Shyaamal Solanki makes the case that this may be the best year yet for the NBA
- LAbron James
Excuse the poor pun on the King’s name but this season we welcome LeBron joining his third team – the iconic Los Angeles Lakers. Also this year, King James will most certainly surpass the ‘GOAT’ Michael Jordan on the all-time scoring chart. For those not entirely familiar with NBA, this might not be a big deal. But, after Lebron’s historic playoff performance last season, he reignited the debate over who is the greatest of all time. Lebron, only 1,254 points shy of Jordan’s number four spot on the list, will no doubt give ammunition to his supporters for this one. Although a finals run is unlikely, albeit for this season, Lebron’s Lakers will at the very least increase competition in an already-stacked Western conference. Aside from the perennial champs in the Golden State Warriors, the Lakers will compete with the Houston Rockets, the Oklahoma City Thunder, a strong Utah Jazz, the fading San Antonio Spurs and the young-blooded New Orleans Pelicans (that’s excluding the exciting Portland Trailblazers and the intriguing, but internally feuding, Minnesota Timberwolves).
Simply put, LeBron coming to LA will transform the team, giving them that edge that they’ve missed since Kobe Bryant’s departure in 2016. Picture the veteran King leading the young core of Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram, alongside some well-chosen free agency additions, like JaVale McGee, Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson. The 2018-19 Lakers should be exciting, competitive and back in business, despite a slow start to this season.
2. The New King of the East
LeBron leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers left a few questions unanswered in the basketball world. Whilst a few of them are already answered, one that remains impossible to predict is who will be the new King in the East. James’ reign in the East is finally over and there is a wide plethora of viable candidates for the throne. There’s the exhilarating ‘Greek Freak’ Giannis Antetokounmpo, who, despite dunking on helpless defenders and barging his way to the basket, is actually a really nice and lovable guy. We can’t forget the skilful maestro in Kyrie Irving, who actually left the Cavaliers after the 2016 to seek new pastures (i.e. anywhere but LeBron’s shadow). How about the young and confident core of the Philadelphia Sixers? Trash-talking center Joel Embiid and his thrilling teammate, Ben Simmons, would make two interesting contenders to rule the division. New Toronto Raptor and defensive stalwart Kawhi Leonard is also a sure-bet to take over the reigns of the East, if he can continue to mirror his 2015 season form. Dark horses like Jayson Tatum or Victor Oladipo have a fighting chance too. There is plenty to watch and play for this season, especially in the East. With a LeBron-less division, one thing is for certain however…
3. New NBA Finals!
At long last, the NBA Finals for 2019 will NOT consist of the Warriors facing the Cavaliers. How refreshing! For the last four years (Yep. You read that correctly, four years) we’ve seen the LeBron-led Cavaliers take on the dominant Warriors. The Warriors won three of those four finals. Some fans disliked the repetitiveness and lack of competition within the NBA and that it took an outright miracle for the 2016 Cavaliers to beat the Warriors after going down 3-1 in the finals. At least this year, and sincerest apologies to Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith, the Cavs are not making it to the grand stage.
From the Eastern conference, competition remains slim. The Celtics impressed most fans and critics last season by performing excellently without their stars in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. Welcoming these two back from injury will only help bolster their chances of making the finals, even after a far from perfect start to the season. The Philadelphia 76ers, with their young core, have made a relatively mediocre start to the season, with former first-round pick Markelle Fultz beginning to show why the 76ers drafted him. That leaves us with the leader of the East so far, are the Toronto Raptors. With the addition of former finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year, Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors are no doubt the Eastern Conference’s best bet to take on the almost-guaranteed Western champions in the Warriors, who themselves will be looking to make history.
4. The Quest for a Three-Peat
The Warriors are in the midst of one of the most historic runs in NBA history. They have featured in the last four NBA finals, winning three. For the last few years, barring an incredible and unthinkable Cavaliers masterclass in 2016, they have been unstoppable. This year, after a 4-0 sweep in the finals, the Warriors have upped the ante just when you thought they could literally not get any better. The free agent addition of DeMarcus ‘Boogie’ Cousins has heightened the already extremely high probability that the Warriors will conquer the Western conference and make a historic third, consecutive NBA title. If the Warriors do as is expected, they will be the first to do it since the 2000-2002 Los Angeles Lakers. The Warriors may be at times unstoppable, but in a very competitive Western division, it is not outlandish to think that the Rockets or the Thunder could mount a serious challenge. After an explosive start across the West, can the Warriors actually make history this year?
5. Hot Race for the MVP
The finals may be all-but decided, but fear not! There is plenty of intrigue and excitement regarding who will win the coveted NBA MVP award this year. It’s easy to pick LeBron – he’s playing for a huge franchise, in a bigger market, without his usual big-name sidekick that he’s had for the past few years. Overcoming Jordan’s career scoring total will also boost his claim. But, LeBron may be the best player in the NBA, it is unlikely that he’ll win enough games to satisfy the leagues informal criteria.
The Warriors stacked roster means that, as per usual, Kevin Durant and Steph Curry will probably split the vote. Former MVP and Mr. Do-it-all Russell Westbrook is always a strong candidate, but something tells me this year that the Thunder will struggle to make a deep playoff run this season. That leaves us with either the reigning MVP James Harden or Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks. It is relatively improbable that voters will hand back-to-back MVP awards to Harden, even if he does replicate last season’s efficiency and scoring. Giannis, on the other hand, is only 23, and electrifies the league when he plays. He is likely to put up greater numbers than last year, despite being near-impossible given the lack of talent around him, with new coach Mike Budenholzer. Gradually too, Giannis’ jump shot has improved over his time in the league. If this is the year he puts it together, the Greek Freak may finally close the gap between him and the NBA’s elite. And, we should also consider the likes of defensive juggernaut Kawhi Leonard and the explosive Anthony Davis.