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The Lakers Are Back, Jamal Murray Is Ready for a Leap, and More Takeaways From the NBA GM Survey

Trends and interesting results from the annual preseason poll of the league’s top decision-makers

LeBron James, Karl-Anthony Towns, Kevin Durant, and Jamal Murray Getty Images/Ringer Illustration’s preseason GM survey is out. While the annual poll is by no means a definitive look at the NBA—the joke is that the participants often ask underlings to fill it out for them—it can be an instructive snapshot of how the top decision-makers perceive the league’s teams, players, and trends. Here are some takeaways from the results.

We All Want to Believe There’s a Chance the Warriors Won’t Win

To all the NBA general managers who didn’t want to vote for the Warriors anymore, we get it. The lead-up to a new season is a thought exercise of scenarios that don’t end with the Warriors winning a third straight title, and their fourth in five years. Maybe GMs are in that state too. Last year, 93 percent of respondents thought the Warriors would win the championship; this year, it’s only 87 percent. Progress!

Part of the dip is a bet on Houston being right there again (7 percent), and the other part of it is a belief in the Celtics (7 percent). Both teams feel like long shots and real possibilities at the same time. That’s the Warriors effect. But three-peats are a rarity, and the road to a fifth straight Finals appearance will surely take its toll on Golden State. The Warriors will also have to add DeMarcus Cousins halfway through the year. Put it all together and you get a … 6 percent better chance. Sounds about right.

Positions Mean Nothing

Steph Curry is the best point guard in the league, according to the survey, and he’s also the third-best shooting guard. James Harden is the best shooting guard in the league, and he’s also the fifth-best point guard. LeBron James and Kevin Durant are the first- and second-best small forwards, and the second- and third-best power forwards. Anthony Davis, meanwhile, is the best power forward and also the best center. Got all of that? OK, now forget it all, because it doesn’t matter. Today’s NBA is not bound by labels. It’s only a matter of time until we find new positional designations.

The Lakers Are Back

When the best player in the planet goes to one of the most storied franchises in the league, things are going to change. The GMs definitely took note. The Lakers were picked to be the most improved team in the league, to finish fifth in the West after missing the playoffs last season, and as the team that made the best overall moves this offseason (with 70 percent of the vote). LeBron is also the favorite for MVP—and the player who forces the most adjustments and the player that will make the biggest impact—even though he’ll turn 34 years old in December. Brandon Ingram finished second for breakout player of the year (Kyle Kuzma was voted fourth). Even Svi Mykhailiuk—the Ukrainian sharpshooter the Lakers drafted late in the second round—got high marks, finishing second in biggest draft steal respective to where they were selected. Lakers mania is sweeping the league.

Karl-Anthony Towns, Where Are You?

Last year Towns was voted the player you’d most want to sign if you were starting a franchise today. This year he didn’t receive a single vote. (Giannis Antetokounmpo won with 30 percent of the vote.) While this is nowhere near “Jimmy Butler asks for a trade” levels of a bad look, it is emblematic of how far the Wolves have fallen in a season. Towns was supposed to be the cornerstone of Minnesota’s future. Instead, his star faded with Butler around. Towns still got his money (he signed a five-year, $190 million extension in September), but now there will be more pressure to perform if/when Butler gets moved.

Is It Brad Stevens’s Time Already?

The Celtics head coach received the majority of GMs’ votes for best coach in the NBA (47 percent). Last season’s survey awarded that honor to Gregg Popovich (by a whopping 82 percent), because duh. This season, Pop fell to 30 percent. That’s quite a flip. Stevens’s play-calling wizardry is already the stuff of Celtics legend, and it’s not just Boston fans who have taken notice.

To that I say: Popovich just led a Spurs team without Kawhi Leonard to a 47-win season. He’ll only produce better results now that he’s added DeMar DeRozan. Popovich still finished in second place, and he did win the vote for being the best “manager/motivator of people,” which, sure. What I’m saying is that Pop is like LeBron. Doubt him at your own peril.

It’s Definitely Jamal Murray Time

One of the big surprises was Murray edging out Ingram, Jayson Tatum, Aaron Gordon, Kyle Kuzma, Donovan Mitchell, Ben Simmons, and even Leonard for the player GMs thought would have a breakout 2018-19 season. I thought Murray made a mini-leap in the second half of last season, so count me as a believer. But it’s still surprising to see Murray get 20 percent of votes in a loaded category. Ingram is in his third season and should have his development as a dynamic two-way player fast-tracked by playing with LeBron. Simmons, last year’s Rookie of the Year, is the driving force for everything Philly does and is changing how we view the point guard position. And Tatum already looks like one of the more polished offensive players in the NBA at 20; opponents rave about him everywhere he plays. I guess you can make the case that the latter two already broke out, while Murray is still waiting for his moment. I have a feeling it won’t take long for it to arrive.