If you’re looking for someone to pull for in the 2021 NBA Draft, please stop at former NBA G League Ignite forward Isaiah Todd. His story is not one of redemption but it very well could be. Following a mother, Marlene Venable, who remarkably turned her life around, Todd has displayed a maturity well beyond his years.
Take this past season for instance, where despite starting just two games in the NBA’s G League (for the Ignite), he still managed to average over 12 points per game. The 6-foot-10-inch forward has a chance to develop into a legitimate contributor for the team and he will begin his journey this summer.
It would not have been a surprise to see Todd, who played with fourth overall pick Scottie Barnes on the Nightrydas Elite AAU squad back in 2019, also go in the first round of this year’s draft. He has an 8’11.5″ standing reach, runs the floor well and has potential as a long distance shooter. Despite just two starts for the NBA G League Ignite, he averaged over 12 points per game and shot an impressive 82.4% from the free throw line.
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
All of Cleveland’s offseason moves begin and end with LeBron James. If Cleveland loses James, it creates an obvious wing need. Jeff Green and Rodney Hood are also entering free agency and they could look to add another wing capable of playing off the ball and contributing defensively. Villanova’s Mikal Bridges is a “three and D” prospect who can shoot the ball at a high clip (43 percent from three last year) and figures to log heavy minutes covering the opposing team’s best wing player. Bridges, who should be available with Cleveland’s eighth pick, would fit nicely alongside James and could help space the floor for the Cavs.
With the absence of Kyrie Irving, James took over the role of initiating the offense. As he gets older, it would be wise for the Cavaliers to explore options to have him play more off the ball. If he chooses to remain in Cleveland, the team may work to utilize his strengths on the elbow and on the block. Tyreke Evans enjoyed a strong season in Memphis averaging 19 points and five assists per game. He has the type of offensive versatility that Cleveland has lacked beyond James. Despite being an intriguing free agent prospect, he won’t garner as much money as some of the upper echelon free agents.
Cap space: -36 million, $136 million
Free agents: Rodney Hood, Jose Calderon, Jeff Green, Kendrick Perkins, LeBron James
Behind a balanced attack, Indiana played Cleveland as well as any of the other top teams in the Eastern Conference. The Pacers will return all of their key players and have the 23rd overall pick in the draft. At that stage of the draft, most teams target the best player on their board and care less about a specific need. However, Glenn Robinson III and Trevor Booker are free agents and Indiana could look to bring in another wing/forward. Cincinnati’s Jacob Evans is a stout defender who can also spread the floor with his shooting and passing skills. Evans seems like a perfect player as the NBA transitions to small ball lineups.
Cap space: 5 million, 95 million
Free agents: Glenn Robinson III, Trevor Booker
Detroit is set in the frontcourt with Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Stanley Johnson. Jameer Nelson averaged 20 minutes a game a season ago but he will be 37 years old midway through next season. Luke Kennard is also the only true shooting guard on the roster. It would make sense for Detroit to look for a combo guard who can play on and off the ball. The Pistons have the 42nd pick in the second round and if they choose to take a flyer on a combo-type, Wichita State’s Landry Shamet is a 6-foot-5-inch option. Shamet -who ran the show for the Shockers- averaged 14 points and five assists per game in 2017-18.
Cap space: -19 million, 119 million
Free agents: Anthony Tolliver, James Ennis, Jameer Nelson
Free agents Zach LaVine and David Nwaba both averaged more than 23 minutes per game. LaVine appeared in 24 games while Nwaba saw action in 70 contests. The Bulls added Dwyane Wade two years ago but look for them to stick with their youth movement and either re-sign Nwaba or LaVine. Another option is to give former Michigan State guard Denzel Valentine more minutes.
Paul Zipser is the only true small forward under contract for next season. Chicago has a lot of forwards, centers and guards under contract but the Bulls could use more athleticism. Big men Lauri Markkanen, Cristiano Felicio and Robin Lopez can be picked on in pick and roll situations defensively. Texas’ Mo Bamba should be available at the seventh pick and has elite defensive tools to contribute immediately. With the Bulls, Bamba would have time to develop his offensive game as he plays alongside scoring big men like Bobby Portis and Markkanen.
Cap space: 10 million, 90 million
Free agents: Noah Vonleh, Zach LaVine, David Nwaba, Ryan Arcidiacono
Out of the 16 playoff teams, Milwaukee finished 13th in three pointers made per game last postseason. That number could drop with shooters Jabari Parker, Jason Terry and Shabazz Muhammad set to enter free agency. Milwaukee has limited cap space and its core is already under contract for the foreseeable future. The Bucks have the 17th pick in the draft and could look to add another scorer. Maryland’s Kevin Huerter is 6’7” and possesses the height and shooting ability that the Bucks covet (shot 50-percent from the field and 41 percent from three last season).
Cap space: -17 million, 117 million
Free agents: Jabari Parker, Jason Terry, Shabazz Muhammad
*The 2018-2019 NBA salary cap sits at $101 million and the luxury tax sits at $123 million.
It’s been a mixed bag for Jones after becoming the Houston Rockets 18th pick in the first round of the 2012 NBA Draft. While he has averaged 10.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game in six NBA campaigns, he was regulated to just three games with the Milwaukee Bucks in 2017-18 before being released. He was recently acquired by the Santa Cruz Warriors of the NBA’s G League in December 2017.