First Half of the 2020-2021 NBA Season Analysis

With the All-Star Game in the rearview mirror, we enter the midway point of the 2020-2021 NBA season. Over the first half of the season, the league has tried diligently to ensure a smooth season amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Utah Jazz, led by rising star Donavan Mitchell, are experiencing a breakout season, leading all NBA teams going into All-Star weekend, with a record of 27-8. Head coach Quin Snyder and 6th man Jordan Clarkson are the heavy favorites going into the break for Coach of the Year and 6th Man of the Year respectively. With an easy schedule on the back half and a very healthy team, the Jazz are favorites to lead the West going into the playoffs.

If the Jazz are experiencing a breakout season, the Suns are experiencing a supernova event. They continue their hot streak from last year’s bubble, propelling the franchise to the two seed for the first time since 2007. The Suns look strong heading into the back half of the season.

Both Los Angeles teams, the Clippers and Lakers, have had a strong showing in the early half of the year. The two maintain top four status in the West, although the Lakers have limped into All-Star weekend after dealing with multiple injuries to key players.

In the Western Conference, the potential playoff picture remains competitive, with the fifth through tenth seeds separated by two games. Among these, the Denver Nuggets statistically are performing among the best in the league, but have consistently lost close games to sub-.500 teams.

The 11th through 15th seeds all claim losing season status in the West. The Houston Rockets join the sub-.500 club this year due to their rebuild, centered around trading away former MVPs James Harden and Russel Westbrook.

In the East, the Phildaphia 76ers lead all teams, spearheaded by the efforts of Joel Embiid, a frontrunner for MVP going into the break. The team’s lack of a three-point shooting threat and overreliance on Embiid make them vulnerable going into the latter half of the season, but they are likely to finish within the top three.

Similar to the Suns, the Brooklyn Nets have propelled themselves to the two seed in the East. James Harden joined the All-Star duo of Kevin Durrant and Kyrie Irving, creating the current superteam. Injuries remain the team’s biggest threat going forward.

The Milwaukee Bucks, lead by Giannis Antetokounmpo, are the third leg to the East’s dominant trio.

Although many of the teams remain sub-.500, the East’s fourth through 10th seeds remain highly competitive, separated by only 2.5 games. The Celtics are the only team above .500. The Knicks have been surprisingly average this year, in large part due to the All-Star-level performance of Julius Randle.

Among these teams, the Miami Heat are gaining steam after suffering through injuries early on. The Pacers are on the decline after trading away key players.

The 11th through 15th seeds all have a chance to turn the season around, given that half of the East’s current playoff teams are .500 or below. Scoring leader Bradly Beal gives the Wizards the best shot, but he is highly sought-after for teams in a win-now position.

With 36 games postponed and countless players affected by COVID-19 protocols, the second half of the season will be one of the most unpredictable yet.