Details surrounding the NBA’s return to the 2019-20 season have been announced periodically throughout the last two weeks and we now have a resumption date set for July 31. Instead of a traditional 16-team playoff format, the league office has determined that a 22-team format would be more beneficial for everyone involved.
If you read my original post on this subject (which you can find here), you’ll remember that we covered the members of the BBNBA who would make a 16-team postseason format, but at the time, we didn’t know about the other eight teams that will also make the trip down to Walt Disney World. Originally, only 13 former Wildcats would have made the postseason, but with the new layout, that number has jumped up to 20.
The system is a bit confusing, but essentially it goes like this: the six teams (Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, Spurs, Suns, and Wizards) included within the 22-team format will play the same amount of games (eight) as the 16 teams already in the playoffs. After those eight games are played, teams that are outside of the playoffs must finish at least four games within the eighth seed in order to have a chance to force a play-in tournament.
For example, the Memphis Grizzlies have a current record of 32-33 and hold a 3.5 game lead on the ninth-seeded Blazers (who are 29-37). In order to force a play-in tournament, the Blazers must hold the Grizzlies’ lead to under four games in the win/loss column. But if Memphis pushes its lead to more than four games over Portland (or whoever the next closest team winds up being), they make the playoffs outright and don’t need a play-in tournament. So there is a scenario where play-in tournaments aren’t necessary if the Grizzlies (along with the Orlando Magic out East) hold more than a four-game lead on the next highest team.
Now, here is what you need to know about the additional seven former Kentucky hoopers who get to play basketball again this summer.
Western Conference BBNBA members (6)
No. 9 – Portland Trail Blazers: Wenyen Gabriel
Starting with the Portland Trail Blazers, they’re the team I’m predicting will make a legitimate run at a potential play-in tournament–especially if Damian Lillard is ready to go. Unfortunately, I don’t foresee many minutes heading in Wenyen Gabriel’s direction. After a mid-season trade sent him from Sacramento to Portland, Gabriel found rotational minutes for the first time in his short NBA career. Long-term injuries to several frontcourt players and a minor injury to Carmelo Anthony provided Gabriel with an opportunity to play and he took full advantage of it. However, those missing frontcourt players (Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic) are expected to come back for the playoffs and will surely replace Gabriel in the lineup.
Gabriel’s numbers weren’t gaudy by any means, but he averaged nearly nine minutes in 17 total outings, highlighted by 12 points in 13 minutes against the New Orleans Pelicans on Feb. 11. The majority of his impact was made through energy plays and providing extra hustle, but he showed promise that he could make a name for himself in the league one day. He might just have to wait until next season before he gets another shot.
No. 10 – New Orleans Pelicans: Darius Miller (OUT)
As for the Pelicans, Darius Miller is the lone member of the BBNBA on this squad and there hasn’t been any word yet on whether or not his Achilles injury will be fully healed in time. He hasn’t played since the end of the 2018-19 season. Miller tore his Achilles in August of 2019 and was expected to sit out the entirety of this year. Until the Pelicans or Miller himself provide an update, we’ll assume for now he won’t participate in the new playoff format.
No. 11 – Sacramento Kings: De’Aaron Fox
The Sacramento Kings we’re finally starting to find a groove right as the season was suspended. Heading into a Jan. 2 matchup against the Chicago Bulls, the Kings had dropped six straight games. But thanks to 18 points, six rebounds, seven assists, and three steals from De’Aaron Fox, the Kings were able to slide back onto the tracks and rattle off some wins going forward. They went 12-7 before the coronavirus hit the league while Fox was dropping in over 22 points per outing. But they’ll need to better than a 12-7 winning percentage if they want to sneak into the playoffs.
No. 12 – San Antonio Spurs: Keldon Johnson, Trey Lyles
Down in San Antonio, the Spurs have a 22-year streak of making the playoffs that they’ll try to extend. DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge will lead the way, but we should still expect significant playing time for Trey Lyles. Before the season was paused, the one-time Wildcat was playing anywhere from 15-35 minutes per outing. Over the final 18 games of the season, Lyles was shooting over 47 percent from deep while averaging 11 points per game. As for his Kentucky teammate, Keldon Johnson, the same can’t be said. The rookie appeared in just nine games for the Spurs, spending most of his time down in the G League.
No. 13 – Phoenix Suns: Devin Booker
Phoenix has the hardest road to traverse in order to make the playoffs. They’re currently six games behind Memphis and have to outplay four other teams just to have a shot at securing the ninth-seed. What plagued the Suns more than anything during the regular season had been injuries, so hopefully a four-month break can help amend some of those issues. They still have Devin Booker, who is the best former ‘Cat among the seven we’re talking about, but it’s going to be a brutal uphill battle.
Eastern Conference BBNBA members (1)
No. 9 – Washington Wizards: John Wall (OUT)
I covered John Wall’s situation with the Washington Wizards earlier on Sunday, which you can check out here. But essentially, Wall isn’t coming back this season, even though he feels “110 percent”. It doesn’t make too much sense from either Wall’s or the Wizards organization’s perspective to risk the $170 million franchise player for a *chance* to play the Milwaukee Bucks in round one. Take the lottery pick and revamp the squad for next year when Wall can team up alongside Bradley Beal.
The Orlando Magic are 5.5 games ahead of the Wizards for the eighth-seed in the East, meaning D.C. would need to gain at least 1.5 games in the record column to force a play-in tournament. That doesn’t seem all that likely, although it’s not entirely out of the question.