With the NBA tipping off on TNT October 22nd, stories, hype, and even some disrespect are starting to build around players and teams rapidly. Take these storylines and ideas with a grain of salt going into the 2019-2020 season, because we are about to witness probably the most parity in the NBA since the formation of the 2008 Celtics’ Big 3. The NBA’s first games next Tuesday will be a doubleheader featuring the New Orleans Pelicans visiting the Toronto Raptors at 8PM ET and the LA showdown at the 10:30PM ET slot, with the Clippers being the home team this time around.
The Boston Celtics Transformation
Boston has made some major changes to the roster after losing Kyrie Irving and Al Horford, two cornerstone players in their previous blueprint. It seems Danny Ainge believed they needed a revamp or else they simply wouldn’t be able to woo Irving nor the likes of Anthony Davis. Davis’s agent Rich Paul made it clear that trading for Davis would be a risky move for the Celtics, with no clear promise he would return for a second season. Seven-foot-Five prospect Tacko Fall was snagged by the Celtics from waivers after nobody took a chance on the projected first round pick. Tremont Waters and Carsen Edwards have looked decent, both scoring and racking up healthy stats in just minimal minutes over the course of the preseason. Edwards went absolutely bananas last night, nailing 8 3s in the third quarter. Romeo Langford is another interesting BIG10 prospect similar to Edwards. The young talent seems to be real on this team. Time will tell if Brad Stevens can bring it all into motion successfully. The signing of Enes Kanter helps with big man depth after the loss of Aron Baynes. Similarly, the Celtics did the best they possibly could to recover from the departure of Kyrie Irving by trading for Kemba Walker. Considering how much talent the Celtics lost this offseason, they did a pretty damn good job. With the rest of the team being in Stevens’ system for a couple years now, this team should be a dark horse to contend.
Kyrie Irving’s Level of Play
This is going to be a huge year for Kyrie Irving’s career. With Kevin Durant out for the entire season, we are going to see if Irving and his leadership issues were an actual problem in Boston or if it was just a personnel mismatch. The addition and payday of DeAndre Jordan were interesting to me because Jarett Allen is decent and a lot younger/cheaper. I suppose losing Ed Davis created a need for them, but to me, it seemed to be motivated more by his friendship with Irving and Durant over an actual basketball move. If you have the opportunity to sign 2 top 10 NBA players, I guess you do whatever it takes. Their roster is still deep and overall good compared to the rest of the East, but if Irving can’t lead this team to a playoff berth, we are going to seriously start questioning both Irving as a whole and the move to ditch D’Angelo Russell. Russell embraced the Nets’ culture and was great for them. Different players work better in different situations. Keep an eye on this.
Michael Porter Jr.
Last year, the Denver Nuggets finished 2nd in the Western Conference and ultimately fell to Portland in a Game 7. The Nuggets have a tremendous young core in Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, with Paul Milsap being a strong veteran presence. Many people forgot about Michael Porter Jr., the sophomore out of Missouri who missed his entire rookie season due to injury. If anything, one of the glaring points that seemed to cripple Denver was their lack of star power. If Porter Jr. can be what he was projected to be, Denver will have a star-studded small forward waiting to be unleashed. Porter Jr. has been completely cleared by the medical staff, but head coach Mike Malone says he will see limited minutes at the beginning of the season. His teammates have noticed his progression as he has gained 15 lbs this past year. “He’s a really good shooter, he can post up guys, he can go by guys, he’s a really talented player,” said Jokic.
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Steph Curry’s Workload
The Warriors are 32-6 when Steph Curry drops 40 points. The D’Angelo Russell trade made perfect sense for Golden State, since Klay Thompson will be out till near the All-Star break. If he can complement the team and system nicely, they basically got him for free, so that is great. On the other hand, if it doesn’t work out they can just trade him for a piece that makes more sense. Adding Willie Cauley-Stein, Glenn Robinson III, and Alec Burks while resigning Kevon Looney for cheap looks to revigorate the team with some younger legs and faces. We will see if Steph can carry the team without Klay and not run out of stamina before the postseason. They will need big numbers from the single splash brother in place of the injured one. We will see if Steve Kerr, Steph, and the Warriors can manage a good long term game plan without risking the workload and health of their remaining stars. That pesky ankle has been giving Steph trouble for some time now.
The Russell Westbrook Experiment
There are many questions surrounding the Houston Rockets, but I have a feeling they are going to be a contender. They retained most of the team but mortgaged the future to obtain Russell Westbrook. Side note, they also signed Ben McLemore and Tyson Chandler, who are both somewhat irrelevant at this point. The only thing I have to say about the Rockets is that the last time Westbrook had a shooter like James Harden (it was literally him) they went to the Finals. All Westbrook has to do is run around and be athletic, pulling defenders off of the shooters and he can decide to make a play at the basket or just kick it out. This team has more shooters than OKC ever did.
