2018 NBA Finals Preview

*Sigh.* Here we go again. As I, and literally everybody else, predicted, it’s Warriors-Cavaliers for the fourth consecutive season in the NBA Finals. I already bitched about this yesterday so I’m not going to do that here. I’m just going to do what I always do when I prepare for championship games: go position-by-position and give advantages where I see fit. So without further ado, let’s do it.

Point Guard

Warriors: Stephen Curry

Cavaliers: George Hill

Advantage: Warriors

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Duh. Even if Curry isn’t 100%, he’s still the most impactful point guard in the game today. He’s one of the greatest shooters of all time and people don’t talk about his handles enough. Hill’s not a bad player, don’t get me wrong, he’s actually pretty good. But he can’t hold a candle to Steph.

Shooting Guard

Warriors: Klay Thompson

Cavaliers: Rodney Hood

Advantage: Warriors

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Another pretty easy one and it’s basically the same explanation as point guard: Thompson is one of the best shooters of all time and while Hood isn’t a bad player, he can’t hold a candle to Thompson. I know it’s copy-paste, but that’s been the NBA Finals the last four years, hasn’t it?

Small Forward

Warriors: Kevin Durant

Cavaliers: LeBron James

Advantage: Cavaliers

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This is probably the closest matchup in these comparisons. Kevin Durant has been doing most of the dirty work for the Warriors while Steph Curry has been dealing with an injury. But LeBron James is the best player on the planet, perhaps all time (I’m not getting suckered into the LeBron-Jordan debate. I won’t do it). He has to win out here. But that being said, KD can do things with a basketball that nobody else can and he will have a huge impact on this series.

Power Forward

Warriors: Draymond Green

Cavaliers: Kevin Love

Advantage: Warriors

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This was another close one but I’m going to give the edge to the Warriors mainly because I have a soft spot for guys that stuff the stat sheet. Green may be a bit undersized for his position and style of play, but you can’t deny the guy gets numbers and plays great defense. Love has a tendency to disappear at times from games but he can also put on an absolute show if he can get into a rhythm. But Green is more consistent, so he wins out.

Center

Warriors: JaVale McGee

Cavaliers: Tristan Thompson

Advantage: Cavaliers

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JaVale McGee is easily the weakest link in the Warriors’ starting 5 but the other members are so good that he can get away with just being in the background. Tristan Thompson is a rebounding machine and really turned it on late in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Celtics. He’s going to need to dominate the glass if the Cavaliers are going to have any shot of upsetting the Warriors in this series.

Bench

Warriors: Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Nick Young, David West, Kevon Looney, Zaza Pachulia, Patrick McCaw, Jordan Bell, Damian Jones, Quinn Cook

Cavaliers: JR Smith, Jeff Green, Kyle Korver, Larry Nance Jr, Jordan Clarkson, Jose Calderon, Ante Zizic, Cedi Osman, Kendrick Perkins, Okaro White

Advantage: Cavaliers

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This might be a slight upset but my reasoning for putting the Cavs over the Warriors in this regard is that Andre Iguodala is not healthy. A healthy Iggy and the Warriors win this category no problem. But aside from him and Shaun Livingston, the Warriors bench doesn’t do a whole lot for the team. With the Cavs, a lot of their bench guys have had plenty of time in the starting lineup and can explode at any second (Smith, Green, and Korver in particular). So I’m going with the Cavs for bench.

Head Coach

Warriors: Steve Kerr

Cavaliers: Tyronn Lue

Advantage: Warriors

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Tyronn Lue may be the worst coach to ever win the NBA Finals. Granted, he was technically an interim head coach when the Cavs won in 2016, having fired David Blatt midway through the season, but Lue is basically just a guy who chills at the head coaching chair on the bench while LeBron runs this team. As for Kerr, I honestly have no idea if he’s good or not because his team is so goddamn good. I mean, Hell, he took a game off and his team still won by 40. But I do know for certain that he’s better than Lue so the Warriors win this category.

