2019-2020 NBA Preview: 30 Predictions for 30 Teams

In an annual tradition, writer Kevin Nye puts forth a suite of NBA season predictions including team-by-team records, one strange prediction for each NBA team, and a title pick.

Basketball is back, and thank god. There's no reason to waste time, as my vacation (mercifully) kept me away from a computer and the NBA for about two weeks during preseason, so let's get right to this.

My NBA season predictions from last year were pretty terrible. This year is going to work a little differently. I'm going to go through each team and offer a semi-reckless prediction and an explanation of why I think that thing will happen, then offer a handful of league-wide NBA predictions. At the end will be a playoff bracket where I will definitely look stupid by June. Also, if you're looking for NBA power rankings that are a little more responsible than these predictions, go here.

Ready? Ready. It's time for my NBA season predictions, in alphabetical order.

Atlanta Hawks

Prediction: Trae Young completes an unparalleled back-to-back as the worst defender in the NBA, but his offense is so exciting that it doesn't matter.

Why? The Hawks are going to be fun, and more than that, they're actually going to be pretty OK. They'll fight for the 8th seed in the east behind a 23/10 average from Trae. But what can he possibly do against a league full of guards who are bigger, faster, and stronger than him? All he can do is outgun them, and I can't wait to see him try.

Boston Celtics

Prediction: Kemba Walker has a monstrous season but the team still doesn't reach the heights they expected when a banged-up roster took the Cavs to Game 7 in 2017.

Why? Why isn't this team more fun? Is it Boston fatigue? Is it the stink of Kyrie Irving and the ugly ending to the Isaiah Thomas saga? Is it because they're easy to hate? Is it that Boston fans have a history of racism? Is it because Tatum and Brown aren't progressing as people expected? Whatever it is, I actually want to like Tatum and Brown. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I expect them to take a substantial step forward this year, and (gritting teeth) Gordon Hayward may return to form a little more. Add those things together and give Kemba the ball, and you can see why my prediction feels plausible.

Brooklyn Nets

Prediction: Kyrie Irving sells peyote during a game.

Prediction 2: DeAndre Jordan gets benched by the All-Star break because Jarrett Allen is just a better player.

Why? I was sneaky-high on the Nets last year and got made fun of for picking them as the 8th seed in the east. They have some very exciting players. However, Kyrie Irving in a team-leader role is suspect at best. He's a weirdo. And while that won't matter once KD comes back, KD's not back; and they paid DJ way too much money to do a job that Jarrett Allen can do just as well, if not better. 

Charlotte Hornets

Prediction: Terry Rozier takes 20 FGA/game.

Why? Most people have the Hornets finishing in the bottom three of the league and I am no different. Scary Terry could flash some real brilliance, but who's going to help him? Miles Bridges, maybe? As such, Rozier is gonna play like his hair is on fire to justify his beefy contract. Speaking of contracts, Nic Batum and Bismack Biyombo will make a combined $42,565,217 this season. Not ideal.

Chicago Bulls

Prediction: Playoff push! Lauri stays healthy and rains fire from outside! LaVine progresses! Otto Porter Jr. plays to 80% of his contract value!

Why? I don't entirely believe the above, but why can't this happen? The Bulls have a bunch of big, athletic guards in Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, Denzel Valentine, Tomas Satoransky, and even rookie Coby White. They're thinner upfront, but Lauri Markkanen could be very special, particularly alongside Otto Porter Jr., and while we're at it, Thaddeus Young is just an infuriating/effective big. He's the new (much thinner) Zach Randolph. If Wendell Carter takes a step forward, the Bulls are plenty good enough to get into the playoffs. Also, it's the east, so, you know...

Cleveland Cavaliers

Prediction A (if Kevin Love doesn't get traded): Kevin Love averages 20/10.

Prediction B (if Kevin Love gets traded): The Cavs finish top-12 in per-game scoring and still lose 60 games.

Why? There are reasons to watch: Jordan Clarkson's bench runs are a sight to behold; Collin Sexton and Darius Garland could be a lot of fun together; Larry Nance Jr. has at least one poster-dunk per game (and is an extremely talented big-man passer); Healthy Kevin Love can still play; new coach John Beilein likes to rain threes and that means points. However, the 2018-19 Cavs had the worst Defensive Rating ever according to Basketball-Reference, and it wasn't even close. They will get back a healthy Kevin Love and are adding rookies to the rotation. Everyone is going to have a career night against the Cavs.

