For NBA rookies, the beginning of the 2020-21 season was vastly completely different than prior to now.
The COVID-19 pandemic had triggered the 2019-20 season to be placed on short-term hiatus, and the league finally resumed play within the bubble in Orlando, FL. The bubble performed out lengthy into October and in consequence, the 2020 NBA draft was pushed into November with summer time league being canceled altogether.
The Las Vegas summer time league is normally step one for NBA rookies to get their ft moist and present that they could be able to contributing on the subsequent stage. It’s their first style of what it means to be within the NBA.
However with the draft being held in November and the 2020-21 season beginning proper up in December, the category of 2020 didn’t get that chance. The league had an abbreviated coaching camp and preseason, so that they didn’t even actually get the possibility to be eased into the NBA recreation. They have been primarily thrown to fireside from the get-go.
A type of gamers was Charlotte Hornets middle Nick Richards. After a stellar three seasons at Kentucky during which he was named to the All-SEC First Crew after his junior 12 months, Richards declared for the 2020 NBA draft. He was taken within the second spherical at No. 42 by the New Orleans Pelicans and instantly traded to the Hornets.
Richards suited up for the Hornets summer time league workforce this 12 months as one of many ‘veteran’ guys alongside the workforce’s new rookies and roster hopefuls. Whereas he admits that he was trying ahead to summer time league as a rookie, he loved with the ability to expertise it this summer time.
“It’s one thing that I believe numerous us final 12 months have been hoping to expertise. Guys are coming on this 12 months and we’re simply having enjoyable with it,” Richards advised Basketball Insiders. “We’re simply attempting to find out about ourselves, be taught the system, the entire complete group. We’re attempting to discover ways to play basketball.”
Adjusting to the NBA recreation and having to be taught their workforce’s system will be one of the vital difficult issues for an NBA rookie. Many gamers are used to being the go-to man in school and a few way back to highschool. Lots of them are used to taking part in nearly all of the sport and getting common and constant taking part in time.
It will possibly additionally take time to get used to the nightly grind of an 82 recreation season. Many gamers are used to solely 30 video games or so in a school season. Lots of them want time to regulate to the wear and tear and tear and the physicality of the NBA recreation
It will possibly take some time, and a few humbling of the ego, for younger gamers to determine the NBA hierarchy. Not having summer time league and never having a full coaching camp and preseason could make that job all of the harder. Taking all of that in was one thing that Richards needed to do as he realized to regulate on the fly.
“I needed to discover ways to gradual the sport down, it’s fairly fast-paced from school to the NBA,” Richards mentioned. “The NBA enterprise is much more technical, much more detailed. There’s much more issues you need to actually be targeted on and locked in on as a way to play.”
And for Richards, taking part in time was one thing that was onerous to return by. To start out the season, he was behind veterans Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo within the frontcourt. All through the season, he suited up solely 18 occasions in 3.5 minutes per recreation. His season averages got here out to 0.8 factors per recreation and 0.6 rebounds.
However Richards would finally get his probability, not with the Hornets straight away, however with their G League affiliate the Greensboro Swarm. The G League had additionally been affected by the pandemic and after they halted operations again in March 2020, they didn’t decide up because the NBA did.
Heading into this season, there have been questions as to if and the way the G League would function, they usually finally settled on holding a bubble of their very own additionally in Orlando. For a lot of rookies and younger gamers, this meant the chance to get dwell reps in precise video games.
Hornets assistant coach Dutch Gaitley, who coached Charlotte’s summer time league workforce in Las Vegas, recalled taking part in one-on-one in apply with Richards and the way that repetition, whereas good, isn’t any actual substitute for dwell recreation reps. He believes that having a real summer time league as effectively may also assist with Richards’ growth.
“It’s large, it’s nice for Nick. He clearly had the bubble however aside from that, he performed in opposition to Vern [Carey] each single day, he performed in opposition to myself and different video guys. It will get boring to play in opposition to these coaches each single day,” Gaitley mentioned. “The primary factor that Nick will have the ability to carry over to get minutes with us is his vitality defensively, defending the rim and operating in transition. As soon as we get extra snug throwing it into the bigs, his worth will skyrocket.
Richards was one of many gamers that the Hornets despatched to the G League bubble with the Swarm, and he ended up being one of the vital impactful gamers. In 9 video games performed, he put up 17.0 factors per recreation on 52 p.c taking pictures from the sector together with 10.3 rebounds and three.0 blocks. He additionally shot 50 p.c from three-point vary. He confirmed precisely the kind of potential that the Hornets noticed in him on draft night time.
He felt prefer it was a very good expertise for him to go on the market and present what he’s able to when getting common minutes.
“Simply to get some video games below my belt, it was fairly enjoyable down there,” Richards mentioned. “Enjoying once more, getting some high quality minutes and with the ability to run down the ground and eventually present what I used to be engaged on within the offseason.”
Within the bubble, the NBA experimented with a play-in event on the conclusion of the common season as a way to decide the ultimate playoff seeds in every convention. They carried that event over to this season and because the tenth seed within the East, the Hornets discovered themselves vying for the eighth and last playoff spot.
Within the play-in event, the No. 10 seed faces off in opposition to the No. 9 seed whereas the No. 7 seed matches up in opposition to the No. 8 seed. The winner of the No. 7/No. 8 matchup will get the seventh seed. The winner of the No. 9/No. 10 seed squares off in opposition to the loser of the No. 7/No. 8 seed for the ultimate postseason berth.
Sadly for the Hornets, they have been eradicated by the No. 9 seed the Indiana Pacers, however all through the season, the workforce confirmed an unimaginable quantity of development and growth. With an abundance of younger expertise, the Hornets may set up themselves as a playoff contender for years to return.
Richards is hoping he will be part of that development and he’s desperate to get to work for the upcoming season.
“I simply need to play my function and doing regardless of the workforce wants me to do to win,” Richards mentioned. “We’re in that strategy of attempting to be a playoff workforce and I really feel like I can contribute to that.”