For the first summer since 2019, the NBA had a “normal” offseason: the NBA Draft in late June, free agency soon after and then
a nice, calm August and September, holy cow, plenty of drama. Plenty, as there was a lot going on this summer off the court, whether it was the Utah Jazz tearing it down by trading Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell to Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka being suspended to Kevin Durant demanding a trade, then the firing of his coach and GM, then … nothing. (He’s back with the Brooklyn Nets.) Yeah, so that was a lot, and that level of activity will have an effect on the NBA this season.
With all that, it’s little wonder that the summer seemed to fly. But with the summer behind us and hoodie season upon us, so is the tip off of the 2022-23 NBA season.
That means it’s prediction time. From award predictions to conference champs to lottery winners and ultimately Finals champs, I got you covered.
Last year, I predicted a Nets-Los Angeles Lakers final.
Well, yeah about that … So did half the country and while they didn’t produce a title, the content was ever green. The content was just never about on the court play, hopefully that changes this go around.
Also for the first time in quite a few seasons, the NBA landscape has two drastic polars: teams contending for the Larry O’Brien trophy and the others tanking for the chance at generational talent Victor Wembanyama.
The MVP award is generally a 3 horse race until the very end and with the peak talent being spread out, there are a variety of candidates who can pull together enough votes this season. My top 3 in order will be as follows.
- Joel Embiid
- Luka Doncic
- Giannis Antetokounmpo
The case for Embiid is a simple two part answer:
Let’s start with the fact he might be the most valuable player in the league — certainly, he is on the shortlist. That was the case the last two years, and he finished second both times to Jokić. This takes us to the other reason Embiid will win it — his biggest rivals for the award have either won it already or are perceived as having a lot more time to win one (hi, Luka). Jokić fatigue stands to benefit Embiid considerably after the Nuggets center won the last two MVP awards. He’ll need to average 83-24-17 to make it a three-peat.
Voters will be sympathetic toward Embiid as long as he plays enough games (65 at least), and the Sixers can stay in the top three in the East Conference (again, very doable with an upgraded Sixers roster). He and his team are both at their peak. It’s time.
The case for Luka will be simply looking at it through the lens of actual most valuable to his team. Remove Luka from the Mavericks and they’re in the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes. His usage and production are consistently in the top 3 since this rookie season. With Brunson now residing in Manhattan, that usage rate will sky rocket even further.
Luka will post 2K stateliness all season long. Sim a season of 2K and Luka posts 40 point triple doubles for the entire season. His numbers won’t be that extreme but a 34-8-12 line is not unfathomable. If the Mavericks can hover in the top 5 out west Luka has a chance for the award.
The case for Giannis is another simple one: he’s the most dominant player in the league going on 4 seasons.
However, voter fatigue is real.
We don’t like admitting that in the media business, but it’s absolutely a thing when it comes to awards like MVP. A player wins the league’s most prestigious individual award but then falls short in the postseason and fails to unofficially validate the selection that so many made.
Then, there’s a built-in hesitancy from voters to continue to reward that particular player until he figures out how to reach the next level. After Giannis won back-to-back MVPs in 2019 and ’20, he was the latest victim of this (understandable phenomenon). And now that Jokić is in that position, with Antetokounmpo having won a championship while continuing to make his case as the best player on earth, the time is right for him to add another MVP to his already-incredible résumé. But does the media want another narrative to push? I think they do.
Prediction: Joel Embiid wins the MVP
Most Improved Player
Most Improved Player is always a difficult award to predict, mostly because none of us really understand the criteria. Memphis Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant won it last season when he was already expected to be an All-Star, whereas a player like Poole went from the G League to averaging 18.5 points per game for a championship team and finished a disappointing fourth. This season’s candidates generally involve talented players who will get more opportunity, like Philadelphia 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey, New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson and Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton.
Of those three obvious candidates, I think the player most likely to win it is Halliburton. He will have the highest usage rate among this group with the most chances to thrive. Maxey has to share the rock with both Embiid who I have winning MVP, and Harden who is the ultimate dribble head. He could be iced out of games not even on purpose.
Brunson makes the kist because now without Luka’s usage rate blocking him to a certain degree, and the spotlight that is the Mecca of basketball, Brunson will be recognized. Whether it is a good recognition or not, he will be talked about.
But Halliburton feels like the right choice. No longer in the shadow of Fox in Sacramento, I can see a 22-8-5 stat line for the Pacers guard.
Eastern Conference Finals Prediction
The Eastern Conference is absolutely stacked this season. I could argue 6-7 teams have a legit chance at a conference finals appearance come May.
The Bucks, Celtics, Heat, Nets, 76ers and a potential sleepers in Cleveland and Atlanta who made massive improvements upon last years group.
But only two can make it so let me make the hard cut.
