As the NBA regular season draws to a conclusion, over half of the league’s teams are preparing for the playoffs. That does not include the Los Angeles Lakers and LeBron James. He’s among the biggest losers from the season.
On the other hand, we absolutely love what Mike Malone has done with the Denver Nuggets in turning them into a legit title contender.
These are among the NBA’s biggest winners and losers as the league closes up shop on what has been an event-filled 2018-19 season.
Winner: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
We’re looking at a generational talent here. This was already known prior to Giannis breaking out in a big way during what has been a 60-plus win season for his Bucks. Still only 24 years old, the Greek Freak is averaging north of 27 points to go with 12.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. He’s morphed into one of the game’s top-three overall players and still has not hit his prime. That’s remarkable.
Loser: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
Davis bet on himself and lost this season. Showing his hand by publicly demanding a trade, the game’s best inside presence thought he would actually be moved from this long-downtrodden franchise. Once then general manager Dell Demps made it clear that wouldn’t happen, Davis was at sea without a lifesaver. We have no idea what’s going to happen this summer. But don’t expect New Orleans to cater to Davis. That could land the All-Star in a less-than-stellar situation in another NBA city. At the very least, the Los Angeles Lakers might not be in the cards. Given what we saw back in February, that wouldn’t be great for AD.
Winner: Toronto Raptors
When the Raptors moved DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio for Kawhi Leonard this past summer, general manager Bobby Webster was taking a major risk. Fast forward a few months, and Toronto will head into the playoffs as the No. 2 seed back east. A throw in when it came to the Leonard trade, Danny Green has performed well. Meanwhile, young forward Pascal Siakam is averaging 17.0 points to go with 6.9 rebounds during what has been a breakout season for the 25 year old. The Raptors now seem to be in a better position than at any point during the latter stages of DeRozan’s career in Toronto. That’s no small thing.
Loser: John Wall, Washington Wizards
The early part of this season was filled with Wall seemingly getting into a spat with teammate Bradley Beal. At the very least, he wasn’t seeing eye-to-eye with head coach Scott Brooks. A total of 32 games into the season, Wall suffered a ruptured Achilles. All of this came after Washington signed him to a super-max contract. Now with the man who drafted him, GM Ernie Grunfeld, out of a job, there’s no telling what the future might bring for Wall in D.C.
Winner: Mike Malone, Denver Nuggets
After lasting less than two full seasons as the Kings’ head coach, Malone took over a reclamation project in Denver back in 2015-16. The team was coming off a 30-win campaign with no real end in sight. After struggling through the first two seasons, Denver won a surprising 46 games in 2017-18. Though, it came without a playoff appearance. That’s changed this season. Denver will finish as a top-three seed out west with 53-plus wins. Malone has gotten the most out of this budding roster and should be considered a top Coach of the Year candidate.
Loser: James Dolan, New York Knicks
It’s just a bad overall look for Dolan. From threatening fans to going after former Knicks stars, the past two years have been filled with error after error. On the court, New York just recently clinched the worst record in the NBA. The team has not made the playoffs since all the way back in 2012-13. For his part, Dolan seems delusional to believe that the Knicks are a top-end free-agent destination. All the while, he’s pushed back against the idea of selling the team. Fun times in the Big Apple, indeed.
Winner: James Harden, Houston Rockets
We’re talking about one of the greatest regular season performances in NBA history. The feats that Harden’s been able to accomplish have not been seen around the Association since Wilt Chamberlain. Just think about that for a second before deciding on Giannis Antetokounmpo as the NBA’s MVP. Harden heads into the end of the season averaging 36.1 points per game to go with 6.6 rebounds, 7.6 assists and 2.0 steals per game. It’s now up to the likely back-to-back NBA MVP to continue this domination come playoff time.
Loser: Tom Thibodeau, Minnesota Timberwolves
Thibs and the Wolves entered this season with serious playoff aspirations. The team had just won 47 games and earned a rare postseason appearance. Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins were set to take the next step. Instead, Minnesota started 19-21 and traded Butler. It lead to Thibodeau’s surprising departure from the team. Ultimately, Minnesota didn’t perform any better under young interim coach Ryan Saunders. The Wiggins’ deal seems like a massive overpay. And there’s not much more to look at here beyond KAT. It all resulted in a lost season for the Wolves.
Winner: The rookies
Luka Doncic’s utter domination for the Mavericks has been history in the making. The former EuroLeague MVP entered his rookie season as a teenager — only to average north of 21 points per game to go with nearly eight rebounds and six assists per. Meanwhile, Atlanta Hawks stud guard Trae Young has given Doncic a run for his money with highlight-reel play after highlight-reel play. Lost in the performance of these two is the fact that the likes of DeAndre Ayton, Marvin Bagley and Collin Sexton have also performed much better than previous rookies.
Loser: LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
After earning an NBA Finals appearance in each of his four seasons with Cleveland, LeBron knew full well that it was going to be more difficult in the Western Conference. After a decent start to the season, the groin injury James suffered on Christmas Day derailed the Lakers’ season. Drama involving a potential Anthony Davis trade added more fuel to the fire. In the end, James won’t be playing postseason basketball for the first time since the iPhone was first released. That makes him a major loser of the season.