Without a doubt the Summer of 2019 will go down as the most epic in NBA history. Over $3 Billion dollars was doled out to players within the first 24 hours of free agency. Superstars such as Kevin Durant changed coast going from Golden State to Brooklyn, Jimmy Butler was signed and traded to South Beach and later in the week like a thief in the night Kawhi returned to the United States by signing with the Clippers.
And that wasn’t all, Paul George was traded from OKC to join Kawhi in LA which lead to Russell Westbrook being dealt to Houston to team up with his good friend James Harden. These moves along with countless others now have everyone wondering who will win the NBA Championship this upcoming season. For the first time in nearly a decade the NBA season doesn’t feel like a foregone conclusion. But maybe it is! After analyzing each team, their off-season moves, and using my 2 key indicators (the age of your superstar and the position he plays) I feel we can accurately predict the next champion.
When it comes to building a championship team I firmly believe that “Wings win you Rings”. More times than not the key cog that fuels a championship run will be a player listed as Small Forward (SF) or Shooting Guard (SG) and ranges from about 6 feet 5 inches tall to 6 feet 9 inches tall. Jalen Rose is famous for noting that “positions were created so that a novice can follow the game” but history has shown us that with the exceptions being Isiah Thomas and Steph Curry point guards/small guards do not lead to championships (Sorry Dame).
Yes, Magic Johnson was listed as a Point Guard and won championships but let’s note that he’s 6’9 and he walked into the perfect situation playing alongside Kareem. So Magic does fit into the wing category. It is also worth pointing out that great big men don’t win titles without an elite wing alongside them. But 2 great wing players (Mike and Scottie, LeBron and Wade) can win together.
Now let’s talk age. The most consistent themes are ages 22, 23, 27 and 32.
At age 22 Shaq, Tim Duncan, LeBron and Kawhi all made their first NBA Finals. Duncan (1999) and Kawhi (2014) were victorious capturing Finals MVP while Shaq in 1995 and LeBron in 2007 were swept.
At age 23 Kareem (1971), Hakeem (1983), Dwight Howard (2009) and Kevin Durant (2012) made their first NBA Finals.
At age 27 Michael Jordan, LeBron, Shaq, and Isiah Thomas all captured their first NBA titles. Kawhi Leonard and Larry Bird won their 2nd ring and were selected as Finals MVP. Clyde Drexler made his first of 3 NBA Finals. Dirk Nowitzki also made his first Finals appearance at age 27.
At age 32 the aforementioned Clyde Drexler won his first title playing alongside Hakeem who the previous year won his first title at 32. Dirk also makes this category for defeating the highly touted Heatles in their first year together winning his first championship. Championship glory eluded Kareem for 9 years until he won again at this age.
Let’s compare this with the odds makers favorites for this season – Lakers, Clippers, Bucks, Sixers and Rockets.
LeBron will turn 35 this season. He’s playing like he’s still in his prime years but how long can he hold up. His running mate Anthony Davis will be 26 this year which coincidentally is the same age Steph Curry won his 1st title and Duncan won his 2nd title. This bodes well for the Lakers titles hopes. However, with King James’ mileage it’s possible he begins to wear down as the season goes on.
Harden will turn 30 and Westbrook 31. I like these 2 players, they are box office but at their age, defense not being their greatest attribute and no dominant big to lean on I can’t see them winning the title.
The Bucks have Giannis who is continuing to ascend. He’ll be 25, he’s still getting better and is arguably the best player in the East. It has been proven having the best player in the Eastern Conference can get you to the Finals. But with no costar also in his prime I think the Bucks fall to this next team.
The Sixers have Embiid and Ben Simmons who will be 25 and 23. These guys are entering their primes. With an expected ascension in their games, being motivated from how the playoffs ended for them and entering that age window where players start to win I expect the Sixers to be in the 2019-2020 NBA Finals. But who will they face….
Kawhi Leonard will be 28 and Paul George 29 respectively. Both guys have dealt with injuries throughout their careers but these ages are typically considered athletes “prime years”. Championship winners usually consist of 2 guys in their primes. Again think MJ and Scottie or LeBron and D-Wade 2012. PG and Kawhi are elite 2 way wings both coming off career years. These guys check both boxes of playing the right position and prime age. Don’t be surprised if the Clippers take home their first Larry O’Brien trophy.