2019-20 NBA Preview: 16 reasons this will be the best season ever
The NBA is back! Not that it ever left. This past summer might have been even more electric than the season the preceded it with superstars relocating around the league as if playing a game of All-Star musical chairs.
The 2019-20 season is shaping up to be the most intriguing season in recent memory. Why? Glad you asked. Here’s 16 reasons this NBA season is going to be awesome:
NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-76ers starts at 6:30pm Wednesday with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Tommy have the call of the game at 7:30pm.
The Golden State Warriors’ run as prohibitive championship favorites ended after Kevin Durant relocated to Brooklyn and with Klay Thompson potentially sidelined the entire year by the ACL tear suffered in last year’s Finals. Suddenly, there’s at least eight teams you can make an honest-to-goodness pitch to win the NBA title this season — and probably another handful that you might suggest could jump in that fray if things break right or they make an in-season upgrade.
2. Super Duos
Super Teams are out, Super Duos are all the rage. The NBA’s new formula for competing is to pair two elite players, find the best supporting cast that can accentuate those players' talents, and see what happens. The Rockets got Russell Westbrook to pair with James Harden. The Lakers power-played Anthony Davis’ way to Los Angeles to pair with LeBron James. The Clippers made a big-splash trade to land Paul George in order to entice Kawhi Leonard. It’s the NBA Jam-ification of the league.
3. The Celtics are underdogs again
Two years ago, the Celtics kicked sentimentality to the curb while swapping Isaiah Thomas for Kyrie Irving all with the promise that getting one of the league’s elite players would make them legitimate contenders. The only time they came close to fulfilling that goal was when Irving was sidelined after knee surgery. Then last season happened and Boston was forced to hit a bit of a reboot button. Now they’re back in familiar ground: Talented but not talented enough to be considered a top contender. They’re ripe to overachieve. If Kemba Walker embraces the big stage, if Gordon Hayward is really back to his old self, and the Jays make a leap closer to stardom, these Celtics could be a lot like the teams of the pre-Kyrie era.
4. Basketball matters in New York
Woah, woah. Not so fast there, Knicks. You and your collection of 47 power forwards are still terrible after whiffing on all the big names in free agency. But the Nets struck gold in landing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Even as Durant endures a red-shirt year, there will be no shortage of intrigue in how Irving fares at the helm of a new young core. The Celtics-Nets games should be electric — assuming Irving shows up for them.
5. The battle for LA supremacy
Los Angeles was already an NBA hot spot but now it’s truly the mecca of hoops. The amount of talent playing under the Staples Center's roof this season is staggering. There’s even the possibility that the Western Conference Finals might be held in one building. Can the Clippers bite into the Lakers’ local fandom? LeBron James ought to be supremely motivated to remind the league of his talents, while all Kawhi Leonard does is win championships.
6. Load management
It’s hipper than skinny jeans these days. Trying to pick a game to go see your favorite star play this season? It’s like a game of Russian roulette hoping that player actually suits up. Alas, Leonard showed proof of concept last year so teams will be willing to sit their stars 20+ games if it ensures they’re upright when it matters most.
7. Carsen Edwards’ thighs
Move over Saquon Barkley, there’s a new Thigh Master. Edwards and his running-back thighs landed in the national spotlight this preseason when he erupted for eight 3-pointers in little more than five minutes during a win in Cleveland. Edwards could be the microwave scorer the Celtics have long coveted off their bench. But he’s not in a hurry to talk about his thighs. "People always talk about my quads and stuff,” said Edwards. "I don’t know. It’s just — it is what it is, so I don’t know.”
8. Zion Williamson dunks
So it’s not a great look that, after getting yanked from summer league due to knee issues, Zion Williamson underwent surgery on a torn meniscus and will miss the first 6-8 weeks of the season. We’re going to have to wait until the end of the calendar year to see Williamson bring his rim-rocking ways to the NBA. HIs preseason was electric, however, and he might still win Rookie of the Year as long as he can stay healthy the rest of the way.
9. Ben Simmons shooting 3's
OK, maybe we shouldn’t have gone plural here. He shot one. In the final seconds of the first half of a preseason game against something called the Guangzhou Loong Lions. But he made it. And that’s one more than he’s made the first three years of his NBA career (0 for 17). Clearly, Simmons is talented enough to be an All-Star without keeping defenses honest but it’s still fun to watch the crowd buzz any time he catches it with space beyond the 3-point arc.
10. MVP Giannis levels up?
Giannis Antetokounmpo claimed his first MVP award last season while averaging 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 1.5 blocks per game. And he might have another level to go to. The Bucks will need it, too, if they’re going to emerge as legitimate title contenders. Giannis doesn’t quite have the glitzy sidekick of the league’s top super duos (though Khris Middleton sure scorches the Celtics) and so much of what the Bucks accomplish will hinge on Antetokounmpo. Oh, and all the speculation about his future isn’t going to go away, either.
11. Coaches' challenges
OK, this might not actually be awesome because of the time it could add to games that already have too many review stoppages. But it will be awesome when it allows officials to get correct a bad call in a crucial spot. We still think that coaches should get a red bean bag to angrily throw on the floor but we’ll settle for the less exciting finger twirl.
12. Brad Stevens finding a way to field a top-10 defense with this frontcourt
The Celtics have consistently ranked in the top half of the league in defensive rating since Stevens’ arrival but he’s got quite the challenge ahead of him this season. Maybe it’s simply accentuated by the departures of defensive mavens Al Horford and Aron Baynes but Stevens must figure out how to make it work with Enes Kanter (whose defensive deficiencies are as well documented as his offensive contributions), Daniel Theis (third-year big man puts up good numbers but struggles with beefier bigs), Robert Williams (shot-blocking machine who’s still learning to be more disciplined), and Vincent Poirier (French import who shows good technique but is unproven at the NBA level). It could put a lot of pressure on Boston’s guards to hound on the perimeter.
13. Players vs. their old teams
Every night there’s seemingly going to be a different superstar player going against his former team. Case in point: The Celtics visit Horford on opening night on Wednesday. Wait until Kristaps Porzingis has to go back to New York, or Davis has to head to New Orleans. Or when Kyrie explains why he’s skipping the trip back to Boston.
14. A disrespected champion
Leonard’s defection to LA has many writing off the Raptors. Remember, though, that Toronto played surprisingly well without Leonard last season during all that load management time. The champs just signed Pascal Siakam to a max rookie extension, making him the future of the franchise. Sure, they might fire sale if things start slow, but they might also be a top-4 playoff team in the East, too, particularly if they harness motivation of those betting against them.
15. A wild trade deadline
February could be epic. It’ll be an arms race with contenders trying to push themselves over the top or, given the paltry free agent class expected this summer, teams might try to get a jump on some roster upgrades. Teams will pay top dollar for role players that can fill holes. It could be a party for buyers and sellers alike.
16. The Western Conference playoffs
This could be just a blood bath. There’s about 11 teams vying for eight playoff spots and the reward for simply getting into the postseason is going to be an absurdly tough matchup with a top-of-the-conference juggernaut. The reason we’re picking an Eastern Conference team to win the title (Philadelphia): The West might have nothing left in the tank after its bracket is completed.