Ever since acquiring long time Rockets star, James Harden, the Brooklyn Nets have been outright favorites to win the Eastern Conference. As good as their big three in Harden, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving is, are they really unstoppable? I don’t think so. I think teams with veteran head coaches, excellent shooting, and elite defensive play will give the Nets problems. Here are the three eastern conference squads that I really think can hang around with Brooklyn.
The Sixers have exploded this season under Doc Rivers. Joel Embiid has blossomed into a 50 point game threat and MVP Candidate, Ben Simmons has been elite defensively, and Tobias Harris scores at will when Philly needs him most. They might not have the bigger names, but don’t sell the Sixers short in terms of star talent.
Outside the core, this team is really sound all around. They have talented shooters in Danny green and Seth Curry, bench scorers in Shake Milton and Tyrese Maxey, and they have elite defenders in Embiid, Simmons, and Matisse Thybulle (with a 2nd ranked defensive ranking in the league). With some better depth, defensive play, and Embiid as the clear cut most dominant big between Philly and Brooklyn– the 76ers really have a shot to oust Brooklyn in what would likely be an Eastern Conference matchup.
Many NBA fans probably think the Heat’s Finals run in the bubble last season was a fluke, and it certainly seemed that way with a really shaky start to the 2020/21 season for Miami. However, the Heat have locked themselves in for a playoff spot and have had the best record in the NBA since April. Once, again, Miami is heating up at the perfect time.
What stands out in terms of a potential matchup with Brooklyn, I think the Heat’s hardnose defense and lethal shooting ability is what sets them apart. We all know Harden, Durant, and Kyrie can get hot from outside, but the Heat have elite shooters that could keep them within reach in an offensive duel with players like Duncan Robinson (41% from 3), Kendrick Nunn (37%), Goran Dragic (37%), Tyler Herro (36%), and Trevor Arizan (35%). Plus, we’ve all witnessed the rise of Bam Adebayo as an offensive star and Jimmy Butler explode in huge post season games.
What really sets Miami apart from Brooklyn is their defensive play. They rank 10th in defensive rating, and have guys in Jimmy Butler, Andre Iguodala and Bam Adebayo who can lockdown their man on any given game. Stopping the big Brooklyn three is extremely difficult, but Eric Spoelstra has experience taking away/limiting star players in the postseason, and I could definitely see him outcoaching a rookie head coach in Steve Nash.
Since they haven’t completely dominated the East as they have the past couple years, they media hasn’t talked about the Bucks as often it seems. However, Giannis and company have still be very efficient defensively (8th in the NBA in defensive rating) and are still sat at 3rd in the East right now. Quietly, they’re one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.
With an elite scoring core in Giannis and Kris Middleton, the Bucks have a chance to win against just about anybody. Plus, they had added star guard Jrue Holiday who has been their best crunch time player on both sides of the floor this season. Plus when you consider their depth with guys like Donte DiVincenzo, Bobby Portis, Pat Connaughton, Jeff Teague, P.J Tucker, and Brook Lopez– it’ll be tough for a thinner roster like Brooklyn to keep up with bench points.
Ayo Dosunmu vs. Cade Cunningham Sweet 16 matchup? Hold your horses Oklahoma St. fans, there is a log jam in the first round of this region. There are so many games to look at in the Midwest, but let’s look at two games with particular spoiler potential. Loyola-Chicago (8) vs. Georgia Tech (9) and then, let’s go with some Cinderella dreams with Liberty (13) vs. Oklahoma St. (4).
Deeper Dive into Loyola-Chicago (8) vs. Georgia Tech (9):
Sister Jean is happy to be dancing again, but the ACC tournament champion Yellow Jackets are magma hot at the end of their season. Tech has won 8 straight, including topping a talented Florida St. team to win the ACC tournament. Led by two Seniors, Forward Moses Wright, and Guard Jose Alvarado. Isolations from their backcourt and above average 3pt shooting make them a dangerous matchup. Alvarado himself averaging 4.5 3PA a game and hitting them at a 39% clip, while playing with energy on the defensive side of the floor. The average height on this team is 6-4. So, they like to run and gun, and the stats show with 75.5 PPG to 70.0 Opponent PPG. The Yellow Jackets will need to be red hot to top possibly the best 8 seed in the nation.
Loyola-Chicago also won their conference tournament, but they are looking to find the magic slipper they had in 2017-2018 when they danced their way into the Final Four. They play a tough pack-line defense, that gives up an astounding 55.5 PPG, making them the best in the Nation. That stat will meet some skepticism as it is inflated by their weak conference, but do not incorrectly assume this team can’t defend. Plus, this is a matchup nightmare for Tech, as the Ramblers love to dump the ball inside to their Senior big man Cameron Krutwig. Krutwig leads the team in PPG with 15. If Loyola-Chicago wants to win they need the same production from Krutwig. This should be a great game, and I am going with the Loyola-Chicago here because of that superior defense and their ability to get points in the frontcourt against this undersized Georgia Tech team. Hopefully for Sister Jean, Loyola will keep dancing.
Oklahoma St. (4) vs. Liberty (13):
The popular 13 seed over 4 seed is strong in this one. The Liberty Flames have the recipe for a team that can bust brackets. The Flames could not be more appropriately named. As they are one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country. 4 out of the 5 starters on the Flames shoot at least 37% from downtown. If these shooters can get hot the Cowboys will be in deep trouble. The Flames match their deep 3-point shooters, with stifling defense. They only allow 59.6 PPG and are cruising as of late winning their last 12 straight. Calling this game an easy Cowboys win would be a mistake.
On the other side, this is a talented Oklahoma St. team, boasting the player with the potential to takeover this tournament. Cade Cunningham might be the most valuable player to any singular team this March. His 20.2 PPG on 45% FG% leads the team. This an Oklahoma St. team that will hope to get their backcourt going early and often to stave off the hot shooting from the Flames. I am leaning towards the Flames here, but this can truly come down to the last possession. Oklahoma St. could run out of options if the Flames play their tight defense and shoot the rock like they have all season.
Other Interesting Matchups:
Syracuse (11) vs. San Diego St. (6)- Always be wary of the sneaky Syracuse 2-3 zone in March. Without the capable players, San Diego St. could be in for a tough matchup.
Clemson (7) vs. Rutgers (10)- Rutgers has some solid players in the backcourt with Ron Harper Jr., and Jakob Young. Plus, some solid wins in the Big 10 this year. This is a tough game to call because of both teams’ inconsistencies throughout the season. I think Rutgers has a more talented roster and Clemson must be reeling a bit after a loss to a bad Miami team in the ACC tournament.
After missing out on last year’s tournament, we finally get to experience college basketball at the highest and most entertaining level with their annual national championship tournament.
The best way to show our excitement, we found, was to make a tier list video, in which we take all the very best teams in the tournament and rank them based on their potential to make some noise, be serious contenders, or to be flat out favorites to win it all.
With the bubble underway, seeds 4-7 and 2 and 3 can change in the West as we approach the playoffs. The play-in-tournament also looks like it is going to be an inevitable result of bubble madness. Here are some thoughts on the biggest question we have in the Western Conference.
Can anyone stop the West Finals from being Lakers vs. Clippers?
If you take a look at the odds to win the title this year on any sportsbook, you’ll find that there are 3 teams that they feel have a real chance at winning the title: Lakers, Clippers, and Bucks. We all knew at the start of the season that this was the probable matchup in the conference finals. Do we think any teams have a real chance to put a fork in what would probably be the most-watched conference finals in years?
First, let us take a look at the Lakers and Clippers holistically.
The Lakers have no Avery Bradley and possibly no Rondo the rest of the way. Even if they have Rondo he won’t be nearly as effective. They acquired Markieff Morris before the hiatus. Their team is somewhat in a similar situation that we have with the Bucks. We have literally no idea who is going to be on the floor for them to close games. The Lakers have played 101 clutch minutes this season (last 5 minutes of regulation or overtime in a game within 5 points). In those minutes they have 10 players who have played at least 10% of those minutes. That is absolutely crazy when thinking about coming up with the lineup they’ll use when the going gets tough in the playoffs. The 3 other most common guys in those minutes with LeBron and Davis are KCP, Danny Green and/or Avery Bradley (now it will obviously only be Green), and one of the big men (mostly JaVale). I can hear all the Laker fans screaming that I have forgotten they have playoff LeBron. Although this is a very good argument, it isn’t LeBron that scares me; It’s Davis.
In the 4th quarter or overtime this year, Anthony Davis is shooting 18 for 63 (28.6%) on shots 15 feet or longer. For a guy who is the most talented power forward I have ever seen, he needs to stop taking jumpers late in games. How many times have you watched Davis face-up on his defender, take a dribble, and step back for a fadeaway 2-pointer from 20 feet away? We tend to say that guys like Davis and Embiid “can shoot”. Yes, they can shoot but they take low percentage shots at high volumes and it hurts their teams drastically.
I’m not saying he should never shoot 3’s. Of course, when he has good looks he should. But more times than not he isn’t shooting catch-and-shoot 3’s, he is stepping into them while facing up on a guy he can easily take to the basket. If you look at the games so far in the bubble where Davis dropped our mouths to the floor, you’ll see that he was attacking the basket and making plays around the rim that nobody else in the last century could make. If he sticks to the things he is really good at which is rolling to the rim, PnR’s with LeBron, and driving and spinning off bigs who are either not quick enough to guard him or just can’t match his finishing ability at the rim, he’ll put the Lakers in a very very good position to be successful.
I don’t worry about their defense at all. Davis is good enough to anchor it all by himself but LeBron and the other wings can really hunker down and play well down the stretch of tough games. Their 3rd ranked defense in the league should stay pretty steady.
Once Harrell gets back to the bubble and clears quarantine, the Clippers will be back to 100%. If you think about it, between Paul George missing the first few games and Kawhi taking his usual load management, the Clippers did not have a whole lot of time to get into a groove. They are 6.5 points better than their opponents which is pretty good for a team with inconsistent lineups throughout. They have the 3rd best offense in the league which actually kind of surprises me given how much of a gauntlet they are defensively. Are there really a whole lot of flaws with this team? They have the 2 best 2-way players in the league, the best bench in the league, a championship coach, and are the best rim-protecting team in the West. I have believed for the past year and a half that the best player in the league that I would want on my team to win the title is Kawhi Leonard and I still think that now. Kawhi would have finished in the top 3 in MVP and top 3 in DPOY if he hadn’t done his usual load management. The Clippers are, no shocker here, almost 12 points better with Kawhi on the floor compared to when he is off.
Paul George is having another really good year and has actually accepted being 1B to Kawhi quite nicely. He is making spot-up 3’s at the highest rate of his career and is taking good mid-range shots that haven’t been forced. George and Leonard provide the firepower and the other guys play off of them exceptionally.
The Lou Will and Harrell pick and roll is the most used as well as one of the most successful plays in the whole league. The addition of Marcus Morris gives them an above average spot-up shooter who can play both ends. If we really take a step back and look at this team, they have so many different lineups that are each very successful and don’t really have a whole lot of flaws.
So… Who are the pretenders and who are the contenders?
Here is a look at the current standings in the Western Conference:
If we look at this we can see that the Rockets, Thunder, Jazz, and Mavs could all switch before the final half of the regular season bubble is over. But for now, let us assume that all of these teams could move and possibly match up with either the Lakers or the Clippers down the stretch. Who of the teams remaining have a decent shot?
The Kings, Pelicans, Spurs, Suns, and Grizzlies would all get beaten badly by the Lakers and Clippers. Memphis holds the lead for now, but if Portland makes their way into this play-in-tournament they will fall out.
We knew that those teams were pretenders, but are there any teams that are pretenders from the 3-7 seeds?
Utah Jazz: The overwhelming majority of their minutes played this year, especially in crunch time, have had Bojan Bogdanovic in them. His loss is one of the biggest for any team at the bubble. Their 4 most common lineups that accumulate 1,700 total minutes this season had Bojan in them. He played in nearly 80% of their minutes during the course of their whole season. He was the most clutch player on the team and was their best spot-up shooter. His loss takes them completely out of the equation. Even if Conley turns back the clock a few years and Mitchell has a great playoff run, they don’t have the firepower to not only hang with the Lakers and Clippers, but they won’t be able to beat Denver, Houston, OKC, Portland, or maybe even Dallas at this point in a seven-game series. Without Bojan, who makes the Jazz 8 points better when he is on the floor, they have a dearth of playmakers outside of Mitchell. Gobert has been amazing once again defensively but he has no ability to create any sort of offense once he has the ball. With Conley struggling, Bojan out, and a loaded West, they are likely the pretenders.
Denver Nuggets: Their defense has somehow gotten worse and worse as the season has gone on. They were good at the beginning of the year, bad after the trade deadline, and horrible in the bubble. Granted, some of their pieces have not been playing. Skinny Jokic has worked out to some extent. This team definitely does not have the firepower to stop the Clippers or the Lakers. The problem with them is they need 1 or 2 guys who can solely focus on guarding the wings of both of those teams. Gary Harris is a good defender but he is relied on offense too much to really hunker down on either LeBron or Kawhi. We also never really know what kind of Jamal Murray we are going to get. Michael Porter Jr. has come storming out and has been unstoppable on offense. I knew this was coming (go check my tweets from earlier this year about how I was confused as to why he wasn’t playing more minutes). But the Nuggets are relatively consistent and have very good role players around Jokic. The main things with them that are huge question marks right now is how good can skinny Jokic stay in a playoff series, if Jamal Murray can become consistent, and if they can find some sort of real offense besides those 2 guys (at this point Porter Jr.). Grant has been a nice player for them this season. His impact on defense is good… according to the eye test. Advanced stats go the other way. The Nuggets are actually nearly 13 points worse with him on the floor per 100 possessions. Why is that? Well, we know that the Nuggets play a lot of pick and roll offense with guys trying to cut from the backside for easy layups. Defensively they trap the lane and force a ton… A TON… of corner 3’s. Looking at the way every team is playing in the bubble right now, I am not sure I can pick them to win their first-round series at this point unless someone like Dallas moves up. Even then I wouldn’t be so sure unless they were handed the gift of playing Utah.
The Long Shot Contenders
When I say “long shot” I basically mean these teams have a chance to scare the heck out of the Lakers and Clippers but not necessarily beat them.
Dallas Mavericks: The number 1 offense in the history of the league (116.5 ORtg). They are actually top 10 in both offense and defense and lost an integral piece in Dwight Powell. I will say, Porzingis hasn’t been good, he has been excellent. They are nearly 16 points better with him on the floor as their center. He has been shooting a ton of 3’s but he, unlike Embiid or Lopez, is shooting them at a very nice rate. Doncic and Porzingis with 3 other wings on the floor are +13 per 100 possessions. They are +11 per 100 possessions with Porzingis and NOT Luka. Those numbers are crazy good. This shows me that they absolutely have their crunch time lineup. Luka, Porzingis, Curry, Finney-Smith, and Hardaway. This team knows who they are, knows what their roles are, and play them very very well. Luka Doncic is the best 21-year-old player in the history of the league. He has the best vision, most poise, and one of the best step-back jumpers I’ve ever seen in my life. He made one of the best passes I’ve ever seen in my life the other night when he threw a pocket bounce pass through his legs with his off-hand. Seriously, this dude is going to win multiple MVP’s. They shoot the 2nd most 3’s in the league, are 29th in shots at the rim, and play a very slow-paced offense. They barely turn the ball over and are a perfect upset potential team to take the Clippers to 6 or 7 games in the first round. This team has exceeded expectations.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Another team here who knows who they are and are extremely established in what they are capable of. They know who the crunch time lineup is, they know who “the guy” is, and they know who plays what role. This team, an afterthought at the beginning of the year, has outplayed all expectations given to them. Chris Paul has one of the best on/off stats in the league. Their crunch time lineup of Adams with the 4 perimeter guys in Gallinari, Shai, Chris Paul, and Schroder is +26.8. Schroder, in my opinion, is the 6th man of the year. Chris Paul is arguably having one of the 5 best seasons of his career. He is also the most clutch player in the league and it’s actually not even close. The problem with them is they demolish all of the under .500 and have a horrible record against teams above .500. Dort, Bazely, and Ferguson are really nice role players. Their defensive numbers lately have been up and they can really hang with anyone. They are a matchup nightmare for the Lakers and can seriously hang with the Clippers. When they play small teams, Steven Adams looks like Shaq. When they play bigger teams, they exploit their wing depth with their above-average guard play. This team is pretty dangerous. If they can get hot and allow Chirs Paul to close out games, they can make some serious noise.
