Who is the Comeback Player of the Year?

While there may be no official “Comeback Player of the Year” award, there are contenders who are returning for the 2020-2021 NBA season who could make their presence felt again with a strong showing this season. As we preview the season, we take a look at four players in the running for the hypothetical Comeback Player of the Year award. 

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Steph Curry

It has only been a little over a year since the three-time champion, Golden State Warriors, were in the NBA Finals. After season-ending injuries to their stars in the 2019 season, a portion of their band is back for a retooled season where they will look to integrate new acquisitions such as Andrew Wiggins, Kelly Oubre, and James Wiseman. Draymond Green might not play at a championship-level again, but prime Steph Curry is finally unleashed being the perennial superstar in the Bay Area. 

Coming off a lost season and a broken hand, the two-time MVP will look to bring the Warriors back into Playoff contention this season. Curry will be fresh for this year after not playing an NBA game in 290 days. At age 32, he is still in the prime of his career with his scoring and movement, both with and without the ball. Many people forget that Curry is still the only unanimous MVP of the league and did it before the Hamptons 5 era of the Warriors. He can still put up 30 points at will and is still an efficient shooter on high volume—both realistic numbers for an All-Star berth this season.

The only question that surrounds him is whether or not he can carry a retooled Warriors roster into the Playoffs. The job of rebuilding the championship culture falls on Curry and Coach Steve Kerr, especially now that the small-ball era may be coming to an end. It will be up to Curry to prove that he is still the number one point guard in the league today.

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Kevin Durant

The two-time Finals MVP lands in Brooklyn with Kyrie Irving for a fresh start and perhaps the final chapter of his decorated career. KD’s tenure in Golden State ended roughly with a torn achilles in the NBA Finals, but a superstar of his caliber was still too hard to pass up on for the Nets, even with the risk of his injury.

The Slim Reaper will be 32 years old, entering his 13th season in the league, but the seven-foot sharpshooter is blessed with a playing style that does not solely rely on speed and explosiveness to excel. He’s an unstoppable offensive force, pulling up over opponents all over the court. Even with his injury, Durant is still a generational talent with his physical tools and intangibles.

We have already seen evidence in the preseason that Durant has confidence in his legs. His shot-making and mobility are still there. It will definitely be interesting how the Nets’ dynamic will be together with Kyrie, given that the team will likely limit his minutes to keep him healthy when the Playoffs roll around. KD is still easily 25-point scorer and his stint in Golden State has proven that he’s a consistent shot-blocker and defender as he enters his 30s in the league. 

Do not put it past the former MVP though to reach his peak again in his first game in 14 months. In a Brooklyn Nets team that has championship aspirations, a fully healthy Durant could be the wildcard for them to come out of the East this year.

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John Wall

The former Washington Wizards superstar will enter the 2020-21 season with a Houston Rockets team looking for an identity. Wall will play in his first NBA game since December 26, 2018, after a bone spur and a torn achilles tendon that kept him out of the past two seasons. The former All-Star has looked lively during the preseason, scoring double-digits in two outings for Houston. Wall has been cleared to play since March but was ultimately held out of the Bubble. He will be raring to go on December 23.

Wall was a five-time All-Star that was known for his explosiveness and speed before his injuries. It is reported that he has developed a three-point shot to his game and could rely more on his playmaking to be valuable this season. If he can showcase at least 70% of his impact pre-injury, that may be a good return from his first year since his injuries. The explosive John Wall may be in the past now, but a more mature and experienced Wall could be a storyline to watch this season.

It will be interesting how the new Rockets head coach, Stephen Silas, will handle this roster given the uncertainty of James Harden and the injury history of both Wall and DeMarcus Cousins. This version of the Rockets has a high ceiling but is a very different look after the “Moreyball” era. Whether or not there will be a roster shakeup, how Wall will fit alongside Cousins, Harden, and Christian Wood will be interesting. Houston could be a fresh start to the career of Wall and this season could be a springboard for him to become one of the stars in the league again.

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Victor Oladipo

Glimpses of Victor Oladipo were seen in the Orlando bubble, but the Pacers would want their superstar to find his confidence entering the new year. Oladipo missed one year due to a ruptured quadriceps tendon and returned during the NBA restart averaging 13 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 2.9 assists a game on 39.4%. He has had a slow start to the preseason as well and the Pacers management will take it day-to-day on whether they will allow Oladipo to play on back-to-backs. Indiana has adjusted without Oladipo, allowing Malcolm Brogdon, Jeremy Lamb, and T.J. Warren to take bigger roles in the team. They look like a solid Playoff team even without their All-Star. But as shown in their first-round series versus the Miami Heat, they will need their captain at 100% to be in contention.

Oladipo is approaching the final year of his four-year contract this season. The Pacers could potentially find suitors for him in the trade market as they might not be willing to risk a long-term contract with an injury-riddled star. The market will be there for Oladipo especially for teams willing to find a supporting superstar to put them over the top. He certainly has the talent to be a key piece with any team, as shown by his two All-Star appearances. However, he will have to prove he is capable of playing at a high level again this year. The former MIP still has the motor and fluidity in his game post-injury though it is evident that his drives to the rim and confidence in his jumper are lacking thus far. 

The hometown hero is having a rough spell post-injury with the Pacers. If he can integrate himself back into the team as he gets more game time, we may soon see the rust wear off. Fans have seen what he is capable of when healthy and will hope to see that intensity again if the Pacers are to make noise this season.