NBA Insider Predictions: Raptors preview, award winners & more

What should we expect from the Lakers in LeBron's first season in L.A.?

With the NBA’s regular season tip-off just one week away, we polled our hoops experts to find out what they expect in the 2018-19 season.

The Championship

Finals matchup
Eric Smith: Golden State Warriors vs. Toronto Raptors
Brad Fay: Golden State Warriors vs. Boston Celtics
Leo Rautins: Golden State Warriors vs. Toronto Raptors
Michael Grange: Golden State Warriors vs. Boston Celtics
JD Bunkis: Golden State Warriors vs. Toronto Raptors
Donnovan Bennett: Golden State Warriors vs. Toronto Raptors
Dave Zarum: Golden State Warriors vs. Boston Celtics

NBA Champion
Eric Smith: Golden State
Brad Fay: Golden State
Leo Rautins: Golden State
Michael Grange: Golden State
JD Bunkis: Golden State
Donnovan Bennett: Golden State
Dave Zarum: Golden State

The Award Winners

Most Valuable Player
Eric Smith: Kevin Durant
Brad Fay: Steph Curry
Leo Rautins: LeBron James
Michael Grange: Giannis Antetokounmpo
JD Bunkis: LeBron James
Donnovan Bennett: LeBron James
Dave Zarum: Giannis Antetokounmpo

Defensive Player of the Year
Eric Smith: Kawhi Leonard
Brad Fay: Anthony Davis
Leo Rautins: Kawhi Leonard
Michael Grange: Kawhi Leonard
Donnovan Bennett: Rudy Gobert
Dave Zarum: Rudy Gobert

Sixth Man of the Year
Eric Smith: Terry Rozier
Brad Fay: Fred VanVleet
Leo Rautins: Terry Rozier
Michael Grange: Eric Gordon
JD Bunkis: Fred VanVleet
Donnovan Bennett: J.J. Redick
Dave Zarum: J.J. Redick

Rookie of the Year
Eric Smith: Deandre Ayton
Brad Fay: Luka Doncic
Leo Rautins: Marvin Bagley III
Michael Grange: Deandre Ayton
JD Bunkis: Marvin Bagley III
Donnovan Bennett: Luka Doncic
Dave Zarum: Luka Doncic

Coach of the Year
Eric Smith: Mike Malone
Brad Fay: Tyronn Lue
Leo Rautins: Mike Budenholzer
Michael Grange: Luke Walton
JD Bunkis: Brad Stevens
Donnovan Bennett: Brad Stevens
Dave Zarum: Mike Budenholzer

Most Improved Player
Brad Fay: Pascal Siakam
Leo Rautins: Pascal Siakam
Michael Grange: Pascal Siakam
JD Bunkis: Brandon Ingram
Donnovan Bennett: Markelle Fultz
Dave Zarum: Dante Exum

All-NBA 1st Team
Eric Smith: Westbrook, Harden, Durant, James, Davis
Brad Fay: Curry, Harden, Durant, James, Davis
Leo Rautins: Curry, Leonard, Durant, James, Davis
Michael Grange: Curry, Harden, Durant, Antetokounmpo, Davis
JD Bunkis: Curry, Harden, Durant, James, Davis
Donnovan Bennett: Curry, Leonard, Durant, James, Davis
Dave Zarum: Curry, Harden, Antetokounmpo, James, Davis

Burning Questions

Who will lead the NBA in scoring?
Eric Smith: Anthony Davis
Brad Fay: James Harden
Leo Rautins: Anthony Davis — Unlike Harden, he has to score big for New Orleans to go far.
Michael Grange: Giannis Antetokounmpo
JD Bunkis: James Harden
Donnovan Bennett: Kevin Durant
Dave Zarum: James Harden

Who is the biggest name — besides Jimmy Butler — to be traded?
Eric Smith: Mike Conley and/or Marc Gasol
Brad Fay: Isaiah Thomas
Leo Rautins: With teams trying to maintain cap space for next summer, I don’t anticipate much movement.
Michael Grange: Kemba Walker
JD Bunkis: Damian Lillard/C.J. McCollum
Donnovan Bennett: Anthony Davis
Dave Zarum: Damian Lillard

What do you expect from LeBron and the Lakers?
Eric Smith: Top five in the West, and a chance to battle in West Finals.
Brad Fay: Pushing 50 wins, 1st round playoff loss.
Leo Rautins: Strong playoff push.
Michael Grange: 49 wins, playoff spot.
JD Bunkis: The west is the better conference, but we overrate it. The Lakers will be hosts to start the playoffs.
Donnovan Bennett: 50 wins. Top four playoff position.
Dave Zarum: 50+ wins, home court advantage.

