Highlander NBA Preview

Authors: Jordan Hom, Jonathan Fernandez, SSW

Shaheen Karolia /Flickr

What are you most excited about to start the NBA season?

Jordan Hom: I am excited for this NBA season because for the first time since the Golden State Warriors’ rise to dominance in 2015, there isn’t a clear cut favorite to win the NBA Championship. The Warriors lost Kevin Durant when he decided to team up Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn and Klay Thompson tore his ACL in the 2019 NBA Finals, which will likely sideline him for most of the season. Also, the defending champions Toronto Raptors just lost their Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard who decided to return home to the Los Angeles Clippers. So essentially, the championship can be claimed by anyone and the anticipation of not knowing who will claim the trophy will bring out my excitement to constantly tune in to the games. 

Jonathan Fernandez: I’m most excited about the level of competition. This is the first time in the past four or five years where there is an exciting amount of parity in the league. There’s around six or seven teams in the West who can realistically win the championship, plus the two heavyweights in the East, making for the most exciting NBA season in recent memory. I’m also excited about seeing all the great players who switched teams and how they fit with their new teams. All of the new dynamic duos have been discussed all summer and the majority of them look great on paper, but the most exciting part is actually watching the games and seeing how it all comes together.

What do you think about the blossoming rivalry in Los Angeles with Anthony Davis (AD) joining LeBron James on the Los Angeles Lakers and Kawhi teaming up with Paul George on the Clippers?

JH: It will definitely be exciting now that both LA teams should be contenders at the same time, which has never really happened before. The Lakers haven’t been good for the past few seasons so AD and LeBron can bring some much needed excitement back to the Lakers. Also with Kawhi fresh off winning the NBA Finals MVP, he will bring the Clippers into a place of contention that they have never seen before in the history of their franchise. As both teams stand currently, I believe that the Clippers will see more success because I don’t trust the duo of LeBron and AD to stay healthy throughout the season. The Clippers also have the more competent front office so if management feels like the current construction is missing something, I trust that Jerry West can be the guy to bring in someone to elevate the Clippers. 

JF: It’s an exciting time to be an LA sports fan. This is probably the best these two teams have been at the same time … ever. Both teams now feature players in their dynamic duo that rank among the top 15 players in the league, which immediately inserts both of them into the title discussion. For the Clippers this is the first time that have been viewed as favorites to win the title and with two defensive-minded superstars in Paul George and Kawhi on their team, they just might. The Lakers are looking to get back on top after the longest playoff drought in franchise history and with two legitimate top-five players they are my personal favorite to come away with the championship. If all goes right, we could get the first-ever hallway series between these two teams this year in the playoffs.

Zion Williamson, one of the most hyped rookies since LeBron in 2003, will make his NBA debut. Are you excited to watch Zion and the young core of the Pelicans?

JH: I am quite excited to watch Zion and the young Pelicans in action. They lost their franchise player Anthony Davis, but they acquired a few young prospects in Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart. The Pelicans might not be ready to make the playoffs this season, but they will definitely be exciting to watch. With Zion’s athleticism and Lonzo’s passing, the Pelicans will have a barrage of dunks, recreating the Lob City identity that the LA Clippers had a few seasons ago. 

JF: Yeah, watching Zion and the rest of the young Lakers young Pelicans will be exciting to watch. Brandon Ingram looked like he’d figured something out after the All-Star break but then had to sit out the rest of the season due to blood clots. Lonzo was also playing the best basketball of his young career before turning his ankle and missing the remainder of the season. Now in a new city, with a new franchise, free of LeBron, I anticipate both players having career years barring any unforeseen injuries. Zion himself is a wrecking ball of a man and athlete that we haven’t seen before. He showed that throughout the preseason, averaging 23 points and appearing in many Sportscenter highlight plays, including when he easily scored on Rudy Gobert, making him look tiny in the process.

Who do think will be the 2020 NBA MVP, given all of the roster shifting throughout the offseason?

JH: My choice will be the “Greek Freak,” Giannis Antetokounmpo, the winner of the 2019 NBA MVP. There are many strong candidates to win the 2020 NBA MVP such as LeBron, Kawhi, Steph or Nikola Jokic but I believe that Giannis will present the best case and validate himself as the undisputed best player on the planet. The Milwaukee Bucks lost a few key pieces in the offseason such as Malcom Brogdan and Nikola Mirotic but they added shooting in Kyle Korver and Wes Matthews to space the floor for Giannis. They also added Giannis’ older brother Thanasis Antetokounmpo which isn’t much, but it will add to the morale of the team and his brother can inspire him on and off the court. The addition of Kyle Korver is the most important though because Korver can work with Giannis to help him develop a respectable three-point shot which will add another dynamic to his already dominant game. 

JF: I’m going to go with Stephen Curry, the two-time, only unanimous MVP in league history. Curry is finally free of Kevin Durant and will have the opportunity to remind everyone just how great he is. It was only four years ago that Steph had the most efficient, dominant offensive season in recent memory. Curry won the scoring title, averaging 30.1 points per game while becoming only the second man to enter the 50/45/90 club, marking historic levels of efficiency. During that time there were genuine discussions about if Curry was the best player in the world, that’s how good he was during that season. It’s not a certainty that the Warriors will be good enough for Steph to win the MVP, but I think his stats will be off the charts, much like when Russell Westbrook won the award despite his team not being near the top of the standings.

With a new crop of young talent on the rise, who do you see as someone who can be recognized as a first time All-Star?

JH: Pascal Siakam of the Toronto Raptors has a strong chance to become an All-Star this season. With Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard departing to the LA Clippers, an opportunity has emerged for Siakam to take the next step and expand his game. Much more will be expected out of Siakam because of Kawhi’s departure but it’s nothing that Siakam won’t be able to handle. As Siakam continues to develop his ball-handling skills and improves his shooting, he will grow to be a dominant force and accumulate many accolades along the way.

JF: Jayson Tatum is the easiest choice. Tatum was almost voted in as a starter last year despite taking a step back following his standout rookie season. This year with Kyrie gone he will be a focal point in Brad Stevens’ offense, and I expect his game and numbers to flourish. This expected jump coupled with Kawhi Leonard leaving the conference, will lead to Tatum’s first All-Star appearance.