When the Golden State Warriors and Brooklyn Nets take the court on December 22nd, the NBA will be 72 days removed from LeBron James and the Lakers winning the Bubble Finals. While we had an accelerated offseason, a lot remained the same. Big names were on the move, free agents got overpaid, and familiar head coaches can be found with new clubs. With all of that being completed in such a short time, we find ourselves weeks away from tip-off. Knowing that, let’s get right into some bold predictions for the 2020-21 season.
Over the past few seasons, the Eastern Conference has been the less exciting of the two sides. It turned into a battle of which team was going to prevent LeBron’s team from going to the Finals. In the two seasons of him being with the Lakers, two different teams have won the East. With more teams making win-now moves, this should be an exciting year to watch the East. To start, I’ll talk some player predictions then transition to overall team predictions.
Kevin Durant Will Win Comeback Player of the Year.
Maybe not the boldest take to start off, but let’s remember who KD was pre-Achilles injury. The former MVP and two time Finals MVP came back too early from a calf injury and it cost him a full season in his prime. While a lot of NBA fans may not have respected his move to Golden State, Durant continued to do what he does best, score the basketball. Now with Kyrie Irving serving as his running mate, look for Durant to prove that he is still the same potent scorer and lead the Nets to a long postseason run.
Giannis Will Break Many Hearts and Sign a Max-deal with the Bucks.
A lot of teams have had the 2021 offseason circled in anticipation of Giannis Antetokounmpo. The dreams of many fanbases will not become a reality as Giannis will take the supermax and remain in Milwaukee. The Bucks front office has done everything they can to bring in as many pieces to build around their MVP. Swapping out Eric Bledsoe for Jrue Holiday is the type of upgrade that Giannis needed to see to be convinced that they are all-in on winning an NBA championship.
Payton Pritchard Will Be This Year’s Tyler Herro.
When the NBA started back up in Orlando, Tyler Herro became a must watch player. Serving as the sixth man when Goran Dragic was put into the starting lineup, Herro provided a spark every game on the Heat‘s run to the NBA Finals. Pritchard, the four year point guard from Oregon, was drafted 26th overall by the Celtics and will have a role instantly. With Kemba Walker still recovering from knee surgery, Pritchard will be forced into the rotation early on in the season. Look for Brad Stevens to encourage his rookie point guard to display the same scoring mindset he showed with the Ducks.
The 76ers Will Acquire James Harden.
We will get to the Rockets later on, but prepare for them to say good-bye to their elite scorer. The Sixers have made some great moves this offseason. Bringing in Seth Curry and Danny Green adds an element to the offense that has been desperately needed: three-point shooting. With new head coach Doc Rivers, the Sixers are clearly trying to capitalize on their window of Trusting the Process. While it may have to cost them Ben Simmons or sacrificing draft picks for years to come, Harden is the piece that can get the 76ers to win the Eastern Conference crown.
The Russ-Beal Connection Will Be Successful.
Following a trade to the Wizards, it is the second time former MVP Russell Westbrook has been traded in the past two offseasons. Escaping a rebuild in Oklahoma City and not meshing well with James Harden the second time around, Russ will be on a mission to prove he can still contribute to and lead a team. Pairing up with Bradley Beal and reuniting with former coach Scott Brooks, Westbrook will fit perfectly in D.C. Look out for the Wizards as they prepare to make their return to the playoffs.
LaMelo and Hayward Carry Hornets to Playoffs.
For the first time since the Kemba era, there is some buzz in Charlotte. They drafted their franchise point guard and brought in a consistent, veteran scorer in Gordon Hayward. LaMelo opted against playing in college and spent the past season in Lithuania. While the competition out there may not have been elite, playing with older teammates will serve as a difference maker for the youngest Ball brother. Assuming the potential Lavar Ball versus Michael Jordan 1-on-1 doesn’t take over the headlines, look for the rookie to lead the push towards the postseason for the Hornets.
The Toronto (Tampa) Raptors Will Miss the playoffs.
Two years removed from their NBA championship, could this Raptors team be nearing the end of an era? Kyle Lowry is another year older and Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka are playing elsewhere. Aside from bringing back Fred VanVleet, the team did not make any other impact moves this offseason. If they want to stay relevant in the revamped Eastern Conference, Pascal Siakam will need to take another step forward. If he doesn’t, expect the Raptors to contemplate their future and figure out a new direction.
