Predicting the 2019-20 All-NBA teams to go along with all 16 teams that will make the playoffs in both the Eastern and Western Conference
Believe it or not, the NBA season is tipping off this week. I know, it kind of got lost in the shuffle of the NBA/China train wreck, but real-life basketball games are getting set to be played. With this knowledge, I’d be remiss to not publish preseason playoff and All-NBA predictions on the world wide web to be criticized when I inevitably end up being wrong.
So in the spirit of my almost certain inability to predict the future, let’s dive in on some predictions.
Eastern Conference Standings
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- Milwaukee Bucks – Giannis Antetokounmpo is without question one of the best handful of players on planet Earth and is the reigning MVP of the league. Malcolm Brogdon will be missed, but not enough to take them off the top spot in the conference. 60 wins is within reach once again for this group.
- Philadelphia 76ers – Easily the biggest threat to Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference. The offense may not look pretty, but they have the potential to be the best defensive team in the entire league and will be better suited for playoff basketball than the regular season. They finish second in the conference but take down the Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals to earn their first NBA Finals bid since 2001.
- Boston Celtics – Addition by subtraction without Kyrie Irving? I won’t go that far, but I think this group will play well together. I have questions about their interior defense now that Al Horford is in Philadelphia, but l think the young guys take a step forward and Gordon Hayward will be much improved from last year.
- Brooklyn Nets – A 42 win team a year ago, the Nets made quite a splash in the offseason by signing both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. The latter won’t see the floor this year, but upgrading from D’Angelo Russell to Kyrie Irving should be worth a few wins by itself. Combine that with a budding star in Caris LeVert and a quality coach in Kenny Atkinson and I expect the Nets to have homecourt advantage in round one of the playoffs.
- Toronto Raptors – Sure, the Raptors were 17-5 in games where Kawhi Leonard didn’t play last season, which is great. Assuming that will translate into a full season without him, though, would be lazy logic. Pascal Siakam is the real deal and I like their depth, but they don’t have the firepower to compete with the top of the league. They’ll be competitive and dominate the bottom of a hilariously bad Eastern Conference, but their ceiling is a 4/5 seed.
- Miami Heat – I’ve spent weeks trying to talk myself out of the Heat but I can’t quit them. They are lacking a true number two scoring option to compliment Jimmy Butler, but I like their roster, especially when it comes to their potential on the defensive end. Erik Spoelstra is a really good coach and I think he’s able to fit the pieces together well enough to have them pretty comfortably in the playoffs. But I could also see Jimmy Butler making everyone hate him again and they win 35 games so when that happens please make sure to remind me that I need to have this deleted from the internet. Thank you in advance.
- Indiana Pacers – The Pacers are really hard to evaluate because I have no idea how good Victor Oladipo is going to be once he returns from his injury, which could be a couple of months. I’m hoping for the best, but it’s hard to imagine him coming back and being the player he was in 2017-18. I love the additions of Brogdon and T.J. Warren (can’t wait to watch him play for anyone but the Suns), but I think they struggle to put points on the board while Oladipo tries to get back into a rhythm, and perhaps even after. They’ll make the playoffs, but they’ll have to sweat it out before they clinch a spot.
- Orlando Magic – I’m still a kind of amazed that the Magic made the playoffs last year because their roster wasn’t/still isn’t very good. I know that sounds like an insult (and it probably is), but I mean it more as a credit to what Steve Clifford was able to do with this team. They are far from a lock to make it back as teams like the Pistons, Hawks, and Bulls will likely be pushing them all year long, but I think they do enough to clinch back to back playoff berths for the first time since Dwight Howard led them 6 times in a row from 2007-2012.
Western Conference Standings
- Denver Nuggets – They had the best home record in the league last year and have a deep young core hungry to prove they are for real, but it starts with Nikola Jokic who is a legitimate MVP candidate. I’m not a Nuggets fan, but I’ll admit I have a bit of a bias for Jokic. I think it’s because having a guy who is a little out of shape thrive in a sport with the best athletes in the world inspires hope for the rest of us normal out of shape people who are out of breath after two possessions of pick up at the YMCA. Thank you, Nikola, you’re an inspiration.
