How good will Zion REALLY be?
Arguably the most hyped rookie since LeBron, Zion has already taken the world by storm.
Coming out of high school, he faced criticism for playing against weak opposition and was told that he wouldn’t be nearly as dominant on the college stage. In college he put all those doubts to bed with one of the most dominant and exciting seasons in recent memory. His reputation in college was lowkey compared to his current reputation and Zion wasn’t even considered the best player on his Duke team.
Now Zion is already the star player that New Orleans have committed to building their team around. Surrounded by a solid young core with a dash of veteran experience, the stage is set for Zion.
But can he deliver?
I personally never like to take anything away from preseason games, it’s a time where even Charlotte can look like a properly functioning basketball team. But FAR OUT… Zion looks better than I thought he would.
Not only does Zion have the raw talent to be a dominant force in this league from opening night, but he has the perfect players around him to achieve said dominance.
Lonzo has a point to prove and looks to make other people on the team better than himself. Reddick and Hart provide spacing and much needed shooting to allow as much space for Zion around the rim as possible. Ingram helps ease the pressure off Zion with his isolation scoring ability. Derrick Favors and Jaxon Hayes allow Zion to play defence with some support inside, clogging the paint and providing a major headache for opposing big men. And Jrue Holiday is just Jrue Holiday, do I even need to hype him up?
I’m all in on the Zion hype train, and you should be too. New Orleans already screwed up with their past two generational talents in CP3 and AD – it’s do or die for them now and I believe Zion is the answer to the struggles of Louisiana basketball.
Are the Nets legit?
The Nets last season were the feel-good story of the league. A bunch of underdogs playing for the franchise that was the laughing stock of the league for a long time. Led by D’Angelo Russell, who is the ‘damaged goods’ that was given up on by the Lakers after just two seasons, the Nets made highlights with their bench reactions just as often as their on-court play.
Making the playoffs for the first time since Deron Williams was on the squad, all things were looking up for Brooklyn.
And then they went crazy in free agency.
KD and Kyrie. Woah.
This article talks about the upcoming season, nothing beyond that. And because of that, KD is ruled out of this discussion entirely. He will add an amazing veteran presence to the locker room, but until he actually gets back on the court, there is no point discussing him.
So let’s focus on the upcoming season. Does Kyrie really make the Nets better? One of the amazing things to watch last year was just how much the players on the squad loved playing for Brooklyn, every night they played as hard as possible and really took pride in wearing the black and white. Does Kyrie improve that?
The Nets, in my opinion, will be rather stagnant this year. Of course, their young players will have another year under their belt and the added veteran leadership of Kyrie and DeAndre Jordan doesn’t hurt, but their squad does not look dangerous in an already weak Eastern conference.
Looks like Brooklyn will be taking a gap year this year.
Do the Warriors have enough firepower – especially defensively – to remain as contenders?
The Warriors are a big question mark this season. How good can they really be?
Last season, the Warriors’ defence wasn’t anything special – 16th in the league. Something that is very unlike the Warriors. Losing KD, losing Klay for a big chunk of the season and bringing in D-Lo does not help their defensive capabilities at all. Do they have what it takes to stop opposing offences?
One of the Warriors main acquisitions over the offseason was Willie Cauley-Stein. A centre that was lost in the Kings’ system and signed with Golden State during the free agency period. A nimble and athletic big man with the ability to protect the rim gives the Warriors some security down low and gives Draymond a bit of help on the defensive side of the ball.
Apart from Cauley-Stein, the Warriors’ defensive outlook does not look pretty.
Steph, although underrated on the defensive end, is nothing special. D-Lo is a liability, Looney and McKinnie – although solid – do not provide any real assistance for Draymond.
The loss of Iguodala may be more detrimental than first thought, and the Warriors may need to bolster their defence up if they have any hope of contending again this year.
How will the Rockets’ offence work?
Truth be told, I don’t know. The two players with the highest usage rate in the history of the game in the same backcourt together is not something that many people believe will work.
Harden is a top 5 player in the NBA and has finished top 2 in MVP voting in 4 of the last 5 years. He is a generational offensive talent who should be in full control of the offence in Houston. Throwing Westbrook into the mix is one of the worst acquisitions that Houston could have made.
I get it though.
