With NBA free agency winding down, it may seem like every good player has been signed.
These are my predictions for the next NBA season.
1. The Lakers will repeat against the Heat in the Finals
This is not a particularly creative prediction, but unless the rest of the pack make timely moves it looks like we’ll be getting a Finals repeat next year.
Miami exposed the limits of Milwaukee and Boston these playoffs, with Erik Spoelstra thoroughly out-coaching Mike Budenholzer and Brad Stevens in consecutive series. Unlike other contenders in the east like Philly and Brooklyn, the Heat also have plenty of cap space to fine-tune their roster, and their young guns now have a deep playoffs run under their belt to embolden them even further.
Out west, the Lakers have two of the top three players in the league that have emphatically displayed that they can carry an average supporting cast to the promised land. The Clippers are more talented than the Lakers, but Ty Lue will need to address their chemistry and consistency before they can be considered a championship threat. The Nuggets are too young, the Warriors are too old, and the Rockets are a basket case, so the path to the NBA finals is relatively straight forward for the Lakers.
2. The Warriors will make a quiet return to the playoffs
My memory of Golden State before Kevin Durant is a team with an incredibly deep roster and a small-ball line-up of death with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes that terrified the league.
Fast forward five years, and the Warriors’ bench is one of the worst in the league, and a line-up of death consisting of an ageing big three, Andrew Wiggins and Kevon Looney is probably not keeping too many teams up at night. Golden State’s season will probably hinge on whether Andrew Wiggins can finally live up to his potential and max contract, which seems like a stretch.
Curry, Thompson and Green all have criminally underappreciated careers, but they’ll need a lot of help from the Warriors’ front office if they want to return to the upper echelons of the western conference.
3. The Phoenix Suns will fail to recreate bubble magic and miss the playoffs again
The Suns were the feel-good story of the NBA bubble, finishing with an 8-0 record to narrowly miss out on the western conference play-in tournament. Phoenix were also the feel-good story at the beginning of last season, looking on track for a playoff berth in late November before injuries derailed their season.
That last point is why I can’t see Phoenix making the playoffs. The Suns were great when Ricky Rubio and Aron Baynes (who’s now a free agent) were on the floor, but both players struggle to keep healthy. The western conference is a bloodbath, and Devin Booker’s scoring will only win you so many games.
4. Luka Dončić will become the youngest MVP in league history
If Giannis Antetokounmpo wins MVP next year he’d join Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Larry Bird as the only players to win three consecutive MVP awards.
The fact that neither Michael Jordan or LeBron James managed to pull off three in a row suggests that voter fatigue is a real thing, and any regular-season success for Antetokounmpo is likely to be taken with a grain of salt now that the Bucks have underwhelmed in consecutive post-seasons.
Voters also have a history of falling in love with narratives. Russell Westbrook won an MVP in 2017 when he became the first player to average a triple double since Oscar Robertson in 1962. Westbrook also averaged a triple double the season after, but the achievement had lost the feeling of being historic.
The narrative of Luka Dončić being the youngest MVP in league history will be too much for the historical greatness of Antetokounmpo’s regular-season performances to overcome.
5. Brooklyn will lose in a first-round gentleman’s sweep
Unless there has been a major rule change I’m not aware of, there will only be one ball for the Brooklyn Nets to score with when they play in 2021.
This means high usage rate wings like Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie will need to share the ball. I hope I’m wrong about this, but I can’t see Durant ever returning to his previous form given his age and the severity of his injury.
Rookie coach Steve Nash is an interesting choice for a franchise with championship aspirations. Perhaps the Nets think he’ll be able to teach Irving how to pass to his teammates?