Welcome to the fifth of the Corner Three 2019-2020 NBA division-by-division season previews. In each of these previews, we use RJ Garcia’s player-by-player ratings (based on on/off metrics and career trajectory) and per-game minutes projections (taking into account potential minutes lost to injury) to project overall team quality for the upcoming season. RJ and Derek Reifer also provide their own analyses and commentary to provide any context and additional insights.
If you’ve been following the NBA Draft this year at all, you’ve heard countless times that this is a weak one outside of the top two, or maybe three, guys – depending on which expert you happen to be reading at the time. This prevailing thought is true, however, most NBA fans don’t seem to be realizing the ramifications of just how weak it is.
On July 2nd, the NBA world was shaken by the addition of DeMarcus Cousins to the Warriors for the taxpayer mid-level exception, $5.3 million. Fans of the league were rattled by the idea that the player some deem to be the best center in the league is joining what is already a dynasty in Golden State. Cousins told Marc Spears of The Undefeated that no other teams had made him an offer – this statement was disputed by some members of the Pelicans’ media, but it seems that regardless of where in the middle the truth lies, there was no big offer out there for Boogie. So instead of taking the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, or some other deal that he deemed to be below his true value, Cousins decided to give up money to join the best team in the league.
Russell Westbrook will never win an NBA title.
As takes go, this might be more mild than you first think. Westbrook is going to be 30 years old this season and the Golden State Warriors’ juggernaut continues to power on, in another Conference Finals, and with rumors of a Klay Thompson extension, showing they are prepared to plow into the luxury tax. Westbrook, though, will likely be in the top five of MVP voting once again, and is one of two players to ever average a triple double in a season (he’s now done it twice). He is a fascinating, polarizing character who challenges what the goals and expectations for an NBA team are supposed to be, and whether fans and front offices have prioritized their values in the “correct” way. What is the correct way?
The Toronto Raptors have won at least 48 games in each of the past four seasons, and barring catastrophe, this will be their fifth. They currently hold the top spot in the Eastern Conference, sitting 2 games above the second-place Celtics and a whopping 9 games above the third-place Cavaliers. They’re 9-1 in their past 10 games. Despite all of these easy to access, and perhaps even well-known, facts, they are not taken seriously. Why?
Though it’s finally over, the Golden State Warriors’ winning streak was the talk of the NBA during its run, and why not? The dominance of the Warriors has been more than apparent this season. Their already-defending-MVP Stephen Curry has been by far the best player in the Association this season, contributing over 1.5 wins more than the next best player in our WAR rankings. Golden State is 24-1 with an average point differential of +13.1, and there’s no doubting the already-defending-champions have been the NBA’s best team, but by how much?
The Houston Rockets have had a tough start to their season at 0-3, and haven’t been all that impressive in any of the games. Is it a huge cause for concern?
Tuesday night, Knicks fans across America sighed (or screamed) at the same time, when it was announced their projected-2nd draft pick would actually be 4th – making them the only team in the lottery to actually lose ground. Missing out on the two consensus top-pick big men in Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor is a tough pill to swallow, especially when the Knicks won’t get their first choice of a consolation prize, but there is plenty of reason for looking up in New York this offseason.
Rivalry renewed? LeBron and the Celtics have had many a playoff run-in, including his last few games as a Cavalier (the first time). However, this time doesn’t feel quite the same, with Rondo, Allen, Pierce, and Garnett all gone. These new Celtics, though, are nothing to sneeze at, and will have a chip on their collective shoulder in an effort to spoil Cleveland’s renaissance season.
Around the midpoint of another exciting NBA season, there’s already buzz about candidates for the league’s most valuable player, and why not: for only the second time since 2009 (Derrick Rose, though he probably didn’t deserve it), the winner is likely to be someone not named LeBron James or Kevin Durant. With injury problems for both superstars alongside disappointing records (though the Cavs have turned things around of late), other, younger stars have entered the spotlight in bidding to be recognized with the NBA’s most prestigious individual award. Let’s break down how the top candidates stack up, and take a look at who’s most deserving of the award as of this point in the season.