Pina: I want you guys to give me a bold prediction that you have about the Western Conference. This could be about a team. This could be about a player. This could be very positive. This could be very negative. What’s something that is kind of semi-outrageous that you want to get off your chest in prediction form about the Western Conference this season?
Herring, I want you to kick us off here.
Herring: The T-Wolves are gonna make the playoffs without even having to use the play-in. They're going to be the sixth seed.
Herring: I don't actually believe that, but I had to find something to write down. They have enough talent to do something that wild. Will it happen? No. Will they even make the playoffs? Probably not.
Pina: Herring, you said the quiet part out loud. … They're supposed to believe that you think that.
Herring: You’re absolutely right.
Crazy, crazy stuff happens. They have talent. I mean, KAT, as you wrote so eloquently, the guy was not healthy at all last season, whether we're talking about physically, God only knows how he was feeling last year, which he also spoke to you about. So there's that element of it. If you get better defensive effort and some development out of those guys, which you would hope you're getting that just because they're young. … You still have a little bit of faith that that will come around.
The idea that KAT is potentially a generational sort of offensive talent. (Anthony) Edwards scoring the way he did towards the end of last season, when he wasn't even always the focal point of what they were doing. You have so many guys that are capable of taking a leap. You have so many guys that are individually talented on defense. That's not really a scheme, team-based thing, but if some of those things come together and they gel a little bit, it's possible that they make the playoffs. Are they a team that can avoid the play-in? I would not take that bet. I'm saying the quiet part out loud. But they can make things interesting. And to me, that's interesting enough in and of itself just when you look at this team and how far off they were last year.
Nadkarni: Here's my actual bold prediction. This is something I promise you have not heard anywhere else. Give me Nikola Jokić repeating as the league MVP. How about that for a bold prediction?
No one is talking about Jokić. This guy came out of the bubble and played in every single game for the Nuggets last season, while all the other teams that made it as far as them had guys dropping like flies. He was spectacular last year. ...
He's in the prime of his career, he should only be getting better moving forward. I think his team is built around him. … He's going to be even more of a focal point with (Jamal) Murray out. I think he's going to put up huge numbers, and you know what? I think he also, as crazy as it sounds, has something to prove after how many people tried to say, ah, he's a fluke MVP. He only won ‘cause a shortened season. He only won cause of injuries, etc. I know that he's not outwardly emotive about that kind of stuff, but he is definitely someone who I think has a lot of intrinsic motivation and, yeah, give me Nikola Jokić repeating as MVP.
Pina: I like it. I like that a lot. I think it's possible. My MVP pick I'm going to be saving for a later episode. If anyone, and this is not my pick, but if anyone who isn't Giannis wins MVP this year, I’ll be kind of shocked.
Nadkarni: This is a classic Pina move. This is how he gets to have it both ways where he gets to say this is not his pick, but also this is who is going to win. So now he he gets six bites at the apple at every question. It's a really masterful work.
Pina: When you're the host, you can do what you want. And over my dead body, that will never happen.
Howard, do you have a bold prediction here for the Western Conference heading into the season?
Beck: I do. And as it happens, it kind of leaps off of Rohan's bold prediction, which is that the Nuggets are going to win the West.
Nadkarni: Yes! Let’s go!
Beck: Listen, the West is much more wide open than anybody wants to acknowledge. We have to see whether Russell Westbrook really does fit with LeBron and AD. We have to see LeBron get through the season healthy. We have to see the rest of the Lakers, 38 and older group, that may be a slight exaggeration, stay healthy throughout the season. We have to see what kind of cohesion they have with an entirely new roster around LeBron and AD. We can't assume much.
We have to see Klay Thompson come back for the Warriors. We have to see who the Clippers are without Kawhi Leonard for probably the entire season. We have to see whether the Suns can repeat what they did last year and without some of the good fortune that fell their way in the playoffs. We need to see whether the Jazz can repeat what they did in the regular season. And whether their falling flat in the playoffs is going to just kind of just suck the oxygen out of the room, right? Like you did everything, you were as great as you could possibly be. They absolutely, credit to the Jazz, they maximized who they were. But they maximized who they were. … I just don't see where the next gear is for that team.
So you go up and down the top of the West and yes, the Nuggets come in with a caveat of their own. They all have caveats and it's Jamal Murray, but they have the reigning MVP.
And apparently the soon-to-be two-time MVP, according to Rohan. They have Michael Porter Jr. They have a full season of Aaron Gordon. They have this weird mix-and-match backcourt where every year Michael Malone just grabs somebody, throws him in there and they do pretty well when Jamal Murray is hurt, or on the bench or whatever. They find a way, the Nuggets, and we're all going to sleep on them ‘cause there's nothing particularly sexy about that team, but they've got tremendous firepower. They've got cohesion. They've got continuity. They've been together for awhile that core group. In a Western Conference where there are no sure bets and all kinds of asterisks flying everywhere, the Nuggets I think are as solid a bet as anybody.
Pina: So I love that pick by you Howard. And what I'm about to say, it's just so much more extreme. I don't know. I think that the Los Angeles Clippers are gonna come out of the Western Conference.