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Q&A: Jamal Crawford on Clipps, Sonics, Top Defenders

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Jamal Crawford of the L.A. Clippers was recently a guest on the Basketball Insiders Podcast. Alex Kennedy and Michael Scotto interviewed Jamal and the Q&A can be found below. To the listen to the podcast in its entirety, click the play button above.

Question: Let’s start off talking about this season. You and I, in the past, have talked about the continuity that this Clippers team has. Not many teams have a core that’s been together for so many years. Where is your guys’ chemistry level at now and how comfortable are you guys playing with each other this point after so many years?

Crawford: “I think we’re very comfortable. Obviously, with injuries, it’s part of the game and you hate to see it, but we just have to hold down the fort until everyone gets back. With the chemistry we have with our core guys, we’re very familiar with each other. We’ve been through all kinds of wars together, all kinds of battles together, we know where each other are supposed to be on the court, we know how to communicate with each other, and I think all of those things are important. The first part of the season, we started off great. We had everybody healthy. The last few weeks we’ve had some injuries, especially our two top guys, so we’re just trying to hold down the fort until they get back to keep that chemistry rolling.”

Question: When you guys are fully healthy, you have Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan and yourself, and you have deeper bench now. When you put all of those components together and you look at the Western Conference with the Spurs and the Warriors’ star-studded quartet that everybody talks about, where do you feel you guys fit in that mix when you’re fully healthy?

Crawford: “When we’re fully healthy, I think we’re just as good as anybody. I really believe that. Obviously, the Spurs are the gold standard and have been for the last 15 years, Golden State has had a tremendous run the last few years, and other teams are on the rise as well. But, when we’re healthy and right and playing at our very best, I feel like we’re built to play against anybody. We believe that as well. We just have to continue to go out and prove it and prove it when it counts and, obviously, that’s the playoffs.”

Question: Obviously, you’ve been Sixth Man of the Year multiple times and everyone knows what you can do off the bench. Austin Rivers was brought back too. But you guys also made some additions such as Raymond Felton and Marreese Speights. How good is this bench now? In the past, Doc Rivers always wanted to stagger the starting players and it seemed like there were very few guys on that bench that he could trust, outside of yourself and Austin. Now, having so many guys that can contribute, how much easier is it for you and how good is this bench?

Crawford: “Well, the bench is as deep as it’s been, obviously, and I think you have guys who all have had success on some level in the NBA. Guys are very competitive and, to be honest, we have a lot of scorers in that group. We have myself, you have Austin, you have Raymond, you have Mo, and then you have Wesley [Johnson], Brandon Bass, those guys do a good job of filling whatever role is needed that particular night. But, the first four guys are much more offensive minded. I think that’s a plus because, for me, it’s not just about me being Sixth Man of the Year again or being the main focus. I think more so in the past, it was me attacking off the bench and that was pretty much it. Now, I’d say we’re attacking as a group, when fully healthy, and I think that that’s dangerous for teams to scout against.”

Question: You obviously know a thing or two about putting the ball in the hole. Just recently, you passed Jason Kidd for number 78 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list and I know that you’re a historian of the game. I’m going to take you away from the Clippers a little bit and just ask you more of an individual question. When you look at your career, how would you summarize your accomplishments to this point and has your career turned out better than you would have thought it would on your first day in the NBA?

Crawford: “When you first come into the NBA, you feel like you can conquer the world, so to speak. Everybody wants to be a star, everybody wants to go back to their neighborhood like, ‘You see what I’m doing out there?! I’m a star among stars,’ because, obviously, the NBA has the best players in the world. For me, I felt like, being a lottery pick going to a team, I thought I could play right away. To be honest, I just wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready physically, I wasn’t ready mentally, I had a lot of maturing to do. I didn’t play much my first year. Second year, going into that year, I was working out with Michael Jordan, tore my ACL, hurt my knee, so I basically missed that year. The third year I came back and we drafted Jay Williams from Duke and he had a lot of hype and was a really good player there, coming out as one of the top college players, so I had to wait my turn there. Then my fourth year was when I got steady, steady minutes, where I knew I was going to play a certain amount every single night, and my game started to grow. By my eighth or ninth year, I think the ninth year, I said, ‘Okay, I’m tired of losing, I’ll be a sixth-man.’ So, that’s not how I projected my career to go, but I think it’s turned out to be very unique, it’s been very cool and it’s obviously still going. It’s not what I thought it would be, but it’s been better in some ways as well. I think it’s been very, very unique. I think it’s been one of the most unique careers for sure.”

Question: You’ve been one of the most successful sixth men in NBA history. I think a lot of guys that take on that bench role point to you and say, ‘I want to have that kind of impact.’ As you look around the league, who are some of the up-and-coming sixth men that people should have an eye on? Who are some guys who have stood out to you as being talented sixth men who may be able to take the torch from you whenever you’re done winning all of these awards?