- Utah Jazz – The most popular “sleeper” team in the league even though everyone agrees they are really good. I mentioned earlier that the 76ers could be the best defensive team in the league, but the Jazz will be their main competition for that title. The addition of Mike Conley will prove its worth in the playoffs where they have been in desperate need of a playmaker to complement Donovan Mitchell. Conley will do that and then some, making the Jazz a real title contender for the first time since Stockton and Malone.
- Houston Rockets – When you combine James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and Mike D’Antoni, you’re going to score points. That won’t be the issue with this new version of the Rockets. I think it will take some time for Harden and Westbrook to figure out how they fit, but my main concern with the Rockets is their defense and frontcourt depth. I expect a relatively slow start, but once they figure it out they’ll be a force offensively that few teams can match.
- Los Angeles Lakers – The world is going to get a reminder of how good Anthony Davis is this season. Davis and LeBron James will combine to be a better duo than anyone this side of Bert and Ernie so it’s hard to imagine anyone stopping them. The big looming question is what their guard play is going to look like. Danny Green is a quality 3 and D guy, but he isn’t a ball handler. They have Rajon Rondo, Quinn Cook, and Alex Caruso, but they don’t come without their flaws (sorry Caruso stans). LeBron and AD can take you far, but they’ll need some serviceable guard play to make it out of a stacked Western Conference and I’m not sure they have the right backcourt for the task.
- Los Angeles Clippers – The two Los Angeles teams will be the best playoff teams in the league and the top 5 seeds will only be separated by a few games, but load management and slow starts while they figure out the fit lead to an all-LA first round (how great would that be?). The Clippers have the best roster in the league if you ask me, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be the best team in the regular season. If you could guarantee me that Kawhi Leonard and Paul George would play 75-plus games each, then I’d easily have them as the top seed, but I don’t think either guy gets close to that number. As of this writing, Paul George still hasn’t even been cleared for full contact work, and Kawhi Leonard only played 60 games last year to keep him fresh for the postseason. I think they find a way to make it out of the West, but regular-season wins and playoff seeding will take a back seat to the health of their superstars.
- Golden State Warriors – It feels wrong to have the Warriors anywhere but at the top of the conference, but with an injured Klay Thompson and no Kevin Durant or Andre Iguodala, it’s possible that the Warriors could miss the playoffs entirely. It sounds like a best-case scenario for Klay is a late March or early April return, but he may not come back at all. An MVP type season from Steph Curry and an additional scoring punch from D’Angelo Russell earn them a playoff spot, but shaky perimeter defense and a non-existent bench cap their ceiling as a team with a first-round exit written all over them.
- San Antonio Spurs – Do I actually think the Spurs make the playoffs? No. Do you think I’m willing to go on the record picking against them? Also no. LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan had really solid years last year and getting Dejounte Murray back will be a great addition to the backcourt, but the West is so good that they might not have enough to fight back. That being said, I won’t be picking against Gregg Popovich until he gives me a reason to so go ahead and pencil the Spurs into the playoffs, I’m sure they’ll find a way.
- Portland Trail Blazers – Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are as good of a guard combo as the league has to offer, but the frontcourt in Portland is a disaster. Zach Collins is a really good young player, but February is starting to look like the best-case scenario for Jusuf Nurkic‘s return and they don’t have much else outside of that. I’m not sure if there are still Hassan Whiteside stans out there, but if you are I’d encourage you to stop…he isn’t the answer here and the Heat was probably throwing a party once they got him off the books. The Blazers will get in, but they sweat it out until the final day or two of the season as the Kings push them hard for the last spot.
Los Angeles Clippers over Philadelphia 76ers in six games. The 76ers will have homecourt advantage after they slow down Giannis in the Eastern Conference Finals, but the Clippers prove to be too much. Leonard and PG combine to eliminate any impact Ben Simmons has on offense but Embiid has a series that puts him in the conversation of the top 5 players in the league.
This series is dominated by defense and has some ugly finishes, but the Clippers do enough to close out on their home floor in Game 6, elevating Kawhi Leonard above the pack in the competition for best player in the world.
