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50 Predictions For The 2020-21 NBA Season

Matt John revives Basketball Insiders’ classic 50 Predictions piece ahead of the 2020-21 season.

Matt John

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This article was an annual tradition hosted by Basketball Insiders penned by veteran Joel Brigham. Then our own Drew Maresca took the reins. This year, there’s a new sheriff in town, and his name is Matt John. Fasten your seatbelts.

Now before I begin, I have two things to get off my chest. First, props to both Joel and Drew for writing these up because this is pretty darn difficult to do. When you’re trying to find the right balance between making a truly unique prediction and just spewing out nonsense to get the masses’ attention, it requires a lot of deep thought. Even if you’re trying to come off like Zach Lowe, you may come off like you’re doing your best impression of Skip Bayless.

Second, oh my goodness, this league is so freaking loaded! Most teams are so stockpiled with talent that even with Stephen Curry back and fully healthy, there is a solid chance Golden State doesn’t make the playoffs again. Think about that. Of course, Klay Thompson’s awful Achilles’ tear has something to do with that, but the Warriors still have a solid team around him and it might not matter.

And yes, that’s just the Western Conference being the Western Conference, but the East has a large pool of fantastic teams as well. So much so that Brooklyn could have a good enough offense to put them above the rest of the conference while also having a defense potentially so flawed that they could fall all the way down to the fifth seed at worst. Not because they would be that bad – but because their competition will be very unforgiving.

Anyway, enough dribble – no pun intended – let’s start this baby off! And what better way to start this off than with the award predictions?

Awards Predictions

1. I’m going to pick the bold-but-not-really choice with Luka Doncic as MVP. Admittingly, picking Luka to win is not really much of a hot take these days. He’s clearly one of the future faces of the league, while the NBA voting committee always loves MVP newcomers. With Dallas way ahead of schedule and Doncic leading the way, I fully anticipate this is going to be the first of multiple MVP winning campaigns for the boy wonder.

2. Jayson Tatum will lead the league in scoring. Over the course of the 2019-20 season, Tatum established himself as arguably the league’s best young scorer. Now, with Gordon Hayward gone and Kemba Walker’s knee being a major question mark, there should be even more scoring opportunities for Tatum. Expect Boston’s offense to take a noticeable step back this season, but Tatum’s scoring numbers should definitely make up for what they lost.

3. As crushed as Giannis Antetokounmpo will be to not three-peat as MVP, he will reign again as Defensive Player of the Year. Rudy Gobert, Anthony Davis, and Bam Adebayo will fight tooth and nail to get the honor, but Giannis’ build and IQ still make him the NBA’s golden goose on the defensive side.

4. The now financially-prosperous OG Anunoby rewards Toronto’s faith in him by winning the Most Improved Player award. His continued growth as a scorer and vaunted defense plays a huge role in keeping Raptors in the thick of the playoff race. The real shocker though is that the runner-up will be Marvin Bagley III now that he’s fully healthy again.

5. This is going to be the most intense race ever for Comeback Player of the Year with guys like Curry, Kevin Durant and John Wall, among others, gunning for it. Although others will have better performances than him, Wall gets the award. His season will go down as the most impressive seeing how he’s coming off of two consecutive serious injuries and hasn’t played in two years.

6. James Harden won’t make First-Team all-NBA. It sounds ridiculous, but star players do see their All-NBA chances drop when they get traded during the season. Look up Jimmy Butler, 2019. By the way, Harden’s competition is going to be as fierce as ever. Doncic, Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard will all out-shine Harden no matter where he goes.

7. Joining Harden on the All-NBA second team will be Jayson Tatum, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Nikola Jokic. The third team will consist of Damian Lillard, Jamal Murray, Jimmy Butler, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.

As a bonus, let’s go with Devin Booker, Trae Young, Bam Adebayo, Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell among the biggest snubs. Kyrie Irving would be too but I just don’t trust his ability to stay on the floor. Is it too much to ask for a fourth All-NBA team?

8. Caris LeVert wins Sixth Man of the Year. It’s hard to envision LeVert putting up the same numbers he did in the bubble with Irving and Durant in the picture – but if he’s running the second unit’s offense, then he should kill it in that role. I would have put Danilo Gallinari on here, but I just don’t think he’s going to be Atlanta’s sixth man for that long.

