🏀 Good morning! With the 2019-20 NBA campaign set to tip-off this evening, I've put together a full season preview for ya.
Question: What do people who don't watch sports do with their lives?! I seriously don't understand.
Today's word count: 1,385 words (5 minutes).
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios
Unicorns have roamed NBA pastures for years, transforming the sport of basketball with their unique blend of size, skill and athleticism.
The intrigue: These generational big men have started to come of age, graduating from "he's going to be an MVP candidate one day" to, well, MVP candidates.
By the numbers: In 2015-16, there were zero players 6-feet-10-inches or taller who were used as the ball handler in the pick-and-roll at least 200 times. By 2017-18, there were 3 (Antetokounmpo, Simmons, Kevin Durant).
The big picture: The rise of the unicorn is about far more than the talents of those individuals. Their versatility has changed the rules of the game, allowing teams to play "small-ball" with a slew of big men.
The bottom line: The "Unicorn Era" has been defined by the players listed above, but it's ultimately a reimagining of what's possible for all players (and not just in the NBA) — a renewed sense of creativity in a sport that suddenly feels boundless.
Go deeper: Conference imbalance could haunt the West this season (SB Nation)
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios
It's been 8 years since a team other than the Warriors or Spurs won the Western Conference. That's bound to change this season, and 2 of the teams that will be battling for supremacy play in the same city.
The Lakers: It's James, Davis and … an assortment of role players (unless Kyle Kuzma makes a leap).
The Clippers: While the Lakers were forced to blow up their roster to acquire Davis, the Clippers were able to acquire Kawhi Leonard and Paul George while keeping much of their roster intact.
The big picture: While title contenders are only just now returning to the City of Angels, it's been the center of the NBA universe for a while now.
In an attempt to predict the upcoming season's best players, Axios, TrueHoop and machine learning experts, Harrison Chase and Anthony Liu, have partnered to present the "2020 BPM projections."
How it works: Chase and Liu built smart models to predict a player's Box Plus-Minus (BPM) — similar to Real Plus-Minus — for the upcoming season.
The results: Above are the top 20 projected players for the 2019-20 season based on Chase and Liu's model.
Go deeper: We made a table with BPM projections for every single player in the NBA because we love you. Explore it.
In many ways, defense is the last true eye test in basketball. Sure, there are a handful of metrics that exist, but none of them tell the full story.
Why it matters: I've been thinking about this a lot, and I'm fairly confident that a solid understanding of who can guard and who can't is the biggest edge in all of sports betting.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
The NBA is bracing for a wave of pro-Hong Kong protests during the opening week of its season thanks to the league's showdown with China over free speech, writes Axios' Marisa Fernandez.
The big picture: "[T]here's no one or good solution for the NBA," writes The Ringer's John Gonzalez.
The bottom line: If the protests are widespread or visible, it could force Chinese censors to black out games.
Answer at the bottom.
By spurning the Lakers for the Clippers, Kawhi Leonard brought parity to the NBA — and left the league without a bona fide "Big 3" for the first time since Kevin Garnett joined Paul Pierce and Ray Allen in Boston 12 years ago.
The bottom line: "If there was ever a time for 'NBA Jam' to be recreated for all of us to have a reason to rush to the arcade, it would be now," writes SI's Khadrice Rollins.
The NBA's underlying issue with sleep deprivation (Baxter Holmes, ESPN)
"Some in the league ... have begun to suspect that the toll extracted by the NBA grind — ... the circadian disruptions, the six to eight months of travel across time zones — is not fully appreciated. Some of those specialists have begun compiling data. And that data suggests that sleep deprivation is the NBA's silent scourge."
The death of long-term planning in the NBA (Michael Pina, SB Nation)
"Some teams that used to project six, seven, eight years down the road no longer try. Three, four, five-year forecasts are standard endeavors, but even with guaranteed rookie-scale contracts as long as they are, long-term plans have become a dead sprint into the abyss."
Eat, pray, Kevin Love (Alex Wong, NYT)
"Coming off a losing season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Love found what he had been missing: time to travel."
Who you got? Reply in the comments with your picks.
Kendall "Might need to move to L.A." Baker
Trivia answer: John Wall, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis, Anthony Bennett, Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, Deandre Ayton, Zion Williamson