Community Shootaround

Community Shootaround: Should The NBA Go Back To A “Bubble”?

The NBA’s closed-campus experiment at Disney World was hailed as a huge success that enabled to league to complete its 2019/20 season and crown a champion without any interruptions from COVID-19. However, there was no desire to repeat the experience for an entire season as teams preferred to play in their home arenas, even if no fans were allowed.

But that decision carried risks, which are already beginning to overwhelm the new season. Only one game has been canceled so far — a season-opener between the Rockets and Thunder because Houston didn’t have enough eligible players — but several teams are operating with depleted rosters due to positive coronavirus tests and contact tracing mandated by the league’s health and safety protocols.

The Sixers had just eight eligible players this afternoon as they lost at home to Denver. Danny Green was the only Philadelphia starter to suit up for the game, while Dwight Howard and Tyrese Maxey were the only other members of the rotation who played.

The team’s predicament began Thursday when Seth Curry learned that he had tested positive for the virus. Tobias Harris, Shake MiltonMatisse Thybulle and Vincent Poirier shared a table with Curry at a team meeting that day, according to Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer, so they are required to quarantine for contact tracing. They will likely be unavailable for an entire week, which means three more missed games.

“We don’t know,” said coach Doc Rivers, whose season may be derailed after a 7-2 start. “We don’t know anything. We have to make that assumption, I guess. I mean, they were at a table. So it wasn’t like close contact. So maybe that will shorten their days. I don’t know that. But I guess even that’s too close. I mean, I don’t know. I don’t get that whole (thing).”

The 7-3 Celtics may be headed for the same situation. Star forward Jayson Tatum has reportedly tested positive for COVID-19, joining Robert Williams, Grant Williams and Tristan Thompson in quarantine. Boston’s injury report for tomorrow’s game mentions all but eight players, which is the minimum needed for the game to be played.

Tatum’s test has also affected the Wizards because he talked after the game to Bradley Beal, who is now subject to health and safety protocols for contact tracing. The Nets, Nuggets, Spurs, Grizzlies and Mavericks are also short on players because of quarantine issues.

Kendra Andrews of The Athletic believes the NBA is making a mistake by forcing games like the one today in Philadelphia to be played. She notes that virus rates are higher now in many places than they were when the league suspended play in March, and basketball is an easy way for germs to spread because of close contact and shared equipment.

The league isn’t at a crisis situation yet, but it’s headed in that direction. Without the controlled environment that was in place at Disney World, the athletes face a lot more potential exposure to COVID-19, and just one case can change the course of a season.

We want to get your opinion. Do you believe the NBA can play an entire season under the current conditions or will it need to revert to a “bubble” alternative at some point? Please leave your responses in the comments section.

Community Shootaround: Western Conference Early Impressions

On Wednesday, we asked you for your thoughts on what you’ve seen so far this season from the Eastern Conference teams, including whether certain hot and cold starts are for real or whether certain teams are due for course corrections. Today, we’re shifting our focus to the West.

As in the East, there are some early-season results in the Western Conference that don’t come as a real surprise. For instance, the fact that the Timberwolves and Grizzlies are tied for the West’s worst record at 2-5 isn’t a shock — especially since they’ve been missing their respective stars, Karl-Anthony Towns and Ja Morant.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Lakers (6-2) and Clippers (6-3) were considered the class of the conference entering the season, and nothing we’ve seen so far from them suggests that shouldn’t remain the case going forward.

However, both Los Angeles teams currently trail the impressive Suns, whose 6-2 record has made them the No. 1 seed in the conference. Perhaps it’s not a total surprise that Phoenix is off to a hot start after going 8-0 in the bubble, but even those who were bullish on the Suns may not have expected them to look so good so soon, led by new point guard Chris Paul and his backcourt partner Devin Booker.

Outside of those five teams and the 2-4 Rockets – who have been hard to get a handle on due to the James Harden drama and their early COVID-related absences – virtually every other club in the West can be classified as “middle of the pack.”

