With the 2019-20 NBA season upon us, there are many expectations about who should be frontrunners for awards and which teams should be playoff locks. However, the NBA regular season rarely goes chalk, which is what makes the storylines so prominent. With that, I offer my takes that might upset you:
- Let’s start this with the Mavs, since this is a Mavs-centric site after all. My bold prediction for Dallas is that at least one Maverick makes an All-Defense team. Last year, I begged on Twitter for Maxi Kleber to get some love for All-Defense, but received no votes. The Mavs have bolstered their defense each of the last few off-seasons, with strong defensive-minded players in Maxi Kleber, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Delon Wright. Since defensive competition is strong for guards: Jrue Holiday, Mike Conley, Marcus Smart, and Ben Simmons, this virtually eliminates Delon Wright as a realistic selection, barring a massive breakout defensively. Instead, forward is more open, which makes me believe that Maxi Kleber should be the favorite on the team to make an All-Defense appearance.
- Dallas trades Justin Jackson. Jackson will be entering restricted free agency in 2021 (assuming Dallas picks up his 4th year option). While Jackson has become a fan favorite since coming over from Sacramento in the trade that shipped out Harrison Barnes, Jackson still has to prove he can be a meaningful rotation player on a winning team. While he added strength, which helps a lot, I think this comes down to the fact that Jackson might be the most valuable player that the Mavericks can offer in a trade, combined with the roster composition. The Mavericks’ roster has a lot of players at a similar level of talent, but the team as a whole lacks depth. The Mavericks could package Jackson to add higher quality depth, or even a fifth starter. An interesting dynamic to watch would be to see how the Mavs would handle a hot-starting Justin Jackson: would they keep him, or sell high and trade him?
- Atlanta makes the 8 seed. The East has been grooming young talent over the last few years, and Atlanta has been one of the biggest risers from a quick rebuild. They have a very young team, but Trae Young and John Collins could compete for all star spots if they repeat last year’s stats from when they played together (source). Both had phenomenal seasons in 2018-19, but were still a couple pieces away from being a playoff threat. This year, if Trae Young doesn’t have another cold shooting start to the season along with John Collins being healthy to start the season, things could be looking up for Atlanta. Additionally, I think DeAndre Bembry is ready to take the next step in his career as a solid bench piece, as he played 81 games last year following a combined 64 games in his first two seasons. While the team is young, they were able to add bench depth in Evan Turner and Allen Crabbe. Crabbe is not someone I would consider as an X-Factor, but he is someone who could thrive in Atlanta’s offense that heavily emphasizes 3-point shooting. Overall, with progression from young players and depth added externally, the Hawks’ future is looking bright, and could start to mesh as early as this season.
- Miami misses the playoffs. Before you point the finger at me for being biased, take a look at the roster construction of the Heat. I know it’s bold to doubt an elite coach like Erik Spoelstra, but the Heat have one rim protector in Bam Adebayo. Adebayo is a Most-Improved Player candidate, which would be necessary for the Heat to make the playoffs. With the injury history of many of the players – Goran Dragic (36 games last year), Jimmy Butler (hasn’t played 70 games since 2016-17), Dion Waiters (has played less than 50 games each of the last 3 seasons) – and lack of shooting, I worry that Jimmy Butler can lead this team to more wins than 8 other teams in the Eastern Conference, despite playing in a division with two of the worst teams in the NBA.
- Sacramento makes the 8 seed. This one is my boldest prediction, to me, simply because of how strong the Western Conference is from 1-12, or maybe even 13. The Kings were close to a playoff team last year, but fell just short. If they can have a full season of Marvin Bagley, who should see an impressive uptick in production, they are in good hands. The Kings also added depth in Cory Joseph, Dewayne Dedmon, Trevor Ariza, and Richaun Holmes (replacing Frank Mason, Willie Caulie-Stein, Justin Jackson, and Kosta Koufos).
- At least one of Zion Williamson or Ja Morant miss first team All-Rookie. This isn’t a jab at production, but more about health. This one may actually not even be that bold based on previous year trends: Before this last season, the last time the top two picks were both selected for first team All Rookie was 2008-09. Granted there were some exceptions due to injury (such as Blake Griffin and Ben Simmons), having both of the top two picks in the All-Rookie first team is rare. If I had to guess, I’d select Ja Morant to miss the All-Rookie team, but this seems to generally come down to injuries over performance.