These teams are serious threats to the Lakers and Clippers if they were to advance on in the playoffs.
Portland Trailblazers: Collins and Nurkic are back and every game I have watched of theirs in the bubble has shown the reason why they are the reigning Western Conference runner-up. Lillard is playing like 1 of the 5 best players in the league right now. Whiteside did a decent job of covering for Nurkic but Nurkic makes this team so much better. Watching the Blazers at their lowest point this year was painful because Whiteside never knew what was going on and didn’t even try to understand. He is constantly looking at Dame wondering where he needs to be. But with Nurkic, the Blazers have 3 different sets they can do which give Lillard the freedom to either do the work himself, hit the cutting big, or kick out to shooters on the wings or in the corners. Gary Trent Jr. has been one of the best players in the bubble, shooting over 60% on 3’s. Trent allows the Blazers the ability to press later in games and allows Dame to kick out to another above-average shooter when he is doubled. Melo hitting a shockingly high number of catch-and-shoot 3’s and the rest of the team taking really high-quality shots, things are looking up for Portland. With one of the best rim-runners in the league back in Nurkic, the reliance on some decent young players, and with the Blazers core back, we can’t count them out of a playoff series. If they get into the play-in against Memphis, expect them to absolutely roll them. If they get 8 seed, the Lakers can seriously be in trouble. With healthy Nurkic, the Lakers are very beatable.
Houston Rockets: The obvious choice here for the biggest threat to the Clippers and the Lakers. James Harden is (still) the best offensive player in the league. Harden won’t be the reason the Rockets lose in the playoffs, it’ll be Westbrook. Westbrook turned his season around in January and pumped out the most efficient season of his career. Russ, who used to shoot nearly 7 3’s a game at under 31%, has stopped shooting a lot and has done a lot of drive and kick. Every time Russ catches the ball near the 3-point line he has about 6 feet of space to shoot a wide-open 3 but he doesn’t. He is much more aware of the shot clock and most of those possession results in a Rocket basket. He also has limited the number of pull-up 15-footers he was shooting in recent years as well. He would shoot those at horrific percentages and take 10-12 of them a game. Now, he is getting nearly all of his points at the rim. Russel Westbrook is the single most important piece if they are to advance far into the playoffs. This team is so dangerous because they shoot the most 3’s in the league. If one night, let’s say, they go 20-42 on 3’s in a series, they are beating any team in the league. That probably won’t be a recurring thing if it does happen but we have seen it. Their small-ball lineup has allowed them to throw different options at elite wings. Although they are obviously getting out-rebounded by opponents by a lot since the trade, they have actually posted much better advanced numbers with their small-ball lineup. If Harden can continue what he is doing and Westbrook continues to be smart with the ball and maybe limit the turnovers (just a bit), they have a real shot at knocking off the Clippers or Lakers.
With all that being said, the predictions for the West playoffs are going to be a little bit more difficult due to the fact that the standings can change over these next few days before the play-in. But, I will try to predict the matchups and go from there.
Since Memphis is not going to finish 4 games ahead of the 9 seed, we’re going to have a play-in. It looks like they will play either the Suns or the Blazers. Give me the Blazers. With the being said, Memphis will have to match up with the healthy Blazers. If Memphis gets the 8 seed, they will have to beat Portland only 1 time. Portland would have to beat Memphis twice to advance. Let’s give Memphis the benefit of the doubt and say they finish the season as the 8.
(8) Memphis Grizzlies vs. (9) Portland Trailblazers
Memphis will be without Jaren Jackson Jr. who is right now their 2nd best player. With nobody to be able to guard both bigs and the perimeter, the Grizzlies will struggle to handle the front line that Portland will put up. Damian Lillard is just too good in the playoffs and will outplay Ja Morant a thousand times over. Memphis will try to hang with a red hot Blazers team while backed into a corner.
Portland wins 2-0
I am going to assume that the standings for the West are actually going to stay the same at this point. With that being said, here is what the first round would look like:
(1) Lakers vs. (9) Blazers
(2) Clippers vs. (7) Mavericks
(3) Nuggets vs. (6) Jazz
(4) Rockets vs. (5) Thunder
The only thing that I really see as possibly changing here is OKC and Utah switching at the 5 and 6. If that happens, I have a hypothetical for that scenario after I finish predicting what I have listed.
I expect Houston to, as they did last year, dominate the first round. Houston put on a shooting clinic and went small to bring Gobert away from the basket. At the end of games, Gobert was unplayable and the Rockets got anything they wanted, whether it was from 3 or at the rim. I expect this to happen in a similar fashion due to the fact that Adams will not be unplayable late in games in this series. I do think OKC can really hang tough with this team and they can force 6 or 7 games. But OKC won’t be able to keep up with small ball rockets and Harden will be out to prove he can perform in the playoffs. The backstory for this one is the obvious point guard switch with Westbrook and Chris Paul. Should be one of the most fun series to watch in the first round.
Rockets wins 4-2
This 3-6 matchup is very enticing and very unfortunate for Utah. Bojan would have been an enormous help in this series against a young team. Jokic vs. Gobert should be relatively interesting. The Nuggets have the clear advantage here because Jokic will bring Gobert out to the perimeter, similar to what Houston did in the 1st round of last year’s players. Denver has excellent cutting wing players and they will use that to their advantage. With Gobert away from the basket, they should get a lot of quality looks near the basket. With Mitchell really being the only above-average playmaker on this team right now (sorry Mike Conely), Denver will have room for error.
Denver wins 4-2
I really like what Dallas has done this season. The paragraph I wrote on them earlier is really encouraging for them going into the postseason. They would, however, have a much better chance at beating the Lakers than they do the Clippers. Luka, who has the highest usage rate in the league, will have to deal with being pestered by Kawhi, George, and Beverly all at different times of the game. Each time, the defender will be somewhat fresh. If you can knock down Luka’s productivity, you can take care of the Mavs relatively quickly. Let’s be honest, pound for pound in the postseason, the Clippers are going to be the toughest out in the league.
Clippers win 4-1 (I want to say 4-2 super bad)
Finally, the Lakers and Blazers will be an extremely entertaining series. The Blazers will come in with the attitude that they have nothing to lose because they were very far behind before the bubble started. The Lakers, especially LeBron, have so much hanging on this playoff run. It takes a special kind of person to challenge LeBron James in playoff basketball. Damian Lillard is definitely one of those guys. This series could go the distance. With the Lakers having no Avery Bradley, their best on-ball defender, it is a huge loss in a series like this. Bradley’s main purpose this season was to guard the other team’s best guard for 30 minutes; he did this quite well. With him not able to do it, someone else will have to. LeBron will have a great series and so will Lillard. But it will be the guys like Davis, McCollum, Danny green, or even Gary Trent Jr. that decide these games. Get ready for a movie. This series has upset written all over it… but LeBron has too much to lose.
Lakers win 4-2
(1) Lakers vs. (4) Rockets
(2) Clippers vs. (6) Thunder
The Lakers are really getting the short end of the stick here. The Clippers get to pay two teams they are much better than.
I expect the Clips to take full advantage of their depth being far better than Oklahoma City’s. Chris Paul will be met, as Luka was, with the 3-headed monster of wing defenders. This is a series where the Harrell and Lou Will pick-and-roll will have a whole of success. The thunder have very talented wings offensively but won’t be able to even remotely contain playoff Kawhi as well as Paul George. The Clippers haven’t had their whole team back yet. Once they take the 1st round to get back into the swing of things, they’re going to be all hands on deck for the semis.
Clippers win 4-2
Harden understands that his playoff performance has been scrutinized his whole career. Does he get enough credit for being one of the 5 best offensive players of all time? No, he doesn’t. But his playoff failures are something he doesn’t want to repeat any longer. He and LeBron have A LOT on the line. LeBron definitely has more, but Harden is ready for a breakout. I seriously think Houston has a huge chance to knock the Lakers off here. It isn’t just a “pick one team who is best equipped to challenge them” kind of thing. I legitimately would not be surprised if Houston won in 6 or 7 games. I think this series heavily depends on which one of Davis or Westbrook is more inefficient and which one takes those terrible long 2’s or 3’s that they both tend to take. I want to pick Houston super bad. LIKE SUPER BAD. LeBron, however, has way too much on the line here.
Lakers win 4-3
(1) Lakers vs. (2) Clippers
Although I do think Houston and Portland have puncher’s chances to knock off the Lakers, I can’t help but be petrified to be betting against a rested and angry playoff LeBron. But this was destined to happen ever since we found out Kawhi was going to be joined by Paul George in LA.
This series gets a whole lot more interesting now that we are in the bubble… here’s why:
The Lakers and Clippers would not have had to travel for this series if we were in a world without COVID-19. This would have heavily hurt the Clippers. LA will always be a Laker town. This means that no matter how many games this series goes, the Lakers would have been home for every single game. The number of Laker fans outnumber the Clipper fans by AT LEAST 5x. The Lakers would have been the favorite, and still probably will be, in this series. They will have gone through a much more difficult road than the Clippers. Do we really expect Anthony Davis to stay fully healthy for 3 straight rounds of the playoffs?
Not only does the bubble allow the Clippers to not have to deal with being the road team for 6 or 7 straight games, but they are just the better team. Their perimeter is better, their off-ball defense is better, and… I think playoff Kawhi has surpassed playoff LeBron. Yes, LeBron outplayed Kawhi and everyone else in their most recent meeting in the bubble. But the Clippers did not have Lou Will or Harrell and they still nearly won the game. The Lakers will be thin on the wings, drained from their previous rounds, and unable to contain Kawhi Leonard down the stretch of games. I really hope this series goes the distance. It will most likely be even more watched than any of the Warrior’s conference finals. Get ready for 1 of the best 7 game series of the decade.
Clippers win 4-3.
The Thunder and Jazz in the 1st round for the 5 and 6 really will come down to the final day. OKC owns the tie-breaker. At this point, OKC plays Miami and the Clippers to end the year while the Jazz have 1 more game against the Spurs. Right now I have the Thunder as the 5 and the Jazz as the 6. But it should be noted if they flip…this is how I predict the playoffs to go down:
The Lakers and Clippers still advance
(3) Denver vs. (6) Thunder
(4) Rockets vs. (5) Jazz
Here, the Jazz will lose badly to Houston (4-1). OKC, however, beats Denver here in 6 games. Chris Paul would be the best player in the series. That brings us to the later round where both the Rockets and the Thunder lose to the Lakers and Clippers respectively.
Realistically, the Clippers are the best team in the league. You can still get them at +320 to win the title and I suggest you take it. The West has been wild this year but one thing is for sure, the Western Conference Finals will apex mountain of this NBA season.
We are less than a week away from the restart at the Orlando bubble. 8 regular season games to go and it will be interesting to see how the standings change and what will happen come playoff time. Some of the top dogs still have major questions to answer and lineups to play with. Will it be the Bucks, Lakers, or Clippers? Perhaps a dark horse can pull together a month of good play and steal it? Should there be an asterisk next to the winner? Let’s take a look at the biggest question in the East before the restart.
Are we sure the Bucks are going to roll through the East?
Do I think the Bucks are probably going to go the finals? Yes. But there are 3 teams that have a shot to challenge Milwaukee if given the chance. With no home-court, it is completely possible. Looking at the Bucks regular season this year they are historically good. They have the league’s best defense (by a mile) and have done it in an extremely unconventional way. They give up the most three-pointers in the league at a staggering 38.6 a game. That is a very very very high number. A few years ago, taking away the 3 was considered to be crucial to success. Now, for the Bucks, allowing teams to let it fly has become a hallmark to their success. They aren’t the only good defense allowing a lot of threes. Toronto, who is 2nd or 3rd in defense depending on where you look, gives up just as many threes a game at 38.5. Two more top 5 defenses in the Clippers and Celtics give up a whole lot too. But why is this is working and should we expect a team who shoots well from three to knock them out? The answer to the latter is no but how come the Bucks can get away with this?
One thing we have to understand about Milwaukee is how much of a load Giannis really takes on. It is quite impressive that even with him off the floor the Bucks are still nearly 5 points better than their opponents. But when he is on the court, they are just over 16 points better. This is the widest margin in the league among the top players and has allowed the Bucks to run away with leading the league in point differential. To summarize these stats, it basically means that Giannis has been used so much on both ends of the floor (being the most likely DPOY and MVP which has only been done in the same season by Jordan and Hakeem) that his teammates are so incredibly fresh when they are needed. Coach Bud does a nice job of allowing the shooters to spread the floor while Giannis attacks 4 defenders at once. Here’s the problem: are we sure their crunch time lineup will be able to get it done? The lineup(s) that have been used the most frequently this season are Giannis, Middleton, Bledsoe, Lopez, and Wes Matthews. The other most common lineup is the same as above except this time with DiVincenzo for Middleton. So I ask… do you really want the choke-king (credit Dula for the sensational pun) Eric Bledsoe on the floor in crunch time? The dude is a walking turnover and has built all of the local homes with all the bricks hes providing. So who should be their 5 against teams, like them, who give up a ton of threes?
Here are the Bucks tiers of 3-point shooters this year. Keep in mind the league average is 35.7%. I am not including Korver because he will be unplayable (I think) at this point at the end of games.
Tier 1: Middleton (41.8%), George Hill (48%… wow that’s so damn good)
Tier 2: Wes Matthews (36.5%)
Tier 3(below average): Bledsoe (34.8%), DiVincenzo (34.4%), Pat Connaughton (32.1%) and Brook Lopez (29.6%)
First of all… why is Brook allowed to shoot as many threes as he does? Between him and Embiid, it blows my mind. Anyway, down the stretch, it would make sense to play the guys who can shoot the ball (especially against the Celtics or Raptors deeper in the playoffs since they too give up a lot of threes). However, the two most popular lineups for the Bucks contain 2 tier 3 shooters in their most common lineup, and 3 tier 3 shooters in their second most common lineup. Obviously, this has been fine for them during the regular season; but in the postseason when the pressure is on and below-average shooters have to hit big shots, more times than not they’ll be missing more than making… a lot more. So who should be that crunch time lineup? I really do not know. If you’re playing Toronto, let’s say, you need Lopez out there to deal with the bigs they’ll throw at you. If you play Boston, you won’t really need him out there and could go smaller. Here would be my crunch time lineup for different matchups
Raptors: Giannis, Middleton, Lopez, George Hill, Wes Matthews.
