Five NBA Questions Before Tip-Off in Orlando Bubble
The day has finally come. The NBA's resumption kicks off on Thursday night in Orlando, Fla., with the Jazz-Pelicans kicking off the action (4:30 p.m. MT) and the Lakers-Clippers (7:00 p.m. MT) closing out the night.
Catch the Lakers-Clippers tip-off on 600 ESPN El Paso featuring pregame coverage starting at 6:30 following SportsTalk. We will also have Rockets-Mavericks tomorrow night at 6:30 p.m. as well.
Here are five final questions before tipoff:
Will young legs prosper?
The first noticeable thing when the NBA restarts on Thursday will be the conditioning of the players. Let's be honest, it will look a little sloppy at times. You'll see bigs struggle to get down the court. Guards will huff and puff and turn the ball over. But hey, basketball is back for the first time since the suspension of the season on March 17 so throw the complaints out the door.
A prompt resumption for the NBA could naturally favor younger players who might not have as much mileage as other veterans. Let's take the fourth-place Miami Heat, for example. Miami has veterans like Jimmy Butler and Andre Iguodala but it's the younger talent that makes this team a threat: Tyler Herro (20-years-old), Kendrick Nunn (24) and future All-NBA center Bam Adebayo (23). In the Western Conference, look to the younger Nuggets roster that includes Nikola Jokic (25), Jamal Murray (23) and Gary Harris (25). Zion Williamson (20), Lonzo Ball (22) and Brandon Ingram (22) lead the way for the youthful Pelicans.
The Celtics probably benefit the most from the younger scale. Emerging stars Jayson Tatum (22) and Jaylen Brown (23) lead the way for the third-place Boston team. If they catch heat and pick up from where they left off, why couldn't they make a run at the Eastern Conference title?
Lakers enter as the favorite but are they actually a title pick?
LeBron James in his 17th season hasn't skipped a beat. Critics thought the Lakers star wouldn't be back to his usual production after last season's injury but LeBron returned to superstar form this year. In fact, right before the cancellation of the season, LeBron was making a case to be in the MVP conversation alongside frontrunner Giannis Antetokounmpo.
But do the Lakers have enough for the title push this year? They are currently favored at +200 to win the title yet they are without some of their firepower from this year, particularly at the guard spot. Avery Bradley opted out of the season's resumption while Rajon Rondo is out for a minimum of six weeks with a thumb injury. LA will need some depth at the guard position to help defensively and they can't rely on recent acquisitions like JR Smith and Dion Waiters. Defensively, they will run into a brick wall if they face the Clippers and have to guard Lou Williams and Paul George, or if they run into James Harden and Russell Westbrook of the Rockets. Even Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum of the Trailblazers could catch the Lakers off guard in a round of the playoffs.
What version of Zion Williamson will we see?
It's been a rather peculiar quarantine period for Zion Williamson. There was an allegation by his former agency earlier this month that his family was paid $400,000 before his freshman season at Duke. He left the bubble for an "urgent" family matter on July 16. But now he's returned to the team and will "play in bursts" during the opener on Thursday.
Williamson's effect has been largely known throughout his short time playing in the NBA. Some even argue that the structure of the 22-team bubble instead of jumping into the playoffs was catered to allow Williamson a chance at making the playoffs in his first season. Be excited, Zion is coming.
Which super teams are going to come out of the bubble?
This year has now become a throw-away year for a lot of NBA contracts. The free agent class of this year isn't nearly what the market looks like in the next few years. Giannis is the first one to come up with his contract expiring after next season with the Bucks. Does the future MVP feel compelled to remain with the team that drafted him? Or, could he meet some future teammates in Orlando that the Greek Freak wants to play with down the line?
The same goes for superstars like Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, who have two years left on their deal with the Clippers after this season. How about young stars like Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid of the 76ers? Or a veteran like Chris Paul who continues to be in trade talks? All of these players are inside the bubble, interacting with other players.
Most hate the idea of super teams. It previously created a competitive disadvantage when LeBron joined the Heat and when Kevin Durant joined the 72-win Warriors. It condoned all-stars like Anthony Davis and Kawhi to force their way out of their situations.
Bottom line, like it or not, super teams are forming as we speak in the bubble.
Can the season finish on schedule?
Here's probably the biggest question on everyone's mind. Thinking optimistically, the NBA is yet to have any positive COVID-19 cases in its bubble. They are testing players daily. I mean for crying out loud, they invested a minimum of $150 million for the bubble system.
Of course, one positive case or an outbreak makes the finish extremely difficult.