Crawford: “I think some of the younger guys. I think Will Barton is a really good player. I think he’s up and coming for sure. I think Brandon Knight, I think he’s going through a transition with the role right now because, obviously, he’s been starting his whole career. I think he could be a really good sixth man. Obviously, Lou Williams has been a perennial great sixth man for years – he’s won Sixth Man of the Year. I think Eric Gordon, this year, has been phenomenal. I think they’re really featuring him when he comes off the bench, they’re really going to him. I feel like he is like I was in Atlanta my first year. Joe Johnson was our best player and he’s a perimeter player just like James Harden is for Houston, but [Gordon] is their second guy, he’s the second leading scorer. So I think there’s a lot of good sixth men out there and I think, right now, you see more people buying into that role. I think it’s kind of cool to be a sixth man now and that’s cool in itself, to have that kind of effect. Everybody wants to start, but I think it’s important to understand the bigger picture. Also, a lot of good sixth men can go somewhere else to start and now they’re closing games as well.”

Question: In years past we’ve seen guys like James Harden, when he was with OKC, get to the NBA Finals. Manu Ginobili was a guy who’s come off the bench and won a title. For you, if you were able to win a championship at some point during your tenure with the Clippers, coming off the bench, do you think that that’s something you really need on your resume, in a sense, to really justify that coming off the bench was the right way to go about trying to win a title?

Crawford: “I’m comfortable in my own skin from the standpoint that I don’t really need it to validate anything, but it would be really, really cool. That’s the pinnacle, winning a championship. That’s what you play for and I feel like, for me, that’s the most important thing and, really, the only thing left in my career to accomplish. The time of trying to be an All-Star, I think those years are in the past. I have a bigger goal now and that’s to try and win a championship. To win a championship, knowing that feeling, I won a championship in high school and that’s my best basketball memory. Knowing how that felt, I think winning one in the NBA would be 100 times as cool. That’s definitely what we’re playing for.”

Question: I’m curious about this so I want to ask you. Whenever the whole DeAndre Jordan saga was going on, there was a lot of talk about Chris Paul and his leadership. I think Chris is one of the best leaders in the NBA, he’s not afraid to bark at anyone, he holds guys accountable, he’ll grab your jersey, etc. But I think, during that period, there was some talk about Chris maybe being too intense and needing to change his leadership style for certain players. Have you seen any kind of change in Chris’ leadership? Does he approach certain players differently now and was that a learning experience for him? Or is he still the same Chris that we all know?

Crawford: “He’s the same Chris. I think, as you get further in the league, you evolve. For him, he’s definitely evolving, he’s trying to do whatever it takes to win every single night. But he knows that’s his style of leadership and we know and understand that and respect it, but he also has a certain patience with him as well about getting his message across. In the heat of the moment? Yeah, he may grab your jersey, he may yell at you, but it’s all coming from the same place of just trying to win. It’s not anything to embarrass you, it’s not anything to put you on front street or anything like that. It’s about him saying, ‘Look, we need to get this done.’ And he doesn’t mind if you do it to him either, so that makes it fair all the way around.”

Question: Jamal, who were some of the better leaders that you’ve had as a teammate over the course of your career and guys that helped make their teammates better?

Crawford: “I would say Chauncey Billups is great. I would say Malik Rose is great. I think Allan Houston was great. I’ve had so many great teammates, so I don’t want to forget anyone. I thought Rick Brunson was great, early in my career, Charles Oakley, all those guys. I don’t want to leave anybody out. There’s some great, great people. Grant Hill was unbelievable. Paul Pierce is great right now. I’ve had some great teammates, especially great veteran guys that had high levels of success and that won championships, leading the way over the years.”

Question: Now, you’re a guy who is known for scoring the basketball. As Michael mentioned, it seems like you can embarrass anyone and get to the basket. Who are some of the defenders that you’ve had the toughest time against? The guys that, when you’re matched up against, you’re like, ‘Damn, this is going to be a little bit more difficult.’ Are there certain defenders that stand out like that?

Crawford: “Oh yeah. I think Tony Allen is a great defensive player. I thought Doug Christie was a great defensive player. Bruce Bowen. Kawhi [Leonard] is obviously a great defensive player. I think Garrett Temple is an underrated defensive player. I just mentioned two guys we’re about to play against, but I’ve got to be honest. (Laughs) Avery Bradley’s a really good defensive player. There’s some really good defenders out there, but, especially now, with the rules, it’s more team defense. If guys can funnel you this way or shade you that way, they know the help is going to be there and the Spurs are one of the best teams at doing that.”

Question: Jamal, you’re also known as a guy who can handle the rock. I’m curious, from your perspective, being that you’ve been in the league for a while, who are some of the better ball handlers that you’ve seen, along with yourself, that could get a shout out from myself on ‘Crossover of the Night’ on Twitter?

Crawford: “Absolutely Kyrie Irving. You have Chris Paul, you have Steph Curry, you have Tyreke Evans. I think Isaiah Thomas has a mean handle. Deron Williams, over the years, has had some crazy handles. Kemba Walker is an underrated ball handler. There’s a lot.”

