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GRADING ALL OF MY NBA PRESEASON TAKES

@TheWillBaldwin

What’s popping on Air-Ball

Well, it’s the All-Star break and roughly halfway through the season so we know a ton. Why not look back to when we didn’t to see what I got right and wrong in my season preview?

Eastern Conference

Teams I was too high on

  • Boston, Washington, Miami

Teams I was too low on

  • Brooklyn, Charlotte, Chicago, New York

Teams I nailed

  • Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Toronto, Indiana, Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit 

COVID/Injuries make it hard to tell 

  • Orlando 

Grade: B+

In looking back on these conference standings, I’m actually pretty happy with how my picks turned out. Considering things like injuries and the pandemic, getting over half the teams in the right neighbourhood is something I’m happy with.

Of the teams, I was wrong on though, the one I’m most surprised about is Boston. 

I thought after going on a playoff run without Gordon Hayward, they had proved him leaving in free agency wouldn’t kill them. What I didn’t account for was Kemba Walker’s health being a much bigger deal than I thought and the depth on this team really coming up short. 

Hopefully, they make a move with that trade exception to surround Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum with the talent they deserve but I can’t say even with that I’m overly optimistic about them in the future. 

On the complete other side of the wrong spectrum, Brooklyn’s near future at least seems as bright as anyone in this conference. I didn’t think they had the assets to get James Harden but boy did they. Although it’s a little silly to penalize myself when they didn’t have Harden to start the season, the fact I wrote they couldn’t get him clinches this spot.

Washington and Miami could turn things around and make me look better, especially in Miami’s case, after major outbreaks but even still, I feel like I overvalued the talent on their rosters.

Charlotte, Chicago and New York on the other hand was the opposite. I didn’t really have high hopes for any of these teams to sniff the play-in much less push for a real playoff spot. Maybe they’ll slow down in the second half however all of their young cores are further along than I expected as well so even if they do settle closer to my projection by season’s end, the likes of LaMelo Ball, Zach LaVine, Julius Randle and others are much better than I saw for this season.

Going into the second half, of the teams that I got right that I think could join the young up-and-comers and settle a bit is definitely Philadelphia. In the last few weeks, they’ve been hanging onto that one seed by a thread and although Joel Embiid has been exceptional, Milwaukee and Brooklyn are coming for that one seed. My guess is by season’s end not only will I be right about Embiid and Ben Simmons have a future together but also, their seed will be much closer to the fourth I projected. 

Overall, I’m pretty happy with the list and am excited to see who slides up and down in the second half. Usually, by now the standings are pretty close to finalized believe it or not but thanks to the COVID-19 wrinkle, who’s to say someone doesn’t go on a two-week slide from an outbreak and change everything. 

Western Conference

Teams I was too high on

  • Denver, Dallas

Teams I was too low on

  • Utah, Phoenix, Memphis, San Antonio, Oklahoma City 

Teams I nailed

  • Lakers, Clippers, Portland, Golden State, New Orleans, Minnesota, Sacramento 

COVID/Injuries TBD

  • Houston 

Grade: B 

Unlike the East, I’m a little more disappointed in my Western Conference picks.

I was really invested in a Phoenix and Utah bounce back after their offseasons but I just didn’t have the balls to do it. So, they’ve rewarded me by being the top two seeds in the conference of course.

Utah is probably more liable to falling off in the second half but I think both these teams are flat-out good this season and we should be more seriously considering them as playoff threats.

Speaking of playoff threats, the Laker’s slight regular season step back was super predictable as was the Clippers with basically the same roster having basically the same record. Even Portland fell where I projected but that feels more like a feather in that of Damian Lillard’s MVP candidacy than my prediction but I’ll take it. 

I’m also proud to say Stephen Curry’s team being good when he is on the floor wasn’t rocket science and yet many of you doubted him. 

I also don’t take much credit in projecting New Orleans, Sacramento and Minnesota to suck since none of them did anything of note to improve over the offseason. Hopefully, we see some kind of life out of these three in the second half but with their rosters, I’m not holding my breath. 

Even with as well as I nailed all of those teams, the reason this grade is lower than the East is because of four teams. 

Dallas and Denver are just simply not as good as I expected even despite their stars’ ridiculous production. Much like the Celtics, I just missed on the number of good basketball players they have on their roster. 

