We’ve already been in the Upside Down for the better part of the last year, ever since Cats hit theaters (release the butthole cut you cowards) so why would we expect the first week of the 2020-21 NBA season to be any different. In a word, it’s been wonky. Here’s a short list of the craziest things that have happened this week: The Clippers were down by 50 at halftime, Collin Sexton, Andre Drummond, and Darius Garland are 1-3 in the MVP race, The Warriors are the new Knicks, and the most unbelievable of all is the Timberwolves can actually play defense. This is just a snippet of the insanity that has engulfed the start to the season after we already experience the weirdest offseason and the NBA bubble. With more questions than answers this year, there are a whole lot of overreactions to be had from a wild Christmas week. So here are the top five overreactions from the first seven days of the NBA season.
1.) Cleveland is actually really good
The 3-0 start for the Cavs is the most exciting thing to happen in Cleveland sports since the Browns beat the Jets on September 20th, 2018 for their first win in nearly two years. The upstart Cavaliers are undefeated to start the season behind surprisingly strong starts from Sexton, Drummond, and Garland. The Sexland backcourt has been fantastic so far after both young guards struggled last year. Lets bring Cleveland back down to Earth a little bit. First, their three wins were against the Hornets, Pistons, and 76ers who were on a back-to-back without Joel Embiid, not exactly a murderers row to begin the season. Shits about to get real for the Cavs in 2021 as they get another freebie against the Knicks, but then go on a six-game road trip against the Pacers on New Year’s Eve, the Hawks, the 3-0 Magic x2, Memphis, and then the Bucks. Cleveland could easily go from 3-0 to 4-6 in a matter of two weeks. There’s a chance this team is scrappy in the East and vies for a spot in the play-in tournament, but once they play real competition we’ll soon find out that Cleveland fans will have to rely on the Browns for their true playoff hopes, which is obviously sad.
2.) Signing Giannis to a supermax contract was a mistake
Giannis Antetokounmpo is the best thing to happen to Greece since Brad Pitt single-handedly beat the shit out of Eric Bana and won the Trojan War. The Greek Freak is the reigning back-to-back MVP and arguably the best player in the NBA. He also shook the pillars of the league earlier this month when he signed a five-year $228 million contract extension to stay in Milwaukee. This was maybe the greatest thing to ever happen to the Bucks, and they won a championship. Since he signed the Bucks have had a rough start the the season. Jayson Tatum called game with a last second banked in three over Giannis to send last year’s number one seed home with a loss on opening night. Then they dismantled the new Knicks, beating the Warriors by 39 in game two. On Sunday they lost to the actual Knicks by 20 points, falling to 1-2 on the young season. That’s a rough start for the best regular season team in the NBA the last two seasons. During the slow start Giannis hasn’t quite been himself. He’s still been great averaging 25.7 points and 13 rebounds per game, but he’s not the world beating Greek God that he was in his MVP seasons. Some might point the finger at his contract, saying that by signing the mega-deal the Bucks mortgaged their future for one player, who based on his performance to begin the season maybe isn’t actually worth it. Don’t be fooled by a slow start, Giannis is worth as much money as anyone wants to pay him. He’s the Patrick Mahomes of the NBA, and especially in small-market Milwaukee. As a Timberwolves fan I know what it’s like to never keep your star players and have no chance at signing any big time free agents, and Minneapolis is way cooler than Milwaukee. The Bucks did the right thing by keeping one of the biggest stars in the league in one of the most boring NBA cities for the next five years. Giannis will eventually regain his MVP form, and even if he doesn’t, what else are you going to do Milwaukee?
3.) The Nuggets will miss the playoffs
Before the season started I picked the Nuggets to finish third in the West, and had Jokic and Murray on the All-NBA Second and Third teams respectively. Jokic looks amazing so far and is averaging what would go down as the greatest triple double in league history with 24 points, 12 rebounds, and a mind fucking 14 assists. Murray on the other hand is capital S struggling. He’s shooting 39.5 percent and has just six assists in three games. The West is still the dominant conference and with a 1-2 start, maybe the Nuggets aren’t all they were cracked up to be. Luckily for Denver all is not lost just yet. One of their losses was to the Clippers, who even though they got killed by the Mavs are still one of the best teams in the league, so that loss is acceptable. The other is to the Kings on a crazy Buddy Hield overtime buzzer beating tip-in. They also beat James Soften and the actually pretty decent Houston Rockets. The D-Nugs are currently behind the Wolves, Spurs, Thunder, and Kings in the standings, which I’m very confident in saying will not be the case come the end of the season. Murray will get his head on straight and Denver will still be a problem in the West. Maybe not the third seed, but there’s no way this team misses the playoffs barring injury.
4.) LaMelo Ball is already a bust
The third Ball bro has been bruuuuuuuuuuuuuutal during his first three NBA games. LiAngelo’s less handsome brother threw up a goose egg in his first outing and is averaging just 6.3 points on 33.3 percent shooting. That’s very Malik Monk of you LaMelo, and it looks worse if you see what the two guys drafted ahead of him are doing at the start of the season. First overall pick Anthony Edwards, who also looked brutal in the preseason, has been arguably the best player for the Wolves this season and sparked them to a somewhat surprising 2-1 record. James Wiseman has been the lone bright spot for the new Knicks of Golden State. He’s shown a decent stroke, and is bullying people inside already and averaging 14.7 points per game and will get every opportunity to grow as it looks like their season is already over. There are a whole lot of scouts and other guys who claim to know what good basketball is who thought LaMelo would be way better than those two and be a star in Charlotte. Pretty much the exact opposite is happening in the first week so is LaMelo already a bust? No of course not, plenty of stars have had a rough go of it at the beginning of their careers. James Soften himself only scored 4.3 points per game over his first three NBA contests and shot just 29 percent. It will take time for a 19-year-old who last played a year ago in Australia to find his niche in this league, but don’t let a bad start fool you into thinking he’s a bust already.
