Last season was unlike any other in NBA history. The same can be said about the upcoming 2020 season. With opening night slated for December 22nd, only 72 games scheduled, and no fans in the stadiums, it wil certainly be unusual.
But regardless, there was a draft, free agency, and a million trades. So it’s safe to say the offseason lived up to its usual chaos, despite taking place in November.
Given all the changes, this will be a very interesting season. Here are my preseason NBA predictions for standings, all star teams, awards and champion.
Eastern Conference Standings
15. New York Knicks
14. Cleveland Cavaliers
13. Detroit Pistons
12. Charlotte Hornets
11. Orlando magic
10. Chicago Bulls
9. Washington Wizards
This is all a crap chute at this point. Given that a lot of these teams have players they might trade at any point (Griffin, LaVine, Love, Drummond, etc), these could be completely different by the trade deadline. But let’s just stick with this, ok? Knicks are like 90% forwards, Cleveland is disfunctional, Detroit has one good player, Charlotte’s top pick has disaster potential and thier biggest FA grab is over the hill. Chicago and Orlando have some good young players, and could surprise some people. Washington might not have as much talent as Chicago or Orlando, but they have Beal and Westbrook…that’ll do just fine in the East.
8th: Atlanta Hawks
One of my worst sports takes ever was predictiong Trae Young would be a bust. He’s a legitmate star, and they’ve surrounded him with a nice mix of young talent (Collins, Huerter, Hunter, Reddish and Okongwu) and trustworthy veterans (Capela, Bogdonavic, and Gallinar). Defensively I think this team will have issues, but it will be an explosive offense.
7th: Indiana Pacers
I really like the Pacers. The problem is, they might not look the same in the next few months. The constant Oladipo and Turner rumors seem to come more often than a playoff win for them. They have plenty of talent, and if they can keep the squad together, they’re easily a playoff team.
6th: Philadelphia 76ers
Last year should have been The Sixers’ year. Obviously, it wasn’t. The starting lineup looked good on paper, but didn’t fit at all. Plus they had absolutely no bench to rely on. Here we are months after they were eliminated in the first round, and they’ve done nothing to improve. They got a “better” coach, but the roster is even uglier than before. They flipped Horford for Danny Green (NBA Twitter’s favorite meme this fall) and traded Richardson for the worse of the two Currys. Sure, they’ll have Dwight off the bench, but he’ll be unplayable alongise Ben Simmons. This roster is strange to say the least.
5th: Toronto Raptors
The Raptors had a phenomonal season as reigning champs, despite losing Kawhi Leonard. Lowry and Siakam led them to the second seed in the East. This offseason, though, they lost two big starters. Both Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol headed west. Yes, they did retain Fred VanVleet, and they picked up Aaron Baynes, but losing two starters is a big deal, and they didn’t do much to improve the roster from last year. Fifth feels about right, but they could end up lower.
4th: Boston Celtics
Danny Ainge just continues to prove my point that he’s really not that great of a GM. The Celtics lost Hayward, Kanter and Wanamaker this year, only to add Tristan Thompson. Their biggest need was a rim protector, which Thompson simply isn’t. But still, they have two all stars in Kemba and Tatum, and maybe another in Brown. They may not have done anything to make them more of a contender, but they’re definitely a playoff team.
3rd: Miami Heat
The Heat were the Cinderellas of last season. I expected them to be a playoff team, but a Finals run was not on my radar. This year, though, I have the appropriate amount of faith in them. They were able to keep Dragic and Leonard, and added Avery Bradley and Mo Harkless. Though Crowder and Jones Jr left, their young players are now seasoned and ready for another playoff push. Behind Butler and Bam, the Heat will be deadly yet again.
2nd: Brooklyn Nets
This one is a no brainer. KD and Kyrie will be back healthy to play along side Allen, Harris, Jordan, LaVert and Dinwiddie. One of the deeper and more talented teams in the whole league, the only thing standing in their way is chemistry issues and/or a James Harden trade.
