Metro’s sports editors in Boston (Matt Burke), Philly (Evan Macy) and New York (Joe Pantorno) made their predictions on which players and teams will reign supreme in the NBA in 2017-18. Basketball is finally back! And here is what to expect this season:
Burke: Celtics. LeBron has one foot out the door to Los Angeles. By losing to the Celtics in East Finals it’ll give him the perfect excuse to bolt to the Lakers next summer. Isaiah Thomas isn’t going to be healthy by New Years’ Day and he no longer has Brad Stevens (who propelled Isaiah from a bench player to a legit All-Star in two years) whispering in his ear.
Macy: Cavaliers. The Celtics-Cavaliers Eastern Conference Finals bout could be an epic 6-or-7 game series, but LeBron James is still in his prime and a healthy supporting cast, even with Kyrie Irving in Boston and not Cleveland, is enough for the Cavs to prevail in a very week East. Isaiah Thomas’ addition and perhaps the space opened up for more Kevin Love love — as well as a not-done-yet Dwyane Wade — life the Cavs again.
Pantorno: Cavaliers. I wish we could just fast-forward to springtime so we can just see this Cavaliers, Celtics Eastern Conference Final matchup. Given Boston’s additions this offseason, I understand how choosing between these two is a toss-up, but I always have a hard time going against LeBron James and an angry Isaiah Thomas.
Burke: Warriors. So long as Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green share the same locker room – they will win the West. I think OKC will be able to snag a game or two from Golden State in the West Finals, but that’s about it.
Macy: Warriors. I wish there was another potential pick. Any other team that could fathomably be selected here. The Rockets will have growing pains, the Spurs are looking like they will drop off and the Thunder — as great a storyline as it would be — have tons to figure out themselves. Maybe 2019 goes another way, buy in June of 2018 Golden State rises above once again.
Pantorno: Warriors. Unless the Western Conference All-Stars decided to join forces and play competitively, no one is withholding the Warriors from the Finals unless injuries hit. The Rockets, Thunder, Spurs and Timberwolves can lurk all they want, but they’re just competing to get to a conference final and lose.
Burke: Warriors over Celtics in 5. Brad Stevens is 2-2 against the Warriors in the past two seasons, but Golden State’s roster remains the best in NBA history. Durant – Curry is the best 1-2 punch of all-time and they’re still relatively young. Unfair.
Macy: Warriors over Cavs in 5. They are probably the best basketball team ever assembled. All we can do is sit back and enjoy.
Pantorno: Warriors over Cavs in 7. Curry, Durant, Thompson, Green, depth. Get ready to see the Larry O’Brien Trophy stay by the bay.
Burke: Kyrie Irving. Irving is this year’s Russell Westbrook in that he needs to prove he can carry a team on his own. His quest to also prove to LeBron that he’s “for real” won’t end with a championship this season, but it will end with the highest individual award you can receive in the sport of basketball.
Macy: LeBron James. I don’t know, I feel like the raw fury that is King James will unleash this season and propel the almost GOAT to his fifth NBA MVP.
Pantorno: Giannis Antetokounmpo. Russell Westbrook has to split touches with Carmelo Anthony and Paul George. LeBron will have to co-exist with IT. James Harden’s offense will be run by Chris Paul. Curry and Durant will continue their symbiotic partnership. But in Milwaukee, the Bucks are Giannis’ team and he has the freakish skill set to carry his team toward the top of the East. Expect 25-plus points, 10-plus rebounds and 6-plus assists per game to edge San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard.
Rookie of the Year
Burke: Lonzo Ball. The Lakers won’t be any good but Ball will make highlight reel passes on a nightly basis. Ben Simmons will be overshadowed by Joel Embiid in Philly. Ditto for Markelle Fultz. And Jayson Tatum’s numbers with the contending Celtics won’t be gaudy enough in his first year to warrant ROY.
Macy: Ben Simmons. This isn’t a homer pick. This is a smart pick. Everyone is overlooking last year’s No. 1 overall pick but the Sixers are an absolutely perfect place for the 6-foot-10 point guard. He has shooters at the wing to dish to in J.J Redick and Robert Covington, he has an insanely talented pick-and-roll mate in Joel Embiid, and he could approach a triple double per game.
Pantorno: Dennis Smith Jr. The Dallas Mavericks point guard can score from anywhere on the floor and has the hops to dominate Twitter with rim-shattering dunks. With Seth Curry sidelined, the Mavs’ offense is all his. He’ll just edge Ben Simmons for the award.
Burke: Charlotte Hornets. Kemba Walker’s points per game totals have climbed each of the past three seasons and he’s just now entering his prime at the age of 27. Malik Monk was a sneaky good draft pick for Michael Jordan. Expect the Hornets to get a four seed in the ugly East.
Macy: Timberwolves. I would love to pick the Sixers here — and I still expect them to slide into the playoffs in a weak eastern conference, but the T-Wolves are the squad I expect to burst onto the scene as a real contender in the next couple years. That includes them taking the Warriors to seven games in the second round out west. You heard me. The influx of Jimmy Butler into a core with huge upside will make this the best team in Minnesota since Kevin Garnett left.
Pantorno: Utah Jazz. Given how strong the Western Conference is, the surprise would be that the Jazz makes the playoffs and win a round. Looking at the roster, it’s difficult to think that given the loss of Gordon Hayward and replacing George Hill with Ricky Rubio. But defense still means something to me and the Jazz are expected to provide a stifling brand of it. Rudy Gobert is at the center of all this and I could expect him to give Leonard a run for his money for Defensive Player of the Year award.