By: Kento Kato
Karl Anthony Towns is the real deal and will take another step to becoming the next big star. The finals will be Cavaliers and the Warriors facing off yet again. The Jazz have a high chance of finally making it back to the playoffs. The Bulls will have trouble in the backcourt with the lack of shooting. These are statements and predictions that have been thrown around during the NBA offseason, and while some may disagree, they are what the majority of fans and analysts believe.
But with the NBA season finally under way, its time to make some bold, and some not as bold, predictions. While many are saying that the regular season will be somewhat underwhelming with the lack of parity in the league, there should still be plenty of news, drama, rumors and intrigue during the season.
1. Joel Embiid plays 55+ games and shows everyone why he was such a sought-after prospect. Reports out of Philadelphia suggests that he will be on a pretty strict minutes restriction for the first couple months of the season. And the Sixers are smart to do so. The man has played as many regular season games in the NBA as you and I have. But with the Sixers seemingly trying to get rid of Okafor or Noel, Embiid seems to be staying put, if for no other reason than the fact that he has no value because of his injury history. Still, the raw, yet potential-filled center will be playing on a team with rebounds and points and blocks up for grabs and with Ben Simmons out for a couple months with a broken foot, and Nerlens Noel also being injury prone, Embiid will have the opportunity to put up numbers once he gets his legs under him. I don’t expect Noel and Okarfor to both stay on the team until the end of the season so I expet Embiid to be inserted in the starting lineup around the all-star break. If that happens, a he could be a problem next to whichever big man stays and a passing forward we haven’t seen the likes of since LeBron in Ben Simmons. Granted all of this is if he can stay healthy, and that is a big if, which makes this a bold prediction. But I believe he will finish the season with 13ppg, 6.5rpg, 2apg, 1bpg in 58games.
2. Dwight Howard will have a resurgent year. This may seem somewhat logical since he will be playing in his hometown, getting a fresh start, and playing with a pass first point guard. But playing in the city where someone grew up in doesn’t always work, and Dwight has had fresh starts before in LA and in Houston but couldn’t make it work, and James Harden, while not always a willing passer, did average more than 7 assists so there isn’t necessarily undeniable proof that the point guard will dictate how Howard plays. But having seen Dwight Howard’s offseason training and some of his preseason action, I believe that he will be the closer to the Dwight Howard of old than what he was last year. I truly believe that he has escaped some of the old criticisms and fears that turned him from one of the most exciting big men to a disappointing, injury prone big known as a whiner. He has been saying all the rights things and just looks healthier and happier. With a true point guard in Deninis Schroder, shooters to stretch the floor in Kent Bazemore and Kyle Korver, and a versatile team-oriented forward in Paul Milsap, Dwight should be able to regain some of the old “magic” and post better number than he had the last few years.
3. The Spurs will be better than they were last year. But by better, I don’t mean record wise. By only losing 2 home games last year and putting together an incredible season overshadowed by the Warriors record-setting season, the Spurs have raised the standards higher than ever. But they still lost pretty easily in the playoffs to a more athletic, explosive, Thunder team. While I do not expect the Spurs to win that many games in the regular season, I do think that they will have a better season overall and will be a better team by the time that the season is over. Tim Duncan was an all-time great and they will miss his leadership and his output but towards the end of the season, it was clear that the Spurs were not going to be able to win with him playing 30 minutes anymore. While Pau Gasol, Duncan’s replacement, is by no means quick or explosive, he will probably be just as good, if not better, than Duncan on both ends of the floor. And even though there are rumors around the league that the LaMarcus Aldridge experiment may be coming to an end, another year with him in the system could lead to better production. And we have yet to touch on Kawhi Leonard who has improved each year and hasn’t showed us any reason he won’t come back this year even better. Yes another year of experience for Aldridge and Leonard means another year of mileage and wear and tear on Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili as well, but I just have a hard time seeing Greg Popvich not being able to figure out how to best utilize this team.
4. The Grizzlies blow it up. This is at least what I think they should have done a year ago. I know they just resigned Mike Conley to the most expensive deal this past offseason and they resigned Marc Gasol last year. But if you look at this team, they just aren’t built to win in this era of spacing and athleticism. Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are good pieces to build around but Marc Gasol has been somewhat injury prone recently and Mike Conley, as consistent and solid as he is, just is not elite. On top of that, newcomer Chandler Parsons has his own injury problems and while shooting helps them space the floor, his declining defense contradicts the Grizzlies’ grind it out, tough style of basketball. The Grizzlies front office likes to be very efficient with their money but have handed out some very big contracts recently and I think that a slow start to their season, even with the return of Gasol and the addition of Parsons will have the front office trying to shake things up.
5. Brandon Ingram will struggle more than people think. Ingram has the rare combination of being able to handle the ball, shoot, and being extremely tall and lengthy. So I could be totally wrong and that what makes this somewhat bold. I understand the comparisons between him and Kevin Durant. Similar game coming out of college, similar body type, and even a similar quiet demeanor. But Durant was more polished coming out of college and I think Ingram will need some time under to develop. With a rookie coach and a still very young backcourt, Ingram lacks the veteran leadership that Durant played with in his rookie year. I don’t doubt that Ingram will be good in a couple years, but with D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson looking to break out themselves and a roster that doesn’t necessarily have an identity, Ingram may not put up the numbers that Lakers fans will be hoping for.