5.) Houston should not trade James Harden
Speaking of the NBA party boy James Soften (Née Harden) he’s looked like the John Daly of the NBA, going straight from the strip club to the court and playing his round little ass off. His first two games have been exactly what you’ve come to expect out of the NBA’s four-time reigning scoring champ averaging 39 points per game so far. The beard is obviously still the best scorer in the game, and at 31 is still a top ten player in the league. Even with his tumultuous offseason in which he demanded a trade, didn’t show up for training camp, and single-handedly put every stripper in a three-state radius through college. So why would Houston even consider trading him when they can still ride him to pole position in the Southwest Division and compete in the Western Conference playoffs? Wouldn’t trading a huge superstar on a competitive team make absolutely no sense?
The Rockets absolutely should still trade him at their earliest convenience. Even with his outstanding performance over the first week, the Rockets are still 0-2 with huge concerns throughout the roster. Yes Christian Wood looks like he can be the second option on a playoff team, but we have no clue what this team really is. Thanks to COVID-19 and guys wanting a fresh cut on opening day, we haven’t even seen John Wall or DeMarcus Cousins on the court yet as they had to sit out due to contact tracing. They could be trash and this team headed for the gutter faster than Harden heading for a Vegas buffet. Harden will also leave in two years and, while you have time to figure it out, his value will only diminish the closer he gets to free agency. Harden is still one of the best players of this generation, but if you’re Houston, you really don’t want to see the rest of his career play out in one of your top notch gentlemen’s establishments.
This week in basketball has provided plenty of hot takes and spicy conversation around the league, but at the end of the day no NBA championship was won in the first three games of a season, plenty have been lost, but lets not overreact too much to what we’ve seen so far.
This is it, the long wait is finally over. It’s been 71 days since the Los Angeles Lakers hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy in the NBA bubble. How have we survived this long without the NBA in our lives? Well even though we never thought it would ever come, the 2020-21 NBA season is finally here. This will be one of the most intriguing seasons in the history of the league. Will the Lakers repeat? How will Covid-19 effect play? Which stars returning from injury will have a bounce back season? How many times will I stay up until four in the morning only to watch the Timberwolves get blown out by the fucking Spurs? I cobbled together my predictions for the upcoming NBA season because why read what an expert has to say about this season when you can read some guy on the internet’s predictions instead. At least mine are free (fuck you ESPN+). So sit back, lower your expectations, and enjoy my halfway sober musings.
Eastern Conference Standings
1.) Milwaukee Bucks
WithGiannis resigning a huge five year $228 million dollar deal before the season begins the Bucks can finally focus on basketball. As a Wolves fan this is great news because Minnesota is a way cooler place for free agents to sign than fucking Milwaukee, for fans of the rest of the league this sucks. They all thought Giannis was going to sign with their team as a free agent next summer (sorry Charlotte, probably wasn’t going to happen). The Bucks also added Jrue Holliday and won’t have to deal with Eric Bledsoe totally falling apart in the playoffs. Milwaukee will be contenders as long as Giannis is there, and with Holliday they should be just as good if not better in the regular season than last year.
2.) Miami Heat
Miami was one of the top suitors who actually had a shot at getting Giannis in free agency. His signing ruins their plans for the long term, but this season the Heat will be even better than their finals squad from two months ago. They signed Bam Adebayo to a 5 year $163 million contract so he can finally afford Jimmy Butler’s coffee. Tyler Herro will take a leap in his second season and will team up with Duncan Robinson to form the greatest shooting backcourt since the Splash Brothers. Butler is arguably the toughest player in the NBA, and will finally get the superstar respect that he’s deserved for the last six years. Butler and Bam are going to beat the shit out of the rest of the East teams, while Herro and Robinson drain threes right in their face.
3.) Brooklyn Nets
Nets fans are already manifesting an NBA Championship for their team that has two superstars who have never shared the court together. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are either going to be the new Splash Brothers and lead Brooklyn to the franchise’s first title, or they’re going to fall off the face of the flat Earth and annoy the hell out of fans along the way. Championship or bust is probably the mantra this season because you can see either star wanting out of Brooklyn after about 30 games if they don’t like what’s going on. First year head coach Steve Nash will be the deciding factor. If he gets along with his stars and doesn’t try to change or limit them the Nets will be fine, but if he goes full Jim Boylen and installs a punch clock and acts like a high school coach, things will fall apart. The good thing for Nets fans is that Nash is probably the most chill guy in the world which leads me to believe they’ll be just fine.
4.) Boston Celtics
It’s going to be a make or break season for Boston’s youngish core. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are talented enough to keep Boston afloat in the East, but they will feel the loss of Gordon Hayward to the Hornets. Kemba Walker will also be sidelined for the first six-weeks of the season with a knee injury. That leaves the Celtics thin at point guard, and will have to rely on Brown, Marcus Smart, and fucking Jeff Teague in the backcourt. Boston made the conference finals last season and will need its youngest players to step up and play like veterans if they want to achieve their championship potential. Or… we call in Daniel Stern and Dan Aykroyd to come back and kidnap Jimmy Butler. If there is one thing I need to relay to the internet through this blog it’s that Celtic Pride two needs to happen.
5.) Philadelphia 76ers
Trusting the process has levelled off the last three years in Philadelphia causing a lot of commotion in the city of Brotherly Love this offseason. They fired the leader of the process Brett Brown and replaced him with Doc Rivers. The 76ers also hired former Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey to be the President of Basketball Operations. That is all fun but is it going to make the Joel Embiid Ben Simmons experiment work? Or are they just going to alter the process by trading Simmons for James Harden? The 76ers ceiling seems to be somewhere between third and fifth in the East and this year the conference is at its deepest in more than a decade. Is that high enough to keep Simmons and Embiid together to see if they can ride a hot streak in the playoffs and maybe make some noise, or is a second round exit the best these two will ever do together? This season I think the East has a clear top four, and a fairly clear next 4-5 teams that can really compete. The Sixers are the first team left out of the elite four who actually have a shot to make the finals.
