• The Star Staff

A quick peek at our crystal ball before tip-off


By Scott Cacciola


The last time the sports staff of The New York Times and assorted friends gathered to make the annual set of NBA preseason predictions, we got some things right.


Ahead of the 2019-20 season, several of us thought that Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks would repeat as the NBA’s Most Valuable Player. (Yawn.) Others predicted that the Oklahoma City Thunder would have a surprisingly successful season after a summer in which they traded Paul George to the Los Angeles Clippers, and that the Memphis Grizzlies’ Ja Morant would win the league’s Rookie of the Year Award over Zion Williamson of the New Orleans Pelicans.


But no one predicted that the Los Angeles Lakers would win the championship — let alone advance to the NBA Finals. (The Clippers were the unanimous choice to come out of the West.) Or that the Lakers’ title run would come after the arrival of something called the “coronavirus,” which would suspend the season for four months before resuming in a spectator-free bubble at Walt Disney World outside of Orlando, Fla.


The point being: Predictions are difficult, and sometimes impossible. But that is not about to stop us from trying again.


Here is a look at some of our highly unscientific picks and prognostications for the season ahead:


(The New York Times does not permit its staff to vote for the official NBA awards.)


THE PREDICTORS


Jonathan Abrams, sports reporter

Harvey Araton, Hall of Fame sportswriter

Jonah Bromwich, staff writer

Scott Cacciola, sports reporter

Sopan Deb, sports reporter

Evan Easterling, senior staff editor

Shauntel Lowe, NBA editor

Marc Stein, Hall of Fame sports reporter


MOST VALUABLE PLAYER


Abrams: Anthony Davis (Lakers)

Araton: Luka Doncic (Mavericks)

Bromwich: Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers)

Cacciola: Stephen Curry (Warriors)

Deb: LeBron James (Lakers)

Easterling: Luka Doncic (Mavericks)

Lowe: LeBron James (Lakers)

Stein: Luka Doncic (Mavericks)


Why Curry? “He’s back. The Warriors won’t be title contenders without Klay Thompson. But they’ll be in the thick of the playoff race with Curry putting on nightly shows.” — Cacciola

Why Lillard? “The smart pick here is Kevin Durant or Luka Doncic, but I love Lillard, everyone else loves Lillard and if the Blazers crack the top five in the West, he’s got a great chance at it.” — Bromwich


ROOKIE OF THE YEAR


Abrams: Obi Toppin (Knicks)

Araton: Immanuel Quickley (Knicks)

Bromwich: Isaac Okoro (Cavaliers)

Cacciola: Tyrese Haliburton (Kings)

Deb: James Wiseman (Warriors)

Easterling: LaMelo Ball (Hornets)

Lowe: LaMelo Ball (Hornets)

Stein: Deni Avdija (Wizards)


Why Ball? “More offense will run through Ball than rookies on teams that are closer to contention, like James Wiseman in Golden State, or joining ready-made tandems, like Anthony Edwards, who’ll play alongside Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell in Minnesota. In limited preseason action, he showed signs his passing ability will translate to the NBA, a skill that will be augmented by playing with Gordon Hayward and Devonte’ Graham.” — Easterling


DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR


Abrams: Anthony Davis (Lakers)

Araton: Anthony Davis (Lakers)

Bromwich: Anthony Davis (Lakers)

Cacciola: Anthony Davis (Lakers)

Deb: Anthony Davis (Lakers)

Easterling: Joel Embiid (Sixers)

Lowe: Anthony Davis (Lakers)

Stein: Anthony Davis (Lakers)

SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR

Abrams: Dennis Schröder (Lakers)

Araton: Caris LeVert (Nets)

Bromwich: Spencer Dinwiddie (Nets)

Cacciola: Spencer Dinwiddie (Nets) or Caris LeVert (Nets)

Deb: Caris LeVert (Nets)

Easterling: Tyler Herro (Heat)

Lowe: Caris LeVert (Nets)

Stein: Caris LeVert (Nets)


Why the best sixth man will come from the Nets: “Whichever guard coach Steve Nash chooses to bring off the bench is going to produce big numbers for a team that has all the components for a title run.” — Cacciola


MOST IMPROVED


Abrams: Lonzo Ball (Pelicans)

Araton: Tyler Herro (Heat) narrowly beats out his teammate Bam Adebayo

Bromwich: Deandre Ayton (Suns)

Cacciola: Deandre Ayton (Suns)

