It’s here. The NBA Season has tipped and is fully underway. The first week of league play is one of the more exciting first weeks in recent memory. Keep up to date with each team’s season preview here at Last Word on Sports. Here are our staff predictions for the upcoming 2018-19 season.
LWOS NBA Predictions Roundtable
Who Wins Rookie of the Year?
Jakob Ashlin: Basketball Contributor and Editor: Mohamed Bamba, C, Orlando Magic. Bamba looked good in the preseason. He had a particularly impressive performance where he recorded 12 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 blocks in 19 minutes. Bamba will not put up great scoring numbers, but I anticipate him averaging double-digit rebounds and placing top five in the NBA in blocks.
David Kreiswirth: Basketball Contributor: Collin Sexton, G, Cleveland Cavaliers. Sexton will be given the keys to the Cavaliers offense and the opportunity to put up numbers that will place him in contention. The Cavaliers will run everything through Sexton and will hope he develops into an all-star caliber point guard
Dominique Baguna: Basketball Contributor: Luka Doncic, F, Dallas Mavericks. His transition to the NBA should be the easiest in recent memory. He has already been playing against grown men in the Euro League since he was sixteen. He has won a championship with Real Madrid. Last Euroleague season he won the Most Valuable Player award for the entire league at his young age.
Thomas Tittley: Basketball Contributor and Editor: Luka Doncic. It’s hard not to pick Doncic to win this award. He has won everything in the second-best league in the world against grown men. Add that to a good situation in Dallas and I think he should be a lock for this award.
Enoch Davy: Basketball Contributor: Luka Doncic. NBA pundits throughout the media and social media are skeptical to give a foreign player their just due. This race will not be close. Doncic wins this award easily. This is not an indictment of Deandre Ayton, Trae Young, or Collin Sexton as players, but those players were college stars. Doncic was MVP of the second-best league in the world (Liga ACB). Are we really thinking that a college star is better and will show better than the best player from the Spanish league?
Owen Lee: Basketball Contributor: Luka Doncic. Doncic has already excelled at the highest levels of European basketball, becoming the youngest player to win the Euroleague MVP award. At 6’7, his versatility will allow coach Rick Carlisle to play him at multiple positions. Other rookies will take time to adjust to playing against grown men and the fatigue that comes along with playing in a professional league. Doncic has already proven himself.
Hot Take of The Year
Ashlin: The Los Angeles Clippers make the playoffs. The Clippers are coming off a 42-win season last year while they were riddled with injuries. The Clippers are essentially adding these players back to the team, while also adding depth this off-season. They are truly 15 players deep and they do not have any true weaknesses on the basketball court. They have scorers, defenders, and playmakers to supplement no real superstar presence.
Kreiswirth: The LeBron James led Los Angeles Lakers will take a while to find some chemistry and struggle early in the year against good teams. The Lakers will not have home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. They will win their first-round matchup but get knocked out in the Conference Semifinals.
Baguna: Milwaukee Bucks will make the Conference Finals. The Bucks lost in seven games to the Boston Celtics team that was without its two biggest stars. They have also added Mike Budenholzer who brings invaluable experience to a team struggling to get over the hump.
Tittley: See my Finals Prediction
Davy: The NBA Finals will feature two completely new teams in 2019. The perennial champion Golden State Warriors will stumble in the west due to the incredibly tough conference they have to navigate. It is quite possible that 50 wins are needed to even qualify for the playoffs in the west. So, who will ascend to the top of the West? Why not the Utah Jazz! The Jazz team remains intact from last season. Star rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell is now a second-year player and will make positive leaps as a result. Defensively, the Jazz are the best in the league when fully healthy. On offense, they are multi-layered, disciplined and deliberate.
