After the Ball drops on New Year’s Eve you hear a lot of people saying something like “New year, new me!” It’s supposed to sound profound and signify a major life change, but more often than not it just comes off as stupid because most people don’t really ever change. Well rest assured friends, because I’m not changing in 2018. I’m still going to be watching a ton of basketball, and I’m still going to be writing about it so I can keep y’all posted. To kick the year off right, I’m here to make 10 somewhat bold predictions about what’s to come in the NBA-world over the next 350-ish days of the year 2018.
1. Someone will score 60 points in a game in 2018
I’ve written this “Somewhat Bold Prediction” NBA column in 2014, 2016, and 2017 and each year I’ve made this prediction, and every single year this prediction has been one of the few that I actually get correct. In 2014 Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James each went for 60 plus against the Charlotte Bobcats in less than two months time. In 2016 Kobe chucked his way to 60 points in his career finale against the Utah Jazz. Last year Devin Booker raised the stakes when he became the sixth and by far most random player in NBA history to score at least 70 points in a regular season game.
It’s bound to happen again this year. LeBron James scored 57 earlier this year against the Washington Wizards. Stephen Curry put 45 points on the Clippers in only three quarters less than a week ago. League scoring and pace of play are up yet again, and there isn’t a shortage of talented offensive players who could get to sixty on a given night. Whether it’s this season or next, we’ll see a sixty point outburst in 2018.
2. The Warriors will lose more than one game in the NBA Playoffs
Golden State steamrolled through the Playoffs last year, losing only once in the entire postseason on their way to an expected and convincing title win. There’s no reason to believe that the Warriors aren’t the overwhelming favorites to repeat as NBA Champs, but the likelihood of another 16-1 postseason is slim. All three opponents the Warriors face in the Western Conference should pose greater problems than the Nurkic-less Blazers, Gobert-less Jazz and Kawhi-less Spurs did last Spring.
There’s a possibility that the Warriors could run into the bully-ball Pelicans in Round 1 (a trickier out than you’d expect), and then they’d have to play three straight rounds against some combination of the following five teams: Houston, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Cleveland or Boston. If they can get through that gauntlet with one or zero losses, just crown them the greatest team of All-Time. That’s right, crown their ass, because they are who we thought they were!
3. Gregg Popovich will announce he’s leaving the San Antonio Spurs to run for President of the United States in 2020.
A guy, or several million Americans, can dream, right?
4. The Detroit Pistons will surge in Reggie Jackson‘s absence (And investigate potential trade partners to acquire another guard at the Trade Deadline)
A long-term injury to the starting Point Guard is normally a deathblow to teams in the NBA, and the knee-jerk reaction to finding out about Jackson’s possible two-month absence was that the Pistons fast start to the season would be wasted. I have a contrarian opinion on the matter: for whatever reason, I’ve watched a considerable amount of Detroit Pistons basketball over the last two and a half years — perhaps it’s because I’ve been waiting for the Andre Drummond leap, or maybe it’s because I’ve been hoping for another Stan Van Gundy gem like “Form a f***ing wall!” — and I feel very confident in saying that Reggie Jackson is one of the worst full-time starting Point Guard’s in the NBA. He doesn’t make anyone better, he doesn’t have any sense of the moment, he’s not a particularly stout defender, he overdribbles more than any non-star in the league. It’s like watching a Point Guard instructional video, only Reggie is the “This is what you shouldn’t be doing” portion of the lesson.
On the bench behind Jackson has been Ish Smith, a journeyman back-up that occasionally shows glimpses of play that warrant starts minutes. Jackson isn’t a star by any means, and unlike Jackson he doesn’t try to play like one. Smith sets guys up for shots and gets into the paint and makes stuff happen, and he’s rarely a detrimental figure like Jackson occasionally is. Still, Ish Smith, Avery Bradley and rookie Luke Kennard won’t provide enough of a punch in the backcourt for the Pistons to make any noise in the postseason.
Each of the last two years right before the Trade Deadline I put together a “30 Team Trade Deadline Challenge” where I try to find a somewhat logical and plausible trade for all 30 NBA franchises that would benefit all parties involve … I guarantee you this year my trade for the Pistons will involve Detroit acquiring a potentially very available Lou Williams, who could give them a backcourt scoring jolt that could elevate them from a Round 1 exit to maybe a Round 2 exit.
