A blue blood is someone who is wealthy and powerful. In terms of college basketball, the phrase describes programs that have consistently produced postseason success, won championships and sent players to the NBA.
However, blue blood programs like Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State have suffered through varying degrees of struggles during the 2020-2021 season.
What has caused this decline? The answer is multi-layered.
The number one problem could be the COVID-19 pandemic that has caused not only games to be postponed, but has had lasting effects on players who test positive.
Former Duke star Jayson Tatum said he has struggled to breathe since returning to the floor after a bout with COVID. On the gridiron, Myles Garrett expressed similar sentiments.
When it comes to tangible statistics, consider Purdue’s Sasha Stefanovic, who tested positive for COVID in January and since returning has scored a total of four points after leading the Big Ten in three-point shooting percentage.
“I’ve talked to Mike (Krzyzewski), Roy (Williams) and all the guys I’m on the (NCAAB) committee with and a lot of people are talking about the exact same things and I don’t think you can appreciate it unless you have kids going through a tough time with the COVID,” MSU head coach Tom Izzo told local reporters during his weekly press conference on Feb. 18. “They always say mental health, it’s hard to handle yourself mentally with all the things that have been thrown at them this year (with the pandemic) so then you lose a little bit and it gets exacerbated. There’s no question about it.”
UNC sits at 13-7 while Kentucky, Duke and MSU (¾ of the Champions Classic) combine for a 26-29 record. A far cry from when these three teams were in the Final Four six seasons ago.
But is COVID the sole reason behind the struggles? No, fans can also easily forget the importance of offseason practices, preseason exhibition games and the camaraderie of being in a team setting… all of which has been stripped away in the world of social distancing.
Another interesting note is that the three blue bloods mentioned above rely heavily on either freshman or players that didn’t play over the past few seasons. Duke and Kentucky have gone the “one and done” recruiting route but their players never got a chance to assimilate into college basketball action before the season started.
Duke, Kentucky and MSU have also all used freshmen guards like A.J. Hoggard, Brandon Boston Jr. and Jeremy Roach to lead their teams.
Conversely, the teams that lead the ACC, Big Ten and SEC have been able to rely on upperclassmen talent at the guard positions. Illinois’ Ayo Dosunmu, Alabama’s John Petty Jr. and UVA’s Kihei Clark have all had big impacts.
With that being said, how many years have teams like Illinois, Alabama, Tennessee, UVA and Iowa finished above the blue bloods in the standings and in the AP Top 10? Not only are the blue bloods struggling, but teams who haven’t enjoyed the same level of consistency over the past 20 years are now having all-time seasons.
We talked about the lack of offseason, COVID-19, the importance of veteran guards and the emergence of new conference threats but should the blue bloods be worried long term? Probably not.
Longevity means something. Duke and MSU have made the NCAA tournament 24 and 22 consecutive years, respectively. That doesn’t happen by accident. John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats followed up missing the NCAA tournament in 2013 with a championship appearance in 2014, after winning the championship in 2012.
In statistics, we would call the 2020-2021 season an outlier for the blue bloods so if you’re a fan of those teams… don’t worry it will probably get better and if you aren’t… enjoy the misery of some of college basketball’s elites.
Arizona State guard Josh Christopher’s ball handling continues to impress in the open court, and it has actually been an impressive part of his game since his days as a Las Vegas prepster. Early in the second half against Arizona (11-3, 5-3), Christopher used a crossover, kept his balance and then finished at the cup for a bucket while drawing the foul, eventually finishing for a three-point play (2nd Half/16:36, Arizona ’21). The former five-star recruit is averaging 16.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game for a Sun Devils team that has largely disappointed in 2020-21.
Later, he ran the court and just missed an opportunity for a transition shot block due to a goal tend. On the team’s next possession he knocked down a corner three off the catch-and-shoot to tie the score at 48. If it wasn’t enough, he was seen hustling for a loose ball to try and save a ball going out of bounds in-between those sequences.