Celtics: Giannis, Middleton, Wes Matthews, George Hill, DiVincenzo
-Think about the Celts crunch time lineup of potentially Kemba, Brown, Tatum, Hayward, and Smart/Theis).
Heat: Giannis, Middleton, Lopez, Wes Matthews, and Bledsoe
-I will give Bledsoe the benefit of the doubt against a team like Miami because they don’t give up a whole lot of 3’s and Miami really isn’t great offensively so the Bucks could just load up on defense here. The fire power for Miami just isn’t enough.
-DiVincenzo has become a very good 2-way player for them. He would be needed against a long, athletic Philly team down the stretch.
But all of this won’t matter for the opponent if they don’t find some way to put a tiny dent in Giannis’s productivity. There are two schools of thought when it comes to guarding an extremely overbearing player like Giannis. The first is to stop him at all costs and let the others beat you. If the other guys shoot well and play crisp, you accept defeat because you put a stop to the number 1 guy. The other school of thought is to let the main guy go out and keep his usual production but prevent the others from contributing a whole lot and hope that your 5 can outplay their top guy.
We have seen both of these work out sometimes and other times not so much throughout the NBA:
For example, the first approach was done to LeBron in the 07-08 season by the Celtics in the East-semis and it worked. They just collapsed in the middle when he drove and forced him into a bad shot, a turnover, or a teammate for threes. We have also seen it fall to pieces when the Celtics did it down the stretch to the Lakers in the 2010 finals and caused a series of role-players to come up and play huge for them, notably Ron Artest’s game-clinching shot in game 7.
The second approach is far less common but was seen a little bit more in recent history. In 2011 Dallas anchored down on Miami’s key players outside of LeBron like Bosh and Wade and prevented those guys from being extremely productive in the big moments of that series. LeBron did not play amazing but they worried more about letting LeBron, who didn’t have a good playoff reputation then, try to beat them… and it worked. However this approach did not work in the 2003 finals when the Nets sadly allowed MVP Tim Duncan (who had one of the 5 best seasons in NBA history that year) to, with ease, be the best player in that series. He seriously probably could have won that series all by himself.
But which of these will work for opponents against Giannis? Since the Bucks are having a historic season, were on pace for 70 wins, were better than their opponents by 16 points when Giannis is on the floor, and have spotty three-point shooting in their crunch-time lineup, the only way around the Bucks will be for opponents to directly attack the freak himself.
I have compiled a small list of the 5 players on a few contending teams that have the best chance against Giannis. It is actually a pretty interesting and dicey list. The teams I ranked players from were the contenders the Bucks could see at some point in the playoffs: Philly, Miami, Boston, Toronto, and both LA teams.
5) Toronto’s front line: This is the only one that is not an individual player. Nick Nurse could definitely come up with a scheme using their gauntlet of different defenses. Nurse has not been afraid to go zone and pack-line this year. Honestly, it isn’t a bad idea. If you have Gasol and Ibaka rotating on defense, both capable of doing some damage to Giannis, they won’t get too fatigued and would be able to stay fresh with the help of the two tenacious wing defenders in Siakam and Anunoby. When those two guys lock in, they are really fun to watch. Giannis would for sure either see zone, pack-line, or, if they play man, all 4 of these guys each game. It might not be enough to get the whole job done, but it will definitely throw him off for sure.
4) Kawhi Leonard: Do I even need to explain this one? He got the better of Giannis in last year’s playoffs and is still, when it matters most, the best 2-way player in the league. Kawhi did a decent job last year guarding Giannis on key possessions. Although, it should be noted, the Raptors depth last year allowed Kawhi breaks from guarding him for most of the games, especially because his offensive load was so heavy. Regardless, Kawhi Leonard is one person that Giannis knows can get the better of him when it comes down to it.
3) Joel Embiid: Embiid would probably be my pragmatic number 1 in the East to guard Giannis. This is part of the reason why healthy Philly is so dangerous. Two guys in Embiid and Simmons, along with an extremely long starting 5 could disrupt Giannis if Philly were to get past Miami. Embiid, in my opinion, when he locks in is just as good on defense as Davis. He cannot get bullied inside and can guard Giannis in all areas within 15 feet of the basket. If Embiid gets in a groove, Giannis could be struggling with finishing at the basket when he’s around. Forcing Giannis to take threes will be Philly’s ultimate goal.
2) Bam Adebayo: OH YEAH. Let’s get a little dicey. Make no mistake, by the time Bam’s career is over, he’ll be on quite a few all defensive teams and win multiple DPOY awards. He is probably the only guy in the league (other than Jaren Jackson Jr. and Gobert) who has quick enough feet to hang with athletic wings and protect the rim with incredible efficiency. Bam has shown flashes of what he can do against some elite players and he has proved he is the most important player on the Heat. Granted, the Heat don’t have enough fire power to hang with the Bucks or the Celtics or the Raptors, but they have Bam as a potential stopper if Giannis was to meet them instead of Philly in the second round.
1) Anthony Davis: If we get the match up that most people think we’re going to get, The Lakers are arguably the biggest threat to the Bucks capping off their historic season. If you solely did the eye test and did not look at advanced analytics, Davis would be DPOY. Davis has the most upside to be successful against Giannis over anyone else. Giannis lit up the Lakers when they played, but that was when he hit 5 threes. If he does that multiple games in the playoffs, goodnight everybody. 90% of the league is petrified to be guarded by the brow. Davis’s raw defensive numbers this year are 2k-esque.
Is there a clear answer? No there’s not. But is there a way to try to stop Giannis, who is having a better season than any apex Shaq season? We’ll have to wait and see. Numbers don’t lie. If Bud can put together situational lineups in crunch time of these playoff games, the Bucks are the most equipped to win the title. However, if Giannis gets stopped or, more likely, if the Bucks miss a bunch of threes, they could be in trouble.
Here is what the standings in the East look like right now:
One thing is for sure, the Pacers without Sabonis, will easily slide down and the Sixers will take their spot at 5. But can Philly catch Miami? Let’s take a look at their schedules:
Philly: Pacers, Spurs, Wizards, Magic, Blazers, Suns, Raptors, and Rockets.
Miami: Nuggets, Raptors, Celtics, Bucks, Suns, Pacers, Thunder, and Pacers.
This is a tough situation to base predictions off since we have no idea how certain guys will respond to being off for so many months. But if I was being practical, I would say with these schedules, given the health of both teams and the strength of their schedule, I would say Philly goes 6-2 and Miami goes 4-4.
45-28 for Philly and Miami would also be 45-28. This would give us a tiebreaker. Miami would be the 4 and Philly the 5 because Miami is 3-1 against Philly (not like it really matters who is the 4 or the 5 in that series). I expect Orlando to pass the Nets as well. With all of that being said, here is what the playoffs would look like:
(1) Bucks vs. (8) Nets (4) Heat vs. (5) 76ers (3) Celtics vs. (6) Pacers (2) Raptors vs. (7) Magic
If this was the case, we would see the Bucks, Celtics, and Raptors advance fairly easily. The Heat and 76ers would be extremely fun for the first round. Miami is 3-1 against them this year and has much better advanced numbers. Philly was wildly inconsistent, especially their home vs. road differences. But now, we basically have road games for everybody. Embiid, I’m hearing, is in the best shape he has ever been in in his whole life. I think Philly somewhat puts it together and gets past Miami. This series could go either way.
(1) Bucks vs. (5) 76ers (2) Raptors vs. (3) Celtics
Healthy Philly being able to throw Simmons and Embiid at Giannis is going to be so much fun. Most people, me included, had Philly in the finals before the season began. The 76ers were set up to have the best starting 5 in the league and were ready to set the East on fire. Plagued with injuries and chemistry problems, they crumbled and could not find a way to win on the road. Brook Lopez has been unreal this season on defense, but will struggle immensely trying to handle Embiid. It will be interesting to see whether we will get full-throttle all-in Embiid for the whole series or if he will take time off. Will they move Simmons off the ball? Will they get Thybulle more minutes? This is, and should be, the final straw for Brett Brown. I still the think the Bucks and their consistency will prevail. However, I think Philly will give them a major scare and is an interesting long-shot bet to make the finals.
Bucks win 4-2. ( I wanna say 4-3 super bad)
This will be one of the most fun match ups of the playoffs. Boston is more talented but Toronto is deeper. Lowry vs. Walker, Tatum vs. Siakam, and the bigs of the Toronto vs. the wings of Boston. Both teams rank in the top 5 defensively and both teams have 2 of the best coaches in the league. This series is bound to go the distance. The Raptors might be able to frustrate the young Celtics because they have so many defensive options to throw at them. Kyle Lowry will likely have a great series. The key for Boston will be whether or not Tatum will transcend and be the best player in the series. If he does, Boston will win. If, however, Nurse throws a bunch of schemes at the Celtics and Lowry torches down the stretch and Siakam continues his 2-way circus, the Raptors will win. The one thing that stands out is the Celtics lack of bigs. Gasol and Ibaka have been so good this year, Daniel Theis can only do so much. The Raptors are just too deep and are all in on putting up a true title defense. I really do think this can be a coin toss. I give the benefit of the doubt to the defending champs.
Raptors win 4-3.
(1) Bucks vs. (2) Raptors
The rematch. It is completely different this time. Now, the Bucks will have the best player on the floor. I do think the Raptors depth is more talented than the Bucks. I really do think the Bucks will struggle. The Raptors will be a handful for them defensively. Both teams give up a ton of threes. This will be a huge test for the Bucks perimeter. They’re going to have to shoot well to even get to the conference finals; once they’re there, they will have to shoot even more threes and hit a higher percentage. I think Nick Nurse will go a lot of zone in this series. The Raptors best defense this season has been when they have done the pack-line. The pack-line will not be as effective as it is against most teams. Being one pass away from guys like Giannis, Middleton, DiVincenzo, and Connaughton, all of which are dynamic cutters, the Bucks will get a lot of baskets at the rim. The Bucks are going to have to shoot through a 2-3 zone and they’ll need all hands on deck. I think this series, whether it is the Raptors or the Celtics, will be tighter than everyone thinks. The question rises this year on whether to take the Bucks or the field. My heart won’t stop screaming to take the field. My head, however, cannot ignore the advanced analytics and cannot ignore a player’s season better than any Shaq season.
Bucks win 4-3.
The West version will come at some point next week. Think about these things before making your playoff predictions and bets. The Bucks aren’t just the favorite to win the East, but the favorite to win the title.
Here are the odds for the contenders in the East (FanDuel):
With the NBA season scheduled to return in under 2 weeks, players are still testing positive and the league has precarious feelings about the possible outcomes. The end of the season awards and all-NBA teams will be based off of the games prior to the COVID-19 outbreak (sorry people who threw lots of dough on Zion to win ROY).
All-NBA: It will be interesting to see how these actually play out and how everyone votes. Every year we have to worry about whether or not Anthony Davis is going to be classified as a forward or a center. This season he has played 72% of his minutes at the forward spot so I am going to assume he will be designated as a forward. This is what I came up with:
First Team All-NBA:
G- Luka Doncic
G- James Harden
F- LeBron James
F- Giannis Antetokounmpo
C- Nikola Jokic
Second Team All-NBA:
G- Damian Lillard
G- Chris Paul
F- Kawhi Leonard
F- Anthony Davis
C- Joel Embiid
Third Team All-NBA: (Here’s where it gets dicey)
G- Kyle Lowry
G- Russell Westbrook
F- Jimmy Butler
F- Pascal Siakam
C- Rudy Gobert
There are a couple things to clarify here. It absolutely kills me to not put Bradley Beal on here as my third team guard. The third team could be completely done in a different way. I will try to justify the dicey picks. For me, the first team is exactly what it will be come release day. However, people may be surprised by Chris Paul being in my second team. His numbers aren’t as jacked up as Beal’s, or Russ’s, or anyone else considered. However, the advanced analytics on Chris Paul on vs. off the floor differences are unmatched. The Thunder are 10 points better when he is on the floor vs. when he is off. This beats Westbrook’s, Lillard’s and Lowry’s point differentials of -1.2 (yikes Russ), 8.9, and -1 respectively. CP3 and Dame clearly deserve it as they are keeping two teams afloat, one of which was supposed to be in re-building mode and one who was plagued with injuries.
As for the third team there were some really tough names to leave off. Jayson Tatum, Bam Adebayo, Ben Simmons, and Khris Middleton are just a few. Let me explain.
We can all agree that unless Davis is classified as a center, the three centers will most likely be Jokic, Embiid, and Gobert in that order. Jokic is a top 6 or 7 MVP candidate right now, Embiid is statistically one of the 5 most crucial guys in the league to his team when you combine what he does on both ends, and Gobert is… well Gobert. He’ll duck to the rim on screens and dunk a few times a game, grab a handful of boards, and be a defensive menace when Mitchell gets beat by ball-handlers on the wing.
The 2 third team guards and forwards I have could all turn out differently. Do I feel weird about not having two Bucks on the All-NBAs given their pace of almost 70 wins? Yes. Is Jayson Tatum probably one of the best 15-17 guys in the league right now? Yes. Can Westbrook be an absolute trainwreck? Yes.
Let me explain why I chose the guys I chose. Firstly, Lowry. With Kawhi Leonard gone after the one-hit-wonder they had last season, several people thought the Raptors would fall to a low playoff seed (not me, but some people did). However, Nick Nurse has established a solid pack-line defense with two bigs in Gasol and Ibaka who really bared down and were patient all year. The Raptors are 3rd in the league in overall defense and Kyle Lowry is a huge reason why. The most vocal guy on the court, he may not be as integral to the defense as Gasol but he has been their backbone this whole season. HE IS THE BEST RAPTOR EVER… It is a straight fact. The Raptors are steadily in the two spot in the east right now and he is the main reason why. In games in the 4th quarter on shots to either tie or take the lead this season, Lowry is shooting 54.5% from the field and 42.9% from 3. Those numbers are outrageously good. Combine that with him leading the league in charges (for like the 4th time), the Raptor’s record, his overall numbers, and you got yourself an All-NBAer.
I contemplated Simmons vs. Westbrook for quite a while before locking this in. Russ is the worst 3 point shooting guard in the history of the league (it is not close). While in OKC, he would jack up 3s at a rate of 6 or 7 per game and shoot it around 29%. That is so incredibly bad. I think the OKC staff were too scared to address this as a problem. However, Russ has been patient and efficient for a good part of this season. He is shooting his highest field goal percentage in his career, and shooting roughly only 3.8 3s per game. Its still a lot, but better than it has been. He has taken far less long 2s than he used to and he is attacking the basket higher than he ever has in his career. He is shooting the lowest amount of mid-range jumpers in his career (besides his rookie year) this season and only took 136. Although the season ended early, he was on pace to keep that number very low. He is also shooting mid-range jumpers at third highest percentage of his career as well. His uptake in efficiency isn’t just a good sign for Houston going forward, but a good sign for Russ continuing to grow as a player. Yes, he averaged a triple double for a few seasons and although very impressive, the percentages were profoundly bad. Now, averaging less than that, his efficiency has gone way up, which to me is far more valuable.
Simmons, on the other hand, has had the streakiest season of his career thus far. It is almost like him and Russ completely switched basketball personalities. Simmons has a real +/- of +12.4 at home and -7.9 on the road. This has been his toughest season due to the chemistry issues the team has, the catastrophe that is Brett Brown, and his lack of ability to get on the same page with Embiid. I will say, his defense has been ridiculously good this year. If the Sixers can figure out a way to give Thybulle more minutes, it could get ugly for opposing teams. I read a report recently that said Brett Brown was going to try to put Ben Simmons off the ball instead of being given 7 feet at the top of the key by opposing defenders. I know some pretty ignorant Sixers fans, and even they have suggested this good idea before. Brett Brown is literally 3 years behind.