5. The Boston Celtics will make yet another big offseason move
Even after making the splashy move to acquire Kyrie Irving over the Summer, the Celtics are still sitting on a huge pile of assets. Aside from a handful of young wings that any potential trade partners would love to be able to pry away from the Celts, Boston still owns three future 1st Round Draft picks in addition to their own 1st Rounders coming up. If the Los Angeles Lakers pick falls between #2 and $6 this year it is conveyed to Boston, and if Danny Ainge is looking to really solidify the Celts as the team to beat in the Eastern Conference, he could potentially look to package the remainder of their assets together and dangle them in the faces of a few anxious GM’s before this Summer’s NBA Draft.
One possible — and heavily rumored — name that Boston could be linked to this Summer: Anthony Davis. Davis is in year six of a disappointing tenure with the New Orleans Pelicans. One Playoff appearance, zero postseason games won, one Hail Mary trade for DeMarcus Cousins, and a whole lot of franchise turmoil. Cousins is a Free Agent this Summer and Davis has an out in 2020. If the Pelicans get word that Cousins won’t be returning to New Orleans, they’ll officially be in danger of losing Davis two years later.
With the help of a third team to make the salaries work, the Celtics could entice the Pelicans with a package that includes some combination of Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Marcus Morris, and three upcoming 1st Round picks that will likely fall in the Lottery. It would take a lot to pry Davis, a two-time 1st Team All-NBA performer, from New Orleans, even if the possibility of a long-term partnership continues to dwindle.
But for the Celtics, it’s a necessary risk to take. Move all of your chips to the center of the table and snag a foundational piece that takes you to a level beyond where Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward can take you. You need stars to win championships in today’s NBA, and the more you have the closer you are to legitimate contention. Perhaps it’s my personal bias speaking, but I don’t see the Celtics, as currently constructed, as a threat to Cleveland’s place atop the Eastern Conference. Anthony Davis changes that dynamic in a major way.
6. LeBron James gives serious consideration to signing with the Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets, Philadelphia 76ers and Cleveland Cavaliers over the Summer
According to *my sources that are close to the situation, the currently probabilities are as follows:
*NOTE: I don’t have any sources
Cleveland – 30%
Los Angeles – 30%
Houston – 30%
Philadelphia – 10%
Cleveland, LA and Houston will be the clear favorites heading into the Summer, but Philadelphia will lurk as a potential landing spot based simply on what a terrorizing force the Sixers could be if LeBron’s super-extended prime could possibly coincide with the upcoming prime years of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. A move to the young Sixers would reset LeBron’s championship window in a way that none of the other destinations likely would.
One could argue that LeBron’s championship window would be extended if he made the move to Los Angeles, but I’m not nearly as high on LA’s youth movement as I am Philadelphia’s. What intrigues me more about an LA move is if the Lakers could dump even more salary during the season (to do this they’d need to attach young assets to Luol Deng‘s contract) so that an extra max contract slot could be opened up. I know it’s a longshot, but if the Lonzo Ball/LaVar Ball situation continues to sour, there’s a Lonzo Ball/LaVar Ball/Luol Deng for an Expiring Contract package that could shave over $20 million off the Lakers books heading into the Summer.
Houston emerged as a potential LeBron destination in early December, and on paper it makes a ton of sense. Adding LeBron to a Houston Roster that includes Chris Paul, James Harden and an arsenal of shooters is the very definition of Mike D’Antoni‘s wet dream. Every possible offensive record could fall if LeBron took his talents to Clutch City. However, watching LeBron, Paul and Harden figure out the ball-handling dynamics would also make for one of the most interesting experiments in pro sports history.
Cleveland is the safest pick, and my personal favorite for sentimental reasons. I didn’t necessarily want LeBron to leave Cleveland in 2010, and I was certainly hoping he would return in 2014. I’ve gone on record multiple times saying that the night the Cavaliers won the 2016 NBA Finals was one of the three best nights of my life, and I’m 100% certain that a LeBron title won anywhere but Cleveland wouldn’t mean a tenth of as much as another one won in Wine and Gold (or Black or Navy Blue or Silver or whatever color the Cavs uniforms are).