Question: Jamal, last question for you. We’ve talked a lot about this, how you want Seattle to have an NBA team. You’ve done a good job of bringing NBA players to your summer pro-am out in Seattle and I know this is something that’s important to you since you’re from Seattle. I know [Seattle Seahawks quarterback] Russell Wilson has gotten involved as well. How great would it be to see Seattle have a team before your career is over and, if that’s the case, could you see yourself possibly suiting up for Seattle as a way to end your career?

Crawford: “Well, I think getting a team back there is so important. When I was a kid, watching Gary Payton, watching Detlef Schrempf, watching Shawn Kemp, Vin Baker, they helped mold me and make my dreams a reality. I could go down to the stadium to watch those guys, and I could interact with them. Gary Payton was coming to my high school basketball games, so it made my dreams a reality, I could work out with him. I was like, ‘Oh, wow, I can work out with Gary Payton! When I go back to high school, I should dominate.’ It just gave me a level of confidence. Now, with these kids not having that, the closest they get a chance to see a Kevin Durant or a Blake Griffin or a Chris Paul or a Kyrie Irving is on TV or on NBA 2K. To see these guys in person is [huge]. That’s why I always ask the kids every year at my pro-am, who do you want to see? Then I try and go [get them to play]. I hate asking anybody for anything but, for these kids, I’ll ask any of these players to come. Most of the players have, honestly, volunteered and said, ‘I would love to come out there,’ so it makes it a lot easier. Kids come out every single weekend, and it’s a packed house. They’re seeing some of their favorite heroes right there in front of them and they’re interacting with them, they’re talking trash to them, giving them a smile, whatever it might be – that’s a moment that will stick with them forever and I know that because I was that kid when I was 15 or 16 years old and I still have those memories. That’s why we do it. Hopefully, the team gets back in Seattle. Right now, all I see is L.A. You never know how things work out, but I just hope I’m still playing by the time a team comes back there.”

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The NBA Ten Years Ago

With the season finally here, Matt John takes a look at what the NBA was like ten years before, and the implications it had on today’s league.

Matt John

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Here we go again!

Last year, this writer dove into what the association was like ten years before the incoming season. Now here we are again. We’re traveling back to the year 2010. Back when the iPad was first sweeping the nation, the economy was still in the toilet, and the Toy Story trilogy had concluded on a high note. Or so we thought.

Coming into the 2009-2010 season, it seemed the season itself wasn’t what everyone was paying the most attention to. What was on everyone’s minds was the upcoming free agency of one LeBron James.

Following Cleveland’s shocking playoff exit in the Conference Finals, there started to be rumblings that James’ days as a Cavalier were numbered. We all know what happened the following summer, which is worth discussing next year. At the time, however, Cleveland’s top competitor for James’ services was believed to be the New York Knicks.

Even though the Knicks hadn’t been to the playoffs in almost a decade, and were still washing off the stink of Isiah Thomas’ managerial tenure, they still had their prestige of being a legendary franchise by their side. Meanwhile, everyone else in the league was gearing up for an upcoming epic free agency period.

This may sound irrelevant now since we didn’t get our answer until after the season ended, but this hoopla all started circulating just before the 2009-2010 season started, and it would never go away. In fact, we saw several cap-clearing moves by teams in order to facilitate a potential deal for James, so how could it? As for the season itself, we still got one entertaining enough that James’ decision didn’t distract all that much.

Now last year, this started off by asking how well the team who won the championship in this specific year would do in the modern NBA. The Lakers repeated as champions in 2010 with almost the exact same team, so there’s not much use in asking if they could do it in today’s league, so we’re not going to start there.

Where we’re going to start, however, is the little change the Lakers made before they went on their road to repeating — Replacing Trevor Ariza with Ron Artest.

More Talent Does Not Equal Higher Ceiling

In the summer of 2009, we saw quite a few (declining) stars who went to new situations either to rehabilitate their career image and/or to get a ring. Ron Artest, Vince Carter, Rasheed Wallace, Shaquille O’Neal, and Allen Iverson all found new homes before the fall of 2009. It was so repetitive among aging stars that we were quite shocked when Grant Hill opted to re-sign with the Suns when contenders were inquiring about his services.

Because of this, the ceilings for all the teams involved — minus Memphis, who Iverson was employed with for exactly three games before his release — was projected to be even higher than they already were.

The Lakers were adding a 17-point scorer and a former defensive player of the year. The Celtics were adding a big who made the all-star the previous season that was coming off their bench. The Cavaliers were adding a reigning all-star and all-NBA center. The Magic were adding an electric 20-point scorer. The already elite teams managed to get better on paper.

But when they took the court, they weren’t. At least not really. The star-studded additions didn’t hurt the teams too much when their seasons ended, but they didn’t add any new dimensions.

Before coming to the Lakers, Artest was usually a focal point in the offense, so he was used to doing things his way. That’s what made him such an awkward fit in LA since the Lakers already had an established pecking order with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, and Andrew Bynum. They wanted Ron to be a 3&D wing, but he was used to being so much more. Artest would later hit two enormous shots in the Lakers’ playoff run, but he never really found his stride in Los Angeles.