If I could only keep only one person on the third team, Siakam would be my choice. He is not filling Kawhi’s shoes as the alpha on this team, but he has been decently close. Siakam continues to be able to turn into an all-defensive player when he wants to. He does not dial into this all game, probably because of his offensive load. However, he does absolutely everything Nick Nurse has dreams about doing. He is the best off-ball cutter in the league, one of the best off-ball defenders in the league, and has developed into a star in this league. He has only grown each year and, you could argue, that he could win back to back MIP awards.
Finally, I originally had Tatum over Butler just based off the eye test but then I started digging into some stats. It is true that apex mountain Tatum right before the all-star break was way better than Butler at any point this year, but Butler has been the rock of a young team with players who are learning what it means to be a hard worker in the league. Butler is 6th in the league in offensive win shares, 8th in overall win shares, 10th in +/-, and 7th in win shares per 48. All of these categories are well within the top 15 in the league this year. Butler also has a slightly higher overall offensive and defensive rating per 100 possessions than Tatum does. I also give the advantage to the vet over the 22 year old budding superstar. Tatum has some impressive feats though, and although he isn’t on my team this year, he will make several all-NBA teams and a few all defensive teams by the time his career is over.
The awards include MVP, DPOY, ROY, 6th man, most improved, and coach of the year.
MVP AND DPOY: Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL/PF): This is literally not even close. He leads the league in field goals made, defensive rebounds, PER, defensive rating, defensive win shares, win shares per 48, +/-, and defensive +/-. His per 36 numbers last year were as good as the apex Shaq seasons. This year, he has smashed those numbers. Per 36 Giannis is averaging 34.5 ppg, 16 rpg, and almost 7 assists per game on 55% from the field. The Bucks are a ridiculous 16.4 points better with Giannis on the floor than off. That is by far the biggest margin in the league. The Bucks defense is historically good. They give up the most corner 3s in the league but they continue to dominate teams who try to drive in the paint. Giannis is the best off-ball defender in the league and opposing teams do everything in their power to avoid him. As close as it is for Davis to be considered for DPOY, before the hiatus Giannis was having historically one of the 10-15 best regular seasons ever. He will win back-to-back MVPs and top it off with a DPOY. We are literally witnessing an alien.
ROY: Ja Morant (MEM/PG): Not really a whole lot to say here. Zion did not play nearly enough minutes, RJ Barrett is stuck on the Knicks, and the other solid rookies didn’t get enough minutes to match up with Ja’s volume. Ja runs away with this one after an extremely impressive rookie year.
6th Man of the Year: Dennis Schroder (OKC/PG): Usually quick to just hand it Lou Will, Schroder was an incredible backup for CP3 and SGA this season on a team that played way beyond what they were expected. Their 3 guard lineup with Gallinari and Adams at the 4 and 5 is lethal. The Thunder are +27 points using that lineup and that has been their crunch-time lineup and will continue to be. Schroder has had the best season of his career and has absolutely been the best bench player in the league this year. His field goal and 3 point percentages are both career highs.
Most Improved: Brandon Ingram (NO/SF): If you ask any skills coach around the league the question of whether or not a guy will eventually be a good shooter, they’ll tell you you can always tell from their free throw progress. One of Ingram’s strengths that he has had since high school was his ability to get to the free throw line. He does it at an impressive rate for a young player thus far but he was always a 65ish% shooter at the stripe. Even during his days at Duke he would miss big free-throws down the stretch of game. This year, he has squashed that number by shooting an astounding 86% from the line. Jumping from the mid-high 60s in free throw percentage all the way to the mid 80s is almost unheard of at any level of basketball. His jump at the stripe has immensely helped his shot selection as well. Instead of taking his two-dribble pull-up 2s that he was accustomed to taking he has stepped back and taken more 3s. Improving at the free throw line and bumping up your 3 point attempts will bump up any player’s per game stats. This small change in his game has opened up the opportunity for him to be very difficult to guard. Don’t be mistaken, his best weapon is his ability to shoot the mid-range jumper. However, the fact that he is a serious threat from 3 (39% on 6 attempts a game) and at the line, he has added more weapons at an efficient rate. I also would not be surprised if any of these guys won this award: Tatum, Luka, Bam, or even Siakam. All of those guys are extremely worthy as well.
Coach of the Year: Nick Nurse (TOR): This one is pretty much set in stone for me. So many people doubted this team heading into the season after the departure of the guy who I think is the best player in the league in Kawhi Leonard. Not only are they hanging on, they are probably the best chance at stopping Giannis. Nick Nurse has implemented a zone, pack-line, and different variations of man defense throughout the year. Nick Nurse is not one of the coaches that sticks to one way of doing and rolls with it. He is in the film room preparing with his guys day in and day out. He trusts his veterans in Lowry and Gasol and has given Siakam the freedom to blossom into a young star. They are 3rd in the league in overall defense. Almost all of their first 7 or 8 guys are above average defenders. The worst one is probably Norman Powell (dark horse candidate for MIP?) and he is the league average. Nick Nurse has put Toronto in position to not only make the conference finals, but possibly the finals. The Raptors are putting up one heck of a title defense and they are probably one of the 3 most fun teams to watch in the league.
With the draft in a few weeks, teams agree they would rather be in the 7-15 range in this draft then be in the top 3. This draft does not have the star power we are used to seeing, but it does have plenty of guys who have potential to be very good players in the league. There are some key headliners when it comes to this draft. The most popular one being LaMelo Ball. We also have 2 Euro darlings, a few crazy athletes, and a few guys in the top 15 who most of you would have never heard of during the regular season.
This class is loaded with potentially promising guards and there could also be a few hidden gems that could surprise some people in the second round.
Before I get into this, I suggest using a good mock draft if you’re unfamiliar with certain players and which players are projected to go where. For me, I trust NBADraft.net. Every year this is the one that, for me, is the highest quality. But remember, this is NOT a mock draft. This is a ranking of the players in the draft based off my own criteria.
This will in no way be the order of the draft because every teams need is different and every prospect has skills that some teams may value over others. So… here are the rankings:
Deni Avdija: (6-9/210… SF-Israel/Euro): What!?! If you have watched college basketball you’re probably wondering “who’s that?” and even if you haven’t but keep up with Euro basketball you’re still probably wondering “who’s that?” because seriously…. who is that? You are going to learn who this kid is relatively quickly. He is the best player in the draft *bold take*. He is a 2-time Israel league champion and has made a huge splash at the FIBA U20 European Championships by winning MVP (he’s only 19). He is an extremely above average passer and transition player. At 6-9, he is a good rebounder and pushes the tempo on transition opportunities so quickly. He is a nightmare for transition defenses. He is exceptional with dynamic cutting in off ball situations which is pretty rare in players as young as he is. If you don’t know what I mean by dynamic cutting, go put on a Raptors game and watch Pascal Siakam the entire time and you’ll see what I’m driving at. He is, however, a streaky shooter. His jump shot is fine looking but his percentages can fluctuate. This will be sure to balance out once he gets consistency in the league. He is much better on catch and shoot opportunities but that shouldn’t be a concern from scouts. His defense also isn’t anything to go crazy over. He is an ideal point-forward in today’s league. He is pretty skinny and could struggle with post defense but again, it’s something he’ll learn as he works on his body. He’s kind of like Ben Simmons if you took away Ben’s defense and gave him a jump shot.
Killian Hayes: (6-5/195…PG-France): Hayes has undoubted translation at the next level. If he ends up being the best prospect in the draft, I wouldn’t be surprised at all. Him and Cole Anthony are the two best finishers around the rim in this draft. The only hole in his game is he isn’t super athletic. The lefty has a decent frame but isn’t a crazy athlete. However, he makes up for it with his poise in transition. He has excellent hands on the defensive end too and will definitely be an immediate impact player. He reminds me so much of a young Dragic its crazy. His 3 point percentage may not be where scouts would like it to be but he has recently gotten his free throw percentage up to 86% which, if you ask any basketball person, is extremely promising for prospects who are streaky shooters. This should tell teams his shooting fluctuations will level out with time. His poise and IQ are the strongest aspects of his game. I would be surprised if he didn’t make some sort of impact immediately in the league.
James Wiseman: (7-1/235…C-Memphis): Coming out of high school I was a little bit skeptical of Wiseman. He seemed to me like a big who just wanted to shoot 3’s all the time and wanted no part of being big. However, Penny Hardaway turned that around pretty quickly. Yes, he only played 3 games due to the terrible rules of the NCAA. However, in those 3 games he played like what I imagine it was like watching Wilt Chamberlain play against all the short dudes way back in the 60s. It was completely unfair. The reason Wiseman was so dominant was because Penny Hardaway put Wiseman into a system. He will likely be the kind of player who will be extremely effective in some sort of triangle/horns system. He seriously must have dunked the ball almost 20 times in those 3 games he played. There was nobody who even wanted to try guarding him. He will be, of course, an elite shot blocker due to his elite athleticism and size which gives him tremendous defensive upside. His ability to shoot the 3 is nice but it could also hurt him if he decides to start shooting them on a consistent basis. We’ve seen how this has worked for guys like Embiid (not well at all). I have no evidence to back this up but I really think the Warriors have him highlighted in big letters on all their boards. if they draft him and put him with Steph, Klay, Wiggins, and Draymond, that will immediately put them back in the hunt. I expect Golden State, however, to trade their pick.
Anthony Edwards: (6-5/225…SG-Georgia): I’m going to be honest, I am not a huge Anthony Edwards guy. He is, however, the most athletic player in the draft and it’s not close. He is extremely streaky. Not just with his shooting but also with his overall effort. When he gets down, you can see it all over his face. This is obviously a huge red flag. However, he is extremely young and could develop into a perennial all star if he reaches his ceiling. His coaches say he is extremely coach-able which contradicts his on court body language at times. He has huge defensive upside and has an interesting NBA comp. If this comparison is worth anything… he has the good attributes of Wiggins and the bad ones of Westbrook. Yeah… that’s kind of scary. But, on the other end, there were time where I watched this guy and saw Dwayne Wade. Nobody has any idea what this guy is going to be in 5 years. On the bright side, he will probably go number 1 because every team in the draft picks their players on one factor above all: Potential.
Tyrese Haliburton: (6-5/185…PG-Iowa State): Here we have a floor general who has great court vision, excellent box-out ability, and has a weird looking jumper that goes in most of the time. Sound like anyone in the league you can think of? I swear when I saw him this year I thought Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was actually wearing an Iowa State jersey. Is his shot weird? Yes. But what if I told you he shot 42% on 3s this year? You would probably say it’s because the volume isn’t there because if you’ve seen his shot you wonder “how does that go in?”. However, this dude shot 42% on 5.6 attempts a game… In the Big 12… that’s pretty damn good. So all in all, the guards in this class are pretty loaded. Side note, Haliburton is the best pick and role point guard in the country. There isnt anyone around Iowa State who does not rant and rave about how amazing of a person and teammate he is. He is a mature player and a great guy. He is one of my favorite players in this draft.
Onyeka Okongwu: (6-9/235)…PF-USC): This dude just keeps rising. He went from nobody knowing who he is to being a top 7 pick. He is big, athletic, and isn’t afraid to go at any defender. He is an excellent shot blocker and can guard the perimeter very very well. With the ascent of Bam Adebayo this season and being the best player in the East Finals, teams all over the league are looking for someone with a similar frame and ability. Look no further than this guy. I am not saying he will be Bam right away, but he has potential to do everything Bam does. He can be extremely valuable for an NBA team. He is pretty talented in the post with a high IQ to rebound. Should be a solid big for some teams trying to contend.
Cole Anthony: (6-2/180…PG-North Carolina): I am a HUGE Cole Anthony truther. Until all of his injuries and before the start of the college season, Cole was my number 1 pick and I, quite frankly, didn’t think it was even close. I watch a lot of high school/AAU basketball and he is one of the best, if not the best, high school guard I have ever seen. In fact, he is one of the best high school players ever in a lot of statistical categories. Cole Anthony is one of the three most talented offensive player in this draft. He is a highly above average finisher around the basket, passer, and rebounder (for his size). His basketball IQ is off the charts and he is one the most confident players in this draft. His knee injury was catastrophic to an already weak UNC team. He played, and played well, against some of the best defensive and veteran guards in the country like Zavier Simpson, Tre Jones, Payton Pritchard, Kihei Clark, and Devin Vassell. Seriously, go look at how good these guys are on defense at the college level. Few guards in college basketball finished better through contact than Cole. People will look at Cole Anthony and be suspicious because of his inefficient percentages; and that is a completely fair argument. However, you have to understand something… Cole played on a bad UNC team. This is a similar situation to the problem people had with R.J. Barrett 2 seasons ago. The reason his percentages aren’t so great is because he had to take more shots than usual because his teammates really weren’t capable of creating their own shots. This kid is legit. He is going to fall in the 15-20 range, and in a draft where there is no stand-out superstars, why not take the person who has the second highest ceiling? For the record, I think he is a top 3 talent in this draft. If he can get into the right situation and clean up his shot selection, he can be an elite player. I will die on this hill.
Obi Toppin: (6-9/220…PF-Dayton): Okay don’t freak out… I know I don’t have him in the top 5 like the rest of America does. I know basketball is position-less these days but I really have no idea what position this dude is. I love the Obi Toppin story. Dayton’s offense was extremely fun to watch this year and Obi really came into his own. We’ve seen Obi Toppin-like players before except there is one difference: Obi can shoot. That’s great! Although I have a good, but maybe disappointing, comp for Toppin: He has Brandon Clarke’s athleticism and has Brice Johnson’s skills around the basket. Those two guys couldn’t shoot at all and Obi can shoot a little bit, which helps. However, he really isn’t as great a shooter as people think he is. He is good, but not great. His vertical athleticism is great but his horizontal agility is kind of robotic. He is a nightmare defender when switches happen and guards blow by him with ease. He isn’t big enough to play a true 4 and isn’t skillful enough to play the 3. I worry about him being able to switch on defense. He is, for sure, a very interesting prospect. I just don’t see him translating his sensational season into the league like I think everyone expects. He will be a solid player in this league because of his confidence and he has the “it” factor.
LaMelo Ball: (6-8/180…PG-Australia): About half a year ago I probably would have had LaMelo just inside of or just outside of the top 10. His shooting ability, ball handling, and finishing around the basket has always been good. Now, the cause for concern would be his thin frame as well as his idle defense. But as most top prospects eventually learn (unless you’re Andrew Wiggins or Trae Young) how to told your own on defense as time goes on. His IQ, like his brother’s, is very good. If he can keep his energy up on defense and bulk up some, he should turn into a fine player. HOWEVER…. however… I personally want no part of him on my team. He has never played in a structural system where he had to adhere to team dynamics. Everybody who is everybody watched him play in high school. If you watched those games, it was an absolute circus. He would take horrible shots and shoot from half-court. Unlike Lonzo, he did not get to go play for a college coach to learn how to function in a system. When he went to Australia, it was more of the same. When he went there, he impressed in highlights but the games themselves were abysmal. He was able to take ridiculous shots once again. It is kind of like the kid who is always able to do whatever he wants because his dad is the coach. Look, his ability to see the floor is better than the majority of people his age. He is an absolute wizard with the ball in his hands and has potential to be a high-level play-maker. He has all the intangibles but I seriously worry for his lack of structure over his entire life. I would not touch him, if I am being honest.