I think a healthy Milwaukee Bucks roster remains the best team in the conference as the best player in the league resides there. So they’re a lock for me.
The challenge becomes assessing the Brooklyn Nets, Boston Celtics and the 76ers.
The Celtics are without their head coach Ume Udoka after his cheating scandal has him suspended for the full year. With that hanging over their head like a black cloud, combined with the fact they over achieved last season, I expect a minor set back this season.
The Nets remain the most interesting team in the league. Is KD going to be healthy for 75 games?
Is Ben Simmons mentally prepared for the grind of a NBA season? Is his back okay?
Is Kyrie Irving back to being a full time basketball player or will he venture out to the circus for weeks at a time?
If those 3 are healthy and focused the Nets are title favorites.
But how can one put trust into a Big 3 that far too often treats basketball as a side hustle? Oh and remember Durant wanted his head coach and GM fired just because. Then he wanted to be traded, but the league passed because the value wasn’t matching up in offers.
So to assume and bet on this fractured group pulling together all season and postseason isn’t a safe bet.
Then we have Philadelphia. Doc Rivers can’t be trusted. Joel Embiid’s health is just as questionable as James Harden in a playoff series.
But at some point a player of Embiid’s caliber breaks through the second round glass ceiling. I think this is the year.
The ascension of Tyre Maxey will be essential to this teams success as well as a reinvigorated James Harden. But a healthy Embiid at his peak will be the true difference maker.
Embiid will be the league MVP and lead his team to the Conference Finals to matchup against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks.
Not my most confident pick my any measure but it is what it is
Western Conference Finals Prediction
I promise to not let any Lakers bias creep its way into this discussion. To be honest I’m emotionally drained from last seasons disaster to even care right now. And my liquor cabinet isn’t stocked enough to full embrace a team led by Russell Westbrook on ball and Pat Beverley in huddles.
There are tow other teams in California who have to be considered West favorites: The reigning champion Warriors and the newly healthy Los Angeles Clippers.
The Warriors pedigree speaks for itself. Until knocked off, they reside as the gold standard.
The Clippers intrigue me because if we get a healthy Paul George and Kawhi Leonard I think the ceiling is a Larry O’Brien Trophy. But the injury history and franchise history leaves pause to declare them Conference Finals locks.
There is one team that has been on the cusp for years now but continually run into a bad matchup or injuries; the Denver Nuggets.
Here’s a bold statement: We have not seen the best version of Nikola Jokić over the past 18 months. That sounds like a strange thing to say about a back-to-back MVP winner. But while Jokić’s statistical production and value to his team these past two seasons have been unparalleled, his magical all-around game is not meant to be deployed to elevate sad supporting casts to respectability. It’s meant to be wielded as a force multiplier on teams with other talented pieces, particularly offensively. That was the type of player Jokić was in the 2020 bubble, when he and a hot-shooting Jamal Murray marched a flawed Denver team to the conference finals. Murray’s healthy return from a torn ACL means this team has the same structure, except with a seasoned (and healthy) Michael Porter Jr.; a more skilled and multi-dimensional forward piece in Aaron Gordon; snugger defensive fits in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown; and a collection of emerging young talent. Pair all that with a more in-shape Jokić that no longer has to do everything to keep Denver competitive, and this sure feels like the Nuggets’ season.
I think the Suns and Mavericks take big steps backwards this season despite the immense top end talent. The Pelicans if healthy can rise up into the top 6, as well as the Minnesota Timberwolves, but neither of those teams are title ready.
Memphis is a team to watch as I see them as the next team to eventually take the reigns of the conference in the coming years, but I still believe they are missing Ja’s “Pippen.”
In the end I have a Warriors, Nuggets Conference Finals. It should be a Warriors-Clippers but you know how that franchise operates so just wait on the black cloud to make its way over Crypto Arena when you least expect it.
NBA Finals Prediction: Bucks over Warriors in 6
Selfishly I want a Bucks-Nuggets NBA Finals which is headlined by two of the most dynamic foreign born, unforeseen superstars the league has ever seen. But until I see the Nuggets knock off the Warriors, I have to give the edge to the championship tried and tested until.
I think we get the classic finals matchup we were robbed of last season when Middleton got hurt and the Bucks got bounced out early.
Antetokounmpo will have that Finals matchup which all great players have that truly tests and ultimately defines their greatness. The first ring he got went a long way to accomplishing that, but taming the beast that has been the Warriors dynasty, thus starting your own is legacy points galore. I want it and I think the NBA fans deserve it after getting a watered down version of a NBA Finals the past 2 years.
Giannis and company ends the Warriors Big 3 dynasty, ultimately sending Draymond out of the Bay Area.
Side Note: this will be Damian Lillard’s final season in Portland. You heard it here first.