9. Gordon Hayward makes it back to the All-Star game. As overpaid as he is, Hayward was the biggest name in free agency to change sides. Hayward’s diminished role in Boston made him underrated as an overqualified fourth option wasn’t good for his production. In Charlotte, he will see the ball a lot more – which should lead to a closer resemblance to Utah Hayward. That is, as long as his continued streak of freak injuries finally stops.

10. For maneuvering Philadelphia back on track, Daryl Morey will win Executive of the Year.

11. Morey’s case will be based on the improved cohesion with the team as a whole. That will be sparked by Ben Simmons, who will lead the league in assists.

Rookie of the Year Predictions

12. This will be the first Rookie of the Year race to not really have a clear frontrunner since 2016. This draft was supposedly filled with less overall superstar talent but more talents that can be vital rotation players on playoff teams.

13. I’m going to go with the surprise lottery pick this year, Patrick Williams. LaMelo Ball will make more highlight reels and has the highest upside, but Williams looks very NBA-ready on a team that will need him right away.

14. Tyrese Haliburton will get the nod over Anthony Edwards for NBA All-Rookie First-Team. That’s not a knock on Edwards. He’s got a good future ahead of him. Haliburton just looks like he has a better feel for the game right now.

Trade Predictions

15. The James Harden saga is going to drag on and on through this season. Houston has all the leverage in this situation because of what remains of his contract and the Antetokounmpo situation shockingly resolved. He will be traded mid-season but only after we all get a feel of the NBA landscape in 2021.

16. Who wins the Harden sweepstakes? Golden State. They have the assets. They have the contracts. They know Curry isn’t going to play forever. They know the Western Conference will be a free-for-all. They give up the farm for Harden – and they don’t think twice.

17. Oklahoma City will trade Al Horford without sacrificing any assets. Horford will look more like the player in OKC that he was originally paid to be in Philly as the full-time center. They won’t redeem his value as they did with Chris Paul, but they will get rid of him the first chance they get.

18. Boston will use their massive trade exception before the trade deadline. Hayward’s departure and Walker’s balky knee kills their playmaking in spite of bigger strides from Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. At the deadline, they’ll trade for a player in the hopes of specifically aiding that department.

19. Atlanta will trade John Collins, a move which they both will come to realize is best for all parties.

20. Cleveland will not trade Kevin Love, even though they also know it would be best for all parties if they did.

21. Rumors about the Bulls will be splitting up that Lauri Markkanen/Wendell Carter frontcourt pairing – but the encouraging progress from both of them along with the chances of another high lottery pick will convince them to give the pair one more chance.

Team Predictions

22. Boston, Miami, Denver and the L.A. Lakers will all start the year sluggishly. Not because of anything they did wrong this offseason, but for the mere fact that their previous seasons all ended just two months ago! I expect them not to burst right out the gate though I also expect them to still be among their conference’s elite.

23. For that same reason, teams like Philadelphia, Dallas, Portland and Utah will be off to the best starts because they had an appropriately-sized time off between the end of their last season and the beginning of this one.

24. The Detroit Pistons and the Oklahoma City Thunder will be the worst teams record-wise in their respective conferences.

25. Minnesota and Charlotte will be the teams that most fans will think of when they hear not-good-but-fun.

26. Dallas will get the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference – and for more reasons than just Luka Doncic. Josh Richardson was exactly what the doctor ordered, ideally, Kristaps Porzingis will have a healthier season. With them in play, Dallas will be right at the top.

27. Milwaukee will get the No. 1 seed for the third consecutive year because it’s their postseason efforts in question – not their past regular season results.

28. Brooklyn’s going to struggle at first because while their offense will be top-3 in the league, their defense will be bottom-10 to start. But with the solid assets they have, they’ll trade them for defensive personnel as the season goes on, pushing them to the No. 2 seed.

29. Joining Milwaukee and Brooklyn in the Eastern Conference will be Miami, Boston, Toronto, Philadelphia and Indiana in that order.

30. Joining Dallas and the Lakers in the Western Conference will be the Clippers, Denver, Portland, Utah and Golden State in that order.

Playoff Predictions

31. Note that in both conferences, the previous two predictions total out to only seven teams each. I did that because we are in for some very fascinating play-in tournaments. In the East, we’ll get Charlotte, Atlanta and Washington duking it out for No. 8.

In the West, we’ll get Phoenix, New Orleans and Sacramento doing the same. Washington will snag that last spot in the East, while Phoenix gets the last spot in the West.