They needed to do something. Anything. Harden and CP3 clearly weren’t working. After pushing the Warriors to 7 games in the conference finals in 2018, they fell apart after that. Report after report of locker room fights between the two painted the picture of a dysfunctional back court that wouldn’t have the mental strength to obtain the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Russ and Harden are buddies. They’ve played together before in OKC and made it to the finals – albeit with KD leading the charge. It was a different time though. Harden was coming off the bench and Westbrook was more than happy to play second fiddle behind KD.
Both are negatives on the defensive side of the ball, Westbrook does not possess the shooting prowess to space the floor for Harden and Harden should not have to give the ball up to Westbrook just to provide spacing for his crazy drive-and-kick style of play.
Despite this, their supporting cast remains quite solid. Having a (projected) starting 5 of Westbrook, Harden, Gordon, Tucker and Capela is as solid as you will see throughout the league. Austin Rivers showed life last season when he took the court for the Rockets and getting Ryan Anderson back, on a contract that actually fits his worth this time, adds to the shooting depth that is unmatched by any team throughout the league.
While their roster is still quite above-par, will they ever touch the ball? Harden and Westbrook will both be black holes on offence this year and I’m not sure D’Antoni has the ability to orchestrate a realistic compromise for them to work well together on offence.
Who will be traded first – Bradley Beal or Chris Paul?
Bradley Beal and Chris Paul seem like the two hostages of the NBA, both in situations where their true talents are wasting away.
Both of them also provide big reasons for other teams not to trade for them. Bu the question remains: who will be traded first?
Chris Paul is in no-mans-land. Stuck on a bad OKC roster that is still reeling after losing their two superstars in the offseason. With no real direction and no real major pieces to build around (except Shai Gilgeous-Alexander), Oklahoma would be stupid not to explore a trade for Paul to either acquire a strong young talent or for some draft picks.
But that is easier said than done.
Paul is an under-sized, aging, injury-prone point guard who is earning an INSANE amount of money. Earning well over $38 million this season, he will only earn more over the next two years – eventuating in him earning $44.2 million in the 2021-22 season
if when he picks up his player option. What franchise would trade for a player like that?
Miami and Minnesota are the only two that I can think of that would seriously consider trading for Paul. Miami out of strategy and Minnesota out of desperation.
The Case for Miami
Miami have a strong core. A core that revolves around Jimmy Butler – who is finally at an organisation that celebrates some good ol’ fashioned trash talk. They have experienced little-to-no success since the departure of LeBron, and Pat Riley is surely getting restless.
Riley is someone who does not like to dwell in mediocrity. He demands success, both from his players and from himself. Paul represents a player that can help Miami succeed in a very weak Eastern Conference.
The only trouble is, who do you trade for Paul? Tyler Herro? Bam Adebayo? God forbid… Dion Waiters?? Herro is a young prospect that has looked unreal in the pre-season for a late-lottery pick. His deep range on his jumpshot mixed with his agility shows promise that Herro can be a destructive offensive presence in Florida. Adebayo is by far Miami’s best center, and they have shown great trust in him being the center of their future by trading Whiteside to the Blazers (Plus could you image a CP3-Bam pick and roll?). Miami don’t seem to have the pieces, but if anyone can orchestrate a trade, it’s Pat Riley.
The Case for Minnesota
Minnesota are the ultimate middle-of-the-road team. Their salary is tied up in Andrew Wiggins – a player who is already past his prime at 24. Their star player, KAT, seems trapped, his immense talent is sad to see go to waste at such a mediocre franchise.
This is where trading for Paul can help the Wolves.
If the Wolves can palm off Wiggins in a trade for Paul (and even I know how unrealistic that is), this would do wonders for their organisation. So far, they have done almost nothing to surround KAT with sufficient talent. They had Butler for a season, and all he did while he was there was go after everyone else on the roster and publicly criticise the entire team. KAT needs some help.
It is a player’s league nowadays, and if KAT feels unhappy with his time in Minnesota, he can very quickly request a trade to somewhere where he can actually see the sun.
Turning to Bradley Beal, who recently inked a max deal with the Wizards. A puzzling decision to some, but this may make him a more enticing target.
Beal is no longer a one-year rental. If a team acquires Beal, they do not have the stress of wondering if he will be around next July. Bradley is around to stay.
Any contender would want the services of Beal, but there are a couple that I have identified for Beal that could elevate their teams into the elite contenders tier.