Deb: Rui Hachimura (Wizards)

Easterling: OG Anunoby (Raptors)

Lowe: Tyler Herro (Heat)

Stein: Christian Wood (Rockets)


Wild Prediction: “John Wall will have a bounce-back season, leading a James Harden-less Houston Rockets team to fringe playoff contention.” — Abrams


COACH OF THE YEAR


Abrams: Monty Williams (Suns)

Araton: Erik Spoelstra (Heat)

Bromwich: Steve Nash (Nets)

Cacciola: Steve Kerr (Warriors)

Deb: Steve Nash (Nets)

Easterling: Michael Malone (Nuggets)

Lowe: Monty Williams (Suns)

Stein: Steve Nash (Nets)


Why Nash? “The Nets and the Clippers remind me of each other a bit: superteams assembled in the last normal offseason, with sky-high potential and possibly combustible chemistry. The Nets will overcome the inevitable Kyrie Irving-related distractions and Nash will get credit for making it all run smooth-ish.” — Bromwich


EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR


Abrams: Rob Pelinka (Lakers)

Araton: Sean Marks (Nets)

Bromwich: Rob Pelinka (Lakers)

Cacciola: Rob Pelinka (Lakers)

Deb: Daryl Morey (Sixers)

Easterling: James Jones (Suns)

Lowe: Rob Pelinka (Lakers)

Stein: Rob Pelinka (Lakers)


Wild Prediction: “Tired of paying mega-salaries for meager results, Michael Jordan cashes out as majority owner of the Hornets to go all-in on NASCAR.” — Araton


BEST RECORD IN THE LEAGUE


Abrams: Milwaukee Bucks

Araton: Miami Heat

Bromwich: Milwaukee Bucks

Cacciola: Milwaukee Bucks

Deb: Milwaukee Bucks

Easterling: Milwaukee Bucks

Lowe: Milwaukee Bucks

Stein: Brooklyn Nets


Wild Predictions: What happens to James Harden? Cacciola: The Rockets will wait until the trade deadline to deal James Harden. What’s the rush? Deb: James Harden remains in Houston all season. Easterling: The Indiana Pacers trade for James Harden.


WORST RECORD IN THE LEAGUE


Abrams: Detroit Pistons

Araton: Detroit Pistons

Bromwich: New York Knicks

Cacciola: Cleveland Cavaliers

Deb: Chicago Bulls

Easterling: Cleveland Cavaliers

Lowe: Cleveland Cavaliers

Stein: Cleveland Cavaliers


Wild Prediction: “In the preseason, I watched the Cavaliers surprise Indiana twice, and then totally missed them losing to the Knicks in their next two. That means I’m unjustifiably excited about the Cavs, particularly Collin Sexton and Isaac Okoro. My wild, semi-informed prediction is that Cleveland will be fun to watch for the first time since LeBron left, and — why not? — will sneak into a play-in game.” — Bromwich


BREAKOUT STAR


Abrams: Collin Sexton (Cavaliers)

Araton: Zion Williamson (Pelicans)

Bromwich: Talen Horton-Tucker (Lakers)

Cacciola: Michael Porter Jr. (Nuggets)

Deb: Devonte’ Graham (Hornets)

Easterling: Michael Porter Jr. (Nuggets)

Lowe: Obi Toppin (Knicks)

Stein: Zion Williamson (Pelicans)


Why Williamson? “Fully unleashed on the league.” — Araton


EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS


Abrams: Sixers over Bucks

Araton: Heat over Nets

Bromwich: Nets over Bucks

Cacciola: Celtics over Nets

Deb: Bucks over Nets

Easterling: Heat over Nets

Lowe: Nets over Bucks

Stein: Heat over Nets


WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS


Abrams: Lakers over Trail Blazers

Araton: Lakers over Jazz

Bromwich: Lakers over Clippers

Cacciola: Lakers over Clippers

Deb: Lakers over Warriors

Easterling: Lakers over Mavericks

Lowe: Lakers over Clippers

Stein: Lakers over Clippers


NBA FINALS


Abrams: Lakers over Sixers

Araton: Lakers over Heat

Bromwich: Lakers over Nets

Cacciola: Lakers over Celtics

Deb: Lakers over Bucks

Easterling: Lakers over Heat

Lowe: Lakers over Nets

Stein: Lakers over Heat


Why the Lakers will win again: “I will never again bet against LeBron, even if he runs for president.” — Araton