The Raptors won their first title in their 25 years as a franchise last season and while they're unlikely to repeat, they'll look to defend their title without finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, who departed to the Clippers. The Western Conference looks stronger than ever as multiple teams in the west bolstered their rosters as many teams fight for a playoff spot. This year's rookie class is gaining a ton of buzz, partially generated by Zion Williamson, who is one of the reasons to watch basketball this year, according to Sports Illustrated. With an exciting season coming up, here is what could occur.

Zion averages double-double

No NBA rookie or prospect is being hyped up as much as Zion Williamson. He's been compared to LeBron James due to his basketball and athletic abilities that almost no human on this Earth has. Standing at the height of 6 foot 6 and weighing 285 pounds, only one player in the league weighs more than him with Mavericks' center Boban Marjanovic weighing 290 pounds. With his size, he will be able to get through anyone who guards him, which will give him the ability to attack the rim for rebounds and of course, the always entertaining slam dunks.

Zion will also be given a lot of opportunities to score and opposing defenders will feel like they get hit by a car when taking a charge against him.

Zion is going to be hanging around in the paint a lot, which will give him opportunities to get easy buckets and grab a ton of rebounds. In the preseason, Zion averaged 23.3 points and 6.5 rebounds while averaging 27.3 minutes a game.

Kawhi wins MVP

Kawhi only played in 60 games last season due to load management.

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In those 60 games, he averaged 26.6 points, 3.3 assists, and 7.3 rebounds. On the Raptors last year, Kawhi was surrounded by players who were capable of putting up 20+ points a night like Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas/Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka. This year, he's surrounded by a better and deeper team, but not with guys who are capable of putting up big games like his prior teammates on the Raptors were.

He does have fellow star Paul George to help him who averaged 28 points last season but after him, the Clippers don't have many scoring threats.

The Clippers do have Lou Williams, who averaged 20 points a game last year off the bench but with the additions of Kawhi and George to the fold, Lou will be given less scoring opportunities. Other Clippers players like Ivica Zubac, Landry Shamet, Patrick Beverley, and Montrezel Harrell are better known for their rebounding or defensive abilities than their scoring abilities.

Because there will be less scoring threats on the floor with Kawhi, he will be tasked with shooting the ball more and as the elite two-way player that he is, Kawhi could be named MVP at season's end.

There have been rumors that Kawhi will be on load management and will sit out games to give him rest, but it was reported that he won't miss as many games as he did with the Raptors. Also, Paul George has been ruled out for the first 10 games of the season, possibly longer, which should helps Kawhi put up bigger numbers.

Spurs miss playoffs for first time in 23 years

The Spurs have the longest playoff streak of any North American sports team as they've made it to the playoffs for 22 straight years dating back to the 1997-98 season. Believe it or not, Gregg Popovich has been to the playoffs in all his years as head coach, except for his first season as head coach of the Spurs in 1996-97. Since 1997-98, they've won five championships and combined to go 170-114 in the playoffs, but that record will come to a halt as the Spurs will be missing out on the playoffs this season.

The West is as strong as it has ever been. The Clippers, Lakers, and Rockets all added superstars to their roster. The Warriors are still a strong team and every other team in the Western Conference except the Grizzlies and Thunder got better. The Spurs have only two centers on their roster and both are projected to be in the starting lineup, leaving no centers on the bench. One of them is Jakob Poeltl, who could take a leap forward in development.

The Spurs also get Dejounte Murray, who missed all of last season with an injury, back.

Although he is a great player who's expected to bey a key contributor, he could be a disappointment like Gordon Hayward was last year when he missed the previous season with an injury. Murray's return also creates more problems with a crowded backcourt that features the likes of DeMar DeRozan, Bryn Forbes, Patty Mills, Derrick White, and Lonnie Walker IV, all serviceable NBA players that are in need of playing time. With the Western Conference stronger than ever and too many question marks surrounding the Spurs, a playoff basketball era in San Antonio will come to an end.

Pelicans and Bulls make playoffs

When your best player signs with another team in free agency or gets traded away, your team gets worse, but the Pelicans might have actually gotten better. After requesting a trade out of New Orleans prior to the trade deadline, Anthony Davis got his wish granted and was traded to the Lakers for a package of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, and three first-round picks. The Pelicans also walked away as the clear winners of the draft as they selected super prospect Zion Williamson with the first overall pick and traded the fourth overall pick to get two players later in the draft which resulted in Jaxson Hayes (eighth overall) and Nickel Alexander-Walker (seventeenth overall).