32. Even though things are going to look so much better than they did last year, both Philadelphia and Utah suffer yet another first-round exit. Although, no matter who they face, both of them will be the one team everyone in their conference will want to avoid in the playoffs for there will be a grueling seven-game series.

33. We are going to get the much-discussed Lakers-Warriors playoff matchup in the first round and it’s going to be one for the ages. Harden and Curry push the defending champs to the brink, but the Lakers prevail in Game 7.

34. Plus, the much-hyped Lakers-Clippers series not only happens in the second round, but the Lakers take it in five.

35. As hot as the Mavericks will look, the Nuggets will overtake them in an intense second round matchup, which will only serve as further proof that this is just another stepping stone for Dallas.

36. The Bucks will do much better than that abomination they put up in the bubble, but that’ll be because the playoff matchups will favor them more by avoiding Miami.

37. And they won’t have to play Miami when they make it back to the conference finals, as Brooklyn will be their opponent. However, the Nets will barely pull away in a tight seven-game series against the Bucks.

38. When L.A. faces off against Brooklyn, the Nets will do better than when those two faced off back in 2002, but the Lakers will repeat as champs as they take the series in five games.

Individual Predictions

39. Jamal Murray will prove his bubble dominance was not a fluke as he continues to shock audiences with his electrifying 25+ point performances that will spark not an all-star appearance, but all-NBA.

40. T.J. Warren sadly won’t do the same, but he will continue to prove that he’s one of the best bargain contracts in the NBA.

41. Joel Embiid will be only one of two players in the NBA to average 20+ points and 10+ rebounds. The other will not be Anthony Davis, but it will be a Nikola – Vucevic, that is.

42. Blake Griffin will barely play half the season in Detroit in spite of the numbers he’ll put up while he’s on the floor.

Coach Predictions

43. Even though Utah will look better than last year, the hot seat buzz will start kicking for Quin Snyder. He’s done a great job with the Jazz, but if Utah fails to get past the first round for the third straight year, it’s hard to see how Snyder avoids the lion’s share of the blame.

44. Drew predicted this the last two years, so I guess it’s going to be a tradition until further notice: Scott Brooks will lose his job. Not at any point during the regular season but after the Wizards get swept by the Bucks in the playoffs. He’s had the excuse of John Wall’s persistent injuries. Not anymore.

45. It’s for that same reason above that Steve Clifford avoids the boot. It’s true that Orlando will miss the playoffs but they’ll attribute that toward Jonathan Isaac blowing out his knee more than anything else. Management will give Clifford the benefit of the doubt. The question is for how long?

Miscellaneous Predictions

46. Atlanta will lead the league in starting lineup changes. Their roster is one big puzzle made up entirely of blue sky that will need the whole season to be put together. The only two players I expect to be mainstays in the starting lineup are Trae Young and Clint Capela, if healthy. That’s it.

47. We’re going to see teams ease up on the three-point shooting. They’ll still come at a high volume, but we saw the Lakers in the bottom-10 in both attempts and percentage from three-point land, and look where they are now. Milwaukee’s lived and died by the three for the last two years and they’ve only achieved regular-season success.

48. We won’t have any new All-Stars this year, barring injury.

49. COVID-19 is definitely going to leave its mark on this season and beyond. Both on the personnel and revenue. It’s happened to the other sports, but there’s no way anyone wanted another bubble.

50. Finally, for the first time possibly ever, San Antonio will intentionally tank their season based on inferior talent versus losing their star player to injury as they did in 1997. You’d have to go back to the days of President Reagan to think of the last time the Spurs were intentionally bad, but that’s the state they are in. If there was an NBA equivalent to 2020, it would be the Spurs waving the white flag after all these years.

And basketball is back! Let me know how I did or what you’re rooting for on Twitter, we’d be happy to hear how wrong these will all be.

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NBA Daily: Get Familiar With the Phoenix Suns

Drew Maresca discusses the Suns’ roster, why they’ve flown under the radar for much of the season and why fans should expect even more from Phoenix.

Drew Maresca

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What in the world is going on in Phoenix?

Unless you’ve deliberately followed the Suns this season, it’s understandable if you’ve missed their incredibly hot start. They’re not mentioned by the national media (e.g., ESPN) nearly as often the Brooklyn Nets or Los Angeles Lakers — but they should be.

And it’s not as is you can easily do your own research, either. Unless you’re an NBA League Pass subscriber, you’ve had limited opportunities to watch what’s going on in Phoenix. The Suns were scheduled to appear in only the tenth-most nationally televised games through the first half of the season, behind the Lakers, Nets, Boston Celtics, New Orleans Pelicans, Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors, Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Clippers and Miami HEAT (and tied with the Philadelphia 76ers).

