be a rough season for “The North”. We will see them in the playoffs again, but I don’t expect them to make much noise come April.


6. Boston Celtics


Projected Starting Lineup

PG: Kemba Walker

SG: Jaylen Brown

SF: Gordon Hayward

PF: Jayson Tatum

C: Enes Kanter


The Celtics went into last season with very high expectations, being picked by many to win the NBA finals after going to game 7 of the ECF the year before without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. However, they lacked chemistry, and lost in the second round to Milwaukee. In the off-season, they lost two of their top players in Kyrie and Al Horford, as well as important role players in Terry Rozier and Aron Baynes. Their young core is still intact with budding superstar Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, and Jaylen Brown all under contract. Instead of Irving, the Celtics will have newly-signed Kemba Walker running the point, with Enes Kanter playing down low in the post. They have a lot of young prospects who can turn into highly effective players, but they won’t be a contender this year. Brad Stevens is an absolutely incredible head coach, and he will make the most of the squad he has right now. Therefore, due to their ample talent and playoff experience, any team they face in the playoffs should be on upset watch.


7. Detroit Pistons


Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Reggie Jackson

SG: Bruce Brown

SF: Tony Snell

PF: Blake Griffin

C: Andre Drummond


The Detroit Pistons made the playoffs last year for the first time since the 2015-16 season, thanks to the All-Pro caliber play from Blake Griffin. He is one of the most underrated and underappreciated players in the NBA. His evolution from just another member of “Lob City” to the point-forward for the Pistons has reached complete transformation. It doesn’t hurt that he is paired with one of the best rebounders in NBA history; Andre Drummond has led the NBA in rebounding in three of the past four seasons. But they need more than those two All-Star caliber players to make a playoff push. Signing former-MVP Derrick Rose to help Reggie Jackson at point guard is a good place to start. Bruce Brown was thrown into the starting lineup last year, and thrived defensively, but was a complete liability on offense. Tony Snell was acquired this off-season, and will be an important piece for the Pistons, who needed to fill their small forward void. Watch out for Luke Kennard, as he may be on the verge of a breakout shooting season. At the end of the day, I think the Pistons have an underrated roster, but also a lot of injury-prone players. Griffin, Jackson, and Rose have all had their fair share of lengthy injuries. If they can stay healthy, maybe they can get to the second round, but I don’t see that happening. This team needs at least another year before even being considered a dark horse candidate.


8. Miami Heat


Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Goran Dragic

SG: Dion Waiters

SF: Jimmy Butler

PF: James Johnson

C: Bam Adebayo


The Miami Heat enter a new era. All-time great Dwyane Wade has retired, and Jimmy Butler has come to South Beach to become the new alpha dog. The Heat also cut ties with center Hassan Whiteside by shipping him off to Portland. Besides for these moves, this team looks mostly the same. Dragic and Waiters will try to stay healthy, and form a backcourt that can score at ease. James Johnson will just be an average power-forward. I think that Bam Adebayo is going to be a breakout player this year; look for him to be a force on both sides of the court. At the end of the day, this Heat roster is not very impressive. Jimmy Butler is still a top player in the league, but he does not have the best track record of being a leader. I think that Miami will sneak into the playoffs, but many things can go wrong and force this squad to be watching the playoffs from their couches.


9. Orlando Magic


Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: D.J. Augustin

SG: Evan Fournier

SF: Jonathan Isaac

PF: Aaron Gordon

C: Nikola Vucevic


The Orlando Magic made the playoffs last year for the first time since the 2011-12 campaign. Led by All-Star Nikola Vucevic, this team does not have any full-blown superstars, but has a very solid starting lineup and bench. Aaron Gordon has become a player known for more than just his jaw-dropping dunks. Evan Fournier has become a consistent scorer for this team, while D.J. Augustin is an underrated and overlooked point guard. Former No. 1 overall draft pick Markelle Fultz looks to redeem himself, and will join Terrence Ross and Mo Bamba in the second rotation. There is a very thin line in the east between the 8th, 9th, and 10th seed, but as of now I give Miami the edge to make the playoffs, due to Jimmy Butler’s ability to score at will. That said, watch out for the Magic, as they have a very high chance of taking over that spot.


