It's officially the dawn of a new season. Tonight, the Lakers and Clippers will begin the battle for Los Angeles while the Toronto Raptors attempt to prove they can still compete without Kawhi Leonard as they take on the Zion-less New Orleans Pelicans.
The offseason was the craziest we've ever seen and with a plethora of new duos and an unpredictable league landscape, this season has set itself up to be the best in years, possibly ever. Over/unders can be released by Vegas, talking heads can give their commentary, and us at Burbs can predict the future, but it's safe to say not a soul knows what is about to unfold.
Matty 1c3 and I (Martin) have been talking hoops since our sophomore year of high school, so in the name of Bill Simmons, here are our predictions for the 2019-20 NBA season.
Martin: Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
I actually dropped an awards prediction piece a few weeks ago, so check that out if you want to see how my picks have changed following preseason.
My MVP pick has not changed and I don't think it ever will. The preseason is the preseason, but it really looks like Anthony Davis can bring the Los Angeles Lakers back to their dynastic ways.
In only 20 minutes per night across his four preseason appearances, Davis averaged 13 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.5 blocks, and one steal. Those stats might not jump off the page but it's not the numbers that matter; Davis provides LeBron James with something the GOAT has never had: an ultra-dominant big man who can run pick and rolls as the roller OR ball-handler, space the floor to nail threes, and have the entire offense run through him. Sure, LeBron has played with Hall of Fame talents (Chris Bosh, Kevin Love*, Shaquille O'Neal, Dwight Howard) but they either didn't check all the above boxes or were out of their prime.
Davis has long been considered one of the top talents in the NBA, and at only 26-years-old entering his first season as a true contender, this will be the first time we see the true impact Davis can have. The Pelicans had solid cores under Davis during his seven season tenure in New Orleans, but he's never had a teammate like LeBron. People can point to LeBron's age and Davis' health as much as they want, and they may be valid points, but those two at full strength are hands-down the best duo in the NBA and by the end of the season, Davis will be hailed as the best in the league as he is handed his first career MVP.
*I called Kevin Love a Hall of Fame talent, what's it to you?
1c3: Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors
This may come as a shock to some people. I have been known in the past to bash the Warriors because they take way too many three's and dumb contested shots. It worked though, as they won three titles in the decade and assembled potentially the greatest team of all time. With Kevin Durant gone and Klay Thompson out for awhile, this is Steph's time to shine. We all know he's an incredible player and he's going to prove to us once again how great he is. Additionally, I think the Warriors are going to be a lot better than people are predicting. I think they still are a top three team in the West. Curry puts up around 33 a game with 7 assists and leads the Warriors to around 55 wins and cements his status as one of the greatest, if not the greatest point guard in the history of basketball.
Honorable Mentions: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks), James Harden (Houston Rockets), Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets)
Rookie of the Year
Martin: Coby White, Chicago Bulls
I picked Cam Reddish of the Atlanta Hawks in my awards predictions because I wanted to be different, maaaaan, and not conform to society and have Zion taking home the award. I was actually going to take Zion for this article until it was reported that he'll be out 6-8 weeks following surgery to repair a torn meniscus.
It's time for my bias to shine. Even though he's going to be coming off the bench, I'm going to take Coby White to take home ROY. After being selected seventh in this summer's draft, Coby showed that he can be a go-to scorer and offensive spark-plug for the Bulls, something they were seeking in a guard.
In his five preseason appearances (25.8 MPG), Coby averaged 19.2 points (43.2% 3FG!!!) and 4.2 rebounds. He put up a less-than-stellar one assist per night, but I guess he's not here to dish the ball. Coming off the bench alongside Kris Dunn, Coby will be able to score right away and help bring the Bulls back to the playoffs.
1c3: Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies
This was a difficult choice between Ja Morant and Zion Williamson. With Williamson expected to miss the first few weeks of the regular season, I believe this gives Morant the huge edge in the race. Before the draft, I said that Morant was going to be the best player out of the class and I'm still sticking with it. His athleticism is off the charts, his playmaking is unbelievable and his basketball IQ is unheard of for someone his age. Does he have flaws? Yes, he needs to consistently hit from the perimeter and he needs to cut down on turnovers. With Memphis likely to struggle, and without any true scoring threat, expect Morant to have the ball a lot and put up big numbers. I think he puts up a stat line of around 20-5-7 and takes the race with relative ease. (Note: I Drafted Ja on my fantasy team, he better not disappoint).
