With 2018 coming to an end, several of our writers have convened for a roundtable discussion on the year that was in NBA basketball, and what to expect in 2019, including players to keep an eye on, and teams that may rise and fall. Our participants for this edition are:
- Ryan Calpin: @calpinr_
- Felix John-Baptiste: @TwoSmooth2
- Eric Rose: @ericrose6
- Max Mangigian: @PhillySportsMax
- Evan Anderson: @Jordainian21
1. What was the signature moment of NBA basketball in 2018?
Calpin: I think for me the signature moment of NBA basketball in 2018 was actually the final game between LeBron James and Dwayne Wade at the Staples Center. The fact that these two guys have been battling on the court since 2003 and have a genuine off the court friendship is very rare. With Wade retiring at the end of the season, this final match-up allowed the fans to remember one of the greatest shooting guards of all-time.
John-Baptiste: Kevin Durant’s three-pointer from WAY behind the line to ice Game 3 of the 2018 NBA Finals. That moment summarized the new wave in the NBA and how much skill is required to keep up with offensive juggernauts like Durant himself. It’s become all about pace and stretching the floor. Oh, and having a superstar sure helps.
NEW YEAR, SAME RESULT. KEVIN DURANT IS COLD BLOODED. #NBAFinals
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) June 7, 2018
Rose: JR Smith forgetting the score in Game 1 of the NBA Finals is the single most memorable NBA moment because it was just so perfect. LeBron James did everything in his power to will that team to an improbable Game 1 victory at Oracle Arena, scoring 51 points on 19-32 shooting and when he just needed a pinch of help, George Hill and JR Smith completely blew it and summarized Bron’s time in Cleveland from 2003 to now. Hill, who was shooting 81% from the stripe at the time, missed the second free-throw that would have given them the lead and Smith sprinting to mid-court after a clean offensive rebound. You could pinpoint the moment LeBron knew he was out of there.
Mangigian: It has to be J. R. Smith in Game One of the NBA Finals, not knowing the score, and effectively ending LeBron James’ career with the Cleveland Cavaliers. When thinking about signature moments, we often think of the good moments, Smith’s face looking at the scoreboard as the game went to overtime, was truly signature. When I think back to that postseason in the NBA, I will always remember the look of disgust on LeBron’s face.
Anderson: I have to agree with Calpin on this. Dwayne Wade and LeBron James have had that unforgettable friendship and relationship on the court that brought them huge success and two championships during their time together with the Miami Heat. It was always fun watching them battle with OR against each other, but it sadly came to an end in the Staples Center. The end of an era is near and it’s sad to see Wade go after this season.
2. What was the most memorable individual performance of 2018?
Calpin: The most memorable individual performance of 2018 was Klay Thompson’s record-breaking night in Chicago. The Golden State Warriors defeated the Chicago Bulls 149-124 and Thompson dropped 52 points on 14-24 from the three-point line which is now a new NBA record. Watching Thompson, who throughout this season has struggled, be able to pick apart the defense and get whatever shot he wanted was truly remarkable. I have a feeling 14 won’t stick for long between Steph Curry and Thompson, but for now, that is the record.
John-Baptiste: LeBron James’ buzzer-beater in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals to eliminate the Toronto Raptors. Watching the game, you could just feel like something special was going to happen. Yes, Game 4 still had to be played, but that shot felt like that death blow to the franchise as we knew it. James seemed to have mastered the game and felt at peace with leaving it all out on the floor.
Rose: Same series as Felix but I think LeBron’s Game 2 performance was even more impressive. The degree of difficulty on almost every single shot he took in the second half was incredible and I don’t remember him missing any of them. I don’t think people remember that game as much simply due to the blowout nature of that game and the series, but I just remember watching that game with my jaw on the floor. It was as good of a performance as I’ve ever seen from him and symbolic of his career against the Raptors.
Mangigian: It is hard not to pick a LeBron performance for this kind of question. Despite all the arguments over who the GOAT is, I think the world really needs to appreciate the King while he is still playing at this level. Game One of the 2018 NBA Finals, where they infamously lost in overtime, was one of the best individual efforts I have ever witnessed in my life. LeBron took on a super-team by himself and dropped 51 points in a thriller against the Golden State Warriors, and I will never forget feeling his pain in losing that game.
