2020-2021 NBA Season: We’re in the Homestretch Now

Image courtesy of the NY Times

Image courtesy of the NY Times

Adam Matos, Staff Writer

Alright, we’ve got a lot to talk about so let’s dive right into it. The NBA season is in April now, the last full month of regular season play. The season is tentatively scheduled to end in mid-may with playoffs coming soon after. From December to March, the landscape of the league has changed in a lot of ways, most notably at the trade deadline where many teams changed their lineups, some for better and some for worse. There have been a few COVID incidents but the season has carried on, something all fans are very happy about. Awards races have also been close for the most part but with some unforeseen injuries, they might end a lot closer than expected. Overall, this season has been moderately successful so far and keeps fans on the edge of their seats to see how the playoffs will play out.

 First, let’s start with the Trade Deadline. Of course, we all know the biggest trade of this year happened early back in January with the James Harden trade. The Brooklyn Nets now have three superstars in Harden, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving but they gave up valuable young assets in Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert. Both of those players, 22 and 26 years old respectively, have lots of potential and could become all-stars in the future if developed properly. Now, the Brooklyn Nets, with the James Harden acquisition and the additions of Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge via the buyout market, are the clear-cut number one team in the Eastern Conference. Anything less than a championship from Brooklyn will go down as a disappointment. 

Back to the actual Trade Deadline, the second-largest trade of the year happened on March 25th just hours before the trade market closed at 3 pm. Nikola Vucevic, who was an all-star this March was traded from the Orlando Magic to the Chicago Bulls along with Al-Farouq Aminu in return for Otto Porter Jr., Wendell Carter Jr., and two future 1st round picks. Many people like this trade a lot for the Chicago Bulls. They now have two all-stars in Zach Lavine and Nikola Vucevic along with rising stars in Coby White and Patrick Williams. I don’t like this trade as much as most others do for the Bulls though, I think that this trade severely limits their timeline since Vucevic is already 30 years old and will be regressing at the same time all the Bulls young players will be progressing. If the Bulls were built to win now this would be a great trade, but this Bulls team simply doesn’t have the talent to win a playoff series, even in the Eastern Conference. I think that the Nets, 76ers, Bucks, Celtics, Heat and even Hawks are definitely better than the Bulls. The Bulls are pushing for a low-tier playoff spot and will probably make it to the playoffs this year but that doesn’t matter if Vucevic can’t keep up his all-star play for years to come.

On the Orlando Magic’s side of things, I am a lot less critical. While I do believe they could have gotten a little more in return for an all-star player, they definitely did not get fleeced. They received Wendell Carter Jr., a good young center along with Otto Porter Jr. who is a good wing but is definitely overpaid. Luckily, Porter will be a free agent this offseason so the Magic don’t have to resign him if they don’t want to. Carter Jr. was an interesting pickup, by trading away Vucevic I thought the Magic would give more playing time to Mo Bamba and Khem Birch but instead brought in another young center. The Magic are a very young team and are definitely in rebuild mode after the Trade Deadline where they also traded Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier, the 2nd and 4th highest scorers on the team besides Vucevic. The Magic completely blew up their team entering a rebuild mode in order to escape the mediocrity that more years of a team based around Vucevic, Gordon, and Fournier would have brought. With all these trades, the Magic brought in Carter Jr and Porter Jr., along with Gary Harris and R.J Hampton from the Nuggets in the Aaron Gordon trade. The Magic also picked up 4 first-round picks along with 2 second-round picks which will definitely aid them in their rebuild process. Overall, I think that the Orlando Magic were winners of the Trade Deadline. They almost definitely won’t make the playoffs this year, but have greatly improved their chances of winning in the future.

Another Floridian team, the Miami Heat were also huge winners of the Trade Deadline. They brought in Victor Oladipo from the Houston Rockets, who was an all-star and All-NBA Third Team member in 2018. They got him at a very low price, for Kelly Olynyk and Avery Bradley along with an almost useless 2022 pick swap because Houston will be a worse team next year than the Miami Heat. Olynyk and Bradley will be missed by the Heat as they provided veteran presences on a younger team but Oladipo is on a much higher level than both players. He hasn’t managed to get back to his old all-star level self after a scary leg injury in 2019 but he still puts up 20 points per game. His efficiency is nowhere near where it used to be, but hopefully, around great high IQ players like Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, his efficiency will rise. The Heat also picked up shooting big man Nemanja Bjelica from the Sacramento Kings in exchange for Chris Silva and Moe Harkless, both players who were not key pieces to the Heat. Bjelica will add some shooting off the bench or even as a starter. With the Oladipo and Bjelica trades, the Miami Heat have solidified a playoff spot for themselves and a much higher chance of another Finals appearance.

