The 2020-21 NBA season will officially begin on Dec. 22. The accelerated timeline helps the NBA achieve a few of their stated goals by staging a 72-game season and ending the playoffs prior to the Tokyo Olympics. It also means that the next month will bring a deluge of information for fantasy owners to wade through. Here are key dates on the NBA calendar:
Trade moratorium lifted – Nov. 16/17
NBA Draft – Nov. 18
Free agency – Nov. 20
Training camps open – Dec. 1
The salary cap will remain the same as last year, at $109.1 million, a figure teams had been anticipating "for some time now." That helps to avoid a last-minute scramble for front offices around the league. With management and players/agents on the same page, the stable financial picture should facilitate trades and free-agent signings in the weeks to come.
The offseason is due to end 71 days after the Finals, marking the shortest break in history for the NBA, NHL, NFL or MLB. One ramification of the abbreviated offseason is that player health and conditioning is a major concern for training staffs. "It's going to be especially challenging to not only get ready to play Dec. 22 ... but to maintain that for a period of four or five months," an unnamed head athletic trainer told ESPN. "As unchartered as the [Orlando] bubble, this is the bubble times three or four or five [because we're] trying to extend it to that period of time with a minimal ramp-up." There are a few parallel implications for fantasy owners.
Players who marched deep into the playoffs are more likely to be rested. Obvious DNP candidates on the Lakers include veterans LeBron James, Danny Green, Anthony Davis and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. In fact, Green suggested that LeBron and others could potentially sit out the first month or so in order to rest and recover after winning the championship. While L.A.'s triumph in the Orlando bubble presents risk for older players, the flipside is that somebody needs to log all those minutes. Kyle Kuzma should be a big winner if/when LeBron or AD rest, and Alex Caruso should also find the ball in his hands more often...especially if Rajon Rondo leaves L.A. in free agency.
For the Heat, Jimmy Butler is likely to rest more than he's accustomed to resting. Whether or not the famously competitive swingman wants any time off, it's in Miami's best interests to keep their 31-year-old star fresh throughout the season. He was a steady top-20 fantasy play last year, but the threat of reduced playing time and possible DNPs is enough for me to bump him down a round on my draft board. Sixth-man Goran Dragic is a free agent, but no matter where he's playing there's likely to be a minute-limit in place. His minutes dropped to 28.2 per game during the regular season, which allowed Miami to bump him up to 32.5 when it mattered most in the postseason. He was having his most productive stretch of the season before a torn plantar fasciia shut him down – all the more reason for his team to play it safe.
Other veterans who made playoff runs (and therefore stand out as DNP/rest risks) include Kemba Walker, Gordon Hayward, Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, P.J. Tucker, Russell Westbrook, Eric Gordon, Brook Lopez and Eric Bledsoe. With the possible exceptions of Lowry and BroLo, if they fall far enough, that's a group I'll happily avoid on draft day.
The Nuggets, with championship aspirations and a relatively young core, will be an interesting case study. Paul Millsap is almost 36 years old and he'll assuredly play reduced minutes no matter where he signs this offseason. It remains to be seen whether the Nuggets shelter Nikola Jokic, at least early in the season, but I'd bet that Gary Harris and Will Barton see their minutes tick down. Both veterans were banged up last year, with Barton ultimately missing the entire Orlando bubble due to a right knee injury. We've yet to hear any news about his knee since he exited the bubble in mid-August, and I'm not eager to bet on Barton's health in fantasy leagues.
It's not only teams that advanced in the postseason who pose additional risk, since the quick turnaround specifically impacts injury timetables. After extended rest failed to heal Kristaps Porzingis' torn right meniscus, for instance, he opted for knee surgery in early October. Dallas was already likely to play it safe with the oft-injured big man, and there's no guarantee he'll be in uniform for opening night. He's far from the only Maverick with a hazy timetable to return. Dwight Powell is recovering from a ruptured right Achilles, Jalen Brunson missed the bubble while rehabbing after right shoulder surgery, and free agent Courtney Lee is out indefinitely due to calf surgery.
It's not all bad news on the injury front. There's some speculation on my part here, due to a lack of updates this offseason, but injured players who should be ready for Dec. 22 include Kevin Durant (Achilles), Kyrie Irving (shoulder), Karl-Anthony Towns (wrist), Klay Thompson (knee), Ben Simmons (knee), John Wall (Achilles), Domantas Sabonis (plantar fasciitis), LaMarcus Aldridge (shoulder), Jaren Jackson Jr. (knee), Kelly Oubre (knee), Bojan Bogdanovic (wrist), Marvin Bagley (foot), Trey Lyles (appendicitis), Derrick White (toe) and Zach Collins (ankle).
Whether you want to target all, some or none of the guys listed in the paragraph above depends on your risk tolerance. Personally, in a shortened season with the briefest of offseasons, I'm going to steer clear of any pre-existing injury risk. My preference is to minimize the risk of DNPs and injuries by building a healthy team loaded with players in their 20s. As fantasy drafts progress, I'll be more inclined to take some big swings – but it will be young guys (ideally not rookies) with upside whom I'll target, rather than betting on an injured player returning to form. For a preview of young guys who could break out in their second season, check out this edition of Rotoworld NBA podcast.
Thanks to the coming torrent of trades, draft picks, free agent signings and training camps, we'll have a ton of player updates and insights in the coming weeks. With so much ground to cover and opening night less than six weeks away, fantasy GMs need every edge they can get. In addition to monitoring our stream of player news blurbs, managers should keep an eye out for Rotoworld's 2020-21 Draft Guide! The hoops crew is working day and night to compile initial fantasy ranks, project outlooks and stats, write columns, develop position tiers, and much more.