Honorable Mentions: Zion Williamson (New Orleans Pelicans), R.J. Barrett (New York Knicks), Tyler Herro (Miami Heat)
Defensive Player of the Year
1c3: Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
Boring pick here, but Rudy Gobert is the best defensive player in the NBA. He's proved not only on an individual level, consistently being at the top of the league for shot blocking and opponent field goal percentage, but also as a team defender. Utah's defense over the past three to four years has been near the top of the league in every category and Gobert is a huge part of that. Gobert has win the award twice in a row, and despite a few guys expected to make a run at his crown, I believe Gobert will cement himself as one of the greatest defensive players of all time.
Martin: Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
Sorry, but I can't think of a better candidate. Rudy Gobert is a master craftsman of defense and with an improved Utah Jazz team around him, he's going to anchor one of the best teams in the league. There will surely be other guys fighting for the award (Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, Paul George) but at the end of the day, Gobert is the best defensive player in the league.
Most Improved Player
1c3: Marvin Bagley III, Sacramento Kings
I love the Kings young core. If the Western Conference wasn't so stacked, I would pick them to make the playoffs. However, I still think they're one year away from the playoff hunt. That doesn't mean that they can't make any strides though. It starts with Marvin Bagley. Bagley only started FOUR games last season. Yet, he still managed to put up around 15 points and eight rebounds per game. Yeah that was off the bench. Just imagine what he could do if he was the starter. What also helps Bagley is the frenetic pace of the Kings, as they were one of the fastest and highest scoring teams in the NBA a year ago. In addition, he has an unselfish point guard in De'Aaron Fox who will look to get him the ball. Bagley has the potential to put up 22 and 11 a night, and I think he takes this award with ease and could even flirt with an All-Star or All-NBA selection. (Note: I also drafted Marvin Bagley on my fantasy team, so Marvin, no pressure but let's put up some numbers this year)
Martin: Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat
I don't know why, but I'm high on the Miami Heat, one of the reasons being Bam Adebayo stepping into a full-time starting role. After putting up 8.9 points and 7.3 boards a night in 23.3 minutes per game last season, Bam is going to become a double-double factory.
With the additions of Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro, the Heat are bringing a solid team to the floor, especially in the feeble Eastern Conference. With Hassan Whiteside set to prove himself again in Portland, Bam has nobody to compete with; he's the man in the middle. Part of me feels as if the Heat can compete for the third-seed, and if they do, Bam will play an integral part.
Honorable Mentions: Mitchell Robinson (New York Knicks), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Oklahoma City Thunder), Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics), Lonzo Ball (New Orleans Pelicans)
Sixth Man of the Year
1c3: Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers
There's no better sixth man in the history of the NBA than the bucket getter himself, Lou Williams. Williams could go out there with no warm up and give you 20-25 a night. Whenever the Los Angeles Clippers needed a bucket last year, especially in their first round series with the Warriors, it was Williams taking, and usually making the shots. This year might be Williams best team ever, with the Clippers adding two time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, and 2019 First Team All-NBA member Paul George to an already deep roster. While Williams scoring numbers could dip, expect him to lead the second unit and expect him to be in the game during crunch time, where he'll likely have the ball in his hand with the time winding down. He adds yet another sixth man trophy to his collection and interestingly could be making a case to be inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame.
Martin: Derrick Rose, Detroit Pistons
I said it in my original picks and I'm going to say it now, Rose is an effective player (when healthy). If he can stay on the floor for this Pistons team, he can average over 20 points a night. Last season showed that his three-point stroke is legit and if he follows the trend that players become better shooters with age, a 45% clip wouldn't be crazy.
The explosiveness is still there and the confidence is back; Rose is a good NBA player. Hopefully he can put the injuries behind him and just hoop because if it all works out, D-Rose will perfectly fill his role.
