By Grant Jackson & Ashton Chugh, October 6 2015 —
With the NBA season tipping off this month, the Gauntlet gives their two cents on how it will all shake out:
Where do you see the Toronto Raptors finishing this season?
Grant Jackson: The Raptors will likely play a very different style this year due to new additions on their roster, but the results will be the same. Toronto improved their starting five by adding DeMarre Carroll, but it came at the cost of their bench. It remains to be seen if any of the players coming off the pine for the Raptors will be able to replicate the one-two offensive punch that departing players Lou Williams and Greivis Vasqeuz brought last season. Toronto looks like a better defensive team this season, but their depth issues will most likely prevent them from advancing past the first round of the playoffs.
Ashton Chugh: The Raptors were anything but consistent last season, but they still made the playoffs. Last season’s 26th-ranked defence was a sore point and the Raptors soft defensive play in their first-round playoff matchup against the Washington Wizards bounced them from the playoffs. They’ve remedied these holes on defence with the additions of Bismack Biyombo, DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph. Additionally, the club signed Canadian Anthony Bennett, who hasn’t yet lived up to the expectations of being a first-overall draft pick. But Bennett has talent, and playing in his hometown may be the spark he needs to prove himself. These new additions, combined with the fact that Toronto is playing in a weak Eastern Conference, could mean the Raptors make it out of the first round for the first time since the 2000–01.
Who will win the NBA Championship?
GJ: The San Antonio Spurs will win the NBA title this year. Tim Duncan may be 39 years old, but the Spurs have managed his minutes brilliantly over the last couple years and he looks as good as ever. The same goes for Spurs legends Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, who are both effective despite their age. The Spurs re-signed their two most important free agents this summer — three-point specialist Danny Green and last year’s Defensive Player of the Year, Kawhi Leonard. They also continued their perfect offseason by signing David West from Indiana, and LaMarcus Aldridge — the prize of free-agency. Aldridge is a top-10 NBA talent who will bring versatility to the Spurs’ unstoppable offence.
AC: The Golden State Warriors decimated their competition throughout the entirety of the 2014–15 season, en route to a franchise-best 67–15 record and the NBA championship. They are clearly the favourites this year after replacing the injury prone David Lee with the much more durable Jason Thompson.
However, no team is ever a sure thing in the Western Conference, and the Warriors will face stiff competition from the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder. Historically, teams that remained dominant over time were those that excelled in their team chemistry. The Warriors demonstrated the strength of that chemistry after they crushed LeBron James and company in last year’s NBA Finals, proving once again that a cohesive team unit always goes further than a skilled one. Because of this, they remain the 2015–16 favourites.
Who will be the NBA MVP?
GJ: As it should every year, this year’s MVP award will belong to Cleveland’s LeBron James. LeBron hasn’t won an MVP since the 2012–13 season, despite being unanimously regarded as the most talented player in the NBA. Part of LeBron’s two year MVP drought has been due to voter fatigue. Everyone knows he is the best, and voters get tired of watching the same guy win the top award every year. But LeBron remains one of the best in NBA history. After losing in the Finals last season, he’ll be looking to put together a season so dominant that no one will be able to justify casting ballots for anyone else.
AC: Last year’s winner, Stephen Curry, snatched up the MVP title after leading the Warriors to an astounding record and a championship. It was no fluke, as Curry remains one of the top shooters in NBA history. He’s my pick for MVP this year as well. After setting a postseason record for three-pointers made (98), Curry proved that he’s not fazed by the pressure of being the go-to guy. The Golden State Warriors will be the best team in the NBA again, and Curry will be the back-to-back MVP.
Who will be the NBA’s top scorer?
GJ: Anthony Davis is a young superstar whose upward trajectory has been a joy to watch. Davis carried his New Orleans Pelicans to the playoffs last season seemingly by himself, but he should have more help surrounding him this year. The Pelicans have added head coach Alvin Gentry — the mastermind behind the Golden State Warriors championship offence last season. Gentry has pledged to have the Pelicans play a much faster style of basketball this year, which should yield a lot more shots. Davis averaged 24.4 points-per-game last season, and playing in a new high tempo offensive scheme should add another 10 points per game to his totals. That bump should be enough to easily lead the league in scoring.
AC: If he’s healthy, Kevin Durant will be the league’s top scorer. Last year’s champ, Russell Westbrook, racked up 28.1 points-per-game because he was the only physically-able player that could consistently get buckets left on an injury-ridden Oklahoma City team. Durant was the youngest ever to win the NBA scoring title at the age of 19, and has the most scoring titles (4) since all-time legend Michael Jordan (10). After suffering a plethora of injuries throughout last year’s campaign, Durant will be motivated to prove he’s still the best scorer in the NBA.
Who do you think will be the league’s biggest breakout player this season?
GJ: Rudy Gobert made a lot of noise for his defensive prowess midway through last season when he assumed the Utah Jazz’s starting centre role after Enes Kanter was traded. Gobert is 7’2, but has a mind-boggling 7’7 wingspan. He flashed elite shot-blocking ability last season, and has all the tools to be a defensive force for years to come. Gobert’s new beefed up physique should allow him to assert his will on opposing big-men around the league. Now that Gobert is the Jazz’s full-time starting centre, and a focal point for the squad, this season will be his chance to establish himself among the NBA’s elite.
AC: Last year’s rookie of the year, Canadian star Andrew Wiggins, claims he’s improved every area of his game over the offseason. Evidence for Wiggins’ potential comes from his play for Team Canada at the FIBA Americas Championships this summer. Wiggins showed he has the ability to dominate a basketball game, and has improved his ability to handle and shoot the ball. This season, Wiggins may see some time in the power forward position. Also, after his Minnesota Timberwolves picked up another young talent in Karl-Anthony Towns, Wiggins won’t face as much defensive pressure in the front court from opposing teams, as they will be forced to distribute their efforts more equally. Wiggins will benefit from not being the opposing team’s main defensive concern, and will put up career-best numbers.
A few big names will suit up for new teams this season – which new acquisition will have the biggest impact?
GJ: It’s not every day you can grab a top-10 NBA talent in free agency, but the San Antonio Spurs did just that when they signed LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge is the future of the Spurs, and one of this season’s top priorities will be making him the focal point of what promises to be a potent offence. Spurs’ head coach Gregg Popovich will make magic happen now that Aldridge is in the fold, and adding the superstar power forward essentially guarantees the Spurs’ decades-long dynasty will continue.
AC: LaMarcus Aldridge’s move to the San Antonio Spurs immediately makes them a championship contender. Aldridge will have to get used to not touching the ball as often as he did in Portland, but he knows he’s been afforded an opportunity for greatness with the Spurs, who have five division titles and two championships in the last nine years. Aldridge will surely relish being a part of San Antonio’s winning pedigree, and should allow the team to continue their successful run.