Final Score: Warriors: 4 Cavaliers: 3

I do believe that the Warriors will win this series in 5 games. Now yes, they only won my categories by 1 spot, however the gap for the Warriors’ wins was significant while the gap for the Cavs’ wins was minuscule. So I stand by my prediction from yesterday that the series will go 5 games. As for MVP? I think Durant repeats as Finals MVP. That’s going to do it for my NBA Finals predictions, let me know how you think the series is going to go in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

NBA Top 10 Players by Position

This is the next in my NBA season preview. You can check out my playoffs and awards projections here. In this, like my MLB postseason review, I will be ranking the top 10 players by position. All players on active rosters are eligible to make these lists, except for rookies, since they have yet to really show if they can make it in this league, however they will, of course, be eligible for the postseason version of this list, which will likely come out in April. As for the Top 100 that is set to be released tomorrow, I have yet to decide if I should break that up into smaller articles. Probably should get on that. Without further ado, let’s see the lists.

Point Guard

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The reigning NBA MVP, Russell Westbrook consistently stuffs the stat sheet for OKC (photo credit: NBA.com)

1.Russell Westbrook-Oklahoma City Thunder

2.Stephen Curry-Golden State Warriors

3.Kyrie Irving-Boston Celtics

4.John Wall-Washington Wizards

5.Isaiah Thomas-Cleveland Cavaliers

6.Damian Lillard-Portland Trail Blazers

7.Chris Paul-Houston Rockets

8.Kyle Lowry-Toronto Raptors

9.Kemba Walker-Charlotte Hornets

10.Mike Conley-Memphis Grizzlies

I was torn between Westbrook and Curry. On the one hand you have Curry, who drains shots like it’s nobody’s business and has some elite moves to go with it. On the other, Westbrook literally does everything well, as evidenced by his being the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple double for an entire season. I gave the nod to Westbrook since I have a soft spot for statsheet stuffers. 3-6 was pretty tight, and I would probably have IT a little higher if not for the hip injury that he’s dealing with that could cost him significant time to open the season. Kemba Walker has a special place in my heart because it was his UConn Huskies team in 2011 where I picked my first champion in a March Madness bracket. I’ve only done it twice, the other being Anthony Davis’ Kentucky team the following year, but I don’t brag about that one because literally everybody picked Kentucky that season.

Shooting Guard

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Since joining the Rockets, James Harden has been a scoring machine (photo credit: Grantland)

1.James Harden-Houston Rockets

2.Klay Thompson-Golden State Warriors

3.DeMar DeRozan-Toronto Raptors

4.Bradley Beal-Washington Wizards

5.Andrew Wiggins-Minnesota Timberwolves

6.CJ McCollum-Portland Trail Blazers

7.Avery Bradley-Detroit Pistons

8.Victor Oladipo-Indiana Pacers

9.Nicolas Batum-Charlotte Hornets

10.Devin Booker-Phoenix Suns

James Harden was a pretty easy selection for number 1 here for me. Despite the fact that he plays less defense than the Mountain in the Trial by Combat with Oberyn, Harden scores enough where I’m willing to look the other way. Also, he has a delicious candy that a coworker of mine randomly found at a mini mart down the street from where I work.

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James Harden was actually delicious

Gummi beards, I guess they’re called. They look terrifying but are actually quite good. After the top 6, this list got pretty difficult. I went with Avery Bradley at 7 and I think he is one of the most underappreciated players in the NBA. He plays fantastic defense and is quietly a very good shooter as well. Plus he has the respect of his peers:

One voter did claim that he left Bradley off of his All-Defense team because of the 70-point game by Devin Booker. Bradley did not play in that game.
Small Forward

Cleveland Cavaliers v Boston Celtics

LeBron James is the best athlete perhaps in all of sports today (photo credit: Fortune)

1.LeBron James-Cleveland Cavaliers

2.Kawhi Leonard-San Antonio Spurs

3.Kevin Durant-Golden State Warriors

4.Paul George-Oklahoma City Thunder

5.Jimmy Butler-Minnesota Timberwolves

6.Gordon Hayward-Boston Celtics

7.Khris Middleton-Milwaukee Bucks

8.Andre Iguodala-Golden State Warriors

9.Otto Porter-Washington Wizards

10.Robert Covington-Philadelphia 76ers

LeBron James is a guy a lot of people like to compare to Michael Jordan, with many saying he’s better than MJ. I’m going to have to disagree with that, in fact, I would put Kobe ahead of LeBron. However, I think once LeBron is done I’ll have him above Kobe, maybe even Jordan. But with the body of work right now, he’s not there yet. That being said, LeBron is still the best player in basketball today, maybe even the best athlete in sports, period. As I wrote in my awards predictions yesterday, I have Kawhi Leonard taking home MVP honors this season. He is one of the more special talents I’ve seen in a while. I cringed at putting Kevin Durant at number 3, it just didn’t feel right. But in my heart and mind I feel that I would rather have LeBron or Kawhi than KD. Robert Covington is probably the more surprising entries on this list and that’s a shame. Sure, he’s not a household name by any means, but he’s a better player than most people give him credit for and I think that his name will gain more recognition should the 76ers improve the way I expect them too. However he will still be overshadowed by Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Markelle Fultz.