Four of those teams – the Pelicans, Jazz, Warriors, and Kings – have 4-4 records, while five others – the Nuggets, Mavericks, Spurs, Trail Blazers, and Thunder – are at 3-4.

Some of those clubs entered the season with much higher expectations than others. Denver and Dallas, for instance, likely aren’t thrilled to be tied with Oklahoma City in the standings. But after just seven or eight games, it’s hard to be too concerned or too excited about a record right around .500. The question now will be which of those teams can start pulling away from the pack and which ones begin falling off.

What do you think? What are your early impressions of the Western Conference race based on what you’ve seen so far?

Can the Suns maintain their hot start and vie for home court advantage in the playoffs, or is regression on the way? Do you expect some of those teams hovering around .500 to break away or fall off soon, or do you believe we’ll see many teams engaged in a tight, competitive race in that part of the standings all year long?

Head to the comment section below to share your thoughts!

Community Shootaround: Eastern Conference Early Impressions

A handful of Eastern Conference teams are just about exactly where we’d expect them to be through the first two weeks of the 2020/21 season. I don’t imagine, for instance, that anyone is especially shocked by the records put up so far by teams like the Pacers (5-2), Celtics (5-3), Hawks (4-3), Hornets (2-5), or Pistons (1-6).

However, there are also plenty of surprises at both the top and the bottom of the conference standings. It is, of course, still very early in the season, so any trends from the last couple weeks could be easily reversed before the end of January, but now that every team has played between six and eight games, it’s worth checking in on the early results to see how sustainable they might be.

The Sixers (6-1), Magic (5-2), Knicks (4-3), and Cavaliers (4-3) are among the pleasant surprises so far. The 76ers have benefited from a relatively soft schedule and were viewed as a slam-dunk playoff team before the season, but the fact that they hold the NBA’s best record is still impressive.

Orlando, meanwhile, was considered a borderline playoff team, while New York and Cleveland were expected to be in the lottery. The Magic and Cavs have taken advantage of roster continuity to get off to a strong start, while new head coach Tom Thibodeau appears to have be having an impact for the Knicks.

In the middle of the pack, the Bucks (4-3), Nets (4-4), and Heat (3-3) have been up and down, but it seems likely that it’ll be just a matter of time before they hit their stride. Milwaukee and Brooklyn, in particular, each rank in the top five in the league in net rating, despite their middling records.

In the lottery, the biggest disappointment so far has been the 1-5 Raptors, who have had one of the NBA’s worst offenses through their first six games. While Toronto is too talented to remain in the 14th seed for much longer, the team’s early struggles suggest it may not be easy to adequately fill the holes that were created in the frontcourt when Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol departed in free agency.

Elsewhere in the lottery, the 4-4 Bulls have slightly outperformed expectations so far, while the 2-5 Wizards have looked a little better after a disastrous start.

We want to know what you think: What are your early impressions of the Eastern Conference race?

How many of those surprise teams in the playoff picture do you think will remain there? Is it just a matter of time before the likes of the Magic, Knicks, and Cavaliers drop way down the standings, or do any of them have legit staying power? Can the Sixers hold the top seed? Will the Raptors rebound and comfortably make the playoffs or will they spend the season vying for a spot in the play-in tournament?

Head to the comment section below to weigh in with your early thoughts on the East!

Community Shootaround: Are The Suns A Playoff Team?

Just as they did while going unbeaten at Disney World, the Suns are sporting the best record in the NBA. Phoenix is off to a 5-1 start that includes victories over three playoff teams from last season: the Mavericks, Jazz and Nuggets.

While the results are similar to what they did in Orlando, this is a different Suns team after the offseason trade that brought in Chris PaulIn addition to serving as a veteran presence to guide his younger teammates, Paul remains a high-level point guard at age 35, averaging 13.2 points and 8.7 assists through the season’s first six games.