The Brooklyn Nets Win the East.
This will all depend on Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving staying healthy all season. With those two leading the way, players like Caris LaVert and Spencer Dinwiddie will improve with their presence. With first-year head coach Steve Nash taking charge, this team has too much talent to not be in the thick of things at the end of the season. It may have some bumps in the road, but come playoffs, they will lean on their superstars with three combined rings.
While the East has a lot of up and coming teams looking to take the next step, it is hard to pinpoint a team in the West who is not set on making the playoffs. Even the Thunder, who looked as though they were rebuilding last year, made the playoffs. With every team being competitive, it will make for some very entertaining basketball. Time for some more predictions for the wild, wild West.
Stephen Curry Will Lead the NBA in Points Per Game.
Take away the five games he played in the 2019-20 season, in Steph’s last full season he shared the ball with Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant. In that season, he still averaged just over 27 points per game. This season, he is preparing to win with neither of them by his side. With that, Curry is going to be doing what he does best, shooting, shooting, and… shooting some more. He is going to be out to prove that he could make the playoffs without his fellow Splash Brother and Durant by his side. While Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre are no slouches and will get plenty of scoring opportunities, Steph will handle the bulk of the scoring.
Paul George Out-Performs Kawhi Leonard.
Before last season, a lot of predictions had the battle of Los Angeles being at the center of the Western Conference Finals. While the Lakers showed up, the Clippers did not; after a blown 3-1 series lead against the Nuggets. Anyone who watched the Clippers last year waited for them to click, and it never happened. George missed the beginning of the season recovering from shoulder surgery and never seemed to hit his stride as the year went on. With Ty Lue now leading the team, look for George to come back with a vengeance and remind the critics that he is still a lethal scorer.
Zion Begins His Anthony Davis Path.
After letting head coach Alvin Gentry go, the Pelicans had a chance to bring in a guy to help take the next step with the young core. Instead, they landed on Stan Van Gundy, who had a miserable run with the Pistons his last go around. While we didn’t see a full season from Zion Williamson, the games we did see showed enough to know that he is going to be a superstar in this league. This just might not happen in New Orleans. Similar to Anthony Davis, the Pelicans efforts to build a contender fell short. While Brandon Ingram is a great scorer alongside Zion, that might not be enough to keep the number one pick content.
Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert Can’t Figure It Out.
Following Gobert‘s COVID antics, reports of tension between him and Donovan Mitchell began. While reports died down as the bubble started up, Gobert could have been had in trade talks this offseason. In a Western Conference with every team competing, any misstep can lead to a failed season. While Mitchell has said that the problems are in the past, if the Jazz struggle out the gate, the pair could be heading towards a break-up.
The Trail Blazers Will Be a Top Three Seed.
This Trail Blazers team is not the eighth seed that they were last year. They competed in their series against the Lakers and, had Damian Lillard not gotten injured, we may have seen a different result. Instead, this team will look to get out of the gates hot and avoid being a bottom seed. Bringing Robert Covington into the fold and having Jusuf Nurkic around for a full season, expect this team to be in the center of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
The Mavericks Make a Run to the Western Conference Finals.
Heading into year three, we have learned that Luka Doncic is an absolute beast. Falling just short of averaging a triple-double last season, Doncic’s stardom is only going to grow. We saw what a cold-blooded scorer he could be in the playoffs with his buzzer beater against the Clippers. Assuming that Kristaps Porzingis rehabs fully from knee surgery and comes back to contribute, look for Luka and the Mavs to enjoy a long run in the playoffs.
The Rockets Miss the Postseason.
As I alluded to earlier, Rockets fans should embrace their star while they still can. It’s time to accept that the Harden era in Houston is finished. They tried to out-Warriors the Warriors and shoot threes all day with a small lineup. That never succeeded, and Mike D’Antoni is now out of town. With Stephen Silas now filling his shoes, if the Rockets stumble early, it could require them to begin a full teardown. While having the former Kentucky stars John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins reunite will be interesting to see, both are coming off multiple major injuries and cannot be expected to be major contributors. Expect major changes heading towards Houston.
Lakers Return to the Finals.
