With one of the shortest NBA seasons in league history set to draw to an end in just 3 days, now is as good a time as any to delve into my predictions for the upcoming season. It goes without saying that this upcoming campaign will be unlike any other, given the dearth of roster turnover across the league and the disparity in the level of rest for teams that participated in the bubble vs. those that did not. It’s going to be a fun season.
Keeping with the theme of rarity, this piece will be unlike the analysis-laiden articles I usually produce. I will provide a forecast for league standings, awards, and playoff outcomes, while offering some commentary on my picks. Otherwise, I will allow my choices to speak for themselves. Make of them what you will!
Western Conference Standings
1. Los Angeles Lakers
2. Los Angeles Clippers
3. Denver Nuggets
4. Dallas Mavericks
5. Golden State Warriors
6. Portland Trailblazers
7. Utah Jazz
8. Phoenix Suns
-Despite the amount of criticism they have endured as a result of their blown 3-1 lead in last season’s Western Conference Semifinals, I believe the Clippers are still a much better team than many give them credit for. They are still legitimate contenders for the championship, and should be treated as such.
-I expect a sizable leap from the Mavericks. This is dependent upon their young stars properly developing, particularly Luka Doncic, but I would not be surprised to see them drastically improve.
-The Trailblazers will go as far as Damian Lillard will take them. If he has another phenomenal season, they should get into the dance once again.
-The Suns just barely squeak past the New Orleans Pelicans for the final West playoff spot. I am extremely confident in Chris Paul’s ability as a floor-raiser, and could see Phoenix pushing for an even higher placement.
Eastern Conference Standings
1. Milwaukee Bucks
2. Boston Celtics
3. Brooklyn Nets
4. Miami Heat
5. Philadelphia 76ers
6. Toronto Raptors
7. Indiana Pacers
8. Washington Wizards
-My opinion on the Bucks is similar to my opinion on the Clippers. I believe they caught perhaps too much flak for their poor showing last postseason, and will storm back with their third straight first place finish.
-The Celtics and Nets are essentially interchangeable. I have slightly more faith in Boston given their higher level of familiarity– Brooklyn is acclimating to new stars, a new Head Coach, and overall a new team culture. This is not to say they are not capable of great things this season, but I’m inclined to favor the more well-established team.
-Miami is built for the playoffs, not the regular season. I, like every other basketball fan in the world, look forward to seeing whether or not their fantastic bubble success will transfer over to a normal playing environment.
-Philadelphia’s added shooting and improved coaching staff will earn them a slight improvement (This is assuming their roster stands pat. No James Harden.)
-Toronto takes a hit with the loss of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, as well as the aging of Kyle Lowry.
-Although the Orlando Magic have seemed perpetually destined to barely sneak into the East playoffs, that trend ends here, as they are ousted by the Wizards with the newly added Russell Westbrook.
Most Valuable Player:
Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
Defensive Player of the Year:
Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
Most Improved Player:
Michael Porter Jr., Denver Nuggets
Rookie of the Year:
James Wiseman, Golden State Warriors
Sixth Man of the Year:
Dennis Schroder, Los Angeles Lakers
Coach of the Year:
Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics
All NBA Teams:
Stephen Curry, G, Golden State Warriors
Luka Doncic, G, Dallas Mavericks
LeBron James, F, Los Angeles Lakers
Giannis Antetokounmpo, F, Milwaukee Bucks
Anthony Davis, C, Los Angeles Lakers
Damian Lillard, G, Portland Trailblazers
James Harden, G, Team Unknown
Kawhi Leonard, F, Los Angeles Clippers
Kevin Durant, F, Brooklyn Nets
Nikola Jokic, C, Denver Nuggets
Russell Westbrook, G, Washington Wizards
Trae Young, G, Atlanta Hawks
Jimmy Butler, F, Miami Heat
Jayson Tatum, F, Boston Celtics
Joel Embiid, C, Philadelphia 76ers
-Many foresee Antetokounmpo taking home his third straight MVP, but I think a statistically stellar season from Doncic, contention from the Mavericks, and voter fatigue against Antetokounmpo could earn the Slovenian the award.
-Davis, Antetokounmpo, and Rudy Gobert are all viable selections for DPOY. Davis is the most likely pick in my eyes, given how good the Lakers are bound to be, how heavily he anchors them defensively, and how close he was to winning it last season.
-I can see Porter Jr. becoming an integral piece on what will surely be a solid Denver team. A large increase in PPG is often enough to take home MIP, and Porter Jr. will almost certainly see that, given he only put up 9 a night last year.
-If Wiseman provides solid inside scoring and rim-running, and decent shot-blocking and interior defensive presence, he will be giving the Warriors more than they’ve gotten from the Center position in years. I’m not particularly high on this year’s Rookie class, but I could also see Deni Avdija snagging the honor if he gets enough minutes and touches in a crowded Wizards offense.
-Schroder’s candidacy is obviously dependent on him not consistently starting for L.A. If he does, I can see a variety of others winning it, including the award’s most familiar modern recipient: Lou Williams.
-Surprisingly, Stevens has never won COTY before. If Boston finishes as a top 2 seed in the East and looks impressive along the way, he will deserve his first. Frank Vogel is also a strong candidate, given that the Lakers will certainly be in contention.
-I feel very good about my predictions for the First Team. I can see Harden sneaking in to replace Curry, but that will depend on how the latter returns from injury and where the former ends up playing.
-The Second Team is essentially left over players that I believe will be worthy of a first-team nod but simply won’t beat out the actual selections.
-While I do not see the Hawks making the playoffs, Young could sway voters with another dominant scoring season and marginal improvement of his abhorrent defense. I think Westbrook will fit well in Washington, and Joel Embiid returns to a semblance of his 2019 form. If he matches or even surpasses that level of play, he could usurp Jokic on the second team.
Lakers defeat Suns
Clippers defeat Jazz
Nuggets defeat Trailblazers
Mavericks defeat Warriors
Bucks defeat Wizards
Celtics defeat Pacers
Nets defeat Raptors
Heat defeat 76ers
Lakers defeat Mavericks
Clippers defeat Nuggets
Bucks defeat Heat
Nets defeat Celtics
Lakers defeat Clippers
Bucks defeat Nets
Lakers defeat Bucks
-For some background, I also predicted Milwaukee to win the title last season prior to the playoffs, and in quite dominant fashion. Though I may never learn my lesson in terms of favoring the Bucks, but for now I have faith that they will bounce back from their disappointing loss to Miami and make a run to the Finals.
-I believe the Lakers’ playoff experience, as well as their star-studded duo of James and Davis, will lead them to a second straight title. The Clippers, Bucks, Nets, or perhaps even Celtics or Heat are all serious contenders for taking home the trophy, but with the relative lack of change compared to last season, I see LeBron and co. as a fairly safe bet to win it all.
That wraps up my 2021 NBA predictions! I didn’t get the chance to explain every one of my picks, but I’d love to discuss any of them further. Feel free to leave a comment on this post, visit the Basketball Corner social media pages, or otherwise reach out!