The NBA is just days away from returning and I couldn't be more excited. The league is thriving in popularity, and with LeBron James heading to the Los Angeles Lakers, the interest of the NBA will rise even more. Many transactions have been made and new players are looking to be the missing piece for their new franchise. This season is going to be one for the ages and there are several things I am looking forward to. To start out this blog, I went through each division and wrote one thing I am looking forward to for each team. When I get to the final 20, I specifically highlighted my main interests for this season.
50. The Return of Gordon Hayward (Celtics) - The Boston Celtics are one of the most fascinating teams to watch, with Brad Stevens at the helm of things. With both Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward OUT during the Playoffs, Stevens' relied on veteran Al Horford and his young core of Tatum, Brown and Rozier. While these young players outperformed expectations, the return of Gordon Hayward makes this team incredibly dangerous. Hayward has not played in a regular season game since breaking his leg on opening night, but as the season progresses, we will see the rust ware off of Hayward. The Celtics are legitimate title contenders this season, and having a healthy Hayward back on the court, makes this team a dangerous threat.
49. Markelle Fultz Role (76ers) - Markelle Fultz was the 1st overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, and didn't see valuable time on the floor in the post season. With a strange injury that caused Fultz shot to be M.I.A, the Sixers had to once again, hold out another rookie. With that being said, Fultz is chomping at the bit to enjoy an increased role this season. The 76ers are looking for scorers to play alongside Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Having a young, athletic scorer off the bench will definitely help this team, but it will also be good to see the 1st overall pick showcase why he was projected as the best prospect entering the NBA in 2017.
48. Kawhi Leonard Healthy (Raptors) - The Raptors took a huge gamble by trading for Kawhi Leonard. Leonard has yet to play significant minutes since his injury in the 2017 Western Conference Finals. With that being said, a healthy Leonard makes this team one of the favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference. Too often in the social media era, we have a recency bias. A few seasons ago the argument was that LeBron was the best player in the world and then we debated between Curry, Durant and Leonard who was number two. Two titles later, Durant is the 2nd best player in the league and Kawhi is now out of the Top 5. It is crazy to not have a healthy Kawhi Leonard in the Top 3 in the NBA. What he does on both ends of the floor makes him one of the most special talents this league has ever seen. I am still unsure of what to think of Leonard's future in Toronto, but we said the same thing about Paul George last season when he was dealt to the Thunder. While I am still skeptical of Toronto's title chances, I know that a motivated Kawhi Leonard can get them to at least, the Eastern Conference Finals. Kawhi's presence on the court will be a huge plus for the NBA this season.
47. New York's Youth Movement (Knicks) - Ntilikina, Knox and Porzingis are going to be an exciting trio for the young New York Knicks. We will have to wait a little while to see Porzingis return to the floor, but that allows more time for Kevin Knox and Frank Ntilikina to develop and grow their offensive game. Emmanuel Mudiay is another young guy that many people have given up on. After being dealt to New York last season, he will have had an entire off-season to get his feet wet with his teammates and new coaching staff. I don't expect many wins from this team, but I do think Coach Fizdale is the right man to get them headed in the right direction.
46. The Nets Have Their Draft Pick (Nets) - Finally, the Brooklyn Nets can enjoy the NBA Draft without having to wheel and deal to acquire a mediocre pick. After the Celtics gobbled young star after young star away from them, the Nets can finally enjoy the benefits from being one of the worst teams in the league. With that being said, the Nets have enough talent on this roster to win more games than a Top 5 pick would give them. I know that the culture the Nets have instilled the last two seasons will preach against tanking, but they also had no reason to tank. I was impressed by the talent that Brooklyn acquired this off-season, but I also think that the expiring contracts they acquired might be away to obtain more draft picks during the season. Regardless, it is nice to see this franchise getting itself back on the right track and building this team from the ground up.
45. Dwight’s Wizard Era (Wizards) - The Washington Wizards are taking a risk in bringing in the former Defensive Player of the Year, Dwight Howard. Howard has one NBA Finals appearance with the Orlando Magic, but since being dealt from Orlando, his career has not lived up to expectations. Since 2012, Howard has played for the Lakers, Rockets, Hawks, Hornets and now, Wizards. While you could make the case that this is the best point guard Dwight Howard has played with, his lack of point guard talent has not been the reason he has failed to meet expectations from his earlier days in Orlando. Dwight has the talent to be a force still in this league, but too often we see him not taking things as seriously as he should. Washington is loaded with talented players, but do they have the right coach to make this work? I don't think so. The top part of the Eastern Conference will be a major challenge for the Wizards, so they will have to jell early in the season, so they aren't playing catch up. I can't remember the last time I felt so mixed about a teams projections. This team could easily be the laughing stock of the Eastern Conference playoff contenders, or they could be a team that pulls an upset in the first round. I think Washington will see that Howard is a dynamic player, but he will have to overcome his old habits and newfound reputation if the Wizards want to be taken seriously in the Eastern Conference.
