The NBA Is Back: 5 Questions That Need Answers

LeBron is Worth the Hype But Are the Lakers Ready?

The Lakers, if nothing else, will be interesting. They are the same team you remember. LeBron will be in shape but what about everyone else? Dwight Howard has decided to join the party (as we all knew he would) but is he distracted? He has had a tumultuous Covid break. But he returns to Orlando and this time Orlando may be where he wins his first title. Talk about ironies.

Other interesting characters.  Can J.R. be consistent? Is Dion Waiters the best shooting guard on the roster? Or within the bubble atmosphere, will Dion explode?-oops, wrong question. When will Dion’s head blow up, how many games will it take? Does Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have a purpose? Is JaVale McGee better than his 14 minutes a game or is his mediocre footwork going to doom him to the bench while Howard takes over?

About Howard and his moving screens. C’mon man. You’re an old vet.

Finally, LeBron. He wanted L.A. and he has it but not the way he intended absent fans. Will his brilliance elevate the sum of all parts? Will the center hold? This is the biggest challenge of his career.

Before Covid, the Lakers chemistry was promising, no Benedict Arnolds on board. But the Lakers have the most to lose and gain.

Repeat MVP?

Giannis Antetokoumpo leads the best team in the NBA. The Milwaukee Bucks have the best collection of talent to surround one elite player since LeBron played in Cleveland. The Bucks are the second-most experienced team at winning in the East. They are not the toughest team. They are not the most glamorous team. But they know how to demoralize the league, to boat race their opponent. Giannis is trying to win his second MVP in two years.

The last to do it was Steph Curry, 2014-16.  He won the title in 2015 and lost it in 2016. Giannis is the only MVP who has never been to the NBA Finals. It’s not that he has a lot to prove, but okay, he has a lot to prove as a postseason player. Nothing is harder than winning in the bubble.

Not to mention we all remember what happened last year in the playoffs when Giannis was smothered and Khris Middleton couldn’t step up. Giannis isn’t the Bucks story. It’s his teammates.

Are they ready?

Carmelo In His First NBA Finals?

Carmelo Anthony has had an unexpected career. He was beloved in Denver until he was hated. He was beloved in New York until he fatigued everyone. In OKC, he just didn’t fit in with their Big 3 concept. The Thunder misused Melo and he was frustrated and not himself. Or, he was an old player who didn’t have skills left. With the Rockets and buddy Chris Paul, it was a short marriage.

Enter the Blazers and it’s an enticing idea. Melo as a third option, playing off Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Absent Trevor Ariza who opted out the bubble, Anthony will try to guard _______ fill in the blank. In his prime, he didn’t defend. Not much is expected except for throwback Melo to score. Carmelo makes Rip City better and he makes them worse.

As has been the Melo career, it will be love and hate in the bubble.

Gordon Hayward makes the Celtics the big favorite right?

Hayward was getting into his groove when Covid jammed up the league. He had 27 points and 24 points respectively before the season abruptly ended. His 2019-20 season was Hayward coming back to form. He had an offensive rating of 118 and a defensive rating of 108. He made 50% of his 1st quarter shots, 58% of his 3rd quarter shots, and 49% of his 4th quarter shots. When the Celtics win, Hayward is on. 53% and 43% from three. When they lose, he has zero long range, 31% form three. The Celtics are counting on scoring Hayward as a return on their investment and it is all in the hands of Brad Stevens who has to figure out how to fit Hayward with Jayson Tatum consistently.

In September, Hayward is leaving the bubble when his fourth child is due. Upon return, he has to quarantine. Stevens is going to have to make a major adjustment in Hayward’s absence.

On paper, the Celtics are stacked. Hayward gives the C’s one more shot maker, ball mover, athlete in transition despite missing Al Horford. Hayward’s defense is so-so and we’ll see if he has any limitations in lateral movement on defense. Every coach wants Danny Ainge problems. The Celtics have the most talent in the east. They have the best roster.

They should be in the Finals. But should won’t buy you a cup of coffee.

Back-to-Back Titles for the Raptors?

Everyone overlooks the Raptors but they are the one team built for the bubble, if they can avoid the virus. The Raptors are young and athletic. They make threes. They have a tough leader in Kyle Lowry and they have been here before. They get the pressure of the moment.

Because a lot of NBA projection is about the beauty contest the Raptors are thought of as the dark horse to win the East even though they have rings and proven players who can come through in big moments. Absent Kawhi, they have upped their game another level. But for the most part, they are ignored, as if that title was a fluke.

But let this marinate. The  Raptors led the league in scoring pre-Covid. They were second in defensive rating. Six players score in double figures, led by Pascal Siakam (23.6 ppg, 7.5 reb.). Only three Raptors have a defensive rating of 108 or more. Matt Thomas and Malcolm Miller play sparingly and Patrick McCaw is the Raptors weak defensive link.

Their depth is a huge advantage. If someone goes down because of Covid, they’ll have enough bodies to keep the boat treading water. They have skill at every single position, starters, and bench. They are built for just this moment.

And they are the champions. I’m betting on them.