A lot can happen in one NBA year.
Superstars can become unsettled, a prospect might completely change a team’s fortunes, and some clubs are dealt a hard dose of reality.
Here are five predictions for the upcoming 12 months in the Association:
Celtics win NBA championship
the Boston Celtics possess the NBA’s best record, highest offensive rating, and No. 1 net rating. Jayson Tatum has become one of the league’s brightest stars alongside offensive dynamo Jaylen Brownwhile Al Horford other Marcus Smart are still elite-level role players in the starting lineup.
That’s all before mentioning the Celtics’ two biggest wild cards. big man Robert Williams is just now being reintegrated after showing signs of defensive dominance in last year’s run to the NBA Finals despite dealing with a knee injury that carried over into this season. Plus, after playing virtually a seven-man rotation in the playoffs, the addition of former Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon is paying dividends already and surely will in the playoffs.
Another run to the finals is certainly far from a given for Boston. The Milwaukee Bucks led a handful of true title contenders at the top of the Eastern Conference, and there’s tons of star power spread throughout the West. Still, for a squad with a reputable playoff pedigree, there’s no reason the Celtics can’t cut down the nets in June.
Spurs land Wembanyama
The early season has provided a fair share of competitors vying for the chance at selecting surefire No. 1 pick Victor Wembanyama in June’s draft. The Detroit Pistons and Charlotte Hornets have been without their star point guards for a majority of the year, while the youthful Orlando Magic and Houston Rockets are still in the midst of multi-year rebuilds.
However, no squad seems better positioned for the top selection than the San Antonio Spurs. While they don’t currently possess the league’s worst record, a combination of a turnover-heavy offense and the worst defensive rating in recorded league history will almost definitely give them one of the highest odds to land the 7-foot-4 Frenchman.
Plus, while we certainly won’t argue that the draft lottery is rigged, the storyline of the Spurs’ dynasty restarting with the selection of a dominant big man with the No. 1 pick for the third time in 36 years (following Tim Duncan and David Robinson) would be simply poetic – a perfect way to begin the career of one of the most hyped prospects of all time.
LeBron deals back to Cleveland
Look, not every prediction can be super likely. And the chances of LeBronJames requesting a trade from the Los Angeles Lakers so that he could begin a third stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the twilight of his basketball career is a stretch. However, if James Harden reportedly wants to go back to the Rockets, then why can’t LeBron want to return to a place where he’s immortal?
Of course, there are many logistical hurdles to clear for such a trade to occur. For one, LeBron isn’t able to be dealt until after this year’s trade deadline, so the deal would have to go down in the summer. Cleveland would also have to move tons of salary, likely including starting big man Jarrett Allen and another of their expiring contracts through a sign and trade.
This prediction only makes sense if LeBron wants out of Los Angeles, though. With the Lakers struggling immensely over the past two seasons with no help in sight, the NBA legend nearing his 38th birthday, and the Cavaliers projected to be one of the best teams in the league next season with an open spot on the wing, the dots are connecting just a little too well.
Bulls blow it up
It was nice to see the Chicago Bulls back in the playoffs after a five-year hiatus. DeMar DeRozan‘s career season was a feel-good story, Lonzo Ball other Alex Caruso energized lineups as defensive sparkplugs, and Zach LaVine earned another All-Star nod as the Bulls finished 46-36, good for sixth in the East. Unfortunately, that might’ve been the ceiling for this roster.
Chicago begins the year under .500 and battling to secure the East’s final play-in tournament berth. The Bulls’ defense and transition game haven’t been the same without Ball in the lineup. LaVine is reportedly not seeing eye-to-eye with the organization amid worries about his on-court fit with DeRozan. Players also directed frustration at LaVine during halftime of a lopsided loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves last month, sources told KC Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. Veteran big man Nikola Vucevic continues to average a double-double in a contract year, but Chicago is already paying LaVine, DeRozan, and Ball a combined $89 million next season.
Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas told reporters last May that the club won’t settle for “mediocrity.” There’s no better time to hit the reset button with two potential franchise-changing prospects up for grabs next summer.
Jokic completes 3-peat
Nikola Jokić‘s chances for a third straight MVP award have only increased since the season began. That seemed unlikely prior to the campaign, considering the return of co-stars Jamal Murray other Michael Porter Jr, as well as voter fatigue. the Denver Nuggets sit atop the West as the calendar flips to January, with their star big man pulling the strings for the NBA’s second-ranked offense.
Jokic is averaging nearly a triple-double on the season with a slightly lower usage rate than the year prior. The Serbia native is currently the only player in the Association ranked in the top 10 in both rebounds and assists. He spreads the ball around like a great quarterback, setting up five different teammates at least once per game. Denver is scoring an astounding 5/21 more Points per 100 possessions with Jokic on the floor.
Jokic’s offensive skill set rightly takes most of the spotlight, but his defense has quietly improved in recent years. He ranks ninth in total deflections (107), 15th in steals per game (1.4), and he’s just outside the top 20 in contested 2-point shots (208). Jokic also leads his peers in many advanced metrics. His 31.9 Player Efficiency Rating would be the fourth-best mark in league history if the season ended today.