1st: Milwaukee Bucks
The East’s best (regular season) team for the last two seasons just added one of the best two way players in the entire NBA. Jrue Holiday will help space the floor for Giannis as well as be a lockdown defender. They need to add some more depth, but I have no doubt they’ll be atop the East standings yet again in 2020-21.
Western Conference Standings
15. Oklahoma City Thunder
14. Minnesota Timberwolves
13. San Antonio Spurs
12. Sacramento Kings
11. Golden State Warriors
10. New Orleans Pelicans
9. Memphis Grizzlies
OKC had a complete fire sale and might be starting “First Round Pick” at small forward. I’m excited about the KAT/DLo/Edwards trio, but they’re a while away from playoff contention. The only reason I have San Antonio this low is because I expect Aldridge and DeRozan to be gone by the trade deadline. Sacramento disappointed last year and did nothing to get better. Golden State would have been a playoff team had Klay not gotten hurt – Oubre and Wiggins can’t fill that void. New Orleans’ roster construction makes absolutely no sense. Memphis has playoff potential, but there’s teams around them that simply got better this fall when they did not.
8th: Phoenix Suns
Yes, they got Chris Paul…but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. He, Booker and Ayton will be a fun trio, Bridges and Crowder will help round out the wings, and they’re reasonably well coached. But this team is not a contender. The Suns have been a dumpster fire since Steve Nash left. They aren’t that deep, and have very little playoff experience. They should be fun, sure, but not much more than a first round formality for a better team.
7th: Houston Rockets
This is hugely depending on if James Harden stays. Though a trio of Wall, Harden and Cousins would have been better off in 2014, this team could be dangerous offensively. Christian Wood was one of the better free agency moves, and Eric Gordon can still provide some scoring off the bench. Almost all of their best players (Wall, Cousins, Gordon, Tucker) are past their prime and/or injury prone, so they simply won’t be contending this season.
Side note – The minute Harden leaves, this becomes one of the worst teams in the conference for the remainder of the season
6th: Portland Trailblazers
Portland has been a middle of the pack team for a while now. They stumbled their way into the WCF a few years back, but everyone knew that was an anomoly. This year, they’ll have Zach Collins and Melo back, alongside Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr. They’ll be good, but they haven’t done enough to escape their torturous “not a title contender but not a lottery team” cycle.
5th: Utah Jazz
The Jazz were the sixth seed last year. They were also one, well, collapse away from the second round. They’re running it back with basically the same team again this year, so I expect them to be right back in the mix.
4th: Dallas Mavericks
Luka Doncic is somewhere between two and three seasons away from being the Association’s best player. Porzingis is a freak of nature that can get hot at any time (when healthy, which he won’t be to start the season). They just added Josh Richardson, a talented 3&D wing. They’ll be building off last year, and no doubt improving.
Side note – it’s Mark Cuban. Don’t be surpised if they make some moves before the deadline.
3rd: Los Angeles Clippers
On paper, this team should have dominated the league last year. Hell, I picked them to be the first seed during the preseason, and the champs prior to the bubble restart. I guess that’s why they say “you don’t play the game on paper” or whatver. They lost Harrell but signed Ibaka, and traded Shamet for Kennard (they also way overpaid Marcus Morris). It’s hard to pin point exactly what this team will look like next year, but given the fact they still have plenty of talent, they should at least be a pretty good regular season team.
2nd: Denver Nuggets
Truthfully, I’m probably too high on the Nuggets (especially after being too low on them in the past). They lost Grant and Plumlee, but were able to retain Millsap. Jokic and Murray proved they’re the real deal. They’re fast, confident and well coached. They should certainly be making another run at the WCF this season.
