It feels as though the Lakers just lifted the Larry O’Brien Trophy, but the 2020-21 NBA season is here and they’re favourites to do it all again.
The Lakers will do it again
Right, so this one isn’t so bold. But it’s a start.
The defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers have somehow improved their team to start the 2020-21 season. Montrezl Harrell and Dennis Schroder are excellent pickups. Harrell, in particular, looks like a key player in LA’s second unit. Meanwhile, Marc Gasol replaces JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard as the big man defensive presence. While not the same athlete as the erstwhile pair, he’s s smart and savvy defender who offers an outstanding passing game from the high post.
A championship team is better-positioned to win it this year than last. In fact, no team in the West has improved as much on paper than the purple and gold.
If not the Lakers, who?
The LA Clippers disappointed last season. They approached the regular season as though their place in the Conference Finals was set in stone only to come up embarrassingly short. Expected to be in the hunt for the championship again at $7, expect them to approach the regular season differently. Less rest for Kawhi Leonard and Paul George; a stronger focus on developing chemistry; more tinkering with situational lineups with the Lakers, Nuggets, Bucks and Nets in mind. The Clippers can’t use unfamiliarity as an excuse this season.
The Denver Nuggets are another legitimate challenger in the West at $15. While they haven’t improved their roster (you could argue it looks a lot worse without Jerami Grant), the continued development of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. is enough to be optimistic.
In the East, the Milwaukee Bucks are in a similar boat to the Clippers at $6. While a far better team than the Clippers in the regular season, the Bucks ultimately met the same faith. Mike Budenholzer is likely to coach more with the playoffs in mind this season. If Jrue Holiday slots in seamlessly, the Bucks still shouldn’t have any problems navigating their way to the top seed.
The Brooklyn Nets have a few more hurdles to clear at $6.50. They’re a new team with a new coach taking on new expectations. Meanwhile, the Miami Heat is now a different beast. They’re looked at differently after reaching the NBA Finals last season and are at $15 to go one better this time around.
Unlike others in the past, this championship race is relatively open. The Lakers deserve to be favourites given their form and roster changes. Again, we’re not putting out neck out too far here given where they sit in the market. However, if not the Lakers, the Bucks look like the pick at $6. That first means winning the East.
Curry to show his class
It’s silly to assume that the MVP is a two-horse race this early in the season, but at this stage, Luka Doncic and Giannis Antetokounmpo have bolted from the blocks before even touching a ball.
Antetokounmpo has won back-to-back MVP’s and is on the second line of betting at $5.50 to win it again. He will have the numbers. Despite the Milwaukee Bucks flopping in the playoffs, The Greek Freak’s 29.5 points, 13.6 rebounds and 5.6 assists in the regular season were enough to secure the award. Voter fatigue is working against Antetokounmpo this season. Rightly or wrongly, voters become bored of handing the award to the same player over consecutive seasons.
Voter fatigue over Giannis will be more prevalent if Doncic can improve on his 28.8 points, 9.4 assists and 8.8 rebounds. Averaging a triple-double will lock Doncic into the award in which he is already a $4.50 favourite.
But the smokey pick is Steph Curry. Voters love to use an inevitable MVP award in the future (for Doncic in this case) as a reason to vote for somebody else. They also LOVE a narrative. Curry coming back from injury to lead the Golden State Warriors from being the worst team in the NBA and into the playoffs? Narrative ticked.
Brooklyn Nets: Early season struggles
Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on the same team. It’s going to be…hectic.
Win or lose. Good or bad. The Durant and Irving experience is going to be hectic one way or the other.
With a win total set at 45.5, the expectation is for the Brooklyn Nets to travel relatively well though the NBA’s regular season. It will take time for the pair to get back to 100% following serious injuries. Durant, in particular, is coming back from a long stint on the sidelines while being introduced to new teammates on the court. Irving, at least, has played with the group.
Should all things go to plan, the Nets will be fit and firing come playoff time. However, they’re primed to be the ‘should we be worried about [Team A]?’ candidates 20-25 games into the season.
Will the Suns shine in the playoffs?
The Phoenix Suns fell just short of the playoffs last season following their incredible 8-0 run through the bubble. Choosing to ignore their 26-39 pre-bubble record, the Suns have started to push their chips. They’ve acquired an elite and experienced point guard in Chris Paul and have their sights set on the post-season.
Paul is an ideal addition. He gives Devin Booker a backcourt running mate while Deandre Ayton’s game can go to another level with CP3 directing him around the floor. It’s an area in which the Suns have lacked for a long time.
Is 35-year-old Paul – with $85 million owed to him over the next two years – the answer for the Suns?
Maybe not in year one.
The West is loaded and the season is shorter. A lot needs to break right for fringe playoffs teams in one season to fly up the standings the next. With the Pelicans, Grizzlies, Kings and even the Spurs all with their sights set on the lower seeds, the Suns have plenty of competition.