Power Forward

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Anthony Davis has been one of the most dominant forwards in the game since entering the league in 2012 (photo credit: SLAMonline)

1.Anthony Davis-New Orleans Pelicans

2.Giannis Antetokounmpo-Milwaukee Bucks

3.Draymond Green-Golden State Warriors

4.Kristaps Porzingis-New York Knicks

5.Blake Griffin-Los Angeles Clippers

6.LaMarcus Aldridge-San Antonio Spurs

7.Carmelo Anthony-Oklahoma City Thunder

8.Serge Ibaka-Toronto Raptors

9.Julius Randle-Los Angeles Lakers

10.Harrison Barnes-Dallas Mavericks

Anthony Davis’ unibrow is one of the most recognizable body features in all of sports, if not the most. Right up there with James Harden’s beard or Dennis Rodman’s…whatever it is he’s feeling like having on his body on a particular day. This may be because my brain is just geared towards sports, but anytime anyone mentions a unibrow (or monobrow, if you’re weird), I immediately think of the one living on Davis’ face. Davis is more than just a unibrow, though. He’s perhaps the most dominating forward in the game on both ends of the court. Giannis (please don’t make me write out his last name again) is one of the craziest athletes I’ve ever seen. He can make his body do things that just aren’t natural. I mean, look at this:

That’s just not right. Carmelo Anthony comes in here because he’s slated on the Thunder depth chart on RotoWorld as the team’s power forward despite playing small forward in Denver and New York. I’m still not totally convinced that Big 3 in OKC is going to work. Serge Ibaka’s a guy you can’t sleep on, especially since his 3-point shot has gotten better every season. He might not be as prolific as he was with the Thunder, but anytime you have a big that can defend the paint and pop threes, you’re going to have a good time.
Center

Utah Jazz v Minnesota Timberwolves

KAT has revolutionized the center position in the NBA (photo credit: Stack.com)

1.Karl-Anthony Towns-Minnesota Timberwolves

2.Rudy Gobert-Utah Jazz

3.DeAndre Jordan-Los Angeles Clippers

4.Hassan Whiteside-Miami Heat

5.Kevin Love-Cleveland Cavaliers

6.DeMarcus Cousins-New Orleans Pelicans

7.Joel Embiid-Philadelphia 76ers

8.Nikola Jokic-Denver Nuggets

9.Marc Gasol-Memphis Grizzlies

10.Al Horford-Boston Celtics

Karl-Anthony Towns, like Ibaka, is a sharpshooting big man who actually beat Isaiah Thomas in the NBA Skills Challenge a couple of years ago. Considering that IT is one of the fastest and quickest players in the game with great passing and shooting abilities, it’s no wonder Towns tops this list. Rudy Gobert is a guy I don’t think gets enough love, as I wrote yesterday in my awards predictions, and I think he got robbed for Defensive Player of the Year. Full disclosure, I totally forgot about Kevin Love while making this list at first, though to my credit, the Cavaliers plan on moving him to center and having Tristan Thompson come off the bench this year with the arrival of Jae Crowder in the IT-Kyrie trade (both Thompson and Crowder barely missed out on these lists). But Love is still one of the best big men in the game despite the fact that he’s kind of become the Chris Bosh of this Cavs team, being the big man that doesn’t get enough respect for what he brings to this team. Joel Embiid is a guy I just couldn’t leave off this list despite the fact that if he blinked wrong he’d be out for an unknown period of time. He’s just such a wonderful dude. How many guys can wear their own jersey to a night club and everybody still loves him for it?

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Where’s Joel? (photo credit: Twitter)

Guarantee you if any other player did that they would get crucified. But not Embiid. Nikola Jokic is another guy who is under the radar, but that tends to happen when you’re an eastern European with a difficult name to pronounce. The guy had a big season for the Nuggets last year and could be a sneaky contender in the Most Improved Player list.