1st: Los Angeles Lakers
Do I really need to write anything here? The defending champs are running it back with the best player and the best big man in the NBA. They turned Howard and Javale into Gasol and Harrell, Green into Matthews and Rondo into Schröder. They made massive upgrades to an already great team. Let’s not think too hard about it.
Eastern Conference All Stars
There will not be an all star weekend in 2021 due to COVID19. Though exactly what the league will do for its all stars is up in the air, the players are still going to get a nod. Here’s my guesses at those nods.
Guard: Kyrie Irving
Guard: Kemba Walker
Forward: Kevin Durant
Forward: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Forward/Center: Joel Embiid
G: Russell Westbrook
G: Bradley Beal
F: Jimmy Butler
F: Pascal Siakam
F/C: Bam Adebayo
WC: Jayson Tatum
WC: Trae Young
Honorable Mentions: Khris Middleton, Domantas Sabonis, Kyle Lowry, Ben Simmons, Blake Griffin
Western Conference All Stars
Guard: Steph Curry
Guard: James Harden
Forward: Kawhi Leonard
Forward: LeBron James
Forward/Center: Anthony Davis
G: Damian Lillard
G: Luka Doncic
F: Devon Booker
F: Karl Anthony Towns
F/C: Nikola Jokic
WC: Donovan Mitchell
WC: Rudy Gobert
Honorable Mentions: Chris Paul, Kristaps Porzingis, Brandon Ingram, Paul George, Ja Morant
Coach of the Year:
Ty Lue and Doc Rivers are coaching new teams, but I don’t see either of those teams being good enough to get them this award. Houston and Indy also have new coaches, but its the same story. Lloyd Pierce, Taylor Jenkins and Stan Van Gundy will get some admiration if they can get their teams to the playoffs. My gut tells me Steve Nash, though. The Nets should be a top three team, which will look great for a first year head coach. If he can bring an innovative offense to an already dangerous team, he could definitely add to his already impressive resume.
Most Improved Player:
Complete guessing game every year. I predicted Bam Adebayo last year, and feel like I got robbed from being correct (yes, I would have picked him over Ingram). This year, my shot in the dark pick is Josh Richardson. One of the better 3&D players in the league, Richardson gets to play alongside Luka and KP this year, and will be the clear cut third choice. After a rocky year in Philly where he wasn’t utilized properly, he has a chance to really flourish in Dallas.
Rookie of the Year:
James Weissman is in the best possible position for a rookie. The Warriors might not make the playoffs, but playing alongside one of the greatest point guards ever, as well as a few champion vets will be great for his development. Steve Kerr will also find a way to get the best out of him in his system. This seems like a no brainer.
Defensive Player of the Year:
Giannis seems like the favorite. The league loves giving this award to the same guy multiple years in a row. He’s also the most dominant defensive player in the league, which will help him too I guess. Honorable mentions include AD, Gobert and Embiid.
This is hard to pick. Giannnis probably won’t win three in a row, and LeBron, KD, Harden and Steph feel like they’re past their MVP window. AD seems like a favorite, but playing alongside LeBron will probably take votes from him (see KD and Steph, ’16-’19). That all being said, I’m going to go with Luka here. He has potential to be a 25-7-7- guy on one of the four best teams in the West. If the Mavericks as a team take a leap that’s led by Luka, he should secure the award.
As I mentioned, the reigning champs upgraded their roster significantly. Harrell and Schröder were first and second in 6MOY voting last year, Marc Gasol is a good 3&D center with championship experience, and Wes Matthews is one of the better shooters in the NBA. The only thing I see holding this team back is fatigue. The turnaround they (and the Miami Heat) are experiencing is nothing any other team has ever gone through. Just 71 days after winning the title last season, they’ll be making their debut for another chance this season. It’ll certainly be an unusual season for them – one I’m sure will be full of load management. But at the end of the day, they’re younger, more talented and more experienced this year than last. And if there’s one guy in the whole league we shouldn’t bet against, it’s
Talen Horton-Tucker LeBron James.