Anderson: Shooters shoot and that’s exactly what’s Klay Thompson did when he set a record for three-pointers made in a single game against the Chicago Bulls earlier this season, dropping 52 points on 14 threes. After his sixth made three-pointer in that game, I knew he was bound to make history.
3. Which team will rise and which team will fall in 2019?
Calpin: I think that the Western Conference is a little more unpredictable than the Eastern Conference and for that reason, both of my teams are going to be from the West. Right now the Houston Rockets sit at 19-15 and are 7th in the West. However, they have been playing a lot better as of late and more specifically James Harden has returned to MVP form scoring more than 30 points or more 11 times in December, including two 45-point performances. I think with Chris Paul getting healthy and the Rockets getting deeper at the point guard position will allow this team to make a run and return back to form in 2019.
As for the team that is going to fall I think it is going to be the third place Oklahoma City Thunder. I think they are a good team but I don’t think they are a great team. Paul George is currently playing out of his mind and I just don’t think he can sustain the level of play throughout the rest of the season. And if we have learned anything about Russell Westbrook it is that he hasn’t been able to win the important game for his team. I think that they will be a playoff team but I am thinking more in the six-to-eight seed range and an early playoff exit. I am not buying into the Thunder as a legitimate contender for the NBA title.
John-Baptiste: The Boston Celtics will rise. We have too much evidence from previous seasons that shows how great this team and coach can be. Whether they make a trade to reduce the rotation or they figure it out with the current roster, Kyrie Irving and company have too much talent to remain in the middle of the pack of the Eastern Conference. They have the right combination of experience, grit and grind players, and role players to make it work.
The Denver Nuggets will fall. Huge kudos to them for the way they’ve started this season, battling through injuries and forcing their way atop the Western Conference standings. It’s just really tough to imagine a team taking that big of a leap from outside the playoffs to tops in the standings over one offseason. While they will likely still make the playoffs, it’s also possible to see them slipping down a couple slots as we approach the All-Star break in February and beyond.
Rose: Houston has to rise, right? James Harden is far too good of a player to be heading a 19-15 team and I can’t see them staying in this fringe-playoff spot for too long. The Rockets are just three games out of first place in the West despite their poor start and with the way the Beard is playing right now, I wouldn’t be shocked if they took the reigns in the West by the end of January. No team with James Harden, Chris Paul, and Clint Capela can play this poorly for this long and I expect them to get back on track in time to become true contenders again.
I really like the Clippers and think their rebuild has been extremely impressive to the point where they will be very good very soon, but there’s just no way they end the regular season with home-court in the first round of the playoffs. There are too many proven teams below them in the standings that clearly haven’t stepped on the gas yet and I think the youth and inexperience will catch up soon. I expect them to end up in that seven or eight seed range but their current spot at fourth is just a little too good to be true.
Mangigian: The 76ers will FINALLY rise in 2019. Jimmy Butler is finally starting to assimilate with the team, and there is still a ton of basketball to be played. Philadelphia might not be a lock for a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, but I believe they will shock some people in the postseason. A lot can change from New Year’s Day to the postseason, and the 76ers are a few bench guys away from really challenging the top teams in the East.
As for fall, I’ll agree with Eric and go with the Clippers. It’s not unreasonable to think teams like the Rockets, Lakers, and Blazers can leapfrog the new-look Clippers, and that’s exactly what I see happening as the season continues to roll on.
Anderson: The Houston Rockets will rise in 2019. Despite their slow start to the season, James Harden is recharged, playing killer basketball right now and they are surprisingly only three games behind the No. 1 seed in the West. I can’t see a team with such talent and chemistry like the Rockets missing the playoffs, but the team must stay healthy. Chris Paul, Eric Gordon, and Clint Capela will help backup Harden as they look to recover from their sluggish start.
The Portland Trailblazers will fall in 2019. They’ve made the playoffs every season after the first year Damian Lillard (2012-13) was on the team but haven’t broken past the semifinals. Already sitting at the sixth seed in the West, and a hot Rockets team behind them, the Trailblazers can’t let teams take a huge lead on them early. I don’t see them making it past the first round…maybe not even seeing playoffs at all.