10. Atlanta Hawks


Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Trae Young

SG: Kevin Huerter

SF: De’Andre Hunter

PF: John Collins

C: Alex Len

The Atlanta Hawks have one of the best young cores in the NBA. Despite the fact that I put them at the 10 seed, I would not be shocked if this team leapfrogged both Orlando and Miami for the last playoff spot. Trae Young proved all of his doubters wrong last season, with incredibly efficient passing (8.1 APG), but he still has to work on his three-point shooting (32.4%). Kevin Huerter will join Young in the backcourt yet again, and will look to break out even more after a fantastic rookie campaign. John Collins will try to build on his fantastic sophomore season and take on an even larger role in the Hawks offense. The Hawks also brought in two top ten draft picks in De’Andre Hunter (#4) and Cam Reddish (#10), who will help solidify this core. They also have a few veterans on their bench looking to prove their worth in the NBA. Last but not least, the Hawks have the legend Vince Carter playing in his 22nd season, and once he plays in a game in 2020, he will be the first player to compete in the NBA for four decades! Look, the Hawks have a bright future ahead of them. Can they slip into the playoffs this year? They absolutely can, simply because they are in the east. I don’t think it’ll happen this year, but they will be in the conversation late in the regular season.


11. Chicago Bulls


Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Zach LaVine

SG: Tomas Satoransky

SF: Otto Porter

PF: Lauri Markkanen

C: Wendell Carter Jr.


For Chicago Bulls fans, it feels like their team has been in the rebuilding process for years. But at some point, every team will crawl out of the dumps and form a competitive roster. The Bulls are still in the process, but they have the pieces who can set up a bright future. Their young core includes players like Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr., and Zach LaVine, among others. They drafted crafty point guard Coby White this year, and hope that he will fit into their future plans. Give this team a few more years and maybe one big free agency signing, and the windy city will once again host a winning team.


12. New York Knicks


Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Dennis Smith Jr.

SG: RJ Barrett

SF: Kevin Knox

PF: Julius Randle

C: Mitchell Robinson


After having the worst record in the NBA, the New York Knicks went into the draft lottery with hopes of landing the grand prize of Zion Williamson. Well, that didn’t happen, but in my opinion, the Knicks got the best player in the draft at third overall. RJ Barrett is the full package, and is raw and brimming with potential. Dennis Smith Jr. is a pure athlete, and is only 21. Add in sophomores Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson, and it really looks like the Knicks have a bright future ahead of them. Also, watch out for second-round draft pick Iggy Brazdeikis to make a sneaky impact on the team. The Knicks are going to be both entertaining and painful to watch, but they are nowhere near a playoff team...yet.


13. Cleveland Cavaliers


Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Collin Sexton

SG: Brandon Knight

SF: Cedi Osman

PF: Kevin Love

C: Tristan Thompson


The Cavs did literally nothing to their roster this off-season outside of the draft. Collin Sexton and Kevin Love will try bring this team out of the dumps of the east. Fifth overall pick Darius Garland is going to be good, and they also selected Kevin Porter Jr., who I think could be the steal of the draft. The rest of the roster is not very talented. I don’t see anyone other than the players mentioned stepping up to help this Cavs team make that leap. The biggest addition the Cavs made was on the sideline. After recreating the basketball program at the University of Michigan (2 national championship appearances and two Big Ten tournament championships), head coach John Beilein is finally trying out the NBA. He takes on a Cleveland squad mixed with raw talent and experienced veterans. Give him two or three years and I think that he can build this team up and make a contender out of the Cavs.


14. Washington Wizards


Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Ish Smith

SG: Bradley Beal

SF: Troy Brown Jr.

PF: David Bertans

C: Thomas Bryant


The bottom four teams in the east are all absolute trainwrecks. Remove Bradley Beal from the Washington Wizards’ roster, and what do they have? I can answer that: a god-awful roster with $44 million locked up with someone who will not be touching the court at all this year (John Wall). This team is a straight-up mess. So, why are they ahead of Charlotte? Because I think Beal is just that good. Assuming that he does not demand a trade after realizing that the Wizards have nothing to look forward to for the foreseeable future, he is going to win this team a handful of games they should not be victorious in. Rui Hachimua is a good starting point to rebuild, but the Wizards and their fans have a long and miserable road ahead of them. So for now, as long as Beal is still on this team, they are better than the Hornets, but take away Beal and oh boy, it will get ugly very quickly.