Dallas Mavericks

Prediction: It pains me to say this, and I hope I'm wrong, but Kristaps Porzingis is not the player we remember and basically scuffles along all season.

Why? Luka is a bona fide stud and can carry this team within striking distance of the playoffs. Additionally, the internet will love the Mavs because Boban is there, and I'm sure there will be some A+ #content between him and actually-5-foot-6 JJ Barea. But unless Kristaps really finds his stride after 20 months without NBA games, it could be another long season. Dallas took the 4th most 3PA last season but only ranked 27th in 3Pt%. If Kristaps doesn't hit them, Seth Curry can't carry that entire load. I'm not optimistic.

Denver Nuggets

Prediction: Denver scores 140 in regulation at some point this season.

Why? These guys are loaded. 2nd best record in the west last season, a true MVP candidate who is not yet 25-years-old, a bevy of talented wings, roster continuity, a good coach - what more can you ask for? The Nuggets are going to demolish teams now and then, and one of those nights will be to the tune of 140 points (despite their 27th-ranked pace from last season). Whichever guard ends up as their 6th man - whether that's Will Barton, Gary Harris, Malik Beasley, or Monte Morris - could end up in the running for the 6th man award. On the other hand, one of those guys could wind up getting traded, as there just may not be enough minutes for those four, plus Jamal Murray.

Detroit Pistons

Prediction: Andre Drummond puts together the quietest 18/15 season in NBA history.

Why? It will be quiet because nobody is going to watch this team. The entire basketball world agrees that the Pistons can only go as far as Blake Griffin can take them, and that same world seems certain that Griffin won't stay healthy enough to take them far this season. It's hard to argue with that. The Pistons don't appear to like playing basketball together, and it's hard to see a team win 40+ games without smiling a single time. Drummond is a solid fantasy player, as is healthy Blake, and while there's optimism for Luke Kennard, there's just a powerful sense of 35 wins and a bad lottery pick coming for Detroit.

Golden State Warriors

Prediction: D'Angelo Russell averages 24 points per game.

Why? There's a lot of buzz around Stephen Curry's MVP case this season, as he won't have Kevin Durant to make his life easier. He also won't have Klay Thompson until mid-to-late winter. What he will have is D'Angelo Russell - an above-average three-point shooter who averaged 7 assists last season. Russell will take some pressure off of Steph, as will having Draymond Green run the point for at least 15 possessions a game. While both of those things will ultimately help Steph score 30 a night, teams will overcompensate on defending Curry, leaving a lot of wide-open looks for D'Angelo. I'm on board. I think he'll be a surprisingly useful piece and help the Warriors reach the playoffs for what feels like the 85th time in a row.

Houston Rockets

Prediction: Russell Westbrook is going to have a bad time in Houston.

Why? James Harden will once again be in the MVP race despite a ball-dominant point guard at his side. However, as Harden puts up 30+ every night, Westbrook is not going to magically become a good shooter, which will badly hurt the Rockets' style of play. It will also hurt Clint Capela, who will face double-teams when Westbrook is on the arc. The Rockets will overcome, I'm sure, but it could well be at the expense of Westbrook's playing time. Also, keep an eye on the race for most turnovers, as Harden and Westbrook have been numbers 1 and 2 for each of the past four seasons.

Indiana Pacers

Prediction: Myles Turner becomes an All-Star and sniffs 3rd team All-NBA.

Why? The Pacers are tricky because there still isn't a solid timetable on when Victor Oladipo will return (there's also not much info on how effective he'll be when he does return). The loss of Bojan Bogdanovic will be tough, but the theory is that Malcolm Brogdon will pick up the slack. However, Brogdon is also covering for the retirement of Darren Collison, so he has a lot on his plate. Thaddeus Young's departure leaves more minutes for the Turner/Domantas Sabonis frontcourt, and they could be a real problem for teams if Turner shoots 39% from deep again (yes, you read that correctly). To me, the Pacers' ability to stay afloat in Oladipo's absence rests on Turner's shoulders. I hope/expect that he'll score a little more, rebound a little better, and be in the running for NBA blocks leader again - a title he won last season. 

