NBA: 2020-21 Season What Went Well & What Did Not

The 2020-21 NBA season has without a doubt been one of the most hectic seasons that the league has ever seen. Coming into 2021, it was well-known that the league would have to endure several hiccups throughout the regular season from December 22nd to May 22nd when the playoffs commence.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the regular season was shortened to 72 games for each team, 10 games less than the typical 82. This is the second straight NBA season that has seen less than 82 games, as last year each team played a different number of games because of the season’s suspension.

It has been an unconventional season thus far, one that both players and fans have had to adapt to accordingly, but there have been some positives to go along with the missteps that have been made. While some decisions have been great additions to the league, there are others that can be improved on or handled much better than what we saw this season.

The purpose of this piece is to analyze the highlights along with the lowlights of this NBA season.

Went Well: Implementing Health And Safety Protocols

With safety against the global pandemic being the top priority in professional and amateur sports leagues all over the world, it is no surprise that the NBA took several precautions to keep all personnel safe. Since the 2020-21 NBA season would not take place in a bubble format like last year’s playoffs, the league had to implement methods to consistently test everyone for COVID-19, because they would be traveling from city to city.

If players or team staffs contracted the virus or encountered with someone who had tested positive, the league quickly put them into quarantine to avoid further contamination. Despite a somewhat large number of confirmed positive or contact tracing cases, the league did a good job of handling the quarantine process.

Although it was disappointing to see so many players miss time for contact tracing or testing positive, the NBA executed an efficient system in an attempt to keep everyone safe. League officials introduced a very strict set of health & safety protocols at the beginning of the season stating what people can and can’t do, which for the most part people followed.

Positive cases unfortunately were going to happen based on statistics, but after the large outbreaks in January, the number of cases week to week began to drop in February. The total number of positive cases was essentially unavoidable with the amount of traveling, but the NBA did their best efforts in not escalating the number as the season progressed.

Did Not Go Well: The Shortened Offseason

ORLANDO, FL – AUGUST 16: Jared Dudley chats with Anthony Davis, LeBron James and Markieff Morris of the Los Angeles Lakers during practice as part of the NBA Restart 2020 on August 16, 2020 at Advent Health Arena at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images)

The 2020 NBA offseason saw a much quicker turnaround between the NBA Finals and opening night for this season than usual. Typically, the NBA Finals will conclude in the middle of June, with the next season beginning around mid-late October. The NBA offseason consists of the NBA draft, summer league, free agency, and finishes with team training camps.

The NBA summer league is an offseason competition that runs throughout the month of July, which serves as a showcase of sorts for the new rookies and younger players to get more acclimated to the league. The summer league takes place only a couple of weeks after the. NBA draft and runs during free agency.

However, instead of the typical 3–4-month break from regular NBA action, this year’s offseason was only 71 days in between the NBA Finals and the start of the new season. This was the shortest offseason in the history of any major professional sports league in North America and there were consequences.

This offseason did not have the summer league, which meant that the NBA rookie class had to learn the style of the NBA as the regular season went on, with no further experience. Shortened training camps took place only two weeks after the 2020 NBA Draft, giving the rookies even less time to prepare with preseason games beginning the following week.

League officials chose to make the offseason much shorter because of the results from the COVID-19 pandemic. There were eight NBA franchises who had not played since the previous season’s suspension on March 11, 2020, and those players had to get back to playing basketball sooner rather than later.

The NBA also rushed the offseason to avoid overlap between the NBA season and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which had been moved to summer 2021. There was no way the NBA could compete with the summer Olympics from a ratings standpoint and after a 10% overall revenue loss last season, they could not afford to risk bad ratings for the playoffs. The league also made this decision so that NBA players who want to, can still participate in the Olympics without conflict.

Unfortunately, the quick turnaround saw major consequences when it came to players’ physical health. The 2020-21 NBA regular season saw an excessive number of injuries, due to players not having the appropriate time to get back into game-ready shape. Several players suffered major or season-ending injuries throughout the year and things only seemed to get worse as the weeks went on.

