By Max Feldman
With the opening week of the NBA 2019-2020 coming to an end, it is FOG chance to make the future less FOGGY. After about 6 games for each team, we’ve seen surprise Rookie’s, second year players showing signs of massive improvement as well as disappointing roles for high potential young players. Here’s how we see the season panning out come Playoff time in mid-April.
1. Los Angeles Clippers
The depth and surrounding cast for Doc Rivers has been the highlight thus far. Kawhi has begun the season right where he left off with the Raptors. Lou Williams continues to bring an offensive burst off the bench combined with a collection of diverse big men. Likely to be the best defensive team in the league, the Clips await reigning First Team All NBA and MVP candidate, Paul George.
2. Denver Nuggets
Perhaps the best young team in the league, the Nuggets are off to a quick 4-2 start. FOG’s favorite for MVP, Nikola Jokic, has not shot the ball at the volume many expected but leads the team in assists and rebounds. With incredibly strong wing depth and the emergence of potential ROY, Michael Porter Jr, the Nuggets have a ton of versatility and bring about difficult matchup problems to any opponent.
3. Los Angeles Lakers
With LeBron James finally playing alongside another superstar in Anthony Davis, the Lakers have won 5 straight games since opening night. AD was the Western Conference Player of the Week after a historic 40 point, 20 board game. The Lakers will dip from the top of the West if they do not acquire more rotational talent as the deadline approaches.
4. Portland Trailblazers
The Blazers have been on the brink of emerging from the West for the past few seasons, and look to finally crack the code in 2019-2020. Dame and CJ are both averaging above 20 points per game through 6 games, but the issue lays in the front court. Zach Collins shoulder injury after three games along with an already bare depth chart might force the hand of General Manager, Neil Olshey, to make a move to contend in the stretch run.
5. Houston Rockets
The Harden and Westbrook reunion in Houston has gotten off to an intriguing start. Surprising to none, the Rockets are leading the league with 121 points per game but currently stand at 3-3. The rotation is a work in progress, potentially missing another wing piece, but Houston will go as far as Russell and James take them. Middle of the pack is our prediction.
6. Dallas Mavericks
The Doncic and Porzingis era has started off strong, jumping out to a 4-2 start. Doncic is averaging nearly a triple double, thus far adding up to 7 career triple doubles, a record for a player under 21. Porzingis is up above 20 points per game, but depth wise there is a large fall off. Doncic and Porzingis are as good as a young duo that we have in the league, but the Mavericks need more bench spark and frontcourt productivity to rise up the competitive Western conference.
7. San Antonio Spurs
A shock to no one, Gregg Popovich and the Spurs are proving to be one of the leagues most efficient teams without any All-Stars leading to a 4-2 start. Dejounte Murray has been the story leading the team in rebounds and assists, looking to cement his role as one of the most versatile and promising young point guards in the NBA coming off of an ACL tear. The Spurs have an underrated young core and strong depth, the question will be is it enough to compete with the Superstar heavy franchises in the West.
8. Utah Jazz
The acquisition of Mike Conley from the Grizzlies was the offseason storyline, and the move has not necessarily proved its worth yet. On the bright side, Donovan Mitchell looks to be an All-Star in his 3rd NBA season. One of FOG’s favorite going into the 2017 NBA Draft, his development looks to be the ceiling and floor of the organization. Scoring options are limited in Utah, specifically within the reserves.
1. Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers are the clear cut elite team in the East. Currently standing undefeated at 5-0, the offseason acquisitions and transactions look to be gelling from the jump. Facing little to no resistance in the weaker Eastern Conference, the Ben Simmons led Sixers look to outrun and create matchup problems for the entire NBA. With no shortage of defensive stoppers in the front and backcourt, Philly will go as far as their offensive output takes them.
2. Milwaukee Bucks
Not much has changed for the Bucks from last season, jumping out to a 4-2 start. A repeat MVP for Giannis is not out of the question with little offensive productivity outside of the 6 foot 11 multi- dimensional, two-way Superstar. Still in need for more shooting on the perimeter, look for the Bucks front office to make some deals as the deadline approaches.
3. Miami Heat
The surprise of the season thus far, and FOG does think it is a fluke. The previously lottery-projected Heat stand at 5-1. No All Stars, but Miami will wear out opponents with depth, versatility and athleticism all season long. Former NBA reject and 24 year old rookie, Kendrick Nunn, has caught the entire NBA’s attention. Tyler Herro looks to be the steal of the 2019 NBA Draft as we projected. The Heat currently have 7 players averaging double figure points. The Miami Heat figure to one of the most enticing storylines as the season plays out under popularly criticized head coach, Erik Spoelstra.
4. Boston Celtics
The new look Celtics look revitalized in 2019. Kemba Walker has proved to be a less noisy, better leader and debatably more talented offensive catalyst than Kyrie Irving was. The 4-1 Celtics look to get their young core back on their high trajectory paths after a mass extension for Jaylen Brown and more opportunity for Jayson Tatum. Front court depth and the offensive weight on Tatum and Brown are the questions moving forward in Boston.
5. Brooklyn Nets
The new look Nets have stumbled out to a 2-4 start but there is promise this season without offseason prize, Kevin Durant, who will sit out 2019-2020 rehabbing his Achilles. Brooklyn has lost two games in overtime and another to Detroit by just 4 points. Strong depth, shooting and shot blocking will elevate the Nets to the middle of the Eastern conference, if not even higher. The consistent development of the versatile guard Caris Levert, the continued productivity of newly acquired Taurean Prince and the efficiency of 6th man Spencer Dinwiddie will be the story line of how far the Brooklyn Nets will go, outside of the league’s best ball handler, Kyrie Irving, of course.
6. Toronto Raptors
The reigning NBA champions have a lot of questions to answer this season. The Leonard-less Raps have gotten out to a 4-2 start behind 26 points per game from budding Superstar and newly extended, Pascal Siakam. Offensive productivity and consistency will be the season long concerns, and it will be interesting to see if Masai Ujiri, one of the NBA’s best GM’s, will make a move to package out veteran and captain Kyle Lowry in the final season of his contract to bring in more offensive power. Defense is the name of the game in Toronto, but will fall to the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff standings when they can’t score enough points.
7. Orlando Magic
The Magic stand at 2-4, and just as expected offense is the concern. Orlando will creep into the playoff talk due to strong defense and a weak conference, but they are on thin ice with little to no shooting and no go-to option. Markelle Fultz is the headliner, but Jonathon Isaac and Mo Bamba have a lot to prove as former lottery selections in their 3rd and 2nd season respectively. The question will be if the Magic front office look to package Aaron Gordon and other young players to acquire an established veteran scorer or sit still and battle for a low playoff spot.
8. Atlanta Hawks
Rounding out the Eastern Conference is the mightily promising Hawks. No team has more of a potential rise or fall in their final standing than Atlanta. Depth and youth are major questions, but Trae Young is looking to capitalize on his rookie campaign and reach All-Star status. The Hawks will need one of their 2019 lottery selections, DeAndre Hunter or Cam Reddish, to develop into a consistent offensive option to stack up wins. If John Collins can continue to develop as a versatile pick/roll, rebounding big man and Kevin Huerter as a three level scorer with consistency, the Hawks might surprise some people.