6.) Toronto Raptors
The Raptors are probably going to be the most boring good team this season. Kyle Lowry is the ultimate no frills veteran, Fred VanVleet is probably a much more fun guy than Kawhi Leonard, but that’s not saying much, and Pascal Siakam might be one of the most frustrating borderline superstars in the league. Many people think that OG Anunoby will be one of the breakout players of the year, and as an Englishman myself I would love to see the British baller standout for more than his scarf game this season. Realistically Toronto probably doesn’t have enough juice to compete for a championship this year, but never count out Masai Ujiri, he could swing a massive move and keep this team contention.
7.) Washington Wizards
Washington made the splash of the shortened offseason by trading John Wall to Houston for Russell Westbrook. At their peak, Westbrook is a decent upgrade over Wall, and Wall hasn’t played in almost two years so the Wizards should get a shot in the arm right away. We’ll see how Westbrook meshes with Bradley Beal, but they should score a shit ton of points. The problem will come when Westbrook and Beal are off the court as the Wizards don’t have a lot of depth. Rui Hachimura is out for at least three weeks with conjunctivitis, forcing Washington to rely heavily on Deni Avdija, Davis Bertans, and Mortiz Wagner, which could be a fun euro-lineup, but likely will be a net minus on the court. The future of the franchise all rides on how far their two stars can carry them this year. Perhaps Westbrook and Beal click and can lead Washington to a five-seed, but mostly likely they’re much closer to the play in tournament.
8.) Indiana Pacers
The Pacers have a talented, deep roster that nabbed the fourth seed in the East last season. The question is does Indiana have enough elite talent to compete in a much deeper conference? The answer for me is no. Victor Oladipo has proven to be one of the best two-way players in the NBA, but last season after coming back from a leg injury, Oladipo didn’t look quite the same. He played much closer to a league average wing than an all-star. Domantas Sabonis is one of the better bigs in the league but how does he match-up against the Joel Embiid’s and Bam Adebayo’s of the world? Myles Turner and Malcolm Brogdan are nice pieces, but can they outduel the top seven teams that all have legitimate stars to take over in crunch time? T.J. Warren lit up the bubble, can he sustain that level of play? I like Indiana, they’re a nice team and in a usually watered down East, they’re almost a lock for a top five seed, but the East is deep this season and the team that I think gets pushed out is the Pacers.
9.) Atlanta Hawks
One of the sexiest most improved team picks this season, the Hawks were one of the busiest teams in the offseason. Atlanta signed Danilo Gallinari, Rajon Rondo, and sniped Bogdan Bodanovic out from under the Bucks. Pair their new assets with Trae Young, John Collins, and their second year wings and Atlanta should be one of the best offensive teams in the league. Unfortunately for the Hawks, their defense could also be described as offensive. Hopefully the sixth overall pick Onyeka Okongwu and Clint Capela will help change the culture, but they may have to score 140 points per game just to keep up with their opponents.
10.) Orlando Magic
Orlando always hangs around the bottom of the playoff standings in the East but will be pushed out of the race this season. Arguably their best piece Jonathan Isaac will miss the season after tearing his ACL. The rest of the roster is filled with a bunch of alright dudes who don’t really move the needle. Aaron Gordon is great in the dunk contest and a fine player overall, but is he really the future? He might be one of the prime candidates for a fresh start somewhere else in the middle of the season. Rookie Cole Anthony is already to coolest player on the team and is buddies with the legend Spike Lee, who if Anthony ever becomes a star in Orlando, should absolutely direct a Disney Movie. Other than that possibility, not much to get excited about for Magic fans this season.
11.) Chicago Bulls
The Bulls maybe made the best move of the offseason by firing the worst coach in the league by far, Jim Boylen. By all accounts, nobody liked him and he was a fucking dick who treated his players like they were coal miners punching in for a hard days work. That kind of hokey high school bullshit will never work in the NBA and the Bulls will automatically be better for it. New head coach Billy Donovan inherits not the worst lineup in the league. Zach LaVine is one of the best scorers in the NBA. Coby White, Wendell Carter Jr., Lauri Markkanen, and rookie Patrick Williams are all promising young players, and if any combination of them can take the next step and become a borderline star in the NBA, Chicago could push for a birth in the play-in tournament.
12.) Charlotte Hornets
LaVar Ball might finally get his one-on-one game against Michael Jordan since the Hornets drafted the third Ball bro LaMelo third overall in the draft. Unless LaMelo is the second coming of Jordan himself, this young Hornets team isn’t doing much this season, but it’s probably going to be super fun to watch. There’s a lot of young talent in Charlotte, but it might be a year or two too early to hope they can figure it out together. The Hornets will be a team to watch in the coming years, and if LaMelo can truly be the superstar that many scouts think he can, and Hayward cane cobble together a season that kind of resembles his game before his ankle injury, maybe they can make a run at the play-in tournament.
13.) Detroit Pistons
The Pistons are finally not the most boring team in the league. Blake Griffin coming back from an injury plagued season last year will electrify the fanbase, but I’m not sure that at 31 he’s ever going to be Lob City Blake again. Detroit will have their version of the French Connection this season in second year wing Sekou Doumbouya and rookie point guard Killian Hayes. Luckily for Pistons fans instead of smuggling heroin, these young guns should be providing some highlights in Detroit this season. While there is finally some young talent in the Motor City, the Pistons also made a ton of super weird decisions in free agency this season. Yes they signed (overpaid) for Jerami Grant, who should perform admirably in the front court, but then they signed Mason Plumlee and Jahlil Okafor, and drafted Isaiah Stewart this offseason which will prove to be impish roster moves this season. Once again the best players are Griffin, and 32-year-old Derrick Rose, which would be fantastic in 2012, but for 2021 it will be another sad-boy winter in Michigan this season.