Los Angeles Clippers

Prediction: Paul George will miss at least 30 games and the Clippers will not look like juggernauts because of it.

Why? There are so many variables with this team that it's hard to wrap my head around. It's nearly impossible to think that PG will play even 60 games considering he's already slated to miss at least 10 and will certainly get eased back into things after. Then there's Kawhi's load management stuff. Then there are depth questions - this team rolls about 8-deep and their top two are expected to miss time. Even allowing all that, after Kawhi's run through last year's playoffs, it's hard to not have the Clippers as a possible #1 seed and the potential title favorite. I just haven't trusted trust Paul George ever since his postgame presser where he calmly stated "I need the last shot" and then missed the rim by 10 inches on his game-winner the next game.

Los Angeles Lakers

Prediction: LeBron still can't take a back seat.

Why? Two of the 5(ish) best players in the NBA are on the Lakers, plus enough solid role players to be the Vegas favorite for the NBA title. The Lakers are no joke. But for what feels like the 10th time, LeBron James is being asked to accept a slightly new role. He hasn't done it yet, so I find it hard to believe he will now, even if Anthony Davis is a monster. But Anthony Davis isn't a ball-in-his-hand monster the way the rest of the NBA's best players are. If Anthony Davis isn't a high-level passer and/or he can't exploit defenses with quick decisions, the Lakers will be a watch-LeBron-pound-the-ball-in-crunch-time team. Of course, that has worked in the past, but at some point - eventually, I think - time will catch up to LeBron and we'll see him lose some athleticism. It might be another 10 years, but it has to happen eventually. Right? Maybe?

Memphis Grizzlies

Prediction: Jaren Jackson Jr. makes an all-defensive team.

Why? Jaren is really good, and he's a long way from his ceiling. The Grizzlies were several points better defensively with him on the floor last season, but he ranked poorly on Synergy's points-per-possession tracking. He blocked a bunch of shots, he's adding experience, and he has more time with NBA level diet plus exercise. As for Memphis, if you're a fan of teams with a virtually non-existent chance to make the playoffs, you're gonna love these Grizzlies. 

Miami Heat

Prediction: Tyler Herro will get into a fistfight.

Why? Herro got T'd up for jawing with (double-checking because why would these guys get into it?) Michael Carter Williams in a preseason game. That's a sign of the kind of top-shelf trash-talking that will get a guy punched in a pressure-packed late-season game. Furthermore, I expect Jimmy Butler will be a lightning rod in multiple ways, one of which is through frustrating opponents. Herro can sidle in on that and, well, keep your popcorn handy.

Milwaukee Bucks

Prediction: Giannis doubles up as MVP.

Why? Losing Malcolm Brogdon definitely hurts the Bucks, but 1) Giannis is somehow going to be better than last season, 2) Kyle Korver and Wes Matthews are going to make for some unbelievable Giannis + four shooters lineups, 3) Losing Brogdon could make the Bucks slightly worse, meaning Giannis gets more minutes and thus bigger stats, and 4) they have both Lopez brothers, which is just good television. If Giannis improves in literally any facet of his game, we'll be looking at a nearly unprecedented level of dominance.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Prediction: The T'Wolves desperately try to trade Andrew Wiggins and fail.

Why? It doesn't look good for the Wolves. Andrew Wiggins is turning into one of the worst contracts in NBA history, and the only thing worse than the contract is the "but there's still a chance!" crowd that always pops up. Maybe I'll look dumb about this, but maybe five NBA seasons with virtually no marked improvement in any statistical category or advanced stat is all you need to know. And while that goes on, Karl-Anthony Towns will put up obscene numbers and flirt with the MVP as the Wolves lose 45 games.

New Orleans Pelicans

Prediction: JJ Redick will shoot better from 3Pt than Lonzo Ball will shoot from the free-throw line.

Why? Of course, Zion Williamson is the runaway favorite for the Rookie of the Year, but that's not the only story. JJ Redick is one of the five best shooters ever and Lonzo Ball is a cartoonishly bad free throw shooter. If Redick just goes a hair above his normal level and Ball just a hair below, this is possible!