Honorable Mentions: Montreal Harrell (Los Angeles Clippers), Monte Morris (Denver Nuggets), Gordon Hayward (Boston Celtics)
1c3: Atlanta Hawks
The Atlanta Hawks are trending upward. They have a good young core, led by Trae Young and John Collins. While I don't think those guys can be the best player on a championship team, they're really good pieces and have individual skills that can help a team win. They drafted well this year too, adding a three and D player in De'Andre Hunter, and a potential lethal bench shooter in Cameron Reddish. I like the look of the Hawks roster, but I am concerned about defense, especially in the backcourt. Despite Young's high steal totals, he's not a good on ball defender. He has to cover arguably the most stacked position in the game, and could get exposed on a nightly basis. Same for Kevin Huerter, who also struggled to defend last season. Despite that, I think Atlanta has the offensive fire power to stay in a lot of ball games. I think Atlanta could sneak in as an eight seed, and be a difficult first round matchup for either the Milwaukee Bucks or Philadelphia 76ers.
Martin: Chicago Bulls
As mentioned in my Coby White pick, I'm high on the Chicago Bulls this season. After suffering through the last few seasons, I'm ready to enjoy watching the Bulls again. The post-Jimmy Butler era (which feels weird to say) finally seems to have a set direction and the right core is in place to see it through. Zach LaVine is going to be an All-Star this season and honestly, he might be the league's leading scorer. Lauri Markkanen was on a tear before his season ended earlier; he's another guy who could be an All-Star and he'll knock down threes and pull down boards doing it. If Wendell Carter is able to stay on the floor, he'll be the defensive anchor and help Chicago make a playoff push.
The Bulls are surprisingly deep. Otto Porter is a great veteran presence and solid NBA starter who can do a bit of everything while helping the offense take shape. Thad Young is going to boost the second unit with his electric all-around effort and be a vocal leader who can spread head coach Jim Boylen's vision. Tomas Satoransky has been named the starting point guard to start the season and at 6'7", he's going to be a challenge for smaller guards while facilitating the offense and using his length on the other side of the floor. As said before, Coby White is going to be an instant bucket-getting spark-plug off the bench and Kris Dunn is going to get him the rock and lock-up opposing guards. I refuse to forget Daniel Gafford, the Bulls' second-round pick from this summer. He's looking to be a steal and future fan favorite because this man has bounce. Gafford will toss down anything you throw to him and if he can learn how to play in the NBA, he'll be our next Taj Gibson.
The East sucks, like bad, so if everything can fall into place, the Bulls will sneak into the playoffs and I can be happy again.
1c3: Houston Rockets
I'm a huge fan of the phrase "Trouble in Paradise". What it means is that everything goes well for a period of time and then things start to crumble. I, Matthew Harris, AKA Sp0rtsTalk1c3, AKA PredictionTalk1c3, am putting the trouble in paradise curse on the Houston Rockets. The Rockets have beef everywhere. The GM doesn't like the coach, the coach doesn't like his staff and the players are starting to lose it. In a last ditch effort, GM Daryl Morey pulled the trigger on a blockbuster, bringing in former MVP Russell Westbrook. Westbrook and James Harden were teammates in Oklahoma City, but were both different players back in the day. Now, they're both ball dominant guys who will most likely have a difficult time playing with one another. Head Coach Mike D'Antonio has a chance to be fired mid season if things aren't going well (Which I expect to be the case). I think this team struggles all season, but finds a way to make the eight seed, but ultimately gets obliterated in round one of the playoffs.
Martin: Los Angeles Clippers
Disclaimer: they won't be bad, they're just not going to come out of the West. Part of this is my "I'm going to hate for the hell of it" and the other part expects to be 100% wrong, but I'm not completely sold on the Clippers being the absolute best of the West.
For starters, Paul George is going to miss a handful of games to start the season. If Paul George can't stay healthy for the duration of the season and playoffs, the Clippers shot at being champions shrinks. He's the other half of arguably the best duo in the entire league, he needs to be on the floor for them to succeed. Obviously Kawhi Leonard is going to be an MVP candidate and could win them a 'ship by himself, but it won't be easy to reach the Finals this season.
The Clippers obviously have a deep, well-rounded roster with the exception of big men. Montrezl Harrell and Ivica Zubac are great players but neither are dominant, large presences in the post. When it could come time to face Anthony Davis, who's going to shut him down? If they make it to the Finals against a team like Philly, are they going to be able to shut down Embiid? Time will tell.
