Oh baby! Despite being surrounded by midterms and problem sets, this a unique time of year where all sports fans can rejoice—all four major sports are happening concurrently.
While each are exciting in their own right, to no surprise, my personal bias is to the opening days of this brand new NBA season. With an offseason full of big name moves, we can finally move past pre-season teasers and settle into the new 82-game stretch of the 2016–2017 season.
Only a few games in, and already the season has not disappointed.
Pelicans power forward Anthony Davis becomes the first player ever to drop 50 points, at least 15 rebounds, five assists, and five steals in a single game. His rebound, assist, steal, and block numbers were matched by only Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon in his ‘86-’87 season.
Milwaukee guard Giannis Antetokounmpo becomes the second Buck to notch at least 30 points, five boards, and five assists, joining the ranks of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
The ‘Sixers’ Joel Embiid even put up an efficient 20 points in only 22 minutes played. Talk about trusting “the process!”
This is a season of young studs. As names like Kobe Byant, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Garnett take their place among the legends, the NBA enters a transitional period when raw talent will mature into the greats of tomorrow.
As there is far too more to cover about the upcoming season than can be fit into a single article, I am going to give a somewhat scatterbrained projection of a few of my thoughts. To start, there is a conversation concerning strategic lineup maneuvering in today’s NBA. Last season, we saw the acceptance and success a small-ball lineup can provide. Spacing the floor, stretching defenders, increased transitional capability are all definite perks of the Golden State trademarked small-ball offense. But as I’ve said since it came around, all an opposing team needs to do is work in a big man who’s talented enough to match-up with a smaller and quicker player. These players are by no means common, but they definitely exist and are getting better by the day.
For example, take Minnesota’s Karl Anthony-Towns (KAT). At 7’0” with guard-like handles and quick feet, KAT will be able to hang with anybody. The leaner, more flexible big man has emerged as an increasingly crucial commodity for the Timberwolves. It will be interesting to see how the small-ball strategy will fare as more teams develop their centers to be able to guard the perimeter and even become long range threats themselves.
Beyond merely the effect on lineup strategy, this player type has the ability to put up some serious numbers. The long and agile body type of players like KAT, New York’s Kristaps Porzingis, or Antetokounmpo allow them to reach across statistical categories in ways we have not seen in some time. There is a real possibility of even witnessing a quadruple double from any of these talented young athletes.
It is obviously quite early to speculate about MVP candidates, but the prediction game is always entertaining. It isn’t likely that Curry will match his unreal stats from the previous two seasons, especially with the addition of the Slim Reaper, Kevin Durant. LeBron James is always a consideration, but with the talent he has around him and his difficult task to beat baseline of stats from previous seasons, I’m going to give the edge to other players.
My number one choice is San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard. Finishing second in MVP voting this past season and earning the title of Defensive Player of the Year, Leonard is easily the best two-way player in the game. His stat line and shooting percentages have done nothing but increase, and now with Duncan gone and a superb supporting cast, the small forward will be able to step into an increased leadership role.
Other notable considerations are Towns, and Davis. If he can stay healthy, Davis is easily a threat for the MVP title with his ability to do everything on the court. And lastly, Portland’s Damian Lillard, who is primed for a huge year at the point guard position.
The season has just begun, but it is already looking like one to be full of action, broken records, and young talent. The power balance in the NBA has started to shift and all we can do is enjoy the transition.