Zion, Utah Jazz and Kawhi – NBA Season Predictions
The new NBA season starts in a few weeks and there’s a sense of ground zero with this campaign, with last year’s star player on the move and several shake ups throughout the both conferences. We asked ENRG Sport’s Grant Barnes and Jamie Braidwood to give us their takes on the upcoming season.
Favourite to win
Since the 1970s the Los Angeles Clippers have played the little brother role to their city rivals, the Lakers. However, that’s about to change. This offseason saw the Clippers land the premiere free agent of the summer, and pull off one of the most explosive and stunning trades in recent years. Kawhi Leonard led the Toronto Raptors to their first ever NBA title last season, and established himself as one of the top 3 players in the league.
His two-way capabilities matched with All-Star Paul George’s own capabilities instantly propel the Clippers into title contention. The incredible work from the Clippers’ front office mixed with a solid core that boasts Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams, should propel the Clippers to challenge their noisy neighbours and the rest of the NBA.
Now, this might seem like quite an obvious choice given the offseason additions the Jazz made in the summer. However, Utah have not gotten past the second round of the Playoffs since 2007, including last year’s 4-1 series defeat to the Houston Rockets. Donovan Mitchell already looks a star and in his 3rd year he could propel to the next level with Mike Conley pairing him in the backcourt. Conley is one of the league’s most underrated players, and along with Rudy Gobert and Bojan Bogdanovic, the Jazz will be a top 5 defensive team in the league, and have added some much-needed firepower to make the next step. Don’t be surprised to see the Jazz reach the Conference Finals in a loaded Western Conference.
Young player to watch
Cam Reddish is one of the most polarizing rookies entering the league this year. Coming into Duke he was projected to be a top 3 pick, however a season marred by inconsistency saw him drop down to the 10th pick. A physically gifted athlete with a natural feel for the game, Reddish’s style of play and build can easily translate into the NBA. He has a long wingspan, is an above average shooter and looks a natural scorer.
However, last year in college the forward only averaged 13.5 points per game, and a disappointing 1.9 assists. The issue with Reddish is he doesn’t utilize his physicality and natural talent. He is not aggressive enough, and struggles to keep a high level of intensity night in, night out. Reddish is on a talented young team in the Hawks and will have time to grow, and with the right mentoring can be an elite scoring threat in the NBA.
The Philadelphia 76ers will win it all
Yes, the time is now. The Process is complete and this is the year for Philly to win it all. Joel Embiid becomes more dominant every season, and if he remains healthy is a true MVP candidate. Ben Simmons already looks a transcendent talent, and if he develops a jump shot should go onto become one of the best players in the league. Al Horford is one of the season’s most impressive acquisitions and retaining Tobias Harris was a smart move. Whilst the two LA teams carry a heap more depth than the 76ers, a lot of their seasons will rely on the health of key stars such as LeBron James and Leonard. Philly have a heap of talent on their team and they are growing at just the right time, and they will bring the Larry O’Brian trophy back to Philadelphia.
Favourite to win
This is so difficult because there are so many contenders. The summer’s wild free agency market has truly flipped the league upside down and it’s hard to know where to even start with this one. I’ll narrow it down and say that the NBA champion will come from Los Angeles. It’s hard to look past the Lakers and the Clippers as the two favourites this year. The Lakers have done everything possible to give LeBron James one more chance to win a championship, trading away their young core for All-Star Anthony Davis, while the Clippers landed both Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, perhaps the two best two-way players in the league.
It’s tough to look past the Clippers after seeing how Kawhi led the Toronto Raptors to their first NBA title last season, but I get the sense that LeBron is going to remind us all why he’s the G.O.A.T. and is going to have a historic season at the age of 34/35. I’m backing LeBron and AD to lead the Lakers to their first title since 2010.
Golden State Warriors
The Warriors have made the NBA Finals for the past five years, an era of dominance not seen in the NBA since Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, and I’m tipping them to be my surprise team? Seriously? But a lot of people have been down on the Warriors ever since June, when they lost the NBA Finals to the Raptors, lost Klay Thompson because of injury and then lost Kevin Durant and Demarcus Cousins in free agency.
In a matter of weeks, three of their ‘big five’ were gone and suddenly there were ‘hot takes’ that the Warriors dynasty was over. Do I think they will beat both the Lakers and the Clippers to make it to the Finals for the sixth year? No, but I do not doubt for a second that the Warriors will continue to compete and will remain an excellent side this year. They still have Steph Curry do I need to add anything else?
Young player to watch
There hasn’t been this much excitement about a player entering the league since LeBron James in 2003 and for good reason. The No. 1 overall pick in June’s NBA Draft was explosive in his season at Duke University, displaying a stunning ability to dominate defences with his strength, size and agility. The New Orleans Pelicans were so excited about getting Williamson that their season ticket sales immediately went through the roof for the 19-20 season, and that was after they traded away Davis to the Lakers.
Williamson joins an extremely young squad because of that trade, including former Lakers prospects such as Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart, which means there is a staggering amount of potential in this team. It’s going to be fun to watch Williamson grow with this young side.
The Houston Rockets are going to crash and burn with Harden and Westbrook
Individually, James Harden and Russell Westbrook are exceptional players, and I know they’ve been team-mates in the past, but I just can’t see this working out. Harden (39.6%) had the highest usage rate in the league in 2018-19, while Westbrook (30.1%) had the 10th highest out of players who played at least 50 games. Those figures will drop now that Harden and Westbrook have to share the ball with each other, which could lead to some fireworks if things get tough.