Rasheed Wallace should have been a perfect third big off the Celtics bench. He had plenty of playoff experience, and his skillset alone should have made it easier for Boston to weather Kevin Garnett’s recovery following a devastating knee injury. Instead, ‘Sheed came into the season out of shape, played lackadaisical on both sides of the floor, and didn’t really try until the postseason came around. Though he gave his all when it counted, his frustrating play made him one of the least-liked Celtics in recent memory.

Of the stars that have been brought up, Vinsanity did the best for what his team asked him. Vince Carter was handed a bigger role than the previous two mentioned. He was supposed to fill in for the departed Hedo Turkoglu. He put up pretty good numbers, but he just wasn’t the same player at 33 nor could he do what Hedo did. Vince definitely tried, and he did an adequate job. In the end, Orlando acquired him just a year or so too late. Sadly, if it weren’t for Nick Anderson, these two free throws would have been the most infamous in Orlando Magic history.

As for Shaq’s time with the Cavs, well that deserves a conversation on its own, which leads us to our next topic.

Less (Shaq) Is More!

When Orlando proved in the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals that they could handle whatever LeBron and the Cavs threw at them, it was clear they needed someone who could stop them, or more specifically Dwight Howard, in their tracks. The recently resurgent Shaq could definitely suffice.

Shaq was coming off of his best season in years, averaging 17.8 points and 8.4 rebounds while also staying on the court for 75 games. Even at 37, it looked as if Shaq had some juice left after all. Sure, the Suns didn’t make the playoffs, but he looked like a valuable asset to have nonetheless. Cleveland thought as much when they traded for him and, best of all, he was traded for spare parts.

Unfortunately, he didn’t bring the same production as a Cavalier. In fact, Shaq was probably the last player you’d want on that team. The early James years in Cleveland were a team that relied on running the floor. A younger Shaq would have been just fine in a system like that, but the 38-year-old iteration? Not so much. He wasn’t useless when paired with James, but he could not keep up with him.

The Cavs still had the best record in the entire league, but they actually won five fewer games with Shaq than the previous year. In the end, it was all for naught because the Cavaliers never got their rematch with the Magic in the playoffs. A few months later, Shaq would leave Cleveland for the team that eliminated them — the Boston Celtics

As for Phoenix, many thought this was the end for them. Steve Nash wasn’t getting any younger, Amar’e Stoudemire’s contract was up soon and selling off Shaq for basically nothing made it seem like the Suns were Run-n-Done.

But that wasn’t what happened. With Shaq gone, Phoenix re-discovered its style. Nash and Stoudemire were free to run their pick-and-roll game again, while Hill, Jason Richardson and Jared Dudley were excellent complementary pieces on the wing. Add Leandro Barbosa, Channing Frye, youngsters Goran Dragic and Robin Lopez and, suddenly, the Suns had an elite squad again.

With a fully healthy season from almost everyone, Phoenix worked its way to a 54-28 record, placing them third in the Western Conference. The team managed to get past the Trail Blazers in the first round, then stunned the Spurs in a sweep in the second round. The Lakers later stopped the Suns in a hard-fought conference finals.

It’s just amazing how, when you look back at both the Cavs and the Suns in 2010, Shaq, one of the greatest players of all-time, affected both of their seasons because of how badly he fit with both of them.

It’s also depressing to note that ten years later, the Suns have yet to reach the playoffs again.

About The Label “Future Star”

The 2009 draft had some studs coming out of the woodworks. They still have plenty of basketball left in them, but Stephen Curry, James Harden, and Blake Griffin have all done enough in their careers to earn a place in the NBA Hall of Fame. Even players below their tier, e.g. DeMar DeRozan and Jrue Holiday, have had pretty impressive careers in their own right.

But, back in 2010, not much attention was put on any of those five. To be fair, Blake was out for the season was a fractured patella, while Harden was a mere bench player for the Thunder and Curry had a satisfactory rookie campaign on a crappy Warriors squad. Holiday was just a rotation player for Philadelphia, and DeRozan was highly regarded for his highlight-reel dunks and not much else.

When the 2009-2010 season came around, the players who were believed to be the future stars from the group were Tyreke Evans and Brandon Jennings.

Evans had one of the best rookie seasons the NBA had ever seen, averaging 20 points, five rebounds, and five assists. Those were numbers repeated only by the likes of Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, and LeBron James in their respective rookie seasons. A team like Sacramento, who needed any kind of excitement after giving away Ron Artest to the Rockets the year before, needed someone who could promise a good future. Evans was exactly what the doctor ordered.

But sadly, that first year was Evans’ peak. Injuries sustained over the years halted his progress as a player and he never approached the status of a future star ever again.

In Brandon Jennings’ case, his status as a future star was even more short-lived. Jennings, who created controversy when he decided to forego college to go play overseas before the NBA, exploded when he first arrived in Milwaukee.

His first full month in the league, Jennings averaged 22.1 points on 42/49/78 splits, which included a 55 point explosion against the Warriors. Because of that, it seemed as though that Jennings would become the player we now see in Stephen Curry.

