The Post’s biggest NBA storylines, questions ahead of opening night
Three of The Post’s sportswriters — Zach Braziller, Brian Lewis and Mike Vaccaro — take their shot at answering the most pressing questions as the NBA season prepares to tip off Tuesday:
1. The biggest question of the NBA season is … ?
Braziller: Can the Warriors repeat? Golden State returns basically everyone from last season’s championship team, and could be even better if Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins continue to progress, enabling Steve Kerr to rest Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green enough to be fresh for the postseason.
Lewis: With all of the stars currently in unsettled situations, who gets moved at the February trade deadline, and how does it reshape the balance of power?
Vaccaro: Will the Nets implode, or will they rally around each other? At this point, it’s probably 51-49 the former. At this point.
2. Which team will be better than expected?
Braziller: The Cavaliers, despite trading for Donovan Mitchell and returning one of the top young cores in the league, still aren’t considered better than a top-six team in the Eastern Conference. They will prove that prognostication wrong, finishing third and making serious noise in the postseason.
Lewis: Denver. Nikola Jokic single-handedly got the Nuggets to a 48-34 record last season. Improved and healthier, Denver seems a mortal lock to top oddsmakers’ Over/Under of 50.5 wins.
Vaccaro: The Knicks on paper feel like a classic 41-41 team. But early indicators are there is real chemistry brewing here. We’ll see.
3. Which team will be worse than expected?
Braziller: The Heat failed to make any significant additions, whiffing on swinging a trade for Kevin Durant in particular, while other contenders in the Eastern Conference improved. They won’t be part of the upper echelon of the conference.
Lewis: Boston. The Celtics were middling for three months last season until their run to the Finals. They won’t be that healthy again (Robert Williams III), and that’s not even factoring in the suspension of coach Ime Udoka.
Vaccaro: The Celtics will take a step back, the organizational dysfunction dripping onto the court.
4. Which player will really emerge this season?
Braziller: Cade Cunningham’s first season in the league was underrated: He averaged 17.4 points, 5.6 assists and 5.5 rebounds. The former No. 1-overall pick improves on those numbers this season surrounded by more young talent.
Lewis: Evan Mobley. The arrival of Donovan Mitchell won’t stunt him; instead it will unlock the budding star.
Vaccaro: Given the hype surrounding him already, it may seem odd to list Zion Williamson here. But he looks healthy, trim and ready to explode.
5. Which coach should be worried about his job security?
Braziller: Steve Nash. The Nets have to win. His superstar player, Kevin Durant, wanted him out during the offseason. A slow start and Nash could be on the unemployment line.
Lewis: Tom Thibodeau. He set the bar high to start and failed to clear it in Year 2. The hard-driving Thibodeau got fired 40 games into Year 3 in Minnesota.
Vaccaro: You get the sense Steve Nash could be shown the door after the Nets’ first three-game losing streak. Or three-game winning streak, if the players aren’t having fun.
6. The biggest name who will be moved by the trade deadline will be … ?
Braziller: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The tanking Thunder, with eyes for wondrous French talent Victor Wembanyama, send the dynamic guard to the Raptors for a slew of future picks.
Lewis: Myles Turner. Bradley Beal has had a half-dozen chances to leave Washington and didn’t. The Nets likely had twice as many offers for Kevin Durant and rejected them all.
Vaccaro: Kevin Durant. At some point, the drama is going to become too overwhelming and someone will make an offer Sean Marks can’t refuse.
7. Among the stars who missed a significant part (or all) of last season, the returning one who will have the biggest impact is … ?
Braziller: Jamal Murray. The star shooting guard’s return leads the Nuggets to their first 50-win season since 2018-19, and gives them one of the premier 1-2 punches in the league alongside two-time reigning MVP Nikola Jokic.
Lewis:Kawhi Leonard. League GMs think the Clippers have the best chance to knock off Golden State in the West, and it’s because of Leonard.
Vaccaro: Kawhi Leonard, who could bring the Clippers from a season of wheel-spinning to a parade if he’s all the way back.
8. The MVP this season will be … ?
Braziller: Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bucks will be healthier and more motivated after last season’s second-round playoff ouster. And the Greek Freak will dominate, leading Milwaukee to the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Lewis: Luka Doncic. Dallas may not be ready to win the West, but Doncic is ready to win MVP — the fifth straight for a foreign-born player.
Vaccaro: Giannis Antetokounmpo, who just seems to get better and better every year. Sometimes the trophy just needs to go to the best player.
9. The NBA Finals matchup will be … ?
Braziller: Nuggets-Bucks. Jokic and Murray lead Denver to a memorable Western Conference finals victory over the favored Warriors, but they don’t have enough left to get by the Bucks.
Lewis: Warriors over Bucks. The past two champions in a great matchup of styles.
Vaccaro: Warriors vs. Bucks, which would’ve been a terrific battle last season if Milwaukee had been healthy. Taking the Bucks in 7.