Predicting the season full of questions


Milan Varia

With an NBA season looming upon us, the stars are aligning for some teams and players.

In a few weeks, we will all be able to, once again, sit down, grab the TV remote, and flip through a few channels to watch basketball. The 2020-21 NBA season kicks off on December 22nd, with the joy of basketball returning just in time for the holiday season. 

With a shortened offseason and not a lot of practice with new teams or teammates, this season brings a new challenge for both veterans and rookies alike. Teams will have to play more competitively in a shortened 72-game schedule. Having said that, this year will be full of surprising breakouts by many different players and unsuspecting performances by teams near the bottom of rankings.

Predicting what will happen throughout the season with COVID will be hard, but predicting the awards and best teams are achievable. Here are my top predictions for the NBA.


Eastern Conference Winner

Ever since Lebron departed from the Cavs, competition in the East has taken a step forward, but this year is different. Giannis Antetokounmpo finally got more help, with the Milwaukee Bucks trading for Jrue Holiday. The Philadelphia 76ers reformed a lot of their roster and got rid of Al Horford. A lot of the other contenders made moves to retain their roster and build for the future. 

But the best team in the Eastern Conference has nearly been forgotten and overshadowed by the quick offseason. This team will dominate the court and looks to rise above the rest from the shadows.

This team is the Brooklyn Nets. Last year, the Nets finished 35-37, which was enough for the 7th seed in the East. Their defense rating was the 9th best in the league, and they looked especially great, as the development of Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, and Caris Levert progressed faster than many would have expected. While they were not the best on offense, with the 16th most points per gain, this will be easily fixed because of two players.

This season, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving will both return from injury, and all signs point to them having lost nothing in their respective games. With these two stars, the Nets can look to claim the 1-3 seed. Having all the playoff experience between these two leaders, who each went to 3 straight finals against each other, will be key in their success. The Bucks, Heat, Celtics, Raptors, and Sixers will need something special to beat this team in a seven-game series. Thus, the Brooklyn Nets will be crowned Eastern Conference Champions.


Western Conference Winner

As if the Western Conference could not get any harder to win in, nearly every team added some sort of talent that can improve their championship odds. At least 12 teams are contending for a playoff spot, and at least 4 teams are capable of a finals trip. 

More than ever in the Western Conference, winning pedigree matters. Players will have to get right to work. This leaves 3 teams in particular with a substantial chance of winning the finals: the Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers, and Los Angeles Lakers. But there are key issues with all of these teams.

The Warriors are one splash brother short, and Curry is returning to a team that is built completely different, after playing just 5 games last season. He may lack on-court chemistry early on, especially with the new additions like James Wiseman. The Clippers have to deal with chemistry issues of their own and adapt to a new coach in just a few short weeks. They had struggled in the playoffs and could not simply retain their leads. The Lakers proved to be not as good as many thought. They had games where they flat out struggled. No true 3rd scorer and inconsistency across the board led to some bad losses. 

But through it all, championship DNA should win the conference this year; this belongs to the Lakers. After winning a title during the NBA Bubble, one of the strangest periods in NBA history, the Lakers made several moves to cement their foot in the doorway of another ring. Dennis Schroder, the new 6th-man, was one of the most clutch players last season and will bolster the attack of the Lakers. New big men in Montrez Harrell and Marc Gasol add more depth to a team that had a bench that could still compete. 

The Lakers should be able to run it back.


NBA Champ

Based on my previous predictions, the Nets and Lakers will face off in the Finals. So many storylines can emerge from this. Lebron and Anthony Davis will look to get their second ring against Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, two players ready to win a ring on a new team and prove their greatness as some of this generation’s legends. This matchup has 4 top 20 NBA players, creating what could be one of the most memorable Finals since the infamous 2016 series.

It would be quite the challenge for either team to win, but the Lakers will repeat. While Durant and Lebron match up well, and not many can guard Kyrie, the Lakers have two vital spots a lot stronger than the Nets: big men and bench. Anthony Davis is going to dominate the post all series long, and no one is going to stop him, meanwhile, the Lakers second unit will operate like a starting lineup full of scorers. The attack will be too much for the Nets to handle. Lakers in 6.  


Rookie of the Yea

This rookie class is much deeper than many think. From international stars to college dreams, the potential in these young prospects looks to prove anyone who challenges them. But how impactful can a rookie be this season? Most of these guys haven’t played a game in over 280 days and will come into the league with about a month of practice with their teams. Is this enough time? Thanks

With just under two weeks left, there is still not a clear cut winner. Many look at Anthony Edwards and Lamelo Ball as the two favorites to win rookie of the year, but they are not the only options. Obi Toppin may explode onto the scene due to his pure athletic ability, which will play a big role for many this season if want to play at a high level. His game presents versatility on the offensive end, especially inside 15 feet. James Wiseman is going to start in one of the most perfect situations in the league with Stephen Curry being his point guard. He is the most adroit center the team has had in years, making for an interesting storyline throughout the year. But there is one player everyone is sleeping on; Killian Hayes.