44. Kemba Walker's Contract Season (Hornets) - The Hornets are a mediocre team who have struggled to be a competitive team in the Eastern Conference. With Kemba Walker in a contract year, the Hornets will have to show Walker that they are ready to win and make the right moves to better their roster. Walker stated in March to the Charlotte Observer that he feels he is a winning player and deserves to be a part of a winning team. I agree with Walker wholeheartedly. The Kemba Walker experience in Charlotte has been underwhelming, but it could soon be over.
43. Trae Young Era (Hawks) - If you are expecting a lot from the Hawks, than you are unrealistic. The Hawks are a young team and Trae Young is the guy they hope to rebuild around. Young was selected with the 5th overall pick by the Dallas Mavericks, but the Mavericks traded Young and their 2019 1st Round Pick for Luka Doncic. If Luka Doncic lives up to expectations, the Hawks can only hope that Young follows suit. I am a fan of both rookies and I hope to see them both flourish in their NBA careers. We also try to classify winners and losers in trades, but I think this is one that could turn out as a positive for both teams.
42. Who Plays Point Guard for Orlando (Magic) - The Magic are in a bit of a bind here with the roster make up. We criticized Rob Hennigan for his lackluster moves, but John Hammond has yet to make this team any better. In fact, I think that the Magic might be just as bad as last season. With DJ Augustin running the point guard and Jerian Grant backing him up, this team is probably weaker at point guard than any other team in the Eastern Conference. The Magic do have a handful of forwards that they should look at moving to acquire a point guard. We can only assume the Magic have a plan to turn this roster over to Bamba, Isaac and Gordon, but with Steve Clifford calling the shots, this team will not be tanking.
41. Justise Winslow’s Role (Heat) - You have to love Erik Spolstra's lineups and Point Justise is one of my favorite ones. What we know about Justise Winslow, is that this season is the biggest season of his career. Seeing that Winslow is in a contract season, I am eager to see how the young forward develops his game this season, and how the Heat produce when Winslow is on the floor.
40. How Tyreke & Oladipo Play Together (Pacers) - The Indiana Pacers were a game away from defeating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 1st round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Victor Oladipo played terrific for the majority of the series, but there were a few games you could see the holes in the Pacers' roster. Hoping to patch those holes for a quick fix this season, is guard Tyreke Evans. Evans had a career season last year with the Memphis Grizzlies and is hopeful to be Oladipo's relief when teams force the ball out of his hands. Unfortunately, Evans has not always been the most consistent basketball player in his career. I think that Indiana had to take a gamble on him because they had no other choice (with Lance Stephenson moving onto the Lakers). I am skeptical of which Evans the Pacers will get, but if they get anything close to last years Tyreke Evans, they will be a much improved team.
39. Jabari Parker's Prove It Season (Bulls) - Milwaukee and Jabari just never meshed well and with his multiple injuries, it was hard to invest a large portion of their salary cap at him. The Bulls on the other hand are desperate to find young players who can right this ship and get them back into the playoffs. The Bulls will start Jabari Parker at the small forward this season and I am intrigued to see how he handles that role. Parker is a little bit slower than the average small forward and seems to play best in the power forward position. I know that the Bulls made a low risk, high reward here on Parker for this upcoming season, but this season is all about Parker staying healthy and improving his game. Lastly, I am intrigued by the different lineups that Chicago throws out there. Seeing Markkanen and Parker playing the four and the five would be fascinating to me. I think Chicago has found themselves a start in Markkanen to build around, and Parker might be the first piece to the puzzle.
