by Jamaar Hawkins, i64sports
The NBA regular season begins today! You heard that correctly…Less than two months after the conclusion of last season’s NBA Finals the association is back in action this week.
Here is a look at some of our top storylines heading into the season:
Will we see a new & improved Zion?
It appears the minute restrictions that held out Zion Williamson for games last season will no longer be a problem this year. Williamson has been impressive thus far during the preseason, averaging a league-best 28 points with no cap on his playing time to boot. The Pelicans could be on the cusp of taking the next step in a (still) loaded Western Conference. A Zion & Brandon Ingram tandem will cause a lot of teams problems. Add a sprinkle of Lonzo Ball and a few other quality pieces and we could see another playoff berth for New Orleans. But most of that will rest on the shoulders of the South Carolina product.
The media’s growing infatuation with Kyrie Irving
Ever since Kyrie Irving demanded a trade out of Cleveland while serving as the Robin to Lebron James’ Batman the media has spent much of its time nitpicking Irving’s every action. I get it. Who wouldn’t want to play with the greatest player in the world during what could have been considered his peak seasons? As we have all seen by now Irving marches at the beat of his drum. That what makes him such a unique talent on the court, but misunderstood off the court. This offseason was brutal in terms of Irving’s relationship with the media. Playing in New York the spotlight will be even brighter during the season.
Which leads to this…Can Brooklyn prosper through static
Irving’s relationship with the media is far from the main topic in Brooklyn this season. The Nets welcome both a perennial All-NBA talent in two-time NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant AND a first-time coach in Steve Nash. Durant looked exceptionally well during the preseason coming off an Achilles injury that sidelined the former Golden State Warrior last season. Can Steve Nash mirror the success of another first-time hire (Steve Kerr)? With talent like Durant and Irving leading the charge its hard to see Brooklyn being anything other than a top three seed in the Eastern Conference.
Are Hawks contenders are pretenders?
The hype train seems to have made a pit stop in Atlanta this season with some pundits mentioning the *gasps* playoffs for the Hawks. Well, add another passenger on the train. Trae Young is one of the most dynamic players in the NBA already. Atlanta added a quality veteran to mentor Young in Rajon Rondo. The Hawks also outbid Milwaukee and Sacramento for wing Bogdan Bogdanovic. Keep an eye on second-year wing Cam Reddish who was one of my favorite prospects coming out of Duke.
How could we mention Trae Young without discussing Luka Doncic. The two young superstars will forever be linked thanks to a draft day exchange for each other’s rights. Neither team is probably disappointed in its decision as both players will likely have MVP seasons this year. After flirting with the MVP award last season should be right in the thick of the race this year. His super sophomore season saw averages of 28, 9 and 8 which is Hall of Fame caliber already. CBS Sports has already pegged Doncic as this season’s MVP.
Are Lakers in store for a repeat
The 2020-21 season is when I figured the Lakers would come together and win the first of two NBA titles under the LeBron-AD reign. Fast forward a season and I may have to adjust my outcome to a three-peat for this duo after a tremendous offseason by the Lakers front office. Davis looked phenomenal is his final preseason outing against Phoenix. When he is on from the perimeter Los Angeles will nearly unbeatable. James is still the best in the world. This year he won’t have to shoulder the load for the regular season with AD and the Lakers’ key offseason additions (Dennis Schroeder, Montrez Harrell, Wesley Matthew, Mark Gasol).
NBA MVP: Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
Rookie of the Year: Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves
NBA Finals matchup: Nets vs Lakers
NBA Champion: Lakers
Darkhorse teams: Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets, Philadelphia 76ers
Breakthrough teams: Atlanta Hawks, Phoenix Suns
Breakthrough player: Lonzo Ball, New Orleans Pelicans