The NBA preseason is still a couple of months away but the anticipation for this season is higher than ever.
With the Golden State Warriors breaking up and star power being more evenly distributed among the league, more teams are considered to be title contenders this season than in the past 10 years, which could lead to some interesting results when it comes to the standings, end of season awards or All-Star ballots.
With that in mind, here are three "you won't believe it until you see it" predictions for the upcoming season - and don't forget to give credit where it's due if they come true.
Terry Rozier, first-time All-Star
The Charlotte Hornets inking Terry Rozier to a three-year, $58 million contract has been picked apart from the second the deal was announced. The overwhelming reaction hasn't been a positive one, with NBA executives going as far as rating it the third-worst move of the offseason in a survey with ESPN following free agency.
Rozier's numbers and playing time took a hit in what turned out to be a dumpster fire of a 2018-19 season for the Boston Celtics. The point guard that had led the Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals the season prior averaged just 9.0 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.0 assists while shooting an unflattering 38.7% from the field over 22.7 minutes per game.
Those numbers don't exactly scream "58 million dollars," but don't be surprised if after Year 1 in Charlotte we're more kind-hearted toward this Rozier signing.
In fact, I'm willing to take this a step further and say that Rozier will make his first All-Star appearance this upcoming season.
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The Hornets might just finish in last place in the standings, but Rozier is going to get his whenever he wants. Charlotte's All-Star guard Kemba Walker is now in Boston, leaving 20.5 field goal attempts and 25.6 points per game on the table. To add to that, their second-leading scorer from a season ago, Jeremy Lamb, is now in Indiana. That's another 12.4 field goal attempts and 15.3 points per game up for grabs.
For those counting at home, that's nearly 33 field goal attempts and 41 points per game that needs to be filled. Guess who's going to get the majority of those looks? Scary Terry.
His overall numbers from last season aren't pretty, and yet they're much more appealing as a starter. In the 14 games he started for the Celtics, Rozier averaged 13.1 points on a much-improved 42.9% shooting from the field and 40.5% from beyond the arc to go with 5.2 boards and 5.0 assists. And it was just one playoffs ago that Rozier posted 16.5 points, 5.7 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game filling in for Irving while taking the Celtics one win away from The Finals.
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While his run is now most remembered for going 0-for-10 from beyond the arc in Game 7 against the Cleveland Cavaliers, don't let that distract you from the fact that he dropped 26 points, nine assists and six assists in Game 7 to eliminate Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round. Or how he got Boston off on the right foot in the second round, handing a pair of losses to the Philadelphia 76ers - the NBA's hottest team at the time - going for 29 points and 20 points, respectively, with eight rebounds and six assists in each contest.
Rozier has no lack of confidence in his own game and that type of swagger will only work in his favour on his way to averaging 20-plus points, five-plus rebounds and five-plus assists per game en route to his first All-Star nod next season.
Donovan Mitchell's MVP race
After getting out to a slow start in his 2018-19 campaign, some began to wonder if Donovan Mitchell's Rookie of the Year push was just lightning in the bottle. He was still scoring the ball but it was at an inefficient clip, and the Utah Jazz as a whole weren't looking like the threat they were expected to be.
It didn't take long for Mitchell to get back to the future superstar we saw his rookie season, though. After the All-Star break, the Louisville product took his game to another level and his team's record skyrocketed accordingly. Mitchell posted 26.7 points per game on 46.1% shooting from the field and 45.1% from long range to go with 4.6 assists and 4.5 rebounds.
He also flashed the ability to play point guard with the number of injuries the Jazz were dealt at the position.
Those second-half numbers were impressive, and that was without another real scoring threat on the roster. He'll now play alongside the likes of Mike Conley Jr. who averaged north of 20.0 points per game last season, and Bojan Bogdanovic, who eclipsed the 20 point per game mark after the Indiana Pacers' star guard Victor Oladipo went down with an injury in late January.
Those are two players that will most certainly take attention away from Mitchell on the offensive end of the floor and should very easily create better looks versus less double teams that Mitchell has seen in his short two-year career thus far.
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As previously stated, efficiency will be the key for the developing star. If Mitchell can score the rock at the rate he did in the second half of the season, there's no reason that the Jazz can't be one of the top teams in the Western Conference.
If they were to finish as a top-two seed - they're currently projected to finish tied for first in the conference with the LA Clippers and Houston Rockets by the Westgate odds in Las Vegas - and Mitchell were to be the pilot of that result, I'd predict he'll finish as a top-three MVP candidate, right alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo and either James Harden or LeBron James.
MORE: How the Jazz became stealth contenders
Warriors finish in familiar territory
The Golden State Warriors have not finished lower than top-two in the Western Conference since the 2013-14 season.
With Kevin Durant leaving the Bay Area and Klay Thompson set to miss at least the first half of the season while he recovers from the ACL injury he suffered in the NBA Finals, there is a lot of doubt surrounding the NBA's most dominant team over the past five years.
According to the Westgate odds in Las Vegas, the Warriors are projected to finish sixth in the West this season. But I have a feeling this is one of those off moments that Vegas gets it wrong as long as the rest of the team aside from Thompson can stay healthy.
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The last time Stephen Curry played without KD, he put together one of the most impressive seasons that led to the first unanimous MVP selection in NBA history. Curry averaged a league-best 30.1 points per game in addition to 6.7 assists, 5.4 rebounds and a league-high 2.1 steals while posting 50-40-90 shooting splits.
Who's to say that with Durant gone and Thompson injured, we don't get the Human Torch version of Curry back next season?
It's not like he's surrounded by a lack of talent either. The Warriors went and got D'Angelo Russell, who is coming off of his first-ever All-Star appearance after a terrific season in which he led the Brooklyn Nets to the playoffs. There's questions about how Russell and Curry will mesh, but there's no getting around Russell's 21.1 points and 7.0 assists per game. He is also coming off of career-highs in field goal percentage (43.4%) and 3-point percentage (36.9%).
Playing alongside Curry, you'd have to assume he'll have more open looks than he did at any point in Brooklyn or before that in Los Angeles.
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Then you have Draymond Green, who was one of the best players in the league this past postseason. Green was often orchestrating Golden State's offence while also bringing the energy that anchored their defence. He averaged 13.3 points, 10.1 rebounds and 8.5 assists per game and notched a playoff-high six triple-doubles in the process.
With Thompson hurt, Green knows how much this team needs him to bring that intensity every contest. You really think Draymond won't answer that call?
Their depth is an issue but players like Willie Cauley-Stein and Kevon Looney are still solid in the frontcourt. They'll be heavily relying on Alec Burks and Alfonzo McKinnie, as well as rookies Eric Paschall and Jordan Poole to hold down the second unit, but I don't believe this team is in danger of missing the playoffs like most are starting to convince themselves.
By the end of the season, the Warriors will be in familiar territory and finish top-three in the West and we'll all be wondering why we questioned the capabilities of one of the most impactful players in the history of the game.
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