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The LA Rivalry and How Injuries Could Tell the Tale
The Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers arguably had two of the most successful offseasons. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are now Clippers and Anthony Davis joins LeBron James as a Laker. Los Angeles is going to be a basketball mecca and this rivalry is going to be must-see television. The twist here is that PG, Kawhi, and Davis all have an injury history. LeBron doesn’t have a long injury history, but this past season, a sports hernia made him miss the most regular season games of his career. George has already been marked out till November after his successful double shoulder surgery. The Clippers should be fine in the meantime, seeing they won 48 games last year with basically the same team and have now added the Finals MVP. The Lakers, on the other hand, are much shallower in depth than the Clippers at least on paper, so an injury could cause serious issues. We will see how the Clippers will fair opening night against the Lakers while missing their second star. Hopefully, everyone is healthy and we can see some historic basketball come playoffs, but injuries are part of the game and it could be detrimental to both teams long term.
The Ceiling for Milwaukee
Milwaukee will be one of the best teams in the East, as they were last year. This offseason, they signed the brother of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Thanasis, and brother of Brook Lopez, Robin. They replaced Malcolm Brogdan with Wesley Matthews. Resigning the majority of the team and obviously having Giannis puts them in a position to have another spectacular year. I just have questions about how much better they can get. Until Giannis develops a shot, it only takes a couple games to schematically defend him. After going down 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals, Nick Nurse put Kawhi on Giannis and it was a nightmare, seeing the Raptors won 4 straight following that change.
Clearly, Kawhi is levels ahead defensively versus most other NBA players, but Giannis is the reigning MVP and needs to be able to make adjustments just like everyone else. When Kawhi guarded Giannis in the ECF, he shot 25% from the field. This could become a concern if nothing changes. However, Kawhi is with the Clippers now, so this could be what Milwaukee needed, similar to LeBron leaving the East in regard to Toronto.
Pelicans Playoff Push?
I am very high on the New Orleans Pelicans this year. The win total line is 39.5 They won 33 last year with all of the Anthony Davis drama and a plethora of injuries. Now, they have acquired the young Lakers. Lonzo Ball has looked better with his new shot and shoes, and Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart bring a decent amount of upside too. They drafted Zion Williamson, Jaxson Hayes, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. We will come back to Zion, but this kid Jaxson Hayes has a big body, huge hands, and can jump out of the gym. Hayes could have been a steal in the draft, as could promising sophomore Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s cousin, Nickeil. Pelicans GM, David Griffin also went out and signed Derrick Favors and sharpshooter JJ Redick, who has never missed the playoffs in his career. JJ had some words for Zion to protect that streak:
Jrue Holiday is also still a Pelican and could be an All-Star in the Eastern Conference, as Griffin dubbed this Holiday’s team, not Zion’s. In about 36 minutes, Holiday was averaging 21.2 points, 7.7 assists, 5 rebounds and 1.6 steals last year.
Lastly, let’s talk about Zion. The disrespect this kid has been receiving with people calling him over-hyped is outrageous. I have written a whole article about how great I think he will be: People Actually Think Zion’s Game Won’t Transfer to the NBA. The kid is the best prospect we have seen since LeBron and he already shoots better than LeBron did coming out of high school. The difference between Zion’s rookie year and LeBron’s is that Zion was actually blessed with a decent roster and, at the moment, coach.
OKC’s 3-Guard Lineup
Who would have thought Chris Paul would be on the Oklahoma City Thunder 2 years after signing his massive deal with Houston. It’s truly crazy to think about. Many thought Sam Presti would flip Paul for even more assets, but with the season less than a week away he is still on the roster. Billy Donovan tested multiple guard lineups with Westbrook, but Paul and he differ greatly. About a week ago in a preseason win over Dallas, Donovan went with the 3-guard lineup of Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Dennis Schroder. With restricted minutes, they hung up 43 points and 10 assists, which is decent. Donovan claims they all are tolerant with the lineup as well, saying ““All of those guys are open to playing together, making it work, and trying to be effective for our team.” This should be interesting going forward. Maybe this new kind of lineup can earn them a bottom playoff spot.
Philadelphia’s Early-Season Omens
The Philadelphia 76ers were one Kawhi Leonard shot away from going to the Eastern Conference Finals. Yes, they lost JJ Redick, but as JJ has made the playoffs every year of his career, he hasn’t always performed that well during them. They kept Tobias Harris who should provide consistent shooting. Let me emphasize should. Tobias is great, but the Clippers knew he wasn’t worth all of that money, so we will see if he continues to improve as he begins his prime. I thought the Al Horford signing was huge. The only person that was guarding Embiid superbly was Horford and now they are on the same team. With Ben Simmons at the point and the big fellas down low, this team is going to be hard to guard with their athleticism and size. I like Philly going to the Finals this year, as Simmons looks like he has improved and Embiid should be fully healthy for the first time in a while. However, there are too many “shoulds” to make that call yet. Brett Brown has been one of the most underwhelming coaches in recent memory, in my opinion, and I think if they don’t make a deep playoff run, a change needs to be made. The depth is also scary bad, so I think we will find out who this team is very early.
Is Utah Legit?
Utah didn’t go flashy this offseason and that might be just a perfect choice for them. They acquired a handful of great players whose names may not be fan favorites but who are drama free, know their roles, and on paper seem to complement each other nicely. Those free agents consist of Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, Ed Davis, Jeff Green, and Emmanuel Mudiay. Nobody is talking about the Jazz, but they were able to add these pieces without losing any key players. This is the first time since before Deron Williams that we have seen Utah be aggressive in improving their roster through free agency. This Jazz team has been consistently good for some time now, and with the NBA wide open, don’t sleep on this scrappy, defensive juggernaut.