The excitement is building as the 2017/18 NBA season is only two days away.
Since the Golden State Warriors won their second championship in three years last June, we’ve been treated to some dramatic trades and free agency signings, plus some electrifying pre-season action. Now it’s time for the real action.
There are so many different outcomes that could eventuate over the next six months, which makes it difficult to predict, but there is no harm in trying.
Most Valuable Player – James Harden (Houston Rockets)
After finishing second in the MVP voting for the second time in his career last season, it really makes you wonder how much hungrier Harden is getting for that elusive MVP award.
A disappointing ending to the Rockets’ playoff campaign blanketed one of the greatest individual seasons by a Rockets player – or perhaps it was blanketed by Russell Westbrook’s record-breaking MVP season – nevertheless, it was a season of averaging 29 points, 8 rebounds and 11 assists for Harden, as he finished with 22 triple-doubles and helped the Rockets to third place in the Western Conference.
Harden found his form thanks to newly appointed Coach Mike D’Antoni’s offensive game style, and was given the green light to control the ball at the point.
The major signing of nine-time all-star Chris Paul will push Harden back to his original position at the two guard, but experts are predicting that they could become the greatest offensive duo to ever step foot on a basketball court.
While it’s still very much Harden’s team, Paul will allow Harden continue to flaunt his individual quality by feeding him the ball when necessary, while also allowing him to go to work and handle the ball just as much as he did last season.
I can see Harden breaking more records in 2017/18, and chewing out double-doubles as he pleases.
Rookie of the Year – Ben Simmons
A few notable options here, the rookies up for contention all have something to offer, whether it be the infamous Lonzo Ball attempting to carry the city of Los Angeles on his back, or maybe it’s hot favourite Dennis Smith Jr. from the Dallas Mavericks, a high-flying point-guard with some serious game.
My pick, Australian born Ben Simmons. The coveted number one pick from the 2016 draft didn’t get his chance to prove to the world how great he is going to be.
Injuries early on ruined his debut attempts, but spending a year learning the game and mastering his craft gives him that cutting-edge advantage against other draftees.
Being ‘red-shirted’ last season not only aided his muscle-building and basketball ability, but since he was drafted, Simmons has grown to seven-foot tall. That’s taller than LeBron James, the man he was likened to as he was coming into the league.
We observed in awe what he could do during pre-season; the point-forward’s final game was what got heads to turn.
In 18 minutes, Simmons scored 19 points (9/11 shooting), seven rebounds and five assists as the Sixers chalked up the win.
His ability to dish the ball out and get teammates good looks, finish with a hard-driving slam and maneuver anyway inside is what his side needs to bring them back into playoff debate.
This kid is the next big thing and there’s no denying it, and maybe it’s time to start trusting the process.
Defensive Player of the Year – Draymond Green
The Warriors’ big man ruined Kawhi Leonard’s chances of a 3-peat defensive player of the year by taking out the award for his stellar work on the defensive end over Golden State’s glorious championship winning season last time around.
Many people may disagree with this pick, saying Leonard will come back bigger and stronger; but with the amount of games Golden State are bound to win, their offence speaks for itself, but Green’s game-saving defensive work won’t go unnoticed.
Green averaged 2 steals and 1.4 blocks per-game last season, but his ability to guard all power-forwards whilst also shifting to an undersized centre during death-defying moments is a real underrated skill.
This is what Green does best, I expect Leonard to focus more on his offensive game and it’ll allow Green to swoop in yet again.
Most Improved Player – Kristaps Porzingis (New York Knicks)
Since Porzingis’ arrival to ‘the big apple’, all of Phil Jackson, Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose have disappeared.
It’s his city and his team now; the excitement and hope he has brought to this city since they began booing him on draft night is quite ironic, but it doesn’t faze the 7 foot 3 Latvian.
Porzingis lifted his average to 18 points per game last season, whilst also accumulating two blocks per game, seven rebounds and a much greater field-goal and three-point percentage.
Although the Knicks won’t be winning many games, he’ll build chemistry with young stars such as Frank Ntilikna and prove to the world why he was taken so high on draft night.
Eastern Conference Champions – Boston Celtics
The additions of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward much outweigh the negatives Boston has to offer this season.
They are lucky there’s only time to challenge them out east, but they won’t have a hard time finishing as the number one seed for the second consecutive year, they’ll edge the Cavaliers, while not by much, when it’s all said and done.
One man who provided doses of that x-factor during the regular season and playoffs was Jaylen Brown, who is now a year older and ready to take another step up in his career.
High draft-pick Jayson Tatum provides the Celtics with even more hope, as a player with quality offensive moves and the ability to guard three different positions on the floor.
Coach Brad Stevens and the Celtics board have set this team up for stardom, and it’s only a matter of time before they start making that team from Oakland worry a little.
Western Conference Champions – Golden State Warriors
Remember the Warriors’ chemistry a couple of years ago and how good they were to watch?
Well, after a year of settling down the Kevin Durant saga, it’s scary to think what they can achieve this time round.
There are many more squads who will bring them down to the wire this time around, and ‘super-teams’ is a phrase you’ll hear all year long.
They’ve got the firepower to complete the job at task in the death. Whether it be Steph Curry and Klay Thompson’s simple, elegant shooting, Green’s defensive artistry or Durant’s born-ready ability to shut down teams – they’ll win a lot of games again this year.
I really want to believe that the Houston Rockets will shut the party that the Warriors have been running out west down, and they’ll be sure to be nipping at their toes; but Golden State will take home the conference title yet again, and it’s all about what they do in the post-season.
Champions – Cleveland Cavaliers
Get ready for a fourth consecutive trip to the finals, and get ready for a fresh Cleveland side that’ll take home their second championship in the space of three years.
Losing Kyrie Irving does not hurt the Cavaliers as much as it might have when you consider that Derrick Rose has had a full pre-season, Dwayne Wade has been re-united with his basketball brother in LeBron James, and hard-nosed Isaiah Thomas will be available in due time.
I’m not sure how things will pan out over the year or if the injury-prone stars will go down at some point, but if they get to the playoffs, it’s in LeBron’s hands to lead this unbelievably talented outfit to another title.
They should breeze through the playoffs easily enough, take control of the challenging Celtics, and then they’ll expose the Warriors with their brilliant depth. By June next year, Coach Tyrone Lue and James will be having the sporting world ‘all in.’
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