Isaac Okoro: (6-6/215…SG-Auburn): I actually think Okoro’s offensive skill set is much better than he gets credit for. His percentages can be misleading to his importance to Auburn this year. He was arguably the most important person to their team in all of college basketball. He has a great looking jumper and is a good decision maker on and off the ball. He can easily be a role player for several teams right away and he can evolve beyond that into a great shooter if he keeps working on his consistency. He has the size and skill set to be a good NBA shooting guard. The strongest case for him is he is the best wing defender in the draft. He moves his feet exceptionally and he has good role player written all over him. He kinda reminds me of a guy like Covington if he can tweak his jumper consistency with potential to be more.
Patrick Williams: (6-8/215…PF-Florida State): I love love love this guy as a prospect. I am just going to come out and say he has huge Beta Al Horford potential. He can switch 1 through 5 and has excellent feet while rolling to the rim. He is a strong physical presence and he is still developing. He shot 84% on free throws… 84! That is really good for this player type. He is developing a 3-pointer and he really does have huge upside. He is definitely on my list of steals in this draft and he is one of my favorites.
Tyrell Terry: (6-3/175…PG/SG-Stanford): This is another guy I absolutely LOVE. He is excellent and crafty around the basket, is an elite shooter, and battles super hard on defense. Like Haliburton, he is a high character guy who has been putting in a ton of work during the pandemic and pre-draft stuff. He has gained 15 pounds of muscle and all I hear about this kid is how much of a gym rat he is. He is the kind of player that is very very easy to root for. He is another guy who has that “it” factor about him and is probably not as high in most boards. He shoots 41% from 3 and 89% at the line. I absolutely love this guy.
Aaron Nesmith: (6-6/213…SG/SF Vanderbilt): Buddy Hield, Buddy Hield, Buddy Hield. This dude can shoot from any spot in the gym. He took 115 3’s over the course of the season and shot 52.2%… Yeah, you read that right. He can play for any team right now and help them on the perimeter. His shot selection is very smart despite his range. He is elite catch and shoot and also off the dribble. The main thing about him is he is very conscious about what he can do and understands what he cannot. He is developing as a defender and is learning to be more crafty on drives. His ball fake should be registered as a lethal weapon. He is an absolute flamethrower.
Devin Vassell: (6-7/195… PG-Florida State): This guy is going to be a really good role player in the league. His jump shot is horrendously ugly, but he is one of the best defenders in this draft. He can, despite his size, switch 1 through 5. He will absolutely thrive in good system. He is definitely a Spur-type. Video surfaced of his jump shot recently and it was… horrid to say the least. I don’t know if he was messing around in the video of not but the jump shot is laughably terrible looking. Regardless, he has a lot of heart and was exceptional at Florida State.
Don’t forget… we tend to find, especially recently, absolute gems that fall to the middle-late first round. Guys towards the bottom of this first 14 are undoubtedly going to be in that same conversation. I would much rather be in those slots as a drafter then being in the top 3. These are just the best 14 prospects in the draft for lottery purposes. There is, to me, a slight drop-off in some of these guys in the next bunch. The next crop are:
Excellent shot-creator. dymanic scorer with tons of tools.
Tenacious. Hustle guy with tons of defensive upside.
Guy is an absolute dog. Gym rat gym rat gym rat. Raw offensive ability. Steal of the draft. Heat guy.
Kira Lewis Jr.
Speedy Point guard who has the “it” factor. Excellent shot creator
Explosive play-making point guard who desperately needs to figure out his jump shot. Was top 5 prospect a few years ago
A lanky big who can shoot 3s? For some reason, GMs gobble this up
Vernon Carey Jr.
No longer 270, he has cut weight and is an elite back to the basket player who is a poised kid willing to learn.
Potential to be a really good 3 and D
This guy struggled at Washington but is the definition of potential. His ceiling is super high
High-level shooter with excellent pacing
Extremely high-character guy who runs the floor super well.
Another excellent passing forward. Stereotypical skills of good foreign prospects
Good PnR player. Currently being mentored by Tony Parker
Versatility on both ends
30 Aleksej Pokusevski 7-0/ 201 Olympiacos B C Top 3 potential. Do it all big
Here is a small list of few more guys who will be outside the first round, most likely, but can still impact a team:
Cassius Winston: You would be ridiculously insane to not want the greatest guard in Big 10 history on your team. Yeah… I said it. He is so easy to root for and was the heart and soul of Michigan State.
Killian Tillie: Okay this dude is literally Davis Bertans. He could help so many teams. I’m looking at you Danny Ainge.
I really really like Elijah Hughes. His game translates so easily
3 really good offensive veteran guards with leadership experience (Payton Pritchard, Markus Howard, Devon Dotson)
The 2 best defensive guards in the county (Tre Jones and Ashton Hagans)
Cassius Stanley is going to be good… eventually. He will be a project.
Dula: Over. I really like the direction the Atlanta Hawks are heading in. They are very young but also very talented. I expect second year guys, Trae Young and Kevin Huerter, to improve on their rookie campaign and I expect Atlanta’s two first round picks, DeAndre Hunter and Cam Reddish, to have an immediate impact. Atlanta will only improve for years to come.
Keehn: Under. Atlanta drafted well this year. Trae Young and John Collins are legitimate pros… on the offensive side of the ball. This team is far and away one of the most atrocious defensive teams in recent memory. Adding Hunter is a great addition for this and he will start at the 3 and play a lot. However, Young and Collins are so horrifically bad on defense that they will give up too many points for the fast-paced offense to match. They were both ranked number one at their position for worst defensive efficiency and most field goals given up.
Boston Celtics: 48.5 (-110/-110), 2018-19 wins: 49
Dula: Over. While the Celtics did lose Kyrie Irving, they gained Kemba Walker who I think can propel this team to 50 wins. Kyrie proved he could not be a system player as he did not fit in Brad Stevens’ system. Kemba was 2nd in the league in scoring when driving to the basket last year, behind only the MVP of the league, Giannis Antentokounmpo. Combine him with young stars like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown then add a little bit of Gordon Hayward and you’ve got a recipe for a contender. Boston also got who I believe will be the steal of the draft in Purdue’s Carsen Edwards who averaged more than 30 PPG in the NCAA tournament earlier this year.
Keehn: Over. Brad Stevens and the rest of the crew in bean town can finally breathe a sigh of relief with the departure of Kyrie Irving. Kemba Walker brings in a new vibe to the team. This team did take a strong hit defensively, adding Kanter and Walker who are both not as good as Horford/Kyrie/Baynes. However, they finished the preseason as the best defense on paper when it came to efficiencies. Jayson Tatum is ready to pop this season. He will finally begin to go to the basket and draw fouls and shoot more 3’s which will propel him to an all-star appearance. Gordon Hayward will look to get back to his normal self again. This team is trending in the right direction. If Stevens can mix and match lineups that work, their depth could propel them past 50 wins. Look for Carsen Edwards to be the steal of the draft.
Brooklyn Nets: 44.5 (-110/-110), 2018-19 wins: 42
Dula: Over. The Nets are a year away from being legitimate contenders when Kevin Durant comes back from his Achilles injury. This year will be a building block year with newly acquired Kyrie Irving leading the charge. The Nets also added a lot of depth this offseason with veterans like Garrett Temple, Wilson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan, and third-year player Taurean Prince. Caris LeVert was in the midst of a breakout year before dislocating his ankle last season, if he stays healthy this starting lineup is scary good.
Keehn: Over. This one really could go either way. If Kyrie stays healthy this season, all season, they should be more than okay to beat this total. Maybe now that DeAndre Jordan is playing with his friends he will show a small bit of effort. Last year was embarrassing for him and he looks to turn this around. If Atkinson can keep a hold of the personalities of this team, it will all work out. But if he starts to let the players dictate the show, it could get out of hand. Jarrett Allen should play more than Jordan. However, with Kyrie at the helm, he might demand otherwise. It will be interesting to see how the young Nets do with Uncle Drew at the helm. When healthy this team is loaded with talent. They are one year away (obviously).
Charlotte Hornets: 23.5 (-110/-110), 2018-19 wins: 39
Dula: Under. Kemba Walker single-handedly won games for Charlotte last season. Now, I don’t believe that he won an extrta 16 games for them, but he kept them in playoff contention until the end of the season. With no Walker, the Hornets’ starting backcourt includes two guards who would probably be backups on any other team with Rozier and Bacon. I expect a lottery pick from Charlotte in next year’s draft.
Keehn: Under. I have no comment on this team because they are by far the worst in the league. Jordan should be ashamed of the team he has put together. Giving Rozier that much money is ridiculous. This is going to get ugly. Maybe worst team in the league is a bit harsh but without Kemba, what can they even be?
Chicago Bulls: 30.5 (-134/+110), 2018-19 wins: 22
Dula: Over. The Chicago Bulls are only getting more experienced and Zach LaVine can hopefully play at least 70 games this year. The Bulls are also very deep at the guard position with Satoransky, LaVine, Dunn, and rookie Coby White. They also get Otto Porter Jr. for a full season and they added veteran, Thaddeus Young. Lauri Markkenen and Wendell Carter Jr. round out the frontcourt making Chicago a pretty decent team.
Keehn: Over. Don’t be surprised if Chicago makes a little bit of a playoff run at some point in the season. Zach Lowe put them as one of his preseason playoff teams, and I don’t blame him. If LaVine can stay healthy along with Lauri, they can be a fun team to watch. Wendell Carter and Coby White are prototypical guys with their sizes and skill-sets for the modern NBA. This team has so many young weapons and should surprise a lot of people this year.
Dula: Under. Outside of Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson, the Cavs are a rather young team with potential. Sexton and rookie Darius Garland could eventually be a dynamic backcourt and I think Dylan Windler will also be an impactful rookie. This team does have some bright spots but they still won’t be able to claw out of the hole LeBron left them in.
Keehn: Under. The Cavs are really bad. Kevin will be traded by December and they have an extremely young backcourt with Garland and Sexton. This team just doesn’t have enough to compete. They are going to need a lot of help if they are going to get above 20 wins.
Dula: Under. Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis are going to be a dominant scoring duo. I also believe that Doncic will be a top 3 player in the league in the near future. But for now, the Western Conference is too good for Dallas to reach a .500 record. That being said, the Mavs are not too far away from competing in the west.
Keehn: Under. There are actually quite a few people who have Dallas making the playoffs this year. This is quite bold considering Kristaps is coming off injury and Luka is is still so young. Outside of those two guys they really don’t have any play makers who have played in any big games. In fact, Luka and Kristaps haven’t played in big games either. This team will be good eventually. Look for them to be active at the trade deadline. They’ll get there eventually, but not this year.
Dula: Over. The Denver Nuggets come into the season with essentially the same roster as last year with the addition of Michael Porter Jr. who sat out all of last season after back surgery. The Nuggets have four guards who could be starters in the NBA with Gary Harris, Jamal Murray, Monte Morris, and Malik Beasley. Nikola Jokic is also arguably the best center in the league rounding out this very solid roster. The Nuggets should still be considered contenders despite the amount of offseason action in the Western Conference.
Keehn: Over. This team is going to finish as the number one seed in the West, and it’s not that bold to say. It isn’t even because of Michael Porter Jr coming back. This team is the most balanced team in the league with several matchups that work in their favor. Adding Jerami Grant was one of the best additions this offseason. This team is defensively poised, they are maturing, and they are ready to go deeper in the playoffs. Jokic is the best center in the league. He is absolutely someone you should consider throwing money on for MVP this year and he is a clear-cut top 5 fantasy player. He looks to lead this team to another great year.
Detroit Pistons: 37.5 (-134/+110), 2018-19 wins: 41
Dula: Over. The Pistons O/U being at 37.5 is kind of disrespectful if you ask me. The Pistons were a playoff team last year and entered the postseason with an injured Blake Griffin. Luke Kennard did a better than expected job filling in for Griffin and with the additions of Derrick Rose and BIG3 MVP Joe Johnson, I think the Pistons have a chance at making the playoffs again this season.
Keehn: Over. Ever so slightly over. Like, 38 or 39 wins kind of over. I actually like this O/U for them. The teams in the East who improved this year with their offseason additions and changes did more so then the Pistons did. D-Rose is obviously a great addition to any team but point guard really wasn’t this team’s problem. They got badly exposed on the wing on both sides of the ball and did nothing to get better at that position. The East teams who did improve all have dynamic wings who will be able to keep exploiting this. If Blake gets hurt like I expect him to at some point, they are in serious trouble. They’ll be a borderline playoff team but I don’t think they will be able to keep up with the other teams in a better (but still not great) Eastern Conference.
Golden State Warriors: 47.5 (-134/+110), 2018-19 wins: 57
Dula: Over. So they lost KD and Klay Thompson, but that doesn’t make them 10 games worse than they were last year. They still have Steph Curry who is in a position to put up MVP numbers and teams can’t shut him down like the Raptors did in the finals because D’Angelo Russell will take that defensive pressure off of him. Willie Cauley-Stein was an underrated acquisition at center and if they can figure out their small forward position, I expect the Warriors to thrive with a chip on their shoulder this season.
Keehn: Under. Part of me thinks that this team will just somehow magically get to 50+ wins just because they’re the Warriors. Adding Russell is very interesting but here’s a twist not a lot of people are thinking of. Russell is going to be one of the most talked about guys likely to get traded at the deadline than almost every player in the league besides Kevin Love. If the Warriors get a few picks and some solid players, that would be preparing them for the future. It doesn’t help when they have Omari Spellman and Alfonso McKinnie in their starting lineup and in the crunch time lineup with Curry and Draymond in the preseason. In a loaded Western Conference, those guys aren’t going to cut it. One thing is for sure: Steph is going to win the scoring title. The rest is up in the air for this team. With the uncertainty of Klay coming back, I have to under on this one. However if Klay were to have a similar timetable to Oladipo, I would switch to over very quickly.
Dula: Over. While this team is not very deep outside of backups, Tyson Chandler, Gerald Green, and Austin Rivers, the combination of Westbrook and Harden is going to be too powerful for most teams to handle. It still baffles me that Scott Brooks had those two guys and Kevin Durant and failed to win a championship but that’s another discussion. The Rockets will maintain their regular season dominance and achieve at least 53 wins this season.
Keehn: Over. A thousand times again… this will be over. This team is going to finish near the top of the West. I cannot believe people are excluding this team from their playoff projections. The amount of disrespect Russ gets around the league is laughable. Him and Harden are going to be an absolute nightmare for even the higher end defensive teams. Russ is still going to stuff the stats sheet, Harden is still going to put up MVP numbers, and the role players are going to do their thing. This team is going to WALK to 50 wins. Come on guys, is this real?
Dula: Over. While Oladipo won’t be healthy do start the season, if he comes back and is the same All-Star he was last season then the Pacers are a dangerous team. They are very deep and a backcourt consisting of Dipo and Malcom Brogdon is no joke. I expect a 50 win season from Nate McMillan and his squad.
Keehn: Under. The loss of Thaddeus Young and Bojan are huge for this team. With Oladipo’s return up in the air, his ideal complement, Brogdon, won’t be able to do the things he did with Milwaukee because the cast is nowhere near as good as the Bucks. The Pacers have a lot of talented individual guys, but being able to gel as a team and continually grow leading up to his return will be a big test for this team.
