NBA Restart: And Then There Were 22, Part 4 (#5-#1)

The NBA Restart is well underway, and the games have never been so intense. This article finally breaks into the top five, detailing my top picks for who will hoist the O’Brien Trophy. The first, second, and third installments can be found here.

NBA Restart: And Then There Were 22, Part 4

5) Toronto Raptors

The reigning champions have surpassed all expectations this season. Most people thought that after superstar Kawhi Leonard opted to join the Los Angeles Clippers in the offseason the Raps would be in a rough place. But instead, Head Coach Nick Nurse went to work with what he had. Veteran Kyle Lowry has continued to thrive with the talent around him, leading the team on defense. Latest Most Improved Player Pascal Siakam continued his ascent to stardom this season, averaging 23.0 points and 7.3 rebounds on the way to his first All-Star appearance (in which he started). Their two centers, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, have continued to produce numbers in whatever capacity is given to them. They are also aided by a plethora of good shooters, Norman Powell and Fred VanVleet among them. Toronto has had a great season up to this point, and a repeat isn’t out of the question. But while they have the talent to win, they don’t have the superstar needed to come out on top in the NBA Restart.

4) Los Angeles Lakers

What? The one-seeded Lakers at the fourth spot on our ranking? The Lakers are in a weird spot. They have arguably the greatest player of all time in LeBron James leading their team and a fantastic number two in All-NBA big man Anthony Davis. The problem is the rest of their team. Los Angeles gave up a huge package in order to trade for Davis and lost a good chunk of depth in the trade. They tried to replenish before the bubble with signings like Dion Waiters and Markieff Morris, but that hasn’t really helped. They run out a very big lineup, running ‘Bron at the point and “the Brow” at power forward, with either Dwight Howard or JaVale McGee at center. This restricts the spacing that is so necessary for today’s game. They have sharpshooters, like Danny Green, but they haven’t been very consistent in the NBA restart. We all know that “Playoff ‘Bron” is another monster and with the help that he has he cannot be counted out. But a title might not be in the works this year.

3) Milwaukee Bucks

Milwaukee has been nothing short of dominant this season. Led by MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, they have marched to the best record in the league. And the team around him is perfectly suited for his needs. Fellow All-Star Khris Middleton has emerged as one of the premier wings in the league and may become one of the few players to join the esteemed 50/40/90 club. Center Brook Lopez continues to be the perfect shooting center for their system, while point guard Eric Bledsoe‘s defense and playmaking finish the key components of the lineup. They will probably miss Malcolm Brogdon in the coming years, but the emergence of Donte DiVincenzo has helped them get through it. Coach Mike Budenholzer has been able to work well with this unit, and there aren’t any obvious massive reasons they should lose the East. The main problem, though, is what happens when they don’t have Antetokounmpo. Middleton is a capable enough player to lead a unit on the court when the Greek Freak is sitting, but not for an extended period of time. If he were to miss games, it could be catastrophic for this very promising team.

2) Los Angeles Clippers

That’s right. The Clippers ahead of the Lakers AND the Bucks. Midway through last season, it looked like the Clips were in the midst of a rebuild. But once the offseason hit, they were able to complete it when they secured the services of Kawhi Leonard via free agency and traded for Paul George. While they had to give up a ton of assets and cap space to attain both, they were able to fill out the rest of their roster with capable vets and some young players to fill out a very good rotation. They still have Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, and Montrezl Harrell from the Chris Paul trade, and all of them have become key performers. Williams and Montrezl, specifically, have led the best bench in the league while both of them are candidates for Sixth Man of the Year. PG and Kawhi can lock up almost anyone that the opposing teams throw at them, and, if the bench continues to produce as it has, they should be able to beat every other team in the NBA restart. Except for the next one.

1) Houston Rockets

Huh? What? Are you serious? The Rockets!?! The answer to all of those questions is a resounding YES. Call me biased if you want, but the Rockets’ brand of small ball is like nothing ever seen before. Houston entered the offseason fresh off yet another loss to the Golden State Warriors. They decided that CP3 wasn’t the answer to their point guard position and decided to flip him, along with picks, to the rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder for franchise legend Russell Westbrook. But the results weren’t what the team was expecting, so they made a drastic move to improve Westbrook’s play. They traded young center Clint Capela to the Atlanta Hawks in a four-team trade that netted them wing Robert Covington. This left the team without a classic center, and they opted to go with a micro-ball approach. Starting 6’5″ P.J. Tucker in the middle, they were able to improve the spacing for Westbrook’s slashing tendencies.

It’s possibly the last of coach Mike D’Antoni‘s strategies to take over the league. Luckily, he has the best scorer in the league, James Harden, at his disposal to do whatever needs to be done. There’s a brilliant surrounding cast, made up mostly of 3 and D wings who can spread the floor. One of the better signings this offseason was Ben McLemore, who has been shooting lights-out in the bubble. The Rockets have beaten playoff team after playoff team and “the Beard” has proved to be one of the few people that neither of the Clippers duo can guard effectively. Houston has a deep enough bench that if someone goes down, there is a capable backup waiting. It’s a bold pick, but the Houston Rockets are my pick to win it all in the NBA restart.


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