2023 League Predictions
Stephon B. Smythe
With free agency ended, in-season rosters are becoming much clearer across the league. The chance to reform a roster is closing, and the focus will soon turn to in-game results. As GM’s daydream about new potential lineups, seeing how cohesive new additions will be with former players is an unknown. The wait is almost over.
Last season, the playoffs showed the gap between the levels of teams as no first round series was closer than 4-1 and the top seed won every time. In the second round, no series was closer than 4-2, and in the conference finals both series ended 4-2. The Honey Bees and Fighting Cocks were clearly the best two teams, with the Bloods and Giants right behind. After an eventful offseason, there could be some slight changes in the 5-8 seeds, but the top teams will mostly remain the same. Here are my preseason predictions for how the season will play out.
USA East Division:
Division Strength = Average preseason power poll ranking of 15.25 per team, with the highest team ranking of #8 for Boston. Brooklyn ranks #9.
Playoff Teams = 3rd Seed – Brooklyn and 4th Seed – Boston
Brooklyn Rage – The Rage remain one of the better teams in the league, although they appear to have lost their grip at the very top. Mario Bailey is 35 and has to be nearing the end of his illustrious career, despite still averaging over 25 point per game last season. Trenton Adams and Evan Bobbins could be the future in Brooklyn as both are 23 or younger and have the potential to develop into a very strong duo. I expect the Rage to reach the post season once again, likely as the third seed behind California and Atlanta. A first-round win will be followed by a playoff exit in round two.
New York Firestorm – GM Smith fields a competitive team year after year. Even when some may count them out in the preseason, the team finds a way to reach the playoffs. The backcourt duo of Latrell McDyess and Shelton Britton have proven to be a dangerous pair for even the best of teams. Despite sitting last in the preseason power rankings, I would not be surprised to see New York once again fighting for a playoff spot. With two top ten teams in the league in their division, New York will have to find a way to win outside of their division.
Miami Xtreme – The Jervan Timmons affect…. We will see how impactful a single player can truly be. There is no question that Timmons was a major cog in the wheel that drove Paris to a championship, but can he have the same role in Miami, where the supporting cast is not quite as strong? Timmons has averaged a double-double for 8 straight seasons, while averaging over 4 steals per game each of the last 4 years. Guilhem Lamerand was another key addition, but he averaged less than 10 points per game last season. Who will be on the receiving end of those 14 assists per game from Timmons?
Boston Massacre – Boston is a team of great depth, with capable players pretty much everywhere. John Keating really stands out as a team leader, averaging over 24 points per game and over 2 blocks. Nicolai Hansen was a good addition, as he is the highest rated passer on the team. Guard depth will not be a problem, as Arne Ott was signed to backup Michael Askins. Boston is built tough and should be able to sustain almost anything that is thrown at them. That depth should prevent them from being as negatively impacted as a lot of teams across the league if an injury were to occur. Consistency is key, and Boston will consistently win games, placing them in the hunt as one of the top teams in the conference.
USA Central Division:
Division Strength = Average preseason power poll ranking of 13.5 per team, with Atlanta ranking the highest at #3. They are the only team in the top 10.
Playoff Teams = 2nd seed – Atlanta, 6th seed – Chicago, 8th seed – Colorado
Colorado Pioneers – As usual, Lyons and Henderson will keep Colorado competitive…oh wait, Henderson was traded! In an emotional move by GM Marc Hameleers, the longtime Colorado great was dealt to Albacete. In a move that had to be difficult, the team appears to be moving on from their aging stars and looking to establish a new vision. While DaRond Lyons is still the face of the program, young talent such as Geert Kain, Hancho Durrant, and Jo Jo Edwards now surround him. The cohesion is unproven, so I would expect some growing pains, but still believe Colorado will squeak out a playoff birth.