Paul is surrounded by plenty of weapons, much like he was in Oklahoma City last year. Devin Booker has been one of the league’s most proficient scorers for the past four seasons, and former number one pick Deandre Ayton can be a dominating inside presence. Mikal Bridges looks like one of the league’s most improved players, averaging 15.3 PPG and 5.2 RPG so far.

It has been a long time since the Suns made a serious run at the playoffs. Last year’s 8-0 performance in the bubble only brought their record to 34-39, still short of the ninth-place finish needed to reach the qualifying game. Phoenix hasn’t posted a winning season since going 48-34 in 2013/14 and hasn’t been to the playoffs in 11 years.

Although there’s plenty of optimism in Phoenix, the players realize there’s a long road ahead, Paul told Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic.

“It’s early, it’s early. It’s a long season,” he said. “We always say this, we’re just trying to pile up wins. Just trying to pile up wins. It’s a new format as far as the playoffs and all that this season. So every game matters.” 

We want to get your early-season impression of the Suns. Do they have enough talent to reach the postseason in a Western Conference race that seems to be loaded with good teams? Please leave your answer in the comments section.

Community Shootaround: Which Coaches Will Be On Hot Seat In 2021?

The last year has been a particularly active one for NBA head coaching changes — of the league’s 30 teams, 10 have hired new coaches since the start of 2020, including nine since July.

[RELATED: Longest-Tenured NBA Head Coaches]

Typically, a leaguewide coaching overhaul like the one we’ve seen in 2020 is followed by a period of relative quiet, as those new head coaches get an opportunity to prove their value. But that doesn’t mean that we won’t see any in-season head coaching changes in 2020/21.

In-season coaching changes typically occur when a coach has been on the job for multiple years and is leading an underachieving team. If the coach was hired by a previous front office regime, that’s often a point against him as well, since it won’t necessarily reflect poorly on the current head of basketball operations if he has to replace that coach and bring in his own choice.

It’s probably safe to assume the 10 coaches that were hired in 2020 are safe for the time being. A handful of the league’s longest-tenured coaches, including Gregg Popovich, Erik Spoelstra, and Rick Carlisle, appear untouchable too. And there’s a group of coaches – including Frank Vogel, Nick Nurse, Brad Stevens, and Michael Malone, among others – whose recent achievements will ensure they have a very long rope going forward.

After eliminating all of those coaches from the discussion and paring down the remaining group a little further, I see Wizards coach Scott Brooks, Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders, and Kings coach Luke Walton as a few candidates to find themselves on the hot seat later in the season if things don’t go well for their respective clubs.

All three coaches were hired by a previous head of basketball operations and all three are facing pressure to improve upon last season’s results.

Of the three, Brooks may have the most tenuous hold on his position. The Wizards surrendered a future first-round pick in their offseason trade for Russell Westbrook and are highly motivated to make it back to the postseason and convince Bradley Beal that it makes sense for him to stay in D.C. long-term. Brooks was hired by Ernie Grunfeld, so if things go from bad to worse following the team’s 0-4 start, new head of basketball operations Tommy Sheppard may feel pressure to make a change.

Unlike Brooks, who was hired back in 2016, Saunders and Walton were hired in 2019, which is one reason why I believe they’re probably not on shaky ground quite yet — replacing them in 2020/21 would mean not even giving them two full seasons to show what they can do.

Gersson Rosas could have replaced Saunders in 2019 when the Wolves coach only held the position on an interim basis, but opted instead to make him the permanent coach. Everything Rosas has said since then suggests he’s close with Saunders and feels he’s the right man for the job. And despite owner Glen Taylor‘s playoff hopes, Rosas likely recognizes that there’s a ceiling on what Saunders can do with the current roster — especially if Karl-Anthony Towns continues to battle injury issues.

As for Walton, the Kings didn’t make any splashy roster upgrades during the offseason, so it’s not as if they have short-term championship expectations. As long as Walton can keep the team in the mix for a top-10 spot in the conference, he should be safe for the time being. He’s off to a good start — the Kings are 3-1, with a pair of impressive wins over Denver.