But at a certain point, numbers are just too powerful to continue to overlook – and that point was months ago for the Suns. And while they still haven’t even really received the credit they deserve, it’s coming.

After a loss against the Clippers on Thursday night, Phoenix is 36-15, good for the second-best record in the entire league. They’ve won eight of their last 10 games and boast the fifth-best defensive rating (109.4) and seventh-best offensive rating (116.3) – which works out to the third-best net rating in the NBA (+6.6).

The Suns – and pretty much every NBA team – have a long way to go before cementing their playoff seeding. According to Tankathon, the Suns have the eighth-hardest remaining schedule, with games against the Jazz, Nets, 76ers, Clippers, Lakers and Bucks – but that’s less alarming when you look closely at the Suns’ results thus far.

The Suns are 18-7 against teams with .500 records or better. They’re also 7-5 against teams with .600 records or better and 3-2 against the ultra-elite (Jazz, Nets, Clippers, Bucks, 76ers).

Ultimately, the NBA is about winning – not expectations – so the Suns still have every opportunity to accomplish what they’d hoped to prior to the season. They play smart and are well-stocked with star power. Opponents probably won’t overlook them, but fans may. And it’s the fans who could miss out.

But how did Phoenix turn the corner so quickly? They went from a 19-63 team in 2018-19 to the league’s second-best team just two seasons later.

Adding Chris Paul helps. But it’s also understandable that adding Paul means being overlooked – he’s been overlooked for most of the recent past, written off as great but not great enough.

Upon closer inspection, Paul’s resume is jaw-dropping. Most recently, he led the seriously under-manned 2019-20 Oklahoma City Thunder team to the fifth-seed in the hyper-competitive Western Conference. He was also responsible for catapulting the Houston Rockets into serious contention mode; at their pinnacle in 2017-18, the Rockets were up 3-2 against the champion-to-be Golden State Warriors before Paul strained his hamstring and missed games six and seven, both of which Houston dropped.

Paul, who will turn 36 this May, is still a magician on the court. He’s averaging 16.2 points, 8.7 assists and 4.7 rebounds in 32 minutes per game. He’s also played in all but one of the Suns’ games. But what’s most impressive about Paul is that his net effect is far greater than any stats can communicate.

Ironically, in giving Paul his flowers, we inherently overlook Booker, the team’s leader in points (26.0) and minutes played (34.2). Objectively, Booker should be in the MVP discussion, but he plays in Phoenix and alongside Paul – so individual accolades will have to wait.

But the Suns’ success is about more than just the backcourt. There’s also the first-overall pick from the 2018 NBA Draft, Deandre Ayton, who’s averaging a double-double, again, while shooting career-bests from the field (62.8%) and the free-throw line (76.7%). There’s also Mikal Bridges – who is quietly outperforming guys taken ahead of him in the 2018 draft, scoring 13.3 points per game on 41.5% shooting from deep – and Jae Crowder.

And then there’s the other guys, who were recently overlooked or disregarded by other teams – Cameron Johnson, Dario Saric and Cameron Payne.

Johnson was the 11th overall pick in 2019. But because of his advanced age relative to other lottery picks – Johnson was 23 on draft night – and the fact that he wasn’t projected as a lottery pick, the Suns and Johnson were ridiculed.

But Johnson hit the ground running, averaging 8.8 points while shooting 39% on three-point attempts in his rookie season. And he’s gained momentum in his Sophomore campaign, scoring 9.8 points per game while maintaining his shooting from deep (38.7%) and increasing his two-point shooting percentage from 52.6% to 56.6%.

Saric is a versatile big who’s been aided by the game’s move to pace-and-space. Drafted in 2014, Saric remained in Europe until the 2016-17 season. He’s been effective at every stop he’s made, but (surprisingly) didn’t latch on in Philadelphia or Minnesota. He’s averaging 9.7 points and 4.2 rebounds per game while shooting 35% on three-point attempts. And given the league’s move to mobile bigs, Saric is a valuable role player and complements the more physical play of Ayton beautifully.

And then there’s Payne, who was best known as a former Russell Westbrook hype man. But the book is being re-written on Payne given what he’s done in Phoenix so far.