Christopher contests versus drives to the basket in transition defense without fouling, even when giving up baskets in these instances (2nd half, Arizona ’21). Fouls, however, have been an issue in his first 11 career contests, posting four or more in five games. Becoming a more efficient passer within half court sets is an area that he could also look to improve the rest of the season.
His activity has to be a factor in all phases because he isn’t efficient behind the three-point line (25%), yet shoots 45% from the field and is excellent from the free throw line (85%). As a unit, the Sun Devils have a tendency to play in spurts. After Christopher nailed a three-pointer at the 2:24 mark of the second half to put Arizona State (4-7, 1-4) up 82-77, the Wildcats ran off the last seven points of the game to close out an 84-82 victory.
Petty has been one of the more consistent players in the SEC over the last four seasons and he has rightfully earned his place as one of the most impressive long range artists in the country. Want proof? Over his last three games, the senior guard is connecting at a blistering 65% rate from behind the three-point line.
Aside from just shooting three-point shots at a high rate (698 career attempts as of 1/20/21), he’s been rather efficient, connecting at 39.1% clip for his career. Petty very easily could have joined fellow Crimson Tide guard Kira Lewis in the 2020 NBA Draft if he had chosen to leave school a year early.
Instead, Petty -a former AAU standout with Team Penny dating all the way back to 2016- stayed in school for one more season to increase the chances of hearing his name called in the first round of the 2021 NBA Draft. The 18th-ranked Crimson Tide currently lead the SEC in three-point field goals per game (11) and rank sixth in the country in that same category (175 three-pointers).
The former five-star recruit stands out from the either the left or right wings off the catch-and-shoot, but he has also displayed his quick release from the corners of the court. He connected on 80% of his 10 three-point shots (made his first seven) to lead an Alabama charge that finished with an SEC-record 23 three-pointers in a resounding 105-75 win over LSU.
The Crimson Tide improved to 7-0 in SEC play and are led by a sharp shooter who plays on both ends of the floor. Aside from his three-point barrage, Petty also contributed three steals versus the Tigers (1/20/21). He has averaged over a steal per game in each of the last two seasons while also attacking the glass with vengeance. He tallied 6.6 rebounds per game in 2019-20 and is currently averaging 5.2 rebounds per game. After struggling with turnovers in 2019-20 (nine games with four or more turnovers), he is taking better care of the basketball as a senior (nine games with one or fewer turnovers).
Like most in the NBA, every team dreams of having a dynamic duo like Pippen and Jordan, Shaq and Kobe, or James and Davis. After another disappointing season in 2019-20, the Washington Wizards decided to try and stir up a dynamic duo of their own with newly-traded Russell Westbrook and returning All-Star Bradley Beal.
Excited by the potential combination, in an interview Beal commented, “I definitely think he [Westbrook] will propel me to a new level that I haven’t tapped into yet. I’m definitely excited about it (Chase).” However, the experiment currently boiling in DC has so far shown early signs of failure. Currently sitting at 2-6, the Wizards win just once for every four contests. The team’s projected 18-54 record would be worse than their 25-47 mark from a season ago.
To make matters worse, the expected dynamic duo’s stands at just 1-5, as Westbrook did not contribute to the win against the Timberwolves; which leaves most spectators wondering if the All-Star combination is creating more damage than good. Last season, Westbrook finished with a career-high 47.2% field goal percentage , and this season his average has decreased to 39.5% (Russell Westbrook Stats). On the other hand, Beal shot 45.5% from the field in 2019-20, which has increased slightly to 47.9% this season, although it is an average he has held before (Bradley Beal Stats).
Beyond the numbers, what the statistics fail to present spectators with is the lack of time (a period of only nine days before preseason) that the All-Stars have had to click. While some might argue that Westbrook and Beal are not the type of guards who can share a court, when speaking about constructive criticism from Westbrook, Beal said, “I’m a constructive criticism guy. I can take it. I love when guys get on my head, tell me to play better, tell me to go. Light a fire, fuel up under me; I like that (Chase).”