38. Cleveland fans love for Cedi - With LeBron James leaving the Cavaliers for greener pastures in Los Angeles, the Cavaliers go from 4-time NBA Finals representatives to a lottery level team. Although the expectations are completely vanished, this team will still be fun to watch. The fan favorite small forward, Cedi Osman is going to be fun to watch this upcoming season. The hype-train for Cedi Osman is beyond real and while the Cavaliers fans know their championship window is shut, they are still having fun with Cedi-mania. In fact, on Cedi Osman's wikipedia page, it reads "He is the young GOAT who will surpass LeBron James as the Cavaliers best player in franchise history." I would assume a fan went in and edited Osman's wikipedia page, or maybe it was the savy, Dan Gilbert.
37. Coach Buds Impact on Milwaukee (Bucks) - While the Jason Kidd Era failed miserably, Milwaukee fans can rejoice, because they have a competent head coach who actually knows how to put his players in the best position to succeed. I am expecting improved seasons from Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdan. Those improvements will make the game so much easier for the new face of the Eastern Conference, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Coach Bud has never had the talent of a Giannis on his roster, and with the new system that Bud institutes, we could see an MVP season for the Greek Freak.
36. Dwane Casey (Pistons) - It isn't everyday you see the Coach of the Year award winner get fired from his job. Casey had to be beyond frustrated that his team in Toronto fell apart in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, which led to a 4-game sweep to the Cleveland Cavaliers. LeBron James dominance in the Eastern Conference has gotten more than one coach fired, but it felt like Toronto had to make this move. The Pistons had no other choice than to move on from Stan Van Gundy, and bringing in the current Coach of the Year is an instant upgrade. Casey would love to overachieve with these Pistons and climb in the Eastern Conference standings. Realistically, they will be competing for one of the final two spots, but Casey has been a terrific regular season coach. I can't see Detroit getting any higher than the 6th seed, but I am hoping for a two-seven battle of Toronto and Detroit in the playoffs.
35. Roberson Healthy (Thunder) - The Oklahoma City Thunder lost to the Utah Jazz in the first round of the playoffs but I think things would have been different had Andre Roberson been there. Roberson is a huge upgrade over Corey Brewer and also allows Paul George to not have to defend the opposing teams best wing player. With Carmelo Anthony out of the Thunder's rotation, their defense will only get better. The offense for OKC will be limited with Roberson on the floor, but that is not what his role is on this team. Andre Roberson role on this OKC team is equivalent to Tony Allen of the Celtics 2008 Championship team.
34. Will Barton's New Role (Nuggets) - NBA Twitter is all in on the Denver Nuggets this season, and are expecting a huge leap for this team. Over the last few seasons, we have seen a combination of Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari at the starting small forward. This season, Denver is unleashing Will Barton and inserting him into that starting role. Barton had a career season last year averaging 15.7 points per game on 45% shooting. The most important stat though, Barton played in 81 games. Availability is the best ability and Barton is capable of that. Last season, Barton also thrived as a facilitator. Having someone that dynamic in your backcourt will allow Murray and Harris to play off the ball.
33. Andrew Wiggins (Timberwolves) - Jimmy Butler wants out of Minnesota and there is a lot of uncertainty. Wiggins has been entertaining us on social media, getting into with Stephen Jackson over the Butler drama, but I am hoping that Wiggins can entertain us on the floor this season. Wiggins has the talent to be a really good player, but the consistency isn't there. Minnesota invested a lot of money into Wiggins and are hoping that he will overcome his flaws and be the player they invested in. Minnesota is in a weird spot right now with the Butler drama, but this is a golden opportunity for Wiggins. The spotlight is on Minnesota for all the wrong reasons, but Wiggins having a consistent, successful season, could lead to a new narrative.
32. Ingles and Grayson (Jazz) - Joe Ingles continues to grow as a personality that NBA fans relish. He never backs down from a challenge, and plays instigator more often than he doesn't. In the 2018 draft, Utah selected a player who was known for having an edge in college, Grayson Allen. Grayson was highly criticized for letting his emotions get the best of him and for his dirty play on the court. Seeing that Grayson is a rookie, I don't know how many minutes he will get in the rotation, but having two edgy guys in Ingles and Grayson on the court together, well things could get heated. I don't promote NBA scuffles, but I do enjoy seeing players not like each other. I want there to be bad blood on the court and I want things to get chippy. These are two guys who aren't afraid to embrace and ignite this type of play and it will only make this Utah Jazz team that much more intriguing.
