The NBA is back and the bubble is open! This means, of course, that we have a more definite look at which players are coming and which teams have a chance at the title. This “And Then There Were 22” series will rank the 22 teams for the NBA restart by my opinion of their chances to win it all.
NBA Restart: And Then There Were 22, Part 1
The Wizards have had a rough go the whole season. They haven’t had their star point guard John Wall for over 550 days, leaving Bradley Beal to shoulder the load. And Beal did a great job of that, averaging 30.5 points and six assists before the season shut down. Unfortunately, the Wizards will be without him due to a shoulder injury. The second-highest scorer on the team, sharpshooter Davis Bertans, will also miss the restart, due to his pending free agency. This leaves Washington relying on young players like Thomas Bryant and Rui Hachimura to carry the load against a field of NBA contenders. As the only Eastern Conference team outside the playoffs right now, their odds aren’t great.
21) Brooklyn Nets
Coming into the bubble, the Nets looked like an exciting dark horse candidate. But after a slew of injuries and positive coronavirus tests, they might not even make the playoffs. Their top two free-agent signings, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are both sitting out due to injury. But they have enough depth, right? Wrong. They will also be without starters Spencer Dinwiddie, Wilson Chandler, and DeAndre Jordan, as well as key sixth man Taurean Prince. Brooklyn will have to rely on a team made up of recently signed veterans like Jamal Crawford mixed with young, unproven players like Rodions Kurucs. They’ll be led by Caris LeVert, who, when he’s not injured, has been a good role player. The only reason they’re not last is that Washington is six games behind Brooklyn and they only play each other once. They might eke out a playoff berth but won’t make it far in the NBA restart.
The Spurs are in the midst of a disappointing season. They haven’t missed the playoffs since 1997, but if the season ended today they would be out of it. Even in the bubble, they don’t have the best chance of making it. What they do have, however, is one of the best coaches of all time, Gregg Popovich. It might not be enough, though, as they lost arguably their top player, LaMarcus Aldridge, to injury. They’re depending on slasher DeMar DeRozan and defensive specialist Dejounte Murray to bring them wins. San Antonio will struggle a bit to replace Aldridge, as his backup Trey Lyles will also miss the restart. This leaves Tyler Zeller and Rudy Gay, among others, to step up. The Spurs might win a game or two but don’t expect them to get much further than that.
19) Phoenix Suns
The Suns have a decent team on paper but haven’t been able to translate it into wins this season. They have a great young core with former first overall pick Deandre Ayton averaging 19 and 12, with almost two blocks. Franchise player Devin Booker is also having a great season, averaging 26.1, 4.2, and 6.6. They have a good surrounding cast, but starting small forward Kelly Oubre Jr. will miss the restart because of knee surgery. They also sit six games outside the playoffs, the largest deficit of any Western team. This season was a good learning experience for the whole team, and with a lottery pick, they could be looking good for the future. But for this season, it’s a wrap.
18) Sacramento Kings
The Sacramento Kings are a really fun team to watch. Dynamic playmaker De’Aaron Fox leads an exciting core of Buddy Hield, Marvin Bagley III, and Harrison Barnes and it works out pretty well. So why are they this low on the list? Things just haven’t gone well for the Kings during this restart period. Hield and forward Jabari Parker were late to Orlando because of positive tests, while Barnes and center Alex Len still haven’t made it. Center Richaun Holmes made headlines on Monday when he left the bubble to pick up a food delivery, and must now quarantine for ten days. And perhaps worst of all, Fox was sidelined with an ankle injury during practice. Getting everyone back to speed will be difficult for Head Coach Luke Walton. If Sacramento can get their team back on track before the NBA restart, they might be able to sneak into the playoffs, but as of now I just don’t see it happening.
The Grizzlies have one of the most electric and fun young teams in the entire league. After drafting Rookie of the Year favorite Ja Morant with the second overall pick, people were expecting this team to focus on their rebuild and not compete. Well, Morant, big man Jaren Jackson Jr. and Head Coach Taylor Jenkins defied those expectations and led the Grizzlies to the eighth seed. So why are they so low on this list? Despite being 3.5 games ahead of the next closest team, Memphis is a really young team. Besides center Jonas Valanciunas, none of their expected starters are older than 24 years old. Very few of these players have any playoff experience. They’ve played surprisingly well for such a young team, but it ends here. It wouldn’t be shocking if they fell out of the playoff picture before too long.
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