14.) New York Knicks
Obi Toppin was a nice grab at the 8th pick in the draft, but does a core of Toppin, RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, and Julius Randle really do anything for you? All I can hope for is a Succession season three storyline where Kendall Roy talks shit about James Dolan’s band and gets throw out of Madison Square Garden Charles Oakley style. I’ll end the Knicks section early since I don’t have anything nice to say about them.
15.) Cleveland Cavaliers
Since LeBron James left for the Lakers in 2018 the Cavs have done exactly what they did when James left for Miami in 2010, fucking sucked. Cleveland drafted guards Colin Sexton and Darius Garland in back to back drafts hoping for some Kyrie Irving magic once again. This time Sexton and Garland have been slow to show that they are actually good at basketball. Now they drafted Isaac Okoro who seems alright but is he a star, or do they just have another guy who can be alright but doesn’t move the needle. Legitimately forgot until writing this that Kevin Love is still in Cleveland. At least the Cavs can hope to win the lottery again next year and draft Cade Cunningham as their new LeBron 18 years after drafting the second greatest player of all-time.
Western Conference Standings
1.) Los Angeles Lakers
The reigning champs got better in the offseason acquiring Dennis Schroder, signing Montrezl Harrell and Marc Gasol which seems unfair. With LeBron and AD the Lakers are far better than any other team in the West. They’re arguably two of the top five players in the league right now, and prime AD is the best player that LeBron has ever played with (sorry 30-year-old Dwyane Wade). This duo should be the next great tandem in NBA history and, unless LeBron takes a nosedive in his year-36 season, they have a chance to possibly three-peat for the first time since the Shaq-Kobe Lakers in the early 2000s. The only thing that can knock them down will be injuries. If the two superstars stay healthy they can beat anyone and will be the favorite to win the NBA Championship.
2.) Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers locked up Paul George on a four year $190 million extension because who thinks it’s a bad idea to pay George $47 million when he’s 34 years old. With 30-year-old George and T-800, I mean Kawhi Leonard, the Clippers will contend this year and until Kawhi leaves LA in free agency to accomplish the impossible, win a championship in Minnesota. The Clippers were minutes away from facing their rivals from across the hallway in the Western Conference Finals in the Bubble, and then collapsed against the Nuggets. The Clippers also dropped Doc Rivers for Ty Lue who will help lead this team to the Western Conference Finals against the Lakers, where he will once again get stepped over (this time by Alex Caruso).
3.) Denver Nuggets
*Intense Jason Concepcion voice* A deeeeeeeeeeeeep run in the NBA Bubble and the emergence of Jamal Murray has a lot of NBA fans singing the praises of the Nuggets this season. Murray may have turned into a legitimate superstar in Disney World, and Nikola Jokic is the best basketball player who looks like he should not be good at any sports. Denver might have struck gold with the 14th pick in the 2018 Draft with Michael Porter Jr. They had to wait a year as he recovered from a back injury, but he was worth the wait and broke out in the bubble. The Nuggets showed a lot of grit in the playoffs last year, coming back from two 3-1 deficits until finally succumbing to the Lakers. The talent is there, and the offseason was so short that Jokic didn’t have time to get out of shape and won’t have to spend the first month of the season playing himself back into shape. Denver is a true contender to return to the conference finals.
4.) Dallas Mavericks
Luka Doncic is very close to being the best basketball player in the world and will give Dallas a chance to compete for a spot in the NBA Finals. The Slovenian sex symbol is the closest thing to Larry Bird the NBA has seen since Keith Van Horn, and when all is said and done, Doncic could be better than both (glad I live across an ocean from Boston). His Euro lifemate Kristaps Porzingis is the player that could really sink Dallas’ title hopes. If he stays healthy and puts up somewhere close to 20 points, ten rebounds, and two blocks, Dallas will be just fine, but if the unicorn limps through the season and looks like a shell of himself, Dallas will be an easy out in the playoffs. Luka has a chance to win the MVP and will lock up the award in his third season if he can lead the Mavericks to a high seed in the loaded Western Conference.
5.) Portland Trail Blazers
A disappointing regular season was masked by a bubble run that vaulted the Blazers into the 8-seed and a quick 4-1 first round exit at the hands of the eventual champion Lakers. Portland had a nice offseason adding Robert Covington, Enes Kanter, and Derrick Jones Jr. to a core of Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, and Carmelo Anthony. Lillard is a dark horse to win the MVP this season, and if he can lead this team to a top-four seed in the West, that could actually happen. The return of Nurkic in the bubble energized the team, and you hope that he can continue to anchor the front court and keep them competitive in the playoff race. Some members of the media are higher on the Blazers, some think they may miss the playoffs entirely, I have them right in the middle as the fifth seed in the West.
6.) Utah Jazz
Utah disappointed in the Bubble after leading the Nuggets 3-1 in the first round, the Jazz fucking blew it and lost in seven games. They didn’t really do much in the offseason and finished sixth in the West last year, so sixth seems like a reasonable spot for them to finish this year too. Donovan Mitchell is going to continue playing at an all-star level, and Rudy Gobert, after becoming the unintentional face of the NBA Covid-19 season, signed a huge contract and will still be in the running for DPOY. Mike Conley can’t be much worse than he was last year, and Joe Ingles is one of the best bench players in the league. Utah isn’t the flashiest team in the league, but should have a good offense and one of the better defenses in the league and will be a steady team all season.
