NBA Season Predictions: Don’t Overthink This, It’s The Bucks
— 11 October 2023

NBA Season Predictions: Don’t Overthink This, It’s The Bucks

— 11 October 2023

There’s honestly never been a better time to follow the NBA. The sheer concentration of talent in the league is greater than it has ever been, and it’s distributed across all 30 teams. This certainly makes for an exciting NBA product — but our predictions for the season are far from certain.

Two weeks out from the start of the 2023/24 NBA season, we’re giving our predictions for all of the player awards, as well as who will be crowned NBA champions.

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We’re taking into account everything from a team’s proven success in recent history to the quality of their offseason moves. Completely impartial. Completely objective. With discussions concerning all relevant candidates conducted fairly.

It is, however, worth noting that this article is in fact written by the same genius who claimed Ja Morant is the modern face of the NBA (the one it “needed”); that a Ben Simmons comeback was imminent; and that last year’s season would culminate in a Lakers-Celtics NBA Finals. Depending on where you stand, my word means very little. Especially this early on.

Anyway, let’s talk some hoops.

NBA Championship: Milwaukee Bucks

It’s Dame Time in Milwaukee.

When Damian Lillard (finally) requested a trade after 11 seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers, the Milwaukee Bucks were not on our list of expected destinations for him. After specifying that he wanted to take his talents to South Beach to play for the Miami Heat, we all sort of figured that was the end of it.

Giannis Antetokounmpo recently refused to sign an extension with the Bucks, citing that he wanted to continue to play for a contender into the future. By trading assets for Damian Lillard — in a three-team trade that included the Phoenix Suns — the Bucks effectively gave Giannis the best teammate he’s ever had and extended their championship window by a few years.

It also made sense for Portland, who have now accepted the fact that they can’t field a contender around Dame, and can now commit to a rebuild around their young core. They paired Lillard with one All-Star teammate during his entire stint with the team: LaMarcus Aldridge. And that was nearly a decade ago. This was a long time coming.

The duo of Dame/Giannis is going to be so good it’s actually ridiculous. They’re both in their prime and their skillsets complement each other perfectly. No one needs to sacrifice shot attempts. They’ll both instantly bring out the best in each other’s games.

Every time there’s a new high-profile frontcourt/backcourt duo, people love to throw around the Shaq and Kobe comparisons. This might be the only one actually worthy of it in the last two decades.

In the 2022/23 NBA season, this was what each of them were averaging:

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo: 31.1 points | 11.8 rebounds | 5.7 assists | 60.5% TS
  • Damian Lillard: 32.2 points | 4.8 rebounds | 7.3 assists | 64.5% TS

These are each historically great statlines… and now they’re on the same team making the work easier for each other. What defence can you even employ to handle the threat in the low post, the three-pointer, and the pick-and-roll against these guys?

Of course, it’s not a foregone conclusion that the Milwaukee Bucks will win the 2023/24 NBA Finals. The Boston Celtics, Phoenix Suns, and Los Angeles Lakers have all got very talented rosters that make sense.

Let’s not also forget the team that just went 16-4 in the playoffs and retained pretty much everyone except Bruce Brown. We’ve had a new champion every year since 2019, although the Denver Nuggets have arguably the best player alive in Nikola Jokić. Which means going back-to-back is far from out of the question.

But for the sake of locking in our 2023/24 NBA season predictions, at this stage, we just don’t see anyone stopping the Milwaukee Bucks.

NBA Regular Season MVP: Jayson Tatum(?)

There’s really no obvious candidate for this one.

Every single name you could possibly throw out there has some kind of historical precedent working against them:

  • Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo will likely feel the effects of voter fatigue having each won two
  • Kevin Durant will likely have his case cannibalised by his All-NBA teammate Devin Booker
  • Joel Embiid needs to prove himself in the playoffs before getting his second trophy
  • Stephen Curry will likely not play enough games (as he hasn’t the last few seasons) and the Golden Warriors probably won’t have a good enough record…
  • … which is also an issue that guys like Luka Doncic and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander might run into as well

With our 2023/24 NBA season predictions, the sensible pick is probably Jayson Tatum.