31. Portland Upgrading Roster (Trailblazers) - Dame Lillard and CJ McCollum are one of the best back courts in the NBA. However, the front office of Portland has to improve this roster. I do like Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic, but I hate the wings that they have added to this group. The most intriguing of the wings would be Seth Curry, but I don't think you can succeed with Lillard, McCollum and Curry on the floor all at the same time. Evan Turner is a good player, but he is a bench player in this league. Sure he can start, but that doesn't mean he is a starter level player. Turner is not a three point threat and he plays best when the ball is in his hands. Keeping your star players happy is a must, and if Portland misses the playoffs this season, there will be a lot of changes happening in Portland.
30. Anthony Davis & Julius Randle (Pelicans) - The Pelicans found success last season playing two totally different styles of basketball. To start the season off, they had DeMarcus Cousins playing the 5, while Anthony Davis played the 4. Unfortunately, Cousins went down with an injury and it left a hole in the Pelicans roster. New Orleans had no choice but to go out and find a replacement for their starting lineup. The Pelicans hit the jackpot when they were able to acquire Nikola Mirotic. Mirotic helped get the Pelicans into the playoffs but he struggled in the Semi-Finals, trying to defend against the Warriors. This off-season the Pelicans let point guard Rajon Rondo walk, but they acquired another big man in Julius Randle. Randle had a career season last year, and looks to play in the front court with Davis and Mirotic. His addition will allow Davis to play the 4 some, and will strengthen the weaknesses of New Orleans' other front court players.
29. Pop & DeRozan Overachieving (Spurs) - We know that Pop is the best coach in the NBA and that DeRozan is a highly skilled guard. The Spurs will miss the leadership of Danny Green, but Kawhi Leonard's status will no longer be the topic of discussion. Nobody really knows what was offered for Kawhi Leonard, but DeRozan and Poeltl are two guys the Spurs can use right away. DeRozan is an All-Star level player in this league, and the Spurs can only get better by adding that type of talent on their roster. People are writing the Spurs off once again, but DeRozan and Aldridge could be a scary duo, with Pop's system in place. I am excited to see the growth of DeRozan under the best coach in the game.
28. Doncic & Dirk’s One Year Together (Mavericks) - If Dirk does indeed play in the 2019-2020 season, I apologize for this assumption. The Mavericks traded for the best European prospect in years. Luka Doncic is a sensational player and is my pick to win Rookie of the Year. Expectation are high for Doncic as he hopes to lead this Mavericks team back to relevance. The 2018-2019 season might not be the year the Mavericks make the playoffs again, but in a few years, I can realistically see Doncic leading this team there. As for now though, Dirk will be the mentor of Doncic. Dirk can show Doncic the right way to go about business in the NBA and how to become the face of an NBA franchise. There are a lot of responsibilities with that role and Dirk might be the best franchise player currently in the NBA. What is even more intriguing to me, is that this might be the first time in NBA history that we see the passing of a torch where the previous franchise player and the new franchise player were both European.
27. Chris Paul Avoiding a Playoff Injury (Rockets) - The Rockets were one win away from making the NBA Finals last season. Chris Paul was one injury away from getting the Rockets to the Finals as well. People around the league truly felt had CP3 not gone down in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, that we would have seen a Rockets-Cavaliers NBA Finals. It is hard for me to fully jump on that bandwagon because we don't know how the Warriors would've played in Game 6 or Game 7. Paul is an amazing talent that often gets overlooked. I was devastated for Paul whenever he injured himself in Game 5. He was playing at an elite level and would have had the chance to make his first ever NBA Finals. The Rockets on paper got worse this summer, but they didn't get that much worse. I can't foresee the Rockets dethroning the Warriors in the playoffs, but I do hope we see a healthy Chris Paul for the entirety of post season.
26. Mike Conley Fully Healthy (Grizzlies) - While I just mentioned Chris Paul is overlooked, there hasn't been a point guard since Rod Strickland that has gotten underappreciated as much as Conley has. Conley is just a smooth point guard, who defends well and is an unselfish guy. I can't wait to see him back on the court this season, fully healthy, with a roster that is hoping to compete at a much higher level than last season. We don't know how much longer the duo of Gasol and Conley will last in Memphis, but when all things are clicking, these two players can cause problems for any team on any given night.
