Basketball is almost back! With the shortened 2020-2021 season start imminent, I’ll be driving into what intrigues me ahead of the December 22nd return of the Association. Here are the five instances I’ll have my eye on.

1.) Covid-19 protocols

Detailed by ESPN’s Tim Bontemps, there will be tight protocols to abide by for the league as they try to build upon the successes of the NBA Bubble experiment.

Of note:

  • There are two ways a player can return after a positive test; 10 days away from the team or having two negative PCR tests spaced out over 24 hours apart
  • Won’t differ too much from the templates the NFL and MLB have established in their seasons
  • There is no existent criteria at the moment for what would cause the league to suspend the upcoming season, indicating how fluid of a situation this will be moving forward

For more information regarding the protocols, take a quick read at this hyperlink to the Bontemps story.

2.) Will there be any fans in attendance this season?

The obvious global pandemic has been long-lasting in the United States. Responsible for the work stoppage that played a large part in why the 2019-2020 NBA season is historic, there had been a lot of chatter regarding how everything would be handled past the bubble situation, and if the fan dynamic would resurface in arenas in the near future.

According to Rachel Nichols of ESPN’s The Jump,

“The states the league plays in, they are simply NOT allowing large or even medium-sized gatherings.” 

As rates of positive tests have trended upward over the last month, protocols have tightened in attempts to stop the spread and control the virus.

As of November:

Per indoor event,

7 states were allowing 25 attendees 

18 states were allowing 50 attendees per 

23 were allowing 100 attendees

As it stands, the earliest we would likely see fans is March, and of course that’s a tentative point to hope for as guidelines and protocol per state are very fluid mandates.

3.) Giannis’ contract extension 👀

The date to circle on your calendars regarding the reigning back to back MVP is December 21st, the day before opening night.

Well aware of the imminent extension deadline that looms as the power that he’s garnered with that franchise, Giannis put pressure on the Milwaukee front office to execute in this off season.

It became more obvious than ever before that acquiring talents who their franchise player can rely on viably in the postseason was required to appease him. There was even talk of whether 2018-2019 Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer would be back. 

Here’s what they did:

via CBS Sports

All this to say, they’ve fielded, at least on paper, the best roster in Giannis’ time there.

The ball is now in his court. Will he sign the $250 million extension before December 21st? Will he do as LeBron and, more recently, Kevin Durant did in their final seasons with their original teams, or will he stayin Brewtown?

For what it’s worth, he can essentially sign for the exact same money next off season. Signing early would be him showing early loyalty and forfeiting his leverage.

As we all know, anything can happen over the course of the season so would you sign now, or stand pat and maintain the freedom he current has? 🤔💭

4.) Social justice addressing

Aside from the pandemic, prompt and effective instances of social activism taken by the players and the league as a whole helped make last season historic.

Those efforts (in spreading awareness, acknowledgement, and community service) cannot stop just months after the foundation they laid and progress they made. That was one helluva investment in time and energy from all participating parties, and I don’t expect them to stop either.

I’ll be curious as to what embleming in on court markings will be implemented, the marketing strategies (which the league does a great job of being timely about) that will air, as well as the responses of players in interviews.

5.) Two players with a new onus thrusted upon them, and how they’ll respond

Trae Young

Almost a year ago to date, it was well publicized that there was stress growing from Trae Young.

via Shams Charania of The Athletic

Needless to say, Atlanta’s team officials took heed to said frustration and had the best off-season in terms of acquisition.

via CBS Sports

Adding Capela ahead of last season’s deadline is big time, seeing that they severely struggled at the five. He has yet to suit up for them so his dynamic with Young remains to be seen, but expect for it to be conducive to their aspirations.

They then added a few average players that bring to the fold atleast one key above average to elite level skill, along with productive intangibles. Rondo, Dunn, Bogdanovic, and Gallinari over the off-season, they’ve amassed some viable talent. He has ready to win talent in playmaking, shooting, defense, and veteran experience too.

How he responds to the challenge of having expectations will be very intriguing to me. Surely, at the bare minimum, he’s expected to lead them to the playoffs.