They were also able to add J.J. Redick and Derrick Favors in free agency to complement the roster. With the Pelicans balanced out with multiple good players compared to just one superstar, the Pelicans will squeeze into a playoff spot in a loaded Western Conference, and Redick's playoff streak will hit 14 years, the exact number of years that he's been in the NBA.

Meanwhile, in the Eastern Conference, the Bulls, who went 22-60 in 2018-19, will be playing playoff basketball. The Bulls were marred with injuries to their best players last year, which dampened their ability to produce quality basketball on the court.

With their best players at full health, the Bulls are a good team. Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen are all-star caliber players who can both put up 25+ points a game and they'll have a full season of Kris Dunn to help them out.

They added two guards in Tomas Satoransky (free agency) and Coby White (draft), and signed Thaddeus Young to assist on defense. The Bulls will probably need to make a trade for a defensive-minded player sometime during the season, but the Bulls should be in the playoffs.

Hornets finish with worst record

The Hornets finished two games under .500 with star Kemba Walker on their roster last season.

The Hornets didn't pay for his services and it cost them as he left for Boston. In return, the Hornets got Terry Rozier, who will become the Hornets primary scorer and best player. Rozier's career averages of 7.7 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 2.3 assists on 38 percent from field goal range are nowhere near starting caliber level as those kind of averages are suited for a bench player that logs 15-20 minutes a game.

The Hornets' second scoring option from last season, Jeremy Lamb, who averaged 15.3 points, is also no longer part of the Hornets organization as he signed with the Pacers for greener pastures.

Aside from Walker and Lamb, the Hornets roster remains almost the same, which includes a lost Nicolas Batum, an overpaid Bismack Biyombo, and other players that won't win games.

Arguments can be made that other teams in the Wizards, Knicks, Thunder, Cavs, and Grizzlies are worse than the Hornets, but all those teams either have a player that's better than Rozier or a better constructed supporting cast.

Mavs disappoint

The Mavericks have been overhyped by the media and general public. The Mavs are led by rising star Luka Doncic, who averaged an astonishing 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and six assists.

They'll have Kristaps Porzingis, who they just signed to a five-year, $158 million max extension, despite the fact he hasn't appeared in a game since February 2018 due to a torn ACL.

This comes with considerable risk as even though he has the ability to be a star, he has a lengthy injury history in his short career. To ease him back into games, Dallas will have him on load management, which would be similar to Kawhi Leonard's load management plan with the Raptors last season. Even with a load management plan in place, Porzingis can't be relied on to remain fully healthy as his stature of 7'3 makes it hard to do so.

Those guys are no doubt the heart of the team, but the rest of the roster remains shaky. Seth Curry, Delon Wright, and Dwight Powell, the presumed other three that make up the Mavs starting five, need to prove that they are worthy of a starting spot and the rest of the roster leaves lots to be desired.

Lonzo wins MIP

Ever since being taken second overall by the Lakers in 2017, Lonzo Ball hasn't lived up to expectations. In his two seasons with the Lakers, he averaged 10 points, 6.2 rebounds and 6.4 assists. He was traded to the Pelicans as the centerpiece of the package for Anthony Davis and will get a fresh start with less media scrutiny and most likely less chatter from his dad, who's finally seemed to realize that he's done more harm than good for his son.

Now that he's in New Orleans, there will be less pressure on him to be a star and less pressure because he's no longer playing alongside LeBron James. He also fits better with the Pelicans currently, a decent team that's expected to be a dynasty in the future which fits with where he is in his development.

This season, he'll be able to learn from established veterans Jrue Holiday and J.J. Redick, who are going to mentor Ball into NBA life to mold him for the future. His shot angle, which was an extremely atypical way to shoot a basketball, seems to be fixed from videos circulating online, but the Pelicans don't even need him to be a scorer.

The Pelicans need assists and strong defense from Lonzo. Since those are his specialties, Lonzo should win the Most Improved Player award and will blossom into the player that everyone thought he could be.

Finals Prediction: Utah Jazz vs Philadelphia 76ers

76ers

  • Strong starting lineup (Embiid, Simmons, Richardson, Harris, and Horford)
  • Lots of size in starting lineup (Richardson shortest guy at 6'6)
  • Elite defense

Jazz

  • Replaced Rubio with Conley (More scoring and takes pressure off of Mitchell)
  • Elite big in Gobert who can take on any elite offensive big man
  • Strong bench unit (Ed Davis, Dante Exum, Jeff Green, and Emmanuel Mudiay)
  • Resembles Raptors 2018-19 championship roster with more firepower (No clear superstar like Leonard but more weapons in the starting lineup with slightly weaker bench)
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