25. The Lakers Being Relevant (Lakers) - There is nothing I hate more than seeing a non-playoff team get rewarded with nationally broadcasted games on a weekly basis. Dating back to Kobe's farewell season, the Lakers have been in a complete rebuild operation. I understand that the Los Angeles market is something that ESPN, TNT and ABC can't ignore, but I want to watch a fun brand of basketball. This season, that all changes. LeBron James' presence instantly flips the script of seasons past. In addition to LeBron James, you have Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Javale McGee and Michael Beasley ready to rock and roll with the King. While the Lake Show might be a bit of a comedic act, they will still be relevant and I predict they make the playoffs. It is a gift for all NBA fans when the Lakers are relevant and worth the publicity they get. New York Knicks, you're next.
24. Depth of the Clippers (Clippers) - The Los Angeles Clippers have a solid roster heading into the 2018 season. I have low expectations for this team, but the depth at each position makes them a viable threat to anyone on any given night. The Clippers front office knows what is at stake for the 2019 NBA Free Agency class, and they want to be front and center with the most amount of money to pay 2-max salaries. Jimmy Butler has expressed that the Clippers would be a choice of his, if he could pick a team he wants to play for. Personally, I think Minnesota could acquire enough depth from the Clippers and help push them to a playoff appearance. The Clippers on the other hand will have an upper hand heading into free agency, since Jimmy Butler could be on their team. With all that being said, I am excited to see this depth grow and see how the Clippers front office manages the structure of their roster going forward.
23. Willie Cauley Stein’s Contract Season (Kings) - The Sacramento Kings have absolutely nothing to play for this season. Their draft pick will eventually be decided between Philly and Boston and they are not talented enough to make the Western Conference playoffs. One person who does have something to play for is the 2015, 6th overall pick, Willie Cauley Stein. WCS has been a productive player for the Kings, but there is still more potential in his game that he hasn't reached. I would assume that the Kings want WCS back on the roster, but it will be hard for him to turn down opportunities next year to showcase himself on a playoff level team. Larry Bird once claimed that WCS was "a $100 million player" and is still a consultant of the Indiana Pacers. I don't know how the Pacers would go about signing WCS, but I do believe that the Kings would be reluctant to match any offer sheet that is out of their price range. Like Indiana, there will be a lot of teams that want the services of WCS and I believe this is the year for him to make a name for himself (and a paycheck).
22. Ayton & Booker Chemistry (Suns) - Expectations are high in Phoenix for the former Arizona center, DeAndre Ayton. The Suns selected Ayton with the first overall pick, hoping to have their 1-2 punch with Ayton and Devin Booker. Devin Booker is the piece that Phoenix has invested heavily in and the chemistry between to the two, will be one that I am keeping my eyes on. Ayton and Booker are going to need more pieces around them, but this is a solid foundation to build a young team around.
21. How The Warriors Play Stylistically with Cousins (Warriors) - I am not one of those people who believes the Warriors are unbeatable with DeMarcus Cousins. I think they are the best team with or without Cousins. I am however intrigued to see Cousins running down the court, jawing with Kevin Durant and Draymond Green. There are going to be multiple games when opponents are visibly frustrated with the beat down the Warriors are giving them, and the combination of Cousins, Durant and Green will have no mercy for the opponents vulnerability.
20. Myles Turner‘s Development - Myles Turner reportedly reached an endorsement deal with Nike for the 2018-2019 season. Expectations are high for the 4th year center as he approaches the end of his rookie contract. Turner has put in a significant amount of work this off-season hoping to elevate his game, and join teammate Victor Oladipo in the All Star Game. Turner has all the skills that you want in a modern day big game, but he has yet to take that step to the next level. This could be the year.
19. Schroeder’s 6th Man Campaign - Schroeder is on a new team with new faces. The Hawks starting point guard wanted out of the rebuild situation and became a headache for the Hawks during their transition. Schroeder has openly embraced his new challenge of backing up former MVP, Russell Westbrook. It is humbling for a young player to put aside his selfishness to be a starter, and to willingly accept the backup position. With this new attitude, I am excited to see the Schroeder so many people raved about during the NBA Draft.
18. What Trades the Lakers Make - The Lakers front office will continue to form this roster around LeBron James more than just the off-season. LeBron James is still in tip-top shape and the organization is desperate to give LeBron James back all he has given them by coming to this team. I would be completely shocked if the Lakers aren't active in the trade market this season.
17. Pat Riley’s Roster Shakeup - The Miami Heat might not have to wait too long for a Pat Riley shakeup. The Heat have a talented roster, but not one that can be taken seriously in the Least of the East. There is no doubt in my mind that Pat Riley will be looking to acquire Jimmy Butler from the Timberwolves. The Heat have a good amount of players to offer in return, but you do risk the chance of giving up on a younger talent.