New York Knicks

Prediction: Mitchell Robinson edges out Myles Turner for blocked shots king of the NBA.

Why? I don't think any team has as wide a difference between best-case and worst-case than the Knicks (injuries notwithstanding). They have about a dozen guys who are on the verge of being good players, and seven rotation players from last season are no longer with the team. They also have notable try-hards in Bobby Portis and Taj Gibson. But the anchor in the middle is going to be Mitchtumbo, swatting shots like a madman. This dude averaged over 4 blocks per 36 minutes as a rookie. He's wild.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Prediction: Steven Adams finally records double-digit rebounds.

Why? Everyone thinks Chris Paul will be traded as soon as possible, but who's gonna trade for Chris Paul and his (approximately) $700 million contract? The Thunder might as well play some games and see what they have, as CP is a legendary pick-and-roll ballhandler to pair with Steven Adams' world-class pick-setting. Those two guys could really do some damage. Furthermore, now that the Thunder won't be just ignoring rebounds to let Russ get his triple-doubles, Adams should see a big jump in boards.

Orlando Magic

Prediction: Mo Bamba AND Markelle Fultz force their way into the rotation.

Why? For the 119th straight season (all numbers approximate) the Magic do not have a top-tier point guard. DJ Augustin is penciled in as the starter, and he's the kind of guy a lazy announcer will call "just a real professional," which is code for "he's not that good but he's also not that bad." The backup plan at PG is none other than Markelle Fultz. The early returns from preseason suggest that Fultz can at least contribute this season. That'll be the #1 story, regardless of whether or not the team makes the playoffs again. Beyond that, Mo Bamba is just too exciting and too fun to keep off the court.

Philadelphia 76ers

Prediction: The Sixers will go on a double-digit win streak.

Why? Embiid, Simmons, Horford, Harris, Richardson is probably the best starting 5 in the NBA. They're a little thin in the frontcourt after the top three, but come on. These guys are good. There will always be health concerns and there will always be hater concerns, but anything short of a strong ECF showing from Philly this season has to be considered a disappointment.

Phoenix Suns

Prediction: This is a really reckless one, but Phoenix will win 35 games!

Why? I definitely don't believe myself, but what the hell? Why not? Ricky Rubio will open things up in a big way for both Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton (I smell a ton of Ayton lobs). Their roster overhaul included some head-scratchers like trading TJ Warren for basically nothing, but Rubio, Aron Baynes, and Dario Saric are all guys that you might think "Hey, OK, that guy deserves to be in the NBA," and that, my friends, is a stark improvement for the Suns. Also, Monty Williams is an extremely well-liked and well-respected coach as far as I can tell, so maybe he moves the needle a few games as well.

Portland Trail Blazers

Prediction: Damian Lillard goes through a major shooting funk, ruining his MVP candidacy, but also shoots 50% from deep over an entire month.

Why? The Blazers survived the Jusuf Nurkic injury thanks to a lot of fill-in bigs and then got rid of basically all of them. No more Al-Farouq Aminu, Meyers Leonard, Enes Kanter, or Moe Harkless. Instead, the questionable decision of acquiring Hassan Whiteside will be relitigated ad nauseum if the season goes sideways for the Blazers. Whether it's fair or not, all of this ends up on Lillard's shoulders. At some point, he'll go cold as the pressure mounts. And then he'll just go buck wild.

Sacramento Kings

Prediction: Buddy Hield scores 25+ per game.

Why? In all likelihood, the Kings improved upon their roster from last season, but doesn't it feel like they overperformed for three months and then settled into the team that they really were? One of the most reliable things a player can have is a shooting stroke, and Buddy's got that. If he keeps launching them, he'll keep scoring. This dude is good. It also seems that the Kings agree, since they inked him to a four year, $86 million contract. 

San Antonio Spurs

Prediction: The same prediction as every year - San Antonio will win 50 games.

Why? What else is there to say about the Spurs? It doesn't matter who is healthy, who is on the roster, or who is sleeping with a teammate's wife. These guys just win more games than the majority of other teams and make the playoffs. They'll be thrilled to have Dejounte Murray back and if he's worth two more wins than last season, that's 50.