15. Charlotte Hornets


Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Terry Rozier

SG: Dwayne Bacon

SF: Nicolas Batum

PF: Miles Bridges

C: Cody Zeller


After losing franchise player Kemba Walker in free agency, the Hornets have been deprived of any direction they had. To pour salt on that wound, they lost Jeremy Lamb this off-season. Now this team is left with one of the, if not the, worst rosters in the NBA. Nicolas Batum has a player option after this year, so they have $27 million locked up with him. Honestly, I just feel bad for any Hornets fans out there, because it is going to be a very long rebuilding process. Malik Monk looks like he is going to be a bust. Miles Bridges has shown some promise, but outside of that, I don’t see any reason to be hopeful for this team. If you are a Hornets’ fan, all I can say is ‘good luck’.


WESTERN CONFERENCE


1. Los Angeles Clippers


Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Patrick Beverley

SG: Landry Shamet

SF: Paul George

PF: Kawhi Leonard

C: Ivica Zubac


Most teams are happy with landing one superstar in an off-season, but the Clippers hit the jackpot, signing Finals-MVP Kawhi Leonard and trading for Paul George. They did give up five first-round picks for George, but if this duo plays up to expectations and some banners get put up in Staples Center, Clippers fans won’t mind the sacrifice. Outside of these two stars, the Clippers have one of the deepest teams in the NBA. Landry Shamet is one of the most forgotten players in the league, while Patrick Beverley is one of the best defenders. On the bench, they have 2018-19 6th Man of the Year Lou Williams, as well as Montrezl Harrell. This squad has the potential to be one of the best defensive teams we have seen in a while, with George, Leonard, and Beverley leading the way. The Clippers and their fans are sick of living in the shadows of the Lakers since their franchise’s inception in 1970; this team is ready to emerge from the darkness and take over Los Angeles.


2. Houston Rockets


Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Russell Westbrook

SG: James Harden

SF: Eric Gordon

PF: P.J. Tucker

C: Clint Capela


The Houston Rockets swapped star point guards with the Thunder and look to make the most out of the Westbrook-Harden duo. After failing to return to the Western Conference Finals, the Rockets knew they needed to get a fresh leader, and Westbrook brings that to the table. No one can deny that he is one of the most gifted players in the NBA, and by pairing him with an offensive superstar in Harden, Houston has one of the most dynamic duos in the league. Their supporting cast stays the same, with Capela, Gordon and Tucker rounding out the starting five. This team is going to be one of the best regular-season teams in the NBA, but I worry about the playoffs. As good as both Westbrook and Harden have been, we have seen them both burn out come playoff time. There is a surplus of talent in the west, and a strong opponent lurks in every round. This team has the potential to be something special, but I think they are going to have to be put on upset watch come playoffs time.


3. Denver Nuggets


Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Jamal Murray

SG: Gary Harris

SF: Will Barton

PF: Paul Millsap

C: Nikola Jokic

As opposed to what feels like almost every other contender's style of team making, the Denver Nuggets have built their team practically purely from players they have drafted and developed. Nikola Jokic is one of the most talented players in the NBA, and is elite at shooting, passing and rebounding. Paul Millsap is a player who does not draw much attention, but is a major defensive disruptor. Will Barton and Gary Harris are both extremely reliable players on both ends. The player who will decide whether this team will take the next step is starting PG Jamal Murray. If Murray can take the next step and join the elite point guard conversation, the sky's the limit for this squad. He is only 22, so he still has time to grow into an elite player, but the sooner that happens, the earlier this team can really take the next step. Regardless, this team will be a pleasure to watch in the regular season, and should make some noise in the playoffs.


