This Tuesday, the 2018-19 NBA season tips off and it promises to be another spectacular offering from the World’s greatest basketball league. With 1,230 games to get through before the Playoffs start next April, be prepared for an extensive highlight reel of devastating dunks, sharp-shooting buzzer-beaters, ankle-breaking crossovers and a deluge of majestic aerial displays as the league’s stars take flight on a nightly basis.
But before we look forward, let’s take a quick glance back at the 2017-2018 season…
In recent seasons, the NBA has been dominated by the Golden State Warriors. The franchise revolutionised the game en route to three championships in four years. Their 4-0 sweep of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2018 Finals added to their mystique but, though they are clearly one of the greatest teams of all time, their seven game Western Conference Finals battle with Houston Rockets showed that this team could be beaten.
Out West, the Warriors and Rockets were streaks ahead of their conference rivals, with a 9 game gap between the top two and the third seeded Utah Jazz. But from there down, it was a dog-fight with only three games separating the 3rd and 9th seeds.
In the Eastern Conference, it took the greatness of LeBron James to drag a struggling Cleveland team to the Finals, having finished as the 4th seed. Ahead of them were the impressive Toronto Raptors, who won a franchise best 59 games and took the 1st seed. Then followed the legendary Boston Celtics, who achieved their best record since 2011 season, led by Kyrie Irving and Rookie Jayson Tatum. And finally relevant, after years of rebuilding, the up and coming Philadelphia 76ers left their mark, led by the incredible duo of Joel Embiid and Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons to clinch the 3rd seed in the East.
James Harden won the league’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) award, leading the Rockets to a franchise record 65 wins. Despite his heroics, it wasn’t enough to topple the Warriors’ four All-Stars (including two former MVPs) in Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
Amazingly, despite a general consensus that he’s the best player in the league and being consistently in the conversation as perhaps the greatest player of all time, LeBron James went for a 5th straight year without being recognised with the MVP award. His stat line for the season, impressive per game averages of 27.5 points, 8.6 rebounds and 9.1 assists. All whilst the 33-year-old logged a league leading 36.9 minutes per game.
Ok, enough reflecting on last season, let’s get down to it. The reason we’re all here, your brand spanking new NBA season:
Incredibly and inexplicably, the Warriors were able to add another All-Star to their aforementioned quartet, the mercurial DeMarcus Cousins. The 28-year-old center is currently recovering from a torn Achilles and, having suffered such a devastating injury, there are some doubts as to the level of form he can return to. Irrespective, if he’s even half the player he was previously, he’s a significant upgrade to the only real chink in the Warriors’ armour. Expect them to be back in the Finals again next June, challenging to become only the fourth franchise in NBA history to complete an historic three-peat.
With LeBron James moving to the LA Lakers in the summer, the Eastern Conference will be represented in the NBA Finals by a James-less led team for the first time in nine seasons. This is likely to be the Boston Celtics, the most decorated team in NBA history.
Boston have a challenge on their hands out East though. The Raptors, despite topping the conference in the regular season, suffered an embarrassing sweep at the hands of the the Cavaliers in the conference semi-finals. Realising something needed to change, they made the bold decision to fire Dwane Casey, despite him winning coach of the year, replacing him with his former assistant, Nick Nurse.
If that wasn’t enough, Toronto were also part of the biggest trade of the summer sending away the franchise’s star, DeMar DeRozan in exchange for former NBA Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year, Kawhi Leonard, who had become disgruntled in San Antonio. Expect them to be right up there again this year, challenging for a high playoff seed.
LeBron’s aforementioned arrival in LA has immediately catapulted the Lakers from being one of the worst teams in the league, to suddenly being one of considerable interest. The presence of James alone, should be sufficient to take the Purple and Gold back to the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
This feels like a golden era for talent in the NBA with the vast majority of NBA franchises having an elite star leading them. We’re at a juncture now where at least three stars are required to challenge for the title and for franchises who are unable to surround their cornerstone with the right teammates, they struggle even to make the playoffs.
When it comes to the MVP award, the race is wide open. In addition to the glut of stars already mentioned, Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks should be right up there with the best of them. At 6’11”, “The Greek Freak” possesses a unique skill-set that makes him almost unguardable, whilst having the versatility to play all five positions on the floor.
Outside of the established stars, the new Rookie class will be trying to make names for themselves. The number one pick in the draft, DeAndre Ayton, has been impressive in the preseason, giving hope to a Phoenix franchise that has been poor for a number of years now.
But Ayton is far from the most decorated player joining the NBA ranks this season. That honour goes to the 19-year-old Slovenian, Luka Doncic. Taken with the third pick, the former Real Madrid standout has impressive court vision and a diverse game that saw him crowned the youngest ever Euroleague MVP and Liga ACB MVP last year. His development in Dallas, where he will be under mentored by the legendary Dirk Nowitzki, is definitely something to keep an eye on.
If you want more information on the coming NBA season and the teams involved, make sure you check out Double Clutch where you will find our extensive season guide as well as our weekly podcast dissecting all things NBA.