Salt Lake City Fanatics – For a team that has never been void of extremely talented, young players, the Fanatics have never truly enjoyed the success that their future always seems to show. Conflict at the very top led to changes in leadership this offseason, and now the Fanatics are hopeful that perhaps some of their future will be altered as well. JuJu Wambaugh resigned, setting the stage for what could be to come. Unfortunately, he still appears to be several seasons away from reaching his potential and is making nearly $17 million per season despite never having averaged over 4.1 points per game. The depth appears to be better, but I would expect the turnaround to take more than a single offseason.
Atlanta Bloods – Atlanta is one of those teams that was built through picks. Although Jeremy Sims wasn’t initially drafted as a Blood, he was selected first in the expansion draft. Sims, paired with Muntean and Bourgois are a terrible trio of players for any team to face. And one can’t forget about 29-year-old, second year star Bonifacio Montoya. If the Bloods have one weakness, it would be that they don’t have the depth of some of the other top tier teams. As long as the core stays healthy, Atlanta will rack up the divisional wins and end the season as the #2 seed in the conference.
Chicago Hitmen – Drafting Piotr Stoklosa was a good move for the Hitmen, as he will provide some much-needed defensive ability in the post. He could prove to be one of the better shot blockers in the entire league. Currently lacking from the roster is a true point guard, as the best passer rating on the team is a C+. Some solid depth, and strong guard play will drive Chicago to the edge of the playoffs. Stoklosa could be the deciding factor as to whether or not a playoff birth is achieved.
USA West Division:
Division Strength = Average preseason power poll ranking of 12.75 per team, with California ranking the highest at #2. Arizona joins the top 10, coming in at #10.
Playoff Teams = 1st seed – California, 5th seed – Arizona, 7th seed – Las Vegas
Los Angeles Gargoyles – Falling in at second to last in the preseason power poll rankings, the Gargoyles are going to need to do some serious work in order to have any hope at making the playoffs. Lacking a great deal of depth, or multiple top level players will make it an uphill battle all season. Claude Weidner was a big addition, although he hasn’t played a full season in the last 3 years. Tyrre Dudley will be a great center but is still developing. The Gargoyles own their own pick for the next draft and will likely be content letting the season play out.
California Fighting Cocks – After falling in a competitive championship series to Paris, California cannot be happy to see Gabon now sitting atop the preseason rankings. While the rankings really mean nothing, it is still nice to be at the top. With one of the highest salaries in the league, and some aging stars, the time is now for California to bring the title back home. Kurt Beck and Dan Kincaide are 33 and 32 years old, meaning the window of three superstars has only a few seasons remaining at most. Timoteo Gangotena was a great rebounding addition, but he will do little to add points on the board. The trio of superstars will have California vying for the top spot in the conference, and league.
Arizona Dragons – Arizona is a team on the rise, although I suspect they will join the second tier of teams and face the same issue as many others where overcoming the final ledge seems impossible. A great deal of depth and consistent play at every position will make Arizona a dangerous team in every game, but their lack of multiple top tier talents will prevent them from really competing in any playoff series against the likes of California or Atlanta. Despite being projected as the 7th seed, Arizona could finish as high as the 3rd seed in the conference.
Las Vegas Gamblers – Las Vegas made a bold trade in the offseason, choosing to move on from their aging stars and add more youthful depth. Rookie of the year Etienne Malfait was the crown jewel received, having averaged 20+ points, nearly 7 assists, and over 2 steals per game as a rookie. He is an instant upgrade to Keenan Holter, who only played 48 games last season. Lonny Jordan was also added to the roster, and his athleticism allows him to play nearly anywhere on the court. The depth should provide production from every position, so the Gamblers will see themselves on the edge of playoff contention.
World Euro Division:
Division Strength = With an average preseason power poll ranking of 8.25, this is the most competitive and difficult conference in the league. Unfortunately for these teams, they will beat up on one another all season, making it difficult to rack up the wins. London has the highest preseason ranking at #4, followed by the defending champs, Paris, at #6. Milan and Frankfurt are both right outside the top ten, sitting at #11 and #12.
