My favorite time of year is nearing; a time in which baseball is dormant, and everybody’s sights are set on NBA basketball (with some football and hockey sprinkled in). After the first two days of the regular season, some inklings have been solidified as a solid possibility, while other outcomes seem more unlikely. Here are ten outcomes that you should keep your eye on throughout the year.
1. New Orleans will finish as a top three seed in the West.
In addition to the Pelicans looking really good, the Rockets (their biggest threat besides the Warriors) don’t look to hot. I can definitely see them missing the defensive intensity that Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute brought every night, and New Orleans has tons of weapons that can go off on any given night. Four players totaled more than 20 points last night, and Elfrid Payton turned in a triple double. Combining a savvy passer like Payton with a dominant player like AD maximizes Payton’s skillset and makes it seem as though Rondo never left. Nikola Mirotic is streaky, but Julius Randle can provide relief that is just as productive as that of the sharpshooter from Montenegro. We haven’t even mentioned Jrue Holiday, who proved last year to be among the NBA’s elite defensive guards. Lastly, expect Davis to be among the top three in MVP voting, further boosting New Orleans’ chances.
2. Andre Drummond will be a top ten player this year
Drummond has been slowly but surely working on every facet of his game, and it has translated into results that nobody had ever thought possible. Coach Dwane Casey has given Drummond the OK to shoot threes this year, and after improving his free throw percentage by nearly .250 last year, Drummond has become one of the most versatile bigs in the league. Combine this with likely the best rebounding in the league, and you get a top ten NBA player. Look out for the Pistons to sneak into the playoffs and develop into legitimate contenders once they can get rid of that Reggie Jackson contract.
3. Meet the new Raptors Big 3: Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry and… Pascal Siakam
My Canadian housemate has been raving about this guy for weeks, and I didn’t want to believe him. However, Siakam won the starting job over Serge Ibaka on opening night, and made sure not to waste the opportunity. There are rumblings that Siakam has tailored his game to that of Draymond Green this season, playing a hard-working defensive supporting role that helps keep the ball moving while making plays that don’t show up on the stat sheet. The man has range, a great eye for making passes, a complete defensive skillset, and a competitive mindset. Expect him to turn in an extremely productive season that gets him the respect that he deserves.
4. The Brooklyn Nets make the playoffs
The Nets lost by three to the Pistons last night, but Brooklyn fans have to be optimistic. I don’t want to jump the gun on Caris LeVert being a star, but Jarrett Allen certainly looks like one. I’m optimistic that D’Angelo Russell will turn in a productive season, and Spencer Dinwiddie is one of the most underrated guards in the league. With Allen Crabbe, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Demarre Carroll all returning at different points in the season, it will be interesting to see how Brooklyn looks at full strength – they have seven or eight solid players throughout their rotation that should make them competitive on a nightly basis. Welcome back to the playoffs, Brooklyn.
5. Devin Booker will be an MVP candidate
At just 21 years old, Booker already looks like a seasoned veteran. The Kobe comparisons are very legitimate, and truthfully, the man already put up MVP numbers last year. The reason that Booker wasn’t in the conversation or even an all star was because of the Suns’ abysmal record. That should change this year with an extremely interesting roster led by some young studs with some solid veterans mixed in. Booker will have the ball in his hands frequently with very few options at point guard for the Suns, which should translate to incredible usage. Expect Booker to be a dark horse MVP candidate this season, and to be a potential 30PPG scorer.
6. Washington Wizards will be a top four team in the East
After the Wizards finished with the eighth seed this past season, people have been quick to write Washington off. The narrative for this team last season was dominated by the drama between Marcin Gortat and John Wall along with John Wall’s injury and whether the team is better without him. The undeniable truth is that the Wizards need Wall, and with a more unified core this season, they are sure to improve. Washington improved their backcourt by adding proven starter Austin Rivers, and solidified their front-court by adding Dwight Howard, who is coming off of a resurgent season. Toronto, Boston and Philly are essential locks for a a top four finish in the East, and the Wizards’ main competition will likely come in the form of Milwaukee. I’m betting on the all star duo of Beal and Wall to beat out an MVP candidate in Giannis and a fringe-all star in Middleton to take that fourth spot in the East.
7. The second leading scorer for the Cavs this year will be… Cedi Osman
Osman is coming off of a lackluster rookie year, but showed many signs of promise with several postseason appearances. The Turk put up a solid stat line of 17-10-4 from the small forward position in the first game of the season, and also played the second most minutes on the team. His production will surely benefit from the lack of wing players on this team and the surplus of guards. Osman also worked out with LeBron and friends in the offseason, so he is sure to have a few new tricks up his sleeve. Look for Cedi to establish himself as one of the most reliable foreign players in today’s game.
8. The San Antonio Spurs will comfortably make the playoffs with 50+ wins
Despite the lack of playing experience in San Antonio, DeMar DeRozan looks completely at home in San Antonio. Pop will surely maximize his abilities on the floor and tighten his defensive skillset to make him another MVP candidate this season. With Dejounte Murray out for the year, DeRozan will surely have the ball in his hands more frequently. LaMarcus Aldridge has shown that he can still play at a high level, and Rudy Gay continues to produce consistent offensive results. Keep in mind that the Spurs made the playoffs last year without Kawhi, so the addition of DeRozan puts them at another level.
9. Portland won’t make the playoffs, forcing a rebuild
The Trailblazers dug their own grave when they decided to pay Myers Leonard, Evan Turner and Mo Harkless the big bucks. These guys are decent players, but none of them should make more than $10 million annually, if that. It doesn’t help that they drafted two guards and spent their offseason adding, what do you know, another guard. Considering that Lillard and McCollum should each play at least 33 minutes per game respectively if they want a shot at greatness, that does not leave much time for the rest of their young prospects to develop or for Seth Curry to make a difference. Should they go with a smaller lineup, they will be consistently manhandled by western teams loaded with players that have freakish wingspans. Zach Collins, their lottery pick from last year, looks like a flop and sits behind Jusuf Nurkic at center to highlight an especially weak group at the forward positions. Portland will need to offload one of their stars in a deal that frees up cap space for them, and barring any interesting moves, it looks like they are headed for disaster.
10. Terry Rozier will be traded before the deadline
Scary Terry put himself on the map last season, and with Kyrie verbalizing his long-term commitment to Boston, it doesn’t seem like the Celtics will be able to hold on to Rozier much longer. Marcus Smart has proven to be a serviceable backup and just signed an extension. Boston will look to get value out of Rozier before he leaves for nothing in the next offseason, and with teams like Phoenix, Denver, Orlando and Indiana still looking for a long-term solution at point guard, they could get some great assets in return.