Also, the evolution of Trae will be under a national spotlight. We have seen the high usage and ball dominant singular player style of play fizzle out and fail playoffs after playoffs with Harden in Houston. Trae and his style of play, though understand based on previous renditions of the Hawks, mirrored that of James Harden (especially prior to the Rockets adding Chris Paul or Russell Westbrook).

I am hoping for head coach Lloyd Pierce, who is on the hot seat and hasn’t seen eye to eye with Trae Young; Atlanta also brought in Nate McMillan to assist Pierce which may be a tell-tell sign in itself, to diversify their offensive attack in light of their off season additions. Lookin at their roster, it should allow for Young to develop skill and dynamic off the ball and make their offense a lot less predictable.

The comparisons Young has received since college to Steph Curry were easy to make, but he’s never quite fulfilled that dynamic, not completely. Aside from Steph’s unprecedented shot creation and ability to shoot off the dribble and play pick and roll, the dynamic of him coming off pin downs, staggereds, floppy screens, zipper screens, and even cutting back door are all what make him almost completely unguardable. It’s also what makes him unique from any other scorer. That gravity and dynamic, the attention he garners once he touches half court, makes him an entire offense in himself.

It’s not fair to Trae to be compared to an all time talent like Steph because Trae is unique on his own regard, but the template of diversifying his ability and that off the ball dynamic is what can help take not only his game to greater heights, but would make Atlanta that much dynamic of a team moving forward.

Bogdan Bogdanovic being able to handle the ball as a threat to score at any given moment from all three levels, as well as being able to handle and playmake (averaged 2 apg the last two seasons) should allow for more offensive freedom and variety in Atlanta.

I’m looking to see a much more dynamic and winning style of basketball from Trae, a style of play that positions the Hawks back in the playoffs since the 2016-2017 season.

Devin Booker

Though Booker’s situation is unique from the aforementioned Young, they are similar in having not made the playoffs and being disgruntled because of it.

Also like Young, the Suns have now surrounded Booker with win-now level talents.

via CBS Sports

This rendition of the Phoenix Suns, on paper, is surely the best compilation of talent Devin Booker has been surrounded with.

Acquiring an all-time talent, leader, and culture setter in Chris Paul, instantly thrusts expectations upon your team. This was a supplementary addition for Booker and Phoenix. Skill aside, his experience and presence alone takes a world’s weight of pressure off of Booker. The dynamic they establish is going to be a subplot for the season as a whole in the desert. A lot is contingent upon the level they function at, which I expect will be elite as there’s so much balance between the two. They exceed expectations in my estimation.

In addition to CP3, another veteran presence and identity establisher, in Jae Crowder, raises their floor. Crowder is toughness and grit personified. He wears those adjectives like his jersey night in and night out. Crowder brings a complimentary skillset as well both offensively in off ball movement and floor spacing viability, but also (and mostly) in versatility defensively. The pairing of he and Mikal Bridges on the wing is going to make for one of the most pesky, scrappy, and active wing defender duos in the NBA.

Adding other complimentary shooters in Etwaun Moore and Langston Galloway surround Booker with reliable shooting, helping their roster take on a much more balanced and modern look.

Booker has a win-now style of play and, at just 24 years old, will now be in a multitude of meaningful games entrenched with high-stakes. 

He was under a similar pressure last season entering the bubble, where the Suns had to win all eight of their games (which they did) to even give themselves a shot at the playoffs. In this scenario, he averaged 30.5 ppg, 6.0 apg, and 4.9 rpg with a 50.3/31.3/94.0 shooting slash. 

It did not result in his first playoff appearance due to instances out of their control at that point, however this was his “I’m ready to win” moment.

Though this eight-game bubble stint was small in sample size, it’s fair to expect for him to replicate these numbers on a consistent basis this season.

There’s my first Friday Five’s for the 2020-2021 season. Group workouts begin on Sunday, and the preseason begins in a week. Also, first half of the schedules (team-wise and national TV schedules) have just been released as well.

‘Tis the season 🏀!

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