NBA end of season predictions

By Paul Gustafson, Apprentice Editor

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Ever since Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors raised the Larry O’Brien trophy for the first time as Champions in front of millions of loyal fans last June, the entire landscape of the NBA has changed dramatically. Superstar players such as the previously mentioned Leonard, Anthony Davis and Kevin Durant decided to switch teams this offseason returning a so-called “balance” to the league. All of the movement around the league and the introduction of star rookies such as Zion Williamson, Ja Morant and RJ Barrett has made this NBA season one of the most anticipated in recent memory. Here are some of the Wessex Wire’s predictions for the NBA this year. 

 

Championship Contenders:

Los Angeles Clippers

Last year the eight seeded Clippers were set with the tough task of facing off against the Kevin Durant led Warriors. What was expected to be a sweep and easy win for Golden State resulted in a six game dog fight. Even though the Warriors ended up winning the series, the Clippers led by Lou Williams and Montrez Harrell, were able to take two games including a 31 point comeback, the largest in playoff history, on the road in game two. The impressive series put together by the Clippers attracted the attention of Finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard, who decided to leave his Championship team in Toronto to join LA. They weren’t done there, they also added six time NBA all star and MVP candidate Paul George through trade, cementing them as a true title contender under head coach Doc Rivers. 

Los Angeles Lakers

Whenever a team’s best player happens to be the Greatest player of our generation, they always have a good shot at going all the way. Especially when another superstar, three time all nba player Anthony Davis is joining the team. Other X-factor players such as Kyle Kuzma, Dwight Howard and Rajon Rondo are set to play a big role for the Lakers on their quest to the Finals this year. 

Philadelphia 76ers 

It seems as if all the lottery winning seasons and years of screaming “Trust the Process” in the streets of Philadelphia has finally paid off as the Sixers have built one of the most talented starting fives in the game of basketball. With 7 foot big man Joel Embiid and 6 foot 10 point guard Ben Simmons, the 76ers are deadly are both sides of the ball. After hanging in through seven games against the eventual champion Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference playoffs, the 76ers decided to overhaul their already starstuded lineup. They parted ways with ball dominant star Jimmy Butler and were able to replace him with two underrated stars in Josh Richardson and Al Horford. With offensive threat Tobias Harris resigning as well, there is a chance the 76ers can return to the glory days. 

 

Undervalued Teams:

New Orleans Pelicans

Last season was one to forget for the fans of the Pelicans, a 13th place finish and the drama of their star player Anthony Davis demanding a trade overshadowed the excellence of other players such as Jrue Holiday and Jahlil Okafor. Executive David Griffin was able to ship Davis out of New Orleans for a haul from the Los Angeles Lakers including young talents such as Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart. They were also able to add star rookies Zion Williamson, Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker in the draft and veterans JJ Reddick and Derrick Favors through free agency. With all of the new talent on the roster, the Pelicans are a legit threat for a playoff spot in 2020. 

Miami Heat

After missing the playoffs, the Miami Heat decided changes needed to be made. General Manager Pat Riley worked his magic and acquired Jimmy Butler in a sign and trade with the Philadelphia 76ers. If Jimmy Butler can return to his superstar form from his time with the Bulls and Timberwolves, he can lead the Heat to a top spot in the East. Other new additions such as Meyers Leonard and Tyler Herro also look to produce for the Eastern Conference squad.  

Dallas Mavericks

Under head coach Rick Carlisle the sky is the limit in Dallas. Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic will take a step up in his sophomore season and improve in all aspects of his game. Not to mention, all star power forward Kristaps Porzingis is set to make his Mavericks debut after being traded from the Knicks last February. Other pieces such as Delon Wright and Tim Hardaway Jr. will add to the winning culture.  

 

Breakout Players:

Lonzo Ball

Perhaps the change in scenery from the bright lights of Los Angeles to the small market New Orleans Pelicans is what it will take for the former number two overall pick to reach his true potential. Throughout his first two seasons, Lonzo Ball has proved to fans everywhere that he is an elite level defender with a knack for finding open teammates everywhere on the court. Besides that, Lonzo has proven himself to be a subpar shooter and inconsistent scorer. Playing with the number one overall pick Zion Williamson may bring out the true potential of the “Big Baller”. 

Jayson Tatuym

Coming out the 2017 NBA draft, Jayson Tatum showed fans flashes of his true potential in the 2018 playoffs averaging 18.5 points per game on 47 percent shooting from the field and leading the Celtics to a seven game showdown with Lebron James and the Cavs in the Eastern’ Conference Finals. Fans reasonably expected a step up heading into last season from Tatum and were greatly disappointed as the forward only averaged 15.7 points per game, a step down from his playoff production. With Kyrie Irving and Al Horford leaving Boston, Tatum will take on a larger role in the Celtics offense this season which should see Tatum blossom into an all star. 

Deandre Ayton

Deander Ayton quietly turned in an amazing rookie season as the number one overall pick for the Suns. With standout rookies Trae Young and Luka Doncic bursting onto the scene fans were quick to forget about the giant manning the paint in Phoenix. Averaging 16.3 points per game and 10.3 rebounds per game, Ayton proved that he can be one of the most dominant centers in the league. Expect nothing but greatness from the second year big man. 

 

MVP candidates:

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Throughout his six year career, Giannis has seen a steady increase in stats every season. In both the points and rebounds statistics, Giannis has been able to increase his numbers every year going from 6.8 points per game and 4.4 rebounds per game in his rookie year to 27.7 points per game and 12.5 rebounds per game last year. “The Greek Freak” was able to bring home his first MVP trophy after leading his Milwaukee Bucks all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals where they lost to the eventual Champion Toronto Raptors. If Giannis can continue his steady increase in statistics and lead the Bucks to another playoff season, Antetokounmpo will be a legit contender to win back to back MVP awards. 

Stephen Curry 

Before Kevin Durant joined the Warriors following the 2016 season, Stephen Curry was on top of the NBA world. The point guard won back to back MVP awards in 2015 and 2016 leading the Warriors to the Finals in both seasons and a historic 73 win season in 2016. Playing with another superstar held back Curry from showing his true skill, now that Durant has left Golden State for the Brooklyn Nets, Curry is ready to return to his MVP form. If the Warriors want to contend for the championship this year, they will need Curry to attempt 20 shots per game and even average 30 points per game like he did back in 2015 and if Steph can pull off these incredible numbers, he has a shot to receive his third MVP trophy. 

Nikola Jokic

After leading the Denver Nuggets to the top seed in the Western Conference last season, Jokic was able to establish himself as the best center in the NBA and a superstar talent. Averaging 20 points per game, 10.8 rebounds per game and 7.3 assists per game while being named to his first all star team, fans fell in love with Jokic. If the Serbian big man can lead the Nuggets to the top of the West again and potentially do the unthinkable and average a triple double as a center he will for sure win his first career MVP award.