Over four months have passed since the Denver Nuggets defeated the Miami Heat to claim the franchise’s first NBA Championship.
Tonight, a new season is upon us. With it comes a host of questions — will the Nuggets retain their crown? who will challenge them? 1,230 regular season games, an inaugural in-season tournament, and the operatic drama of playoff basketball separate us from definitive answers to these all-important conundrums.
The Nuggets on their 2023 Championship Parade / Milosgr97 via WikiMedia Commons
For the impatient, our basketball writers are here to answer those questions in advance.
Most Valuable Player
Emile: Since 2019, overseas bigs have claimed the MVP. This will be the year an American reclaims the award. Jayson Tatum became the first Boston Celtic ever to average 30 Points Per Game last year. This season, the Celtics will be a top two seed in the East and Tatum will be their best player. Sounds like the MVP to me…
Eduardo: Emile is spot on. I can’t pick out anyone else whose team will have a league-challenging record whilst being a clear leader. Despite the ‘two Jays’ being a formidable duo, it is Tatum, not Brown, who can shut down teams with a 51 point performance, as he did in game seven against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Tatum in action for the Celtics
Jonny: Tatum may be great, but few players have weaved their way into the NBA’s superstar class as seamlessly as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Much as SGA sneaks through opposition defences, the Thunder will steal their way to a top-four seed. SGA will collect his MVP right as the Thunder get bounced in the first round.
Òscar: Actually, it’s Luka Doncic’s time to win the MVP. Having averaged 32.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 8 assists in a stellar 22/23 campaign, this will be the year that the perennial favourite finally claims the award.
Ones to Watch
Emile: Brooklyn Bridges is the one to watch. In Phoenix, Mikal was a role player but now he’s Brooklyn’s Batman. They put the ball in his hands and he hasn’t looked back. 26.1 PPG since the trade and a career-high 45 points against the Eastern Conference champions Miami Heat. He’s a swiss army knife, an elite defender who can score at all 3 levels.
Eduardo: Light the Beam! The young Sacramento Kings took the Golden State Warriors all the way to a game seven in 2022/23 and I can see their record-setting offence exacting vengeance this year. De’Aaron Fox, with ice in his veins, will be key.
De’Aaron Fox won the inaugural Clutch Player of the Year award
Jonny: Anfernee Simons will wreak havoc as he inherits the keys to the Trailblazer’s offence. The departed Damian Lillard hoisted 658 three-point attempts last season, while Simons managed 562. Will Simons attempt 1,220 trebles in Lillard’s absence? Probably not. Do I want to see him try? Absolutely.
Òscar: Anthony Edwards has the mentality and the talent to become one of the best players in the league. Last year, he averaged over 30 PPG in the post-season at just 21 years of age. This time out, Edwards will make the leap from entertainer to bonafide superstar.
Best in the East
Emile: This is quite simple, it’s the Milwaukee Bucks. Logo Lillard meets Greek Freak. NBA coaches will have sleepless nights: do you double Dame on the perimeter and allow Giannis to drive downhill? Or do you collapse the defence and let Dame pull up from 3? Pick your poison, they’re as deadly as each other.
Jonny: Emile is right. The league should fear the deer. Pairing Lillard and Antetokounmpo, the Milwaukee Bucks will put on the best deer show since Bambi in 1942.
Giannis Antetokounmpo drives downhill
Eduardo: I’m going left-field with the Philadelphia 76ers. Despite the Harden trade rumours, they have had the least drastic transformation of all the contending teams, meaning less teething time needed. Still, they will crumble in the play-offs and lose to the Boston Celtics as per usual.
Òscar: Speaking of the Celtics, they’re my pick to conquer the East. Having added Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis to the ‘two Jays,’ no team can match them in the East, not even the Bucks.
Best in the West
Jonny: The astute choice here is the Nuggets, but that’s no fun. Instead, I’m backing the mad scientists at Golden State. Chris Paul and Steph Curry will not just coexist — they will thrive. This strange chemical formula will produce a surprising equilibrium and the Warriors will claim top seed.
Òscar: Like Jonny says, the easy choice is the Nuggets, but let’s make it interesting. The Phoenix Suns have the new best trio in the NBA: Devin Booker, Bradley Beal and Kevin Durant. The problem for NBA defences is clear. “You can’t guard all of us at once,” warns Durant. This is gonna be scary!
"You can't guard all of us at once."
Kevin Durant on the Suns' new big 3 of himself, Bradley Beal and Devin Booker 👀
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPoints) October 18, 2023
Emile: Showtime. The Lakers. They had the best record in the West after the trade deadline last year. They’ve retained all their core pieces and added Christian Wood and Jaxson Hayes to ease the pressure on Anthony Davis. They’ve got continuity, size, shooting, depth, and Lebron James.
Eduardo: I’m taking the defending champion Nuggets, who swept Emile’s Lakers last year. Confidence will only increase after their first ever NBA championship. Nikola Jokic will continue to bemuse defences, whilst his supporting cast of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr. will keep flourishing. Don’t get me started on Jamal Murray, give the man his props!
In-Season Tournament Winners
Eduardo: It’s between the New York Knicks and the Miami Heat for me. Firstly, because these two franchises will care about such a competition. Secondly, there is more chance of them doing so in single-elimination games than a seven-game series. The Knicks need the win more, so I’ll pick them.
Emile: Contending teams will likely rest players and load manage during the tournament, so I would rule them out immediately. But no one gets away with load management under Pat Riley and Erik Spoeltra’s watch. Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat will lift the first NBA Cup.
Òscar: How much NBA fans and players value winning this tournament remains to be seen. That being said, I am going to bet on a young team winning, because I think NBA contenders will rest their stars. The Atlanta Hawks, led by Trae Young, are going to win it.
Jonny: The NBA’s newest honour will be awarded to the league’s oldest practitioner: Lebron James. His Lakers unit only lack the consistency to win a championship and the 38 year-old will covet a new title for his trophy cabinet.
Eduardo: The Nuggets are running it back. No one can match their ball-movement and floor spacing. All created by the unguardable Jokic, who can dime up a teammate at any time. That Jokic and Murray two-man is lethal. Despite all the chatter, the best duo in the league are the two with rings on their fingers.
Òscar: Like Eduardo said, the Nuggets will go back-to-back. Nikola Jokic’s basketball IQ is superior and his chemistry with Jamal Murray is next-level. We have never seen a player like him so let’s enjoy watching him!
The emotion of a first NBA Championship was too much for some Nuggets fans
Emile: Banner 18 will hang from the rafters at the Crypto.com Arena next year. The Lakers have two top 10 players in Lebron and AD and an even better supporting cast than they had last year, when they got to the Conference Finals. Lakers Nation, get ready for a championship parade!
Jonny: Sorry Emile, but I’m backing the Lakers’ historic rivals. The Celtics will go all the way this season. Jrue Holiday adds playoff pedigree and distinguished defence to this champion-in-waiting, while Jayson Tatum has learnt lessons from playoffs past.