7. Russell Westbrook will average a Triple Double for a second consecutive season
Here’s how quickly we’ve moved on from Russell Westbrook (and here’s a good indication of how f***ing stacked the NBA is right now): We’re at the halfway point of the NBA season and Russ is averaging 24.9-9.6-10.1 and the Thunder will probably finish with a better record than they did last year. With all of that said, Russell Westbrook likely won’t sniff even the top eight in MVP voting this year and he’s probably not one of the twelve most discussed players in the NBA throughout the first three months of the season.
8. The Philadelphia 76ers will make the Playoffs
9. Giannis Antetokounmpo will win the 2017-18 MVP Award
Here’s how we can get to a Giannis MVP season in just seven simple steps:
1. James Harden’s 2017-18 season has been prolific, and if he were to stay healthy and play 70 or more games he would’ve likely ran away with the MVP Award. However, Harden could end up missing close to a month of action thanks to a hamstring injury. Since the NBA-ABA merger (not including Strike Seasons), only once has the league MVP played fewer than 70 games.
2. The next most likely candidate, LeBron James, has won the MVP Award four times in his career already and it’s very possible that even amid the best statistical year of his career (in year fif-fucking-teen) and another season of title contention, voters could be tired of casting their votes for the best player in basketball.
3. Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant are probably the second and third best basketball players in the world in some order, and they’ve each been exceptional while they’ve been running the Warriors Show without their co-alpha dog. Durant and Curry will both have the statistical resumes that warrant MVP consideration, but two things work against them:
-First, like Harden, both Curry and Durant have missed time due to injuries. Only halfway through the schedule, Curry has missed 13 games and Durant has missed eight.
-Second, there really isn’t a clear-cut choice amongst the two. You could make just as strong of a case for Durant’s value as you could Curry’s, so it’s entirely possible that the two will end up splitting votes.
4. Even though Russell Westbrook will average a Triple Double (remember Somewhat Bold Prediction #7), there will be enough “Well Paul George is actually the most valuable player on the Thunder” chatter that votes will either be split, or Russ won’t get them at all.
5. To a lesser degree, DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis will also split votes assuming the New Orleans Pelicans can win 45+ games.
6. Any other remaining candidates either won’t have the traditional numbers (Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving and Nikola Jokic), name recognition (DeMar DeRozan and Victor Oladipo) or team record (Damian Lillard, Joel Embiid or Kristaps Porzingis) to actually contend.
7. That leaves one man who, pending enough wins, could come along and snatch up that MVP Trophy with his enormous hands. Giannis Antetokounmpo was the MVP favorite after one week and he’s still a worthy candidate 13 weeks into the season. Giannis is a top-three most-fun-to-watch player in the league, and if you’ve read me in the past, you know I’m a big believer that night-to-night watchability should be part of the MVP criteria. But even if Giannis’ lead in “Holy shit, what the f*** did he just do” plays per game don’t do anything to increase his candidacy in your mind, here’s a little nugget that will … Giannis could become the third player in NBA history to join the 29-10-5-50 Club. That’s 29 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 50 percent shooting, and the only two members are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain.
10. The 2018 NBA Playoffs will be the most watched of the 2000’s
Through the first two and a half months of the 2017-18 season, the NBA’s television ratings are up 20 percent from last year, a remarkable and almost unheard of one year climb. Various analysts have speculated why this is the case, and the theories you hear most often are respect player and coach activism, the NFL’s viewership decline, faster pace and more scoring, or an unusually active and perplexing offseason that created a increased interest at the start of the season. To some degree, all of these ideas help to explain the rise in viewership, but here’s the one that makes the most logical sense to me: we’re lucky enough to be living in and watching the Golden Age of Professional Basketball. Plain and simple, this is the most talented and entertaining the NBA has ever been.
And here’s a bonus somewhat bold prediction that is tied to the actual prediction: I think the 2018 NBA Playoffs is when everybody starts to realize this. It still feels like a bunch of basketball fans are living in the 80’s and 90’s, attempting to glorify basketball’s past by cutting down the future. Well on behalf of the National Basketball Association, I invite you all to tune into the 2018 NBA Playoffs, where you’ll see that the present is the future.