NBA general managers and team personnel had concerns over the amount of consecutive injuries from around the league and voiced their opinions on the matter year-round. It also does not help that teams have had to play 4-5 games in a single week, making fatigue a major factor as the season progressed.

The NBA could have improved on this shortened offseason by not cramming everything together at once. Having everything happen seemingly at once is not good for the physical health of the players, but It also doesn’t given nearly enough time to properly adapt to new situations. The reason for the quick and compact 71 days was understandable, but in retrospect it was not handled correctly.

What Well: NBA Play-In Tournament Expansion

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA – JULY 31: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers shoots the ball against Jonas Valanciunas #17 of the Memphis Grizzlies during the first half at The Arena at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on July 31, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

The NBA play-in tournament was one of the more interesting additions to last year’s playoffs when the Memphis Grizzlies played against the Portland Trail Blazers. The previous format had the current 8th and 9th seed teams play against each other for the final playoff spot. The team with the higher seed was given advantage, only having to win one game to make the playoffs, while the lower seed would have to win two games.

The introduction was extremely popular among fans because it gives teams more motivation to finish out the season strong. Usually in the final weeks of the NBA season, teams start to care less, and it gets boring for the fans, since the level of effort drops significantly.

The NBA brought back the play-in tournament this year, but they altered the format by adding in the 7th and 10th seeds into the mix. This makes the playoff bracket in both conferences much more interesting, because essentially anyone can make the playoffs this year. Although the play-in tournament has been widely praised, there has also been some controversy surrounding the idea.

Some fans and players have criticized the idea, which is understandable given the circumstances of this tumultuous season. Superstars such as Luka Doncic from the Dallas Mavericks and LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers have specifically criticized the play-in tournament.

Theoretically the tournament presents an open invitation to potentially undeserving teams to make the playoffs, despite the lower seeds having to win two games to advance. Despite the disadvantage, any team can lose in a potential two game series, making no one safe. Even the best teams lose sometimes so really anything can happen.

Despite various concerns from a select few players, it does make the league as a whole more competitive. The 2021 play-in tournament will be a fun way to finish out an otherwise disappointing NBA season and if successful again, we could see the idea be more of a permanent idea.

Did Not Go Well: Not Expanding Team Rosters

ORLANDO, FL – MARCH 9: Jeremy Lin #7 of the Santa Cruz Warriors handles the ball against the Lakeland Magic during the NBA G League Playoffs on March 9, 2021 at HP Field House in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images)

An NBA roster is allowed to have a maximum of 15 players at a time, not including players who are under two-way contracts. In past seasons the limit of 15 players has never really been an issue, because most head coaches use a 10 or 11-man rotation on a nightly basis. Having 15 players allows for other players to fill in whenever a rotational player misses a game for an injury or another reason.

This season there was 31 occurrences this season where teams had to postpone games due to not having enough active players because they did not have the minimum of eight players needed to play in an NBA. Players were not active because of positive COVID-19 tests and contact tracing, which leaves the question of whether the NBA should increase the total roster spots to 17 or 18 players or not.

The NBA free agency pool is full of both NBA veterans and young, talented players waiting for a shot. Along with the free agency pool, 28 of the 30 NBA franchises have their own NBA G League affiliates that they can look to for extra help if need be. The NBA G League is a fantastic developmental league with a lot of unrecognized talent that could benefit significantly from being on the end of an NBA roster.

By expanding the NBA rosters, postponing games to a later date would have been easily avoidable. The league already allows minimum contracts, so adding one or two players to the rosters would not hurt the salary cap. Postponing games was one of the most frustrating parts about the 20-21 season and given that the NBA expected players to miss time due to protocols, it comes across as a bit carless on the league’s front office’s side.

The 2020-21 NBA season has been like nothing we have ever seen. With a proper offseason this upcoming summer and vaccination rates rising around the country, we should expect to see things start to feel more normal ahead of the 2021-22 NBA season.





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