The NBA season is back, and that also means the TDS Tuesday 5-on-5 roundtable is back as well.
For our return to the roundtable, we are discussing the NBA as a whole and its biggest storylines for the season.
Be sure to follow the panelists on Twitter and to chime in on the conversation in the comments below.
This week, our panelists include Jeremy Brener (JB), Darren Yuvan (DY), Xian E (XE), Max Croes (MC), and special guest panelist Ethan Rothstein (ER). Thank you for joining us for the discussion, Ethan.
1. What storyline excites you the most in this upcoming season?
Jeremy Brener (@JeremyBrener): The Lakers-Celtics rivalry will be renewed. Basketball’s best rivalry is back thanks to LeBron heading out west to Los Angeles and Boston will be back thanks to the healing of Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving. Watch out for Boston too. They are going to be a force in the East and I expect them to run the table. I’m excited to see what Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown bring to the table in Year 2 and Year 3, respectively. That will be a Top 5 team to watch for sure.
Darren Yuvan (@DarrenYuvan): Definitely Carmelo Anthony. The Rockets have been making a living in recent years about proving people wrong. Can’t play defense? How about a top-10 finish last year. Only one ball for Chris Paul and James Harden? How about beautiful music and an MVP season for The Beard. Mike D’Antoni will never work in H-town? How about a franchise-best 65 win season. Houston’s heard plenty of criticism with the signing of Melo, but he’s shown some shades in the preseason of what kind of fit he’s going to be, and there’s a real chance it could be a good one. I’d love to see the Rockets prove the doubters wrong one more time, so I’ll definitely be rooting for Melo, even though I wasn’t previously a big fan of his.
Xian E (@xiane1): The storyline that most excites me is finding out whether the Rockets can overcome the Warriors. I’m not entirely sure why this isn’t the lead storyline for the whole NBA. It should be the story of two giants slugging it out. However, there’s a funny phenomenon, and there’s no doubt a specific German word to describe it, that more or less works thus: “If one team defeats another, no matter the circumstances, no matter how close, we must regard the winner as having total dominance.” The NBA is especially susceptible to this phenomenon, and the shiny new thing is Laker Lebron, and the Rockets get 15 wins shaved off their previous season’s total, mostly so pundits can avoid the storyline I advocate.
Max Croes (@CroesFire): The best storyline will be the integration of Carmelo Anthony. It could work. It could fail. Success requires Melo to accept a new stage of his career just one year removed from his refusal to do so.
Ethan Rothstein (@ethanrothstein): I can’t help but be sucked into watching LeBron on the Lakers. The handful of minutes I watched in the preseason were fascinating. Whereas before, LeBron orchestrated an offense where he passed to shooters, now he’s playing with a bunch of dudes who are afraid to let it fly. They’ll probably average more passes per game than any team in the league, and with a few special passers, that should be fun to watch. They smell like a team who’s going to be in a lot of close games, might not win more than they lose, but will be very compelling to watch. I will just have to stay off Twitter when I do.
2. What rookie are you most excited to watch play?
JB: Probably Trae Young just because he’s probably the closest thing we have seen to Stephen Curry since Steph entered the league. And as a Rockets fan, I have been programmed to despise Steph despite the beautiful basketball he presents to the table. Young will give me the chance to appreciate that type of game again.
DY: I can’t wait to see Deandre Ayton. I love watching young big men in their development, and at this admittedly early stage, Ayton looks like he has the goods. He averaged 17 and 8 in the preseason, and if he can duplicate those numbers in the regular season, the league will have a nice cadre of young big men making an impact across the Association. The Suns aren’t going to be very good, but Ayton will make them worth watching.
XE: I’m most interested to watch two rookies who will probably be forever linked in Luca Doncic and Trae Young. There are all sorts of comps thrown around for Doncic, and worries about his athleticism. My observation is that if you really know how to play, and are “athletic enough” that’s sufficient. The Mavs other famous Euro player isn’t all that athletic either. As for a comp on Doncic, let’s be crazy and instead of the obvious Larry Bird typecasting, let’s try 6’7” Chris Paul. That’s the peak. The valley is probably 6’7” Andre Miller.
Trae Young is a player who will get a verdict handed in on him rather quickly, way too soon, even though he’s young in more than name. I think he’s the player everyone seemed to think Lonzo Ball was last season, and Lonzo Ball might be Rajon Rondo without the shooting or ability to attack the rim, and terrible health. Young’s biggest skill set is probably his handle and passing, and more than his shooting, I think it will define his career. But he’s really testing the Curry envelop of how slight is too slight to play in the NBA.