Los Angeles Clippers: 56.5 (-110/-110), 2018-19 wins: 48
Dula: Over. Doc Rivers was simply robbed of Coach of the Year last year. Now he gets the two best two-way players in the league with Paul George and Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. The Clippers return both of their Sixth Man of the Year nominees, Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell which shows how strong their bench is. This team will coast to the Conference Finals if healthy.
Keehn: Over. This is higher than I would have expected. 56 is quite high considering Paul George will miss the first 10 or so games. However, when healthy, this team is far and away the best in the league. The 2 best 2 way players in the league surrounded by veteran who is the best 6th man in the league, young stars who play their roles beautifully, a defensive pest as a point guard, and a championship head coach. That is the formula for winning if there ever was one.
Los Angeles Lakers: 51.5 (-110/-110), 2018-19 wins: 37
Dula: Over. Mising out on Kawhi Leonard was a blessing in disguise for the Lakers. Because of that, they were able add the necessary depth to their lineup. LeBron had the first serious injury of his career last year so we’ll see how his body holds up after logging over 46,000 regular season minutes in his career. A healthy Anthony Davis should take the pressure of LeBron though, making this team a favorite to win the west.
Keehn: Over. If Anthony Davis can stay healthy all year, this team will be so much fun to watch on defense. Anthony Davis is a clear-cut candidate to compete with Giannis for the MVP. LeBron still looks as sharp as ever. The guys around them are all defensively oriented. Davis, LeBron, Green, Bradley, and McGee is a downright scary defense. However, if one of LeBron or AD goes out for a long period of time, this team won’t have enough scoring to stay afloat and it could plummet quickly.
Dula: Over. I think it’s reasonable to say this team can reach 30 wins. With the additions of young talent like Ja Morant, Grayson Allen, Tyus Jones, and Brandon Clarke the future looks bright for Memphis but they will continue to rebuild for the next few years.
Keehn: Over. Not by much here. They are going to have to steal a lot of games from the East teams. Morant is ready to be the front-runner to win ROY (yes because he will play more minutes and get more volume than Zion). Jarren Jackson Jr. is going to be a force in this league really soon. It should be him this franchise builds around. They’ll get there eventually. Clarke is one of my favorite recent college players to come out of a draft. This team is built for the future. Slightly over here. Maybe they’ll get to 30 but over 30 would be a stretch.
Miami Heat: 42.5 (-110/-110), 2018-19 wins: 39
Dula: Over. Jimmy Butler is back in a situation where he is undoubtedly the star on his team. I’m expecting potential MVP numbers from him this season. He’s accompanied by Rookie of the Year candidate, Tyler Herro, who I haven’t even seen hit the rim on the shots he’s made throughout summer league and preseason so far. Spoelstra’s move of Justise Winslow to point guard last season should also continue to see its benefits.
Keehn: Over. The Heat got rid of the most lazy player in the league and added the least lazy player in the league. I would take that as a huge win. Jimmy Butler completely changes the Heat’s mindset to a “win now” one. If they can make an acquisition at the trade deadline for a Love, Griffin, or Russell, this team could be a real contender. Bam Adebayo, Justice Winslow, and Tyler Herro are great young pieces who will be used at length this year. Expect them to compete for a high seed in the East.
Dula: Under. Khris Middleton and Giannis are one of the NBA duos that nobody is talking about but they belong in the conversation with AD and Lebron, Russ and Harden, and PG and Kawhi. However, 57 wins is still a lot of wins and the east has gotten stronger despite losing Kawhi Leonard. That’s not to say they won’t get 55, but I’m not seeing 57 for the Bucks.
Keehn: Over. Watching Giannis in the preseason was incredibly hilarious. 27 points and 14 rebounds in 24 minutes of action was pretty consistent (ball-parking). He is the favorite to repeat as MVP. His jumper also took a HUGE step forward. It is far smoother and he is shooting it with more confidence. The team as a whole got worse but Giannis, somehow, got better. I like them to be the top seed in the East once again.
Dula: Under. Losing Derrick Rose hurts the Wolves. I expect Jarrett Culver to beat out Jake Layman for the starting job sooner rather than later but I still don’t think this team got any better in the offseason. Karl-Anthony Towns’ talent will be wasted for yet another season in Minnesota.
Keehn: Under. This is the season that is going to drive Towns out of town. Jarrett Culver is ranked as my second best rookie for the long-term. He is going to be a good 2 way NBA player for a long time. They lost Jones and Rose which is a big hit on load that Jeff Teague will have. This team did not get much better while the rest of the conference did. I expect Josh Okogie to take a jump this year.
New Orleans Pelicans: 38.5 (-112/-112), 2018-19 wins: 33
Dula: Over. There is no team in the NBA that I am more excited to watch than the Pelicans. They were a top 5 team in pace last season so what they did in the offseason was go out and get a bunch of athletic guys who can beat their guys up and down the floor. I cannot wait to see how they implement a transition offense with. And they will have an above average defense with guys like Lonzo Ball, Jrue Holiday, and Derrick Favors in the starting lineup. Not to mention, they had an excellent draft getting Zion Williamson, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and Jaxson Hayes. I don’t think it will happen, but I hope I see this team in the playoffs.
Keehn: Over. This is one of those where the number for this might have people shaking there heads, but it’s actually pretty good. I like them to win around 40 games this year and just missing the playoffs. This team will have a rare identity that isn’t really seen at any level of basketball these days: a young team with an exceptional defense. They will be a show in transition but it is their defense that will get people out of their seats. If Zion can stay healthy, get your popcorn ready.
New York Knicks: 27.5 (-122/+100), 2018-19 wins: 17
Dula: Under. I don’t think the Knicks are as bad as everyone has made them out to be. If Julius Randle can stay healthy, they can potentially be a 30 win team. But I just don’t think they are good enough to beat the teams they’ll be playing. Give RJ Barrett some time and let Kevin Knox get another year of NBA experience and they should be a decent team in a few years.
Keehn: Under. Before the preseason started, I would have thought about the over on this one. However, after watching some of their games I am going to have to take the under. Dula is right: they aren’t as bad as people think. It is clear that Fiz is running the team through Barrett and Randle this preseason. The problem is the team doesn’t really have an identity. With 4 of their 8 best players all being power forwards, it’s hard to have an identity with a lop-sided roster. Barrett is going to be a serious contender for rookie of the year, Knox will improve his all around game, and Mitchell Robinson will learn from his bad high school tendencies he had last year.
Oklahoma City Thunder: 33.5 (-110/-110), 2018-19 wins: 49
Dula: Under. OKC is in full rebuild mode this season, but with all the draft picks they attained this offseason I’d say they have a good foundation for what they want to build. I actually like their backcourt with Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and who doesn’t love Steven Adams? Still, this team won’t be able to compete this season.
Keehn: Under. As cool as this team is on paper, there is going to be some moves for this team. It can almost be guaranteed that this team will be different roster wise from beginning of the season to the end. Steven Adams will have a great year and Chris Paul will be a nice mentor for Shai Alexander who is one of my favorite young players in the league. They will be fun to watch, but won’t have enough firepower to compete with the elites in the west.
Orlando Magic: 40.5 (+110/-134), 2018-19 wins: 42
Dula: Under. The Magic didn’t get any worse this offseason, they just didn’t get any better. I was very surprised when Nikola Vucevic decided to remain with Orlando after testing the waters as a free agent, seeing how he is one of the best centers in the league who has nothing to show for it. The Magic selected Chuma Okeke in the first round of the draft this year which also made no sense to me so despite resigning Vucevic, the Magic had a below average offseason.
Keehn: Over. The Magic are going to be a force that nobody sees coming in the East this season. Ranked in the top 3 defensively the last 3 months of the season, this team is the real deal. Jon Isaac is my pick for most improved player this year. Fultz’s jumper is better, but it is still really odd. The Magic having him isn’t too much of a factor here. Aaron Gordon looks to be an all-star along side his extremely underrated big man, Nikola Vucevic is going to continue his monster campaign. I really like this team a lot.
Philadelphia 76ers: 53.5 (-134/+110), 2018-19 wins: 51
Dula: Under. The Sixers are one injury away from being just an average team. The lack of depth in Philly makes me want to take the under here. While Ben Simmons looks like he’s been working on his jumper in the offseason, and the Sixers signed Al Horford, I’m worried that one injury could exponentially set this team back. The Sixers were a much better team as whole last year (their starting 5 is among the best in the league but their depth last year made them better) and they only totaled 51 wins so it wouldn’t make sense to me to take the over here.
Keehn: Over. Their depth is a PROBLEM. Brett Brown played more than 10 guys off the bench in almost all of their preseason games to see who was going to put in. Strong campaigns from rookie Matisse Thybulle, Mike Scott, and a few others. Those guys are not nearly enough to fill the shoes of an injury prone, but loaded, starting 5 of Philly. Their 5, when healthy, is the best in the league. I want to take the under here, but I am going to make the bold assumption that this team can actually stay healthy for once. If they do, they will be a regular season dream. However, when it comes to crunch time in a playoff series, they could be in trouble, especially with the lack of durability of Embiid and the age of Al Horford.
Phoenix Suns: 27.5 (+100/-121), 2018-19 wins: 19
Dula: Under. My heart wants to say over but it’s the Suns. They have been the laughing stock of the league for the last five years and I just won’t believe they’ll win 30 games until I see it. They do have a lot of solid players like Rubio, Ayton, Tyler Johnson, Mikal Bridges, and Devin Booker, but I still don’t think it’s enough to get them to 30 wins which is a mark they haven’t reached since the 2014-15 season.
Keehn: Under. This team is so bad. Devin Booker will always be a good player on a bad team. He is a great fantasy option but really has to take over this year if he wants to help this team get anywhere. It is a lot of talented guys playing together with no real identity. Mikal Bridges and Ayton look to have big years for Phoenix.
Dula: Under. Dame and CJ will continue to be one of the best backcourts in the NBA but the frontcourt is what worries me with the Blazers this season. I really don’t like Zach Collins as a starter and there is no timetable for Jusuf Nurkic’s return. Even if Nurkic comes back healthy, it could be too late to give the Blazers another 50 win season.
Keehn: Over. This is a very different team for the Blazers. They sub in two long, athletic, defensive-minded wings for two above average shooting ones. They get Hassan Whiteside, an expiring contract, which will be huge in their negotiations for a “win now” guy at the deadline. They can flip Whiteside’s expiring for a Griffin or Love with Nurkic coming back. Each of the past 5 years the Blazers always project in the bottom of the playoff picture and always finish better. I trust Damian Lillard, not only because he is my favorite player in the league, but because he can lead a team in a loaded western conference. This team has a winning formula and can still be very talented in the West.
Dula: Over. The Kings are not too far away from being in the top tier in the west. The top tier meaning the seven teams who should be locks to make the playoffs but the Kings should fight for an 8-seed this year. Bagley, Barnes, Hield, Fox, and potential Most Improved Player, Bogdan Bogdanovic, make up a solid roster that shouldn’t be slept on.
Keehn: Over. It’s crazy because when I say the over on this one, I’m guessing 39 wins, the same they had last year. I like this young team a lot. Buddy is an elite shooter. He is in the tier of shooters just below Klay and Steph. Bagley looks to take the leap this year and De’Aaron Fox is ready to enter a high level tier of NBA point guards. He is going to have a huge year for the Kings. However, the conference is loaded and I still expect them to be in the hunt for the 8 seed.
San Antonio Spurs: 46.5 (-110/-110), 2018-19 wins: 48
Dula: Over. I will never bet against Popovich. Even if this team was depleted and they didn’t have guys like Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan accompanied by Derrick White and the return of Dejounte Murray, I still would not take the under with Popovich coaching this team. This team also has depth with DeMarre Caroll, Patty Mills, Lonnie Walker IV, Trey Lyles, and Rudy Gay coming off the bench. The Spurs are a lock for 50 wins this season.
Keehn. Under. Dejounte Murray is really good. the injury to him last year was really unfortunate. The Spurs always find a way to hang around and be relevant in the post-Kawhi era. However, I feel as though the conference as a whole got better and the Spurs did not get much better. They have a lot of minutes distributions they have to figure out. This is probably the first time ever I would have hit the under on Pop. What has happened to me?
Toronto Raptors: 46.5 (-121/+100), 2018-19 wins: 58
Dula: Under. The Raptors won’t sniff the second overall seed in the east like they did last year. Losing Kawhi won’t have the same effect losing LeBron had on Cleveland, but Toronto is by no means a contender. I expect Fred VanVleet to come back down to earth from his extraordinary playoff run while Siakam will continue to emerge as a star. Not all is lost for Toronto and they can still sneak into the playoffs but a repeat is very far out of the question.
Keehn: Over. The Raptors are a very interesting team. They just gave Lowry his money for his years of service there. The Raptors are the number one team to move their own pieces at the deadline. Pascal Siakm is ready for a big year. The majority of this team is back and even without Kawhi, they are still a good basketball team in the East. They’ll finish with anywhere around 45-49 wins… IF… big if, they keep their team in tact. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if they moved Gasol at the deadline. OG coming back is bigger for this team than people think. Dula and I have disagreed on this one ever since Kawhi announced he was leaving. This’ll be a fun one for us to watch throughout the year.
Utah Jazz: 53.5 (-110/-110), 2018-19 wins: 50
Dula: Over. The Jazz could be the best defensive team in the NBA with their starting lineup including Mike Conley, Joe Ingles, and Rudy Gobert. Not to mention they have Ed Davis coming off the bench who shut down Joel Embiid in the playoffs last season before he left the series with an injury. While everyone is talking about the flashy teams like the Lakers, Clippers, and Rockets, the Jazz are getting lost in the contender conversation.
Keehn: Under. The Jazz are picked by a lot of people to be in that top 3 range right behind the Lakers and Clippers. They had an amazing offseason and their team definitely got a lot better. They finally have a playoff experienced guy who can help them out in those big game situations when they need a play maker or a quick bucket. Mitchell is ready for a big pop this year and they look extremely good on paper. However, I really think the Lakers, Clippers, Nuggets, Rockets, and Blazers are all better than them. For that reason, I think they might be a tad overrated. Gobert will repeat as DPOY that’s for sure.
Washington Wizards: 27.5 (+100/-122), 2018-19 wins: 32
Dula: Under. I truly believe the WIzards will be the worst team in the NBA this season. Despite Beal’s extension, I am not ruling out a trade to send Beal elsewhere through his own request. Although, I really like rookie Rui Hachimura who I think has a legitimate chance at winning Rookie of the Year because of the amount of minutes he will get on this very bad team. Hachimura is also a good all around player on both sides of the ball. So I really don’t like the Wizards this season but I love Hachimura.
Keehn: Under. This team is going to be so bad. It’s such a shame because Bradley Beal is such a good player. He is a popular pick to get traded at the deadline, despite him signing an extension. Rui Hachimura is a guy who I thought could have easily been a top 5 pick. Bryant is emerging a little bit. But unfortunately, they have nowhere near enough fire power.
You know the drill, here’s what we got for our second edition of our weekly takes around the world of sports.
As much as I would love to talk about all the things that happened across the NFL this week like Daniel Jones, or Melvin Gordon, or how I lost in fantasy this week by .34 points, I cannot. This is because something so blasphemous happened that I can’t not comment on it. In the span of five days, what I’m about to say somehow went from common knowledge to an extremely bold take:
LaMelo Ball is not a top 5 pick in the NBA draft.