On the complete other hand, San Antonio and Oklahoma City are about 80 per cent better than I thought. I saw OKC as a top-five lottery pick lock however Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has them almost competent. The Spurs being lead by DeMar DeRozan is both beautiful and devastating to my projections. In fairness to how off I was with the Spurs so far, don’t be surprised if they fall off in the second half, just look at how brutal their schedule is.

I think this list could’ve been better if I had more conviction and that sucks but to be honest, the amount I got right is pretty solid all things considered. 

Playoff Picks

Pre-season picks

I’m actually pretty happy with these playoff picks. The Lakers are still the unanimous favourites to me if healthy and I think Portland could go on a real run the way Dame is playing once CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic return.

What I’m most happy with this is that the Clippers aren’t here. Their offence is far too stagnant still to excel in the playoffs and I think unless they fix it, them making it to the final four is unlikely.

Out East, Miami appears poised to go on another Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo lead run now that they’re finally healthy. The only thing I’d love to change is them beating Brooklyn but since I didn’t know Harden would be there, I’ll take it nonetheless.

If it isn’t Miami who plays Brooklyn in the conference finals (yes I think Brooklyn is almost a lock), I’d say it’s probably Philly. Embiid has been the MVP so far and if they make the right move at the deadline, them being here makes lots of sense. 

In terms of my champion, as long as Anthony Davis is healthy, I’m more than okay with the pick of LeBron James to win his fifth ring. 

New Picks

East Finals: Brooklyn Nets over the Miami Heat in six games.

West Finals: Los Angeles Lakers over the Phoenix Suns in six games.

Finals: Lakers over the Nets in six games.

Awards

MVP- Damian Lillard

Grade: B+

Dame has been awesome and should be at minimum a top ten MVP candidate. He has some work to do to get higher though and because of that, I can’t give it higher than a B+. 

New Pick: Joel Embiid

ROY- Cole Anthony

Grade: D+

Cole has been fine but this terrible grade has much more to do with LaMelo Ball’s dominance than Cole. Ball has been so clearly the rookie of the year that at this point if you didn’t have him as your pick, it can’t be higher than a C+.

New Pick: LaMelo Ball 

DPOY- Anthony Davis

Grade: INC

If he doesn’t get hurt I think he would’ve had a real chance at this award with how he was playing but he did so this is incomplete. 

New Pick: Ben Simmons

Coach: Michael Malone

Grade: C+

Michael Malone has been fine don’t get me wrong. His work balancing injuries and COVID-19 has actually been impressive. However, he wouldn’t be a top 10 candidate for me so far and as such, the grade reflects that. 

New Pick: Quin Snyder

Most Improved: RJ Barrett

Grade: B

Most improved is by far the hardest award to pick so this grade is on a curve. Sure, Barrett hasn’t done Jerami Grant things but he’s shooting it better than high school at the minimum, playing great defence and is the second-best player on a playoff team. So yeah, he isn’t the most improved but he is very improved so I’ll take it. 

New Pick: Jerami Grant

Favourite thing I got right?

Kevin Durant returns to form

In the preview I said by the end of this season, Durant would be back to being seen as a top-two player in the world. Well, halfway through the season and I think it’s hard to disagree he isn’t right there once again. 

Most disappointed with?

Boston Celtics 

I mentioned it above but this definitely goes to Boston. I thought they’d go on a major F you tour after Hayward left and the way they lost to Miami but Kemba has just not been right yet and on top of that, the depth is a disaster. Maybe a trade with that trade exception helps however this team really lies on the health of Walker’s knees. 

Hot takes for the second half

  • Miami goes on a huge run again

They basically haven’t been healthy all season and yet are 12-4 when Jimmy Butler takes the court. With him back and Adebayo in All-Star snub revenge mode, give me Miami to go on a second-half tear. 

  • One of Utah, Phoenix or Portland makes the conference finals

I eluded to it above but I just don’t buy the Clippers in the playoffs the way they’re playing. As such, give me one of Utah, Phoenix or Portland to steal their place in the conference finals. 

  • The Knicks make a win-now trade that actually works 

Whether it be Lonzo Ball, Terry Rozier or Victor Oladipo I think the Knicks have shown their cards with that Derrick Rose trade and are going to go all-in. The trade will probably get mocked by the media but my take is whoever it is, it’ll actually work and the Knicks will make the playoffs. 

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