With the NBA season opener tipping off tonight it’s time to start making some predictions. As always these will be bold predictions and they will be subject to change throughout the season. So in honor of a new season let the predictions commence.
1. Neither Jahlil Okafor nor D’Angelo Russell will win Rookie of the Year
Most people believe that it will be one of the two gifted players above that walks away with the ROY hardware this year, but I’m not buying it. It’s not that I don’t believe in their respective abilities. In fact, I drafted Jahlil Okafor onto my fantasy team with my 11th round pick; it’s just I believe that there are several candidates who will fare much better in their given situations.
The case against Jahlil Okafor: Okafor is joining a young 76ers squad as their only legitimate go-to option. He will receive a heavy dosage of minutes while being asked to keep the 76ers offense going. This isn’t college anymore. NBA bigs are bigger stronger and faster, and they will all be keying in on Okafor when they play the 76ers. Another factor working against Okafor is Philly’s lack of outside shooting. There only legitimate threats from outside are Robert Covington and a very unimpressive Nik Stauskas. Teams will look to pack the paint and sag off their assignments to help on Okafor. Jahlil Okafor will have his fair share of dominant performances but low percentages and heavy defensive pressure will contribute to his rookie troubles.
The case against D’Angelo Russell: D’Angelo Russell was drafted with the expectations that he will someday soon succeed Kobe Bryant as the face of the Lakers franchise. The problem is he could not have been drafted into a worse possible position. With Kobe Bryant as a guaranteed starter there are going to be problems from the get go. Not only will Russell have to compete with Kobe for touches, but he will also have to compete with the likes of promising sophomore Jordan Clarkson and prized free agent Lou Williams in a crowded backcourt. Pair the lack of backcourt minutes and touches with Russell’s poor summer league and preseason outings, and it’s easy to see the rook struggling early on and maybe being more of a bench player his first year. I really think the Lakers should’ve gone with Jahlil Okafor at this pick, but we will see how D’Angelo Russell pans out.
The case for Karl-Anthony Towns: This kid can ball. It’s important not to read too far into Summer League and preseason games as the intensity will pick up during the regular season, but Towns flat out dominated in the preseason. He looked comfortable going to the low post, and he is an excellent free throw shooter as a young big. His three point stroke has yet to catch up to the pro distance, but he has solid shooting mechanics and we’ve seen him knock down shots from distance. With speed demon Ricky Rubio facilitating and offensive juggernauts Kevin Martin, Andrew Wiggins, and Shabazz Muhammed around, defenses will have their hands full with these young Timberpups. Oh, and let’s not forget that Towns will have one of the greatest power forwards in NBA history in Kevin Garnett as a player/coach, teaching him the nuances of the game. This kid is my favorite to take home the hardware.
The case for Emmanuel Mudiay: With the Denver Nuggets trading immature point guard Ty Lawson to the Houston Rockets, Emmanuel Mudiay has inherited a run-and-gun offense with a plethora of weapons. He will have Danillo Galinari to pass to for open spot-up 3s, and he will have the ability to toss lobs galore to athletic freaks Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried. Mudiay could not have landed in a better position to rack up stats, and ROY voters love big numbers. Mudiay will struggle with his shooting stroke and turnovers at times during the season, but if he can average close to 14-15 PPG and 6-7 APG, he could definitely generate some ROY buzz and be a darkhorse candidate to take the crown from Towns.
2. Anthony Davis will be the Most Valuable Player
This may or may not seem bold to you. Whether you believe Davis should win it or not, let’s take a look at the preseason MVP candidates. Stephen Curry will be back with another offseason of chemistry with his teammates and perhaps even a better team. James Harden will be out to prove that he is runner-up to nobody, especially some baby-faced kid in Oakland. Harden will look to show why the league should “Fear the Beard” from day 1.
A healthy and angry Kevin Durant will look to show that lousy foot injuries are a thing of the past, and he will look to make up for lost time by obliterating opposing defenses all while competing with teammate Russel Westbrook for a scoring title. Oh, and let’s not forget this guy, LeBron James. With Kyrie Irving sidelined possibly until January, James and Kevin Love will shoulder a larger offensive load. This could easily generate early MVP buzz for The King.
You could argue for any of the above guys and possibly others like Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and Marc Gasol, but one thing is for certain, Anthony Davis will win MVP. Last year Davis tortured opposing defenses and halted his competitors’ offensive possessions all season long. He practically willed the Pelicans to a playoff spot and is angry with being swept by the eventual champs. “The Brow” spent all summer working on his 3 ball as well, as if there wasn’t enough offensive potential to begin with. Look for Anthony Davis to challenge Kevin Durant for a scoring title. This kid won’t even turn 23 until March. This will be the first of many MVPs for Davis.
3. The Utah Jazz make the playoffs and make some noise
This is my biggest and boldest prediction, but it’s my favorite. The Jazz boast the second youngest team in the NBA, the youngest being the Philadelphia 76ers. They don’t play defense like youngbloods though. Last season after the All-Star break, once Enes Kanter was traded and Rudy Gobert was inserted into the starting lineup, the Utah Jazz boasted the number 1 defense in the entire NBA. The loss of sophomore Dante Exum to a season-ending ACL tear will hurt their defensive and offensive potential, but don’t worry too much about that. The Jazz defense won’t skip a beat with Gobert having a full season to start.
The French big man has a 9’9″ standing reach. It’s no wonder they call him the Stifle Tower, the French Rejection, and my personal nickname for him, The Gobstopper; Gobert huge. Last April he averaged 4.1 BPG. That’s insane for someone who’s only 23. Defense will translate to wins against weaker opponents and even some upsets against some Western and Eastern Conference competitors. If Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, and Derrick Favors can carry the scoring load and perhaps get some more efficient play from Trey Burke then the Jazz could easily slip into the 8th seed and possibly make the top seed look silly in a thrilling 7 game series.
Those are just 3 predictions, but I feel they are pretty bold. Share your bold predictions are for this NBA season in the comments below.