For now, the lack of time might be enough to justify why the experiment has failed thus far. Just as it takes time to practice perfecting free throws and fadeaways, it takes time to practice gelling with a new team. Even though both players have talked about their powerful potential, everyone knows that actions speak louder than words, and the window of using time as an excuse is quickly running out. These two players must learn how to boost each others’ strengths and shield each others’ weaknesses or else the public will eventually have valid reasons to declare the experiment as unsuccessful.
And with Beal’s two-year max extension coming to an end at the conclusion of the 2020-21 campaign, an unsuccessful partnership may provide an answer to the original question of Deal or No Beal.
EDITOR’s UPDATE: Following the team’s 128-107 victory over the Phoenix Suns on January 11, 2021, the Wizards announced five positive COVID-19 tests and postponed the next four games.
Chase Hughes. “Beal Says Westbrook Will Take His Game up a Level.” RSN , 15 Dec. 2020, www.nbcsports.com/washington/wizards/bradley-beal-says-russell-westbrook-will-take-h is-game-level.
“Russell Westbrook Stats.” ESPN , ESPN Internet Ventures, www.espn.com/nba/player/stats/_/id/3468/russell-westbrook.
Welcome to DraftNasty’s 2020-2021 NBA Season Preview. In this preview, we will offer a quick division-by-division snapshot, make our picks for the All-Star team and NBA playoffs, and predict the end of season award winners. This season will take on an unprecedented tone as the NBA will attempt to play a 72-game season starting on December 22 after concluding the season this past October at the NBA Bubble. Will the short turnaround hurt or help any teams/ players? Read our preview to find out!
The Miami Heat represented the Southeast Division well with an Eastern Conference playoff berth after notching 44 wins in the regular season. This has the potential to be the most competitive division in the NBA when looking at the additions made by the Atlanta Hawks and the Orlando Magic as well as the return of John Wall to the Washington Wizards. Orlando, who made the playoffs as the 8th seed with 33 wins including a 3-5 record in the NBA Bubble, added North Carolina’s Cole Anthony in the draft to give them some scoring punch off the bench. Not to be outdone, Miami retooled by drafting Precious Achiuwa (Memphis) and acquiring veteran shooting guard Avery Bradley. Atlanta could be intriguing with young talent like Trae Young, Kevin Huerter and Onyeka Okongwu.
DraftNasty player to watch: Bradley Beal- Washington Wizards
Division MVP:Trae Young- Atlanta Hawks
DraftNasty rookie to watch:LaMelo Ball- Charlotte Hornets
The Milwaukee Bucks and Indiana Pacers have been the traditional powers in the division for the last five years but the Detroit Pistons under Troy Weaver are starting to build an identity. Veteran head coach Dwane Casey will field a young team in his second season as a lionshare of the division welcomed new coaches. Billy Donovan (Chicago), Nate Bjorkgren (Indiana) and JB Bickerstaff (Cleveland) will all start the season as first year head coaches in the division. With that said, Milwaukee is still expected to be the cream of the crop in the division with the return of two time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and the additions of floor spacing veterans like Jrue Holiday, Bryn Forbes and Bobby Portis.
DraftNasty player to watch: Domantas Sabonis- Indiana Pacers
DraftNasty rookie to watch: Killian Hayes- Detroit Pistons
The Atlantic Division led the conference in storylines during the offseason as former NBA point guards: Steve Nash and Doc Rivers joined the division to coach the Nets and 76ers respectively. Boston and Toronto had a relatively quiet offseason but they have dominated the division in past years. With Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving fully healthy, the Nets have the talent to take the division but how will all the pieces mesh under a new head coach? The New York Knicks probably won’t be a major factor in the playoff race but rookie Obi Toppin has a chance to win the Rookie of the Year award as he will be asked to carry a heavy load.