Another not that bold prediction, but we have to face the facts. We are going to see LeBron James in his 10th NBA Finals in 11 years. That’s just insanity. Somehow, after winning the finals, the Lakers managed to get better. They went from JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard to Montrezl Harrell and Marc Gasol. Instead of bringing back Rajon Rondo, they brought in Dennis Schröder. After locking Anthony Davis up to his five-year max contract and giving LeBron a two-year extension, bank on the Lakers being back in the Finals in June.
Now that we have wrapped up the Conference previews, let’s dive into some players and a coach who can be bringing home some personal hardware.
Rookie of the Year
This rookie class is not projected to be one of the most memorable. Following the top three picks, it was really anybody’s guess who would get picked next. This year’s NBA 2020-21 Rookie of the Year is going to be James Wiseman. Wiseman is probably walking into the best situation out of any rookie. The Warriors were not supposed to be a lottery picking team last season, but once Steph got hurt, the towel was thrown in. As a reward for their struggles, they got gifted a center that they get to develop and have as an impact player for years to come. Look for Wiseman to come out of the gates and show that the Timberwolves once again made the wrong pick before the Warriors selection, i.e. 2009 draft. Shoutout Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn.
Coach of the Year
In the past decade, we have seen four first year head coaches make the NBA Finals, Steve Kerr, David Platt, Ty Lue, and Nick Nurse. This year we will see a fifth because the NBA 2020-21 Coach of the Year will be Steve Nash. Walking into a great situation with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on the court and Jacque Vaughn and Mike D’Antoni serving as his assistants, Nash should be able to have a smooth transition to his role as a head coach. That effort should see him earn some hardware at the end of the season.
Most Improved Player
Normally a former number one overall pick wouldn’t see much consideration for this award. However, between Luka Doncic and Trae Young‘s stellar beginning of their careers, this guy has already been the forgotten man of this draft. This year’s NBA 2020-21 Most Improved Player will be DeAndre Ayton. With the addition of Chris Paul, the Phoenix Suns have positioned themselves to make a push for the playoffs. While his career hasn’t gotten off to an ideal start, there is plenty of time for Ayton to turn it around. With Paul in the fold and Devin Booker serving as the focal point of the offense, Ayton stepping up as a reliable third option will help the Suns make the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
Sixth Man of the Year
The frontrunner for this award should be Tyler Herro based off of his performance in the bubble. However, I expect to see him as a starter sooner rather than later. As a result, I think one of the more underrated offseason pickups will take home this award. Seth Curry is going to win the Sixth Man of the Year in the 2020-21 season. If Seth didn’t have to share the same last name as the greatest shooter of all time, we may have a totally different perception of him. Seth, similar to Steph, can hit three-pointers with the best of them. In going to a team in the 76ers who don’t have a consistent deep ball shooter, Seth is going to have plenty of chances to contribute his best skill off the bench. Remember this offseason move as a true difference maker when the Sixers have success this season.
Defensive Player of the Year
In what I viewed as the biggest snub last season, he will make up for it this season. The NBA 2020-21 Defensive Player of the Year will be Anthony Davis. Leading one of the most efficient defenses in the NBA and allowing an opponent field goal percentage of 38-percent, Davis is a true difference maker on the defensive side of the ball. As we expect to see another title push in Los Angeles, expect to see “The Brow” take home some well-deserved hardware.
Most Valuable Player
A common theme that the internet has run with is that when you are on the cover of a video game, you are destined to have a bad season. Let’s stop with that. Two years ago Giannis was on the cover and won the MVP. Patrick Mahomes was on the Madden cover and won the Super Bowl. This year, your 2k21 cover athlete Damian Lillard is going to win the NBA 2020-21 MVP award. It truly is Dame Time for this award. He will forever be under appreciated in this era because he just wasn’t quite as good as Steph Curry. Now, with a Trail Blazers team that expects to be contenders in West, Lillard will have a chance to have his legacy season and lock up this trophy. Special nugget for all the bettors too, Lillard to win the MVP is +1800 via OddsShark, pounce on that while you can.
Thank you for reading along and let’s get ready for another great and hopefully full NBA season. For more sports content, follow me on Twitter @MaxStinesBUS as well as our team @BellyUpSports. For all things basketball, follow @HoopsBellyUp or check out Belly Up Sport’s Basketball page for more articles like this.