NBA Predictions with Copestick

Another NBA season is upon us. Some blockbuster trades went down, a loaded rookie class was brought into the league, and three players signed contracts that pay out upwards of 200 million dollars.

Basketball fans around the world are eager to see who will emerge as Rookie of the Year. If the addition of Kyrie Irving is enough for the Boston Celtics to win the Eastern Conference, and if anyone can give the Warriors a run for their money. The Cleveland Cavaliers play host to the Boston Celtics on Tuesday, October 17th at 8 pm to reign in the new season, followed by the visiting Houston Rockets playing the defending champs, the Golden State Warriors, at 10:30 pm.

MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

The Greek Freak is a physical specimen unlike anything the NBA has ever seen. Antetokounmpo’s intangibles are incredible; he possesses a rangy 7’4  wingspan, a lean 6’11, 220 pound frame, mammoth 13 inch hands, and a 12’2 max vertical jump, but what can’t be measured is the swiftness and fluidity that Antetokounmpo plays with. His long strides, leaping ability, and dexterity for a player his size is mystifying – and he’s only 22 years old. What makes Antetokounmpo valuable to the Bucks is his ability to play and guard every position on the court, as well as be a major factor on both ends. His length allows him to disrupt passing lanes, causing steals and fast breaks, a type of play that suits the Bucks well. On offense, everything runs through Antetokounmpo, whether he’s scoring at a 22.9 points per game clip, or setting up his teammates, as Antetokounmpo averaged 5.4 assists per game. When the season was over, the Greek Freak became only the fifth player in NBA history to lead his team in the five major statistical categories. He’ll need to drastically improve his 27 percent shooting from three point range, but Antetokounmpo simply means too much to his team to give the award to someone else.

Rookie of the Year: Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas Mavericks

Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball could very well be the pick here, but it’s a different rookie point guard that seems poised to be this year’s top rookie. Dennis Smith Jr., the ninth overall pick in this year’s draft, has the scoring ability and outrageous bounce to solidify the Mavericks backcourt for years to come. In his only collegiate season at North Carolina State, Smith Jr.’s per game averages were 18.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 6.2 assists. On top of that, Smith made 45.5 percent of his shots, including 36 percent from three, however, Smith Jr. only made 71.5 percent of his free throws, below average marks for his position. In the rookie’s NBA debut in the Las Vegas Summer League, Smith Jr.’s stats were nearly identical to his college stats, although his shaky free throw percentage still remained. However, Smith Jr. averaged over two steals per game, showing improvement in his defense, a major criticism of his coming out of college. A major asset to Smith Jr.’s game is his leaping ability. The former ACC rookie of the year can float, he boasts a 48 inch vertical, even after an ACL tear in his left knee cost him his senior season in high school. The Mavericks present a solid supporting cast around Dennis Smith Jr., as wings Wesley Matthews and Harrison Barnes give the rookie point guard opportunities for assists, and big man Nerlens Noel should be the recipient of many lobs and dump off passes around the rim. Dennis Smith Jr’s scoring and facilitating should win him Rookie of the Year honors, as well as some All-Star nods later in his career.

Most Improved Team: Minnesota Timberwolves

In April of 2016, the Minnesota Timberwolves hired former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau to be their next head coach, and to be the President of Basketball Operations. Now that the T-Wolves have their management in place, the only thing left to do was assemble a roster that could compete in the loaded Western Conference. Thibodeau was not playing around this offseason, pulling off a huge draft night trade with the Bulls to acquire Jimmy Butler, Thibodeau’s former pupil in Chicago. Thibodeau continued to crank out deals, grabbing two starters in point guard Jeff Teague, another former Bulls player in Taj Gibson, and former Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford. The T-Wolves also acquired a first round pick from the Utah Jazz in exchange for point guard Ricky Rubio. On October 11th, the team locked up former first overall pick Andrew Wiggins to a five year, 146.5 million dollar max contract. The trio of Butler, Wiggins, and stud center Karl-Anthony Towns have the potential to break the team’s 13 year playoff drought, which is currently the longest active streak in the NBA. It’s hard for any team to go from a high lottery team to a playoff competitor, but the T-Wolves have made the moves necessary to accomplish that.   

This Year’s Champions: Golden State Warriors

No surprise here. The Golden State Warriors are not only the best team in the NBA, but possibly the greatest team ever assembled. The Warriors have the best nucleus of talent in the association, boasting former MVP winners Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, last year’s Defensive Player of the Year in Draymond Green, and underrated sharpshooter Klay Thompson, who’s been to three All-Star games. That’s not even including former NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala, who serves as the Dubs sixth man. The Warriors were able to keep Iguodala around with a three year, 48 million dollar contract, as well as backup point guard Shaun Livingston, who signed a three year pact as well. The Warriors already have an abundance of scoring and playmaking, so the team spent the summer months finding role players to fill out their bench. The reigning champs brought in deadeye shooter Nick Young, a floor spacing forward in Omri Casspi, and the team acquired rookie forward Jordan Bell from the Bulls on draft night, whose role will be to bring energy and hustle off the bench. Ultimately, the Warriors depth, scoring, and overall talent will be too much for the rest of the league to overcome. Come June, the Dubs should be hoisting their third Larry O’Brien Trophy in four years.