But, as it turned out, those numbers were just a flash in the pan. Jennings didn’t come close to matching those numbers throughout the remainder of his rookie season. He had a fine year, and even finished second in Rookie of the Year voting, but Jennings failed to match the hype.

No matter how good or bad a rookie may look, we never know a young player’s future until we truly see it for ourselves. It may sound odd now, but there was a legitimate belief that Evans and Jennings were future superstars because of their performances. We now know that’s not the case but, because of their stories, patience is now preached as far as player development and growth are concerned, for better or worse.

What Could Have Been

We talked about how Phoenix and Cleveland did during the 2009-2010 season. But did you know that they almost agreed to another deal at the trade deadline in which the Cavs would have acquired Stoudemire for JJ Hickson?

James and Stoudemire would have been an interesting pairing as both were set to enter free agency. Stoudemire was an offensively stout rim runner who absolutely could have dominated the fast break with James much like he did with Nash. The Cavs opted to take a half measure by trading for Antawn Jamison and retaining Hickson’s because they believed in his potential. But we’ve already gone over what happened after that.

That wasn’t the only almost trade that could have changed a lot. Before Jamison was traded to Cleveland, Washington had discussed trading both him and Caron Butler to the Boston Celtics for Ray Allen and cap filler. Jamison and Butler would have given the Celtics a lot more scoring depth. Plus, at the time, NBA players could go back to the teams that had just traded them, so adding them and getting Ray back could have pushed them over the top. As we’ve previously established, more talent does not lead to a higher ceiling.

But enough about mega-trades that fell through. What about teams that failed to reach their potential because of unfortunate circumstances?

People forget how good the Bucks were during that season. Brandon Jennings’ strong rookie campaign helped them, but Andrew Bogut coming into his own as one of the league’s best all-around bigs as well. Add newly acquired John Salmons, and Milwaukee was a team nobody wanted to face.

That was until Bogut suffered a freak elbow injury just before the playoffs started. Before that, Bogut was on his way to All-NBA honors because of his excellent play on both offense and defense. With him gone, the Bucks never recovered. Bogut himself was never quite the same. Had that injury never happened, the Bucks could have had something special on their hands, which probably would have led to a lack of Giannis Antetokounmpo for them now.

Every year, we wonder what could have been had certain things gone the other way, and the 2009-2010 season was no exception.

There were other storylines that were going on. The NBA suffered a PR crisis after the Wizards had a gun standoff between Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenden. As awful as that was, it inadvertently won them the John Wall sweepstakes. Looking back, who knows how the landscape of the NBA would look today had that not happened?

We talked about stars joining good teams, but one that falls under the radar was when San Antonio traded for Richard Jefferson. Many believed the Spurs were going to take it to a whole new level when they acquired him in the offseason, but Jefferson was bizarrely awful with Gregg Popovich. Thus, the Spurs fell apart and were swept by the Suns in the second round.

The last thing to note was that the 2009-2010 season was when Kevin Durant and the Thunder finally put it together to earn their first playoff berth. While the Lakers eliminated them in the first round, we knew that it was just the beginning for them.

Of course, everything mentioned here culminated in the infamous summer of 2010. But that will be tabled for next year.

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50 Predictions for the 2019-20 NBA Season

Drew Maresca and the Basketball Insiders team offer their annual 50 predictions for the NBA season.

Drew Maresca

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Thank god, basketball is back. And with it comes Basketball Insiders’ latest attempt to throw down 50 bold predictions. Even better, it’s this writer’s second go-around with predictions. And with that familiarity comes unwarranted confidence. So, as always, get ready for red hot takes – significantly hotter than last years – from everybody, yours truly and the broader team included.

Over the summer, the site added some new members to the team. Thusly, we’re expanding the “Predictions from Insiders” section of the article to accommodate all of our brilliant minds. Unfortunately, that means fewer picks for me — but on a positive note, bonus predictions for you! Spoiler alert: Some of my teammates’ predictions contradict mine. One of us will be right and only time will tell.

As always, we’ll revisit our predictions following the season. Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter (@DrewMaresca) about any of the predictions — and do so with all of our staff, as well. The more feedback, the better. And with that, let’s commence with some predictions.

Awards + Other Individual Predictions

1. Stephen Curry leads the league in scoring. This is a pretty popular one. He’ll have so many more opportunities without Klay Thompson (knee surgery) and Kevin Durant. Sure, D’Angelo Russell will take some shots; Draymond Green too. But who else is going to get buckets? Curry might need to average 40.

2. And Curry will also win the 2019-20 NBA MVP. This one’s a little less common. And it hinges on my confidence in the Warriors team as a whole. But let’s be honest, the MVP race will be between Curry, Antetokounmpo, LeBron James and/or Anthony Davis – and maybe Damian Lillard. Russell Westbrook and James Harden probably play themselves out of contention given the inherent stat sharing. Ditto for Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

And that’s literally all of the favorites. I don’t see a world where Nikola Jokic wins MVP even though he will deserve serious consideration. Joel Embiid could get in on the fun, but I expect him to get his share “load management” with the team prioritizing winning over personal glory.

