by George Willoughby and Tom Walker
The new NBA season is just around the corner and Gair Rhydd Sport has been analysing some of the potential candidates for the title as well as the favourites for the MVP award.
Deputy Head of Sport George Willoughby and Digital Media Editor Tom Walker have chosen the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Clippers as two teams who have a great chance of going all the way.
Also, the label of MVP will be tightly contested once again, with numerous frontcourt and backcourt players having the ability to dominate in their respective positions.
Will the Greek Freak retain his crown? Or will Steph Curry add to his two awards already? Whatever the outcome, the NBA season will not disappoint.
Los Angeles Clippers
In an action-packed off-season, one of the biggest beneficiaries were the Los Angeles Clippers, not only did they acquire the reigning NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, but they also added 29-year old Paul George. George, who is coming off the back of an excellent 28 points per game season (2nd in the league), joined the Clippers with many other teams in pursuit of his services. Unsurprisingly, the Clippers are one of the more favoured sides for the new NBA season, with two all-star calibre players as well as a strong roster.
Alongside Leonard and George, there is the defensively orientated Patrick Beverley at the point and the seven-foot Ivica Zubac anchoring the painted area. Of course, you cannot forget the back-to-back NBA Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams who provides vital production coming off the bench.
The Clippers have been improving with each season, in particular, their 115.10 points per game last year ranked an impressive 5th amongst NBA teams. They are also 18th in assists, 13th in rebounding and 7th in shooting percentage with an efficient 47% from the field.
Head Coach Doc Rivers and his side have the foundations for an excellent year, especially how they fared in last year’s post-season. Sneaking in through the eighth seed, they faced the improbable task of defeating the Golden State Warriors. They lost the series 4-2 but staging the biggest comeback in playoff history in game two was an exceptional showing of the talent in their squad.
Now, with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on the roster, the Clippers are definitely contenders for this seasons NBA Championship.
Following a successful run to the Eastern Conference finals, the Bucks are looking to run it back this season by retaining the core that got them the best regular-season record last year. A lot of their offseason business involved locking up their existing starters, with Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez signing long term contracts. The 28-year-old Middleton became a first-time All-Star in the 18-19 season, averaging a solid 18 points and six assists a game as well as shooting a respectable 38% from behind the perimeter.
There were other notable additions to the roaster, with veterans Kyle Korver and Wesley Matthews coming in to provide much-needed playoff experience as well as more three-point shooting.
However, the loss of former rookie of the year Malcolm Brogdon may be costly.
The 26-year-old shot an impressive 50% from the field, 40% from three and 90% at the free-throw line as well as being just as good on the other end of the floor, being able to defend across multiple positions. Forward Nikola Mirotic, who like Lopez offered good floor spacing and size, also departed, choosing to move across seas to play in Europe.
But it is no secret that the Bucks success relies heavily on reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak averaged 28 points on 58% efficiency, 12 rebounds and six assists in a historic season as well as showing signs of improvement. He set career highs in almost all of his stats and most notably total three-pointers made which is the only chink in his armour.
The Buck’s system revolves around Giannis driving to the basket and either finishing at the rim or kicking it out to open shooters. They attempted the second-most three-pointers in the regular season (38.2) and I expect this to continue with the formerly mentioned additions of shooters Korver and Matthews.
MVP: Backcourt contenders
James Harden must have been feeling slightly aggrieved not to have picked up the MVP award last season. He led the league with an incredible 36.1 points per game, with his patented step-back three-point shot proving unguardable. It is a move so subtle, yet so effective in creating enough space for him to release from deep.
What was even more impressive with Harden’s stat line last season was his steals. The 30-year-old has been heavily criticised for his defence in recent years, but he actually finished second in steals per game which showed that it is not all about scoring points for Harden.
If he matches or even comes close to last seasons production, he will most definitely be one of the leading contenders for the MVP award.
We all know how good Stephen Curry is, and he could be primed for another huge year. Kevin Durant has departed, and his splash brother Klay Thompson will be missing large parts of the season with an ACL injury. The offensive impetus rests on his shoulders which is a burden he is no stranger to. Curry can score points at a rate like no other player and he is another one of our leading players for the MVP.
There is no doubting Ben Simmonds’ basketball ability, yet the focus is on his inferior jump-shot instead of his playmaking and finishing around the rim. He is one of the less favourable players for the MVP, however, if he can show consistency from range, he would be the most potent offensive threats in the NBA.
MVP: Frontcourt contenders
Reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo was simply brilliant last season. Ranking 3rd in points scored, 11th in field goal percentage and 6th in rebounding to bring together an all-around dominant year for the 24-year-old. However, he faces tough competition as some of the players in the NBA frontcourt’s are exceptional.
Anthony Davis, otherwise known as ‘The Brow’ has partnered with Lebron James for the Los Angeles Lakers. Davis, who was dominant whilst in New Orleans, should thrive not being the focal point of the offence. Lebron James desperately needed some assistance in LA, and Anthony Davis could well be the perfect addition.
Another player very much a contender for the MVP award is Kawhi Leonard. Leonard pioneered a historical championship-winning season in Toronto, but he has also relocated to Los Angeles.
Himself and Paul George have transferred to the LA Clippers forming an intimidating duo. Known for his defence, Leonard is an invaluable lockdown defender as well as being incredibly consistency on the offensive end.
6th in points per game and 7th in steals displays his prowess at both ends of the floor. The Clippers looks like an excellent fit for Leonard to succeed and should provide him with a great opportunity to make a good claim for the MVP award.
There are many more players who have not made our shortlist, especially the likes of Joel Embiid and Nicola Jokic who could easily come away with the award.