August is traditionally a quieter sports month, especially as it relates to basketball news. So what better time to revisit our 50 Predictions piece from 2018-19 than right now? While we typically review our predictions in late June, we decided to wait a bit longer this season in order to have a complete picture of 2019 free agency, trades, etc.
Back in October, my fellow Insiders and I made a number of predictions about the NBA season and the surprises it had in store for us. This was my first year taking over the Predictions piece from the great Joel Brigham. Having spoken with Joel, I was aware that this process would be humbling – I didn’t realize the extent to which it would be, though.
Unfortunately, narratives and rumors permeate all of our thought processes. Thus, some of these predictions were entirely my own and some were influenced by talking heads – my colleagues included – like many of the falsehoods about Anthony Davis’ all-time great 2018-19 season. But fear not, I will be better in this regard come 2019-20.
Some of my predictions were spot on – albeit not too many – and others are laughable. Either way, please read on and enjoy everything that follows – most of which will be at my expense. And now, without further ado, here are my 50 predictions for the 2018-19 NBA season, revisited:
- Anthony Davis will be the 2018-19 MVP – Incorrect. And I wasn’t even really that close as he didn’t even finish in the top 10. Still, I stand by this pick. He was a popular pre-season selection. Unfortunately, Giannis Antetokounmpo was the other popular pick. And he won.
- Giannis Antetokounmpo will win Defensive Player of the Year – Incorrect, but close. Antetokounmpo finished second and was a world beater in pretty much every way. So this one nearly came to fruition.
- Zach Lavine will be named Most Improved Player – Incorrect. I really thought there was a chance entering December. But guys like Pascal Siakam, D’Angelo Russell and De’Aaron Fox did too much to separate themselves. And LaVine came back to earth. He averaged 28.1 points and 5.1 rebounds per game in October and 27 points per game through the Bulls’ first 14 games. But he settled back in to more traditional performances – which are good, but not necessarily MIP-worthy.
- Nikola Jokic will be finish in the top-five in MVP voting – Correct. Jokic had an incredible year and led the Nuggets to the second seed in the Western Conference. Jokic’s 20.1 points, 10.8 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game were more than enough to generate national attention.
- Nick Nurse will win Coach of the Year on the back of a franchise best season – Incorrect. Mike Budenholzer was named Coach of the Year given an impressive campaign in which he modernized the Bucks’ offense and led them to an NBA-best 60-win season. Nurse finished ninth and led the Raptors to 58 wins and their first ever NBA title.
Other Individual Predictions:
- Anthony Davis will lead the NBA scoring – Incorrect again. Davis finished 10th in points per game and 34th in overall points scored.
- For the first time since 2013-14, Blake Griffin will play in 70+ games – Correct. Griffin played in a shocking 75 games this past season – significantly more than he’s played in since 2013-14 (80).
- Lonzo Ball will post increased scoring and three-point percentages in less minutes per game – Partially correct. Ball scored 0.3 points per game less; however, he shot better from long-range (.329 up from .304) in four minutes less per game.
- Kristaps Porzingis returns to Knicks lineup after the All-Star break, the Knicks play above .500 with him in the lineup and they avoid the lottery – Incorrect. Instead, Porzingis didn’t play a single game in 2018-19, demanded a trade from the Knicks and now plays for the Mavericks. Do I lose points if I’m really, really wrong?
- Three players will average 15+ rebounds – Incorrect. Only Andre Drummond averaged more than 15 rebounds per game.
- Luka Doncic will be named Rookie of the Year – Correct. I understood the hype around DeAndre Ayton and Trae Young, but Doncic was too good and too experienced to overlook.
- Trae Young will end 2018-19 in the top-three Rookie of the Year ranks with at least 16 points and 7 assists per game – Correct. In fact, Young finished second in ROY voting and averaged 19.1 points and 8.1 assists per game.
- Alonzo Trier will average more points per game than Kevin Knox – Incorrect. Knox averaged 12.8 points per game versus Trier’s 10.9; but the fact remains that Trier surprised pretty much everyone by carving out a role in the NBA.