Those are my top 10s. Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

NBA Season Preview

The NBA season opens on October 17 in a game between the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers, which couldn’t be more perfect considering these two teams pulled off a huge trade a month ago where they swapped superstar guards. I felt that just under a week left until the start of the regular season would be the perfect time to give my predictions on how this season will play out. This will be a 3-part series, much like my postseason MLB series, with top-10s by position coming tomorrow and a top-100 coming Friday. However that one I’m considering breaking up into multiple parts. Stay tuned for that. For this preview I will project awards, All-NBA teams, and the playoffs. So without further ado, let’s get to it.

Awards:

NBA MVP: Kawhi Leonard-F-San Antonio Spurs

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Kawhi Leonard already has a Finals MVP on his resume, now he looks for League MVP (photo credit: Slam Online)

After flirting with the idea of Leonard as MVP for a few years now, I think this is the year he finally gets it. Leonard has been the best player on the Spurs for some time and that’s saying something, considering the team is typically littered with Hall of Famers and has the best coach in the game in Gregg Popovich. Leonard is a stud defender who also puts up over 20 points per game and will lead this Spurs team on another deep playoff run.

Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert-C-Utah Jazz

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Rudy Gobert has been a nightmare for anyone brave enough to enter the paint (photo credit: Salt City Hoops)

Truth be told, I thought Gobert should have won this award last year. His 8-foot wingspan along with his 7’1 height make it damn near impossible to score in the paint, as he consistently swats away any shot that has the audacity to approach his territory. I think he gets this award this time and gets the recognition he deserves after a few years of really strong defensive play.

Sixth Man of the Year: Andre Iguodala-F-Golden State Warriors

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Andre Iguodala looks to add another trophy to his mantle (photo credit: Sporting News)

This is always a hard award to predict and it feels like kind of a cop out to pick Iguodala here. The guy could not only start for most teams, but be their best player (looking at you, Nets). Yet on this stacked Warriors team, he comes off the bench and he does it as well as anybody. How many players can say they were Finals MVP while coming off the bench? Just Iggy.

Rookie of the Year: Dennis Smith Jr-G-Dallas Mavericks

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Dennis Smith Jr has looked really impressive in his small body of work with the Mavericks (photo credit: Sports Illustrated

I was really tempted to choose Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, or De’Aaron Fox for this spot, but I felt that Dennis Smith Jr would ultimately be the guy to go with. He’s locked down the starting point guard job for the Mavericks already, coming off a really strong summer league performance that reminded me of Damian Lillard’s quick ascension. I think Smith is in the best position to succeed early out of any rookie in the league (and I’m not counting Ben Simmons for this even though he technically still qualifies. He had his chance at a ROTY in my book and couldn’t stay healthy).

Coach of the Year: Brett Brown-Philadelphia 76ers

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Brett Brown looks to reward Philly fans’ patience with a playoff berth (photo credit: CSN Philadelphia)

I don’t know if Brown will do anything otherworldly, but if you check my playoff predictions below, you’ll know why I have him winning coach of the year. After years of Trusting the Process, it seems that the 76ers are primed and ready to be relevant again. I think they have the pieces in place to make a playoff run if they can stay healthy. And that’s a BIG “if.” But I think they will be healthy enough and capture the 8th seed in the East. And since Brown will be at the helm of this resurgence, he will get the honor of Coach of the Year.

Comeback Player of the Year: Chandler Parsons-F-Memphis Grizzlies

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The normally deadly sharpshooter didn’t look like himself in 2016-17 (photo credit: Sporting News)

Parsons struggled mightily in the first year of his big contract from the Grizzlies. His points per game was cut in half, his FG% dropped from 49.2% to 33.8% and his 3-point shooting, his best trait, was down from 41.4% to 26.9%. A shooter of his caliber should not have a lower 3-point percentage than DeMarcus Cousins (36.1%). I think he bounces back this season and gets recognized for his return to shooting prominence.

Most Improved Player: Myles Turner-C-Indiana Pacers

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Myles Turner looks to take a big step in his development (photo credit: NBA.com)

Myles Turner is a guy oozing with ability and I was praying he would fall to the Celtics at 16 in the 2015 NBA Draft. The Pacers took the Texas product at 11 and have reaped the benefits thus far, as he has averaged 12 points per game and 6 rebounds per game over his career. However when you watch him play, it is pretty clear that those numbers should be higher as he is seemingly always around the ball and the loss of Paul George for the Pacers will open up more opportunities for him to get big numbers this year.