The Case for Denver
This makes sense, right? Slotting Beal next to Murray in the backcourt that is bolstered with Jokic at the big man slot. A dynamic and fiery offence which can run with anyone in the West. Beal is no slouch on defence as well, and his presence is a vast upgrade over Gary Harris at the 2 spot.
If the Nuggets get their hands-on Beal, we may need to have a new discussion about who the best team in the league is.
The Case for Dallas
Come on. Don’t act like you wouldn’t want to see this.
A legitimate shooter surrounding Porzingis and Luka and providing them with assistance on both sides of the ball. Putting Beal in Dallas would instantly make Dallas one of the most entertaining teams in basketball.
The West is stacked, and if Dallas want to make a run at the playoffs (which they may feel like they don’t have to), then Beal would be the perfect acquisition to grow around KP and Luka in Dallas’ budding system.
Who is the best team in LA?
Now this is spicy. For the first time ever, the two teams in LA are both legit title contenders at the same time, probably the best two teams in the league.
Kawhi and PG vs. LeBron and AD. Pat Bev vs. Rondo. Caruso vs. anyone.
The stage is set for one of the biggest cross-town rivalries in the history of the NBA. But who is the favourite?
Kawhi is coming off one of the greatest playoff runs that we’ve seen in recent history, leading Toronto to their maiden NBA title. Kawhi was unstoppable, but also looked hurt. Likewise, with PG, who finished 3rd in MVP voting (and rightly so) but ended the season with battered shoulders that really seemed to limit him late in the season and accumulated in a first-round exit.
LeBron is coming off one of his most disappointing seasons to date. Riddled with niggling injuries and embarrassing bloopers, despite his fantastic stats, he failed to make the playoffs with a roster that many tipped to go deep in the playoffs. AD finally made it to LA. After LA failed to make a trade for him at the deadline, they eventually traded for him after the season. Pairing AD with LeBron is arguably a better duo than Kawhi and PG (and anyone else in the league), but does that make them the best team?
The Lakers’ depth leaves a lot to be desired. While they have two solid starters in Kuzma and McGee, there is a steep drop off once you look to their bench. A past-his-prime Avery Bradley, an inconsistent Quinn Cook, aging Danny Green, Rondo and Dudley mixed with Dwight Howard and one of the many Antetokounmpo brothers. It really doesn’t look good for them when their bench needs to take the court.
The Clippers, on the other hand, have one of the deepest rosters in the league. Harrell, Beverly, Lou Will, Landry Shamet and Zubac round out a very well-constructed and defensively-sound roster that will only be enhanced under the leadership of Doc Rivers. This Clippers team looks good – they pushed the Warriors to 6 games last year and then added Kawhi and PG.
Although its close, the Clippers take the title for the best team in LA.
Which team has the most to prove?
This is a big question. There are a few teams that have a lot riding on this season.
The Pacers need to prove that they are a legit playoff threat. The Lakers need to prove that they have what it takes to compete in the West. Bucks need to prove that they can keep the hype from last year on track. Are the Blazers still contenders? Do the Hornets have the capability to not be the worst team in NBA history?
I guess we’ll see.
For me, its Philly. After poaching Al Horford from Boston and snagging Josh Richardson in the Jimmy Butler trade, the stage is set for them.
Losing JJ Reddick and Jimmy Butler were big losses for the 76ers. Butler was their heart and soul during the playoffs – stepping up when Simmons had his regular playoff struggles and when Embiid’s body started to break down. Reddick was a regular threat off the bench and was always productive when he came on the court.
It’s now up to Joel and Ben. No excuses this year. If Philly don’t win the East this year, they need to move on from the Joel-Ben combo.
Ben needs a jumpshot for Joel to fully operate inside. When Joel is given room to move, there isn’t a single body on an opposition roster that can stop him (since Horford went to Philly).
Joel has the capacity to win MVP. A dominant force on offense and an unreal defender, the only thing holding him back is his health. He’s never been in shape – at least not long enough to stay on the court. We’ve seen him burn out of the playoffs twice and being tired is not an excuse for someone of his calibre.
The East is weak this year, and even that may be an understatement, and Philly has the capacity to make a strong run to the finals. Their starting 5 is incredible and they are led by a legit MVP candidate in Embiid. If it doesn’t work this year, big changes need to be made.
It’s all or nothing this year for Brett Brown’s boys.