The NBA has finally announced their plan for a return, giving the 22 top teams at the time of suspension a chance to make a 16-team playoff. Fans, organizations and players alike are all not-so patiently waiting to find out who has put in the work over quarantine and who will come out on top of this extremely unique 2020 playoff season. Using solely shooting accuracy based on each team’s pre-shutdown season field goal and free-throw percentage, here is Part I of our top ten of the returning group.
#10 Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers have fallen off a bit since finishing third in the Eastern Conference last season, but still found their way into the top ten of the returning teams in shooting performance by making about 46.5% and 75.2% of their field goals and free-throws, respectively. Last year, they had 8 players who shot over double digits in points per game, but that number has since decreased to 6 this season. The Sixers lost Jimmy Butler and JJ Reddick in the offseason, who both averaged above 18 points per game last season. Joel Embiid was incredible last season, averaging 27.5 PPG, but has declined this season to 23.4 PPG, a number that is still impressive, but disappointing for Embiid coming off the season he had last year. The 76ers will be looking to reach their true potential just in time for the end of the season.
#9 Memphis Grizzlies
What was supposed to be a rebuilding season, has turned out to be quite the opposite for the Memphis Grizzlies. Rookie of the Year, Ja Morant, and draft steal, Brandon Clarke, have proved to be key players for the team during the beginning of their season, landing the team in 9th place overall with a 47.0% field goal average and a 76.1% free-throw average. According to research by Elias Sports Bureau and ESPN, Morant can join Elgin Baylor (1958-59) and Michael Jordan (1984-85) as the only rookies since 1947 to lead a playoff team in PPG and APG.
#8 Miami Heat
The Heat have been one of the biggest surprises of the year, securing the eighth spot with a 47.0% field goal and 77.8% free-throw rate. Finishing in 10th place last season with a record just below .500, the Heat have switched gears and are now sitting in fourth heading into the final weeks of the COVID-19 season with a record well above .500. One of the biggest differences between this season and last season has been the acquisition of Jimmy Butler from the Philadelphia 76ers. Butler is known for his highly competitive spirit and has been one of the best players in the NBA since he emerged on the Bulls a few years ago. He has undoubtedly been the Heat’s most valuable player this season, leading the team in points per game (20.2), while being second in field goals made per game (6.1) and minutes per game (34.3). The Heat have really learned to depend on Butler, who continues to win wherever he goes.
#7 San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs have their work cut out for them to secure a seat in the playoffs this season. Riding the high of 22 consecutive years in the playoffs, the Spurs will have to perfect their mix of veteran and rookie shooters. As of right now the Spurs are sitting in 7th when it comes to season average shooting percentage (47.0% FG), one of the only elements keeping them competitive. Prior to the shutdown, only one team, the Phoenix Suns, out-ranked the Spurs’ 81% free-throw rate. They will need some of that consistency to bleed into their defensive performance if they have any hopes of lasting.
#6 Denver Nuggets
As a newly recognized “top-tier contender,” the Denver Nuggets have taken on a lot of pressure this year, and for the most part, lived up to the hype. While plenty of attention swarms their conference especially surrounding the two L.A. teams, the Nuggets have stayed right in the mix sitting just behind the Clippers in the standings. Part of their success has come from their fairly accurate shooting. As the season turns back on, they sit in 6th place shooting 47.1% from the field and 77.5% from the free-throw line.
Keep an eye out for Part II coming next week.