The 2020-21 NBA season is here, with Opening Night slated for Dec. 22.
The Opening Night schedule will feature two marquee matchups in the Golden State Warriors versus the Brooklyn Nets, followed by the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers versus their in-town rival LA Clippers - on ring night!
With players like Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving all expected to be fully healed from their past injuries and suiting up for Opening Night, it got our NBA.com Staff thinking - which players are we most excited to watch play this upcoming year?
Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): This is an easy answer for me, it's Kevin Durant.
It's easy to forget that when Durant suffered his injury that led to a torn Achilles, he was receiving serious consideration as the best player in the world. Prior to his first injury in the 2019 Playoffs, Durant put together some absolutely ridiculous performances to keep the Warriors' title hopes alive. Averaging 34.2 points per game while shooting 51.3% from the field and 41.6% from 3 hardly does it justice. After the Clippers took Game 2 to even the first-round series, Durant proceeded to go off for 38, 33, 45 and 50 points over the next four games to close things out.
After a full year of rest and recovery, I believe Durant can return back to that level and it's a joy to basketball fans all around the world that we'll get to watch one of the greatest scorers of all-time return to the floor. And to add to that, there's no better way to kick things off than a matchup against a familiar foe in Curry, Draymond Green and Golden State.
Carlan Gay (@TheCarlanGay): I have a confession to make and I know I'm not alone in this - I missed watching Stephen Curry hoop.
The two-time NBA MVP was must-see TV at the peak of his powers and then Kevin Durant showed up in the Bay Area and some of us may have taken for granted how great Steph was and is.
This season, with KD no longer in town and with the unfortunate injury to Klay Thompson we should see Steph get back to the mode and mentally where he was absolutely destroying the league.
I'll admit I'm not a fan of staying up late to watch the west coast games but now Steph catching fire and drilling 3s from the parking lot on a random Tuesday night will make it worth my while.
I can't wait to watch Steph again and appreciate his greatness.
Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): We saw much more of Kyrie Irving than we did Curry or Durant in 2019-20 but I'm here to say that 20 games of Kyrie are not nearly enough.
Last season, Irving began his tenure as a Net with a 50-ball, finishing with 50 points (on 17-for-33 shooting), eight boards and seven assists in a one-point loss. It would be the first of two 50-point performances Irving put forth in 20 games, as he recorded a historically-efficient performance in his second-to-last game of the season, scoring 54 points on .826/.778/.900 splits in a win over the Bulls.
Say what you want about Irving, but those numbers are insane.
Now, as Kyle Irving mentioned above, Kyrie is back to suit up alongside KD, who will almost certainly make things easier for him because of his dominance. If Kyrie was able to average 27.4 points, 6.4 assists and 5.2 rebounds without KD, just imagine what he's going to do when the game's going to get easier.
And there's nothing like Kyrie at his finest.
Do you like art? pic.twitter.com/k9K9b3j0uJ- SLAM Rewind (@SLAMRewind) November 29, 2020
Kyrie showing Steph those handles. pic.twitter.com/b2UfVldzWu- ESPN (@espn) January 28, 2018
We'll get our first look as he squares up with Steph on opening night, too.
Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): I can't wait to see what Zion Williamson has in store for us this season.
In case you forgot, Williamson averaged 23.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists on 58.9 percent shooting from the field in the 20 games he played before the 2019-20 season was suspended. Those are numbers we've only ever seen from one rookie before. His name? Shaquille O'Neal.
That's a relatively small sample size, but Williamson proved to be a matchup nightmare in those games - a 6-foot-6 big man who is too big and strong for guards and forwards but too quick and athletic for centres. Even with questions about his jump shot and his defence, both of which are warranted, there isn't really an answer for him.
LeBron James tallied 34 PTS, 12 REB and 13 AST in the @Lakers win in early March, while Zion Williamson went for 35 PTS! Rewatch all the action during the free preview of NBA League Pass.- NBA (@NBA) April 1, 2020
📲💻: https://t.co/OwfRijlR6D pic.twitter.com/J6FwWLH0QA
The key for Williamson, of course, is health and conditioning. He missed the start of his rookie season with a knee injury and didn't look like himself in the season restart, resulting in him playing only 20.7 minutes in the five games he appeared in.
My hope is the Williamson we saw in the 20 games before the season was suspended is the one we'll get when the Pelicans open their season on Christmas Day against the Miami Heat, because that player is one of the most electrifying players in the league.
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