- Jimmy Butler will be traded before the All-Star break – Correct. Thankfully, I neglected to name a team to which he would be traded.
- Kevin Love will not be traded – Correct. This was 50-50 for me. I simply didn’t see a team willing to take on Love’s deal with the requisite cap space and need.
- Tristan Thompson will not be traded either – Correct.
- George Hill and Kyle Korver will be traded – Correct on both. They were the obvious guys for the Cavs to move, both of whom add significant value without being overly ball dominant.
- Terry Rozier is traded before the deadline – Incorrect. I couldn’t imagine a world in which the Celtics let an asset walk for nothing. This one should have happened.
- Damian Lillard to the Lakers rumors will persist, but a deal will not be made – Correct. With the luxury of hindsight, this one seems pretty obvious.
- The Raptors will win at least 60 games and finish first in the East – Technically incorrect. I should have just predicted that they would win the NBA Championship.
- Utah will also finish 2018-19 with 60+ wins – Incorrect. In my defense, my objectivity ceased to exist after chatting with fellow Insider Jordan Hicks, who spoke so highly of his hometown team.
- The Warriors will also win 60 games and three teams will finish with 60 wins – Incorrect. Only one team (Bucks) finished the season with 60 wins. And to be fair, three teams haven’t finished with 60 or more wins in the same season since 2008-09.
- The Nuggets will win 55 games – So close, but incorrect. Denver ended with 54 wins, which marks a huge leap for the franchise. Note: I will make this prediction again in October.
- The 76ers finish in the bottom five in three-point shooting – Incorrect. I clearly failed to examine rosters around the league.
- The Bucks will finish in the top five in three-point attempts – Correct. Lots of credit here to Coach Budenholzer, who modernized an offense that launched the second-most three-pointers in the league – up from 25thoverall in 2017-18.
- The Lakers will fail to make the playoffs – Correct. And this was a bold pick last October, I might add. LeBron James didn’t have enough help. And still, I was worried for a good part of the season. If James hadn’t been hurt on Christmas Day and maintained his output (27.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game), I probably would have been wrong here, too. He’s still that good.
- The Pelicans will qualify for the playoffs thanks to Anthony Davis – LOL. Incorrect.
- The Hawks will end the season with the worst record in the league – Incorrect. It’s always hard to predict the order at the bottom of the league. But the Hawks were a pleasant surprise last season, playing quite well after the All-Star break.
- The Bucks advance past the first-round – Correct. They had the MVP and the Coach of the Year.
- The Wizards do not earn a top-four seed in the East – Correct. No one saw John Wall’s injuries on the horizon, though.
- And the Wizards get eliminated in the first-round – Incorrect, because they didn’t make the playoffs at all.
- The Pistons enter the playoffs as a top-four seed – Incorrect again.
- And the Pistons advance past the first-round – Incorrect yet again. I was supremely confident in Blake Griffin, who played very well. But he didn’t have enough support, and the East was even better than expected.
- Tom Thibodeau is fired shortly after the Timberwolves move on from Butler – Correct
- Scott Brooks is not fired during the season – Correct. But had I known how bad it would get in Washington, I might have predicted otherwise.
- Brooks is let go before June 1 following a first-round playoff elimination – Incorrect on two fronts. First of all, the Wizards didn’t qualify for the playoffs. But more importantly, Brooks is still their head coach – and I’m a little surprised by this. The Wizards moved on from general manager Ernie Grunfeld. And their star player is out for probably the entire 2018-19 season. Brooks enters 2019-20 on the hot seat. I don’t see Washington sticking with him if the team decides to trade Bradley Beal. So if that happens, look out.
- The league-wide average will exceed 110 points per game (2017-18 average was 106.3) – Correct. The average score per game per team actually eclipsed 111 points.
- There will be a 10 percent increase in fouls per game due to rule changes regarding how freedom of motion fouls are called – Incorrect. The league average increased from 19.9 fouls per game to 20.9 – an increase of just over 5 percent.
