How do I foresee a 2020-21 NBA season poised to have many twists and turns unfolding?

We already know the 2020-21 NBA season is going to be unlike any other in league history. It’s a quirky coincidence that it’s also the league’s 75th. I’m just hoping that this season plays out with as few hitches along the way as possible.

Making predictions during a season in which a pandemic still looms large is definitely a fool’s errand. Still, I think it’s fun to plant these flags of prognostication in the ground. It allows me to compare and contrast how events actually unfolded against what my limited viewpoint could foresee at the time. It’s a humbling exercise that shows me I am not, can not be, and do not have to be, Nostradamus when I make my guesses.

Now, in the process of writing this article, I became less enthused with just reverse ranking teams in each conference and trying to come up with something extensive to say for all 30 franchises. I just wanted to answer some key questions about each team, rank teams against those answers and go. So, to organize my thoughts, I came up with this colorful chart!

The chart I made to organize my predictions for the 2020-21 NBA season. Click to enlarge.

In order to determine my rankings, I asked four key questions of every team:

  1. Who is the coach?
  2. Who is the team’s Big Three?
  3. Who are the next five best players on the team? The top 8 this creates is likely the team’s main rotation, as the 9th and 10th man normally fluctuates as the season progresses.
  4. When these three entities come together, do they make this team better or worse than they were during the 2019-20 season?

As you can see on the chart, I genuinely think most of the league made changes for the better this offseason. The thing is, there are only so many wins and playoff spots to go around. The fun is in sitting back and seeing how things shake out.

So using the chart as my guide, here are my thoughts and predictions on how the 2020-21 NBA season will unfold; Conference rankings, season awards, and even the playoffs! How do you feel about my selections? Do you agree or disagree with any of them? Let me know in the comments!!

Eastern Conference

Playing the Lottery

The New York Knicks made a great hire at head coach, but his addition won’t be enough to keep this team out of the basement…the Cleveland Cavaliers are still figuring out their direction, but they have several reliable veterans and some promising prospects to keep them afloat…the Charlotte Hornets are going to have a fun offense to watch, but I’m concerned about their ability to consistently protect the paint…injuries ravaged the 2020 Detroit Pistons, but if healthy, this squad has a formidable trio and some sleeper rookies that will make this team competitive each night…I think the Orlando Magic‘s choice to maintain essentially the same roster will be their downfall as several teams that were behind them last year made substantial improvements during the offseason.

Play-In, Playa

The Washington Wizards super-charged their offense by acquiring Russell Westbrook, but their defense is still highly questionable…this year’s Chicago Bulls team will prove just how detrimental Jim Boylen and John Paxson were to the progress of this franchise…the Atlanta Hawks accelerated their contention timeline with all the talent they added during the offseason…the Indiana Pacers‘ only major change was at head coach, and their consistency could get them leapfrogged in the standings.

Views from the 6

The Philadelphia 76ers burned me last year, but I think their highly-talented star duo, bolstered rotation, and coaching upgrade will be enough to earn them an automatic playoff spot…the Toronto Raptors took a step back by losing Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol, but this team will still be a tough out…the Miami Heat‘s gains and losses in the offseason cancelled each other out, but that just means this is still a title-contending team…Jayson Tatum’s stardom, strong coaching, and an improved rotation puts the Boston Celtics in the championship conversation…I have a lot of questions about how the personalities of the Brooklyn Nets‘ two stars and head coach will affect the team’s postseason fortunes, but their talent is undeniable, and they should breeze through the regular season…the Milwaukee Bucks can stop worrying about Giannis bolting for awhile, but it’s up to the renovated rotation and a head coach that needs to optimize the team’s play-style to show Antetokounmpo that he made the right decision.

Western Conference

Playing the Lottery

The Minnesota Timberwolves will have some bright moments along the way, but they’re poised to be the worst in the NBA…the Oklahoma City Thunder are undeniably Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s team now, and they have a solid foundation of high-upside prospects and veteran assistance…the San Antonio Spurs are a long way from their dynastic days, and with so many 2021 free agents on the roster, it feels like this year is a swan song for Gregg Popovich…the Sacramento Kings have a lot of potential on their roster, but how cohesive they can be and how well they will be coached is the big question…the Memphis Grizzlies have something good going, but I think the teams ahead of them just happened to improve more than they did in the offseason.

