Today marks the official start of the 2020-21 NBA season.
After the shortest offseason in NBA history for some teams and the longest offseason in NBA history for others, opening night is finally here. The Los Angeles Lakers will kick off their title defense against the Los Angeles Clippers. The Golden State Warriors will travel to New York to face the Brooklyn Nets in the first match between Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant since the latter left during the 2019 offseason.
There will be many interesting things throughout the season, and the Denver Stiffs staff decided to make their season predictions once again. Who wins each division? Will the Milwaukee Bucks finally make the NBA Finals? Will the Lakers repeat as back-to-back champions? Where do the Denver Nuggets factor into the picture? The staff answered all of those questions and more, from division winners to award races to playoff results.
Contributors for this piece included, in alphabetical order:
- Brandon Ewing - Senior Writer
- Daniel Lewis - Contributing Writer
- Evan Fiala - Contributing Writer
- Gage Bridgford - Contributing Writer
- Gordon Gross - Senior Writer
- Jena Garcia - Social Media Director
- Jeremy Poley - Social Media Manager
- Kayla Osby - Contributing Writer
- Nick Hertzog - Contributing Writer,
- Reid Howard - Contributing Moderator
- Reilly Biller - Social Media Intern
- Ryan Blackburn - Site Manager
- Zach Mikash - Deputy Site Manager
Atlantic Division Winner — Boston Celtics, 6 votes
Analysis: One of the most interesting divisions in the NBA, a reasonable case can be made for four teams to finish with the greatest number of wins. Last year’s top finishers, the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics, could either win the division outright or take a step back. The two challengers, the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets, figure to be much improved for drastically different reasons. Brooklyn is my pick though. If Kevin Durant is indeed fully recovered, the Nets move from interesting first round exit to championship contender in the blink of an eye.
Others to receive votes: Brooklyn Nets (4), Philadelphia 76ers (2), Toronto Raptors (1)
Central Division Winner — Milwaukee Bucks, 13 votes
Analysis: One of the weakest divisions in the NBA at the moment, one team stands above the rest and will continue to dominate the regular season for the foreseeable future. The Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo agreed to a super max contract extension last week. The entire city of Milwaukee breathed a sigh of relief as a result because Giannis is a one-way ticket to relevancy. The baseline performance of the Bucks is just so much higher than the Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Detroit Pistons. The easiest pick of the entire exercise.
Others to receive votes: None
Southeast Division Winner — Miami Heat, 11 votes
Analysis: The Miami Heat are clearly the cream of the crop in the Southeast. After advancing to the NBA Finals last season, it certainly feels like the Heat are gearing up for a more dominant regular season showing. Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo are sure to make improvements, while Jimmy Butler, Goran Dragic, and the rest of the established Heat rotation players will do enough in the regular season to earn a top four seed. Only Atlanta might stand in their way with a sudden abundance of depth surrounding Trae Young.
Others to receive votes: Atlanta Hawks (2)
Southwest Division Winner — Dallas Mavericks, 13 votes
Analysis: While the Houston Rockets have dominated this division for the last few years, there certainly appears to be a changing of the guard. For a long time, the San Antonio Spurs reigned supreme with Tim Duncan and company, then the Rockets and James Harden took over. Now, Harden wants out of Houston, and Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks are ready to replace them on the mantle. If Harden is moved, this should be an easy division title for the Mavs.
Others to receive votes: None
Pacific Division Winner — Los Angeles Lakers, 11 votes
Analysis: The Lakers, reloaded with additions like Dennis Schroder, Marc Gasol and Montrezl Harrell, are favorites to repeat as champions and as such are the team to beat in the Pacific. Honestly, the biggest variable is how much rest and load management LeBron James and Anthony Davis will take during the regular season. If that number is high, the Clippers have a chance at winning the division, but it’s not likely.
Others to receive votes: Los Angeles Clippers (2)
Northwest Division Winner — Denver Nuggets, 13 votes
Analysis: Three contenders for the division title stand above the others. The Denver Nuggets have won the division two years running. The Portland Trail Blazers won the year prior. The Utah Jazz won the year prior to that. Both the Jazz and Blazers made additions to their roster in an attempt to catch Denver, but our voters don’t see that happening. With Denver’s ability to generate regular season firepower offensively while remaining competent defensively, they will stand above the rest and win their third division title in a row.
Others to receive votes: None
End of season Awards
Most Valuable Player — Luka Doncic, 6 votes
Analysis: Luka Doncic has a great chance to win his first MVP this upcoming season. After finishing fourth last year just behind Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, and James Harden, this could be the year Doncic jumps those three guys to secure the award for most valuable player. It’s not going to be easy though as all three of those guys are going to push Doncic for the award once again along with guys like Steph Curry, Anthony Davis, and of course, Nikola Jokic.
Others to receive votes: Nikola Jokic (2), LeBron James (2), Steph Curry (2), Giannis Antetokounmpo
Defensive Player of the Year — Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis, tied at 4 votes
Analysis: There seems to be three main challengers for this award right now: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, and Rudy Gobert are the most dominant defensive bigs in the NBA and play for three teams with strong defensive identities surrounding those players. There are other contenders for the award, but Giannis feels like a good candidate to repeat. The addition of Jrue Holiday and a larger willingness to play Giannis heavy minutes in the regular season will be key in helping the Greek Freak claim this award. If Davis locks in for a full season, he could also take home the hardware.
