2018-2019 NBA Season Preview
After an off-season full of surprises and excitement the NBA is set to return. The 2018-2019 regular season will kick off Wednesday, October 16. The first two games will be the Philadelphia 76ers vs. the Boston Celtics and the Oklahoma City Thunder vs. the Golden State Warriors. This season will be one for the ages. Big names are have changed locations, teams have improved and new stars are set to emerge. What teams will be on the rise? Who are the players to watch? Which rookies will have the biggest impact? Let’s examine those questions.
TEAMS TO WATCH
The Los Angeles Lakers are perhaps the most improved team in the NBA. The signing of LeBron James, along with Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, and JaVale McGee among others, has revived the franchise’s hopes of capturing a championship. The Lakers will return to the playoffs this season. How deep will they go remains to be seen. There are other teams to watch out for as well. The Toronto Raptors look to finally break through the ceiling with new Head Coach Nick Nurse and all-star Kawhi Leonard. The Celtics and the 76ers look to build off their success from last season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Last season, Phoenix Suns shooting guard Devin Booker emerged as one of the new faces of the NBA. This season, expectations will be higher for him as he has been chosen to lead the Suns. Booker must deliver this year. Carmelo Anthony will look to silence critics after a disastrous season with the Thunder. Now that Anthony is with the Houston Rockets, he has a chance to make it to the NBA Finals for the first time in his career. Lonzo Ball looks to make improvements from his rookie season now that he has veterans such as James and Rondo to help him. Other players such as Leonard, DeMarcus Cousins, Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Mike Conley Jr. and Markelle Fultz are coming off injuries. They will look to elevate not only their team but their individual games as well.
This year’s NBA rookie class has a lot of upside. Some rookies will be relied on throughout the entire season. Suns’ big man Deandre Ayton, the first overall pick, is the early favorite to win rookie of the year. He is the most ready player of the class. Eyes will be on Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks) as well. He was the most heralded European prospect in years. Other rookies who will make an impact early will be Trae Young (Atlanta Hawks), Marvin Bagley III (Sacremento Kings), Mo Bamba (Orlando Magic), Collin Sexton (Cleveland Cavaliers) and Kevin Knox (New York Knicks).
The Eastern Conference more than likely will have a new champion. The Celtics seems to be the overall favorite. They will have both Irving and Hayward back in the lineup. If those to can stay healthy, the Celtics will excel. However, there are a few teams can push the Celtics. The 76ers look to provide stiff competition. They are one of the most complete teams in the NBA, despite experience. Also, the Toronto Raptors can win the conference, depending on the play of Leonard. Elsewhere in the conference, the Cavaliers will be driven to prove doubters wrong. Although James is no longer with them, they still have a roster full of veteran players to lean on, especially Kevin Love, who might return to his former self. The Milwaukee Bucks and the Indiana Pacers are intriguing teams who can sneak up on the top of the conference.
The Western Conference will be highly competitive again. The Rockets and the Warriors will remain the top two teams. The resurgence of the Lakers has disrupted the rest of the pecking order. Their return to the playoffs will spell doom for a couple of the teams who were in the playoffs last year. The Minnesota Timberwolves, who were the 8th seed last year, could be one of those teams. The controversy surrounding the franchise could be a distraction. The controversy could result in the team trading Jimmy Butler, who is their best player. The Thunder are a wildcard team. Paul George is certain to improve his play from last season and return to form. The team, in general, will look to erase last season’s disaster post-Anthony trade. The Utah Jazz are out to prove last season was not a fluke.