On March 11, the NBA halted its season after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus. Despite league executives’ best efforts, play has not resumed and there is no plan in place for a cathartic conclusion to the year.
Several spotlighted NBA narratives have been put on hold, and they will meet unsatisfying, premature ends if the remainder of the season is scrapped. These are the two stories of the 2019-20 season that are most deserving of a final chapter.
First-years first — the Rookie of the Year race between Zion Williamson and Ja Morant was shaping up to be a photo finish. The two were selected first and second, respectively, in the 2019 NBA draft, so it’s not surprising that they would be the two real contenders for the award at season’s end.
What is surprising, however, is that Williamson would still be in the conversation after missing the first 44 games of the 2019-20 campaign.
The rookie out of Duke looked utterly lethargic in his first few minutes of NBA action, but he put the league on notice when he scored 17 points over a three-minute span in the fourth quarter of his debut. During this scoring barrage, Williamson went four-for-four from behind the arc.
In the 19 games Williamson played this season, he averaged 23.6 points and 6.8 rebounds, with a player efficiency rating of 24.32. In a way, Williamson’s first game was a microcosm of his season as a whole: It had a rough start, but was electrifying once he got going.
Morant, meanwhile, was still the odds-on favorite to win Rookie of the Year when play stopped.
The 17.6 points and 6.9 assists Morant averaged don’t tell the whole story — Morant took the Memphis Grizzlies to unanticipated heights this year. The Grizzlies finished their 2018-19 season with a 33-49 record, but were 32-33 when action stopped this year.
With Williamson and Morant both playing so well, the Rookie of the Year race was likely to be determined by who could lead his team to the eighth seed in the cutthroat Western Conference. As it stands, the New Orleans Pelicans are 3.5 games behind the Grizzlies.
The Pelicans were 17-27 when Williamson made his debut, so it’d be difficult to deny him the award if he helped miraculously steer his team to the playoffs. At the same time, Morant has been phenomenal all season, and part of being valuable is being healthy.
In the event of neither team making the playoffs — the Portland Trail Blazers currently stand between the Grizzlies and the Pelicans in ninth place — the award would likely find itself in Morant’s hands.
Regardless, this is one of the most unique Rookie of the Year races in recent memory, and it’d be a shame if it never got a proper ending.
The greatest playoff series that never was
A second narrative that begs for a satisfying finale is the battle for Los Angeles. The Lakers and the Clippers have never met in the playoffs, but that seemed bound to change this year.
The two teams led the Western Conference at first and second in the standings when the season stopped, both teams have star players who are arguably the best in the world and — perhaps most importantly — their three meetings this season were full of show-stopping moments.
The first postseason clash between LA’s two squads was shaping up to be an epic Western Conference finals duel.
Would Kawhi Leonard bring unprecedented playoff success to two different franchises in consecutive years? Or would LeBron James silence critics who doubted that he could dominate the Western Conference the way he dominated the Eastern Conference for years?
The Clippers held a 2-1 advantage in the season series, with all three games decided by 10 points or less.
In their particularly memorable Christmas Day meeting, the Clippers earned a hard-fought 111-106 victory. Patrick Beverley stripping the ball from LeBron in the final seconds and celebrating unabashedly was a sequence that neither fan base will soon forget, and the fierce atmosphere of that game felt like a trailer for a dramatic postseason series to come.
With LeBron at the not-so-tender age of 35 and Anthony Davis not certain to return to the Lakers next season, this may have been the franchise’s last real shot at a championship for the foreseeable future.
Meanwhile, Clippers fans who were hoping to see their team break through after so many years of disappointment will have to wait a little longer as well.
There are obviously things at stake right now more important than the Rookie of the Year award and bragging rights among LA franchises. That said, if these two narratives from the 2019-20 NBA season can play out, how they end will have lasting impacts on several players’ legacies.
Hopefully, a safe way to resume the season will be determined, salvaging these storylines and displaying the league’s resilience in what has been a trying year for the NBA.
Ethan Moutes covers women’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].