Given their current rosters, expectations likely aren’t sky-high for Dwane Casey (Pistons) this season, so as long as Detroit’s youngsters show positive growth, he should be safe. Three more Southeast coaches – James Borrego (Hornets), Lloyd Pierce (Hawks), and Steve Clifford (Magic) – could be on the hot seat if their teams significantly underachieve this season, but all three (especially Clifford) are off to good starts.

What do you think? Which coaches do you think could find themselves on the hot seat during the 2020/21 season? Do you think we’ll see any in-season coaching changes? If so, which team will be the first to make a move?

Head to the comment section below to weigh in with your thoughts!

Community Shootaround: Is Brooklyn The Best Team In The East?

The Nets knew they were investing in the future when they signed Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to huge free agent deals in July of 2019. Durant was less than three weeks removed from a ruptured Achilles tendon and Irving was looking for a fresh start after being the scapegoat for a disappointing season in Boston. Durant didn’t play at all during the 2019/20 season, while Irving suffered a shoulder impingement that limited him to 20 games, so the Nets’ wait to enjoy the spoils of their free agency coup became even longer.

Two games into the new season, Durant and Irving are both healthy and Brooklyn looks like a legitimate contender. The Nets started off with blowout wins over the Warriors and Celtics in a pair of nationally televised games. Irving is putting up MVP-level numbers with averages of 31.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists per night, and Durant isn’t far behind with a 25.5/4.5/3.0 line.

The Nets, who had trouble assembling a full roster this summer at Disney World, suddenly have a deep, talented team that looks capable of a long playoff run. Caris LeVert has become the primary ball-handler on the reserve unit and is third on the team in scoring at 15.0 PPG. Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris bring additional firepower to the starting unit. DeAndre Jordan and Jarrett Allen split time at center, while free agent addition Jeff Green provides versatility in the frontcourt.

Brooklyn’s emergence adds another contender to the crowded playoff picture in the East. Milwaukee had the best record in the conference last season, but Miami reached the NBA Finals. The Celtics, Raptors, Sixers, and Pacers should all be in the mix as well.

We want to get your opinion. If the Nets can get a full season from both Durant and Irving, should they be considered the best team in the East? Please leave your replies in the comments section.

Community Shootaround: Christmas Day Games

When the 2019/20 NBA season ended in October, it didn’t seem likely that we’d see another NBA game played until some time in the new year, perhaps even as late as February or March. But the league accelerated its plans for the 2020/21 regular season in the fall, ensuring that an annual tradition was preserved: the five-game Christmas Day slate.

Today’s schedule is as follows:

  • New Orleans Pelicans at Miami Heat (11:00am central time)
  • Golden State Warriors at Milwaukee Bucks (1:30pm CT)
  • Brooklyn Nets at Boston Celtics (4:00pm CT)
  • Dallas Mavericks at Los Angeles Lakers (7:00pm CT)
  • Los Angeles Clippers at Denver Nuggets (9:30pm CT)

A couple of these matchups look even more tantalizing today than they did a week ago. The Pelicans, for instance, looked awfully impressive in their opening-night game against Toronto on Wednesday and will be going up against the defending Eastern champion Heat, who are hungry for their first win of the season.

A Stephen Curry/Giannis Antetokounmpo showdown between the Warriors and Bucks will be followed by a matchup of two potential Eastern Conference contenders who looked great on opening night, the Nets and Celtics.

Luka Doncic and the Mavericks and LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers will all be looking for their first win of the season in the evening.

And the night is capped off with a rematch of last year’s Western Conference Semifinals, with Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and the Clippers visiting Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and the Nuggets.

Which game are you most looking forward to watch today? Which five teams are you picking to win the Christmas Day games? Use the comment section below to weigh in with your thoughts and make your predictions!