7.) Houston Rockets
James Harden, more like James soften am I right? Thicc boi James Harden is the talk of the league as the season gets underway as he has requested a trade out of Houston. Nobody knows where he’s going to end up, or when he’s going to get traded, but until a deal is made the Rockets will still be a playoff team. Harden matches up with former stars John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins in a Rockets lineup that would absolutely win the championship in 2015. We’ll see if the former Kentucky Wildcat teammates have any gas left in the tank after injuries have ravaged the primes of two of the brightest stars in the league. Houston is definitely the focus of the NBA as long as James Harden is partying with rappers and dropping 50 points on a daily basis. The franchise is in crisis mode, but will stay relevant until they cave and trade Harden for 30 cents on the dollar.
8.) Phoenix Suns
Phoenix’s 10-year playoff drought might finally be over this year with the addition of the point god himself Chris Paul. A Big three of 35-year-old Paul, Devin Booker, and Deandre Ayton is intriguing in the deep Western Conference. The Suns went 8-0 in the bubble and are hoping to take that momentum and turn it into sustained success that the fanbase needs desperately. Monty Williams is a capable coach to steer this team into the playoffs if the core can gel. The race for the 8th seed will be hotly contested in the Western Conference as there are probably eight teams with a legitimate chance to at least make it into the play in tournament. Phoenix has the top talent to beat most of the rest of those teams and should consider this season a disappointment if the Suns fail to make the playoffs again.
9.) Memphis Grizzlies
Ninth already seems too low for the upstart Grizzlies this season. Ja Morant legitimately seems like one of the best players in the league in year two. He’s looked unstoppable in the preseason (albeit mostly against the Timberwolves) and has a real chance to contend for a spot on an All-NBA team this season. Fellow burgeoning star Jaren Jackson is recovering from a torn meniscus, and will miss the start of the season. Jackson and Morant form one of the most exciting tandems of young talent in the league. Brandon Clarke is old as shit for a second year player (he’s just 24) but has shown that he can be a nice third complementary piece to Ja and triple J. Jonas Valanciunas is quietly one of the best maulers in the NBA, and Memphis boasts a deep bench. Youth might be the biggest strength and biggest weakness for this team. You should expect everyone to continue improving, but sometimes young teams have their growing pains. In all likelihood Memphis glides into the playoffs, but there are enough unknowns out west to push the young Grizzlies out of the postseason.
10.) New Orleans Pelicans
Zion Williamson has lost his crown as the thick king of the NBA (that crown belongs to James Harden) but is poised to become one of the best and most popular superstars in the NBA. Zion only played 24 games in his rookie season, but averaged 22.5 points and 6.3 rebounds. With his frame, injuries will always be a risk, but Zion is legitimately one of the best young players the NBA has seen in several years. Alongside Zion is the NBA’s most improved player Brandon Ingram, who himself is only 23-years-old creating one of the most tantalizing young duos in the league. Lonzo Ball provides a defensive punch in the backcourt, and the signing of Steven Adams bolsters a shallow front court behind Zion. Swapping Jrue Holliday for Eric Bledsoe and several future firsts and pick swaps won’t help this year, but the future is bright in New Orleans.
11.) Golden State Warriors
The Warriors’ championship window will always be open as long as they employ the producer of Holey Moley, but Steph Curry will have to hit a hole in one to get the Warriors back into contention this season. Golden State suffered a huge blow when Klay Thompson suffered an Achilles injury during a pickup game during the offseason. Their one hope to get back to the mountain top…fuck it’s Andrew Wiggins, they’ve got no shot.
12.) Minnesota Timberwolves
As a Wolves fan I always want to be super optimistic and hope that they can finally pull together and become a consistently competitive team, and as a Wolves fan I know it’s never actually going to happen. I always talk myself into it, this year it’s “oh well they have Towns, and Russell is really good, and Rubio, we like him, and maybe Anthony Edwards can be the next Donovan Mitchell, and Ryan Saunders is better than his dad was, and they should easily be the eighth seed and probably actually the sixth seed, and maybe they can surprise the Clippers in the first round, and Towns can go nuts and possibly make the second round and get lucky and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that they could make a conference finals”. Bullshit, halfway through the season I always have to call bullshit on my expectations. Since Kevin Garnett left to win a Championship in Boston and buy opals from Adam Sandler the Timberwolves have never lived up to expectations. Even the year they had Jimmy Butler, that team should have been the third seed and barely snuck into the playoffs. It’s never going to happen and this team is no different, at least for this season. Towns might be healthy, but he hasn’t shown that he can lead a team and create wins in his first five years, so why start now. Russell is a talented player, but does he really impact winning? Ask Laker, Nets, and Warriors fans the last five seasons, they are probably fond of him but are glad their franchises aren’t building a team around him. Rubio is more of a sentimental acquisition than actual playoff puzzle piece. Anthony Edwards may be talented, but will likely take a year or two or five to reach his full potential and won’t likely impact winning during his rookie year. Does this team have plenty of talent? Yes. Does this team excite me? Yes. Will this team inevitably take my optimism and shove it down my throat until I choke on my own fandom? Unavoidably yes.
13.) Sacramento Kings
The Kings truly have a solid base of young talent, but I have absolutely no faith that the Kings can actually tap into the talent and compete this season. De’Aaron Fox played at an all-star level last year around some nagging injuries. Marvin Bagley III has shown flashes of future stardom, but only played 13 games last year. Buddy Hield is one of the best shooters in the league, and rookie Tyrese Haliburton has a chance to be one of the best rookies in this year’s class. Sacramento’s talent trails off shortly after that and will cause problems when their starters are on the bench. Sacramento is in the same place it’s been for the better part of the decade; too good to get the top pick, but not good enough to actually compete for a playoff spot.
14.) San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio’s 20 plus year reign of terror in the West is finally over and it’s going to get ugly pretty fast. Their best players are either on the wrong side of 30 (Lamarcus Aldridge and Demar DeRozan), or Dejounte Murray and Derrick White, who are fine players but they’re not Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, or Manu Ginobili. Sorry Shea Serrano but this is probably the most boring team in the league and that includes Orlando and Cleveland (both the cities and teams). I can’t see Popovich coaching this mess passed this season. I guess that’s what you get for being a 20-year dynasty.
