NBA 2020-21 top six to watch: Ball, Bey, Levert, Paul, Toppin and White
With the 2020-21 NBA season upon us, ahead of tip-off on Tuesday we take a look at six players worth keeping an eye on this season.
The 75th NBA season will be different, that is for sure. Having completed the previous campaign in a Florida bubble due to the coronavirus pandemic, the league starts a reduced 72-game schedule on Tuesday. That is not the only change, though, as a play-in tournament will decide the final two qualification spots in each conference for the playoffs.
So, with free agency long over, trades made and the 2020 draft done and dusted, every franchise starts with a fresh sense of hope and a clean slate.
Ahead of the opening games, here are six players to keep an eye on during the coming weeks and months, including some intriguing rookies and a familiar face now in a new home.
LaMelo Ball (Charlotte Hornets)
#3 pick tossin' some flashy dimes... the BEST of LaMelo Ball (@MELOD1P) in the #NBAPreseason for the @hornets! #NBARooks— NBA (@NBA) December 20, 2020
The 2020-21 NBA season tips Tuesday, December 22nd on TNT. #KiaTipOff20 pic.twitter.com/aXNRXFr2Am
Ball will garner plenty of attention in his rookie campaign, even if the guard may have to go through some growing pains with the Charlotte Hornets.
Selected third in the draft, the brother of Lonzo and LiAngelo has the passing skills and court vision to produce highlight plays. While only 19, it should be remembered he has already played professionally in both Lithuania and Australia.
His three preseason outings for the Hornets produced averages of 10 points, 5.0 assists and 3.7 rebounds. Dwyane Wade was suitably impressed by what he saw, tweeting: "So breaking news: LaMelo Ball is a problem!"
Saddiq Bey (Detroit Pistons)
Have the Pistons found a gem in Bey, the 19th pick in the draft? The shooting guard went to DeMatha Catholic High School – the same establishment as Victor Oladipo and Markelle Fultz, as well as Jerai, Jerian and Jerami Grant – before moving on to Villanova.
His final year in college saw Bey shoot 45.1 per cent from three-point range, placing him fifth in the category for Division I players with a minimum of 150 attempts from deep.
Those numbers offer promise for a Detroit team that averaged 107.2 points per game in the 2019-20 season, ranking them a lowly 25th in the league.
Caris Levert (Brooklyn Nets)
The focus in Brooklyn will be on Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, as the Nets finally get to put their two big-name free agency recruits from July 2019 in tandem together.
Still, the dynamic duo will need help. LeVert averaged 27.4 points in five games during March, including shooting 44.1 per cent from three. He can expect to get open looks this season too, with opposing teams more concerned with his superstar team-mates.
While that is a small sample size, the shooting guard's presence has made a clear difference for the Nets in the past. In the 45 games he played last season, the team averaged 114.7 points. That number dipped to 107 when he did not feature.
Chris Paul (Phoenix Suns)
Paul is preparing to start a third straight season on a different team and, while far from a new name, considering he was drafted back in 2005 and is a 10-time All-Star, it will be fascinating to see what difference the veteran point guard can make to the Suns.
His solitary year with the Oklahoma City Thunder saw him become just the third player to average at least 17 points and 6.0 assists when aged 34 or older. The others to manage that? LeBron James (also last season) and Kobe Bryant (2012-13).
Now he joins a Phoenix roster that dazzled during their stay in the NBA bubble, despite eventually missing out on the playoffs. Devin Booker should certainly relish having Paul alongside him in the backcourt, while center and former No.1 overall pick Deandre Ayton should also benefit.
Obi Toppin (New York Knicks)
Toppin should feel right at home in the NBA; the Brooklyn-born power forward was drafted in the first round by the Knicks.
The 22-year-old averaged 20 points, 7.5 rebounds and shot 63.3 per cent from the field for Dayton in college basketball last season, numbers good enough to see him named national player of the year.
Denied the opportunity to have a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, Toppin will hope to make an instant impact in the Big Apple. The opportunity to play regular minutes – whether it be off the bench or as a starter – makes him a real contender to be this season's top rookie performer.
Coby White (Chicago Bulls)
Coby White was a much-needed positive for the Bulls in an otherwise dismal season. They will at least be well rested having not been involved in the Orlando bubble, while Billy Donovan is now in as coach to try and improve results.
Selected with the seventh overall pick in the 2019 draft, White averaged 13.2 points in his debut season. That is the fourth most by a Bulls rookie since 2000-01, behind only Derrick Rose, Lauri Markkanen and Ben Gordon.
However, that number rose to 20.9 points (as well as 4.0 rebounds and 4.8 assists) from February 1 onwards – and there have been positive signs from the guard during a shortened preseason, too.
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