Early Impressions of the 2020-2021 NBA Season
Welcome back folks to another edition of “Nate writes a 2,000 word blog post overanalyzing the NBA.” Don’t mind the small break I took, all is well I assure you.
In today’s post, we’re going to take a look at each and every team in the NBA and how they’ve performed so far this season. What are some general takeaways we can have, and what do these starts mean for every team’s chances this season? As usual I will be using the most unbiased, randomly generated order possible with these 30 teams, so make sure to control+F to search for your favorite among the pile of names. Let’s get started.
Detroit Pistons Detroit had a puzzling offseason, but one good thing to come out of it was an early season Most-Improved Player candidate in Jerami Grant. Other than that, the Pistons are very young and very raw, and Blake Griffin is going downhill so fast even our friend the Roadrunner would be impressed. Expect them to settle at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
Denver Nuggets Why is Nikola Jokic so good? I mean seriously, this guy is just a seven foot Luka Doncic (or is Doncic a 6’7’ Jokic?). Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. are continuing to improve, yet the Nuggets are off to a sluggish start. Expect their defense and chemistry to improve as new acquisitions get more comfortable. This is still one of the better teams in the West.
Philadelphia 76ers Daryl Morey might be onto something here. Philly’s biggest problem was always their lack of shooting, and it got so bad last year that people wondered if Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid could even play together. Well, in came Danny Green and Seth Curry to the rescue. Morey has constructed a very solid team that plays great defense and can score from all three levels on offense, something that seems to be a little rarer out East than it is in the Western Conference. The Sixers are looking like a top team in their conference.
Phoenix Suns Ah yes, one of the most interesting teams to watch this year after trading for Chris Paul. The Suns are off to a great 6-2 start, but stop me if you’ve heard this before (as in last season). They were a borderline playoff team a year ago, so adding Paul only increases their chances to sneak in this year, even in a tough conference. Oh and I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a big shoutout to Devin Booker who is seriously underrated for no good reason.
Toronto Raptors Well, uh...there’s not much you can say in the Raptor’s favor after their first few weeks of basketball. It’s the same team that found so much success a year ago (and nearly made it to the Eastern Conference Finals), but something is off in Toronto. Losing Marc Gasol has clearly hurt the team, and Pascal Siakam has not been playing like the guy we’ve seen for the past couple of seasons. Granted, a lot of their issues stem from their horrid field goal percentage, so that’s bound to even out over the course of the season (hopefully). This is still a very competitive team in the East.
Memphis Grizzlies What was looking like a very promising year got quickly derailed when star point guard Ja Morant sprained his ankle. Without him, the Grizzlies are bottom feeders in the West, but when he’s healthy they are one of the more exciting young teams in the league. Let’s just hope they can stay afloat in his absence.
Washington Wizards You know things are bad when your star player scores 60 points and you still lose. I was a big believer that Russell Westbrook would help this team be at least semi-competitive, but with a lackluster bench and virtually no defense the Wizards don’t really have a path to contention.
Sacramento Kings The Kings have been...okay to start the season. They were also okay last year before Marvin Bagley went out with a foot injury, but the team is noticeably, slightly better this year. Rookie Tyrese Haliburton has been great, center Richaun Holmes continues to develop into a solid big man, and they finally put Buddy Hield in the starting lineup! They likely won’t sniff the Playoffs in a stacked Western Conference, but they are improving.
Milwaukee Bucks The Bucks were a little shaky to start the year but they have quickly rounded into form. New addition Jrue Holiday has meshed perfectly with MVP Giannis Antetokuompo and the ever-improving Khris Middleton, but I have concerns. Milwaukee has shot a ridiculous percentage from three point range so far, something that surely won’t be sustained for an entire season. This shooting has covered up a lot of minor weaknesses for them, so I’ll be interested to see what happens when they cool off. Still, they’re going to compete for that top seed out east.
San Antonio Spurs The Spurs are in a similar position to the Kings, except swap out young talent for aging talent (i.e. DeMar Derozan and LaMarcus Aldrige). They are very okay, but in today’s Western Conference okay is not good enough. I like some of the young pieces they have (Dejounte Murray is AWESOME) but they’re going to miss out on the Playoffs again.
Cleveland Cavaliers Could a Darius Garland-Colin Sexton backcourt actually work? Well it has so far this season. Cleveland has gotten off to a surprisingly decent start considering many have pegged them as cellar dwellers, but some regression is in order. Still, they have a nice young trio in Garland, Sexton, and Andre Drummond. Don’t expect any playoff experience for the youngins.
Oklahoma City Thunder Yes, I did just use the word “youngins” in this post. No, I am not from the South. You know who (kinda) is? The Thunder, who came into this season with one of the most talentless rosters in basketball. Still, they’ve been competitive in most of their games, albeit playing against a pretty soft schedule. This year is really all about seeing Shai Gilgeous-Alexander develop into hopefully an All-Star and waiting for those draft picks to come in. Less wins is more for OKC at this point.
Chicago Bulls Well they finally got GarPax out of Chicago, but losing is here to stay. The Bulls have talent, but without any defense (like, at all) and almost no second unit, there’s no way this current roster wins many games. This season has been more of the same: Zach Lavine scores a lot, and the Bulls lose a lot.
New Orleans Pelicans Alright, first full season for Zion and...eh. This team was great with Zion last year, but you have to wonder how much of that was just the pure excitement that the 19 year-old brought with him. Their roster construction is very awkward, and you have to wonder if they put enough shooting around Mr. Williamson. If they start hitting shots, they could challenge for a lower seed in the Playoffs.