4. Los Angeles Lakers


Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Rajon Rondo

SG: Danny Green

SF: LeBron James

PF: Anthony Davis

C: Dwight Howard


The city of Los Angeles went from having no super-teams to housing two in the span of one off-season. After all the drama surrounding Anthony Davis last season, it only seemed like a matter of time before the Lakers actually pulled off the trade. The Lakers also brought in multiple experienced players to surround Davis and LeBron James. Despite not making the playoffs in 2018-19 for the first time since his rookie year, LeBron is still one of the best players in the world, and I expect him to remind that to NBA fans this year. A player who could play an underratedly important role for this team is standout forward, Kyle Kuzma. Kuzma was the only player not traded from the Lakers' former young core; he is going to be the 6th man for this Lakers team, and most likely be on the court as time runs down in close games. At the end of the day, the Lakers have two of the best players in the NBA, but I really do not like the rest of their roster very much. We’ve seen that LeBron usually needs a lot of shooters around him to succeed, but maybe he’ll show this season that he can win with a different style. Only time will tell.


5. Utah Jazz


Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Mike Conley Jr.

SG: Donovan Mitchell

SF: Joe Ingles

PF: Bojan Bogdanovic

C: Rudy Gobert


The Utah Jazz are a team that plays with a defense-first mentality in an offense-heavy league. They are structured around the play of defensive superstar Rudy Gobert, who makes it appear as if he can block any shot it the paint. Acquiring both Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic will help budding superstar Donovan Mitchell lead the way on the offensive attack. Joe Ingles has also become one of the best three-point shooters in the NBA. We don’t hear much from this team, because of their unorthodox style. They’re not going to score 130 in many contests, but their defense will hold even the best teams to low scoring games, which they thrive in. If the Jazz were in the east, their road to The Finals would be so much easier. Unfortunately, they are in the tough and incredibly talented west, where every playoff team must be taken seriously. Utah is really good, but they are still a year or two away from serious contention.


6. Portland Trail Blazers


Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Damian Lillard

SG: CJ McCollum

SF: Kent Bazemore

PF: Zach Collins

C: Hassan Whiteside


Damian Lillard is the most underrated player in the NBA. In a season where the league houses the greatest collection of point guards in history, people forget just how good he is. Last year his greatness was on full display when he led the Trail Blazers to their first Western Conference Finals appearance in almost 20 years. CJ McCollum is one of the best shooters in the NBA, and Portland looks like they will again host one of the best backcourts in the league. They traded for Hassan Whiteside, who will be a major help as the Trailblazers wait for Jusuf Nurkic to return from injury. I like this team, but it feels like it will be difficult for them to come close to replicating last season’s success. They’ll make the playoffs for the 7th straight year, but I can’t see them going any further than the first round.


7. Golden State Warriors


Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Stephen Curry

SG: D’Angelo Russell

SF: Glenn Robinson III

PF: Draymond Green

C: Willie Cauley-Stein

Injured: Klay Thompson


Yes, Klay Thompson won’t be around until at least the All-Star break, but he’ll use that time to knock off the rust from his torn ACL injury. The Warriors will struggle to find their identity for the majority of the season, but when it forms towards the end of the season, people will remember how incredible Curry is, and how talented Draymond Green must be to stuff the stat sheet day in, day out. Oh, and remember how they lost Kevin Durant to free agency? Well, somehow they turned that loss into acquiring a 24-year-old All-Star in D’Angelo Russell in return. No, I’m not saying that Russell is anywhere near as good as Durant, but he is a better return than nothing. Every team is still going to want to beat the Warriors, no matter who is on the court. Some of the best and most experienced players in the NBA are on this team, and come playoff time, watch out. Because who knows, maybe this team can still win it all.


8. San Antonio Spurs


Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Dejounte Murray

SG: Bryn Forbes

SF: DeMar DeRozan

PF: Rudy Gay

C: LaMarcus Aldridge


Unlike most of the west, San Antonio kept quiet this off-season and did not make much noise. But people should not forget about the Spurs. DeMar DeRozen and LaMarcus Aldridge are two players who can score at a high level, and as veterans, their experience should come in handy when the playoffs roll around. Also, don’t forget about Rudy Gay, who still knows how to put the ball in the hoop. The rest of this roster is comprised of young players full of promise; one to watch is Dejounte Murray. After missing last season with an ACL injury, Murray is going to be excited and ready to rejoin the Spurs; he could make an instant impact. The gap from the 8 seed to the rest of the field in the west is wide; I’ve got to give the spot to the Spurs over young teams like the Pelicans and Mavericks because of the experience they have on the court and the fact that they have one of the greatest coaches in sports history in Gregg Popovich.