There are still unanswered questions about whether he can be a true #1 option on a championship team, but he’ll definitely have a strong case to be this year’s MVP.

The Boston Celtics will be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference and he’ll no doubt put up great numbers as their clear best player. I mean… he’s 25 years old and has already been to the NBA Finals plus a bunch of Conference Finals. At this point, he’s probably earned it.

NBA Defensive Player of the Year: Anthony Davis

Anthony Davis is far and away the best defensive player in the world.

The way he single-handedly dismantled the Golden State Warriors’ offence in last year’s playoffs was nothing short of godly. The only factor that’s hindered him in the past is the ability to stay healthy and remain on the court.

The “Street Clothes” and “Anthony Day-to-Dayvis” jokes have unfortunately become such a big part of his reputation, even if the claims are slightly overstated and unfair. For example, AD has been more available in the last four seasons than Paul George, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, and Kyrie Irving.

Last year, Jaren Jackson Jr. won the award for Defensive Player of the Year despite playing fewer total minutes (though appearing in more games) than Davis. AD would then completely dominate JJJ in the playoffs during the Los Angeles Lakers’ first-round matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies, but miss out on an All-Defensive selection altogether.

Herein lies the problem for AD: the workload the Los Angeles Lakers were giving both him and LeBron James these last few seasons — to compensate for a garbage roster — ran them into the ground trying to keep the team alive. Davis would play 40+ minutes a night at full intensity on both sides of the court, despite being injury-prone.

This year, the Lakers have a better supporting cast and AD has reportedly enjoyed a huge off-season that’s hopefully restored him to his 2020 self.

Look, guys like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Bam Adebayo might seem like safer choices. There’s still no denying Anthony Davis is more than due for this award. He’s a generational defensive talent and — as was the case with Tim Duncan — it’ll seem extremely silly if we get to the end of his career and he doesn’t have that trophy in his cabinet.

NBA Most Improved Player: Alperen Şengün

Potentially a sleeper pick, our money’s on the Houston Rockets’ centre Alperen Şengün.

People have thrown around names like Mikal Bridges, Cade Cunningham, Tyrese Maxey, Anfernee Simons, Austin Reaves, Jordan Poole, or Tyus Jones for a few reasons.

A lot of these guys are in new situations where they’ll be afforded a greater role on the team; a few of them are talented players who are due to make a leap around the third-year mark; and some of them have just gotten a new coach that will hopefully unlock their potential.

All of those factors are somewhat applicable to our main man Alpie.

The Houston Rockets have enlisted head coach Ime Udoka — the mastermind behind the NBA-best defensive rating which took the Boston Celtics to their first NBA Finals in over a decade — after parting ways with Stephen Silas.

The Rockets, on the other hand, had a 20-62 record last season, missing out on both the playoffs and the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes.

Along with hiring a new coach, the Rockets drafted two high-profile players, signed two big-name free agents, and were runner-ups in the Summer League. They’re a young team with a lot of depth at the guard position, meaning plenty of opportunity for Şengün.

He’s an incredibly versatile big with great footwork, ball-handling, and vision. Udoka, along with the presence of veteran guard Fred VanVleet, will hopefully either fix or hide his shortcomings as both a defender and three-point shooter.

The Rockets likely still won’t be very good. But we expect Şengün to shine.

NBA Rookie of the Year: Chet Holmgren

There is no denying the excitement around Victor Wembanyama‘s rookie season in the NBA.

The 7’5″ teenager from France promises to bring a dimension to the sport that we’ve never seen before due to his unique size and skillset.

There’s also a lot of hype around the Portland Trail Blazers’ new starting point guard Scoot Henderson, with the second-overall pick having officially been given the keys after the departure of Damian Lillard.

It’s a stacked draft class featuring guys like Brandon Miller (Charlotte Hornets), Amen Thompson (Houston Rockets), and Cam Whitmore (Houston Rockets) also being guys to watch out for. The name you mustn’t forget about, however, is the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Chet Holmgren.

Similar to how Ben Simmons sat out his entire rookie season due to injury, then controversially claimed the award over Donovan Mitchell the following year, we’ve yet to see Chet Holmgren step onto an NBA court. This gives Holmgren a few advantages that his peers don’t share.