All-NBA Teams

First Team

G-Stephen Curry-Golden State Warriors

G-James Harden-Houston Rockets

F-LeBron James-Cleveland Cavaliers

F-Kawhi Leonard-San Antonio Spurs

C-Anthony Davis-New Orleans Pelicans

Second Team

G-Russell Westbrook-Oklahoma City Thunder

G-Kyrie Irving-Boston Celtics

F-Kevin Durant-Golden State Warriors

F-Giannis Antetokounmpo-Milwaukee Bucks

C-Karl-Anthony Towns-Minnesota Timberwolves

Third Team

G-Damian Lillard-Portland Trail Blazers

G-John Wall-Washington Wizards

F-Paul George-Oklahoma City Thunder

F-Kristaps Porzingis-New York Knicks

C-Rudy Gobert-Utah Jazz

Projected Playoff teams with Seeds

Eastern Conference

  1. Cleveland Cavaliers
  2. Boston Celtics
  3. Washington Wizards
  4. Toronto Raptors
  5. Milwaukee Bucks
  6. Charlotte Hornets
  7. Detroit Pistons
  8. Philadelphia 76ers

Western Conference

  1. Golden State Warriors
  2. San Antonio Spurs
  3. Houston Rockets
  4. Minnesota Timberwolves
  5. Oklahoma City Thunder
  6. Portland Trail Blazers
  7. Los Angeles Clippers
  8. New Orleans Pelicans

Playoff Round-by-Round Predictions:

Eastern Conference:

(1)Cavaliers def. (8)76ers

(2)Celtics def. (7)Pistons

(3)Wizards def. (6)Hornets

(5)Bucks def. (4)Raptors

(1)Cavaliers def. (5)Bucks

(2)Celtics def. (3)Wizards

(1)Cavaliers def. (2)Celtics

This conference is really a 2-man race between the Cavaliers and Celtics. The Wizards and Raptors may make things interesting, but overall Cleveland and Boston are the teams to beat as they will duke it out for the Eastern Conference championship for the second straight year. I have the Cavs winning it over the Celtics for a second straight year and fourth straight overall as they are just too deep for the much-improved Celtics to compete with. It won’t be as lopsided a series as it was last year, but the Cavs will prevail.

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The Cavaliers and Celtics are the teams to beat in the Eastern Conference (photo credit: Newsday)

Eastern Conference Champions: Cleveland Cavaliers

Western Conference:

(1)Warriors def. (8)Pelicans

(2)Spurs def. (7)Clippers

(3)Rockets def. (6)Trail Blazers

(5)Thunder def. (4)Timberwolves

(1)Warriors def. (5)Thunder

(2)Spurs def. (3)Rockets

(1)Warriors def. (2)Spurs

Unlike the East, the West has 5 teams that I could envision winning it, however the Warriors will win once again because they are just that much better than everyone else. As long as Gregg Popovich coaches the Spurs, they will compete for a title but they aren’t quite as deep as they have been in years’ past. The addition of Chris Paul will be big for the Rockets as James Harden has a world-class distributor to feed him the ball. The Timberwolves had a fantastic offseason and they have the look of a team that is sick of losing. I think the Thunder will struggle out of the gate with their new Big 3, but I think they will put it together by the end of the year in time for a run. There are a lot of mouths to feed in OKC and that could lead to some on-court issues between Westbrook, George, and Carmelo Anthony. But again, the Warriors are just better than everyone else and they will win the West.

Golden State Warriors v San Antonio Spurs

The Warriors and the Spurs have been two of the elite teams in the West for the last few seasons (photo credit: Sports Illustrated)

Western Conference Champion: Golden State Warriors

NBA Finals:

(1)Warriors def. (1)Cavaliers

I’m getting pretty sick of this matchup but it doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. I have the Warriors and Cavs meeting in the Finals for the fourth straight year, which has never happened before and will beg the question: is this a better inter-conference rivalry than Celtics-Lakers? I think the Warriors take it in 7 and Steph Curry wins Finals MVP. Fun fact, Curry didn’t win Finals MVP either time the Warriors won under his tutelage.

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Could we really get a fourth consecutive Cavs-Warriors NBA Finals? (photo credit: Sporting News)

NBA Champions: Golden State Warriors (MVP: Stephen Curry)

Those are my picks for this NBA season. I’ll revisit them at some point this year. Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.