15.) Oklahoma City Thunder
OKC completely punted on this season by sending Chris Paul to Phoenix, Steven Adams to New Orleans, Dennis Schroder to the Lakers, and losing Danilo Gallinari to Atlanta in free agency. They’ve mortgaged the present for 17 future first round picks through 2026, and are in line for the top pick in the loaded 2020 draft. This team will absolutely suck this year, but will probably more closely resemble the 2012 finals team that feature Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden throughout the next decade plus.
Los Angeles Lakers 4 Brooklyn Nets 3
Finals MVP: Anthony Davis
A Lot of this is riding on my belief that the Nets will somehow get James Harden. That trade seems a lot less inevitable than it did even just a week ago, but I believe that Brooklyn finds a third team to facilitate a better young piece to Houston while the Nets will part with Caris LaVert and Spencer Dinwiddie. The Lakers have the best one-two punch the NBA has see since Shaq and Kobe. While their depth is a question, LeBron and AD are enough to get the Lakers back-to-back championships for the first time since 2010. The Nets have the offensive firepower to contend with anyone with KD and Kyrie and will outgun the rest of the East in the playoffs. Unfortunately for Brooklyn, they’ll run into Anthony Davis, who I believe will have one of the best finals showings in recent history to secure finals MVP.
Executive of the Year
Sean Marks, Brooklyn Nets
This mostly hinges on Marks facilitating a trade for James Harden, but even if that trade doesn’t happen Marks should be in contention this season for pairing KD with Kyrie. The two superstars have yet to take the court together, but if things go right the front office will look pretty smart and get the accolades for it, even though it’s probably a year later than it should be.
Coach of the Year
Rick Carlisle, Dallas Mavericks
Carlisle won the award in 2002 as the Head Coach of the Detroit Pistons. This time he nabs Coach of the Year thanks to Luka Doncic. I think Luka is going to help carry the Mavericks to a top-four seed in the West and give them a real shot to make the Western Conference Finals. Carlisle is one of the best coaches in the league, and if the Mavericks win as many games as they did last year in just 72 games this year, he’s going to be a strong candidate.
Herro had a fantastic rookie season both on and off the court for the Miami Heat. He helped the Heat surprise the basketball world and make it to the NBA Finals. Herro will likely see his role expanded in his second season. The problem is there’s a very good chance that Herro could start for the Heat this season. I believe they need him to score off the bench and he will be the leader of the second unit and has a chance to push close to averaging 20 points a game.
Ayton has been pretty good during his first two seasons in the NBA, but the addition of Chris Paul is going to do wonders for his career. Nobody is ever going to forget that the Suns took Ayton instead of Luka Doncic, but that’s the Suns’ fault, not Ayton’s. The point god (and HGH) will help elevate Ayton to an all-star level center whose offense is already going to take off, and has show improvements on defense. I see him making the leap and possibly averaging 25 and 12 on a playoff team and becoming a bonafide star player in his third season.
The Knicks were one piece away from championship contention and went out and found their guy in the draft in Obi Toppin. Wait you’re telling me the Knicks were actually bad last year?
The Knicks suck, as you know, but the Toppin pick was actually pretty good. He’s the most NBA ready player in this class and he’ll contribute right away. The Knicks have some young talent with RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson, and Toppin should be able to complement them well. Don’t be surprised if he comes out and averages 16 points and seven rebounds, good stats for a rookie, but also don’t expect him to magically resurrect the Knicks anytime soon.
Davis finished second in the Defensive Player of the Year to Giannis last season. I believe there will be a lot of Giannis fatigue this season and Davis will slip in and fill the space. Playing alongside LeBron will only help his case as the Lakers will once again be one of the best defensive teams in the league. I have a lot of stock in AD this season and believe this is the season where he truly takes the mantle as the best player in the league. Problem for him is that won’t translate into an MVP because he plays with LeBron, which is why LeBron didn’t win the award last season.
The NBA’s number one boy has a chance to average a triple double this season and lead the Mavericks deep into the playoffs. He’s already the best playmaker in the NBA and is most often compared to Larry Bird. Doncic is only 21 years old and has the chance to become one of the best players in the history of the NBA. If Luka can add a three point shot to his arsenal, he’ll be completely unstoppable for the next 15 years. This year the Mavericks have enough firepower to compete in the loaded West, and if Kristaps Porzingis can get healthy, they have a real shot to at least get to the Western Conference Finals. Luka will be the face of the league sooner rather than later, and this will likely be the most important step into super stardom.
All-NBA First Team
Guard: Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
Guard: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
Center: Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
Forward: Giannis Antentokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Forward: Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets
Not a lot of surprises here except for that LeBron James isn’t present on the first team, and we’ll get to that shortly. I have high hopes that Kevin Durant will return to form after 18 months off while recovering from an achilles injury. We may have forgotten that before the injury, Durant was the best player in the league.
All-NBA Second Team
Guard: James Harden, Houston Rockets
Guard: Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Center: Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Forward: LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
Forward: Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat
LeBron James doesn’t fall off too far in his age-36 season. It will be the first time since 2007 that a healthy LeBron doesn’t make the first team. Second team is nothing to scoff at though as LeBron is in line to lead the Lakers to back-to-back championships. Devin Booker might be a reach here but he’s been so close to breaking through into the elite tier of NBA players and I think this is his year to finally make his mark on the league.
All-NBA Third Team
Guard: Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
Guard: Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets
Center: Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat
Forward: Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers
Forward: Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
Jamal Murray gets a full head of steam going after his fantastic bubble performance and finally blows up this season. Murray averaged 26.5 points and shot 45.3 percent from three in the playoffs last season. If he can keep that up for the regular season for a top three seed he could skyrocket up and contend for a spot on the second team. Kawhi Leonard load manages his way all the way down to the third team. Honorable mentions include: Ja Morant, Zion Williamson, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Russell Westbrook, Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown.