- There will be fewer teams with 25 or less wins than there was last season in part because of the revised NBA Draft Lottery – Technically there was the same number of teams with fewer than 25 wins; however, there were more teams with 25 or fewer wins. So, Correct. And the effect of the revised draft lottery becomes even more evident when we expand the scope: nine teams had fewer than 30 wins in 2017-18, compared to only five in 2018-19.
- There will be at least five first-time All-Stars – Correct, but just barely so. There were exactly five first-time All-Stars this past season: Nikola Jokic, Khris Middleton, D’Angelo Russell, Ben Simmons and Nikola Vucevic.
Steve Kyler (@stevekylerNBA)
- The Warriors will not win the most games in the league – Correct
Steve Kyler (@stevekylerNBA)
- Eight teams will finish at .500 or one game below – Incorrect. Only one team finished with a 41-41 record and no teams ended the season with 40 wins.
Matt John (@MattJohnNBA)
- Kawhi Leonard re-signs with Toronto on a 1+1 – Incorrect
David Yapkowitz (@David_Yapkowitz)
- The Nuggets will enter the playoffs as a top-four seed – Correct
Shane Rhodes (@Shane_Rhodes1)
- The 76ers will enter the playoffs without securing a top-four seed – Incorrect
Spencer Davies (@SpinDavies)
- Tristan Thompson will average a double-double for the first time in his career – Correct
Lang Greene (@LangGreene)
- Carmelo Anthony will end the season with less than 13 points per game and worse than 40 percent shooting from the field – Incorrect on both counts. Anthony averaged 13.4 points per game on 40.5 percent shooting; however, he only played in 10 games.
Benny Nadeau (@Ben_Nadeau)
- Allen Crabbe will end the season in the top 10 for three-pointers made – Incorrect. Wrong Net, Ben. D’Angelo Russell finished ninth with 234.
Jordan Hicks (@JordanHicksNBA)
- Joe Ingles will lead the league in three-point percentage – Incorrect. In fact, Ingles finished 31st in three-point percentage with a 39.1 percent clip – which is worse than both of the previous two seasons.
Jordan Hicks (@JordanHicksNBA)
- Derrick Favors will be traded before the deadline – Incorrect, but fake bonus points because Favors starts the season with New Orleans after being traded for two second-round picks at the start of free agency.
Some of my predictions were terrible, and others were borderline prophetic. We will be back soon to see if the Basketball Insiders team and I can do better than we did last October.
For those of you keeping score, I got 19 correct and 21 incorrect, and my fellow Insiders had four correct and six incorrect. I sense major improvements on the horizon..
NBA Daily: What Should the Raptors Do at the Trade Deadline?
The Toronto Raptors are surging. Bobby Krivitsky examines whether they’ve been good enough to keep their current core intact or if they should take a different approach at the trade deadline.
After losing eight of their first 10 games to start the season, the Toronto Raptors have won 14 of their last 23 matchups, surging to fifth in the Eastern Conference.
The Raptors had to quickly recharge during a truncated offseason, get acclimated to a new setting and adjust to Aron Baynes and Chris Boucher stepping into the void left by the departures of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. Despite all of that, they’re scoring the 10th-most points per 100 possessions, are 13th in defensive rating and have the ninth-best net rating in the NBA.
Through Toronto’s ups and downs this season, they’ve been able to count on Fred VanVleet. After signing a four-year, $85 million contract to remain with the Raptors, the fifth-year guard from Wichita State has once again taken his game to a higher level. He’s averaging 20 points, 6.7 assists and 4.5 rebounds — all career-bests — and eighth in the NBA with 1.7 steals per contest. It’s discomforting to imagine where this team would be if he had left.
Then there’s Pascal Siakam, who’s finally shaken off a rough second-round series against the Boston Celtics last postseason and thawed from an icy start to his 2020-21 campaign. Siakam is averaging 20.1 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 1.2 steals per game. One of the main reasons for his turnaround has been Siakam’s growth as a facilitator: those 4.8 assists represent a career-best. And, with the Raptors shifting more towards small-ball, Siakam is thriving working off a screen from guards, spotting where the defense is vulnerable and taking advantage of it.
