The NBA season has descended upon us in earth shaking fashion. The Pelicans look amazing. The Lakers look, like well a team with no shooters. Offense is way up, and defense is way down (unless you are the Nuggets, we see you). We have had a brawl, suspensions, overtime games, and a preseason Jimmy Butler trade demand, practice blowup, and a subsequent interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols. It is too early, way too early, to make any real proclamations about what will transpire the rest of the season. But here are three early predictions. View these as preseason picks that happened late because, well, sometimes even great things do not arrive on time.
The Nuggets will make noise in the postseason
The Western Conference is not nearly as loaded as people think. What this means is, that there are ten teams vying for eight playoff spots, but realistically, unless major upsets occur, Golden State and Houston are the real heavy favorites. Enter in the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets are 4-0. They have allowed over 100 points once. Nikola Jokic is averaging 23.3 PPG and 10.5 rebounds a game, on 61% shooting. A healthy Paul Millsap is averaging 11.3 PPG and 9.3 rebounds. Jamal Murray is shooting poorly, but Will Barton has averaged 16 PPG in the two games that he has played. This team can run, shoot, rebound, defend, and is well coached by Michael Malone. Jokic is a budding Star. This team is young, hungry, and oh by the way, plays in high altitude, giving them an extra built- in home court advantage. They have improved by at lease six games every year that Mike Malone has been there. Not only will the Nuggets make the playoffs, they will win a series. Nobody in the West wants to see them in the first round, especially if they have home field advantage.
The Bucks will improve drastically under Mike Budenholzer
We already know that Giannis Antetokounmpo is on the verge of becoming a bonafide superstar. We know that this team is super athletic, long, and has talent everywhere. But since Giannis, who has improved every season he has been in the NBA, has gotten there, the Bucks have finished 15th, 6th, 12th, 6th, and 7th in the Eastern Conference. They have been first round exits each of the three years they have been in the playoffs. Including interims, the Bucks are on their fifth coach since Scott Skiles resigned in 2013. Mike Budenholzer is here. He took the Atlanta Hawks to the Conference Finals and the Conference Semifinals in consecutive years. The biggest star he had was probably Al Horford. This team will make massive leaps under the offensive tutelage of Budenholzer. With Giannis, Kris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdan, and an athletic long bench, there is no reason to think that Milwaukee will not be at least a top- 4 team in the Eastern Conference. Oh, and just a reminder: one LeBron James plays in the Western Conference now. Fear the Deer.
Tom Thibodeau is DONE in Minnesota, sooner than later
Tom Thibodeau will never learn. This statement is indicative of how his coaching tenure in both Chicago and Minnesota has gone. Since the Bulls made it to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2011, the story of Thibodeau has taken an unfortunate turn, both due to freak accidents and the stubbornness he possesses. We know the knocks on Thibodeau. He plays an outdated style of basketball. He runs his starters into the ground. He does not trust his bench. He is loyal to “his guys” to a fault. And the worst part about it is, He is an excellent head coach. When he took the job in Minnesota, he was believed to be the guy that would get this young, talented team over the hump. They did make the playoffs last year, after years of futility. But Karl Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins have never committed to the defensive side of the ball. Wiggins has been stale in his development. Jimmy Butler wants out, and Thibodeau knows he needs him, but the season cannot survive his volcanic presence. Glen Taylor, the owner, and Thibodeau have not been on the same page in dealing with the trade offers for Butler. The collection of the old Bulls guard (Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson, and Butler) mixed with the young talent of Towns and Wiggins, and with the addition of Jeff Teague, made this team destined for good or even great things. Now, they may miss the playoffs, and Thibodeau may be out of the head coaching ranks in the NBA.
The NBA season is here, folks. Let us see where this crazy ride takes us. It will not be short on drama, excitement, quotes, firings, and nail biting endings. Congratulations, Adam Silver. The NBA is back, and better than ever.