The 75th edition of the annual National Basketball Association (NBA) league started on December 22, and for the first time in recent memory, a new season gets underway without fans, due to COVID-19. Like every other sport in the United States and across the globe the NBA was also affected by the global pandemic and had to go on a break last March while we all had fun playing NBA Quizzes.
But after a successful return to a bubble system in Orlando, Florida that saw LeBron James and the Lakers crowned as champions, a new season starts on home court for all teams – except the Toronto Raptors who will be playing in Tampa Bay due to flight restrictions in Canada.
With a shorter season of 72 games, a play-in tournament, shortest rest period amongst all sports in the US, surprising trade demands the 2020-21 NBA season promises to be an interesting one, and here are our predictions for the upcoming season.
The battle to unseat the Los Angeles Lakers as champions began immediately after the buzzer sounded on their game 6 victory over the Miami Heat, with a host of head coach changes. Rivals and neighbors, LA Clippers got rid of veteran coach Doc Rivers and replaced him with his assistant Tyrone Lue after a disappointing postseason that saw them lose in the second round of the playoffs to the Denver Nuggets. Over in the eastern conference, championship hopefuls Brooklyn Nets brought in rookie manager and NBA Hall of Famer, Steve Nash as they look to return to their first NBA finals since 2003.
According to Arab Basketball, the Golden State Warriors is the reason why basketball became so popular in the Middle East and their history continues to be as fascinating as the current season. The return of the Golden State Warriors, although with the same head coach in Steve Kerr and the same set of players -barring Klay Thompson, who’s out for the season due to injury and the addition of James Wiseman through the draft- makes the Western Conference battle one to watch. With teams like Nuggets, Portland Trailblazers, Utah Jazz, Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Sun all expected to take the next step up, playoff places in the west are about to make the battle in Game of Thrones look like a child’s play.
The Eastern conference is no joke either, the Milwaukee Bucks & star player Giannis Antetokounmpo fell to the Miami Heat in the second round of the playoffs and after a few additions to their roster, they’re expected to be favorites in the east again. The Philadelphia 76ers hired Doc Rivers in the hopes of turning their fortunes around and finally getting the best out of star players Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons; and let’s not forget the Boston Celtics who made it to the conference finals, where they lost in six games to Miami. All these teams including the Brooklyn Nets, make the east a competitive conference this season.
The Big Movers
A host of teams have taken a step forward this season in the hope of becoming playoff contenders but none other than the Atlanta Hawks have the biggest step up. A team that already had the likes of All-star point guard, Trae Young, impressive bigs like Clint Capela and John Collins and young talented wings like Kevin Heurter and Cam Reddish -added the experience of two-time champion Rajon Rondo, the scoring ability of Bodgan Bodganovic, and the versatility of Danilo Galinari- as they seek to return to the competitiveness they boasted a few years back under the stewardship of Mike Budenholzer.
The Phoenix Suns also made improvements adding future Hall of Famer, Chris Paul to their roster, perhaps forming a new big three with all-star guard Devin Booker and talented big man DeAndre Ayton. The Suns haven’t made the playoffs in almost a decade but can count on the experience and ability of Chris Paul, who led a rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder team to the playoffs last season.
Battle for MVP
Should the regular-season MVP award be adjusted to include performances in the postseason? That’s a continuous debate by fans and media alike that will go on for some time, but I don’t think Giannis cares. The two-time, back-to-back NBA most valuable player winner is the odds-on favorite for this year’s award but make no mistake, he has a lot of competition ahead.
The Lakers duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic, perennial contender James Harden, Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Doncic are all expected to be in the hunt for the award, but my second favorite for the trophy would be Stephen Curry. The Warriors star player is expected to have an outstanding year if the former champions are to be competitive this year and that could create a narrative that sees him take home the award.
Harden, Westbrook, and roster changes
With Russell Westbrook leaving and the future of James Harden still uncertain, the Houston Rockets might be in for a very long season. The addition of John Wall, who came in a trade for Westbrook has done nothing to convince Harden to stay, with the former MVP turning down a contract extension that would have earned him nearly $50 million a year.
The Rockets’ demise could be beneficial to others, as we already expect the Washington Wizards to become a playoff team in the east with the addition of Westbrook, while the team that picks up Harden via trade would be considered an automatic title contender, depending on its previous roster.
The Lakers are believed to have made the biggest improvement to their roster adding the likes of Dennis Schroder, Montrezl Harrell, and Marc Gasol. The champions are favorites to defend their crown, but can’t take anything for granted as the road to glory might be tougher this year with the improvement of other teams.
Rookie of the Year
The 2020 NBA draft class wasn’t as deep as previous ones in terms of talent, but make no mistake we still have some special players. Number 1 overall pick Anthony Edwards, who was drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves, is expected to slot into the backcourt alongside D’Angelo Russell and is one of the favorites for Rookie of the year honors.
I believe being a starter helps in the race for this award, and with the keys to the kingdom of Charlotte Hornets expected to be handed to LaMelo Ball, I wouldn’t look past these two as the rookie of the year. But I could be wrong, another rookie might spring up and snatch the prize for himself.