THERE will be countless games that ooze value in the coming weeks, but for today, we're going to take a broader look at the league. Predicting a champion before every team has played a single minute of competitive basketball is a fools' errand. However, there's a clear hierarchy atop of both conferences. So let's run with educated guesses.
Easter Conference Champions – Brooklyn Nets (11/4)
Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are the power couple of the Eastern Conference, creating headlines for both the right and wrong reasons in recent weeks. On the court, they're dynamite; that was clear to see against the Warriors on Tuesday night.
The Nets possess a deep roster that contains former All-NBA defensive center DeAndre Jordan, sharpshooters Joe Harris and Landry Shamet, along with my sixth man of the year (more on this later) in Caris LeVert. There's talent on every roster position – enough talent that the drop-off from starting five to bench unit is negligible.
In Mike D'Antoni, the Nets have one of the most decorated coaches in league history, operating as an assistant to legendary point-guard turned coach Steve Nash. This team is structured for immediate success.
Sure, the Milwaukee Bucks are worthy adversaries in the East and will likely face the Nets in the conference finals. Still, until Mike Budenholzer sheds his reputation as a great regular season coach, you can't willingly place your money on the Bucks attending the big dance.
Basketball is fluid, making these early predictions difficult at the best of times. Brooklyn's best players are coming off significant injuries, with Durant playing his first competitive game in 18 months just a few hours ago.
As such, here are some other valuable (and realistic) options to come out of the East.
Both the Bucks and Sixers have high-level talent across their roster, with highly respected coaches within the league. Both teams should be knocking on the door of a conference finals appearance if they can work out some of the kinks that scuppered them last season.
Question marks still hang over Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons's pairing and if they're capable of playing off each other. In contrast, Milwaukee's head coach has a track record of failing to adjust once the playoffs roll around.
The Miami Heat fell short at the NBA bubble's final hurdle, losing the NBA finals to the Lakers. Having re-tooled their roster this year while tying down their core players, the Heat aren't going anywhere anytime soon. Unfortunately, the star quality that other teams in the conference possess makes them an outside bet to repeat their success of last season.
Boston lost their most complete player in free agency, with Gordon Hayward opting to spend the next four years in Charlotte. The Celtics needed to upgrade their perimeter shooting to end last season and add veteran presences in the locker room. Having fulfilled both of those needs, the Celtics should be confident of making another run towards the conference finals – but making past that point is something that continues to allude them.
— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) December 23, 2020
Western Conference – Los Angeles Lakers (7/5)
Covering the NBA, you learn a valuable lesson very quickly: never count out LeBron James. The Lakers forward is a legendary competitor who has continually found ways to sit atop the 450 players within the league.
Pairing LeBron with the heir apparent in Anthony Davis, the Lakers have the most fearsome pick-and-roll duo in the NBA. Scarier still, the purple and gold improved their roster from the one who raised banner 17 just a few months ago.
Bringing in 2020 sixth man of the year in Montrezl Harrell, along with runner-up Dennis Schroder and two-way big man Marc Gasol the Lakers are deep – scary deep.
While the Western Conference is fierce as ever, there is still a gap separating the Lakers and Clippers from the chasing pack. The only difference between these two LA teams, who are both equally deep, is LeBron James.
With James another year older, if you don't feel comfortable banking on his body coping with another rigorous NBA season, here are some other realistic value options.
Other contenders: LA Clippers (11/4)
Both LA teams are like 1a and 1b, with the Clippers occupying that 1b slot. A deep roster top to bottom, containing some legitimate star power in Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. However, their biggest rival happens also to be the best team in the NBA right now, but in over a seven-game series, either team could come out victorious.
The Nuggets were the bubble's cinderella story, shocking the world as they came back from 3-1 down not once but twice to continue their playoff expedition. With another year of internal development, they project to be one of the West's better teams.
The Blazers are arguably the most improved roster coming into the season. Adding Robert Covington game them exceptional defense on the wing, while also convincing future hall of famer Carmelo Anthony to accept a bench role will look like a masterstroke by the end of the season. Portland is my pick as a dark horse, and lead by Dame Lillard with a never-say-die attitude, you could find a value wager here.
Finally, any team with Doncic as their star player deserves consideration as one of the top underdogs. They will need Porzingis to return to health sooner than later if they wish to obtain a favorable seeding for them to challenge the upper echelon of Western Conference teams, though.
Now that we have taken a look at each conference's Crème de la crème, let's dive into the individual player awards. I will provide three options for each of these awards.NBA
1 Luka Doncic (4/1)
2 Anthony Davis (9/1)
3 Giannis Antetokounmpo (9/2)
Rookie of the year
1 Obi Toppin (6/1)
2 Deni Avdija (15/1)
3 James Wiseman (5/1)
Sixth man of the year
1 Caris LeVert (6/1)
2 Lou Williams (7/1)
3 Danilo Gallinari (7/1)
Most Improved Player
1 Jaylen Brown (33/1)
2 Lonzo Ball (33/1)
3 Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (12/1)
Defensive player of the year
1 Anthony Davis (5/2)
2 Rudy Gobert (3/1)
3 Giannis Antetokounmpo (4/1)