Akin to Ball in the sense they are young players coming from overseas teams, Hayes is a player who already has full reigns of his team. Pistons Coach Dwayne Casey has already said Hayes will be the starting guard. His game translates exceptionally to the league, with an already developed dribble package and a smooth jumper from 3. 

He also has a great mentor in Derrick Rose, who has already said he expects greatness from Hayes. Being able to grow under Rose, one of the players who has faced plenty of adversity, will enable Killian faster than most other rookies like Ball and Edwards, who both are on two of the youngest teams in the league. You might call it a stretch, but Hayes will win Rookie of the Year. 


6th Man of the Year

The 6th man becomes more important every season, and there might be no 6th man in the league more important than Dennis Schröder. Last season, the Lakers struggled to find a 3rd player who was reliable enough to score consistently, and Schröder has already proved he can score at high efficiency while keeping a low usage rate. 

His role will be very similar to that of Lou Williams, a high volume scorer coming off the bench surrounded by defensive talent. Last season, he scored 18.9 PPG on 46.9% shooting. He scored this way playing with a very weak bench in OKC, but joining the Lakers allows him to play at a higher pace. Schröder’s path to the bench glory is very clear. 


Defensive Player of the Year

In the last 10 years, Kawhi Leonard, Draymond Green, and, the most recent recipient, Giannis Antetokounmpo, are the only non-centers to win this award. Being dominated by centers, it is always hard to envision a guard or forward winning it anymore. But in the current era of ballers, players possess more and more unique skill sets.

One of those players is Anthony Davis. He is easily the best defensive power forward and not someone you want to reckon with. Davis forced the more turnovers per game last season, with 2.4 blocks and 1.5 steals each a night, Davis can guard all 5 positions, which is truly insane for a 7-foot player. His quickness and instinct enable him to play the best in big moments. 

With this clutch ability and raw talent, the award will be rightfully placed into his hands. Just about everything is perfectly set up for him to seize the moment. This is likely the most important season of his career. His peak is going to start, and we will be lucky to see one of the most talented defenders in the league put a clinic on the league. His efforts will be truly fruitful. Being the anchor of the potential best team comes at a cost that Davis will pay fully, with extra money to spare. 


Most Improved Player

No award seems to have as many contenders as the most improved player. Every year, analysts have a whole array of candidates, but at the same time, there can be only one winner.

It is hard to narrow down the award, but typically, players in year 3 to 5 win the award. Sophomore players can make that leap, but it is more rare and infrequent. But that still means there is a chance. Will Zion Williamson take the same leap as Luka? Does Shai Gilgeous-Alexander take the mantle of being a leader successfully? Both are likely, but they also will not win the award. 

So who will take it? No other player has a greater chance to cement themselves like Jaylen Brown. Brown is poised to win the award due to factors such as Gordon Hayward leaving the Celtics and Kemba Walker’s injury. Both will give him a lot more volume early on in the season.

He has shown great development in the past, from being labeled as a bad shooter in college, to now shooting 38% last season. Brown can make that jump, and it all comes from his mental side. His knowledge of the game is amongst the best, with some of the best IQ on both sides of the ball. He knows when to double and switch on defense and works great off the ball on offense. Expect Brown to have a legitimate chance at winning this award.


Most Valuable Player

The most valuable hardware of all awards, the MVP trophy truly signifies the continuation in the league. From what it seems, Antetokounmpo is slowly being handed the throne of the best player. Winning back-to-back MVPs, Giannis looks to become the first player to be named MVP 3 years in a row since Larry Bird. But Luka Dončić is the true next phenom of the NBA. While it is easier to see Luka as a future MVP, the future is now. 

Dončić led the most (statistically) efficient offense in NBA history last season, helping them score 115.8 points per 100 possessions (116.7 pre-bubble). After averaging 28.8 points on 46.1 percent shooting, 9.4 rebounds, and 8.8 assists per game, there might be another step forward for Dončić. He represents NBA greatness at the young age of 25, and there is not another player that looks like him.

At an initial glance, many will see an unathletic, uncoordinated ball-handler. But somehow, he still dominates on a nightly basis. His team now has more talent around him, and he and the Mavericks will try to attain a top 3 seed in the Western Conference, which is certainly possible. If his progression continues, no one will be able to compete. Luka is the next king of the NBA; Giannis will start to tail behind him soon enough.