Honorable Mentions: Orlando Magic, Dallas Mavericks, Charlotte Hornets
Playoff Seeding: Eastern Conference
1. Milwaukee Bucks
2. Philadelphia 76ers
3. Boston Celtics
4. Brooklyn Nets
5. Toronto Raptors
6. Detroit Pistons
7. Miami Heat
8. Atlanta Hawks
1. Philadelphia 76ers
2. Milwaukee Bucks
3. Miami Heat
4. Boston Celtics
5. Indiana Pacers
6. Brooklyn Nets
7. Detroit Pistons
8. Orlando Magic
Playoff Seeding: Western Conference
1. Denver Nuggets
2. Los Angeles Clippers
3. Golden State Warriors
4. Utah Jazz
5. Portland Trail Blazers
6. Los Angeles Lakers
7. San Antonio Spurs
8. Houston Rockets
1. Houston Rockets
2. Denver Nuggets
3. Los Angeles Lakers
4. Los Angeles Clippers
5. Utah Jazz
6. Golden State Warriors
7. Portland Trail Blazers
8. Sacramento Kings
1c3: Philadelphia 76ers over Golden State Warriors
This was pretty back and forth for me. In the West, I have the Warriors defeating the Clippers in the WCF. I think everyone one is counting out Golden State, which is some pretty good motivation for a team that doesn't really need it. Steph Curry and D'Angelo Russell will be a dynamic backcourt duo and there will be multiple nights when they both put up 30+. Of course they have Draymond, the glue guy defensive dynamo whose probably the most motivated out of everyone. Klay Thompson could potentials be back in March, giving G.S. even more shooting and some of the best perimeter defense in the league. They also made some really good under the radar moves to strengthen their bench. They signed Willie Cauley-Stein for dirt cheap. He brings a rim protector that G.S. desperately needed. Golden State also took a chance on Marquise Chriss, a guy who was a top ten pick a few years ago and could break out with Steve Kerr's brilliant coaching.
For the East, another difficult choice. Ultimately, I'm rolling with the Philadelphia 76ers to beat the Milwaukee Bucks in the ECF. I really like the new look 76ers. They brought in Al Horford and Josh Richardson, two guys who are known for their tough defense and ability to knock down the three ball. Philly's defense has the potential to be unreal, with four very good defenders in their lineup. Tobias Harris also re-signed with the team, giving them some quality perimeter scoring. The key to this team is Ben Simmons. Simmons needs to show improvement, especially with his jump shot. He did make a three in the preseason, so could that be a sign of good things to come? If it is, watch out, the 76ers could steam roll through the entire league.
In the Finals, I think Philly's defense and length will be too much for the Warriors. Curry will get locked up by a combination of Ben Simmons and Josh Richardson. I believe Ben Simmons will take the Finals MVP and Philadelphia wins on its home court, and gives the city another title.
Martin: Houston Rockets over Philadelphia 76ers
I didn't have a team I was certain was going to win the Finals, so I picked two teams that I'd love to see battle it out. Unlike 1c3, I'm of the belief that the Rockets are going to be a force to be reckoned with. James Harden is (probably) my favorite player in the league and he's still getting better following his historic campaign last season. Him and Russell Westbrook are going to be ferocious together, not to mention Clint Capela is really good (I've been a big fan for a while). PJ Tucker, Eric Gordon, and Austin Rivers provide great depth while Tyson Chandler is going to be an effective defensive leader off the bench; he can serve as a starter if need-be.
Philadelphia has the best starting five in the league: Ben Simmons, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Al Horford, Joel Embiid. They have a full season to mesh and learn how to play together and after being a Kawhi buzzer-beater away from the Finals last season, they're coming back hungry. Embiid is the best center in the league, Al Horford is an established all-around vet, Josh Richardson supplies great three-and-D, and Harris is an excellent off-ball scorer. As for Ben Simmons, we know what we're getting. He was an All-Star last year but hadn't improved a whole bunch from his rookie season. Simmons finally hit his first career three this postseason, and if he can stretch out his game and nail even mid-range jumpers, the Sixers become the most dangerous team in the East, possibly the league. The Milwaukee Bucks will still contend, and easily could be the first-seed, but losing Malcolm Brogdon is going to hurt much more than people are expecting it to.