4. Which superstar is most likely to switch teams either via trade or free agency in 2019?
Calpin: Well, I think this is an easy answer. It has been the most talked about name over the past couple weeks and adding to the fact that he is being linked to LeBron and LA only increases the number of clicks on every story. I believe that Anthony Davis will be with a new team by the time the 2019 season begins. He wants to win, he has come out and said that winning and legacy is more important than money for him. He is not going to be able to compete in New Orleans and he knows that. Whether he ends up in LA or Boston or Philadelphia, I believe he will be on a contender to allow him to chip chase soon.
John-Baptiste: Kevin Durant. This whole saga playing out seems eerily similar to that of LeBron James, as the whispers grew louder and louder that he would bolt for the sunshine in Los Angeles. Durant has completed what he has set out to do in Golden State with two championships and two Finals MVPs under his belt. Win or lose this year, it seems he will seek a different challenge. One that could make him immortal in the eyes of many. (Insert eye emoji: New York City)
Rose: I’m with Felix on this one, I think KD is gone after this year no matter what happens. The Warriors don’t seem to have the same drive they had in years past (even though I fully expect them to breeze through the playoffs), and with the combination of the internal issues on the team and his permanently bruised ego, I expect him to want to try and be the guy again. I’m not sure where he’ll go, but I think he’s won enough awards and accolades in his time in Oakland where he’ll want to start a new adventure in the league. Please, Kevin, we need some parity again.
Mangigian: I believe Kyrie Irving will be out of Boston prior to the 2019-2020 NBA season. Some obvious answers for this question also being Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis, I think Uncle Drew will be on the move. Irving certainly is not struggling in Boston, but it is my belief that Irving wants to be the guy somewhere. With Irving’s contract expiring at the end of this season, Irving will secure the BAG, and it will not be from Boston.
Anderson: Kawhi Leonard. Leonard is still playing top basketball and seems like he’s fitting in well with the Raptors. It doesn’t matter though because Leonard will more than likely be gone next season despite their outcome this season. Leonard wants to play in L.A. and I see him leaving Toronto in free agency for not the Lakers, but the Clippers. He will be the main guy for them even if he brings along another superstar to the team.
5. Who’s a player we should pay more attention to in 2019?
Calpin: I think a player that we should pay more attention to in 2019 is Khris Middleton. He is one of the most underrated players in all the league and is, in my opinion, the reason the Bucks work. Obviously, Giannis is the best player on that team but with all great players and teams in the league, there needs to be the Robin to the Batman and that is Middleton for Milwaukee. He is averaging 17 points, six rebounds and four assists per game on respectable shooting numbers and can defend on the other end. He is still in the prime of his career and we should pay more attention to him.
Khris Middleton with the TOUGH clutch bucket for the Bucks!
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) November 12, 2018
John-Baptiste: Kyle Lowry. There might not be another player who’s shown two different versions of themselves from the regular season to the playoffs. With Leonard as his running mate now, it will be interesting to see if Lowry’s regular season success leads to sustained great performances in the playoffs this time around. If that happens, maybe Toronto can finally get over the hump.
Rose: It seems silly to tell people to pay more attention to a player like Paul George, but it seems like he and the Thunder have been flying under the radar a bit since the novelty of Russell Westbrook’s triple-doubles has worn off. PG is averaging career highs in all five major categories and has played a huge role in the Thunder holding down a top-three seed in the West. Giannis, Kawhi, and LeBron are spearheading the MVP talk, but Paul George is very close to forcing his way into the conversation, especially if OKC continues
Mangigian: In a league loaded with star power, we somehow overlook Devin Booker. The 22-year-old is producing on a nightly basis: averaging 25 points, seven assists, and four rebounds per game. Devin Booker possesses an elite scoring touch, and due to injuries, only played 54 games last year. Do not let the Suns record fool you, Booker has scary potential.
Anderson: Kyrie Irving. Irving is quietly putting his name in the MVP race. Despite the Celtics’ early-season struggles, Irving has been pushing the Celtics towards success lately and can get a bucket whenever he pleases. Irving makes the whole team better and when you have a player like that, it’s hard to not watch him play. It seems as if his season has been too lowkey so far.