NBA Preview

Jason Upton, Sports Editor

Another year, another Warriors title. Why should this one be any different? A team with four potential All-Stars, two of the top three or four players in the league, and three championships in the last four years just added the best center in the league (granted he’s coming off a torn Achilles). It’s practically unfair at this point. Except it’s not. Early on this year Golden State has shown signs of weakness, including their last second win over the Jazz and their one point loss to the Nuggets. In what was once a very young and undeveloped Western Conference the last couple years, several contenders have emerged. The Lakers adding LeBron James, the Spurs trading a crabby Kawhi Leonard for DeMar DeRozan, and the Jazz and Nuggets with their top players on the rise should make for an interesting playoffs.

On the flip side, the Eastern Conference has vastly improved. Three top-tier teams will be fighting for a championship appearance, including the Celtics, Raptors, and 76ers. The big question heading into the season is how the Raptors will do with Kawhi Leonard replacing DeMar DeRozan. There’s no question that Leonard is a better overall player than DeRozan, but how he will fit in with the Raptors system remains to be seen. The chemistry between him and a disgruntled post-DeRozan Kyle Lowry will also be a storyline to watch this year.

The Celtics have by far the most talent of the group, but will have to figure out how to play everyone together. Kyrie Irving is arguably a top ten player in the league, Jayson Tatum is blossoming into a superstar, and Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier would be top three players on most other teams in the league. Add in proven talent like Gordon Hayward and Al Hortford, and key role players in Marcus Smart and Marcus Morris, and you have a complicated lineup to fill out.

The 76ers are centered around young stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Both could put up All-NBA bids and even leap into the top ten players conversation. This team might have the most potential of any team in the East. 2017 first overall pick Markelle Fultz is a big question mark, and if he can make a big jump this season, the Sixers could find themselves in the championship.

The Bucks, Pacers, and Wizards should fill out the next three playoff spots, leaving the Pistons, Heat, and Hornets to race for the last two. The Pistons started off the season well, going 4-0 with Blake Griffin hitting a revival in his career putting up 50 points in a win against the 76ers. The West has a similar situation. The Warriors, Rockets, Lakers, and Jazz are pretty much shoo-ins for the playoffs, and then around six other teams will be in the playoff race. The Thunder, Nuggets, Timberwolves, and Trailblazers will all be competitive in the Northwest division. The Pelicans and the Spurs in the Southwest will be butting heads all season as well. When all is said and done, it’s likely that there could be a pair of 45 win teams that are left out of the playoffs this April.

The awards race this year will be especially tight. The field contending for MVP is as wide as it has ever been, with no clear front-runner. LeBron is currently favored, but Giannes Antetekoumpto and Anthony Davis are right behind him. Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook round out this stacked group of players.

Defensive Player of the Year has a clear top tier of players, including Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Rudy Gobert, and Joel Embiid. One would have to ask themself, if Davis won both MVP and DPOY, where would that rank in the best seasons all time for a player. Davis has a chance to have a special year, and if he puts up 30 points, 13 rebounds, and 3 blocks per game, and the Pelicans win 48-50 games, the opportunity for a multi-award season is there.

Finally, this rookie class has a lot to prove. Suns center and number one overall pick DeAndre Ayton has been hyped up as the most athletic prospect of the last decade. Luka Doncic got major buzz overseas, where he led Real Madrid to a Euroleague championship at the age of 19. Marvin Bagley and Trae Young each have the potential to score 18 points per game this year, so expect contest to come down to the last month of play.

The bottom line is, even with the Warriors this far ahead of the competition, there’s so much more to be excited about. Standout rookies, playoff bids, revamped teams, and award races give basketball fans plenty of reasons to cheer this season.