All-Defensive First Team
Guard: Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics
Guard: Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
Center: Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat
Forward: Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
Forward: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Getting a little wonky with positions because there shouldn’t be positions with these end-of-year teams but should be no real surprises here.
All-Defensive Second Team
Guard: Kris Dunn, Atlanta Hawks
Guard: Matisse Thybulle, Philadelphia 76ers
Center: Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
Forward: Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers
Forward: Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat
Taking a big swing for the second team and projecting Dunn and Thybulle to make big leaps this season and become two of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA. Gobert could push for the first team but the Jazz might take a step back defensively this season. Kawhi and probably Butler to a point could push for first team recognition, but they’ll both probably manage their loads too much for the media to reward them with a first team slot.
All-Rookie First Team
Guard: Tyrese Haliburton, Sacramento Kings
Guard: LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets
Center: James Wiseman, Golden State Warriors
Forward: Obi Toppin, New York Knicks
Forward: Isaac Okoro, Cleveland Cavaliers
The big wildcard here is Wiseman. We haven’t seen him play in the preseason, and who really knows how Steve Kerr will utilize him in his rookie season. Wiseman might be the most talented rookie in the NBA but his role could keep him off of the first team. All of my other picks should either be starting for their respective teams, or getting close to starters minutes. Toppin is going to score, LaMelo will produce highlight assists every night, and Haliburton and Okoro should be solid all the way around. None of these guys are going to produce the best rookie season we’ve ever seen, but all should be exciting and produce enough to garner first team votes.
All-Rookie Second Team
Guard: Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves
Guard: Killian Hayes, Detroit Pistons
Guard: Cole Anthony, Orlando Magic
Guard: Tyrese Maxey, Philadelphia 76ers
Forward: Patrick Williams, Chicago Bulls
Both Anthony Edwards and Killian Hayes could play their way onto the first team, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Edwards was trash in his first two preseason games, then came out and shut down Luka Doncic on consecutive plays and finally showed some signs of life in his third and final contest. He could easily end the season averaging 18, five, and five on a .500 team that’s vying for the eight-seed, or average seven, two, and two while shooting some god awful number on a last place dumpster fire. Either outcomes are possible, but as a Wolves fan, if the second happens somebody please check on me, I will not be ok. I threw Maxey in here mostly because I couldn’t find another lottery pick that I really believe will have a good rookie season. I’m not super high on guys like Deni Avdija (At least for this season), and Onyeka Okongwu’s role is still up in the air, so Maxey was a guy I think could provide a spark off the bench for the 76ers.
If any of these predictions are wrong, who gives a shit, I’m just some guy. If you really want to get mad go yell at John Hollinger.
The 2020-21 NBA season is going to be one of the weirdest years in sports history. After Covid-19 ravaged the globe and stopped professional sports in March, the NBA bubbled up in July after four months off. The Bubble ended in October, and led to the most compressed offseason we’ll ever see. On top of all of this, the 2020 Rookie class is one of the weirdest in recent history. While there is a nice amount of talent, there is no clear cut superstar in this crop, leading to a lot of mystery surrounding the draft. While there is no Zion Williamson or Ja Morant or bonafide stars right away in this class, there are plenty of players who will get a lot of action early on this season. For me the action is the juice so this season we’re introducing the NBA Rookie Juice Rankings.
One part rookie of the year rankings, one part swag rating, one part team impact, one part popularity. The rookie juice rating takes this all into account and lets you know which rookie is having the biggest impact on the NBA this season. Past winners of the rookie juice ratings if that were a thing before right now would have been Ja Morant, Joel Embiid, Kyrie Irving, and Darius Miles.
Speaking of juice, the youngest Ball brother will likely have the keys to the Hornets offense from the tip this season. The third pick in the draft is the biggest enigma of this season’s rookie class. During the pre-draft process, teams couldn’t decide if Lonzo’s brother was the next coming of Magic Johnson, or Michael Carter-Williams. Michael Jordan and the Hornets will give Ball every opportunity to show what kind of player he can be as a rookie. While the volume will be there, the quality of play will be interesting to watch. LaMelo struggled in his first preseason game going 0-5 with four turnovers, but grabbed 10 rebounds. Preseason stats don’t matter at all but watching him play you really notice two things: his shot looks like mine which is to say it’s really bad, like you’re trying to throw a football with two hands, but he is already one of the sexiest passers in the game. He is already throwing up transition lobs and half court dimes to his new teammates. Time will tell if he actually has what it takes to become a star, but it’s going to be a pretty fun ride for the next few years.
This might surprise a lot of people because Okoro wasn’t the flashiest draft pick this year but he’s in a great situation to make an impact immediately in Cleveland. The rookie from Auburn will likely start for the Cavs this season and had looked great in his first two preseason games. Cleveland is devoid of any other real talent on the roster. Kevin Love is still somehow there but hasn’t been relevant for about four years. The Cavs do have their two young point guards in Collin Sexton and Darius Garland who have both had an up-and-down start to their careers. Apart from probably LaMelo Ball in Charlotte, Okoro will get the biggest opportunity to showout in his first season.
The number one pick in the draft is usually the guy most people bet on to win rookie of the year. Not so fast this season as the draft had no clear cut superstar in the making. Edwards was the pick for a Timberwolves franchise that has gone through a complete overhaul the last 18 months. Edwards will not be expected to be the man right away in Minnesota and will be able to progress slowly into his role. The early returns on Edwards in the preseason have been a mixed bag, but like I wrote earlier this week, don’t panic about it just yet. Edwards will have to contend with about six other guys for minutes on the wing, so his numbers may not be what you typically expect from a first overall pick. Four years from now I’ll hopefully look foolish for not believing in him 100 percent right away, but for now all I can see is an inconsistent rookie season from Ant-Man.
