The Whiteboard: What to watch for on NBA Opening Night

Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images /

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The weirdest season in NBA history and the weirdest offseason in NBA history are both…history. Tonight the 2020-21 season tips off, what will almost certainly be the runner-up for weirdest season ever. We get two opening-night matchups, with the Golden State Warriors taking on the Brooklyn Nets, followed by the Los Angeles Lakers taking on the Los Angeles Clippers.

There are all sorts of intriguing individual matchups and rivalries at play but here are the things I’m most curious to see in the first game of the season.

What does the Brooklyn Nets’ offense look like on NBA Opening Night?

Opening Night will be our first regular-season look at the Brooklyn Nets’ offense with both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant on the floor. We know the ball is primarily going to be in the hands of those two and they’ll be responsible for the majority of offensive creation, but the Nets have other interesting pieces. Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert have creation potential as well, particularly as secondary ball-handlers, attacking after the defense has already been bent. Jarrett Allen and DeAndre Jordan are still lob threats and vertical spacers and Landry Shamet and Joe Harris are among the best off-movement and spot-up shooters in the league.

The question is how much activity those players will have, working around and off of Durant and Irving. Is Brooklyn working toward a Warriors-like system, maximizing ball-movement and player movement around their primary creators, forcing the defense to rapidly cycle through decisions about where a scoring opportunity is likely to surface? Or are they moving toward a Rockets-like system, where Irving and Durant are taking turns doing their thing and everyone is else is more static, just spotting up around them?

Neither is necessarily better than the other, but with so many different coaching minds on the bench and so many different offensive skill sets on the floor, it will be fascinating to get a glimpse of what sort of ideal they may be gravitating toward?

How Curry-centric are the Warriors?

Injuries made last season basically useless as a data point for the future of the Warriors core and so much of their supporting cast has been turned over. Without Kevin Durant, without Klay Thompson, with an older and maybe slower Draymond Green, how heavily will these Warriors’ lean on Stephen Curry’s ability to be superhuman? Success this year will be a balancing act between letting Curry carry the load and letting his talents scaffold things for Kelly Oubre Jr., Andrew Wiggins and Eric Paschall. What does that balance look like on Opening Night?

What does James Wiseman look like?

The Warriors first-round draft pick missed all of preseason after testing positive for COVID-19. He’s cleared to play on Opening Night but it will be his first real basketball game since his last game with the Memphis Tigers on Nov. 12, 2019, more than 13 months ago. If you have any idea what to expect from him, you’re way ahead of me.

How much urgency do the Lakers and Clippers bring?

On paper, this should be a heated matchup, one both teams are heavily invested in winning. Besides the personal rivalries of the stars and the general rivalry of two teams in one city, we have the added heat of two of the best teams in the Conference, Montrezl Harrell flipping sides and Jerry West reportedly trashing the Lakers in a recently released voicemail.

But these are also both deep, veteran teams who know they don’t win a championship in the first game of the season. How much energy do LeBron James and Anthony Davis feel they have to muster for potential statement games like this? How much will these two teams, who are forward-thinking on rest and player health, see their hands forced by a condensed 72-game season. This could be a preview of the Western Conference Finals. Or it could be a deflated game with Dennis Schroder and Luke Kennard trading buckets down the stretch while the stars cheer them on.

Is Talen Horton-Tucker really in the Lakers’ rotation?

This probably has more to do with curiosity than any championship implications but it will be interesting to see how much opportunity he’s earned with his impressive preseason.

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