Another crucial component of Siakam’s improvement is him playing with more energy on the defensive end. Effort can only take a defender so far, but when that individual is 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan and has the strength, quickness and intelligence to guard positions one-through-five for varying amounts of time, doing so can have a significant impact on the outcome of the game.
While Siakam’s production has more of an impact on the Raptors’ ceiling than any other player on the team, Kyle Lowry, alongside VanVleet, establishes Toronto’s floor. Lowry, who turns 35 in March, is averaging 18 points, 6.5 assists, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game this season. He remains the heart and soul of the team. That makes it even more impressive that, despite losing him to a thumb injury during a Feb. 16 matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto went on to win that night and again two days later, stretching their winning streak to four games (including a victory over the Philadelphia 76ers).
One major change stemming from the Raptors playing small more often is Norman Powell entering the starting lineup. He’s started his last 17 games and is averaging a team-high 21.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals. During that stretch, the sharpshooting Powell is also knocking down 44.4 percent of his 6.4 threes per game and shooting 51.2 percent from the floor. Toronto has won 10 of those 17 games.
Powell gives the Raptors more offensive firepower, allows them to play faster and, when they don’t have a traditional center on the floor, has made it easier for them to switch on defense. It’s an adjustment that’s worked so well for Toronto, even in Lowry’s absence, Baynes came off the bench while DeAndre’ Bembry joined the starting lineup.
So, with the Raptors finding their footing and the March 25 trade deadline inching closer, what’s Toronto’s best course of action? That decision revolves around their plan with Lowry.
Lowry, whose $30 million deal is set to expire after the season, is interested in playing at least two more seasons at a similar value, per Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Are the Raptors willing to meet those demands, paving the way for the franchise icon to spend the remainder of his career with them? Secondly, the Raptors aren’t a title contender right now, which could lead to the two sides working together to send Lowry to a team meeting that criteria by the trade deadline, which also happens to be his 35th birthday.
If it comes to that, Pompey listed the 76ers, Miami HEAT and Los Angeles Clippers as Lowry’s preferred destinations, noting the North Philadelphia native would like to return to his roots. For the Raptors to go through with trading the six-time All-Star, it would likely take multiple first-round picks and promising young players along with any contracts included for salary-matching purposes to be expiring after this season.
Considering Toronto’s current place in the NBA’s hierarchy, if Lowry intends to leave for a title contender or the Raptors aren’t willing to meet his contractual demands, it’s clear what they should do at the deadline. Trading Lowry isn’t going to net Toronto the return necessary to vault them into the league’s top tier, but it would still figure to serve them better in the long term, even though the Raptors’ resurgence suggests if he’s still on the team after Mar. 25th, they’re once again going to be a difficult out in the playoffs, and they could go as far as the Eastern Conference Finals.
If they want to play the long game, it would also make sense for them to trade Powell, who has an $11.6 million player option he’s likely to decline in the offseason. Granted, he’ll be 28 next season, so it’s not as if re-signing him would be short-sighted.
There’s nothing wrong with preserving the possibility Lowry never dons another team’s jersey — and parting with a franchise icon is never easy. But trading Lowry may be the best bet for the franchise’s future, while it would neither change the fact that the team will someday retire his jersey, nor would it take away from his legacy. In fact, doing right by him and giving Lowry another opportunity to compete for a title may just be the best parting gift the Raptors could give him while also strengthening their own long-term outlook.
NBA Daily: Don’t Forget About Romeo Langford
Once a top-five high school recruit, Romeo Langford has yet to make an impact in his brief NBA career.
As a highly-touted high school prospect, Romeo Langford found himself at the fifth spot in the 2018 ESPN Top 100. His play earned him a spot in the 2018 McDonald’s All-American Game among big-name recruits such as Zion Williamson, and after a very successful high school career, the five-star shooting guard decided to take his talents to Indiana over both Kansas and Vanderbilt.