Playoff Teams = 2nd seed – Paris, 4th seed – London, 5th seed – Frankfurt, 7th seed – Milan
Milan Mayhem – Milan is another team that is experiencing the aging of some of their star players. LaKar Everidge and Silvino Eufrazio are both starting their decline, with Everidge coming off the bench for most of last season. The addition of Jesus Morrell and Curtis Starman will hopefully offset some of that decline, and the development of both Gabriel Tudor and Douglas Trice should improve play at the PF position. Milan does have the best Matthew Standridge in the conference, as London also has a Matthew Standridge on their roster. Both players are 6’2”, 21 years old, attended Portland A&M University, and are from Davenport, WA. The Badgers’ Standridge is a whopping 2 pounds heavier. Milan is a playoff team, playing in the toughest division in the league. There are no easy wins in the Euro Division, and Milan will likely end as the 6 or 7 seed.
Paris Honey Bees – Timmons is gone, and the division rejoiced. Yet Paris still sits amongst the upper echelon of teams and boasts a savvy GM. Bobbie Mason is poised to lead the roster forward after having been stashed in the D-League one year after starting 79 games. Paris may be the best positioned of all of the top tier teams to have an extended dynasty. With a knack for utilizing the D-League for development, and at least 6 promising young players to stash there, Paris is built to win now, and into the future. What is yet to be seen is how impactful the loss of Jervan Timmons will be. There is no way to replace his ability to direct what happens on the court, so Bobbie Mason will have to try his best to pick up the pieces. With a history of success, and a good understanding of the game, Paris will finish first in the division and end with the #2 seed in the conference.
London Badgers – With a new mascot in place, the now London Badgers are looking to make some franchise history and go further into the playoffs than ever before. After a massive overhaul of the roster last season, the team is almost entirely new once again. Having Benet Da Gama is enough to win games, but now he is paired with perennial all-star Clement Trentesols. Losing rookie of the year Etienne Malfait will hurt, but he was replaced with veteran guard Vester Friedrich. Free agency additions of Anacleto Pinero and Victorino Pinelo will add a better tier of depth, and rookie Jurijs Kozlovs is a capable passer to add more quality opportunities for Da Gama and Trentesols. London is on the cusp of being a top tier team, but inconsistencies in lineups and cohesion never seem to develop with all the roster moves. The team ended the season on a strong run last year but will once again be starting almost from scratch. London will be a strong competitor, but still finish behind Paris in the tough division, and finish with the #3 seed in the conference.
Frankfurt Fury – Frankfurt has one of my favorite rosters in the entire league. There is depth at every position, and young players that are poised to keep the Fury in playoff contention for quite some time. The very top tier teams have multiple generational talents on their rosters, and that is what is keeping the Fury just out of reach. Perhaps one could argue that the team is just too young at the moment to compete for a title, but with the most recent draft additions, the roster has impactful players from top to bottom. Resigning Fola Onibiyo was huge, and the team has more than enough reward points to assign a camp or two. The right camps to the right players could propel the Fury another step closer to the promised land.
World Canada/Spain Division:
Division Strength = Average preseason power poll ranking of 11.25, with Albacete leading the way at #5. Edmonton joins them in the top 10, sitting at #7.
Playoff Teams = 3rd seed – Albacete, 6th seed – Edmonton, 8th seed – Barcelona
Edmonton Eskimos – Drafting Piavet would be huge for any team, and that pick propelled the Eskimos to a top 10 preseason ranking. The roster has a good amount of depth, but appears to be a year or two away from achieving its full potential as the roster is full of young players that haven’t quite reached their peak. Both Davidson and Piavet have additional potential, so I would expect Edmonton to remain in contention for years to come. Adding a little more depth would be key to rise in the post season seeding.
Toronto Dinos – Toronto is going to struggle to win divisional games, which means they will struggle overall. Acquiring Frank Mathieu was supposed to be a game changer, however his productivity dropped quite a bit last season, and he missed significant time. Another injury like that could really alter any type of momentum the team hopes to stir up. Toronto may actually have one of the older teams in the league, with 4 players 34+.
