The NBA has recently been widely commercialized like no sport has ever been before, showing a clear-cut direction: up. Of course, this only refers to its popularity; many die-hard NBA fans have been quick to dismiss the recent NBA’s excitement because of its modern-day lack of competition. Nonetheless, we see that professional basketball’s popularity will not cease anytime soon, with its seemingly continuous stream of headlines ranging from what shoes LaVarr Ball is wearing, to rumors of Kevin Durant’s multiple twitter accounts. This is compounded by a newly introduced NBA Awards show, a platform for annual NBA recognitions to be commercialized and dramatized in order to milk as much money as possible out of NBA fans all over the country. With all of this being said, one thing is clear: businesses will always be businesses; but where there is demand, there will always be fandom.
My NBA fandom continues to grow, which means that even though I grow tired of hearing Kyrie Irving have to explain his decision of asking for a trade to the media despite his complete liberty to advance his career however he wants, I still continue to speculate about how this next season will go. Here are some of my bolder predictions (cue the Law and Order “dun dun” sound):
Avery Bradley will be an All-Star and First-Team All Defense
The Detroit Pistons have a glaring flaw on their roster without a clear-cut scorer. My grandma can shoot better free throws than Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson is a roster nightmare, Tobias Harris is good but not great and Stanley Johnson talks big but doesn’t back it up. This opens the door for the Pistons’ only promising offseason acquisition: Avery Bradley. Bradley was a huge snub for All Defensive Team honors this past season, and the same mistake won’t be made again, as he will show his worth on both ends of the floor for Detroit. Bradley has always been one of my favorite players for his gritty play that doesn’t always show up on the box score, but he gets buckets too! Bradley has seen his scoring average increase over the past three seasons, and the same can be expected as he joins a team with much less talent and depth than that of his former team, the Boston Celtics. He’s a hard worker with a solid three point shot, and while his team may not make any noise this upcoming season, you can expect Bradley to make headlines on both ends of the court.
Boogie Cousins will be a Wizard by the Trade Deadline
My Washington Wizards are for real, but Marcin Gortat showed his age and his lack of versatility in the 2017 Playoffs. The Wizards clearly need one more star player to compete against the Cavs and the Celtics, and with a solidified backcourt in John Wall and Bradley Beal along with Otto Porter Jr. on a max contract, that player should play the four or the five role. Cousins works perfectly into their roster, as he and Wall were college teammates at Kentucky and got along beautifully – something which not many teammates of DeMarcus Cousins could say.
The Pelicans experiment is definitely interesting, with a talented roster including Cousins, Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo, but a lack of expected success could lead to bickering among teammates and the necessity to make some tough decisions in the front office. The West is now loaded, making a team that has the talent to be a 1-4 seed have doubts about whether it could achieve that success. In a situation where there may be nothing wrong, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Pelicans quickly go into panic mode after falling behind teams like the Warriors, Rockets, Spurs, Thunder, Timberwolves, and possibly the Nuggets, Grizzlies, Blazers, Jazz and Clippers. WOW. With all of this kind of talent in a conference, compounded with the fact that Cousins is set to be an unrestricted free agent come next summer, it would be mutually beneficial for both the player and the team to make a switch. Cousins would gel easily into a team that plays in the East, and the Pelicans will be able to get some assets that they can work with in order to build for the future.
People Will Remember How Good of a Player Melo is in 2018
Whether Carmelo Anthony plays this upcoming season for the Cavs, the Rockets, the Trailblazers, the Knicks, or some other team, there is no doubt in my mind that Anthony will have a revitalizing season in 2018. Everybody loves the “Hoodie Melo” videos surfacing on the web, featuring several impressive offseason basketball showings by Anthony while sporting a hoodie, but nobody has stopped to think about whether or not this will translate into the regular season. I think that it will. Carmelo Anthony hears everyone’s criticism, and he is eager to respond. His ranking as the 64th best player in the NBA by ESPN was the icing on the cake. Meanwhile, the oddsmakers at Sports Betting Dime give Carmelo 12/1 odds to finish in the top 10 in scoring this season. Phil Jackson’s triangle offense never gelled with Anthony’s playing style, and assuming that he stays on the Knicks, he has plenty of young support around him to help propel him into being a highly effective veteran leader. A weak Eastern Conference provides a clear-cut opening for the Knicks to possibly make a run for a seven or eight seed, with only the likes of the Sixers, the Heat and the Pistons to stand in their way (assuming that the Celtics, Cavs, Raptors, Wizards, Bucks and Hornets all make the playoffs). The Eastern Conference provides a huge opportunity for Melo to make a comeback, be it as an All-Star, or simply as one of the top scorers in the East.