Payne cemented a spot on the Suns with his performance last season, averaging 10.9 points on better-than-50% shooting from deep in eight games in the bubble. And while the addition of Chris Paul has translated to fewer minutes for Payne, he’s still producing. He’s scoring 6.8 points in 16.8 minutes per game on 40.2% shooting on three-point attempts, but the more he plays, the greater the effect; Payne is averaging 13.4 points per game when he plays at least 20 minutes – which includes games against Dallas, Portland and Miami.

The Suns get a whole lot out of their roster, including younger guys like Bridges and Ayton. That’s a testament to the second-year head coach, Monty Williams. So while the path here could be misinterpreted as involving shortcuts, it’s actually followed a deliberate plan that’s been executed to perfection by the team’s front office.

Phoenix may have arrived sooner than expected, but Paul doesn’t lose much – which is probably rubbing off on Booker and others – so betting against him (and the Suns) was always a fool’s errand. And regardless of outcomes, one thing’s for sure – people will learn about the Suns this season. And they won’t be written off anytime soon.

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G-League

NBA PM: Jeremy Lin, Activist and Basketball Player

Racism in the United States continues to rise as the fight for equality continues. In the NBA, Jeremy Lin has stepped up and used his voice in support of the movement to end Asian hate.

Dylan Thayer

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Amid the coronavirus pandemic, there has been a strong movement for social justice and human rights in America. Recently, the headlines have involved racist remarks and attacks on people of Asian ethnicities across the United States.

In the NBA, various teams and players have come out to voice their support for the movement to stop Asian hate such as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and an Asian-American himself, Jeremy Lin. The basketball world has done an excellent job with social justice reform and human rights issues by highlighting them on the players’ uniforms, banners and signs throughout their arenas, while also letting the players express their thoughts on racism without backing down.

“As a part of our ongoing commitment to promote racial equality and social justice,” the NBA’s recent statement read, “We stand with the Asian community against any acts of hate and racism.”

Within the past few weeks, there was a mass shooting in Atlanta at a massage parlor that left six Asian women dead. The shooting occurred on Mar. 16 and has been highly publicized as a hate crime. This act of racism put the Asian hate movement in the spotlight once again, but, sadly, hate crimes towards Asians related to the coronavirus pandemic are not new.

Lin – always willing to stand up for what’s right, no matter the cost – used his platform as to speak out and highlight the hate seen against Asian-Americans.

“We have to keep standing up, speaking out, rallying together and fighting for change. We cannot lose hope!” 

Lin, who has now played for the New York Knicks, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets, has a large platform as an Asian American basketball player. Today, the point guard for the G League’s Santa Cruz Warriors has been a vocal leader of the movement to end Asian hate. But as one of three Asian basketball players in the NBA system, he serves as a role model for young Asians everywhere. For every three-pointer he hit this year in the G League, he donated to organizations for youth empowerment or human rights work, per CBS News

Of course, during a G League game, Lin was called ‘coronavirus’ by another player – which led to him speaking out against Asian hate but did not name anybody as he did not want to contribute to more hate.

“What good does it do in this situation for someone to be torn down?” Lin said in a lengthy Twitter note posted in late February.

Listen to the voices that are teaching us how to be anti-racist towards ALL people.”

Experiencing recent hate while enduring numerous other instances of racism towards him, Lin is a powerful voice and a leader in the Asian American community. 

As a player, Lin has had an up-and-down career while playing overseas in China – all following an NBA Finals win in which he played just one minute for the Toronto Raptors. Back in America and the G League where he famously got his start, Lin has tried to prove that he’s ready and able to contribute to an NBA team once more.

Appearing in nine games for the Santa Cruz Warriors, Lin posted averages of 19 points and 6.4 assists per game, plus a field goal percentage of 50.5 percent, a 42.6 percent three-point percentage and 87.9 from the free throw line.

Without a doubt, Lin still has a lot of good basketball left in the tank, but why hasn’t he been called up to the NBA? The Golden State Warriors are already in the luxury tax and the team’s other guards have performed particularly well. An unfortunate circumstance for him to be in, but Lin is one injury away from a call-up and a contract if the situation arises. 

This season may not be the one where Lin makes his return to the NBA, but that isn’t going to stop him from trying. It was clear following his short G League stint that he can still play in the NBA and deserves to still be on a roster. Even if he is not in a large role, he can be an instant threat off the bench at any moment with his offensive IQ creating shots for himself and opening up the floor for others. 

