2020 has been a very interesting year for the NBA, as it has been for the entire world. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the league to pause its season, then continue in an Orlando bubble, and turn around months later for their 2020-2021 NBA season. Rookies will be making their debut weeks after being drafted. Team chemistry will be tested with only a few weeks of training camp completed. There is also a good chance there will be no fans at games, at least for a majority of the season.
Exactly one week from today, basketball fans around the world will rejoice in the return of the NBA. Who knows what this season will be like – but one thing for sure is that like any year, there are plenty of storylines to watch out for this season. Here is what to watch out for this season…
Will there be bubble fatigue?
It was not long ago when fans last were able to watch NBA basketball. In fact, it was only on October 11th that the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Miami Heat 4-2 in the Finals. That means a handful of teams will have had under three months since they last played, being a significantly shorter off-season than usual. As for the teams who didn’t play in the Orlando bubble, such as the New York Knicks, they have not played since March, when the league originally suspended the season. With such a difference between teams, don’t be surprised if there is some fatigue to start the season from those who played in the bubble.
Suns look to prove to be a legitimate playoff threat
When the NBA bubble started, it was something everyone needed. It was sports. While there were no fans, the energy of professional basketball remained, and it was glorious. One of the biggest storylines from the bubble was the performance of Devin Booker and the Phoenix Suns. The team went 8-0 in the bubble, as head coach Monty Williams had the Suns looking unstoppable against playoff-contending teams. Unfortunately for them, they narrowly missed the postseason despite doing everything in their own power to make it.
Now, the Suns are back and looking to make the playoffs for the first time since losing in the Western Conference Finals in 2010. Booker hopes to continue his MVP-caliber play from the bubble, as the team added plenty of talent around him. In addition to adding veteran Jae Crowder, the team acquired superstar point guard Chris Paul. While the ten-time all-star is now 35 years old, he is coming off of his best season since 2016. This is a team to look out for this season.
Can the Nuggets and Heat build off of impressive playoff runs?
Once the playoffs began, the Denver Nuggets and Miami Heat both went on very impressive playoff runs. The Nuggets, led by Nikola Jokic and the breakout performance of Jamal Murray, recorded two amazing 3-1 comebacks before losing in the Western Conference Finals to the Lakers. Meanwhile, the Heat went through the Eastern Conference gauntlet of the Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks, and Boston Celtics before falling to the Lakers in the Finals.
Both teams reloaded, bringing back their core, and ready to run it back. But other teams around the league in both their respective conferences improved. Now is the time for both carry their playoff bubble momentum into 2021.
Will Paul George and the Clippers bounce back?
On the losing end of the second 3-1 comeback from the Nuggets were the Los Angeles Clippers. With Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and so many other talented players led by head coach Doc Rivers, the Clippers were one of the bigger favorites to win it all. Except for an underwhelming playoff performance from the George and Clippers saw them exit early.
With Leonard under contract for just one more season, the Clippers are hoping for a quick bounce back. The team fired Rivers, replacing him with Tyronn Lue. They also lost reigning Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell and traded guard Landry Shamet in a deal for Luke Kennard. All the chips are in the basket for the Clippers in 2021.
The Lakers somehow got even better
Meanwhile, for the reigning champions in Los Angeles, the Lakers put all the chips in the basket too. And they only have gotten better.
LeBron James and Anthony Davis signed extensions, locking them up for the foreseeable future. In free agency, the Lakers may have lost Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo, and Avery Bradley, and traded away Danny Green and JaVale McGee. Though, the Lakers replaced them with ease. They acquired guard Dennis Schroder from the Thunder, and signed 3x all-star Marc Gasol, veteran Wesley Matthews, and stole Harrell from the Clippers in free agency. Yes, this team may be coming off of a Finals win, yet they somehow have gotten even better.
The Brooklyn Nets are healthy and dangerous
Moving to the Eastern Conference, a New York team is joining the Heat, Celtics, Raptors, and Bucks as the elite teams. The Brooklyn Nets will be healthy and are ready to put the league on notice.
Kevin Durant is returning from his achilles injury suffered in the 2018 Finals and has looked fantastic in practice and the pre-season. Kyrie Irving will be back too, after an injury-riddled first season in Brooklyn. Hall of Fame guard Steve Nash joins them as their head coach, with long-time NBA head coach Mike D’Antoni also on staff. Additionally, the Nets may have one of the best-supporting casts in the league around their two superstars. Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert are strong ball handlers, Joe Harris is an elite three-point threat, and don’t forget the center duo of DeAndre Jordan and Jarrett Allen.
If everything goes right for Brooklyn, there is no reason why this team cannot challenge for the Larry O’Brien trophy this season.
Did the Bucks do enough to keep Giannis Antetokounmpo long-term?
One of the biggest storylines this season is going to be the future between the Bucks and 2x MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. The 26-year-old superstar is entering the final year of his current deal, as rumors have been swirling about him going to free agency in search of a bigger market. After all, the team has only made it to the Eastern Conference Finals once in his seven years in the league.
As Antetokounmpo is in search of his super-max deal, the Bucks must build around him. The team revamped around him, adding Jrue Holiday via trade, as well as D.J. Augustin, Bryn Forbes, and Bobby Portis off of the bench. The Bucks also have Donte DiVincenzo, Brook Lopez, and 2x all-star Khris Middleton too. But the question remains – will it be enough?
Will James Harden be on the move?
This entire off-season, the Houston Rockets have been remolding the team. Stephen Silas steps in to eliminate the small ball ideology of D’Antoni. He brought in big men DeMarcus Cousins and Christian Wood, as well as trading Russell Westbrook for John Wall. In other words, this is a new-look Rockets team. One that they hope eight-time all-star James Harden will lead.
Except it does not sound like he wants to. He has been insistent on wanting to be traded to another contender, such as the Philadelphia 76ers or Brooklyn Nets for weeks now. As the Rockets want to keep him, this one is going to be a standoff that will likely be carrying on into the season. And should things go south, the three-time scoring champion will be on the move.
What impact will COVID-19 have?
It is the new normal in the world to wonder how COVID-19 will impact the season. As things stand, there is no plan for a bubble this year for the NBA, after they flawlessly executed one in Orlando over the summer. Already, the Toronto Raptors have relocated to Tampa Bay, Florida, leaving some wondering if more moves could take place should issues in hot spots arise. How will the league handle multiple positive cases on teams? Can they make it through a full 72-game season? Only time will tell.
Tip Off Details:
The NBA season tips off on the 22nd with a doubleheader on TNT of the Golden State Warriors vs Brooklyn Nets (7:00pm est.) and Los Angeles Clippers vs Los Angeles Lakers (10:00pm est.).