Langford’s time as an Indiana Hoosier was short-lived as he only spent one year with the team before declaring for the draft. He played in thirty-two games despite tearing a ligament in his thumb. His shooting percentages reflected this injury as he shot a meager 27.2 percent from three and 44.8 percent from the field, per Sports-Reference. Both of these percentages were not reflective of the electric, efficient scorer he was at New Albany High School.
Selected with the No. 14 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics, there was a lot to be excited about. For starters, the Celtics were able to draft a player just inside the lottery who many thought would be a top-five pick before the 2018-19 NCAA season. They were also able to get a resilient player that grinded through his injury and was still able to pace the BIG 10 in freshman scoring with 16.5 points per game. The potential with a healthy Langford is there, and that’s what led to him being a Boston Celtic.
During a 2019 interview with Boston.com, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens spoke highly of their rookie.
“If they would have been more on the national radar, and he would have not hurt his thumb, he probably would have been even more discussed,” Stevens said at the Celtics practice facility. “He’s a guy we were all well aware of before his first game at IU.”
If it was not clear by this quote, big things were expected from the former Indiana Mr. Basketball.
Unfortunately, his first season on the Celtics was not much of one to write home about. Across 32 games, he managed to average only 2.5 points with 1.3 rebounds in 11.6 minutes per game, often finding himself with Boston’s G League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws.
This should not be a big indicator of how things will end up for Langford though – as flourishing Charlotte Hornets star Terry Rozier was also an afterthought off the Celtics’ bench in his first season, even though many people saw his future potential. In a Feb. 7th matchup with the Atlanta Hawks, Langford made the most of a starting opportunity, dropping 16 points on 5-for-11 shooting, including 2-for-5 from three-point range, and 3 blocks. Later, he would then undergo season-ending surgery to repair the scapholunate ligament of his right wrist during the team’s playoff run in the bubble.
As the 2020-21 season heads towards the All-Star break, Langford has yet to suit up as he still is recovering from surgery. But according to a report by NESN, Langford should be healthy enough to return following the pause.
This then leaves the question: where does Langford fit on the Celtics roster, if at all? Amidst a disappointing start to the season, many fans and people around the Celtics have begun to sound the alarm. When the owner even comes out to 98.5 The Sports Hub and acknowledges the fact that the young Eastern Conference finalists are not currently a contender, there should be plenty of reason to panic.
The Celtics’ troubles have been all over the place this season, but the one that seems to be the most glaring is the lack of explosive scoring outside of Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. There has been some great play off the bench by Payton Pritchard and Robert Williams, but players like Grant Williams, Jeff Teague and Semi Ojeleye have struggled to be consistent factors.
As the Celtics continue to look for splashes in the trade market, there is a lot of uncertainty around Langford’s future as the team now seems to lack tradable assets outside of the core.
Despite his long injury, Langford is still a much more desirable piece than Javonte Green or Grant Williams. Moving on from Jeff Teague may be a route that the Celtics opt to take as well because he has failed to make much of an impact off of the bench, and this would open up playing time to test out a 100 percent healthy Langford.
Langford could bring a great burst of energy off the bench for the Celtics if healthy, and so exciting to see how he fits alongside the outstanding rookie point guard in Pritchard. With Langford on the second unit, it would open up the floor for Tatum as he would have another solid scorer to kick the ball out to.
Could Langford end up being the guy that fixes the bench scoring problem for the Celtics? Only time will tell, but based on his high school and collegiate careers, he very well might be 𑁋 if he’s still on the team past the deadline.
NBA Daily: Luke Walton’s Uncertain Future
Could this be it for Luke Walton in Sacramento? David Yapkowitz examines.
There’s one big question surrounding the Sacramento Kings this season: what, exactly, will become of head coach Luke Walton? Walton, in the second year of a four-year deal he signed back in 2019, has often headlined the group of coaches that are thought most likely to be let go next.
Brought in by the previous regime, Sacramento’s situation has changed considerably since they brought in Walton. Former general manager Vlade Divac has since stepped down and been replaced with Monte McNair. And, often, new management will look to build their team, coaching staff included, in their own mold — that’s nothing really against the current personnel, just that different voices sometimes have different visions and want to construct a team within that vision.
