With the marathon 2019-20 NBA season in the books and the Los Angeles Lakers crowned champions for a record-equalling 17th time, thoughts turn to the 2020-21 season and the teams best placed to make deep playoff runs.
On the season’s final edition of Heatcheck, Sky Sports’ weekly NBA debate show, regulars BJ Armstrong and Mo Mooncey were asked for their takes on the 2020-21 potential of a selection of heavyweight Eastern Conference teams, including beaten NBA finalists the Miami Heat.
Who goes furthest: Heat or 76ers?
Mooncey: The obvious choice here would be the team that made it to the NBA Finals rather than the team swept away in the first round of the playoffs, but having said that, I am going to throw a wild card here and say the 76ers.
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Miami (could potentially) lose Goran Dragic, their leading scorer in the playoffs, who is a free agent. They can re-sign him but I personally don’t think he will stay.
The Heat caught a lot of teams by surprise. I don’t think anyone was expecting Tyler Herro to go off for 30 points in playoff games, or that Duncan Robinson would have such a great season or Kendrick Nunn to come out like this (in his rookie season). Teams are going to be better prepared for the Miami Heat. They have made themselves a target and I don’t know if they will be able to replicate what they have done.
With the Sixers, I have a little bit of hope. Making Doc Rivers your coach… if you want to play Ben Simmons at the point guard spot, Doc Rivers has previously won a championship with a point guard who didn’t shoot three-pointers. Back with the Boston Celtics in 2008, Rajon Rondo did not shoot any threes.
In terms of that comparison with the 2008 Celtics, you are also talking about a big man shooting from the perimeter in the way Kevin Garnett did for that team. In that role for the 76ers, you have got Joel Embiid. I am not comparing the two as players, just their roles. Both can score from the block and from the perimeter.
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What Philadelphia need to address is their lack of shooting. If they do that and get another ball-handler to help out Simmons, I can see them doing much better in 2020-21.
We talk about how good it is to have LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the same team… Simmons and Embiid are All-Star players. The Sixers just need Embiid to stay healthy and Simmons to play with a bit more confidence and get his jump shot going. They can cause serious problems for other teams.
Who goes furthest: Raptors or Celtics?
Armstrong: It’ll be the Celtics. The Raptors are a team in a unique situation because of the age of their players. There is a great possibility they may lose Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol and Kyle Lowry, not because they are not good players but because of their age. At some point, the Raptors are going to have to get younger to be able to compete.
I think Fred VanVleet will be re-signed by Toronto this offseason. Then, team president Masai Ujiri is going to have to look at how the team can get younger. That means allowing some of those older players to move on, because they do not meet the timeline necessary to build a team.
The Celtics are in a position to do something special, providing they have an offseason in which they address their most critical position. They need to figure out what they are doing with the center position. They need that one player who can play what we can ‘vertical basketball’, a guy who can defend at the rim and also finish over the top of the defense.
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If they are going to take the next step, they need that one player who gives them the ingredient they currently do not have. Everything else about the Celtics, I love. They have athletic ability, scorers, toughness but they don’t have that ‘vertical’ player in the center position who can change the game when they play against bigger, stronger more athletic players.
Who goes furthest: Nets or Bucks?
Mooncey: This is tough to call because we have not seen Brooklyn play at full strength, but I am going to give this one to Milwaukee. They simply have to do better in 2020-21 because Giannis Antetokounmpo will be a free agent.
Next season will be ‘make or break’ for the Milwaukee Bucks franchise. They are going to have to do whatever it takes to keep Giannis. The way they went out of the playoffs to the Miami Heat, they will (I hope), have learned a lot of lessons, things to work on and the changes that need to be made.
The thing that worries me about the Brooklyn Nets is, yes, Kyrie Irving is very talented but we have seen in previous seasons what happens between him and his team-mates. They didn’t get along too well. Even this past season, when the Nets started winning when he was out injured playing, he came out doing interviews saying the team needed to get more pieces!
Brooklyn also have Kevin Durant coming back off a long-term injury. He is one of the most talented scorers I’ve seen in my life and is an undeniable talent. But if you were putting these two teams head to head and you could pick anyone to guard Durant, you are picking the 7ft Defensive Player of the Year, Giannis Antetokounmpo. I can’t think of any better player in the league to have guarding Durant.
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The Nets’ defense is also something that worries me. With Steve Nash being the head coach, I don’t know how that will work out.
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