Wiseman is the true wildcard here. He’s yet to see any action during the preseason with rumors spreading that it was due to Covid, so we don’t have any clue as to how the Warriors are going to use the second pick in the draft. He could and probably should be the starting center right off the bat, but Steve Kerr could get wonky now that Klay Thompson is out for the year and play super small ball with Draymond Green at the five. Wiseman also could be trash or could be really good, I have no fucking clue. He was one of the most scrutinized players in the draft, mostly because he only played three college games that all came more than a year ago. Is he Shaq? Obviously not right now but could he come out right away and average 16 and 10 and have a similar rookie year to Deandre Ayton two years ago? Probably. Or he could be Hasheem Thabeet and out of the league in three years, honestly who knows. I have a feeling after the season starts he’s either going to fly up or down this list very quickly.
Obi Toppin is my pick for Rookie of the Year so it’s a little weird that I have him all the way down at number five on my preseason rookie juice rankings. Toppin is probably the most NBA ready of any lottery pick this season, but I just don’t trust the Knicks to do anything right. While I envision him being the starting small forward and scoring about 15 points per game with six or seven rebounds, the Knicks could fuck it up by trying to force him to be a big and keep him on the bench behind Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson. I think Toppin ends up as the Rookie of the Year, but the fifth ranking right now shows just how wide open the race really is.
The Iowa State (Go Clones!) combo guard was arguably the best value pick in the draft when he slid to Sacramento at 12. He should be the third guard already behind De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield. Haliburton might be the most steady rookie in the class on a team that could use a steady influence. He’s one of those rookies that doesn’t have any eye-popping stats, but you could see averaging something like 13 points, six rebounds, and five assists as a rookie, and in a weaker class that could be good enough to win rookie of the year. He’s this year’s Malcolm Brogdon, maybe a little boring but a safe bet to be at least pretty good.
How do you say DE-TROIT BASKETBALL! in French? Killian Hayes is the Pistons’ second French first round pick in as many after selecting Sekou Doumbouya 15th in 2019. Hayes will likely start allowing Derrick Rose to come off the bench. He’s had a rough start to the preseason shooting 4-18 in two games with eight turnovers. Good thing for Hayes fans (Hayes heads?) out there because this is the most meaningless preseason in which to judge NBA rookies in league history so who cares if he looks bad. The Pistons are going to be trash this season so they might as well see what they have in Hayes. Also he’s 19 so he’s got about 4-6 years until we really find out if he’s bad or not. This season could go down the drain quickly for Hayes, but there should be no pressure on him as a rookie.
I think people forget that this time last year Cole Anthony’s name was being thrown around as a potential number one pick in the draft. He had a shaky freshman season with an overmatched North Carolina team so his draft stock fell pretty far. Orlando took him 15th and he’ll likely start out as the backup point guard to Markelle Fultz, who is fine, I guess, but it’s not like he’s backing up Damian Lillard and will only see 10 minutes a game. Anthony should get good minutes off the bench and he can score in the NBA, we’ll see if he can do much else running with the Magic’s second unit. Also he had Spike Lee at his draft party, that’s the most juice any 15th pick has ever had in any sport ever.
To be honest, I really don’t know that much about Patrick Williams. The Bulls took him fourth overall and Williams will be slotted behind Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. in the front court and has the opportunity to make a real impact right away. He’s likely a project as Williams only played 22 minutes a game in his lone season with Florida State. Chicago might be the best spot for a project big. He won’t have to carry the team and do too much too quick, but should find a role in the rotation and play some meaningful minutes early on. I highly doubt he’s going to rise much farther up the rankings, but in a weaker year Williams could be one of the most solid rookies this season.
Honestly Okongwu might only play like eight minutes a game this season, but if he gets 15-25 he’s going to do the most with it. He’s behind Clint Capela and John Collins in the front court and will likely cede minutes early on to Danilo Gallinari and De’Andre Hunter at the power forward spot. His foot injury might force him to miss a few games to start the season, and he’ll get brought along slowly, but he could very easily find himself in the top three by the end of the season.
This is Phil Ford in the Dunking on Oxford blog and I’m talking to whoever’s listening out there. The NBA season is just two weeks away, and a lot has happened since last season ended just two months ago. Who better to convey where each team stands before the season kicks off than our lord and savior Kurt Russell? So take my advice on a dark and stormy offseason when the trades are crashing and free agency is rolling and the terrible signings are coming down in sheets thick as lead. Just remember what I said when the season starts and the poison takes fall from the Twitter, and the pillars of basketball shake. I look that internet troll right square in the eye and I say “give me your best shot pal, I can take it.”
1.) Los Angeles Lakers
2.) Milwaukee Bucks
3.) Los Angeles Clippers
4.) Miami Heat
5.) Brooklyn Nets
6.) Denver Nuggets
7.) Boston Celtics
8.) Philadelphia 76ers
9.) Dallas Mavericks
10.) Toronto Raptors
11.) Portland Trail Blazers
12.) Utah Jazz
13.) Phoenix Suns
14.) Golden State Warriors
15.) Houston Rockets
16.) New Orleans Pelicans
17.) Washington Wizards
18.) Indiana Pacers
19.) Memphis Grizzlies
20.) Atlanta Hawks
21.) Minnesota Timberwolves
22.) Sacramento Kings
23.) Orlando Magic
24.) Chicago Bulls
25.) San Antonio Spurs
26.) Charlotte Hornets
27.) Detroit Pistons
28.) New York Knicks
29.) Oklahoma City Thunder
30.) Cleveland Cavaliers
Okay. You people sit tight, hold the fort and keep the home fires burning. If these rankings prove to be horribly wrong by the end of the season…call Adam Silver.