Even though the theme of this upcoming NBA season is a parity and competitive balance that we haven’t seen maybe ever in the NBA; there’s always a handful of guarantees you can bank on going into every year. 2019-2020 is no different.
Bron & AD make league’s best duo
Coinciding with this season’s ‘parity’ theme comes the superstar dynamic duos. The newly assembled duos of LeBron and Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, and James Harden and Russell Westbrook are the buzz of the league.
Among the shiny new pairings across the association along with the already existing ones, the creme de la creme is the tinseltown tandem wearing the purple & gold: LeBrow if you will.
Thankfully for the drama purposes of this NBA season, the second best duo is right down the hall from LeBron and AD’s Lakers in “The Klaw” Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Clippers fans will argue Kawhi has surpassed LeBron in their argument favoring the Clips duo. But, the gap between each team’s second star, Anthony Davis and Paul George, is sizably wider than the marginal gap Kawhi has earned himself from LeBron as the league’s top player.
Paul George balled from start to finish last year earning him a rightfully deserved 3rd place finish in the MVP voting. But “AD” is just different. He and LeBron have the opportunity to be the most dominant, physically imposing duo in NBA history. Both are all world forwards with top flight skill sets. It’ll be fun to watch the two as teammates.
Clippers, Sixers headline daunting defenses
The old cliche that you’re sick of hearing “defense wins championships” applies to this NBA season as well. Shocker. In a possible eventual finals match up, the Los Angeles Clippers and Philadelphia 76ers are set up to each have historically great defensive teams this season.
With Patrick Beverly, Paul George, and Kawhi Leonard as the Clippers starting 1-3 this season, it’s quite possibly the scariest perimeter defensive trio in league history. All three of those guys will get up in your best player and take on the challenge of shutting them down. It’s a luxury to have one of those guys. Doc Rivers and company have three bonafide players of that caliber. Good luck with that.
Additional role players with defensive upside like Montrezl Harrell, Mo Harkless, and Rodney McGruder will help the Clippers clamp down on opponents constantly.
In the east, defensive supremacy exists in the “City of Brotherly Love”. Ben Simmons and Josh Richardson make one of the better defensive backcourts in the league. Then you get down to the paint and it’s downright frightening with Joel Embiid and newly added sound veteran Al Horford manning the frontcourt.
The rest of their roster is filled with defensive stoppers as well. Rookie defensive sensation Matisse Thybulle, James Ennis III, Zaire Smith, and Kyle O’Quinn make Philly the deepest defensive squad in the NBA. No second guesses are needed when predicting the league’s top defenses, these two separate themselves.
Pray to the Ping Pong Ball Gods: Charlotte, Cleveland, Oklahoma City
The tail end of October means it’s the one time of the year all thirty teams sit at 0-0 with an equal opportunity to pursue a desperately coveted title. Well, a handful of teams shouldn’t waste their time with optimism on that front. The only thing the basement dwelling Charlotte Hornets, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Oklahoma City Thunder have to look forward to this season is June’s NBA draft.
Charlotte’s roster is headlined by Marvin Williams, Terry Rozier, and Nicholas Batum with Kemba Walker’s departure in free agency. So there’s that. It’s fair to say that trio won’t lead to many wins in this NBA. All Hornets executive Michael Jordan has been remembered for as a front office member is grossly overpaying role players, missing the boat in the draft, and in turn missing the playoffs. That’ll continue to this year for sure. Put all of your money on them being one of the three worst teams in the league.
For Cleveland, we know the drill. LeBron’s on the roster: they’ll probably make the finals. Without LeBron on the roster: the cities entire economy takes a huge dip and they suck on top of it. That’ll be no different this year and probably no different moving forward until the Cavs draft LeBron James Jr in 2024 and or Dan Gilbert sells the team.
And then there’s OKC. A.K.A the team that probably owns one of your teams draft picks within the next five to ten years. OKC general manager Sam Presty and the Thunder began the full on rebuild this offseason trading both Russell Westbrook and Paul George for several draft picks after yet another first round playoff failure.
The Thunder will roll with future hall of fame point guard Chris Paul as they’re headliner. After that they’ve got a top seven or eight center in basketball in Steven Adams. But given OKC’s rebuild push and Adams eating up over 50 million dollars of the Thunder’s cap through next season, expect them to find a trade partner for him before the trade deadline.
So after CP3 and Adams, you’re looking around trying to find something of substance. Instead it’s a lot of raw, undeveloped players. OKC is also at a huge disadvantage with suspect head coach Billy Donovan. They also lack shooting ability, which is crucial to have in the modern NBA. Expect the Thunder to finish as one of the worst teams in an extremely deep western conference.
Third Times a Charm this NBA Season
Looking toward the future of our great game, thankfully it’s in good hands. There’s so much young ascending talent between the ages of 19-24 in the NBA it’s just astounding. Entering every season, folks try their best to decide which young players will take the big leap that year.
For 2019-2020, it’s all about the players entering their third season. There’s reason to believe Ben Simmons, Jayson Tatum, and Donovan Mitchell will all solidify their projection as headliners for the next wave of NBA superstars. Simmons has clearly been working on his jumper this offseason more diligently than in the past. One made pull up three-pointer in a preseason game isn’t completely swinging the needle for me. But it appears he’s capable of at least hitting it in game, which is the last piece of his game to propel him to an all time great.
Jayson Tatum is entering his third season with a team dynamic much more conducive to his game than last years. With less mouths to feed and touches to go around on this Celtics team than last year’s, and a better distributor than Kyrie running the show at point guard in Kemba Walker, expect Tatum to hover around 20 points per game and make his first all star game this season.
Lastly, explosive third year combo guard Donovan Mitchell now has Mike Conley as a teammate. Long time Grizzly point guard Conley is one of the most savvy players in the league. Conley’s IQ and extensive playoff experience will help Mitchell immensely. Combine this mentorship with Mitchell’s ability, work ethic, and proof he can perform on the biggest stage as he did his rookie year in his first playoff appearance versus OKC, he’s going to be special in this league for awhile.
Player with Most Pressure: “Playoff P”
Unsurprisingly, the Clippers enter this season as title favorites. Why? Primarily because of the two time finals MVP, two time defensive player of the year, and best player on the planet right now Kawhi Leonard. That’s a lot of accomplishment for a 28 player with far more to give, huh? That’s right. Kawhi has accomplished more than enough in this league already. Nobody in their right mind would question his greatness, especially in high stake moments, moving forward.
For his running mate, Paul George, the narrative is quite different. Early in his career in Indiana and recently in playoff series’ for OKC, George has wet the bed in big moments. Now he’s on the title favorite, with the best player in the world right there. On top of that you have a deep, multi-layered supporting cast, a great head coach in Doc Rivers, and solid infrastructure in the Clippers front office. He has no excuse. If the Clippers fail in the playoffs and Kawhi is himself, there’s no doubt the finger is being pointed at the self proclaimed “Playoff P”. With the Lakers, the team Paul George spurned in free agency in 2018, as the Clippers in town rival and biggest threat in the west, that spotlight and pressure on the Palmdale, CA native is heightened that much more.