Lee: Carmelo Anthony bounces back. Call me crazy, but I predict Anthony has a career-defining season with the Houston Rockets this year. Let’s be honest, he struggled last year, easily the worst season of his career averaging just 16.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per game. Prime Melo is gone and isn’t coming back. However, Melo is not done yet. This season he is going to shut up a lot of haters. Melo has never played alongside two players as good as Chris Paul and James Harden. Melo has matured, his attitude has changed, he knows he is no longer the ‘go to’ guy on this squad. Watch him go out and help the Houston Rockets win a championship this year.
Who Wins the Regular Season Most Valuable Player?
Ashlin: Joel Embiid, C, Philadelphia 76ers. Now, this is where things get interesting. The typical MVP winner must have a statistically strong season, while also being the best player on a top-five team in the league. Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry statistics will be hampered by each other’s presence. Embiid averaged 22.9 points and 11 rebounds per game last season in 30.3 minutes per game. I expect him to take a leap and average 28 points and 10 rebounds across a few more minutes.
Kreiswirth: Kawhi Leonard, F, Toronto Raptors. The Raptors will once again finish with the top seed in the east and Leonard will remind everyone he is a top three player in the league. His ability to be a premier scorer and defender plus the fact that they will finish ahead of the Bucks will help Leonard win MVP over Giannis.
Baguna: Giannis Antetokounmpo, F, Milwaukee Bucks. For a brief stretch last season, Antetokounmpo was the favorite to win MVP. He has shown us throughout his career that he has seemingly no ceiling to his potential. The Bucks new head coach, Mike Budenholzer, has built his offense to utilize Giannis as a volume, yet efficient scorer. Antetokounmpo has already led his team in all five of the major statistical categories. This season he should be able to take the leap to an MVP caliber player.
Tittley: Kawhi Leonard. I think it is going to be difficult to not pick Kawhi Leonard as the league MVP. I think it’s unlikely that he does because there is not a lot of media attention towards Toronto, but he is so dominant on both ends of the floor that he should be a strong candidate.
Davy: Giannis Antetokounmpo. Easily the most controversial award available, the MVP will be determined by the narrative voters most appreciate this year. If it’s a simple matter of talent and skill with reference to the value to his team, LeBron James is easily the winner. That said, while players like Russell Westbrook, James Harden (current MVP), Kawhi Leonard are mentioned as possible front-runners, this season’s MVP race ultimately is between superstars Anthony Davis and Antetokounmpo. I consider Antetokounmpo to be a younger, longer, unbelievably athletic version of James with a better coach at this point in his career.
Lee: Giannis Antetokounmpo. ‘The Greek Freak’ has steadily improved his case for MVP the past two seasons, finishing 7th and 6th respectively. Last season he averaged 26.9 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game. Athletically, few in the league can compete with Antetokounmpo. He has spent this offseason improving his outside shooting, his biggest weakness as a player. The main thing holding Antetokounmpo back from winning MVP is the Bucks dismal win totals.
NBA Finals Matchup and Winner
Ashlin- Golden State Warriors vs Boston Celtics. The Warriors should easily make it to their fifth straight NBA finals. Perhaps their only weakness in previous seasons was the lack of a dominant center. Well, they somehow added DeMarcus Cousins to address that issue. The Celtics are clearly head and shoulders above the rest of the East. They have a deep team that features three stars and perhaps another three future ones. While I like Philadelphia, I do not envision them being a true threat to Boston, unless Markelle Fultz suddenly becomes a star this season.
Champion– Golden State Warriors. Do we really need an explanation? The Celtics should be able to win a game or two, but Golden State is just too dominant.
Kreiswirth: Golden State Warriors vs. Toronto Raptors. As much as I would like to see Houston or another team in the west make the finals, I cannot pick against a healthy Warriors team. The Raptors have been a good regular season team that could not get over the hump in the playoffs due to their backcourt combinations propensity to choke.
Champion– Golden State will win another NBA Finals with their big four, now big five.
Baguna: Golden State Warriors vs. Boston Celtics. Last postseason was a good sign for the competitiveness of the league. The Rockets took the Warriors to seven games without Chris Paul for the last couple of games. However, the arrival of DeMarcus Cousins seemingly crushes any hopes of another team making out of the West. The Boston Celtics seemed poised to take the Eastern Conference crown last season if Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward were not injured. They should still be the favorites to make it out of the East because of the experience Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown received last postseason.