Look, don’t get me wrong, the dude can play. I’m not on the train that hates the Ball family because of LaVar. I am actually a huge fan of Lonzo and think he is top 5 in the league in basketball IQ; but that’s for another day. Givony, whom I really like, recently came out with his mock draft for next year and has LaMelo going third. He is behind James Wiseman who many, not me, consider to be the best player in the class and Anthony Edwards, who is probably the best or second best player in the class. But here’s the thing that was the driving force behind me making the take this week: LaMelo is ranked AHEAD of Cole Anthony. In no world is LaMelo Ball better than/should be drafted ahead of Cole Anthony. Coming from a guy who watches a lot of ACC basketball, Cole Anthony will be the best guard in the conference in the past 5 years, and maybe even the whole decade. The dude averaged 18 points, 9.8 rebounds, 9.5 assists, and 2.3 steals…. while playing ONLY 22 minutes a game and playing against the top competition in the country. Wow. Seriously, if you haven’t watched this kid play in a full game you better because this dude is going to be an undoubted All-American in the ACC this year.
I think LaMelo is going to be a good NBA player, don’t get me wrong. But the guys who were ranked ahead of him before were there for a reason. After just a few games in Australia, this man jumped double digit spots in mock drafts to number 3. Just because he can dance around these Australian big guys because they come over the screen every time doesn’t mean he should be drafted ahead of the best high school guard I’ve ever seen in my life (that could be a take in and of itself).
Side note: an NBA scout, who somehow still has a job after this, said that LaMelo… wait I don’t want to get this wrong… “reminds me of Luka Doncic”. The best rookie we’ve seen this decade? Maybe ever? I don’t think so. Luka won the MVP as a teenager in the second best basketball league in the world. LaMelo just started playing last week in Australia. Australia’s professional league isn’t even top 5 in the world. Heck, I don’t even know if it cracks the top 10! Am I missing something? Help me out fellas.
Dula’s Reaction: I do believe that out of all of the Ball brothers, LaMelo is the best and will probably be the most successful in the NBA. Although don’t quote me on that yet because I think Lonzo transitioning to a small market team will benefit his career tremendously. Currently the question about LaMelo isn’t if he will be a top 5 pick but the question is does he deserve to be a top 5 pick? Looking at it from a business standpoint, it makes a whole lot of sense to draft this kid in the top 5. He will sell tickets. The Ball family, (mostly LaVar) really know how to market themselves and we have been talking about LaMelo since 2016 when Lonzo began his freshman season at UCLA. One of many reasons Zion Williamson was selected first overall this year was because of his marketability. He will provide increased ticket sales and jersey sales for the New Orleans Pelicans. LaMelo will absolutely help a team bring in more revenue.
From a basketball standpoint, it’s hard to say that LaMelo deserves to land in the top 5 of the 2020 NBA Draft. It’s not that he’s not good, it’s just that the players ahead of him are better. Also, he is nowhere near Luka Doncic. Luka had a better rookie season than LeBron James and I don’t expect to see a rookie season like his again in quite some time. That being said, LaMelo Ball will likely land in the top 10 of the NBA Draft if not the top 5. Cole Anthony will probably jump LaMelo in the mock drafts a month or two into the season which would drop LaMelo to either 4 or 5. So I do truly believe he will land inside the top 5 because he will continue his production in the NBL giving analysts and scouts no reason to believe he is not worthy of a top 5 pick. I’ll have to separate my stances on this one.
LaMelo Ball is not a top 5 pick in the NBA Draft: Cold
LaMelo Ball does not deserve to be a top 5 pick in the NBA Draft:As bold as taking a bar exam without studying.
Bryce’s Reaction: LaMelo is definetly a good basketball player- probably one of the higher level scorers at the guard position in this upcoming draft class. However, there is NO WAY he should ever be ranked or drafted over Cole Anthony. In just about every aspect, Cole is a better player. Aside from talent- have we really seen LaMelo play high level opponents? Has he played anyone in his Lithuanian, NBL, and JBA stints that is at an NBA level? Not really. Sure, NBA GMs will sometimes look to draft players based on talent AND business profits, and sure LaMelo will definitely sell jerseys and tickets. But is he really going to succeed in the NBA? How long will the business profits last? And, most important, is it worth taking the risk on a kid who has bounced around different teams as a high schooler and “professional” overseas TOP FIVE? I know I wouldn’t take that sort of risk.
LaMelo in the Top 3/5: COLD COLD COLD
Two of my favorite words in all of sports is, “October Baseball.” After waiting a long 162 games we will be presented with the great gift of the MLB playoffs. Will we see a rematch of the 2017 World Series between the Astros and Dodgers? Will the Yankees win their 28th ring? Will a talented small market team like the Atlanta Braves ride their hot streak to their first title in 23 years? So many questions will be answered very soon. But back to my first question about the Astros and Dodgers. Will we see a rematch? My answer is no. Because this is my take:
The Dodgers will be eliminated in the NLDS.
“Dula, you can’t be serious. The Dodgers have dominated the National League all year. Surely they will represent the National League in the World Series.” That is where you’re wrong, my friends. Sure, the Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw and Cy Young candidate Hyun-Jin Ryu. Of course they have the likely NL MVP in Cody Bellinger. This team is stacked. How could they possibly lose? Insert: The Washington Nationals. If the Washington Nationals can win the Wild Card game then it is bad news for Los Angeles.
The Dodgers and the Nationals faced each other six times this season with the Dodgers winning the season series 4-2. The pitchers for the nationals in their four losses were; Anibal Sanchez in May, Stephen Strasburg in May (who only surrendered 2 earned runs that game), Anibal Sanchez again in July (who only gave up 1 earned run in a 4-2 loss), and Joe Ross in July. The Dodgers have yet to face Patrick Corbin and they have yet to beat Max Scherzer. Anibal Sanchez in May is completely different than Anibal Sanchez in September. He is 7-2 in his last 15 starts after beginning the season 4-6. So although the Dodgers won that series back in May, they beat a struggling Nationals team that was nowhere near as red hot as they are now. It is unlikely Sanchez will be a scheduled starter in the NLDS but that’s because with Scherzer likely starting the Wild Card game, the Dodgers will probably face Strasburg in Game 1, Corbin in Game 2, and Scherzer in Game 3. There is no team in baseball that will want to face that rotation in the postseason. Also, consider Scherzer at home for Game 3 a lock for the Nationals.
The Nationals also have their very own MVP candidate in Anthony Rendon who leads all of baseball with 124 RBI and is 3rd in the National League in batting average with a solid .322. To add on the that, he is 4th in on base percentage, 5th in slugging, 6th in OPS, and 7th in runs scored in the entire MLB. While Cody Bellinger has been getting all the attention out in LA, Rendon has quietly been one of the best players in baseball this year.
If the Nationals beat the Brewers in the NL Wild Card game then my prediction for a Dodgers vs. Nationals series is the Nationals advancing after they win the series 3 games to 1.
Keehn’s Reaction: October baseball. What an amazing time to be alive. Except for “Game 7”, I think it’s the best phrase in all of sports. I’m going to right ahead here and already say this take is piping hot. I think Juan Soto is among the best young talent in all of baseball and Rendon has been an absolute phenom at the plate. The Dodgers could be getting complacent with where they are. On top of that, we’d probably get two games of Strasburg if the series were to five (assuming Scherzer throws the wild card game and comes back for game 3). Although I think we’re both ready to ride the Braves this year, I would highly consider taking these nationals over the Dodgers. This could be one of the most wild postseasons in recent memory, and the nationals could not only sneak the Dodgers, but potentially win the NL. Look for Soto to have a monster playoff run. Side note, shout out Sean Doolittle. Family friend of mine and he’s a stud. Scalding hottake.
Bryce’s Reaction: As a baseball illiterate guy, I’m gonna have to stay neutral here and stick to football/basketball. LOL.
Today I received a VERY interesting Adam Schefter scoop on my phone.. Patrick Mahomes is projected to get paid at least 40 MILLION DOLLARS A YEAR. Let’s discuss.
Listen, this is NOT a knock on Mahomes- he is superbly talented and deserves a nice paycheck for his performance last season and again so far this year. However, 40 million a year is absolutely absurd. That sort of cap hit limits the Chiefs tremendously. How do they plan to extend Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce? Or how are they supposed to build up their defense (which is currently ranked 24th in the NFL overall)? To put it lightly, THEY COULDN’T.
If they want to put all of their money into him, then so be it- I’m sure all the other AFC contenders would love it. However, look at all the other greats at QB who won super bowls. Brady & Manning both took pay cuts, year after year, in order for the GM to be in a spot to build the team around them. So why would KC spend that much money on just one player out of the entire 53 man roster?
Mahomes, without a question, is a generational talent. He had an incredible first season- winning MVP and leading the Chiefs to the AFC championship game. However, this sort of pay day would hinder their chances at building and maintaining their contention in the AFC.
Keehn’s Reaction: I think Mahomes really has surpassed Donald as the best player in the league. This dude is the real deal. They did just recently extend Hill for 3 more years. But seeing this model of a good quarterback taking pay cuts to better the team, I’m gonna agree on this one. 40 million a year would be a lot of money and I know he’s already making a ton with endorsements. He seems like the kind of guy who’d take a cut… right? If the Chiefs start putting up some money for the defense, it could be their turn to take the throne once Bill and Brady retire. I love Mahomes (who doesn’t), but 40 million a year is too much. Stance: Hot
Dula’s Reaction: Patrick Mahomes is probably the best quarterback in the NFL and he is showing no signs of slowing down. He could be the best quarterback in the league for years to come. So I can understand why Kansas City would want to pay him $40 million a year. He’s a generational talent that will have the team in Super Bowl discussions year in and year out. Recently in the NFL, we’ve seen multiple players break the record for highest paid player at their position. There are many different factors that go into how or why these players have become the highest paid players but if you look at the teams paying these players, not many of them have won championships. Therefore, Mahomes should follow the footsteps of Brady and Manning by taking a pay cut.
Mahomes is already making money from endorsements and they are just going to keep coming. The reason these players are the some of the best athletes in the world is their competitive edge, not their greediness. Paying Mahomes this absurd amount of money will tie Kansas City’s hands together and they will not be able to extend their key players or sign any notable free agents in the coming years. Now, that does not mean Mahomes does not deserve to be the highest paid quarterback but we all know he does not need the price tag to prove that he is the best.
My Stance: As bold as asking your hot boss out to dinner.
P.S. I will have to respectfully disagree with Keehn’s take that Mahomes is better than Aaron Donald. That is a cold take to be discussed at a later date.
If you‘re looking to avenge the fantasy football-sized hole in your pocket, you’ve come to the right place. With several elite duos, few title contenders, and several young stars poised for a breakout, this NBA season could get crazy. With this in mind, here’s a little guide to the top 150 fantasy basketball players for the 2019-2020 season.
Credit: Blazer’s Edge
Keep in mind that this is NOT a list of the top 150 players in the NBA. This is based on prior seasons, injury consideration, volume, percentages, and more. Rankings based off of H2H points format.