But as Lin works to re-fulfilling his dreams, it hasn’t stopped him from using his platform for good. Throughout his long, bumpy career – full of meteoric rises, brutal injuries and false starts – the veteran point guard has always been a source of kindness and thoughtfulness. And in this day and age, Lin stands to be a powerful voice for progress not only in the NBA, but in the country at large.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Pelicans-Thomas Partnership a Low-Risk, High-Upside Bet for Both

Bobby Krivitsky examines the partnership formed between the New Orleans Pelicans and Isaiah Thomas, a low-risk wager that could pay dividends for both sides.

Bobby Krivitsky

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On Apr. 6, Isaiah Thomas played in his first NBA game in over a year.

Between then and now, Thomas had a hip resurfacing procedure to address the bone-on-bone issue in his hip. The pain was so excruciating that Thomas favored his right side, compromising his balance and overall effectiveness. As a result, he bounced around the league and spent brief stints with four teams in three years before being waived by the Los Angeles Clippers after they acquired him in a deal with the Washington Wizards. Back on the court, the one-time Mr. Irrelevant, who rose to near-MVP status with the Boston Celtics, said as much about his journey.

“It’s like night and day for me,” Thomas told ESPN back in October. “There’s no more pain. I’ve got my full range of motion. For three years, I was trying to play the best players in the world on one leg. I needed help from my kids to put my socks on in the morning.”

Now a member of the New Orleans Pelicans, Thomas played 25 minutes in his return to the hardwood, scoring 10 points on 13 shots to go along with two assists and two rebounds against the Atlanta Hawks. Though it was far from a gaudy stat line, it was great to see Thomas moving well and looking comfortable attacking off the dribble.

 

“I felt good out there. I was moving; I got to my spots; I just didn’t knock down my shots,” Thomas said after the game. “I’m still going to be a little rusty from not playing for so long, but coach Stan (Van Gundy) was like, ‘be you, go out there and be aggressive, make plays, score the ball, we want you to be you.'”

“That’s all I can do — and I’ll be better tomorrow.”

The next night, in Thomas’ second game with the Pelicans, he registered a stat line of 11 points on 12 shots to go along with three assists and a steal in a 139-111 loss on the road against the Brooklyn Nets. The fact he was able to play on both ends of a back-to-back is an encouraging sign in and of itself. As a one-way guard who the Pelicans brought in on a 10-day contract hoping to get more scoring from their second unit, Thomas reaching double figures in his first two contests of the 2020-21 campaign bodes well for his chances of sticking with New Orleans for the rest of the season.

Before joining the Pelicans, Thomas most recently played for the USA Men’s Basketball AmeriCup Qualifying Team. He started in both of their qualifying games in February, leading the USMB team to wins over the Bahamas and Mexico. In those two contests, the nine-year NBA veteran averaged a team-high 14 points, two rebounds and 2.5 assists per game while shooting 43.5 percent from the field and logging 21 minutes per contest.

That performance undoubtedly gave David Griffin, New Orleans’ executive vice president of basketball operations, the confidence to sign Thomas to a 10-day contract. 

And Thomas just might be the spark they need down the stretch. The Pelicans currently sit 11th in the Western Conference, just two games out of the play-in tournament, a concept first introduced when last season resumed in Orlando. The team’s bench is contributing an average of 32.2 points per game, which ranks 25th league-wide. Perhaps, Thomas, who’s healthier than he’s been in years, provides the scoring boost necessary to help vault them into the postseason.

Of course, Thomas would have to acclimate very quickly for that to happen. New Orleans has just 21 games left this season. Furthermore, teams are working with condensed schedules, making practices a rarity.

The former will challenge Thomas and the Pelicans’ training staff in their ability to keep Thomas’ hip fresh, to maintain his health and the energy he can provide off the bench. The latter is going to make it difficult for Thomas to develop on-court chemistry with his new teammates. Most of that feeling-out process will be happening in high-stakes games with a spot in the postseason on the line.

Another challenge Thomas is facing is that he’s signed to a 10-day contract, meaning he has to immediately prove to the Pelicans that he’s worth keeping for the rest of the regular season. It’s a low-risk gamble for New Orleans and an opportunity Thomas wasn’t going to pass up — it may not work out with the Pelicans, but another team might take a chance on Thomas if he can prove he’s rediscovered the burst that made him so lethal in Boston.

Time will tell how effective this partnership works out for both parties. But, either way, it’s great to see Thomas back in the NBA. And to this point, he’s moving well and once again scoring the ball effectively, which bodes well for his chances of sticking around beyond his current contract.

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