MC: Luka Doncic. He’s the most accomplished European player to come over to the NBA since Ricky Rubio, he’s 19 freaking years old and he went third in the draft! How many times have players been overlooked because of a specific athletic deficiency only to impress? Houston’s rookies won’t be seeing the court much, so I’ll be watching Doncic.
ER: It’s got to be Luka Doncic. Anyone who specializes in passing and ball-handling on the fast break is bound to lead to some spectacular highlights. It pains me dearly that he is on the Mavericks, but this season they shouldn’t be much of a threat, so I will take one year to enjoy the flair with which he plays basketball before I make the full turn into rooting against him until he’s old and creaky and lovable like Dirk.
3. What will be the biggest surprise in the league this season?
JB: The biggest surprise will be that the Lakers won’t be as good as everyone thinks they will be. Just because LeBron joins a 30-win team does not make them elite. The Lakers need a year or two to develop and another piece before we can even consider them to be close to the powers in the West that reside in Houston and the Bay Area.
DY: The Golden State Warriors finally get bit by the injury bug. Don’t let the Dubs homers cry about Andre Iguodala. They’ve had incredible injury luck these last several seasons. That’s about to end. One or more of their stars goes down for an extended period, and the team’s simply not hitting on all cylinders when the post season approaches and eventually get bounced by Houston.
XE: Just how good both the Pelicans and Bucks will be. The Pelicans roster almost works now, and Anthony Davis is a real MVP candidate. The Bucks have a good roster, another MVP candidate and a good coach. I have them for 3rd in the East, and the Pelicans for 4th in the West.
MC: Giannis Antetokounmpo wins the MVP and the Bucks finish second in the Eastern Conference. Nobody will notice though, because they play in Milwaukee and the national media would rather write about Kyle Kuzma’s hangnail than successes outside their field of vision. Speaking of which...
ER: The Warriors won’t reach 60 wins for the second straight year. Draymond Green is hurting and they’re already discussing a minutes restriction for him. He has long been the defensive engine that the team has needed. With anywhere less than like 80% of him and no Boogie to start the season, plus another year on Iguodala and Livingston’s legs, this team will feel mortal entering the playoffs. They have enjoyed incredible lucky timing on injuries over their run, recovering from all of them before May. Maybe this will be the year that streak ends.
4. What will be the biggest disappointment in the league this season?
JB: The biggest disappointment is that even with all of this exciting basketball going on, we all know that this season ends with a Warriors championship. It’s like binge watching your favorite Netflix show again and again. You still watch it because you love it, but you are disappointed when the plot fails to change.
DY: The Lakers. They’re being propped up by some as one of the West’s top teams, and I know they have LeBron James, but this isn’t the Eastern Conference, and the sledding is going to be considerably tougher. They might squeak in the back half of the playoffs, at best.
XE: OKC. This is the same team that didn’t do much last year, with the addition of more injuries to key players and a guy that Atlanta ate Carmelo Anthony’s contract to shed. Yes, Atlanta drafted Trae Young, with Dennis Schroeder in the fold, which is a data point. I can’t determine whether Schroeder has been charged with felony aggravated battery, or misdemeanor, but the case is apparently still pending, which is another data point. Schroeder was awful and inefficient last season, which mesh well in OKC’s notional offense, in another data point. Whatever the case, he’s bound to be an absolute perfect fit with Westbrook. That was their big offseason addition. All this is not that big a disappointment to me, honestly, but it will upset a lot of media people.
MC: We will be choked to death with Lakers news everyday... when they’ll probably finish 5-8 in the Western Conference.
ER: The bottom of the Eastern Conference. I think spots 5-10 in both conferences will be a starker contrast than years past, and start to cause some real PR problems for the league. It’s not hard to imagine more than one sub-40-win team from the East making it and two 48-win teams from the west missing. I think spots 1-4 will be roughly even, for once, but beyond that it’s going to get ugly.
5. Give me your way-too-early Finals prediction.
JB: Warriors in 5 over the Celtics.
DY: Rockets versus Celtics in a rematch of the 1986 NBA Finals, only this time, the Rockets return the favor and win 4-2.
XE: The devil finally gets his due from the Warriors. Kawhi develops yet another intractable and mysterious injury when he realizes Toronto in January isn’t like Toronto in August, sinking the Raptors. Philly isn’t ready and Boston romps to the Finals. Rockets versus Celtics. Rockets in six.
MC: Warriors vs. Celtics -- Warriors win 4-2
ER: I do think the Warriors will weather a tough regular season to put it together for the playoffs again. Ultimately, they have Curry, Durant and Klay, and no one else does. Warriors over Celtics.