A new NBA season will bring many surprises

By MATTHEW RITCHIE | October 18, 2018

b12-giannis
KEITH ALLISON/CC BY-SA 2.0 Giannis Antetokounmpo has improved each year he has played in the NBA.

Don’t worry everyone, we made it. The NBA season is finally upon us. No longer do we have to keep rewatching House of Highlights clips on Instagram of our various favorite NBA stars. There will no longer be tired conversations of last year’s regular season, playoffs or Finals. Another glorious 1,230 NBA games are on tap to begin this week, and there are a ridiculous number of reasons to be excited. 

There should be something said for when a league is able to drum up enough excitement and intrigue during the offseason to hold over their ravenous fans. But with a bevy of blockbuster moves, draft day fireworks and constant bickering and antagonizing on social media, it is no surprise that players and fans alike were chomping at the bit for the season to start. 

On top of the off-court media fodder, there is an obscene level of talent strewn throughout the Association, creating a wide range of contenders in each of the Conferences. 

In the Eastern Conference, the consensus seems to be that the Boston Celtics are the cut-and-dry favorites to be the No. 1 seed. This would make sense, wouldn’t it? Don’t forget, they were only a game away from beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers last year in the Eastern Conference Finals. 

Boston retained the entirety of its core that was pivotal to it running through the playoffs, and it has two huge All-Stars returning in the form of point guard Kyrie Irving and small forward Gordon Hayward. With one of the best coaches in the league, Brad Stevens, at the helm, the Celtics would be a smart bet to win the Conference. 

But are they really the only option? Let’s not forget that they did not have the best record in the Conference last year. 

That honor belonged to the Toronto Raptors, who were part of the biggest trade of the offseason. The Raptors received two-way superstar forward Kawhi Leonard and 3-and-D forward Danny Green, in exchange for their franchise cornerstone DeMar DeRozan, center Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first-round pick. 

It doesn’t matter what happens after this year: The Raptors got considerably better with the addition of Leonard and Green. Leonard was in conversations to be a top-three player just a couple of years ago before he was injured. If he returns to even a shell of himself, the Raptors will have more than a fighting chance to repeat as the No. 1 seed.

I would also be remiss to not mention the Philadelphia 76ers, who quite possibly have the most exciting young core in the entire league. If center Joel Embiid is able to retain the same form that he had last season, along with continued growth from “point-forward” Ben Simmons and any growth at all from No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz, the Sixers should see considerable success in the weaker Conference. They were dispatched by the Celtics in the playoffs last year pretty easily, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the negative experience serves to help them improve and work on their shortcomings, which was offensive efficiency due to shot selection. Maybe Ben Simmons will actually shoot a three-pointer this year. 

The last viable option for the Eastern Conference crown is the Milwaukee Bucks, who you cannot count out because they have the best player in the Conference, forward Giannis Antetokounmpo. It’s ridiculous because he keeps getting better and better with each season, almost like an unstoppable killer robot that keeps evolving past the control of its creators. Imagine if Giannis begins to incorporate the pull-up three to his game. It would be over for everyone else.

Over in the Western Conference, everything got a lot more fun. The biggest free agency signing of the year occurred, with LeBron James deciding to take his talents to Venice Beach and play for the Los Angeles Lakers. 

It was the best move possible for the Lakers who had missed the playoffs each of the last five years. LeBron, who has been living his best life since moving to the West Coast and becoming the greatest player to ever don 

a Lakers jersey, will look to quickly bring the Lakers’ young, but talented, core up to speed so that they can compete for a top spot in the Conference. 

But until then, the mantle of best team still belongs to the Golden State Warriors, who are, once again, the favorites to not only win the Western Conference, but the championship. The Warriors added another All-Star to the team, former New Orleans Pelicans center DeMarcus Cousins, via free agency. 

He won’t be ready to return until later in the season, as he’s coming back from an Achilles injury, but don’t worry, the Warriors still have four other All-Stars in their starting lineup. It would be difficult to foresee any other outcome than Golden State advancing to the Finals.

That doesn’t mean that the result is automatic. The Warriors were a game away from being eliminated by the Houston Rockets, the No. 1 seed in the Conference, in the Western Conference Finals. If we’re being honest, Houston only lost because it missed 27 straight threes in Game 7 of that series. 

Reigning MVP guard James Harden will look to continue to lead the offense with key returning pieces Chris Paul, Clint Capela, Eric Gordon and free agent signing Carmelo Anthony. 

If the Rockets are able to sustain their uber efficient offensive play, they will continue to be a dangerous team throughout the season. 

The rest of the Conference is full of talented teams, but only few are actually in the running for the top spot. The Utah Jazz are likely going to be among the top four teams in the Conference, depending on the continued growth of their sophomore guard Donovan Mitchell, whose explosive offensive ability goes hand in hand with their success. 

Can the Oklahoma City Thunder, who retained forward Paul George this summer, finally help guard Russell Westbrook get over the hump and out of the West again for the first time since 2012? It will also be very fun to see if the two-headed dragon of guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum can lead the Portland Trailblazers to deep playoff success. 

All I know is,this season of the NBA will be full of intrigue and excitement; be sure to pay attention to it. 

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The News-Letter.