As of writing, the Atlanta Hawks and Minnesota Timberwolves hold the top spots in their respective conferences. These two teams, who held a combined record of 65-99 in 2018-19, are hot out of the gates with a 5-0 start. This shocking development—and several others from the fledgling 2019-20 NBA season—deserve overreactions that disregard reasonable perspective and throw history to the wind. Here are those swashbuckling overreactions—all four of them. I hypothesize (and hope) that exactly one of these ill-fated takes turns out to be prophecy. If they do, my Venmo is @Jonah-Frere-Holmes.
1. Trae Young is your 2019-20 NBA MVP. The Hawks opened the season with two wins over playoff teams from last season, the Magic and Pistons, taking them down by a combined 20 points. Young is leading the league in points per game at a torrential 38.5. The pint-sized point guard is making nearly six threes per game, and dishing out nine assists nightly to boot. Without any teammate cracking 20 points in either victory, Young’s efforts thus far have been downright heroic.
Against the Magic, he iced the game on an isolation play against Markelle Fultz, which saw Young lose the ball, regain possession, establish an abyss of space with a stepback and bank in a three over Fultz’s six foot six frame. The possession looked hopeless, and suddenly there was hope. That is the story of Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks, two games into the 2018-19 season. For Prediction Number One to come true, all Young has to do is continue to amass avalanches of points at his current rate, which hasn’t been done by a guard since, well, ever.
2. The Timberwolves will make the Western Conference Finals. The other overachievers of the 2019-20 campaign thus far have been the boys from Minnesota, who are 3-0 after taking down the Nets, Hornets and Heat. Karl-Anthony Towns is giving Young a run for his money in the Way-Too-Early NBA MVP race, posting simply goofy per-game averages of 32 points, 13.3 rebounds, five assists, three blocks and two steals. His Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is 40.6. The full-season record for PER is held by Wilt Chamberlain, who posted a figure of 31.82 in 1962-63. In other words, Chamberlain, whose dominance in his NBA landscape landed him a role as Bombaata (Arnold Schwarzenegger’s foe in “Conan the Destroyer”), was only 75 percent as productive as Towns has been this year.
Assisting Towns in his Herculean effort to help the Timberwolves outscore their opponents is Andrew Wiggins. Wiggins, like Fultz, is a much-maligned former No. 1 pick (Wiggins is also on an $147 million contract, which the Wolves extended because uh, you see, Wiggins promised that he would play better), but is sort of not terrible right now. He is averaging 20.7 points per game, including a barrage of late threes (something he usually never makes) to seal the Heat game. The Wolves have a young, talented core that is finally turning its latent athleticism into real-life wins in real-life basketball games. If Towns continues to play as God embodied on this earth and Wiggins plays like he’s worth even half of his meme-worthy contract, the Wolves might just do something. They are also coached by Ryan Saunders, son of the Wolves’ beloved former coach Flip, who died in 2015; this can only be understood as good karma that will serve them well in a tight playoff series.
3. Steph Curry and the Warriors are going to be exposed and miss the playoffs. For anyone who thinks this isn’t a hot take, please bow your head in shame. Over the last half-decade-plus, Curry has firmly established himself as the greatest shooter to ever play basketball, won three championships with the team that drafted him and ignited an offensive revolution that irreversibly changed the way the game is played. So, no, he couldn’t guard Kyrie Irving in Game 7 of the 2016 Finals, or ever. That doesn’t matter. Curry’s presence on the court is gravitational; his ability to make the ball go in the hoop from very very far away is remarkable enough that other professional teams employ zone defenses, typically seen in low-level high school games, on the biggest stage at the highest level (I see you, Nick Nurse).
Curry will probably break his record for most three-pointers made in a year. He’ll have to. He spent a large chunk of Golden State’s matchup with the NBA title favorite Clippers sharing the court with Jordan Poole, Eric Paschall, Omari Spellman and Jacob Evans, who have as many combined years of NBA experience as Curry has MVPs. Nothing that happens this season is his fault. So, here is a hot take that, bandwagon haters be damned, is actually hot: The Warriors will miss the playoffs. They’re well on their way, with an 0-2 start.
4. THE DENVER NUGGETS WILL WIN THE NBA CHAMPIONSHIP. I’m very excited about this one. So excited, in fact, that I posted this piping hot take on Facebook, normally reserved for the photo albums tagged too liberally by parents and grandparents. My uncle had to see this. My grandmother’s friends from work had to see it. It is gospel.
This is the youngest, most fun, best, most awesomest team in the NBA. Nikola Jokic, their best player, is enormous, pale and fleshy, a prepubescent giant with eyes in the back of his head and the playmaking savvy of a veteran point guard. Their backcourt is comprised of a 22-year-old whose go-to shot is a one-legged fadeaway and Gary Harris, who came from Michigan State, bringing with him the super-cool Spartan tradition where if one player slaps the ground on defense, everyone else on his team has to do it too. They have approximately 17 wings in their early 20s who can defend, rebound and make threes at a high clip. They have Will Barton, who moves like a gummy worm with a nice beard.
They also have Mason Plumlee, whom I met over the summer and was a really nice guy. He stepped over the turnstile at 110th Street without jumping. He placed one leg over the turnstile and then the other, the way you or I would step over a puddle. That is a metaphor for the Nuggets’ season to come.