Community Shootaround: 2020/21 NBA Predictions

It may feel as if the 2019/20 NBA season just ended, but we’re just suddenly hours away from the ’20/21 regular season tipping off.

With the coronavirus pandemic ongoing, this season won’t quite look like a typical NBA campaign. Teams are only scheduled to play 72 games instead of 82, and that’s assuming that they can get through the season without cancellations.

On Monday, commissioner Adam Silver told reporters – including Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press – that he expects some “bumps in the road” for the NBA as the 2020/21 season progresses, acknowledging that there will likely be some positive COVID-19 tests among players and other on-court personnel. However, Silver also said the league is “prepared for all contingencies” and is confident that it will be able to get through the full season.

Time will tell if Silver is right. But for now, let’s assume – or at least hope – that he is. We want to get your predictions on which teams and players will rule the 2020/21 NBA season — assuming the league can get through it.

Playoffs and NBA Finals

Betting site currently lists the following 12 teams as the best bets to claim the top six spots in each conference:

Eastern Conference:

  1. Milwaukee Bucks
  2. Brooklyn Nets
  3. Boston Celtics
  4. Miami Heat
  5. Toronto Raptors
  6. Philadelphia 76ers

Western Conference:

  1. Los Angeles Lakers
  2. Los Angeles Clippers
  3. Denver Nuggets
  4. Dallas Mavericks
  5. Utah Jazz
  6. Portland Trail Blazers

Only the top six finishers in each conference are assured of playoff berths this season, as the Nos. 7-10 teams will participate in a play-in tournament at the end of the year for the final two spots. The seventh and eighth seeds will only have to win once in two games to claim their spots, while the ninth and 10th seeds would require two wins.

Based on BetOnline’s odds, the Pacers, Hawks, Wizards, and Magic are the best bets for the 7-10 spots in the East, with the Bulls, Hornets, and Cavaliers among the teams lurking as threats.

In the West, the Suns, Warriors, Rockets, and Pelicans are considered the best bets for that 7-10 range, with the Grizzlies, Spurs, Kings, and Timberwolves looking to push them out.

Meanwhile, the Bucks and the Nets are the frontrunners to make the NBA Finals in the East, per BetOnline, while the Lakers and Clippers are the overwhelming betting favorites to represent the West.

What do you think? Do those projected standings look about right to you, or do you think certain teams are noticeably overvalued or undervalued? Do you expect some combination of the Bucks, Nets, Lakers, and Clippers to play in the Finals, or will another team (or two) crash the party?

NBA End-of-Season Awards

Some end-of-season awards are a little easier to forecast than others. We have a general idea of which players should be in the mix for the Most Valuable Player award or Defensive Player of the Year honors. But there could be dozens of candidates for Most Improved Player, while an award like Sixth Man of the Year often hinges on whether injuries force certain top bench players to become starters.

Still, BetOnline has provided betting favorites for all of major awards. Here are bettors’ top five picks for each one:

Most Valuable Player:

  1. Luka Doncic (Mavericks)
  2. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks)
  3. Kevin Durant (Nets)
  4. Stephen Curry (Warriors)
  5. Anthony Davis (Lakers) / LeBron James (Lakers) (tie)

Defensive Player of the Year:

  1. Anthony Davis (Lakers)
  2. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks)
  3. Rudy Gobert (Jazz)
  4. Bam Adebayo (Heat)
  5. Joel Embiid (Sixers)

Rookie of the Year:

  1. LaMelo Ball (Hornets)
  2. Obi Toppin (Knicks)
  3. James Wiseman (Warriors)
  4. Killian Hayes (Pistons)
  5. Anthony Edwards (Timberwolves)

Sixth Man of the Year:

  1. Lou Williams (Clippers)
  2. Jordan Clarkson (Jazz)
  3. Danilo Gallinari (Hawks)
  4. Goran Dragic (Heat)
  5. Serge Ibaka (Clippers)

Most Improved Player:

  1. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Thunder)
  2. Deandre Ayton (Suns)
  3. Christian Wood (Rockets) / Michael Porter (Nuggets) (tie)
  4. Jamal Murray (Nuggets)
  5. Coby White (Bulls)

Coach of the Year:

  1. Steve Nash (Nets)
  2. Tyronn Lue (Clippers)
  3. Monty Williams (Suns)
  4. Brad Stevens (Celtics) / Erik Spoelstra (Heat) / Frank Vogel (Lakers) / Rick Carlisle (Mavericks) (tie)
  5. Doc Rivers (Sixers)

While the favorites for each of those awards make sense, there are some guys I like who don’t make the cut. I think Kings guard Tyrese Haliburton is an intriguing Rookie of the Year candidate, and I’d be tempted to make Davis Bertans my choice for Sixth Man as long as the Wizards intend to continue bringing him off the bench.

What do you think? Are you picking mostly from the above candidates for your award selections, or are you going off the board with some of your choices?

With the regular season to tip off, we want to hear your predictions for the coming year.

Head to the comment section below to share your picks for the 2020/21 regular season standings, the playoff results, the award winners, and any other subjects you want to weigh in on (James Harden‘s trade destination? Or maybe the first head coach to be fired?).

Happy opening night!

Community Shootaround: Warriors Revival?

Despite another devastating injury to Klay Thompson, the Warriors seem intent on regaining their status as an elite team.

Last year was essentially a throwaway season. An injured Kevin Durant bolted for the East Coast, Thompson was out for the season with a knee injury and Stephen Curry busted his thumb in the early weeks of the season.

The reward for an otherwise wasted campaign was the second pick in the draft. They used it on the highest-rated big man in James Wiseman, who practiced for the first time on Monday and made a swift impression.

“I thought James was all over the place today, which was great to see,” Draymond Green said.

Green and Wiseman will form the frontcourt duo, Curry will run the show and Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre Jr. will man the wings. The Warriors also possess some good depth, particularly in the frontcourt with the likes of Eric Paschall, Marquese Chriss and Kevon Looney.

Oubre was acquired even though his salary added to an already enormous luxury tax bill. The Warriors certainly aren’t tanking this season, but in the loaded Western Conference, it’s fair to say they’re no longer going to overwhelm the opposition.

Still, Green wants the bar set high.

“When I don’t win a title, that’s unsuccessful,” Green said. “There’s no moral victories.”

That brings us to our question of the day: Will the revamped Warriors return to the playoffs this season?

Please take to the comments section to weigh in on this topic. We look forward to your input.

Community Shootaround: Harden Saga

The Rockets found a way to accommodate Russell Westbrook, essentially swapping him for another burdensome contract in John Wall. Will they be able to do the same for James Harden?

On paper, Harden does not seem to have much leverage. He’s got three years and $133MM remaining on his contract, including a $47MM player option in the final year. But when was the last time a superstar wanted to be traded and didn’t eventually get his wish?

Harden wants to go to the Nets, Sixers, Bucks or Heat, but that’s not a simple task. Brooklyn would seemingly have the assets to pull it off and create a fearsome trio of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Harden but it could also turn out badly with three headstrong perennial All-Stars trying to mesh their talents.

The Sixers would likely have to give up Ben Simmons but would a pairing of Harden and Joel Embiid work better? New coach Doc Rivers believes he can find ways to maximize the talents of Simmons and Embiid.

The Bucks would seem to be an unlikely destination unless Giannis Antetokounmpo demands it as an incentive to sign a supermax extension. Even then, Milwaukee probably wouldn’t have the assets to pull it off.

Pat Riley has never shied away from bold moves but he seems to have a good thing going. Would the Heat president gut the rotation and go all in on a Harden-Jimmy ButlerBam Adebayo trio? It’s more likely Riley will wait to see what the free agent market brings next summer.

That leads us to our question of the day: Where do you believe James Harden will wind up this season?

Please take to the comments section to weigh in on this topic. We look forward to your input.