16. Siakim Starting Over JV - As important as Jonas has been for the Raptors, it is time to move on and give Siakim the reigns in the starting lineup with Serge Ibaka. Siakim is a unique, young talent and analytics have proven his value to this Toronto team. With Boston serving as the biggest threat to the Raptors, inseting Siakim over JV gives them the speed, shooting and defensive switching ability to cause problems for the rising Celtics.
15. Young Wolves - The Timberwolves are in a weird situation right now with Jimmy Butler wanting to move on. Karl Towns and Andrew Wiggins will have to become the leaders once again and are hopeful whatever they receive in return for Butler, is a plus. Towns has the talent to be a big name player in this league, but he has to be more of a force. Andrew Wiggins needs to play every game the same way he plays against the Cavaliers (who traded him his rookie season for Kevin Love). The writing is on the wall for Tom Thibodeau and the next coach that gets hired in Minnesota should be one that can develop these young stars into veteran stars.
14. Jrue Holliday Makes the Western Conference All-Stars - I am calling this right now. A healthy Jrue Holliday is one of the best players in the West. Holliday was phenomenal in the opening round series against the Blazers and the 6'4" guard took on the role of defending Kevin Durant in the 2nd round. I love the Jrue Holliday story and I think this man is worthy of some attention. It is going to be tough as nails making the All-Star Game as a member for the Western Conference, but I am still a firm believer in the Pelicans guard.
13. Which New Coaches Rise - We have new coaches in the following places: Phoenix, Orlando, Charlotte, Detroit, Toronto, Milwaukee, Atlanta, New York and Memphis. I can't recall the last time we saw so much turnover in one season. The new coaches will have an opportunity to build their culture, implement their system and grow their talent. I see Mike Budenholzer's role with Milwaukee flourishing better than the other coaches, but I am intrigued by Igor Kokoskov.
12. Which Rookies Shine - Luka Doncic, DeAndre Ayton, Collin Sexton, Jaron Jackson Jr, Trae Young and Marvin Bagley are the key names you will hear in the Rookie of the Year race, but I believe that Wendall Carter Jr. will be the 2018-2019 Rookie of the Year. Carter Jr. impressed in draft workouts and in the Summer League. I think Chicago would benefit from playing Carter often, but I like that he will come off the bench. Some rookies, especially bigs who can get in foul trouble, need the limited minutes early in the season to improve their game. I think Carter is a leader, and this is going to be noticeable midway through the season.
11. LeBron and Lance Teammates - The greatest NBA meme video of all time is Lance blowing into LeBron's ear in the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals. These videos resurfaced once the Pacers resigned Lance Stephenson in 2017. With Lance no longer on the Pacers, he has joined the enemy and followed LeBron to LA. I have no idea how this marriage will work, but seeing LeBron and Lance throwing alley-oops and running the fast break together will be weird, but weirdly enjoyable.
10. No More Simmons/Mitchell ROY Debate - Truth is, I was never a fan of the ongoing debate between who the Rookie of the Year was in 2017-2018. Ben Simmons was awarded this award but Donovan Mitchell stans were unwilling to accept the facts. Donovan Mitchell continued to make it a point of emphasis each press conference to let people know that he was a "real rookie". A real rookie? I love Mitchell and think he is insanely talented, but I grew tired of this narrative. I am hoping that this season we will be able to enjoy the greatness of both Simmons and Mitchell without having to compare them on a daily basis.
*Side Note: Jayson Tatum will be the better pro of Mitchell, Simmons and Tatum.
9. Gobert's Defensive Player of the Year Defense - Gobert finally won the award he had deserved before in years' past. I think Gobert is the best Defensive Center in the league and this season will be nothing less of that. I expect Gobert to be a pivotal part of the Jazz success, which will win him the DPOY for the 2018-2019 season.
8. Khris Middleton’s First All Star Appearance - Middleton's stock has slowly started to rise over NBA Twitter the last few months. With free agency looming for Middleton, there are a lot of teams that will be intrigued to pickup the 3 and D - small forward. In the Eastern Conference, there is a huge opportunity for Middleton to finally get into the All Star Game. He is a clutch shooter who isn't afraid to sink one at the buzzer, or defend the opposing teams best wing. Middleton is easily one of my favorite players in the NBA and he will get a nice paycheck in the summer of 2019.
