The NBA continues to give out hints regarding the potential return of the 2019-20 season and the general consensus appears to be that the league is doing everything they can to make it happen. With a Board of Governor’s meeting set for this coming Friday, another batch of newsy nuggets is expected to be announced. Will there be a regular-season or will the league abandon that idea so they can skip right into the postseason? What happens to teams that are on the outside of the playoff picture looking in?
ESPN’s Zach Lowe dropped an article earlier on Wednesday detailing some of his wacky ideas on a makeshift NBA postseason format that goes through a few different scenarios such as:
- A World Cup-style pool play format.
- Re-seeding the playoffs based on the top 16 records instead of conference ranking.
- Have the seven teams in legitimate playoff positioning (Nets, Magic, Grizzlies, Spurs, Kings, Pelicans, and Trail Blazers) fight for three playoff spots.
Lowe admits in his post that some of his ideas are nearly impossible (most notably re-seeding teams by overall record instead of conference positioning) but he also notes that just because his ideas are wild, that doesn’t mean they might not be incorporated.
The NBA has never been in this position before; everything is on the table in terms of getting basketball back in some form or fashion. A current rumor is that the NBA wants to have all 30 teams reach the 72 games played threshold before jumping into the playoffs. Some players (i.e., Damian Lillard) have already spoken their doubts with that concept and it’s not going to be one that everyone totally agrees upon. Lillard’s Portland Trail Blazers are 3.5 games back of the Memphis Grizzlies for the Western Conference’s No. 8 seed. Portland has already played 66 games, Memphis is at 65. So could Portland realistically fight their way above Memphis? It doesn’t seem likely.
Also, bringing all 30 teams down to Disney in Orlando creates a much larger risk of spreading the coronavirus. Cutting that number down to 16, or even 20 teams, would drastically reduce a potential outbreak. But why is all of this important to Kentucky fans? Well, for teams such as the Spurs (Trey Lyles), Kings (De’Aaron Fox), and Trail Blazers (Wenyen Gabriel), what the NBA ultimately decides is going to impact whether or not these former Wildcats can extend their season. And if Lowe’s theory on potentially switching up the postseason bracket to include more opportunities for lottery teams or alter the seeding ends up coming to fruition, the entire playoff system could look completely different. For players such as Anthony Davis, Jamal Murray, Bam Adebayo, and Eric Bledsoe – whose teams are near the top of the standings – it’s going to impact how they plan for matchups. Lowe also points out in his article that NBA front offices plan for playoff scenarios against other teams in the same conference as them. There is a world where a team in the East matches up against a team from the West in the first round.
For the purposes of what I’m about to talk about, though, let’s assume that, when the NBA does come back, they stick to 16 playoff teams and go from there. Let’s also assume it’s the East vs. the West just like it has been. If that were to be the case, then a total of 13 former Kentucky Wildcats would play in the 2019-20 postseason.
Western Conference BBNBA members (9)
No. 1 – Los Angeles Lakers: Anthony Davis, Rajon Rondo
No. 2 – Los Angeles Clippers: Patrick Patterson
No. 3 – Denver Nuggets: Jamal Murray
No. 5 – Oklahoma City Thunder: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Nerlens Noel, Hamidou Diallo
No. 7 – Dallas Mavericks: Willie Cauley-Stein, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
The two Los Angeles-based teams are going to highlight whatever playoff format the NBA comes up with. With LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the Lakers plopped right next to Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on the Clippers, the lights will be the brightest on these two franchises. For Davis, this is going to be his first postseason appearance where he’ll actually have a chance to make a deep run. He made two prior playoff visits during his time with the Pelicans but played just 13 total games as the only dominating figure on his respective roster. The spotlight on Davis is going to be something he’s never experienced before – not even at Kentucky.
Davis’ Laker teammate, Rajon Rondo, is a bit of a postseason veteran. The one-time ‘Cat won a championship as a member of the Boston Celtics back in 2008 and he’s played in a total of 105 playoff outings. However, since the conclusion of the 2012 season, Rondo has managed to play in just a mere 13 postseason games. He’s likely to come off the bench for the Lakers as the reserve guard.
