Updated: Mar 17
Last night, the 2020-21 NBA season resumed after the All-Star break, a respite that was much needed for most players. The first half of the regular season seemed to fly by, and it was full of surprises, disappointments, and lots of games dictated by COVID-19. Let's take a look at four stories that will develop throughout the rest of the regular season.
LaMelo Ball for Rookie of the Year?
I say yes with 99.9% certainty. Ball leads all rookies in points, rebounds, assists, and steals per game. Any casual fan would give him the award just for that statistical dominance. But that doesn’t do justice to how impressive he’s been for the Hornets through 36 games. Even owner Michael Jordan admitted Ball has “exceeded [Charlotte’s] expectations so far this season.”
As I mentioned last week, Ball has already shown that he can man an NBA offense with confidence. Every pass he executes is one step ahead of his defenders, and he has developed a great rapport with the certifiably bouncy Miles Bridges. Unless Ball gets injured, he’s a near-lock to be named Rookie of the Year.
Warriors Looking to Be Aggressive at Trade Deadline
The Warriors currently sit at ninth in the Western Conference, but they’re nowhere close to out of playoff contention. But the eight teams currently at the top are all quite deserving of their spots. The Jazz, Suns, Lakers, and Clippers are the créme de la créme of the West. The Trail Blazers, Nuggets, Spurs, and Mavericks have all been on the rise at the right time. So if Golden State wants to make it to the postseason, they might have to get creative at the trade deadline.
President of basketball operations Bob Myers said the Warriors would be “more open in making calls and listening to calls than we’ve been.” But rookie center James Wiseman and the Minnesota Timberwolves’ top-three protected 2021 first-round pick seem to be off limits. So what moves would they make? For one, Kelly Oubre Jr. will become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Golden State could choose to move him before the March 25 deadline for a more consistent win-now contributor in the frontcourt. Juan Toscano-Anderson and Draymond Green can’t defend big men all by themselves.
It was reported that the Warriors expressed interest in the Rockets’ Victor Oladipo, but it’s P.J. Tucker they should be looking at. He’s a lethal 3-point shooter from the corners and is a hard-nosed, versatile defender that can take on all five positions. If Golden State has a playoff mindset, Tucker would be a beneficial addition to a roster with a thin frontcourt.
Interim Coaches Looking to Turn Things Around
Both the Atlanta Hawks and the Minnesota Timberwolves fired their head coaches after disappointing results in the first half of the season. Atlanta replaced Lloyd Pierce with Nate McMillan, a seasoned coach with 16 years of experience at the helm. McMillan took control of a team struggling mightily with injuries, as De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish, Rajon Rondo, and Kris Dunn are all out. Luckily, the Hawks have Bogdan Bogdanovic back in action; they’ve needed more consistent offensive production from players not named Trae Young. McMillan surely has his work cut out for him, but he’s proven that he can work with teams of all shapes and sizes in the past.
In Minnesota, Ryan Saunders was relieved of his coaching duties after the Timberwolves posted a lowly 7-24 record. Former Raptors assistant Chris Finch was named as his replacement just a few hours later. He’s known for his offensive creativity, which should help the Wolves greatly in the near future. Karl-Anthony Towns could take a big step forward in terms of offensive production, and D’Angelo Russell and Anthony Edwards should benefit from the plays Finch draws up.
Both the Hawks and Timberwolves have a bevy of young talent that their new coaches can hopefully use to their fullest potential. Otherwise, they may be looking at good odds in the draft lottery once again.
Are the Nets Title Favorites?
The Brooklyn Nets added yet another piece to their star-studded roster on Monday with 6-time All-Star Blake Griffin. They’ve already been tearing up the league with the KD-Kyrie-Harden trio, but adding Griffin is just icing on the cake. Sure, knee injuries have sapped him of his previously high-flying style of play, but he can still ball. Griffin will likely slot in at backup center or power forward to provide some punch off the bench.
Brooklyn is second in the East despite having their trio together for just seven games. But in those moments that they are together, they absolutely torch defenses to the tune of 127 points per 100 possessions. Have mercy. Joe Harris and Bruce Brown have been the perfect complementary pieces. Harris is a certified flamethrower from deep, and the 6’4” Brown acts as a small ball center of epic proportions.
Of course, every NBA team has their flaws. For the Nets, their defense isn’t up to par with other juggernauts like the Jazz, 76ers, or Lakers. Nicolas Claxton has shown promise on both ends, but he’s still too inexperienced to be trusted in big postseason moments. Brooklyn doesn’t have a true defensive leader that can make a stop in the fourth quarter of games. Nevertheless, they’ve made it work with what they have, and Griffin will surely help in the defensive rebounding department as well.
I’m not comfortable with calling the Nets bonafide title favorites just yet. They’re certainly in the top two or three, but one could argue that the Lakers still have the greatest shot at the championship. LeBron James is LeBron James, and Anthony Davis should be back and healthy for a deep postseason run. We’ll have to see how the Nets and Lakers look in their matchup on April 10. It could very well be a preview for this year’s Finals.