Others to receive votes: Rudy Gobert (2), Draymond Green, Ben Simmons, Kawhi Leonard
Rookie of the Year — LaMelo Ball, 6 votes
Analysis: LaMelo Ball is going to be an absolute stud, which he’s already put on full display throughout the preseason. It’s not going to be a walk in the park for Ball though as guys like James Wiseman and Anthony Edwards could easily push him for the award. Ball has a phenomenal opportunity with the Charlotte Hornets and if he can just play consistently he will have a great chance at bringing home Rooke of the Year.
Others to receive votes: Deni Avdija and James Wiseman (2), Bol Bol, Obi Toppin, Cole Anthony
Sixth Man of the Year — Montrezl Harrell, 4 votes
Analysis: In his 42 games with the Jazz last season, Jordan Clarkson averaged 15.6 points off the bench in a scoring role. Utah re-upped Clarkson in free agency in hopes that he can provide an even bigger role on a second unit which frankly struggled more often than not. He will have plenty of opportunities as a scorer off the bench and could be in line for a career high scoring season.
Others to receive votes: Tyler Herro (3), Jordan Clarkson (2), Norman Powell, Spencer Dinwiddie, Will Barton III, Davis Bertans
Most Improved Player — Michael Porter Jr., 8 votes
Analysis: (No bias was found in this vote at all...) In all seriousness though, Porter has a great chance to win this award as long as he gets the 25+ minutes a night he deserves. As long as Porter gets consistent playing time, he’s going to put up big numbers and that could easily lead to him becoming the most improved player in the NBA.
Others to receive votes: Jamal Murray, De’Aaron Fox, Coby White, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox
Coach of the Year — Rick Carlisle, 5 votes
Analysis: Coach of the Year seems to be anyone’s ball game this season with a ton of great coaches having the opportunity to bring home the award. It’ll all depend on the final standings once the regular season comes to end, but you really can’t go wrong with any of the names listed above or below. Rick Carlisle could be a strong choice if the Mavericks perform well this season to get home court advantage.
Others to receive votes: Michael Malone, Doc Rivers, Steve Nash, Erik Spoelstra, Frank Vogel, Brad Stevens, Scott Brooks, Steve Kerr
2021 Playoff predictions
Top Seed in the Eastern Conference — Milwaukee Bucks, 11 votes
Analysis: Finishing as the top seed in the East for the last two seasons, there aren’t many challengers to the Milwaukee Bucks for the top spot. The Miami Heat could be classified as a better playoff team than regular season team, while the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, and Toronto Raptors all lost talented players to free agency and trades. Milwaukee gained a new top player in Jrue Holiday, who should be a significant upgrade over Eric Bledsoe throughout the regular season.
Others to receive votes: Miami Heat (2)
Eastern Conference Finals Winner — Milwaukee Bucks, 7 votes
Analysis: After falling short in two consecutive seasons under Mike Budenholzer, the Bucks finally prevail this time around. Though the competition will be fierce with Kevin Durant and the Nets, Jimmy Butler and the Heat, Jayson Tatum and the Celtics, and Joel Embiid and the Sixers, the time for Giannis to finally elevate the Bucks to the Finals is now. The group is in great position to make it happen, and if it doesn’t, there will be major changes.
Others to receive votes: Brooklyn Nets (4), Boston Celtics, Miami Heat
Most common Conference Finals opponent: Miami Heat
Top Seed in the Western Conference — Los Angeles Lakers, 7 votes
Analysis: One season after finishing with the top record in the Western Conference, the most likely scenario is for the Los Angeles Lakers to repeat in the regular season. With LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the margin for error is large for the supporting cast, and that group just added Dennis Schroder, Montrezl Harrell, and Marc Gasol to the rotation. All three should be impactful pieces. Despite the Nuggets challenging for top honors, look for the Lakers to hold home court advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs.
Others to receive votes: Denver Nuggets (5), Los Angeles Clippers
Western Conference Finals Winner — Los Angeles Lakers, 9 votes
Analysis: As strong as the Lakers are in the regular season, they showed an extra gear in the playoffs with their two stars finding new levels of success separately and together. LeBron and AD dominated the bubble together, and there is little reason to believe that this coming season will be any different. James has shown few signs of slowing down when the lights are brightest, and the supporting cast is just good enough to give the stars some margin for error from game to game. The Nuggets are the primary challenger according to the Denver Stiffs staff, but the Lakers appear inevitable.
Others to receive votes: Denver Nuggets (4)
Most common Conference Finals opponent: Denver Nuggets
NBA Finals Winner — Los Angeles Lakers, 7 votes
Analysis: The most dramatic time of the NBA season falls short in the surprise category this season. The Lakers are the favorites to repeat as NBA champions for good reason, and the majority of Denver Stiffs staff chose not to deviate from the favorite. There were questions heading into last season about LA’s supporting cast, but after running through the playoff gauntlet and winning the Bubble Finals, the Lakers have begrudgingly earned respect from the rest of the world. There seems to be little reason to pick against them this season, and no NBA team acquired such a massive upgrade and counter to what the Lakers do that should seriously threaten the favorites.
Others to receive votes: Milwaukee Bucks (3), Denver Nuggets (3)
Most common NBA Finals opponent: Milwaukee Bucks