De’Aaron Fox is your Rookie of the Year
Oddsmakers have five different rookies above Fox as favorites to win the ROTY award, but my money is on the speedster from Kentucky. Lonzo Ball is the favorite, but Ball is a high-volume passer, not a high-volume scorer. Ball could very well have a better season than Fox, but the award has historically been given to players who can primarily put points on the board. Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz rank second and fourth on odds sheets respectively, but their productivity could nullify each other in their rookie seasons. Along with Joel Embiid, a high-volume scorer in JJ Redick, a developing Dario Saric looking to improve on his stellar rookie campaign and more young guys looking to get their names out there, it will be difficult for anyone to especially distinguish themselves. Last but not least comes Dennis Smith Jr., who has wowed fans with his inhuman athleticism. Smith is an interesting prospect who may very well vie for the award, but he is very raw at this stage in his career and most likely could have used another year or two in college if this was a different era of basketball. Fox looks to be more talented defensively, has a better assist to turnover ratio, and most importantly shines more as a leader on the court. Smith can dunk the basketball better than any other rookie in the draft, but today’s game is about spacing the floor, and Fox does a better job of this than Smith does.
De’Aaron Fox got drafted to a team that is desperately searching for a new face of their franchise. George Hill and Buddy Hield are solid, but Fox truly has an opportunity to stand out. He may not even start at the beginning of the season, with the depth chart projecting him to be Hill’s backup, but the Kings will soon change this as they begin to fall out of playoff contention. The Kings’ roster features plenty of young talent, and fans can expect Fox to rally these guys together and produce a great rookie season.
The Timberwolves Will Win 50+ Games EASILY
Bleacher Report projects Minnesota to win 39 games in the 2017-2018 season, but I think that they could even eclipse 55 wins if they play their cards right. Minnesota didn’t just address their obvious flaws this past season, but they also addressed their underlying ones. Problems like being able to finish games out and play better in the fourth quarter (which was one of their biggest problems last season) were nullified with the addition of one of the best late-game performers in the NBA. Butler isn’t afraid to take that last-minute shot, but more importantly, he can guard anyone in the league when the clock is ticking down. Karl Anthony-Towns was absolutely robbed of an All-Star berth this past season, and hopefully, history doesn’t repeat itself as Minnesota gets more national viewership with its stacked roster. People also forget that Jeff Teague ranked seventh in the NBA this past season in assists per game, trailing five high-usage players in James Harden, John Wall, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and LeBron James, along with Ricky Rubio. Aside from Paul (who handled the ball every time the Clippers marched down the court last season), no other player in front of him played more minutes. Teague will surely get players like Andrew Wiggins, KAT and Butler involved, while scoring on his own at the same time.
The team has also managed to acquire depth that puts them among the most solid rosters in the NBA. Shabazz Muhammad returns on a bargain deal that puts him with promising rookie Justin Patton, defensive stud Taj Gibson, starting caliber big man Gorgui Dieng, veteran scoring threat Jamal Crawford, and the human alphabet Nemanja Bjelica. With capable deputies in every position, this team looks set to completely do a 180 on their 31-win season.
While this team certainly looks good on the stat sheet, we must also account for team chemistry. Newcomers in Butler, Crawford, Gibson and Teague look to play big parts in the team’s game plan next season, so it is important that the team gels well. This would normally be a bigger concern of mine, if the coach of the team wasn’t Tom Thibodeau. Thibs has had a storied history coaching Butler and Gibson in Chicago, and will have no problem rallying this team together to win even more games than he did with his 50-win Bulls in the 2014-2015 season. Minnesota looks primed for a playoff run, and expect that to come sooner rather than later.