Next season Kawhi Leonard will be on the ______
Eric Smith: In my mind nobody — including Kawhi — knows where he will be.
Brad Fay: Clippers
Leo Rautins: Raptors
Michael Grange: Raptors
JD Bunkis: Clippers
Donnovan Bennett: Raptors
Dave Zarum: Raptors

What’s the biggest storyline currently flying under the radar?
Eric Smith: The rise (and danger) of the Nuggets.
Brad Fay: The Pacers added depth and may surprise the ‘Big 3’ in the East.
Leo Rautins: Carmelo Anthony’s fit in Houston.
Michael Grange: Not sure there is such a thing.
JD Bunkis: How the Bucks continue to tread water. Giannis could easily win MVP this season, but the rest of his team? Same old meh.
Donnovan Bennett: The NBA eliminating the age limit to enter the draft.
Dave Zarum: The 2018 rookie class. Ayton has been putting up huge numbers in the pre-season and showing no signs of slowing down once the games start to count. Meanwhile, Doncic appears as advertised and has superstar potential. In Los Angeles, Canadian Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is already getting to the hoop with ease and flashing serious potential of his own.

What player has the most to prove this season?
Eric Smith: Blake Griffin
Brad Fay: Kyrie Irving. The Celtics didn’t seem to miss a beat without him and he has long wanted to be “the man” on his own team.
Leo Rautins: Serge Ibaka. He has to step up and be consistent.
Michael Grange: Andrew Wiggins
JD Bunkis: DeMar DeRozan. He was second-team All-NBA last season, and now most think it’s a long shot he ever makes another all-star team.
Donnovan Bennett: Carmelo Anthony
Dave Zarum: Paul Millsap

Which team will take the biggest leap forward this season?
Eric Smith: Nuggets
Brad Fay: Lakers. See: James, LeBron.
Leo Rautins: Bucks. It’s time for Giannis to make his MVP push, and Budenholzer may be what they have needed in a coach.
Michael Grange: Jazz
JD Bunkis: Stop making me hype the Lakers.
Donnovan Bennett: Nuggets
Dave Zarum: Jazz

Which team will take the biggest step back?
Eric Smith: Cavaliers
Brad Fay: Timberwolves
Leo Rautins: Cavaliers…duh.
Michael Grange: Rockets
JD Bunkis: Cavaliers
Donnovan Bennett: Cavaliers
Dave Zarum: Trail Blazers

Raptors Questions

Pascal Siakam

Which Raptor will see their role change the most this season?
Eric Smith: Pascal Siakam
Brad Fay: OG Anunoby. Coming off the bench (at least likely early in the year), and the fact the new main man plays his position will mean a lot of minutes as a hybrid forward.
Leo Rautins: OG Anunoby.
Michael Grange: Serge Ibaka
Donnovan Bennett: Jonas Valanciunas
Dave Zarum: Jonas Valanciunas. Expect to see his role and usage enhance under Nurse.

Which Raptor is set for the biggest breakout season?
Eric Smith: Pascal Siakam
Brad Fay: Pascal Siakam
Leo Rautins: Pascal Siakam. He’s ready to impact the game every night at both ends of the floor.
Michael Grange: Pascal Siakam
Donnovan Bennett: Pascal Siakam
Dave Zarum: Delon Wright

Which Raptor is under the most pressure?
Eric Smith: Kawhi Leonard. But I think he’ll handle it.
Brad Fay: Serge Ibaka. I don’t think Nurse will wait long to remove him from the rotation if he struggles early.
Leo Rautins: Kyle Lowry. He’ll be under pressure to lead, maintain his game and body, and keep his teammates happy and engaged.
Michael Grange: Kawhi Leonard
Donnovan Bennett: Kawhi Leonard
Dave Zarum: Serge Ibaka

Fill in the blank: The third-best Raptor is _______
Eric Smith: Fred VanVleet
Brad Fay: Could be a four-way tie, but if forced to break it, I’d say VanVleet.
Leo Rautins: Danny Green. His impact will be felt on and off the floor.
Michael Grange: Pascal Siakam
Donnovan Bennett: Fred VanVleet
Dave Zarum: Jonas Valanciunas

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