DraftNasty player to watch: Ben Simmons- Philadelphia 76ers
Division MVP: Kevin Durant- Brooklyn Nets
DraftNasty rookie to watch: Obi Toppin- New York Knicks
All Star Picks
Starters: Ben Simmons,Jimmy Butler, GiannisAntetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Domantas Sabonis
Last season, the Lakers and Clippers battled not only for city supremacy but for division and conference supremacy. The Lakers came out on top in all three of those categories and won the NBA Championship. This offseason, they added Montrezl Harrell from the Clippers, to provide energy off the bench. while the Clippers parted ways with head coach Doc Rivers in favor of former Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue. The Golden State Warriors are fresh off their historic five year run but will be without sharpshooter Klay Thompson, who tore his Achilles after tearing his ACL a season before. The Phoenix Suns added Chris Paul to take the offensive load off of Devin Booker. The Sacramento Kings are in the league’s toughest division and have struggled to get to 40 wins over the past decade (longest active playoff drought streak in the NBA- 14 seasons).
DraftNasty player to watch: Stephen Curry- Golden State Warriors
Division MVP: Kawhi Leonard- Los Angeles Clippers
DraftNasty rookie to watch: Jalen Smith- Phoenix Suns
It’s a youth movement in the Northwest Division as players like Nikola Jokic, Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, Donovan Mitchell and Shai Gilgeous- Alexander lead their teams (all 25 years old or younger). Portland fields the most experienced roster of the bunch but struggled in the NBA bubble on the defensive end. If Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. can build on their performances in the bubble then Denver could repeat as division champions for the third consecutive season. The Utah Jazz have finished in third place in the division for the last three seasons but they didn’t move the needle with any free agency acquisitions. Despite having young pieces to build around, look for the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Oklahoma City Thunder to finish at the bottom of the division.
DraftNasty player to watch: Jamal Murray- Denver Nuggets
Division MVP: Nikola Jokic- Denver Nuggets
DraftNasty rookie to watch: Anthony Edwards- Minnesota Timberwolves
Dallas’ Luka Doncic and Houston’s James Harden will be asked to lead their teams in not only scoring but playmaking for others. The Mavericks have a better infrastructure in place around Doncic as opposed to Harden, who will have a new head coach (Stephen Silas), and that’s why we believe Dallas will win the division. San Antonio has been the class of the division over the past decade but how will they respond after missing the playoffs for the first time since 1997? The top two draft picks from 2019 (Ja Morant and Zion Williamson) will also have something to say with how the division shakes out. Morant was the Rookie of the Year but Willamson impressed during limited action (averaged 22 points per game and 6 rebounds in 27 minutes per game ) as he dealt with a meniscus tear.
DraftNasty player to watch: Ja Morant- Memphis Grizzlies
Division MVP: Luka Doncic– Dallas Mavericks
DraftNasty rookie to watch: Devin Vassell- San Antonio Spurs
All Star Picks
Starters: Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Luka Doncic, Nikola Jokic, James Harden
Bench: Damian Lillard, Devin Booker, Chris Paul, Donovan Mitchell, Anthony Davis, Stephen Curry, Brandon Ingram
1. Denver Nuggets
2. Los Angeles Clippers
3. Los Angeles Lakers
4. Dallas Mavericks
5. Utah Jazz
6. Phoenix Suns
7. Golden State Warriors
8. Portland Trail Blazers
End of Year Award Accolades
Eastern Conference Champion:Milwaukee Bucks
Western Conference Champion: Los Angeles Clippers
NBA Champion: Los Angeles Clippers (4-2)
MVP: Luka Doncic-Dallas Mavericks
Defensive Player of the Year: Kawhi Leonard- Los Angeles Clippers
Rookie of the Year: Anthony Edwards- Minnesota Timberwolves
Most Improved: Michael Porter Jr.- Denver Nuggets
Sixth Man of the Year: Lou Williams- Los Angeles Clippers
Sophomore center Drew Timme is next in line to continue Gonzaga’s run of skilled big men, which includes NBA players Domantas Sabonis, Zach Collins, Brandon Clarke, Kelly Olynyk and Killian Tillie.