Across the road, the Clippers and Patrick Patterson might lock eyes in the first round against two former fan favorites; Willie Cauley-Stein and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist of the Dallas Mavericks. In terms of potential Kentucky contribution, this might not be the series for the BBN. Patterson’s minutes took a nosedive before the season was suspended while both MKG and WCS came to Dallas via mid-season trades (and they both average under 13 minutes per contest). But if, in general, you like high-scoring offenses, this is going to be the series to watch. Both teams rank in the top three in the NBA in terms of offensive rating.
Moving down to the Denver Nuggets, Jamal Murray and his squad are my postseason darkhorse. This will be just the second postseason appearance for Murray in his fourth NBA year. The former Wildcat played in back-to-back seven-game series a season ago, ultimately falling to the Trail Blazers in the second round. Outside of the teams in L.A., Denver has the most overall talent and depth in the West to make a run at the NBA Finals, in my opinion.
The final team we’ll quickly discuss in the West is the team you should hop on the bandwagon for right now: the Oklahoma City Thunder. Not only are they the lone playoff-bound franchise with three Kentucky players, but they’ve also managed to rattle off 40 wins despite most experts projecting them to finish deep into the lottery. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is arguably one of the most mesmerizing guys in the entire league and is a rapid up-and-comer alongside future Hall of Famer Chris Paul. Injuries have hindered the hot start from Hamidou Diallo, but he should return from the hiatus far healthier than he was back in early March. There was a point in the middle of the year where Diallo was a mainstay in the OKC rotation and he’d surely garner some playoff minutes. Nerlens Noel is a vital key to the Thunder bench, acting as a perfect replacement for starting center Steven Adams. There aren’t many in the NBA that play harder in limited minutes than Noel. The Thunder is comprised of such a random assortment of players and talent that you can’t help but cheer for them as the underdog.
Eastern Conference BBNBA members (4)
No. 1 – Milwaukee Bucks: Eric Bledsoe
No. 3 – Boston Celtics: Enes Kanter
No. 4 – Miami Heat: Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro
Eric Bledsoe and the Milwaukee Bucks should have the advantage heading into the postseason as they possess the front-runner for MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo and homecourt advantage throughout. Not to mention they’ll likely face a first-round opponent with a final record under .500. The only fear they should have is if the Brooklyn Nets fall into the No. 8 seed (currently 0.5 games ahead of the Orlando Magic) then return a healthy Kyrie Irving AND Kevin Durant, which would make that series MUST-WATCH television (unlikely). Bledsoe has a track-record of falling short of his standards during the playoffs and now that Malcolm Brogdon is with the Indiana Pacers, the former ‘Cat is going to have even more responsibilities going forward. I feel the incoming playoffs for Bledsoe are going to play a large part in defining his career.
Jack Pilgrim’s Boston Celtics feature future WWE superstar, Enes Kanter, and they find themselves as the three-seed in the East, potentially matching up against the Philadelphia 76ers. Not many are talking about the Celtics to come out of the East, but they do go relatively deep with a blossoming star in Jayson Tatum. Kanter’s role this season has been primarily as Daniel Theis’ backup and that is what I would expect come playoff time. But to say Kanter’s production throughout the year has been rocky would be an understatement. Playoff experience should work in his favor.
If the Thunder are the BBN’s team in the West, then the Miami Heat should be its team of the East. Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro almost surpass what it means to be a UK fan favorite. Throw in Pat Riley as the president of the organization and it’s hard not to pull for the team known to work its butt off without boasting overwhelming talent. Miami is incredibly deep with one of the NBA’s top coaching staff; they’ll be a tough out no matter who they face.
We should learn more information by the end of the workweek, although there is a belief that concrete dates will not be finalized, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. I would expect to hear more news about finalizing an agreement with Disney World before a date to return is set.