Stat projections in order of Points, Rebounds, Assists
Anthony Davis (LAL/PF1): When fully healthy, AD is the clear-cut number one pick. Now that he finally got his wish to leave New Orleans, he is ready to dominate. With his heart actually in the game, saying he’s a guaranteed double double is an understatement. If he stays healthy, he is my favorite to win MVP. He recently talked about how he wanted to really focus on winning DPOY. Watch out. This only assures me more of his potential MVP run this year. He’ll be focused on both ends of the floor. He knows he is a legitimate title contender for the first time in his career and is BY FAR the most talented player LeBron has ever played with. All of this on top of the fact that he is the most talented power forward I’ve ever seen and maybe the most pure talented power forward ever. There is, however, the risk of taking him because of his injury history. Yes it is a valid argument but the risk is very worth the reward. Look for AD to have a monster year on both sides of the ball. Stat Projection: 27, 12, 4
Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL/SF1,PF2): Although I vouch for AD at 1, Giannis is never a bad pick there either. The reigning MVP will continue to dominate the East night in and night out. He is bigger, faster, and stronger than last year and has really worked on his jump shot. After winning 60 games, he had a tough loss in the East finals to the Raptors. He will be looking to avenge that night in and night out. He is clutch down the stretch, has huge stat jumps in big games, and is one of the best overall people in the entire league. He can, and will, be in the MVP race once again. What’s not to love about the Greek Freak? Stat Projection:27, 11, 6
James Harden (HOU/SG1): I am very confused as to why James Harden has fallen out of the top 5 of a lot of rankings. James Harden (with Durant sidelined and LeBron getting older) is still the best one on one offensive player in the league. In fact, having Russ will help his efficiency go up because now defenses can’t triple team when he catches the ball anymore. Harden has put up historic numbers. He went a stretch of 20 games averaging over 40. He averaged over 30 for more than 30 games. Not only did he just score, he still got his rebounds (6.6 per game) and assists (7.5 per game). Now that he has Russ (another guy who gets a lot of hate), his efficiency will go up and he will continue to get similar numbers. Taking him number 1 also would not be a bad move at all. Stat Projection: 33, 5, 8
Nikola Jokic (DEN/C1): If Anthony Davis gets hurt this year or under-performs, this dude is all lined up to win the MVP. He was 3 assists shy of averaging a triple double… as a center… think about that. He turned it up even higher once he got to the playoffs. His actual per game numbers went up but it was the percentages that were even more impressive. Through 14 playoff games he was a near 50-40-90 guy (50% field goal, 40% on 3’s, and 90% free throws). He missed it by 8% at the line but he was a 50-40-90 through 10 games. That is a pretty good sample size too. It’s not like he just went nuts for 4 games and got eliminated. They were the 1 seed for most of the season before getting bounced by Portland. All of the qualifications for MVP will be there for Jokic. His team will be top 5 in the west, he stuffs the stat sheet, and the team is significantly better with him on the floor. If you can get him at 7, that’s an absolute steal. Stat Projection: 22, 12, 8
Russell Westbrook (HOU/PG1): So many of these rankings I’ve been seeing have Russ outside the top 10. Is this some kind of bad joke? Worried about the two most ball dominant guys in the league being on the same team? Don’t. Even when Harden and Russ played with KD in OKC, Russ still averaged 24, 6, and 5. He has been a top 5 fantasy player for the past 5 years and will not slow down any time soon. Still worried about him playing alongside an MVP candidate? He already did it last year with Paul George… and he still finished as one of the top fantasy players. So if he falls to you at the back end of your first round, you should scream with happiness… and then find smarter friends. STOP THE RUSS HATE. Stat Projection: 23, 11, 8
Karl-Anthony Towns: (MIN/C2): KAT is and will continue to be the top dog in Minnesota. With Jimmy Butler completely gone, KAT will have a ridiculous amount of volume. With their second best player being one of the biggest enigmas in NBA history in Andrew Wiggins, KAT will dominate on both sides of the ball. After Jimmy was traded to Philly, his points sky-rocketed. He will continue to dominate because of his volume and raw talent. Stat Projection: 25, 13, 3
LeBron James (LAL/SF1): Last year I fell into the trap of being on the “he’s getting a little too old to be playing at his normal high level” train. But, of course, LeBron played at one of the highest levels of his career. Before he got hurt, he was one of the top fantasy options. If he can stay healthy this year, him and AD will both blow up. LeBron can’t not be a top 10 guy this year… right? Stat Projection: 24, 7, 8
Stephen Curry (GSW/PG2): With Durant gone and Klay Thompson out for most of the year, look for Curry to continue his consistency but with more volume. The chemistry with De’Angelo Russell will take some time to get used to. So look for Curry to have a more-than-usual stat stuffer season. If Golden State is going to prevail in the West, they have to rely heavily on Curry to score 30+ and put up an MVP season. Luckily for Golden State, their franchise player is more than capable. Stat Projection:29, 5, 6
Kyrie Irving (BKN/PG3): A lot of rankings have Kyrie around the 15-19 mark. Kyrie will have a crazy amount of volume with the Nets this year. He and their two bigs will dominate the pick and roll. He will have elite shooters to throw the ball to in Dinwiddie and Joe Harris on the wing and another play-maker to slightly take the load off of him in Caris LeVert. With KD more than likely to miss the season, Kyrie is going to absolutely stuff the stat sheet this year. Despite his chemistry issues in Boston, he was highly efficient. In fact, it was the most efficient he’s ever been. Look for him to continue with that, but be playing in a place he actually wants to be. If you can get him anywhere past the 12 spot, it would be a big victory for your team. Stat Projections: 26, 5, 7
Joel Embiid (PHI/C3): Obviously, the injury concern with Embiid is the only blemish here. He improved on his total games played last year. However, keep in mind that Philly is going to be VERY good. Far better than last year. Towards the end of their season, Embiid will get a good amount of rest…the time that perfectly correlates with fantasy playoffs. Keep that in mind. However, he will dominate all bigs in the East this year. Considering the only person who could guard him now plays beside him, he will have a clear path to another All NBA selection. Draft with caution but still draft him (obviously). Stat Projection:27, 13, 3
Andre Drummond (DET/C4): Andre Drummond is a MUST HAVE. He is so underrated. He has improved his free throws, handles, and jumper (even though he shouldn’t take them). He will continue to be at a high level with D Rose and Blake by his side. The only fantasy flaw he really has is his free throw percentage (which will go up). But he is a guaranteed double double and should be a top priority in your draft. Stat Projection: 17, 15, 2
Nikola Vucevic (ORL/C5): Another must-have. Vucevic just signed a big extension with the Magic and will continue to be their number one option on offense. If you’re playing with the casual basketball fan, he will fall to you. He could very well crack the top 10 fantasy rankings by the end of the year. With Orlando being one of the best defensive teams in the East, look for Vucevic to dominate night in and night out. If you’re in a 12 team league, look possibly pair Drummond and Vuc and be set for the whole season on bigs. Stat Projection: 22, 13, 5
Paul George (LAC/SF2): Coming off of an all NBA year and the 3rd place finisher for MVP, PG13 looks to be more of a title contender than ever before. In my life time, the two best two-way players in the league haven’t been on the same team… until now. It will be extremely interesting to see how his, as well as Kawhi’s, offensive stats play out with the amount of talent they have around them. His shoulder injury should be noted but also not worried about too much. He played through a partially torn tendon in his shooting shoulder so if he could do that, he’ll recover just fine. Look for George and Kawhi both to be taken a little bit higher than they probably should. Especially since they have the most talented team in the league when healthy. Stat Projection: 26, 7, 4
Damian Lillard (POR/PG4): Let me preface by saying this… I really wish I could put him higher. Why don’t more people want to play with this dude? He has the heart of a champion, is loyal, unselfish, lets his game do the talking, and does everything right on and off the court. Like why aren’t more guys wanting to play with this dude? He deserves an elite running mate. Imagine if a guy like him and Jokic joined forces? Sheesh. Anyway, enough about my love for him. He will never not be a bad pick in fantasy. He is usually pretty steady when it comes to his per-game stats but I think his assist numbers might go up this year. He still has his running mate at the 2 guard, a Hassan Whiteside who actually seems like he’ll give effort this year, and more wing shooters than they did last year. Insert Kent Bazemore and Rodney Hood and you got yourself more Dame assists. Side note… watch out for Anfernee Simmons. That dude it legit…and he is coming, trust me. Look for Dame to have another all NBA year and Portland to be right in the mix in a gauntlet Western Conference. Stat Projection: 26, 9, 4
Kawhi Leonard (LAC/SF3): In one of the craziest LeBron-esque playoff runs in recent memory, reigning finals MVP Kawhi Leonard looks to show everyone why he should be the number one player in the world. He was unconscious throughout the playoffs and, what nobody seems to talk about, did it while being seriously bothered by his leg. Seriously, go back and watch the tape… the dude was literally limping around the floor practically every game from the 3rd quarter on. He is the best two-way player in the world but he will need his load management. He has gotten it every year so far and it will be no different this year. He plays every game during the NBA playoffs (of course) but will take load management games off during fantasy playoffs and throughout the season. Now, he won’t miss half the games or something crazy like that but it is something to think about when drafting him. I am, as mentioned before, unsure as to how him and PG will disperse the offensive load given how good the Clippers will be on both sides of the ball. Stat Projection: 24, 7, 5
Ben Simmons (PHI/PG5): The ultimate stat stuffer, Simmons will be able to pass to whoever he wants, whenever he wants. The Sixers have the best starting 5 in the league and his numbers will be extravagant once again. This is a guy who is worth the reach in all leagues. If these videos of him shooting 3’s are legit and he can translate it to games, this could be a heck of a year for Philly. However, it isn’t that simple. Ben will shoot more of them this year for sure but he will miss a heck of a lot more than he makes. With this in mind, his percentages will get lower because of the -1 for each missed shot. Regardless, he is one of the few elite all around stat stuffers in all of basketball and should be taken probably even higher than I have him ranked. Stat Projection: 16, 9, 9.
Bradley Beal (WAS/SG2): Talk about a guy who will continue to get a lot of volume. After being snubbed of All NBA honors, Beal is looking to show everyone why he is one of the best 25 guys in the league. With Thomas Bryant emerging and rookie Rui Hachimura looking to get a lot of reps, look for Beal to take control night in and night out. He will take, and make, a lot of shots for this team. With John Wall’s future still up in the air, Brad Beal is a great back end second round guy who will play the entire season. After playing all 82 games in back-to-back years, look for him to be one of those high volume guys for your team. Stat Projection: 26, 4, 5
Jimmy Butler (MIA/SF4): The number one guy in Miami, Jimmy should go back to his stats in his Chicago days of 20+ points, 5+ rebounds, and 4+ assists. He is playing with a group of young Heat players whom he will grow fond of very quickly. Jimmy is probably going to be the happiest he ever has been playing basketball. He will be their undoubted leader and will show the young guys the grit and toughness they need to get better. You’d be in good shape if you can couple one of the top 5 guys with him at the back end of the 2nd round. Stat Projection: 23, 5, 5
Julius Randle (NYK/PF3): So you thought this would be Zion Williamson right? Wrong…. very wrong. Julius Randle is going to absolutely dominate this year. After being a consistent double double guy last year and now being the undoubted number 1 guy in New York, Randle is going to put potential Kevin Love T-Wolves-esque numbers. Okay… maybe we’re not there yet. But he is still going to play a lot of minutes and take a lot of shots. That young core of Mitchell Robinson, Kevin Knox, and RJ Barrett will be fun to watch play alongside Randle. He will lead the team in scoring and is an excellent option. He will more than likely fall to the 3rd round so keep that in mind. Look to get him at value. If you’re a betting gal/guy, you could throw money on him to win the MVP. Total dark horse but hey… who knows? Stat Projections: 23, 10, 4
Deandre Ayton (PHO/C6): Bigs are so valuable in H2H formats. Because he played in Phoenix during his rookie year, he didn’t get a whole lot of recognition (partly because of how unreal Luka was). However, he definitely should. This dude will be playing a lot of minutes on a really bad team. Him and Booker will get the freedom to shoot their shots. He was a steal in last years fantasy drafts and he will be available in 3rd or maybe even 4th round this year. Stat Projection: 18, 12, 2
Rudy Gobert (UTA/C7): There’s always those consistent guys that you rub your hands together and take a sigh of relief when they fall to you; Rudy Gobert is that guy. You know exactly what you are going to get. He is a night in and night out double double and an elite rim protector. A guy who would be much higher in roto formats, Gobert looks to take a rejuvenated Jazz team for a deep playoff run. Ol’ reliable is never a bad pick. Stat Projection: 15, 13, 2
Blake Griffin (DET/PF4): Even here he might be too low. Coming off probably the best year of his career, Blake looks to continue his all NBA performance into this season. Him and Drummond will continue to lead a middle-low end team in the east. He will be their clear-cut number one guy on offense and, barring any injury, should produce at a high level once again. Stat Projection: 23, 7, 3
Kemba Walker (BOS/PG6): Can we all agree that we are hyped for Kemba that he is finally out of that nightmare that is the Charlotte Hornets? Although he is not quite the basketball player Kyrie is, he fits Brad Stevens system very well. As we all know, scoring point guards do very well in the system. With Tatum ready for a breakout year and Gordon Hayward ready to be his normal self, Kemba will flourish in Boston. Potentially, his assist numbers can and will go up. Look for Kemba to be VERY under the radar in most drafts. ESPN has him ranked at 37 right now (isn’t that crazy?) Stat projection: 22, 8, 3
Kevin Love (CLE/C8): Kevin Love has a rookie and a sophomore in his backcourt. He is the best player on a bad team and it’s not even close. If he can stay healthy, he’ll be a night in and night out double-double guy. He could very well finish in the top 15 if he plays enough games. Love has a very good history when he is the number one option. Just go look at his numbers in Minnesota (which seems like forever ago) and last year when he came back from injury. Stat Projection: 18, 11, 2
LaMarcus Aldridge (SAS/PF5): The Spurs are in a tough situation. They have Murray coming back (which is great). However, the chemistry will take some time and by the time they figure things out, they’ll be a first round exit yet again (although they gave Denver a run for their money). One thing is for sure: Aldridge will keep doing his thing. He is a consistent double double guy. The only reason he isn’t higher is because I always have injury worries with him. Another consistent big to target later in round 3 or early round 4. Stat Projections: 20, 9, 2
Zach LaVine (CHI/SG3)
Draymond Green (GSW/PF6)
Luka Doncic (DAL/SG4)
DeMar DeRozan (SAS/SG5)
Devin Booker (PHO/SG6)
Clint Capela (HOU/C9)
Pascal Siakam (TOR/PF7)
Chris Paul (OKC/PG7)
Domantas Sabonis (IND/PF8)
Jrue Holiday (NOLA/PG8)
Trae Young (ATL/PG9)
John Collins (ATL/PF9)
Steven Adams (OKC/C10)
De’Aaron Fox (SAC/PG10)
DeAndre Jordan (BKN/C11)
Hassan Whiteside (POR/C12)
Kyle Lowry (TOR/PG11)
Marc Gasol (TOR/C13)
Mike Conley (UTA/PG12)
Tobias Harris (PHI/SF5)
Khris Middleton (MIL/SF6)
Al Horford (PHI/PF10)
Ja Morant (MEM/PG13)
Donovan Mitchell (UTA/SG7)
Jayson Tatum (BOS/SF7)
Danilo Gallinari (OKC/SF8)
RJ Barrett (NYK/SG8)
Zion Williamson (NOLA/PF11)
Lauri Markkanen (CHI/SF9)
De’Angelo Russell (GSW/PG14)
Marvin Bagley III (SAC/PF12)
Jaren Jackson Jr. (MEM/PF13)
Willie Cauley-Stein (GSW/C14)
CJ McCollum (POR/SG9)
Kristaps Porzingis (DAL/PF14)
Aaron Gordon (ORL/PF15)
Montrezl Harrell (LAC/C15)
Jamal Murray (DEN/ PG15)
Wendell Carter Jr. (CHI/PF16)
Eric Bledsoe (MIL/PG16)
Myles Turner (IND/C16)
Serge Ibaka (TOR/PF17)
Jonas Valanciunas (MEM/C17)
Buddy Hield (SAC/SG11)
Malcolm Brogdon (IND/SG10)
Jusuf Nurkic (POR/C18)
Victor Oladipo (IND/SG11)
Enes Kanter (BOS/C19)
Bam Adebayo (MIA/C20)
Jarrett Allen (BKN/C21)
Paul Millsap (DEN/PF18)
Derrick Rose (DET/PG17)
Otto Porter Jr. (CHI/SF10)
Terry Rozier (CHA/PG18)
Tristan Thompson (CLE/C22)
Lou Williams (LAC/SG12)
Kyle Kuzma (LAL/PF19)
Caris LeVert (BKN/SF11)
Mitchell Robinson (NYK/C23)
Derrick Favors (NOLA/PF20)
Lonzo Ball (NOLA/PG19)
Thaddeus Young (CHI/SF12)
JaVale McGee (LAL/C24)
Brandon Ingram (NOLA/SF13)
Andrew Wiggins (MIN/SF14)
Jeff Teague (MIN/PG20)
Josh Richardson (PHI/SG13)
Dewayne Dedmon (SAC/C25)
Dejounte Murray (SAS/PG21)
Gordon Hayward (BOS/SF15)
TJ Warren (IND/SF16)
Jeremy Lamb (IND/SG14)
Jarrett Culver (MIN/SG15)
Jerami Grant (DEN/SF17)
Larry Nance Jr. (CLE/PF21)
Klay Thompson (GSW/SG16) *His injury is up in the air right now. Risky to take a shot at him early*
Darius Garland (CLE/PG22)
Collin Sexton (CLE SG16)
Dwight Howard (LAL/C26)
Bobby Portis (NYK/PF22)
Spencer Dinwiddie (BKN/PG23)
Bojan Bogdanovic (UTA/SF18)
JJ Redick (NOLA/SG17)
Justice Winslow (MIA/SF19)
DJ Augustin (ORL/PG24)
Thomas Bryant (WAS/C27)
Jabari Parker (ATL/SF20)
Coby White (CHI/PG25)
Will Barton (DEN/SF21)
Goron Dragic (MIA/PG26)
Cody Zeller (CHA/C28)
Harrison Barnes (SAC/SF22)
Tim Hardaway Jr. (DAL/SG18)
Trevor Ariza (SAC/ SF23)
Marcus Morris (NYK/SF24)
Jaylen Brown (BOS/SG19)
Ricky Rubio (PHO/PG27)
Kyle Anderson (MEM/SF25)
Joe Harris (BKN/SG20)
Dario Saric (MIN/PF23)
Gary Harris (DEN/SG21)
Reggie Jackson (DET/PG28)
Brook Lopez (MIL/C29)
Rajon Rondo (LAL/PG29)
Evan Fournier (ORL/SG22)
Ivica Zubac (LAC/C30)
Tomas Satoransky (CHI/SG23)
Mason Plumlee (DEN/C31)
Rui Hachimura (WAS/SF26)
Danny Green (LAL/SG24)
Shai-Gilgeous Alexander (OKC/PG31)
Derrick White (SAS/PG32)
Pat Beverley (LAC/PG33)
Jae Crowder (Mem/SF27)
Anfernee Simmons (POR/PG34)
Nicolas Batum (CHA/SF28)
Kelly Olynyk (MIA/PF24)
De’Andre Hunter (ATL/SF29)
Robert Covington (MIN/SF30)
Cedi Osman (CLE/SF31)
Jonathan Isaac (ORL/SF32)
Terrence Ross (ORL/SG25)
Dennis Smith Jr. (NYK/PG35)
Taurean Prince (BKN/SF33)
This will be updated in the weeks leading up to the season.
Want a roto ranking too? Want a paragraph for a guy outside the top 25? Let us know!