The NBA is starting a few weeks earlier this year, and word on the street is that it’s because they heard about the spooky predictions in this annual column. In an attempt to avoid the ominous whispers of years past, the league hid behind the notion of giving players extra days of rest between games. But we here at the Voice know the truth: they are scared of the spooky spirits of Halloween. Let’s dig right in and summon the ghost of Grant Hill’s career with Orlando Magic.
De’Aaron Fox – Rookie of the Year
Last year, I predicted that Phoenix point guard Tyler Ulis would overcome stiff competition and get the nod as rookie of the year. That means I was wrong on two fronts. First, Ulis didn’t win, averaging just 7.3 points per game. Second, he didn’t face any stiff competition, as many media pundits considered giving the award to a player who only appeared in 31 games.
This year will be a little bit different. Last year’s favorite to win before the season, Ben Simmons, is back and ready face off with teammate Markelle Fultz, Jayson Tatum, and Lonzo Ball. Tatum’s chances of winning will be limited, as his team is looking to win now and probably will not allot heavy minutes to a rookie, especially with Gordon Hayward ahead of him. Ball, who’s NBA debut has been hyped up since his days at Chino Hills High School, is being handed the keys to the Lakers offense, giving him ample opportunity to stand out among his peers.
One player will rise above the rest, however, and his name is De’Aaron Fox. Think about it. Fox is going to be the starting point guard on a Kings team that is eager to give him minutes as they continue to rebuild. Sacramento has no chance of getting within spitting distance of the playoffs for the next few years. The best thing they can do is develop their young core of Fox, Buddy Hield, and Skal Labissiere (and hopefully Harry Giles when he recovers).
Fox is skilled on both ends. On offense, his John Wall-esque speed allows him to move past his defender at will. On defense, he takes pride in shutting down opposing point guards. He makes the Ball family sweat more than any other player, forcing Lavar to comment every time Lonzo sits out against him, which has already happened an impressive three times.
Fox will be a fun to watch, if not for his play, then for his ability to make the Ball family tremble. And he might also be the best player to come out of the 2017 NBA draft.
The Spurs Fall Outside #6 in the West
The Spurs have made the playoffs for as long as I can remember, and then some. The past 20 seasons have featured the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Playoffs. Let me repeat, they have been playing playoff basketball for two consecutive decades.
Much of this success has been built on the back of multiple franchise players. From David Robinson to Tim Duncan to Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs always have their star. Another important part of their recipe convincing prominent players to join their team with the promise of winning. Recently LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, and David West all hopped on board, despite bigger offers from other teams.
The Spurs have encountered hills and valleys throughout the last 20 years. While they have won championships in 25% of those playoff appearances, they have also suffered some crushing losses. The worst of them, their loss as the #1 seed to the #8 Grizzlies, was an embarrassing end to the 2011 season.
My point is, they are more likely to slow down than speed up. Their corps continues to age, they missed out on signing Chris Paul, and they face a reloaded Western Conference with the firepower of an Expendables movie. While you can never count out a Gregg Popovich team, it is also difficult to see them making significant progress this season when every other top-tier team added another impressive weapon.
Joel Embiid – Plays more than 65 Games
Speak it into existence, right? Listen, some spooky predictions have come true. Kevin Durant did leave after his contract ran out with the Thunder. Last year, the Houston Rockets weren’t a resounding disappointment! James Harden became a triple-double monster and the Houston offense thrived with him at the point.
If I could use the spirits to summon anything into existence – it would be this: have Joel Embiid remain healthy over the course of the season. He was electric in the 31 games he played in the 2006-17 season. No player, other than LeBron, had the visible impact on his team that Embiid did. In his first preseason game of the 2017-18 season, Embiid erupted for 20 points and 7 rebounds in 11 minutes. In one play he dribbled toward the basket on the baseline, stopped on a dime, pulled up from about 16 feet, and drilled the shot. It is impossible to defend a 7-footer with those moves.
It might not be a spooky prediction, but trust me, the rest of the league is scared of a healthy Joel Embiid.
Photo: Aaron Gash/AP