All-NBA first team
G: Stephen Curry, GSW: Steph not only makes the first team but earns MVP honors as well, reminding us how good he is in a post-KD world.
G: James Harden, HOU: Another scoring title and a top 3 MVP finish. The addition of Russell Westbrook won’t hinder his numbers as he continues to be the most lethal offensive weapon in basketball.
F: Giannis Antetokounmpo, MIL: His bid for back to back MVP’s falls short, but it won’t be because he’s regressed. Giannis continues to put up huge numbers for the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference and is a no-brainer first-team selection
F: LeBron James, LAL: Coming off of the first significant injury of his career, but we’re going to assume health for anyone who isn’t already injured right now. I expect LeBron to be as dialed in as he’s been in years and should play around 75 games even with built-in rest days. He’s a walking 28-8-8 and if he’s healthy and even gets close to those numbers he’ll be back on the first team where he belongs.
C: Anthony Davis, LAL: A weird year last season for Davis as he was trying to force his way out of New Orleans, but people easily forgot how dominant he was at the start of last season before all of that went down. Davis reminds us all why he’s the best big man in basketball this year and has a career year dominating opposing big men in an unstoppable pick and roll with LeBron.
All-NBA second team
G: Damian Lillard, POR: I already talked about how I’m worried about the Blazers, but I have no worries about Lillard individually. It’s a stacked group of guards across the league, but Lillard is among the elite at his position.
G: Russell Westbrook, HOU: Westbrook may not average a triple-double in Houston like he consistently did in OKC, but I expect him to make up for it in other ways. Some have expressed concerns about him not getting enough touches with Harden there, but if you’ve watched how they staggered Harden’s minutes with Chris Paul the last few years, then it would logical to assume that they’ll do the same with Westbrook. I expect his scoring and efficiency to go up in their guard friendly system and showcase Westbrook’s talent.
F: Kawhi Leonard, LAC: Kawhi’s numbers will be worthy of the first team, but I don’t think he plays in enough games. I previously mentioned that I’m assuming full health, which I am, but I expect him to have about the same amount of rest days as last year and play about 60-65 games. Hard to get first-team when you don’t play the games, but I don’t think Kawhi is too concerned about that.
F: Pascal Siakam, TOR: Siakam showed flashes last year, but this is the year we find out that he’s pretty special. No Kawhi Leonard in town so he’ll be the focal point of the offense. That may negatively affect his efficiency, but the raw numbers are going to be there.
C: Nikola Jokic, DEN: Really debated putting him on the first team but I think Davis will be too difficult to beat. Again, though, can’t stress enough how much he’s doing for the out of shape pick up basketball community.
All-NBA third team
G: Kyrie Irving, BKN: Lost in the Boston mess last year was the fact that Kyrie had a really good season. Now in Brooklyn, he’ll have to get used to his new supporting cast, but it’s hard to imagine him not having another really productive season.
G: Luka Doncic, DAL: If the Mavericks can sneak into that last playoff spot or at least be competitive for it, Doncic should have a pretty easy path to an All-NBA team in his sophomore season. The addition of Kristaps Porzingis should allow for more space around Luka and lead to a nice statistical jump from last year.
F: Paul George, LAC: Health will be an issue to start the year and he probably won’t play enough games to get any higher than the third team, but PG should still post the same high-level numbers that we’ve come to expect from him. He’ll find a way to make an All-NBA team despite his shoulder issues.
F: Blake Griffin, DET: Full disclosure, if Zion was healthy I was going to put him here and I’m kind of disappointed that I can’t now. Health is a big “if” for Griffin, but last year he proved that he’s still one of the best big men in the league when he is on the court.
C: Joel Embiid, PHI: When Embiid is demanding the ball in the paint and altering shots at the rim on defense, he might be the best big man in the game. The problem is that he spends too much time around the 3-point line and seems to tire out too quickly as the games and season wear on. If Embiid can get those two things figured out there is no reason why he can’t make the first team, but even if he just keeps the status quo he’ll be good enough for third. A pretty nice floor to have.