There are a few trades that I won’t get into but are definitely worth mentioning especially for some contending teams. The Dallas Mavericks picked up JJ Redick from the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for James Johnson, and a second-rounder in this draft. JJ Redick, a sharpshooter, will be a great fit around Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzinigis, stretching the floor for a Mavs team who needs perimeter shooting to become a contender in today’s league. Rajon Rondo was traded to the LA Clippers and in return, the Atlanta Hawks received Lou Williams and 2 second-round picks. Williams, a perennial sixth man of the year candidate, is 34 years old now and is nowhere near his prime, regressing a lot this season. George Hill was also traded to the 76ers in a three-team trade involving the Thunder and Knicks. Picks were traded among the three teams along with rotation players but the best player in the deal was George Hill who will be a reliable guard if young guards Tyrese Maxey and Shake Milton are making poor decisions in key playoff moments.  

The Milwaukee Bucks also picked up PJ Tucker from the Houston Rockets. Tucker is a veteran and one of the best corner three-point shooters in the league. He will provide lock-down defense for the Bucks and be a great piece next to Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez. The Bucks are now looking like a really scary team, especially from a defensive standpoint with last year’s Defensive Player of the Year Giannis Antetounmpo and two-time All-Defensive Team member Jrue Holiday. The final trade I want to talk about is the Norman Powell trade. Powell was traded from the Raptors to the Trailblazers in exchange for Gary Trent Jr. and Rodney Hood. Powell is an efficient scorer and will be a great pair next to Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum especially in the playoffs. Trent Jr. is one of my favorite players in the league, he is a great defender and shooter who put himself on the map in the NBA bubble last season. This trade was definitely a win-win for both teams and although not the most notable, probably the most successful trade of the deadline as both teams got better with this trade.

The Trade Deadline brings the solidification of all NBA rosters for this season so every team will have the opportunity to prove themselves in the NBA playoffs. Some teams however will not have that chance. Although at this moment no teams are completely clinched out of a playoff berth, the Detroit Pistons, Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves have no realistic shot at making the playoffs. This makes me rather sad because, as I put on blast, I am a diehard Timberwolves fan and seeing them as last in the standings isn’t good for the heart. Anthony Edwards is having a phenomenal rookie season, however, his rookie of the year campaign will be noted by LaMelo Ball’s wrist injury that kept him out of the lineup for more than a month. Ball was running away with the award until his injury but now it looks like Edwards is going to bring it home which is all good in my book. The Timberwolves have been injured a lot this year with our two all-stars Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell being out at random intervals. I think we’ll have a playoff push next season, but for now, we’ll stick to being the worst team in the league. 

The MVP race is also heating up. Top candidates included LeBron James and Joel Embiid during the months of February and March but both of these players have been out now and both will likely miss at least a month of play. This leaves the MVP up for grabs completely. Besides Embiid and James, who would have to play absolutely phenomenal upon their return to even be considered, many players have been putting together MVP-esque resumes. Damian Lillard and Nikola Jokic are both leading their teams to playoff spots in the West and James Harden is doing a little bit of everything for a Nets team who misses Kyrie sporadically and Durant often. Finally, Stephen Curry also has a chance for the award, but his team is dramatically weighing him down. My prediction for this award is that it goes to Nikola Jokic. He is absolutely dominating the league with his insane playmaking ability for a center and is without a doubt a deserving candidate.

For my Sixth Man of the Year, Coach of the Year, and Defensive Player of the Year, I have them all going to members of the current best basketball team in the world, the Utah Jazz. Jordan Clarkson, the frontrunner for 6MOY, is averaging 17 points per game on the 1st seed in the Western Conference off the bench. Clarkson has carved out an immense role for himself and seems to be the next coming of Lou Williams, except a lot younger. Clarkson is an undersized guard who can put the ball through the net. He provides an impactful scoring punch off the bench and without a doubt is deserving of this award. Quin Snyder also is worthy of the Coach of the Year award; he has led his team to a current record of 38-12. That’s ridiculous. 

Finally, Rudy Gobert. Oh, Rudy Gobert. Gobert won the previous award for Defensive Player of the Year in both 2018 and 2019 and I have him winning it here again in 2021. There’s a reason he’s a two-time winner already, he deserves this award. Gobert is the most impactful big defender in basketball. I love guards like Marcus Smart and Jrue Holiday and honestly think they are a better pick for DPOY but based on past votes, Gobert is winning this award. I can’t say that with 100% certainty but I just watched a Jazz game right before writing this article and Gobert’s presence is immense. Myles Turner might average more blocks but that’s just because players try to take shots on him and he blocks them. Players are too scared of getting blocked by Rudy Gobert to even attempt a drive into the paint. The Jazz definitely deserves to be the #1 team in the League and although it feels weird to say that the #1 team is my sleeper Finals champion, they are.

That’s about all I’ve got. I would say my playoff predictions but with the play-in tournament along with the season still being a month from ending, I don’t even know who’s gonna make it to the playoffs. Once that time comes around, I’ll drop some knowledge on which teams you should root for so that you’re always on the winning side. For now, this is all we know. The 2020-2021 NBA season has brought us many blessings so far and I hope that it continues to be successful and fruitful in bringing us great entertainment and great sports.