3. Rudy Gobert will repeat as Defensive Player of the Year. It’s just really hard to anticipate anyone outperforming him. I believe that Draymond Green will be asked to do a little too much in terms of guarding bigs this season. And he’s another year older. And he just got paid. Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Patrick Beverly are all very impressive, but they’ll split the burden of defending an opponent’s best wing so it will water down their efforts. Of course, that leaves Gobert as the obvious choice.

4. But Mitchell Robinson will lead the lead in blocks. This isn’t really a hot take when you look at last year’s results, right? Robinson finished fourth last season and he played less than two-thirds as many minutes as any as the three guys ahead of him. He looked more patient in the preseason, which allowed him to remain on the court for longer periods of time. And if he can continue that, he’ll be a defensive force.

5. Spencer Dinwiddie will be named Sixth Man of the Year. It’s not that I don’t love Lou Williams. But the league tires on handing the same guy an award over and over. Williams was the winner for the previous two seasons and in three of the last five. And Williams isn’t getting any younger, either. Ultimately, it may be somebody else’s turn.

6. Jonathan Isaac wins MIP.

7. Luka Doncic is named to a 2019-20 All-NBA team

8. Trae Young will lead the league in assists. The competition will be too tight at point guard for Trae Young to qualify for an All-NBA team like fellow sophomore Doncic, but he’ll have a wildly impressive second season.

And what’s more, Young will average at least 20 points and 10 assists per game. He’ll shoot 36 percent from three-point range  — up from 32.3 percent — and he’ll break his own record for made 30-plus foot shots. This feels like multiple predictions tied into one and I got myself in trouble with these types of predictions last year… oh well.

9. Zach LaVine will be an All-Star. Look, I predicted LaVine as MIP last year – and I was wrong. So I’m doubling down. I really like LaVine’s game. He’s dynamic and super athletic, but with just enough polish. And with the Eastern Conference’s lack of All-Star-level guards, LaVine may be a shoo-in.

Rookie Predictions

10. Zion Williamson will play less than 70 games. Williamson’s unique combination of speed and power are among his best attributes. But they’re also going to be his biggest hindrances, too – at least until he’s able to lose a few pounds. Williamson simply puts too much stress on his body, enough that this may become a reoccurring theme. He’ll miss a few games throughout the season – including to kick off the year – as he needs extra rest to recover from the wear and tear of the season.

[Sorry, guys, I’m taking credit for this one because it was written at least a week before the injury was announced.]

11. RJ Barrett will win Rookie of the Year. Barrett was primed for an inefficient season following summer league. Well, fast forward a few months and he looks far more prepared for the NBA. He’s proven that he can initiate the offense, while his ability to attack the rim won’t falter as a professional. And, probably just as important, his confidence is through the roof. Already, Barrett looks like a star in the making.

12. Tyler Herro and Nickeil Alexander-Walker will both be named to an All-Rookie team.

Team + Playoff Predictions

13. The Houston Rockets will win fewer games than last season – and the highest they’ll end the year is at the No. 4 overall seed.

It’s not their fault and I’m not blaming the Westbrook-Harden pairing at all. Truthfully, injuries and depth will be the main culprits. Their starting five is actually great: Harden, Westbrook, Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker, Clint Capela. I love those five — but it falls off a cliff from there, especially after Gerald Green’s injury. Austin Rivers is a known commodity, but they’re going to struggle to generate much when they go to their bench.

14. The Philadelphia 76ers will nab the No. 1 overall seed in the Eastern Conference.

15. And they win the Eastern Conference.

16. But they’ll lose in the NBA Finals to the Los Angeles Clippers.

17. The 76ers will be joined in the playoffs by the Bucks, Celtics, Nets, HEAT, Pacers, Magic and Pistons, in no particular order.

18. The No. 8 overall seed in the Western Conference playoff race will come down to the Mavericks, Spurs, Pelicans and Kings, decided by 1.5 games or less. And the Mavericks will prevail.

19. The Clippers and Mavs will be joined in the playoffs by the Lakers, Jazz, Nuggets, Rockets, Trail Blazers and Warriors.

20. For the first time in 10 seasons, there will be no 60-win teams in the NBA.

21. And there will be more than 10 teams with 50 or more wins for the first time this decade.

22. All qualifying Western Conference teams win at least 50 games – a slight uptick from last season when the eighth-seeded Clippers won 48 games.

23. All eight Eastern Conference playoff teams win at least 44 games – last season, the eighth-seeded Detroit Pistons finished 41-41.

Trade + Coaching Change Predictions

24. The HEAT will trade either Justise Winslow or Goran Dragic before the deadline. Miami was already star shopping this summer when they expressed interested in Chris Paul. One or both can help them get that other star. Dragic’s contract is very tradable as it is more than $19 million and expires following this season. Winslow’s contract is even more movable at $13 million per year and a team option in 2021-22.