Champion– Warriors in six
Tittley: Toronto Raptors vs Los Angeles Lakers. Okay, I am aware that Lebron James must play against Golden State to make the Finals. But I refuse to have doubt in James and his superhuman ability to make the NBA Finals. In my opinion, he is the greatest player of all-time, just inching ahead of the great Michael Jordan. These past few years he has taken a below mediocre squad in the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Finals. Now he is paired with some incredible young talent. As for the Toronto Raptors; is everyone forgetting this was the number one seed in the east last year? I have seen some ridiculous takes that they have somehow gotten worse. This seems wrong as they added Leonard, who should have won the MVP in 2016, is a top-five player in the NBA and is the best perimeter defender since the retirement of Scottie Pippen.
Champion– Raptors. Defense wins Championships
Davy: Milwaukee Bucks vs Utah Jazz. In an upset, I like the Milwaukee Bucks to come out of the east. Why? Interim coach Joe Prunty and no plan on offense this team took the Celtics to seven games. With Budenholzer now on board, this Bucks team will be structured on both offense and defense. Antetokounmpo is better than any player the Celtics presently have on its roster. Budenholzer’s coaching experience and acumen will help negate the genius of his Celtics counterpart Brad Stevens. Others ask, what about the Toronto Raptors and Kawhi Leonard? The answer, what about them? Leonard two years ago was an MVP candidate. That was two years ago.
Champion– Utah Jazz in seven
Lee: Houston Rockets vs Boston Celtics. The conventional pick would have been obviously been the Golden State Warriors vs the Boston Celtics, but that’s not what’s happening here. Houston has proven they have the best chance at defeating juggernaut Golden State. Some would argue they lost a step this offseason, but I honestly think they have improved. This season James Harden, Chris Paul, and Mike D’Antoni will take their previous success to the next level and get over the edge to win their first championship. On the other side of the playoff bracket, The Boston Celtics, on paper, should have an easy time winning the Eastern Conference, they have young talent that was one game away from the Finals last year. Barring injuries, the East is theirs to win.
Champion– Rockets in seven.
Rapid Fire Predictions
Defensive Player of the Year:
Ashlin: Rudy Gobert, C, Utah Jazz.
Kreiswirth: Rudy Gobert
Baguna: Patrick Beverley, G, Los Angeles Clippers
Tittley: Jrue Holiday, G, New Orleans Pelicans
Davy: Rudy Gobert
Lee: Rudy Gobert
Ashlin: Marvin Bagley III, F, Sacramento Kings
Kreiswirth: Jaren Jackson Jr, F, Memphis Grizzlies
Baguna: Wendell Carter Jr, C, Chicago Bulls
Tittley: Michael Porter Jr, F, Denver Nuggets
Davy: Marvin Bagley III
Lee: Trae Young, G, Atlanta Hawks
Ashlin: Austin Rivers, G, Washington Wizards.
Kreiswirth: Caris LeVert, F, Brooklyn Nets
Baguna: Donovan Mitchell, G, Utah Jazz
Tittley: Brandon Ingram, F, Los Angeles Lakers
Davy: Elfrid Payton, G, New Orleans Pelicans
Lee: Jamal Murray, G, Denver Nuggets
Ashlin: Lou Williams, G, Los Angeles Clippers
Kreiswirth: J.J. Redick, G, Philadelphia 76ers
Baguna: T.J. Warren, F, Phoenix Suns
Tittley: Fred VanVleet, G, Toronto Raptors
Davy: J.J. Redick
Lee: J.J. Redick
Coach of the Year:
Ashlin: Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs
Kreiswirth: Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics
Baguna: Mike Budenholzer, Milwaukee Bucks
Tittley: Brad Stevens
Davy: Quin Snyder, Utah Jazz
Lee: Brad Stevens
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