Barcelona Counts – Barcelona has a good top rotation but lacks overall depth to place them near the top of the conference. The team may struggle a bit on the defensive end, and a major injury would certainly make things difficult. Hamilton Robins is one of the best centers in the league and will be relied on to carry a lot of weight for the team. Having a knowledgeable GM with a history of success adds weight, and Barcelona should have an edge to get back into the playoffs once again.
Albacete Burning Hell – Albacete has a stacked lineup. Combine that with a savvy GM and success is bound to be the result. The Burning Hell could finish as high as the second seed in the conference, or as low as the fourth. Tony Henderson was a major addition to the team, adding a proven star and great defender. Playing alongside the likes of Alston Irving and Edgardo Blanco, amongst many others, and Albacete is hoping to represent the World Conference in the title game. The conference title game will be as far as Albacete gets this season.
World Global Division:
Division Strength = Average preseason power poll ranking of 14, with Gabon sitting at the very top of the preseason rankings. No other team in the league ranks above #15
Playoff Teams = 1
Cancun Outlaws – Defense has to be what is causing Cancun to be near the bottom of the preseason ranking because the tandem or Omar Rozier and prolific scorer Kevin Whitlock will be a scary sight for most teams in the league. Defensively, no team rates higher than a B in either post or perimeter defense. The two starts will score a ton of points, but I’m not sure Emmett McKoy is quite ready to become the third wheel. Perhaps Rozier takes the jump from point guard to small forward this season and shows off his rebounding abilities. Turman, Whitlock, and Rozier would make for a pretty potent scoring machine.
Cape Town Zulus – The Zulus are right on the edge of the playoff potential. Rookie Justus Poulsen could prove to be a very impactful part of this team and provide an upgrade in the post. Klaas Binsenshaum and Nicholas Evans will form a good backcourt, backed up by decent depth. Ball movement may lack as only two players on the team have ratings higher than a C. Post play will be what prevents the Zulus from making a significant playoff run. They will have decent luck within the division, but not against top teams elsewhere.
Gabon Giants – The Giants are my prediction to end the season with the best record in the WBA. The disparity from top to bottom in the division is quite vast, and the Giants will likely end the season with the best divisional record in the league. The additional of Fulgencio Lurdes was massive, as he became the highest rated player on an already stacked team. Vitor Morales, a player that would rank near the very top for most teams, ranks as the 9th best player in Gabon. Rookie Melor Harkov will undoubtedly fill in some much-needed minutes as well. This team is eight or nine all-star caliber players deep. Even a key injury won’t do much to slow them down. Now that Jervan Timmons is out of Paris, I expect Gabon to find themselves in the WBA Championship at season’s end.
Shanghai Pandas – The Pandas are the last team to get reviewed, and a trade was completed prior to this analysis, so it will be included for them. Tyrre Dudley was a huge addition. He is a very promising young center that can score, rebound, and defend. Pairing him with Chris Acklin was a good move and the team jumped from #18 in the preseason rankings to #13. Despite my initial prediction that only one team from the Global Division would make the playoffs, Shanghai now has a good chance to finish as the 7th or 8th seed. Coomas Neeter was another good addition to the roster. Depth will be an issue, and any injury could have massive impacts on the rotation. If remaining fairly unscathed, I wouldn’t be surprised if Shanghai squeaked into the playoffs.
USA Round 1
California over Colorado 4-0
Atlanta over Las Vegas 4-0
Brooklyn over Chicago 4-1
Boston over Arizona 4-2
World Round 1
Gabon over Barcelona 4-0
Paris over Milan 4-0
Albacete over Edmonton 4-2
London over Frankfurt 4-2
USA Round 2
California over Boston 4-0
Atlanta over Brooklyn 4-1
World Round 2
Gabon over London 4-0
Paris over Albacete 4-2
California over Atlanta 4-3
Gabon over Paris 4-2
Gabon over California 4-3