If the team plays well, the new management team may be inclined to ride it out with the current staff. In a somewhat recent example, when Masai Ujiri first took over in the Toronto Raptors front office, the Raptors started surging in the standings and Ujiri held on to Dwane Casey for a while before ultimately replacing him with Nick Nurse. Casey had been hired by former executive Bryan Colangelo.
The Kings are in an interesting scenario in that, despite being a perennial bottom-dweller, expectations have existed for the team for over a decade now, the main expectation being that they would eventually improve beyond that bottom-feeder status. Now, that expectation may be more warranted than ever, as Sacramento has some seriously talented pieces in place, including franchise cornerstone De’Aaron Fox and Rookie of the Year contender Tyrese Haliburton.
In fact, just a few weeks ago, the Kings looked like they might actually be turning things around. On a four-game win streak, with wins over the Los Angeles Clippers and Boston Celtics, they looked like a different team.
Since then, unfortunately, they’ve reverted to the Kings of old. Now, they’re on an eight-game losing streak, their first such skid since 2019.
There are plenty of good teams in the Western Conference and, because of that, at least a couple of them are going to be on the outside looking in come playoff time. Of course, it can be hard to fault teams that show consistent effort and improvement. But that just hasn’t been the Kings, for quite some time now.
The main area of concern for the Kings where they haven’t shown real improvement is on the defensive end. They were already among the bottom half of the league on that end before their most recent skid, while it’s been significantly worse during their last eight games.
It’s always a possibility to bring in a defensive-minded assistant to help with that end, much like Sacramento tried to do on offense this past offseason. To spark the team on that end of the court, the Kings added Alvin Gentry to Walton’s staff and for the most part, it’s worked out: Sacramento is 12th in the league in scoring, up from 22nd last season. They’re also shooting better from three-point range while playing at a quicker pace.
But in order to win in this league, you need to do it on both ends. And that’s something the Kings haven’t shown the ability to do.
Sacramento is allowing 119.6 points per game, dead last in the NBA. Their defensive rating of 118.7 is also last. And, at this point, simply adding an assistant might not do the trick; at this point, it might just be easier (and more effective) for management to simply cut ties with Walton and set up a new staff under a new head coach.
Walton’s popularity and potential as a head coach first piqued during the 2015-16 season with the Golden State Warriors. When he stepped in for Steve Kerr, who took leave from the team to recover from back surgery, Walton guided the team to a 24-0 start and a 39-4 record upon Kerr’s return. While the Warriors were in their second of what would be five-straight runs to the NBA Finals and had a strong foundation already in place, Walton’s involvement in the feat can’t be discounted, while it opened the league’s eyes as to his potential as a head coach.
But later, during Walton’s years as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, the team showed slight, if minimal improvement each year at best. In fact, those Lakers were similar to these Kings in that they were a young team with no real experience just trying to get better. And, obviously, it’s much easier to look good when you already have an established unit.
Coaching in the NBA is a tough and often thankless job. When things go right, they get little credit. When they go wrong, the blame lies almost squarely on their head. As with players, sometimes a coaching situation just isn’t the right fit for either party; maybe this Kings’ roster just isn’t built to maximize Walton’s system.
That said, in this particular case, it would probably be best for the Kings to ride the current situation out. Sacramento has shown some improvement from last season and Walton deserves some credit for that. He’s shown constant faith and trust in his rookie, Haliburton, while he has Fox playing at a near All-Star level and Richaun Holmes looking like one of the NBA’s best in the painted area (and an absolute steal, given his contract).
Going forward, it’s worth rolling the dice and seeing if they can’t end this skid and get back to their strong play earlier in the year. Further, it might not be that great an idea to make such a radical structural change halfway through the season when your team might still have a realistic shot at the postseason.
That said, should the team continue to struggle, then it would be wise to revisit the matter in the offseason. If they do, it wouldn’t be much of a reach if McNair decides that two years is enough and that he wants to bring in a head coach of his own choosing.