For one, he’s been around NBA trainers in the weight room for an entire year and has had more exposure to the physicality and pace required to be successful in the NBA — a thing that normally takes rookies a while to get accustomed to.

The second point worth considering is that the Oklahoma City Thunder will probably be a far better team than the others mentioned. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, Lu Dort, as well as Jalen and Jaylin Williams no longer make this franchise the scheduled win for opposing teams that they were once upon a time.

Wemby will likely have an instant impact on defence, although there is a bit of a learning curve he’ll likely need to overcome. That isn’t to say that he won’t be a great player eventually, but the San Antonio Spurs as a unit are still a couple of years away from truly being a team to worry about.

In our 2023/24 NBA season predictions, we’ll bet on Chet.

NBA Sixth Man of the Year: Immanuel Quickley / Malik Monk

This is maybe the most difficult player award to predict, largely because the criteria for it are a tad arbitrary.

Even the concept of the award has always been a bit strange. We’re giving a trophy out to a guy who’s the best player not good enough to be in the starting lineup? Righty-o.

The Sixth Man of the Year is generally given to a specific type of player who plays a specific type of role; namely prolific scorers who serve as a sparkplug off the bench and can offer production when the starters are out of the game. 11 out of the last 12 of these awards have gone to guards for this reason.

As of right now, the New York Knicks’ Immanuel Quickley is a discerning favourite to win the award. He may very well get it, but another player that we think will emerge as a compelling candidate throughout the season is Sacramento Kings guard Malik Monk.

The Kings had a record of 48-34 last season, earning them the third seed and their first appearance in the playoffs in 16 years. They’re sure to be a force again this year and Monk’s consistent statistical production off the bench behind De’Aaron Fox will definitely put him in the conversation.

NBA Coach of the Year: Mark Daigneault

Mark Daigneault is the current betting odds favourite and it’s clear to see why.

As mentioned earlier, the Oklahoma City Thunder are expected to significantly improve this year and he has been a significant factor in their recent trajectory.

After consecutive seasons of winning less than 25 games, the Thunder made the NBA Play-In Tournament before being knocked out in the game for the eighth seed. He’s focused on player development and we can see that in the ascension of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander into one of the best guards in the entire NBA.

Other coaches (especially new ones) in the current list of betting odds favourites will likely be discredited due to riding the coattails of an already successful team.

Adrian Griffin currently has the second-best odds, but how are you going to give it to the new coach of one seed that just added Damian Lillard? Similarly, Frank Vogel is inheriting a Phoenix Suns team with Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal.

The individual we’d like to see win it in a perfect world is Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra.

He’s so clearly the best coach in the NBA and it’s a travesty that he’s never won the award. That Heat roster had absolutely no business being in the NBA Finals last year. Regardless, Spoelstra’s championship pedigree led them to outplay the Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks, and Boston Celtics in the playoffs for their second appearance in the last four seasons (the only team to have done so).

Sadly, this isn’t a perfect world.

Our NBA season predictions are taking into account that the Heat probably won’t demonstrate this ability throughout the regular season, even in the demonstrably weaker Eastern Conference. Even if Playoff Jimmy & Co. manage to scratch and claw their way to another deep playoff run, we won’t see “Heat Culture” kick in until April.

Our money’s on Daigneault.

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NBA Clutch Player of the Year: Damian Lillard

This is by far the newest award in the NBA, meaning there is less historical precedent to look to inform our predictions this season.

The inaugural Jerry West trophy for the NBA Clutch Player of the Year was given to De’Aaron Fox last season due to his elite shot-making down the stretch displayed across 82 games.

This year, and with very little to go off, we’re predicting that it will go to Damian Lillard.

He’s always had a reputation for hitting big shots, so the narratives are already in his favour there. In Milwaukee, the shots he’ll be taking are going to be the most wide-open looks he’s seen in his career.

The Bucks are going to look to Damian Lillard for his late-game shot creation around the perimeter a lot this season, as teams try and close off the paint for Giannis Antetokounmpo.

He’s about to have one helluva year and we expect this award to be a part of it.

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