9. New Orleans Pelicans


Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Lonzo Ball

SG: Jrue Holiday

SF: Brandon Ingram

PF: Zion Williamson

C: Derrick Favors

If there was any team that experienced a complete overhaul this off-season, it was the New Orleans Pelicans. Not only did they trade away superstar Anthony Davis, but they also won the Zion sweepstakes. Throw in their return of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Josh Hart for Davis and you’re looking at one of the most promising futures for an NBA team. But there’s more! Jrue Holiday is one of the most underappreciated players in the league, and they also acquired Derrick Favors and JJ Redick. I’m not so high on Zion’s skills, but one thing I know for sure is that we will see a lot of him on SportsCenter, slamming home some backboard shattering dunks. It is very difficult for multiple players to land in the same place and form cohesion quickly; it usually takes a year or two to learn how to play together. Being in the west does not help this team either. The Pelicans could make the playoffs, but for now I’ll take a Pop-led team to claim the last spot over them.


10. Minnesota Timberwolves


Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Jeff Teague

SG: Jarrett Culver

SF: Andrew Wiggins

PF: Robert Covington

C: Karl-Anthony Towns


Minnesota had so much promise a few years ago. With back-to-back rookies of the year in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins leading the way, the Timberwolves appeared destined to become a top contender. But, oh how times have changed. Karl-Anthony Towns is still one of the best centers in the game and has yet to enter his prime, and Wiggins is still young. But for now this team is not playoff ready, and are in a conference where almost every team is somewhat competitive. Another member of their core, Robert Covington, is one of the best defensive players in the NBA. This team could be good in a few years if Wiggins plays to his potential and 2019 draft pick Jarrett Culver performs in the NBA at the same level as he did in Texas Tech. But for now, the T-Wolves are stuck in the bottom of the west.


11. Dallas Mavericks


Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Luka Doncic

SG: Delon Wright

SF: Justin Jackson

PF: Kristaps Porzingis

C: Dwight Powell


One year ago, people were wondering if Luka Doncic was the real deal. Now, the question seems dumb; we all know the answer. Add trading for Kristaps Porzingis to the Mavs core, and this team is set up for success… soon. Doncic and Porzingis are both fantastic, as are many of their young players, but I don’t think they will make the leap to the playoffs just yet. I really like this team, with its mix of veterans and young studs, but, like the Pelicans, they are just not there yet. However, watch out in a year or two for Dallas, because they are going to be scarily good very soon.


12. Sacramento Kings


Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: De’Aaron Fox

SG: Buddy Hield

SF: Harrison Barnes

PF: Marvin Bagley III

C: Dewayne Dedmon


I honestly just feel so bad for the Pelicans, Timberwolves, Mavericks and Kings. All four of these teams have so many good players, but they get pushed down the standings because the west is so superior to the east. All four of these teams could be fighting for the playoffs in the east, but instead I have to drop a team like Sacramento to 12th in the west. De’Aaron Fox is special. He is one of the quickest players in the NBA, and can attack the rim at any given second. Pair him with Marvin Bagley, and we could be watching one of the best young duos in basketball. Buddy Hield is growing into the player people expected him to become when he was drafted 6th overall in 2016. They have very solid veteran help from players like Harrison Barnes, Cory Joseph and Trevor Ariza, and also now have a great up-and-coming coach in Luke Walton, who was fired for unfair reasons by the Lakers in the off-season.


13. Oklahoma City Thunder


Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Chris Paul

SG: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

SF: Danilo Gallinari

PF: Mike Muscala

C: Steven Adams


After years of being atop the western conference, Oklahoma City finally decided to fold, destroy their team and start the rebuilding process. The Thunder traded Russ and George, and in return they got a fading—but still great—point guard in Chris Paul, as well as young guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. However, that’s not even close to the biggest haul they got. They also acquired SEVEN first round draft picks and four pick swaps. The Thunder are going to look very different, but their future looks bright. Steven Adams is still in his prime, and Danilo Gallinari is playing at his best. They may not be a contender again for a few years, but OKC has a ton of trade assets, and may get more if they move Paul at some point this season.


14. Memphis Grizzlies


Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Ja Morant

SG: Dillon Brooks

SF: Kyle Anderson

PF: Jaren Jackson Jr.

