Finally, the 71st NBA season is upon us and we can tuck into some action.
Some are forecasting one of the more predictable campaigns in a long time and tipping the Golden State Warriors as sure things for the NBA Championship. The bookmakers are in agreement with Golden State favorites through bet365 NBA betting odds of 5/6 and it’s hard to envision any other team lifting the Larry O’Brien Trophy at the end of the season.
That’s what happens when you sign a six-time All-NBA Selection and four-time single-season scoring leader in Kevin Durant.
Those in the know will also tell you that LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers will make it to a third straight Finals this season and it’s difficult to argue with that assessment. Forecasting an outcome other than the Golden State Warriors contesting the NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers is therefore a fool’s errand, but there are a couple of teams capable of springing a surprise or two.
Minnesota showed that they are capable of pulling off a huge upset when they were the only team in the West to defeat the Warriors at the Oracle Arena in the regular season.
They possess last season’s NBA Rookie of the Year and superstar in the making in Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns brings the whole package and many an NBA General Manager would start a franchise with the 7 foot Dominican-American Centre. With Towns is a nucleus of young talent in the form of Andrew Wiggins, Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine.
After an impressive rookie season, Wiggins made good progress last campaign with modest improvements in his assist and free throw rates. He has work to do this season however, particularly in his defensive awareness, but he could make a large leap and be a critical player for the Timberwolves.
There is some trepidation about what the Wolves can expect from Kris Dunn and moving forward he’ll need to be less reckless and improve his decision-making. Yet Dunn possesses all the tools for a standout campaign as point guard with a blend of speed, power and agility.
Zach LaVine bounced back from a terrible rookie season last time out and much will depend on how new boss Tom Thibodeau utilizes the athleticism LaVine offers. Playing in a position he’s comfortable at, he could become a potent scorer and give the Timberwolves some much-needed pace in the side.
Ultimately Minnesota hasn’t had a winning season since 2004-05 and no matter how scintillating their youngsters are, it’s all just potential and they are missing some vital ingredients to make a Championship season. Yet with Thibodeau coming in you’d expect a much-improved defense and just maybe a run at the Championship.
The Jazz should have been a playoff team last year, but injuries and a few under performing individuals meant it wasn’t to be. The Salt Lakers look much healthier coming into this season and should be better equipped to handle any injuries that do occur.
Most opponents will find it tough to deal with the top-notch frontcourt duo of Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert. Favors has been quiet of late but continues to start as Power Forward, although the Jazz has him on a minute limit. Once he’s fully recovered from his IT Band syndrome he should get more time and gradually start to perform to his full potential.
Gobert has recently signed a multiyear extension to remain with the Jazz as a reward for developing into one of the top defenders in the league over the last couple of years. His career average of 2.0 blocks per game ranks him in 3rd best in the club’s history behind Mark Eaton and Andrei Kirilenko and has made the Jazz defense one of the best in the league.
Combined with Gordon Hayward’s imminent return and a possible breakout season from Australian Dante Exum, there are signs that this could be a good season for Utah. After four years of missing the playoffs, some wise drafting and some better luck with injuries could well see Quin Snyder’s Utah Jazz into the playoffs.