Image Courtesy: Dallas Morning News
The Denver Nuggets will look to defend their NBA title in what could be the most competitive season in the league in years. The competition in the west should be quality with the Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors, and others having retooled their rosters. A three team trade around star point guard Damian Lillard trade from the Portland Trail Blazers to the Milwaukee Bucks has put the Bucks again as the east favorites. The trade sent terrific Milwaukee defensive point guard Jrue Holiday andPhoenix Suns big man DeAndre Ayton to the Trail Blazers. The Suns gained more depth by finally moving Ayton, adding Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic, wing Nassir Little, guard Keon Johnson, and Bucks guard Grayson Allen. This vastly improves the Suns roster alongside stars Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal. Holiday was moved to the Bucks’ biggest competitors in the east, the Boston Celtics. They will be the favorite to represent the conference in the Finals despite losing to Miami in the last two East Finals back to back in late May outside of the Bucks with Lillard now on the roster. Celtics forward Jayson Tatum has been the focal point for Boston as he looks like a true MVP candidate but it was fellow wing Jaylen Brown that got paid “the bag” this off-season. Outside of the Heat and Celtics, Milwaukee will look to make a better postseason run in 2024 after being eliminated early in the playoffs after entering the 2023 playoffs as the league’s best team. If the Bucks can’t make a deep run again, superstar forward Giannis Antetokounmpo may reconsider his future with the team. With the new in season tournament coming this November and December, the league should have a very entertaining season in 2023-2024.
2024 NBA Playoffs Projection
1.Milwaukee Bucks (58-24)
With Damian Lillard on the roster, the Bucks are title favorites coming into the season. But, they must get by an improved Celtics team, that added former Bucks guard Jrue Holiday.
2.Boston Celtics (55-27)
Boston has been very successful in the playoffs, making the eastern conference finals in 2018, 2020, 2022, and 2023. But, they have only made the Finals once (2022) out of those four years. With an upgraded roster, including forward Kristaps Porzingis and guard Jrue Holiday to All-NBA forward Jayson Tatum and wing Jaylen Brown.
3.Philadelphia 76ers (52-30)
Can the Sixers finally get things figured out with James Harden and reigning MVP Joel Embiid in the playoffs? With new coach Nick Nurse, they should be refocused and ready to make a run.
4.Miami Heat (47-35)
Miami has made the Finals in 2020 and 2023 but has fallen both times against the Lakers and Nuggets respectively. Without landing stars Bradley Beal or Damian Lillard through the trade market, the Heat must again rely on Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo to make another deep run in the playoffs.
5.New York Knicks (46-38)
The Knicks’ core of Jalen Brunson, RJ Barrett, and Julius Randle got them to the Eastern Conference Semifinals last season. But with most of the eastern conference improving during the summer, they will need to be focused on improving as the season gets closer and closer.
6.Brooklyn Nets (45-37)
Since dealing Kevin Durant away to the Suns for wings Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson, the Nets have looked like a surefire playoff team. Bridges continues to shine defensively but an uptick in his offensive game has Brooklyn looking scary ahead of the 2023-2024 campaign.
7.Cleveland Cavaliers (43-39)
Cleveland’s core of Donavan Mitchell, Darius Garland, Evan Mobley, and Caris Levert is great but the Cavs have not proved they can win in the post LeBron era.
8.Toronto Raptors (41-41)
A retooled roster in Toronto with forwards Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, and OG Anunoby will pose challenges up front. But new rookie guard Gradey Dick will have to help replace the production of Fred VanVleet, who headed to Houston in the off-season.
9.Indiana Pacers (41-41)
Indiana’s Tyrese Haliburton makes things go for the Pacers. Outside of that, this roster does not look qualified for a great season.
10.Atlanta Hawks (40-42)
Trae Young and Dejounte Murray struggled in their first season together leading the Hawks. Is a rebound season in line for the two talented guards coming up?
1.Denver Nuggets (57-25)
Denver lost a few pieces to bigger contracts elsewhere after winning the Finals at the beginning of the summer. But, with two time MVP Nikola Jokic, Michael Porter Jr., and Jamal Murray returning they should be the favorites to return to the Finals in the west.
2.Phoenix Suns (56-26)
Phoenix’s super three of Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and new Sun Bradley Beal will be tough to stop offensively. But, until the recent Damian Lillard trade, the Suns had no depth. Adding veteran center Jusuf Nurkic was a huge win to replace DeAndre Ayton, who they had been looking to trade for most of the off-season. In addition, the Suns added perimeter pieces Nassir Little, Keon Johnson, and Grayson Allen to come off the bench.
3.Los Angeles Lakers (52-30)
With LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Austin Reaves back, the Lakers will look to return to the Western Conference Finals and win it this time to make it to the playoffs. With new pieces such as guard Gabe Vicent, big man Jaxson Hayes, and big man Christian Wood. With new big men depth on the bench, Anthony Davis can avoid worrying about spending almost full games on the court and not be worried about injuries.
4.Golden State Warriors (49-33)
Golden State added Chris Paul this off-season as they look to make it back to the Finals for the first time since they won it all in 2022. So, having Paul as an option to replace superstar Stephen Curry will be nice for Steve Kerr and the Warriors coaching staff.
5.Los Angeles Clippers (48-34)
The Clippers are yet to have any playoff success with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George at the helm as their leaders. Is this the year they can finally do it?
6.Sacramento Kings (46-36)
De’Aaron Fox, Domantis Sabonis, and Malik Monk played very well last season, giving the Kings a playoff run. If they continue to play this well, you’re looking at a team that can make another run.
7.Dallas Mavericks (45-37)
With Kyrie Irving refocused and Luka Doncic’s continued phenomenal play, the Mavericks will just need to focus on their defense to have a successful season. Without a successful defense, they will not be able to beat teams out west consistently.
8.Oklahoma City Thunder (42-40)
OKC’s young core of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jalen Williams, and Josh Giddey finally get to play with former Gonzaga star Chet Holmgren after he returns from his injury. Another fun season in Thunder country awaits.
9.Memphis Grizzlies (42-40)
After being the two seed and getting eliminated by LeBron James and the Lakers last season in the first round of the playoffs and Ja Morant being suspended for 25 games, the Grizzlies must refocus. Because of that, I see an underwhelming play-in appearance season for Memphis this upcoming season.
10.Minnesota Timberwolves (41-41)
Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns playing well, the Timberwolves can contend in the West. However, with the talent of other rosters in the west, the Timberwolves must play well night in and night out to win games.
Projected 2024 NBA Finals
Boston Celtics 4
Denver Nuggets 3
Projected Award Winners
Most Valuable Player: Jayson Tatum, Forward, Boston Celtics
Defensive Player of the Year: Jaren Jackson, Forward, Memphis Grizzlies
Most Improved Player: Bobby Portis, Forward, Milwaukee Bucks
Coach of the Year: Mike Malone, Denver Nuggets