NBA season preview: The best stories of 2018-2019
In the wide open East, the Raptors have added the tools to make a push to their first finals. But will it matter against the Golden State?
Written by Sammy Abdo
For years, it’s been the same old story with the Raptors; a fantastic regular season, but they disappear when it matters most. After President Masai Ujiri traded for Kawhi Leonard and shipped out DeMar Derozan, the team is going all in. There’s good reason why; LeBron took his talents to Hollywood, leaving the top of the East wide open. The best teams in the conference will be battling for the chance to duel with the Warriors, who, when everyone thought it wasn’t possible, got even better. Here’s some interesting story lines to follow this season.
LeBron in the Wild, Wild West
Easily the biggest story heading into the season is LeBron donning the purple and gold in LaLa land. The legendary Lakers have lost their way in recent years, missing the playoffs for the last five years. Expectations have changed, and the young Laker core will face pressure unlike anything in sports (ask LeBron’s teammates in Cleveland). Though they won’t be challenging the Warriors or Rockets, they do have to contend with the Jazz, Thunder, Timberwolves, Nuggets, Trailblazers, Pelicans, and Spurs. In a conference that only allowed 47 win teams in the playoff party, it’s going to be exciting watching the chaos this year.
For the fifth consecutive year, the most-represented country among the 108 international players on opening-night is Canada, with 11 players. The Raptors have four international players, Pascal Siakam (Cameroon), Jonas Valanciunas (Lithuania), Serge Ibaka (Republic of the Congo), and OG Anunoby (United Kingdom). Jamal Murray, from Kitchener, was voted the most likely player to breakout this year by NBA general managers.
The talented guard will look to lead the Denver Nuggets to the playoffs in the chaotic Western Conference. He’s been voted the “steal of the draft” at No. 11 in the recent poll of NBA general managers, and the opportunity is there for an outstanding year.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the 20-year-old Clippers’ point guard, who hails from Hamilton is another rookie to watch. International players like Kyrie Irving, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Giannis Antetokounmpo are some of the best players in the league, and stand in the Raptors way of a Finals berth. Rookies Luka Doncic, from Slovenia and Deandre Ayton, from the Bahamas, will be the popular picks for the rookie-of-the-year award, and definitely worth watching for their skill and talent.
The MVP Race
Heading into an NBA season, there’s usually a clear MVP pick and a runner-up. This year, the race is wide open. Pick a top seven player and they have a real shot this year; from LeBron, and Durant, former MVPs, to Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis, who are both the lone superstars on their team.
Another great year from James Harden could secure his second MVP in a row, Harden narrowly missed out in the previous two seasons and could be looking for another. There could be some surprises as well; Kawhi Leonard detonating for a comeback year and would definitely secure his first, Ben Simmons could have a light-year jump in his second season and take the Sixers to greater heights, and Kyrie Irving could fill the power vacuum left by LeBron and dominate in his own way. It’s going to be interesting to watch the MVP race all year long.
The Golden State Invitational
Though it might be premature to say this season is over, when one of the greatest teams of all time add another hall-of-fame player, it’s easy to see why. The Golden State Warriors already had the most talented team in history, and then they added DeMarcus Cousins, a top-three big man in the league, on a minimum contract.
Chasing a three-peat isn’t easy, and the Warriors do have some contenders. The Rockets came close to beating the Warriors last season, and the Celtics, fully healthy, have the depth and defensive strength to challenge them. Cousins is coming off an achilles injury, and the attrition over the Warriors run could finally come up to catch them.
With all that being said, the Warriors are still the best team in the league. With Cousins in tow, they have the ability to play any style of basketball: big, small, fast, slow; the Warriors are stacked. When your expectations are championship or bust every year, there’s a standard of excellence that many teams could only dream of. The rest of the NBA are underdogs. In the end, the most important story from this season will be if someone can beat the Warriors—or not.