Storylines for the last 1/3 of the NBA Season
The final third of the NBA season has arrived. Now beyond the trade deadline and All-Star Weekend, we can start to see how this season will shape-up for the league’s most interesting players and teams. As national ESPN writer Brian Windhorst says, “Almost every night something great happens in the NBA.” Let’s take at the storylines that will define the remainder of the 2019-2020 NBA season.
Jayson Tatum playing like 2003 Tracy McGrady is not something I expected out of this season. Tatum’s ceiling has always projected out to be an elite scorer and quality defender, but he’s completely shattered that glass ceiling in this post all-star break stretch of games. In the month of February, Tatum put up averages of 30 points per game and 7 rebounds while shooting 50% from the three-point line. Coming into this season I didn’t have high expectations for Boston, but Tatum’s play has completely changed my perception of the team. I’m a firm believer that if you have the best player on the court, you have a chance to win. In the eastern conference playoffs, Tatum has a chance to be that in all but a matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks. At 21 years old, the sky is the limit for the young forward.
The race for the 8th seed in the western conference is tightening up. The Grizzlies currently hold that spot, but the Pelicans and Trailblazers are only a couple games behind. Damian Lillard injured his groin before the All-Star break, and the Blazers already had a thin roster. Brandon Clarke and Jaren Jackson Jr. have both been out with injuries as well and were key parts of the energy that got Memphis to this position. The Pelicans have my bet to lock up the 8th seed. Zion Williamson is an 18-wheeler disguised as a man, and the only person who has proven that they can defend him is Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The Clippers could be in real trouble if they don’t win a title in the next two seasons. They traded nearly every asset they had to Oklahoma City last summer to acquire Paul George and lure Kawhi Leonard to LA in free agency. Even after all of that, the two stars only signed two-year contracts with the team. This puts the Clippers at risk of losing everything if they can’t appease those two players by the team the 2022 season rolls around. On paper, the Clippers are the favorite to win the title this season. Their bench could probably make the playoffs in the eastern conference. But issues have already shown their teeth this season. Kawhi and Paul George have rarely played together at the same time. Big man Montrezl Harrell has cited problems in the locker room, and the team that shares the Staples Center with them has commanded the spotlight all season. If the Clippers can find cohesion, they should at the very least make the conference finals. If not, their future beyond 2022 looks bare.
Questions concerning Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and their fit in the Sixers lineup have existed for nearly three seasons now, and we still don’t have an answer. To put it simply, the Al Horford signing has prevented that answer from being found. Philadelphia is paying $109 million dollars for Horford to come off of their bench. Lineups that included Simmons, Embiid, and Horford simply don’t have enough space for those players to operate in the way that best suits them. Philadelphia has the roster that is best constructed to combat the Milwaukee Bucks and throw different defensive looks at Giannis. The question is: how will they make it that far in the playoffs? If the Sixers can’t figure out how their roster fits together, fans should expect sweeping changes in the offseason, with Brett Brown being the first man on the hotseat. You don’t find players like Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid very often, so Philadelphia will look to change everything else before they trade one of those two stars.