Biggest Storylines Heading into the 2020-21 NBA Season
We’re here. It’s already December. Training camps are officially underway as teams prepare for another regular season.
The irony is that this season will be anything but regular. 72 games will be played during the ‘regular’ season. Fans won’t be in attendance for a majority of teams. There won’t be an All-Star game this year.
Despite the pandemic and the uncertainties that come with it, the season will likely go on. Here are the biggest headlines that will dominate the 2020-2021 NBA season.
COVID-19 and the NBA
By far one of the most pressing storylines heading into the new season is how the NBA will handle COVID-19 infections in the league.
It’s inevitable to see infections in the league. They’ve opted against starting up a bubble again, instead choosing to go to an in-market schedule, having teams play against other teams close in location, within a particular market. Player infections have already been reported in Golden State, as the Warriors first practice was delayed due to the positive tests.
Delaying practice is one thing, but if numbers continue to trend upwards in the United States, there could be scenarios where games have to be postponed and rescheduled in the event that multiple players or team staff test positive for COVID-19.
It’s fair to assume that this is the grim reality the league faces. The NFL and MLB are sports leagues that didn’t opt into a bubble-atmosphere, and have had to deal with positive cases among players and staffers.
The hope is that a vaccine is the potential game changer for the 2020-21 season, but it will also inevitably open up the discussion of the NBA taking up vaccine dosages (like testing kits in the bubble) away from more vulnerable people.
It’s likely that the league, and us as fans and media, will have to take a ‘wait-and-see’ approach to truly see how the season plays out with all these unpredictable variables we’ve grown somewhat accustomed to while living during a global pandemic.
Laker Title Defence
Going into 2020-21, the biggest basketball storyline (non-covid related) is the Lakers bid at defending their Larry OB against a new field of competitors and NBA landscape.
Additions of Dennis Schroder and Montrezl Harrell headlined their busy offseason, adding some youth and athleticism to their rotation. Veteran pick ups in Marc Gasol and Wesley Matthews look to diversify the Laker offence in new dimensions that couldn’t be provided prior to this season.
LeBron James signed a two-year extension with the team, and it’s highly likely Anthony Davis follows up with an extension of his own.
How the Lakers compete with a re-loaded Western Conference and far more competitive Eastern Conference field throughout the regular season is certainly intriguing, but the most intriguing story around this team is how they will replace the postseason contributions from veterans Rajon Rondo and Dwight Howard who both departed in free agency.
Can LeBron, AD, and company go back-to-back? LeBron would get his coveted fifth championship, and the Lakers get to put up banner number 18.
Giannis’ Contract Year in Milwaukee
The Bucks have one more year. One more year to persuade Giannis Antetokounmpo to stay in town. Following the conclusion of this upcoming season, Antetokounmpo’s contract expires, making him a free agent for the first time in his career.
As of the time this article’s being written, Giannis hasn’t signed the supermax contract extension. The Bucks have made some win-now moves this offseason, most notably by picking up Jrue Holiday via trade, giving up Eric Bledsoe, George Hill, and future first-round picks.
They also made moves to acquire Bogdan Bogdanovic, but the deal fell apart before it could be finalized. This season represents the last chance the Bucks have to convince Giannis that they can contend and win a title together.
After having the league’s best record two seasons in a row, Milwaukee has flamed out in rather shocking fashion to the eventual East champs. If Giannis isn’t convinced he can win in Milwaukee, or if the team exits the postseason similarly to previous seasons, it’s likely he departs from the organization, and there’s a long list of suitors waiting to court the Greek Freak away from the Bucks.
How Will New Additions and Returning Players Effect Standings?
There are a bunch of teams around the association boasting new-look rosters, ready to compete for the postseason or eager to crack the next tier of title contention. The shortlist of such teams are as follows.
The Brooklyn Nets will have the returns of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant to celebrate, as they look to be newcomers to the regular cast of East contenders. It will be interesting to see how the Nets shake up the standings out east, with the Celtics, Raptors, and Bucks all taking one step forward and two steps back.
The Philadelphia 76ers under Daryl Morey have transformed their team by adding an abundance of shooting around their Ben Simmons-Joel Embiid duo, while shedding salary for the future. The Sixers also look to build on a rather disappointing 2019-20 season under new head coach Doc Rivers.
There will be a couple new teams potentially transitioning from the lower tiers of the Eastern Conference to low-seed playoff teams. Charlotte adding Gordon Hayward and LaMelo Ball could very well add a new buzz around the team that vaults them into the postseason.
Atlanta made various win-now moves, adding defence and shooting to surround their young superstar Trae Young.
Teams such as the Portland Trailblazers, Phoenix Suns, and Dallas Mavericks all made moves to potentially position themselves to move up the West standings.
It’s looking to be a competitive field around the association.
Which Rookies will make an Impact in Year 1?
Rookies are always a big storyline heading into any NBA season, and while some considered this past draft class to be weaker than previous years, this class has a couple players that could be extremely impactful from day one.
The top three picks have potential to truly break out this year due to the situations each player is in. Anthony Edwards and LaMelo ball both join teams that look to position themselves at a playoff run, and the play of each could be potential swing factors to their respective teams’ postseason chances.
Other rookies like Deni Avdija and Onyeka Okongwu are in similar positions where they could be impact players on teams looking to contend for a playoff spot.
James Wiseman could see an extended role in year one due to Klay Thompson’s injury. The Warriors could look to other players on the roster to help in an effort to replace the production Thompson gave them, and Wiseman could be one of the players the team calls upon to help with the task.
Obi Toppin is in a unique situation where he may be required to be a top scoring option right away for the New York Knicks, and that fact alone could make him one of the favourites to take home the rookie of the year award.
Ready, Set, Go!
It’s an irrefutable truth that the answers to these questions and storylines will be answered very shortly. The NBA season is set to tip off on December 22nd. Be sure to stay locked in throughout the whole season with BALLnROLL for more coverage of the NBA.