25. Speaking of Paul, he is not traded this season.

26. The Cavaliers finally move on from Kevin Love.

27. Andre Iguodala will be traded – but not to the Lakers or Clippers. The Grizzlies will look to collect as many assets as possible for Iguodala and the two Los Angeles-based franchises have limited draft capital left to include. The Rockets are reportedly out, too, as his salary is highly prohibitive for a team that’s already in luxury tax territory.

28. I predicted Scott Brooks would be fired during last year’s go-through, so we’re doubling down here, too. He’ll be let go before the All-Star break.

29. Despite the eventual whispers about Frank Vogel’s job security, he will end the season as head coach of the Lakers.

Other Predictions

30. At least three teams will average more than 40 three-point attempts per game. Last season, only the Rockets surpassed the 40-plus mark at 45.1 per game. But as we’ve seen in recent years, teams have become even more smitten with the three-point shot. Hard to say with certainty who it will be, but…

31. Back to the Rockets, they will lead the league in three-point attempts with more than 50 per game. This would’ve sounded ridiculous just a few years ago; but since Mike D’Antoni joined the club, they’ve hoisted 40, 42 and 45 per game over the last three seasons, respectively. Predicting five more three-pointers per game is aggressive, but they can do it.

32. Moreover, teams continue to crank the pace. Franchises eclipsed 100 possessions per game last year and that trend will continue this season, ultimately ending the 2019-20 season with between 103 and 105 per game.

33. Spencer Dinwiddie’s attempt to securitize his “Athlete Investment Token” *(PAInT) is allowed by the NBA, breaking ground on a new era of investing in professional athletes.

34. And the NBA-China situation does not subside. Thus, the 2020-21 salary cap shrinks by at least 10 percent.

Insiders’ Predictions

35. Pistons trade Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond

— Matt John (@MattJohnNBA)

36. Matisse Thybulle will break the starting lineup for the 76ers and be in the discussion for All-NBA Defensive Team.

37. The Portland Trail Blazers will be the No. 3 overall seed in the Western Conference and will have a third elite scoring options to end the season.

— David Weissman (@dwize04)

38. Denver is the No. 1 overall seed in the Western Conference.

39. Karl-Anthony Towns becomes the seventh player ever to average at least 25 points per game with a true shooting percentage of 65.0 or better.

— Jack Winter (@ArmstrongWinter)

40. Giannis Antetokounmpo will not be the only player in the upper-Midwest to lead his team in all five major statistical categories this season as Karl-Anthony Towns will, as well.

41. Robert Covington will creep into more trade rumors than just about anybody else in the NBA, but he will not move this season.

— Doug Farmer (@D_Farmer)

42. Lonzo Ball to win Most Improved Player in 2019-20.

43. Caris LeVert is an Eastern Conference All-Star.

— Ben Nadeau (@Ben__Nadeau)

44. The Chicago Bulls win a playoff series.

45. Quin Snyder will win Coach of the Year as the Jazz secure the top seed in the Western Conference; Mike D’Antoni will not finish the season as the Rockets’ head coach.

— Chad Smith (@Chad200)

46. The Denver Nuggets will lead the league in Net Rating.

47. The Hawks will be last in defensive rating.

— Quinn Davis (@Quinn_DavisNBA)

48. Los Angeles Lakers will not be a top-four seed in the Western Conference.

49. Ben Simmons will shoot above 25 percent on three-pointers (but on less than one attempt per game).

— Jordan Hicks (@JordanHicksNBA)

50. The Celtics finish with the No. 3 overall seed in the Eastern Conference and Gordon Hayward is an All-Star.

51. The Hawks and Bulls qualify for the playoffs, but Pacers and Warriors will miss out, despite Curry’s heroics.

52. And the Denver Nuggets finish the season as the No. 1 overall seed out and the New Orleans Pelicans squeeze into the eighth and final spot.

— Shane Rhodes (@Share_Rhodes1)

53. The Raptors start off strong, but fizzle out around midseason and miss the playoffs.

54. And they trade either Serge Ibaka or Marc Gasol.

— Spencer Davies (@SpinDavies)

And there we have it: another year of predictions in the books. Let’s all celebrate by binge-watching basketball for the next eight or so months. Remember, we’ll reference specific tweets in our “50 Predictions: Revisited” piece following the season, so make sure to connect with us on Twitter about how good or bad you think we’ve done.

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NBA

Three Takeaways From Preseason

David Weissman examines three key points from the preseason that could translate into the 2019-20 NBA campaign.

David Weissman

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Making predictions of a player or team’s success for the upcoming year based on how they perform during the preseason is an ill-advised approach for anyone who enjoys basketball analytics. During the preseason, most teams are working different offensive and defensive strategy, while one half of the roster is focused on making the team and the other is focused on staying healthy through the season.

Of course, there is a temptation to make bold predictions before any games have been played and to highlight the storylines that come out of the preseason that seem certain to carry over into the regular season. Here are a few of those stories.

Zion Williamson: ROY Favorite

In light of Williamson’s ill-timed injury that’ll keep him out until Christmas — he’s still probably the odds-on Rookie of the Year favorite, if he plays enough to qualify, that is.