Play-In, Playa

A new head coach and a full year of Zion should be enough to get the New Orleans Pelicans into the Play-In rounds…Stephen Curry’s return and a young, hungry rotation should lift the Golden State Warriors off the ground, but this team is still a long way from those mid-2010’s championship squads…the Utah Jazz are still a playoff-caliber team, but a couple of teams’ projected improvements pushed down this roster that has remained mostly intact…the Phoenix Suns is one of those teams that are passing up Utah, as adding Chris Paul to an already-rising franchise should propel them into the top 8.

Views from the 6

Dealing away Russell Westbrook and Robert Covington were major blows to the roster, but as long as James Harden remains, the Houston Rockets should be good enough for an automatic playoff berth…the Portland Trail Blazers substantially improved their frontcourt depth during the offseason, which should make a playoff berth more certain; no play-in game required like last year…the Dallas Mavericks made a couple of solid adds to their roster, but I’m mostly anticipating Luka Doncic reaching a new level of production that makes them a First Round host…Losing Mason Plumlee and Jerami Grant will greatly affect the Denver Nuggets‘ depth, but they’re still a championship contender thanks to the trio of Jokic, Murray, and Porter…if the Los Angeles Clippers worked out their chemistry issues this offseason, they are going to be nearly unstoppable this year…in the end, however, the Los Angeles Lakers still have LeBron James and Anthony Davis as well as an improved rotation; the title is their’s to lose.

2020-21 Regular Season Awards

Individual Awards

Most Valuable Player: Luka Doncic, Mavericks
Rookie of the Year: Killian Hayes, Pistons
Sixth Man of the Year: Caris LeVert, Nets
Defensive Player of the Year: Anthony Davis, Lakers
Most Improved Player of the Year: Christian Wood, Rockets
Coach of the Year: Rick Carlisle, Mavericks

All-NBA Teams

First Team

LeBron James, F, Lakers
Giannis Antetokounmpo, F, Bucks
Anthony Davis, C, Lakers
Luka Doncic, G, Mavericks
Damian Lillard, G, Trail Blazers

Second Team

Kawhi Leonard, F, Clippers
Kevin Durant, F, Nets
Nikola Jokic, C, Nuggets
Devin Booker, G, Suns
James Harden, G, Rockets

Third Team

Jimmy Butler, F, Heat
Jayson Tatum, F, Celtics
Bam Adebayo, C, Heat
Jamal Murray, G, Nuggets
Chris Paul, G, Suns

All-Defensive Teams

First Team

Giannis Antetokounmpo, F, Bucks
Anthony Davis, F, Lakers
Rudy Gobert, C, Jazz
Marcus Smart, G, Celtics
Jrue Holiday, G, Bucks

Second Team

OG Anunoby, F, Raptors
Kawhi Leonard, F, Clippers
Bam Adebayo, C, Heat
Ben Simmons, G, 76ers
Kyle Lowry, G, Raptors

All-Rookie Teams

First Team

Killian Hayes, Pistons
Anthony Edwards, Timberwolves
James Wiseman, Warriors
Theo Maledon, Thunder
Patrick Williams, Bulls

Second Team

LaMelo Ball, Hornets
Deni Avdija, Wizards
Isaac Okoro, Cavaliers
Tyrese Haliburton, Kings
Obi Toppin, Knicks

2021 NBA Playoffs

Play-In Round

Eastern Conference

Pacers def. Hawks
Bulls def. Wizards

Hawks def. Bulls

Western Conference

Suns def. Jazz
Pelicans def. Warriors

Jazz def. Pelicans

First Round

Eastern Conference

Bucks def. Hawks, 4-1
Nets def. Pacers, 4-2
Celtics def. 76ers, 4-2
Heat def. Raptors, 4-2

Western Conference

Lakers def. Jazz, 4-0
Clippers def. Suns, 4-3
Nuggets def. Rockets, 4-0
Trail Blazers def. Mavericks, 4-3

Conference Semifinals

Eastern Conference

Bucks def. Heat, 4-3
Celtics def. Nets, 4-3

Western Conference

Lakers def. Trail Blazers, 4-1
Nuggets def. Clippers, 4-2

Conference Finals

Eastern Conference

Bucks def. Celtics, 4-3

Western Conference

Lakers def. Nuggets, 4-2

2021 NBA Finals

Lakers def. Bucks, 4-2
LeBron James, Finals MVP