Timme is off to a hot start this season, averaging 26.5 points per game and eight rebounds, in two games against Auburn and Kansas. His dropstep and ability to finish with either hand puts defenders in an uncomfortable position. Like former Zag Rui Hachimura, Timme is a problem in the pinch post because he is quicker than most centers and stronger than most power forwards.
Last year, he was named to the WCC All-Freshman Team and WCC All-Tournament Team after playing in all 33 games. The NBA hopeful is already on his way to topping his stats from 2019-2020, when he scored double-digits in 16 games.
Forgoing offers from major collegiate programs like Memphis, Arizona and Oregon, Jalen Green decided to join the NBA G League Ignite. The G League Ignite is part of the NBA G League and is in their inaugural season. Select NBA Draft prospects can join the team rather than attend college and play anywhere from 10-12 exhibition games alongside NBA veterans.
Green, a former consensus five-star prospect and arguably the best player in the Class of 2020, is an explosive leaper and a proficient ball handler. He impressed scouts on the AAU circuit with his ability to slash to the rim and create in transition. As the youngest member of Team USA’s FIBA Under-19 Basketball World Cup roster, Green averaged 10.1 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game.
The California native will have to improve his shooting mechanics, he shot 62-percent from the free throw line and 29-percent from beyond the arc against FIBA competition. In addition to his work on the international circuit, Green averaged 31.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game as a senior in 2019-20 at Prolific Prep in Napa, California. He also helped lead Prolific Prep to a 31-3 overall record.
Despite a lackluster 14-19 record last season, North Carolina may have found a piece they can rely on in sophomore power forward Armando Bacot. As a freshman, Bacot finished with the most rebounds (286 total) by a Tar Heel freshman since Antawn Jamison in 1995-96.
On defense, the Richmond native has the length to alter shots. He finished with a team-high 36 blocks in 2019-20. In the 2020-21 season opener against the College of Charleston, Bacot added three blocks to his totals of 12 points and eight rebounds.
In an era of one-and-done players, head coach Roy Williams and his staff have done their best work with four-year players. Bacot has the physical tools to be successful but he could use the extra time in college to improve his conditioning. The former McDonald’s All-American selection averaged 24 minutes per game last year. However, he did play at least 30 minutes in eight games and, in six of those contests, he scored in double figures. Worth noting in the other 24 games, he scored in double figures just 10 times.
Moore’s ball handling in transition leads to easy scoring opportunities for the Blue Devils. It is a big reason why the 11-game starter begins the 2020-21 campaign as a preseason All-ACC selection.
Dating back to his days as a prep level star with Cox Mill High School (N.C.), he has been a clutch player. In fact, he won back-to-back state finals MVP honors for the Chargers.
The former five-star wing has the frame to dribble-drive left or right and pull-up over defenders from the baselines. In the open floor, he uses his body to lean into defenders while creating space for himself. His deft euro steps often attack the opposite shoulder of opponents while going up strong to the cup.
Johnson’s best contest in 2019-20 was his double-double performance versus LSU on February 26th. In terms of consistency, he impresses with his ability to crash the boards despite just standing a tad over 6-foot-5 (7.1 RPG as a sophomore).
Johnson’s offensive efficiency (54.4-percent FG) makes him an intriguing prospect for NBA teams due to his skill on both ends of the floor. In fact, he posted two or more steals in 11 contests a year ago, including an eye-opening total of four versus Providence in the 2019 Orange Bowl Classic.
His aggressiveness serves as both a positive and negative. Despite not fouling out of any contests as a sophomore, he had 11 games with four or more fouls in 2019-20. This came one season after fouling out of two games as a freshman.