C: Jonas Valanciunas


This team has a while to wait until they are near relevance. They have added to their assets by trading franchise staples Marc Gasol and Mike Conley over the past year. Ja Morant is going to win Rookie of the Year and will be a threat in the NBA immediately. Jaren Jackson is a raw talent, and will look to build on his historic rookie season while trying to learn more aside Jonas Valanciunas. Memphis fans will have to struggle through a few more losing seasons before hopefully beginning their climb to the top of the west.


15. Phoenix Suns


Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Ricky Rubio

SG: Devin Booker

SF: Kelly Oubre Jr.

PF: Dario Saric

C: DeAndre Ayton


Please, just trade Devin Booker. He does not deserve to waste his prime in this dumpster fire. It feels like the Suns have been stuck in a Groundhog Day type of movie with their rebuilding process. Dragan Bender and Josh Jackson have both been disappointing. This team is a complete mess and they will be stuck in the conference basement for the foreseeable future. That’s all I’ve got on this team. They should be demoted to the G-League.


BOLD PREDICTIONS


1. Warriors win their fourth NBA title behind Curry’s third MVP season and the new-look team.

Yeah, you heard me. No matter how much people want to hate on Steph Curry and his greatness, he’s going to remind you this season that he does not need Kevin Durant to lead the Warriors on a deep playoff run. Remember that before Durant even arrived, the Warriors went to the finals for two straight seasons. Despite a rough regular season, this Warriors team will face a burnt-out Rockets team led by the two most stat-driven players in the league and upset them. Whomever they play in the second round won’t matter that much, as their momentum will push them past that team. Their road and Steph Curry’s MVP-worthy season won’t end there as the experience from Curry, Green, and Thompson, as well as newcomers like Russell, will lead the Warriors to beat the Clippers as Golden State gets their revenge on Kawhi Leonard. The Warriors will play the Sixers in the finals, and will be too much for Philly to handle. Curry will finally get the Finals MVP which everyone bashes him for not having.

2. Ja Morant wins Rookie of the Year Honors.

This Zion hype train needs to slow down. Yes, he can dunk, we’ve been watching him do it for the past three years. But Ja Morant is something special. He’s quick, has great vision and can score with ease. Throw in the fact that he is going to be playing with a lot of young players similar to him; he is going to be energetic and fun to watch. I’m not saying that Ja will be the best from this draft class, but he will have the best first year.


3. Multiple stars will be on the move come the trade deadline.

I don’t know who it will be, but some teams will want to try and make a run at the championship, and will need more help to do so. Is D'Angelo Russell just a trade chip in the bay, or is he there to stay? How long will it take for Chris Paul to force his way out of a rebuilding OKC? Is Devin Booker finally going to leave the dumpster fire in Phoenix? Will Kevin Love leave Cleveland? I’m not sure, but a few teams which could try to make a big splash come the trade deadline are the Heat, Trail Blazers, 76ers and Nuggets.


PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS


East


First Round

(1) Bucks over (8) Heat

(2) 76ers over (7) Pistons

(6) Celtics over (3) Nets

(5) Raptors over (4) Pacers


Second Round

(1) Bucks over (5) Raptors

(2) 76ers over (6) Celtics


Conference Finals

(2) 76ers over (1) Bucks


West


First Round

(1) Clippers over (8) Spurs

(7) Warriors over (2) Rockets

(3) Nuggets over (6) Trail Blazers

(4) Lakers over (5) Jazz


Second Round

(1) Clippers over (4) Lakers

(7) Warriors over (3) Nuggets


Conference Finals

(7) Warriors over (1) Clippers

NBA FINALS:

(7) Warriors over (2) 76ers in 6 games


Awards Predictions


Most Valuable Player: Stephen Curry, PG Golden State Warriors

Rookie of the Year: Ja Morant, PG Memphis Grizzlies

Sixth Man of the Year: Kyle Kuzma, PF Los Angeles Lakers

Defensive Player of the Year: Draymond Green, PF Golden State Warriors

Most Improved Player: Ben Simmons, PG Philadelphia 76ers

Coach of the Year: Brett Brown, Philadelphia 76ers

Executive of the Year: Michael Winger, GM Los Angeles Clippers

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