Toronto Raptors

Prediction: Serge Ibaka will finish top-5 in the 6th man of the year award voting.

Why? The Raptors obviously lost Kawhi which dropped their ceiling dramatically. Still, people are going bananas over Pascal Siakam. He'll be really good, I think. But Serge Ibaka became Serge Ibaka again last year, and it was a sight to behold. He's barely 30, he's still super athletic with insanely long arms, and if he gets back to his baseline of 35-37% on three-pointers, we could easily see a 16 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks kind of season for an overachieving team.

Utah Jazz

Prediction: Mike Conley finally makes his All-Star team.

Why? Curry, Harden, and Lillard are locks as All-Stars. That leaves two guard positions for the rest of the West. If Westbrook works out how I suspect it'll work out, the real competition will probably be Jrue Holiday, Mike Conley, and maybe D'Angelo Russell. If Conley leads a reloaded Jazz team to a top-2 seed in the first half - which is certainly not out of the question - he could finally get his due reward, even if there's an element of lifetime achievement to it.

Washington Wizards

Prediction: Bradley Beal leads the team in every semi-major statistical category except rebounds.

Why? This team didn't exactly restock the cupboard in the offseason. Beal wants to be there (allegedly), and he played awfully well last season both before and after John Wall went down. This season should see his highest usage rate of his career - I'm expecting him to clear the 30% mark - and a 27/5/6 kind of season is well within reach. He wasn't far off last season and he'll have nothing to lose this time around.

Big Picture/Around the League Predictions

1. There will be a clear-cut favorite by midway through the season. If the Lakers stay healthy, it may be them. The same goes for the Clippers. But I think it will end up being Philadelphia.

2. Joel Embiid will be top-2 in the MVP voting.

3. Deandre Ayton will win the coveted Best Player Named Deandre (Or Some Variation Thereof) Award. He'll edge out the aging Jordan, and the two up-and-coming Hawks - Bembry and Hunter, respectively.

4. The LeBron James/China/Hong Kong thing will not go away as easily as he hopes it will. Also, who had "international human rights conflict in Asia" in their betting pool for LeBron James's first ever notable scandal? I did not see that coming.

5. Larry Nance, Jr. records his first career triple-double in a mostly meaningless game.

6. Luka Doncic flirts with All-NBA as he puts up crazy numbers on an underachieving team.

7. Donovan Mitchell gets more efficient but his raw numbers stay flat - good teammates have that effect.

8. Nobody signs Carmelo Anthony or JR Smith (I love JR Smith so much).

9. Vince Carter's retirement tour is not quite as over-the-top as Dwyane Wade's, but Vince dunks a lot more.

10. There will be a game where both teams score 130+ in four quarters of basketball.

Playoff and Records Predictions

Atlantic division

Philadelphia: 59-23

Boston: 51-31

Toronto: 46-36

Brooklyn: 42-40

New York: 29-53

Central division

Milwaukee: 57-25

Indiana: 44-38

Chicago: 39-43

Detroit: 37-45

Cleveland: 22-60

Southeast division

Miami: 43-39

Orlando: 39-43

Atlanta: 38-44

Washington: 29-53

Charlotte: 21-61

Northwest division

Utah: 55-27

Denver: 54-28

Portland: 45-37

Minnesota: 38-44

Oklahoma City: 33-49

Pacific division

LA Lakers: 54-28

LA Clippers: 52-30

Golden State: 47-35

Sacramento: 40-42

Phoenix: 31-51

Southwest division

Houston: 56-26

San Antonio: 48-34

Dallas: 39-43

New Orleans: 36-46

Memphis: 23-59

Playoffs

East

Round 1: Philly over Chicago. Milwaukee over Brooklyn. Miami over Boston. Indiana over Toronto.

Round 2: Philly over Indiana. Milwaukee over Miami

Round 3: Philly over Milwaukee (my heart hurts typing this)

West

Round 1: Houston over Portland. Utah over Golden State. Denver over San Antonio. Lakers over Clippers

Round 2: Lakers over Houston. Utah over Denver.

Round 3: Utah over Lakers.

Finals: Philly over Utah.

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