Looking ahead to the 2020/21 NBA season

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The NBA executive deserves a great deal of credit for pulling off the play-offs last year, completely virus-free. However, that bubble structure was a short-term fix, and not one the league could realistically implement for a whole season. Going into the 2020/21 season, it was self-evident that virus risks would lie outside of the league’s control. Instead, the responsibility would be on the teams, and their support networks, to act vigilantly and keep themselves safe.

Unsurprisingly, this hasn’t happened. Even before training camp, we were seeing signs of players continuing on with their flashy lifestyles, and disregarding the implications there may be for their teams. For example, James Harden, a powerful superstar, decided to skip training camp and post a photo of himself at a strip club in Atlanta.

In doing so, he sent a signal to the league and his fellow players that the players weren’t to be controlled. As you might guess, others have taken up this rather selfish attitude, and broken quarantine rules themselves. At the very least, many players haven’t kept themselves as safe as they should, and will no doubt be quarantining at some point in the future. One dreads to think what that might mean for locker room chemistry.

All of this leaves a slightly bleak outlook for the future of this already shortened season, and games have already been impacted. In a matchup against the Denver Nuggets, the Philadelphia 76ers had so few players available that they had to suit up an injured player, Mike Scott, just to pass eligibility for the game. That left them with seven total, less than half the usual squad size.

Further games have been cancelled and postponed already, and as cases rise, the future does not look bright for a competitive season. Perhaps the executive will respond with greater disciplinary action for players who break protocol, but this would be certainly too hard to police. I struggle to think of a way the league could eliminate virus risks, without implementing another bubble; I imagine such a drastic measure would be reserved for the playoffs once again.

Playing time has shifted more towards reserve players, and we have seen some great performances so far. Young players, such as Tyrese Maxey, have been given the opportunity to shine. Maxey, playing for the 76ers in the matchup I mentioned above, scored 39 in his first game for the team, more than most players’ career bests. One of the lights in this dark season so far has been the rookie class, and their exceptional talent. It seems this year we have avoided any bad eggs. LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards and James Wiseman have slotted into the league very smoothly and look like future stars.           

Amidst all the disruption and uncertainty, some players have quietly stepped up their game, chief of which is Julius Randle, a forward for the Knicks, who has been putting up MVP level stats and has injected the normally terrible Knicks with some serious gas. DeMar DeRozan, who’s underperformed since leaving Toronto in 2018, has found his previous All-Star form.

Stephen Curry, facing another season without superstar backup due to Klay Thompson’s late injury, has proved his timeless talent. He’s already posted a league-wide game of the season candidate, scoring 62 against Portland after weeks of speculation that he might be starting to decline. John Wall and Demarcus Cousins, both fully fit after three years of injury torture, have been balling out for Houston, giving us fans a feel-good story to be happy about. So, the story is not all doom and gloom.   

Predicting the future seems to be slightly futile this time round. This is for two main reasons. Firstly, the looming virus threat and disruption could cancel a large chunk of the season or render its results slightly unrepresentative and unpredictable. Secondly, the off-season was a fairly dry one, with no major stars taking their talents elsewhere.

Therefore, the outlook is much unchanged from last year. The Lakers remain the favourite. Dallas, Denver, Miami, Boston, and Philadelphia will all post excellent seasons as they have done for the last few years. Oklahoma, Cleveland and Charlotte look set to underperform once again. How boring. All of that said, there is one team to keep our eyes on.

The Brooklyn Nets, now with a healthy Kevin Durant, are poised to disrupt the top of the eastern conference. Durant is a once in a generation talent and can carry any team to the finals if he so wishes. However, they’re going to need to get him back from quarantine and Kyrie Irving back from being AWOL. I’m not betting on them. Lakers to win again it seems.

Image: NeONBRAND via Unsplash

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