The top five NBA early season story lines to keep an eye on


The latest “Big 3”: the Brooklyn Nets’ (from left) Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving.

Coming off the shortest offseason in sports history, the NBA is off to an exciting 2020-2021 season. Between big names in new places, and even a team playing in a new city, this is sure to be the most interesting NBA season up to this point. Here are the 5 most important storylines for the 2020-2021 NBA season. 

The Next Big 3: James Harden has been traded to the Brooklyn Nets to form the NBA’s next “Big 3” with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. This trio will be competing with the “Big 3”s of Miami, Boston, and even the 90’s Lakers, but what Brooklyn has is a different dynamic then those past teams. All three of Brooklyn’s stars are ball dominant, isolation scorers, but there is only one ball to go around. That’s not to say it can’t work, but in order for them to succeed there will need to be sacrifices made by each guy.

The reason it worked in Miami is because of Chris Bosh, who went from being “the man” on his Raptors teams to being the third guy on the Heat. In Boston, Ray Allen went from a dynamic scoring machine on Seattle, to a 3 & D player for the Celtics. Both Bosh and Allen were okay with taking a lesser role because of the winning factor. Both teams won championships during their runs, which validated the sacrifices made. 

The hope for Brooklyn is that Kyrie will take a backseat to James and Kevin, like he did in Cleveland with LeBron, but that would make him the third guy, and he has never been that before. Being the third guy comes with other responsibilities besides scoring. He will have to give effort on defense, play actual point guard instead of scoring guard, and get used to not getting the ball at the end of the game. 

It will even be an adjustment for James, as well. It’s been almost 10 years since he wasn’t the best player on his team, but on that team was KD, so James has a bit of experience. This trade catapults Brooklyn to the favorite in the East, but we have seen very talented teams lose because of issues talent can’t fix. 

Kevin Durant’s Achilles: Throughout the 7-8 year peak of LeBron James, the only player we saw outduel him on the biggest stage was Kevin Durant. Of course, he did it on the best team of all time, but after KD won back-to-back Finals MVP’s, and outplayed LeBron in both series, we were convinced KD was the king of the hill at that moment. That all came to an end in game five of the 2019 Finals when KD came back from an injury he suffered in the first round of the playoffs that year. He played a total of 11:57 before totally rupturing his Achilles tendon, causing him to miss 18 months of basketball, before returning to play this season. 

With all that said, KD still has a long road to get back to the player he was. We have seen players with Achilles injuries come back just to be 50 percent of the player they were before, but then again we have never seen someone play the game like KD. Through the early going of this season, KD has looked to be back to his old self, which is a scary sight for the rest of the league. If he really is totally healthy, the Nets will be fighting for the top of the East, and KD will be in the conversation for MVP. 

Battle of the Staples Center: The Lakers got the best of the Los Angeles rivalry last year coming out with the ‘ship, but there seems to be a vengeance brewing in the other home locker room. The Clippers dominated the Lakers on opening night, and have looked very sharp up to this point. Of course, we can’t take too much stock in what we’ve seen so far, but it’s looking like the Clippers could be number two in the West, close behind the Lakers. 

After last year’s huge disappointment, it is likely that the Clippers will need to make a deep run this postseason in order to keep the team together, as Kawhi can opt out of his contract for next season and enter free agency. They did sign Paul George to a five-year max extension, which provides a little stability within the locker room, but until Kawhi signs a contract to keep him in LA, there will be many questions surrounding his future with the team.

A look at this offseason without any knowledge of what happened last year might lead one to believe the Clippers won the Finals, and the Lakers blew a 3-1 lead. The Lakers made two big splashes, signing Montrezzl Harrell and trading for Dennis Schroder, both of whom finished in the top three for Sixth Man of the Year in the 19/20 season. They also added veteran big man, Marc Gasol to slide into the Javale Magee/Dwight Howard role. 

As for the Clippers, they really only made one big move, signing Serge Ibaka, which will help them when it comes to rim protection and floor spacing on offense, but it seems like that wasn’t really enough knowing what the Lakers did. If it all plays out like it was supposed to last year, we will see the two L.A. teams match up in the playoffs for the first time in history.

Will Jrue Holiday push the Bucks over the top?:  After last season’s disappointing ending for Milwaukee, it was clear that they needed to make a drastic change to their roster, and they did just that. This offseason they acquired Jrue Holiday, D.J Augustin, Bryn Forbes, and Bobby Portis, who will all play major roles in this team’s success. 

The most notable of those names is, of course, Jrue Holiday, who will bring his crafty guard play and lockdown defense to a Milwaukee team that struggled with guard play over the last few seasons. The Bucks had Eric Bledsoe and George Hill running their PG, but neither of those guys bring something on both sides of the ball like Jrue will. He is averaging just under 16 PPG and 6.5 assists for his career, so we know he will be able to facilitate and find open shooters, unlike previous guards on this team. 

With all that being said, the success of the Milwaukee Bucks rely on Giannis’ shoulders. If he is able to improve his jumper enough for defenders to respect it, then this team can be a real title contender, and not get bounced from the playoffs every time a team puts a wall up against Giannis and doesn’t allow him to get the layups and dunks that he gets in the regular season. What has killed the Bucks over the past few postseasons is their late game offense, which consisted of Giannis getting the ball at the top of the key and either driving and kicking or going to score, but with his lack of shooting, defenders played back and forced him to make the shot. Now they have the ability to give Jrue the ball and let Giannis screen and roll to get a smaller defender on him. The Eastern Conference has gotten significantly better over the past few years, so Milwaukee will have to be playing their best basketball come playoff time if they want to even sniff the Finals.

How good can Jaylen & Jayson get?:  The Celtics look like they hit the jackpot x2 when they drafted Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum in back-to-back years. Brown, 24 and Tatum, 22 both look like they are on their way to becoming superstars in this league. Tatum, a one-time all star and third team All-NBA last season, has shown his talent since day one. He was the best player on a team that was one game away from beating LeBron and going to the Finals in his rookie year. 

His scoring has improved every year since he came into the league as a much skinnier form of himself, and that came from becoming more aggressive and confident in his body. He is currently averaging 26 PPG this season, which is in the top 10 in the NBA, but his scoring hasn’t even been his most impressive improvement: it’s his defense. 

Bulking up from his the skinny frame he entered the league just four years ago has helped him on the defensive side of the ball. He can now match up on any guard or forward in the league, possessing the quickness to stay with the smaller guys and the length to contest the bigger ones. He has also developed a high basketball IQ that helps him get plenty of deflections in passing lanes, which he turns into layups on the other end.

Unlike Tatum, Brown took a little longer to fully find his footing in this league. He emerged as a star last postseason, helping him and Tatum lead Boston to the Conference Finals, but he has turned it up even more to start this season. He also averages 26 PPG and does it with great efficiency. He has tightened his handle, which was so crucial because Brown always had the athleticism to get a shot from wherever; he just needed the handle to get to his spots. He is shooting above 41 percent from beyond the arch this year, which is a whole seven percent higher than his rookie year on four more attempts per game. 

Similar to Tatum, Brown shines on the defensive end of the floor. His mixture of size, strength, and speed make him an incredible on-ball defender, with room to improve off the ball. Brown has now shown us that he can carry a big load on the offensive side of the ball, which he will need to do because of Kemba Walker’s absence for at least the first two months of the season. 

Both Tatum and Brown will make the all-star team this year, and Tatum even has a shot to be in MVP conversations, but none of that matters. What matters is winning in the playoffs, which these two have proven they can do. But, in order for this to work, the whole team needs to be rolling at the right time, because KD and Kyrie will be a problem come playoff time.