With the 2018-19 NBA season now underway, Christopher Reive takes a look at key storylines for the season ahead.
Can we expect more of the same from Steven Adams?
Definitely, if not a little bit more. Adams' on-court relationship with point guard Russell Westbrook blossomed last season with one of the most potent pick and roll games in the league. Don't expect that to change, and with the inclusion of Dennis Schroder from the Atlanta Hawks in free agency, it won't just be Westbrook feeding the best in the post. He'll remain a tough defender and elite offensive rounder, but his offensive production could lift again this season and he'll be well in the conversation for a spot in the All-Star game.
Where will Adams and the Thunder sit come playoff time?
The Western Conference is strong to the point where most teams have a realistic shot of making the playoffs. Oklahoma City will be there, and the fact they're running very close to the same squad as last year will only help the cause. Paul George came close to his best again last season and will likely be even more of a focal point in the offence now the Carmelo Anthony is gone. Add in Westbrook and Schroder who can both facilitate and score at a high clip, and a deep bench, the Thunder should be good enough to secure a spot in the top four come the end of the regular season.
LeBron James has gone to the West. Who's the best player in the Eastern Conference now?
Toronto Raptors fans rejoice – you now have the best player in the conference. After being traded from the San Antonio Spurs in the off-season, Kawhi Leonard takes that mantle from James. One of the best defensive players in the NBA, Leonard's tool chest is filled with everything you could possibly want in your star player. Through his career, his defensive rating* is just 99 points, while his offensive rating** is 118. He fills the stat sheet on a nightly basis, but he helps his team to win in doing so. While the likes of Boston's Kyrie Irving, Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo and Philadelphia's Ben Simmons rightfully enter the conversation, Leonard takes the crown.
Where does LeBron James take the Los Angeles Lakers?
You can't say adding the greatest player to step foot on the hardwood isn't going to improve your side. James, along with fellow new addition Rajon Rondo, adds some much needed experience and work ethic to a youthful core of future stars. They'll have more depth this year too, adding JaVale McGee, Lance Stephenson and Michael Beasley who are all more than capable of lighting up the arena on any given night. They're not title threats, but they'll make an appearance in the playoffs – which is progress from their 11th placed finish last season.
Who will win each conference?
Let's make the Western side of things quick – the Golden State Warriors are going to the NBA finals again. But out East, there are a few contenders. Boston, with a fully healthy squad, should be good enough to come out with the Eastern Conference crown, but the Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers also have claims.
And who wins the NBA finals?
Hot take time! I'm picking the Boston Celtics to win it all this year, beating the Golden State Warriors in the NBA finals. This Celtics team is about as deep as you can get at full strength and match up well against the defending champions. Second-year forward Jayson Tatum has already shown he's got future MVP potential, and a breakout post-season last year for 'Scary' Terry Rozier just let the Celtics know that had another offensive weapon sitting dormant on the bench. The Celtics have a squad of tough defensive players too, which can't be said for a lot of the league's outfits. Don't sleep on this Boston team.
Christopher Reive's season predictions
Most Valuable Player: Kawhi Leonard – Toronto Raptors (Dark horse: Damian Lillard – Portland Trailblazers)
Rookie of the Year: Wendell Carter Jr – Chicago Bulls
Most Improved Player: Will Barton – Denver Nuggets
Sixth Man of the Year: Isaiah Thomas – Denver Nuggets
Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert – Utah Jazz
Coach of the Year: Luke Walton – Los Angeles Lakers
* - opponents points per 100 possessions ** - team's points per 100 possessions