As the most anticipated first round overall draft pick since LeBron James, Zion finished the preseason averaging more than 23 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists per game, playing just 27 minutes per night through four games. Despite finishing with the highest points per game average of any rookie in the preseason in the last 20 years, the most impressive stat was that Zion went 71 percent from the field, leading the Pelicans to a 4-0 record. Williamson even posted 92 percent (12-for-13) from the field while scoring 29 points against the Bulls during his third appearance with the Pelicans.

Zion’s highest level of efficiency was his true shooting percentage, 73.7 percent, the highest of any rookie since preseason started. In comparison, Jimmer Fredette’s true shooting percentage of 70.2 percent in 2011 and DeAndre Ayton’s 65.1 percent last year were the closest ever to Zion’s average.

Watching the Pelicans play, the biggest takeaway is how the team puts Zion in a position to succeed. Head coach Alvin Gentry used Williamson’s effectively by having him catch the ball on the move, weaponizing his athleticism. Now with Lonzo Ball running the point guard position, it has been a seamless effort to feed the ball to Zion during transition or in positions where he can attack the post. Zion’s athleticism has made it difficult on the opposition, with players forced to adapt to his strength in the paint. Going forward, opposing teams will either have to risk guarding a downhill Zion with a single player or have someone come down and help, leaving outside shooters like JJ Redick open on the perimeter.

Zion has shown that he can shoot the three-pointer when possible, but has not shown success from behind the arc yet, shooting 25 percent (1-for-4) during the preseason. It can be assumed that opposing defenses will pack the paint to discourage Zion from going to the basket. However, while playing against the Jazz, Zion was able get the best of Rudy Gobert – the two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year – by attacking the paint. Zion went 9-for-12 from the field, scoring eight of those field goals on the inside. Williamson was able to show during his matchup against Gobert that even elite stoppers and rim protectors won’t always be enough to deter him.

Based on Zion’s success scoring 34 of his 35 field goals in the paint, teams are going to dare him to shoot from the outside. If he returns and is as healthy as can be, Zion has shown he will not be deterred and will look to dominate from inside first, looking to capitalize on high percentage shot opportunities. Gentry and the Pelicans know that utilizing Zion in this fashion will lead to rookie year success that should make him the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year.

Steph Curry Going For MVP No. 3

For the past five years, the Warriors have been the dominant dynasty in the NBA, always certain to be the representative for the Western Conference in the NBA Finals. This year, they seem to be pedestrian with Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala gone and Klay Thompson recovering from injury. In the loaded West, Steph Curry may have to return to MVP form for the Warriors to earn a decent seed.

Steph Curry finished the preseason like it was 2015, averaging 26.8 points (second most in the NBA), 4.3 assists and 2.8 rebounds per game. What was especially noticeable was that Curry maintained a 43.2 shooting percentage from behind the arc, a percentage down from previous years, but on a three-point attempt total that went up by three attempts per game from last season. While the Warriors went just 2-3 in the preseason, Curry showed why many believe he could lead the NBA in scoring this season, especially with an increase in scoring opportunities via Durant’s departure and Thompson’s injury.

To make the most of Durant’s departure, Golden State traded for, and signed, Nets guard D’Angelo Russell to a max deal. Until Thompson returns to the starting lineup, the Warriors will rely on Russell to be an offensive presence and support Curry in the backcourt. Russell has shown to be capable in his new role by closing the preseason out with 29 points on 9-of-19 shooting (47.4 percent) and 6-of-11 shooting from beyond the arc (54.5 percent) against the Lakers. With Russell showing that he can be a second option for the Warriors, Curry will be the first option and could lead the league again in scoring, making him an immediate front runner for MVP.

With a revamped roster that has less experience than in years past, the Warriors might need Curry to make a run at MVP number three if they are going to compete in the ultra-tough Western Conference. Look for Curry to continue with the momentum he amassed in the preseason and become an immediate contender for MVP.

Matisse Thybulle Bound For An All-Defensive Team

Matisse Thybulle has emerged as one of the dark horses from this year’s draft to make a significant name for himself, especially on the defensive side of the ball. With only a five-game sample size, Thybulle has amassed a fairly impressive stat line, averaging 7.2 points, 1.4 assists and 2 rebounds in 19 minutes of action per game. Even with those impressive numbers, one stat stands out the most – his steals per game. Over five games, Thybulle has amassed an incredible 13 steals, averaging 2.6 steals per game (the second most during the preseason).

NBA scouts were concerned how Thybulle’s defensive game would translate to this new level of competition after coming from Washington’s zone in college, but the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year has earned his way into meaningful NBA minutes during the preseason. Thybulle actually averaged 3.5 steals a game over his final season at Washington, graduating with the 19th highest average in NCAA history.

Thybulle’s defensive awareness has secured him a role in Brett Brown’s early-season rotation. By impressing the coaching staff with his length, versatility and his ability to consistently disrupt opponents with his quick hands and reflexes, Thybulle has already established a place for himself on the team. Fortunately for the 76ers, projecting Tybulle as an elite NBA ballhawk will make him a sleeper, but a viable candidate for an All-NBA Defensive Team.

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