OTG Roundtable: Who's Going to Start Hot in 2019-2020?
Troy Taormina - USA TODAY Sports
The 2019-2020 NBA regular season is almost upon us. Preseason has already begun. We've seen Anthony Davis - as a Laker - serve up 22/10/2 in 18 minutes against a depleted GSW team. We blinked, and TJ Warren had a 30-point game in a Pacers uniform. Buddy Hield is gunning transition 3's like he's a Klay-Curry fusion dance.
With all of these stupendous performances being recorded in the preseason, you'd better believe that speculation is a-brewin' in the NBA blogosphere.
There's no better time for another Roundtable with our talented, foresight-gifted OTG Staff Members.
The question(s): Which player do you expect a hot start from this season? Why? What does that hot start look like?
Nik Cuvalo (@NiikCuvs): Anthony Davis (#3, LAL).
Assuming the Lakers' newest superstar is able to stay injury-free for most (65+ games) of the season, Davis should be considered a major threat to lead the league in both scoring and rebounding; he's just that good, and now he's part of the league's most devastating pick-and-roll tandem, starring alongside LeBron James in a loaded front-court. His team will be deep and talented; his motivation has never been stronger (he has some doubters to convince on the national stage when it comes to winning); and he sees the opportunity presented to him. Let's not forget, this is the same Davis that took a loaded Kentucky squad to the national championship and won it all in his freshman year - he knows a bit about seizing the moment.
In terms of a first-quarter-of-the-season forecast, I could see AD playing the role of alpha on the Lakers, leading the team in points, rebounds, and blocks. An average per-game stat line of 31/13/5 (points/rebounds/assists) with three blocks and a steal on shooting splits of 60/35/85 (FG%/3PT%/FT%) through LA's first 15 games feels appropriate, given Davis' huge talent and apparent readiness to shoot out of the gates in a crucial year. I expect Davis to be the team's best player - hands-down - on both ends of the court, leading the Lakers to an 11-4 start.
Jeremy Freed (@JeremyFreed3): James Harden (#13, HOU).
James Harden is not interested in any 9-11 starts where he has to dig out of a self-made mess. James Harden is not about averaging 36 minutes and 36 points a game, just to tire out and lose to a Kevin Durant-less Warriors team, all while not even winning the MVP. James Harden is not down to be a modern Elgin Baylor, with all the individual accolades and praise, but no ring on his finger. Y’all see that first Raptors preseason game? The one where The Beard went off for 22 points in the first quarter? 34 points in 27 minutes? Just project that out over the first quarter of the season.
There are a whole host of doubters and haters when it comes to Harden and Westbrook getting back together; I expect they will be extra motivated to take the reins on that narrative and...blast off (sorry, had to) to a hot start. I think last year’s December 1st win over the Bulls provides a good template for Harden's early season stats: 30 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds a game in just 30 minutes of game time.
Cam Tabatabaie (@CTabatabaie): Jayson Tatum (#0, BOS).
There's two forces at work here. First, as Tatum sheds his bad-Kobe habits, his game figures to improve. A strict diet of lay-ups and threes will make JT a much, much more efficient player. Second, I expect the Celtics to feature Tatum as a central pillar of the team's offense. I wouldn't be surprised if Tatum is featured heavily in pick-and-roll sets with Kemba Walker. Boston needs Tatum to become a reliable night-in, night-out scoring threat; meeting that expectation early will be critical.
Overall, I'm cautiously optimistic about Year 3 of the Tatum era. I think he could average north of 20 points per game, but will still be a fringe All-Star at best this year. The Celtics simply need steady, linear growth from JT, which I believe is quite reasonable considering his potential and the improved atmosphere surrounding the team this season.
Ollie Selwood (@UkClipper): Maurice Harkless (#8, LAC).
Harkless has gone under the radar because of other blockbuster moves, but is incredibly experienced for a seven year vet. He will get more playing time at the start of the season due to Paul George’s compromised fitness and might even start some of those games. He’s incredibly crafty, often sneakily getting into position around the floor to pick up easy buckets.
I could see him sprinting out of the gates, averaging 15/5/2 with 2 blocks and 2 steals in the first 10 games on shooting splits of 60/40/70. The Clippers go 6-4, starting steady whilst the team gels and waits for George to return.
Dalton Pence (@dpence_): James Harden (#13, HOU).
Harden had one of the top offensive seasons in NBA history last year. Although he has seemingly improved every single year he's been in the league, I find it hard to believe that he'll end up topping his efforts from last season. However, that does not mean that he isn't capable of sustaining that caliber of play. Despite having to incorporate long-time friend and hoops colleague Russell Westbrook into the rotation, the Beard has almost all of his supporting cast back from last year, so his comfort level should not wane significantly.
Through the first 15 games, I can see Harden averaging 32/9/5 with 2 steals on 40/36/87 shooting splits while the Rockets go 10-5.
Khaleel Abdullah (@its_khaleel): Stephen Curry (#30, GSW).
Klay Thompson is out and Kevin Durant signed with the Brooklyn Nets. This team is clearly Curry's, even with the addition of D'Angelo Russell. In order for the Boys From The Bay to stay anywhere near the top of the West, he's going to need to put forward the best regular season performance of his career.
Let's say the Warriors start 7-3, and The Chef shoots over 45% from downtown, averaging 7.0 made threes and 33.0 points per game. Curry's nuclear-hot start gives him the early lead in league-wide scoring this season, and makes a resounding statement to the rest of the NBA that the Golden State era isn't ready to die just yet.
Alder Almo (@alderalmo): Stephen Curry (#30, GSW).
It’s a no-brainer that Stephen Curry will regain his old gunslinging ways in the post-Kevin Durant era. While the defense will focus on him, it’s really hard (read: basically impossible) to stop the two-time MVP; he can get hot from deep even after a scoreless first half. Save for their opener against the revamped Los Angeles Clippers, expect Curry to be stringing together 30+ or even 40+ point games to go with double-figures in the assist column.
He’s primed to be the first NBA player this coming season to score 50+ points in a game, seeing as his revamped Warriors team is now without Durant (for good) and Klay Thompson (until at least the All-Star break).
Justin Vigil-Zuniga (@JustinwillTweet): Javale McGee (#7, LAL).
The one player that stands to prosper the most on the Lakers' upgraded roster is center Javale McGee. With Anthony Davis hurt again (Grade 1 thumb sprain) and Dwight Howard looking like a legitimate coin flip on any given night, the Lakers will likely be rotating minutes heavily in the front court as the season unfolds. That's where Javale comes in. McGee will thrive with the Lakers' masterful pick-and-roll partners; paint-feeding players like LBJ, Rajon Rondo, Alex Caruso are ready to serve up dimes to the springy big man. McGee's short-duration, high-impact talent was on display last season on both ends of the floor, with the former Shaqtin’ a Fool-MVP looking like a DPOY candidate in the first quarter of the season (when he averaged 13.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3 blocks a night, with 11 games of three or more blocks). McGee could easily repeat this flashy start with an even stronger supporting roster; he already has a five block night in the preseason.
Mcgee’s opening stretch prediction looks something like 15 points, 8 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks per game on highly-efficient shooting (think 65%+ from the field) in less than 25 minutes of action. Lakers open up winning eight of their first 10, with a lot of credit going to Javale.