Orlando Magic Don’t let the 6-2 record fool you: the Magic have endured a brutal stretch recently. Young forward Jonathan Isaac tore his ACL in the bubble this past fall, and point guard Markelle Fultz suffered the same fate just yesterday. Without two of their key starters, there’s no way this Orlando squad can compete, so expect them to drop in the rankings and stay put.
Minnesota Timberwolves What an interesting team. I know they were bad last year, but I just figured that D’Angelo Russell + KAT = success. They even have Malik Beasley scoring 18 a game, and number one overall pick Anthony Edwards. If I’m being honest, I recognize that the names I just listed provide little to zero defense, but still I figured they’d be better than 2-5. If they continue to play like this, expect another high draft pick for the TWolves.
Indiana Pacers Are we ready to admit that Domantas Sabonis was not a fluke All-Star? Now with Victor Oladipo back, Indiana has looked really good to start the season. Malcolm Brogdon is playing like the guy they paid for, Myles Turner continues to block 10 shots a game, and the team is just really well-rounded. In a year of uncertainty for so many teams, Indiana could rise to a higher playoff seed due to their consistency and team play.
Golden State Warriors If I wrote this before the Clippers game, I would’ve been singing a different tune. But last night’s matchup was a stark reminder that this Warriors team has zero perimeter shooting, and that’s allowing the opposition to double and triple team Steph Curry every time he touches the ball. If they don’t find shooting soon, their season is going to go down the drain.
Boston Celtics How do these guys draft a stud every year? Payton Pritchard, the young point guard out of Oregon, just tipped in the game-winner for them last night, and he’s been having a terrific season. Other than him, Jaylen Brown has taken a step forward and Jayson Tatum continues to be a star. Once Kemba Walker comes back, this team should be one of the best in the East.
Los Angeles Lakers I mean, it’s LeBron and AD, what did you expect? They’re good, and with an even better bench than last year they should have a pretty good chance to defend their Western Conference and NBA throne.
Brooklyn Nets Kevin Durant having to quarantine for a week puts a damper on what was otherwise an enticing start to the season for Brooklyn. Kyrie and KD proved they can light it up, and the supporting cast looks good. Still, they’re a little inconsistent, and with key reserve Spencer Dinwiddie out for the season they may fall more towards the middle seeds of the Playoffs.
Portland Trail Blazers Jusuf Nurkic is finally back, but boy is Portland’s defense struggling. We know Dame and CJ are going to give you instant offense, but when you can’t stop the opposing team from scoring it becomes hard to win. Alas, this has been a years-long problem for Portland, who will once again be fighting just to make it into the playoffs.
Charlotte Hornets Hey, they haven’t been half bad! We all laughed at the Gordon Hayward signing, but he sure is playing like a stud. Still, this team has multiple holes, and they know that. They’re just hoping LaMelo Ball can be a little better than his brother and lead the Hornets back to the playoffs sometime this decade.
Utah Jazz They’ve gotten off to a slow start, but remember they were even worse to begin last season and they still managed to snag the six seed (and nearly upset the Nuggets in the first round). They play good defense, and with Bojan Bogdanovic back and healthy they should have just enough shooting to get by and back into the playoffs.
New York Knicks Um, is Tom Thibodeau the savior of New York? The Knicks are 5-3, led by the surprisingly astounding Julius Randle, the Allan Houston-like Alec Burks, and a refreshingly good supporting unit. I wouldn’t count on this level of success to continue, but in the East you don’t need to be great to squeak into the playoffs. Heck, we see one underwhelming team do it every year. Could the Knicks be this year’s eight seed?
Houston Rockets The Rockets have been up and down to start the year, but what do you expect when your star player is in and out of the building and half your roster has had to quarantine at some point? When completely healthy, Houston is actually a very good team, but with the James Harden drama looming, something tells me this team isn’t going to stay as constructed for long. If Harden walks out the door, they’re probably not going to be playing postseason basketball.
Miami Heat It’s been a mediocre start for the Heat, who just had themselves a nailbiter with the Boston Celtics. Jimmy Butler has been playing through injury, Tyler Herro hasn’t found his groove, and the overall team looks a little lost (especially compared to last year). Still, this is the same roster that played in the NBA finals just a few months ago, so we can’t count them out. They’ll definitely have a chance to defend their Eastern Conference crown come May.
Dallas Mavericks It’s tough to judge this team because they’ve been without their second star in Kristaps Porzingis. Luka has been terrific, but even he can’t carry this team to a top seed. Their top issues last season were defense and rebounding, and they’ve been up and down in those categories this year. In their wins, they’ve played terrific defense and gobbled up all sorts of rebounds, but their losses have left a lot to be desired on those ends. Still, when Porzingis comes back he instantly transforms Dallas into a playoff team.
Atlanta Hawks Wait, another up and down team? Yup, Atlanta has finally become the team we thought they could be...sort of. Adding Bogdan Bogdanovic (yes that’s a different Bogdanovic) has helped, as has Clint Capela (who is basically a new addition after being injured all last year). Their young core continues to develop and Trae Young is, well, Trae Young, but they have the same problems as so many other young teams. Say it with me: “no defense and little depth!” As I said earlier, the Eastenr Conference is always weak, so Atlanta could push for a playoff spot should they stay healthy.
Los Angeles Clippers Whoo, we finally made it. Boy was that quite the ride! If you made it here (whether that be after reading the entire article or skipping to see my analysis of the Clippers), then congratulations weary traveller. The Clippers are a really good team, and they’ve played slightly worse than that so far. In their defense, they had a lot of roster turnover this past year, so I don’t expect it to be long before they’re back to being one of the top teams in the East. Don’t forget they blew a 3-1 lead last year!