The Championship Theory

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. 

Why Serbia is Destined To Win Gold

The FIBA World Cup is set to take place in China at the end of next week. The tournament will act as qualification for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo and with the field expanding from 24 teams to 32, it will give more teams more opportunities to make a stronger case.

Qualified Teams for FIBA:

  • 5 Teams From Africa (Angola, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Senegal, Tunisia)
  • 7 Teams From The Americas (USA, Canada, Argentina, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Venezuela)
  • 8 Teams From Asia and Oceania (China, Japan, Iran, Australia, South Korea, Jordan, Philippines, New Zealand)
  • 12 Teams From Europe (France, Germany, Czech Republic, Greece, Italy, Poland, Russia, Spain, Turkey, Serbia, Montenegro, Lithuania)

So why Serbia? Let’s take a trip down memory lane. In the last World Cup, dating back to 2014, Team USA met Serbia in the World Cup Final in Madrid, Spain. Serbia was dealing with a very difficult group with the likes of powerhouses of Spain, Brazil and France. Serbia did defeat Iran and Egypt but lost to all three teams accumulating 7 points (2 points for wins & 1 point for a lost) and advancing to the next round. In the round of 16, Serbia faced the winner of Group B Greece, who went undefeated knocking off teams like Argentina and Croatia in the process. An impressive 18 point win was the spark they needed. The next round, they faced an opponent they lost to before, Brazil. An eight point lost earlier in the tournament now turned into a 28 point blowout led by Milos Teodosic with 15 points. Serbia made their way to the Final Four of the World Cup. Serbia couldn’t avoid yet another FIBA Powerhouse in France, a familiar opponent from just a few games back. France won the 4th quarter by 3 points and ultimately winning the game 74-73. In the Semifinals, after 2 big wins, this time would be different. Serbia was in control for majority of the game, taking a 14 point lead into halftime, as well as a 15 point lead into the 4th. Serbia hangs on,behind Milos’ 24 points, with a 5 point win making the World Cup Final for the first time since winning Gold in 2002, who went by the country Yugoslavia that grace the names of Vlade Divac, Peja Stojakovic, and Vladmir Radmanovic. The question was who would Serbia be playing in the Finals? Of course that’s not really a question, as Team USA won every game by 20 or more points. This would be the case in the World Cup Final — Team USA won 129-96. Serbia took home Silver.

Nikola Jokic drafted by the Denver Nuggets in 2014, in the 2nd Rd with the 41st pick, with not a lot of expectations turned out to be one of the best picks this decade. In the 2016 Olympics, the world got to see his growth to stardom. Just 2 years removed from the 129-96 lost to Team USA in the World Cup, Serbia find themselves in the same group as them, with 2 other good teams France and Australia. In similar fashion, Serbia lost to Australia and France by 15 and 1 respectively, but what was so shocking is that Serbia almost upset Team USA who hadn’t lost an international game since the assembling of the Redeem Team. With the star studded team that the USA presents, they almost slipped through the cracks and if not for a off the rim shot by Bogdan Bogdanovic (Kings) would have took a L. Either way Jokic put on a show at a very young age — posting 25 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists in a nailbiting 94-91 lost.

Serbia still made the final round of 8 with another similar path of 2014 FIBA World Cup. Serbia escaped Croatia, then destroyed Australia, who they once lost to before and yet again find their way in another Final match with the Powerhouse of the USA. Very different outcome this time as USA wiped the floor with them coasting to a 3rd Straight Gold Medal winning by 30, leaving Serbia with another Silver Medal.

Nikola Jokic (Serbia) being guarded by Draymond Green (USA) in the Gold Medal Game

Internationally, basketball is getting better and better with a lot of new countries putting more and more teams in the NBA. Teams like Canada, Australia, Greece are all rising with their new talent. Serbia is right in the mix and with Jokic, arguably being the best big man in the league (averaging 20.1 ppg, 10.8 rpg, and 7.2 apg) has to chance to make a statement this upcoming World Cup. Losing Milos Teodosic would hurt for most teams but with a Top Ten player in the NBA and other NBA talent like Bogdan Bogdanovic and Nemanja Bjelica of the Kings, new Mavericks Center Boban Marjanovic, and former Bucks player Miroslav Raduljica it is easy to see why FIBA World Rankings have them ranked #2 in the World, only behind the United States.

Teammates Bogdan Bogdanovic and Nikola Jokic in an exhibition game

Why do I believe that Serbia will take Gold? Well a lot has to do with their rise as a team but also what Team USA will look like come August 31st. After numerous All Stars dropped out to prepare for the NBA Season, what this USA team lack is an identity. Most times, USA gather the best talent and it can overcome any problems that occurs. Chemistry will play a huge factor for Team USA. While most international countries have been playing together since they were young (Serbia is no different) the United States, with as much talent as we have that’s just hard to do.

Since I’ve been watching international basketball, USA at any given moment has the best player on the court. When USA takeS on Nikola Jokic, this would not be the case. Without a superstar or go to guy as of now, Serbia has the advantages to finally capture Gold.

I’m not the only person who agree. Serbian coach, Aleksandar “Sasha” Djordjevic said in a interview, “Let’s let them play their basketball and we will play ours and if we meet, may God help them.” Sasha has shown no sympathy for “the Americans”, as he referred to them in his interview, claiming this is what happens to most European teams.

With plenty of teams and opportunities, this very well may be Serbia’s chance at obtaining Gold. Look for Nikola Jokic and Co. to finally get the job done and win it all.