7. Jamal Murray’s Most Improved Player of the Year Season - The Denver Nuggets are a fascinating team to watch. Last year they had a nice season, but unfortunately injuries kept them from maxing out their potential. This season I am expecting another giant leap from point guard Jamal Murray. Murray is such a dynamic scorer and his game has improved each and every season. If/When the Nuggets make the playoffs next season, it will be in large part from the season Murray had. Jokic, Millsap and Barton can all have stellar seasons, but this team will need a huge season from Murray if they want to be a serious threat in the Western Conference.
6. Giannis Becoming the Face of the East - The Eastern Conference has been dominated by The King since 2003, but the East is looking for a new face of the conference with LeBron in Los Angeles. There are a handful of candidates that could compete for this spot, but there is nobody as talented in the Eastern Conference as Giannis. The league has fallen in love with the Greek Freak, but his Bucks team have failed to reach expectations. Watching Giannis develop his game over the seasons has been fun, but they have ultimately left you wanting to see Giannis bring his game to an untouchable level. With an offensive guru in Mike Budenholzer, I expect Giannis to have a career year for the Bucks.
5. Carmelo in Houston’s Offense - I don't love Carmelo Anthony's game at all, but I am intrigued to see how he adjusts to the system in Houston. Players are players and they aren't changing their game over night. The Thunder took a chance on Melo and it didn't work out. It doesn't have to be anyone's fault why the trade didn't work, but maybe it's because the system didn't fit the strengths of Melo's game. With veterans Chris Paul and James Harden running the show, Melo will have to learn how to adapt to being an occasional scorer while spreading the floor and running pick and rolls. I think Melo has the tools to fit in this system, but we are also seeing the tail end of Carmelo Anthony's NBA career.
4. PG13 and Westbrook’s 2nd Year Together - The Thunder are going to be one of my favorite teams to watch once again this season. Westbrook plays the game of basketball with such a will and determination that it motivates you to want to work harder. Then you have Mr. Calm, Cool and Collective, Paul George, who is trying to be everyone in the leagues friend. These two couldn't be anymore different on the court, but their opposite approaches to the game, makes them a fun duo to watch. OKC took a gigantic swing on Paul George and it paid off. Creating a bond between Mr. Westbrook and Mr. George should be a concern for other teams in the Western Conference. Based off the makeup of the Thunder roster, I expect Oklahoma City to be the biggest threat to the Golden State Warriors.
3. Joel Embiid's MVP Season - This is the perfect season for Joel Embiid to prove why he is the face of the Philadelphia 76ers. While the 76ers still have gaping holes in their roster, they have a center that can change the game on both ends of the floor. Embiid was held out for a handful of games last season, before he became an every day rotational player. His defensive rim protecting is solid, but it could improve. His decision making at the top of the key could be crisper, along with his shot selection. One thing that Embiid will fail to do is underwhelm. Embiid is possibly the best trash talker in the NBA. He doesn't always do it just on the court, but also on social media. Embiid is hands down one of the funniest guys in the league today. He carries a charisma about him that influences his teammates to jump on his back and ride the train. I can't wait to see what type of season Embiid has this season and I am predicting Joel Embiid's first ever, Most Valuable Player award.
2. The Celtics win 60+ - The East is the Celtics to take. I have no doubt that this Boston team can tally up sixty wins, while representing the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. Toronto, Philly and Indiana will be trying with all of their power to overcome the Eastern Conference, but the talent, coaching and depth of this Celtics' team separates them from the rest of the pack.
1. Celtics Small Ball Lineup vs Warriors - The NBA Finals will be better than the last two we have seen. The Celtics (barring a serious injury) have a lineup that will give the Warriors fits. The length and speed of their small ball lineup will match up very well against the small ball lineup of Golden State. I think it would be foolish to select the Celtics over the Warriors in the NBA Finals, but my last name is Golden, and I am a fool. My "Fools Gold" overreaction is that "I believe the Boston Celtics will defeat the Golden State Warriors" in the NBA Finals. Make no mistake about it, the reason I think Boston will win over 60+ games, is because I think they will have home court advantage in the NBA Finals. The Warriors will definitely be the better team on paper, but in a Game 7, with a healthy Hayward and a healthy Irving, this series could be one for the ages.
Alex Golden is the creator and founder of UpAndUnder.net. Throughout the season, Alex Golden will breakdown what's going on in the association. Make sure to checkout his weekly Power Rankings (in the Power Rankings page) during the season as well.