25 non-Warriors reasons to watch the NBA
There’s a lot more to enjoy about this league.
Russell Westbrook has superstar friends again. Westbrook went full Dr. Manhattan last season and was named MVP. It’s going to be fascinating to see how he adjusts to having Paul George and Carmelo Anthony alongside him. George isn’t near the offensive mastermind that Kevin Durant had been, and Carmelo has seemed to acknowledge his powers are waning, so Westbrook should still maintain majority control on that end. But George and Melo provide relief and secondary perimeter attacking points that OKC lacked a bit last season. George’s ace defense will help, too.
BOSSton. If you’re not giddy with anticipation to see what Brad Stevens does with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, something’s wrong. The Whiteboard Jordan helped Isaiah Thomas reach All-NBA status and made a weird, mismatched roster into art. What will he do with high-aesthetic players like dribble-master Irving and a smooth passer and scorer like Hayward? They might not be good enough to beat Cleveland, but it’s going to be fun to see them try.
H-Town. The Rockets, who were awesome last season, went and pulled Chris Paul out of a hat. CP3’s arrival will shift James Harden back to two-guard and give Houston one of the most powerful backcourt attacks in decades. Paul is known as a bit of an on-court control freak, whereas Harden is more a free spirit. Watching them feel each other out and find ways to maximize their abilities should be fascinating.
The Conscience Of The NBA. Gregg Popovich isn’t shutting up, and thank goodness. He offered a sermon on media day, and we can expect him to wax philosophical throughout the season. When has a coach’s media availability ever been appointment television? (Since we haven’t mentioned him yet, let’s throw a nod to Kawhi Leonard here. A masterful player who is completely mind-blowing to watch in action.)
You Must Be Yoking. Nikola Jokic was a revelation last season, and he’ll have the reins in Denver from Day 1 in 2017-18. With Gary Harris and Jamal Murray developing and a new co-star in Paul Millsap up front, it should only get prettier from here.
No More CP3s in L.A. The Chris Paul era in Los Angeles ended rather abruptly, meaning Blake Griffin is back in charge. The good news is that Griffin, when healthy, is a preternaturally gifted creator with the ball who should be able to keep feeding DeAndre Jordan lobs and open shooters clean looks. The bad news is that the best non-Warrior shooter in the business, J.J. Redick, is gone, too. But an unlocked, mature Griffin should be glorious to behold in any case.
Zo-Time. Let’s stay in L.A. for a minute and hang out with Lonzo Ball. Skepticism is understood: His jumper form is, uh, interesting and his pops is a menace to airwaves. We don’t know whether he’ll ever be an All-Star. But he will be fun. This is guaranteed. No one who watched his work at UCLA last season, or paid attention to Vegas Summer League, can deny this. If the Lakers cannot yet be good, at least perhaps they can be entertaining.
Milos Fever. Milos Teodosic, perhaps the most creative passer in Europe over the past several years, joined the Clippers this summer. It remains to be seen how much he’ll play given his defensive shortcomings and expected heavy roles for Patrick Beverley and Austin Rivers. But with a big target like Jordan running the floor, this could be a highlight reel in the making.
The Next Evolution of Giannis Antetokounmpo. Last season, Giannis really put everything together. He became an All-Star and perhaps the second- or third-best player in the Eastern Conference. (Once Jimmy Butler moved west, Giannis claimed that No. 2 spot.) He’s 22 years old. He’s nowhere near maximizing his potential. Giannis has become one of those players where you need to know if he’s playing any given night so you can be prepared to switch over on League Pass.
Stan Van Gundy Meltdown Watch. Something gnarly happened in Detroit last year. The Pistons were disappointing in total, but Van Gundy’s particular moves — paying Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond, specifically — didn’t work out. If Detroit starts slow again, Van Gundy might flip into IDGAF mode as he did in his waning days in Orlando. While that’d be painful for Pistons fans, a mad Van Gundy is always a delight for neutral observers.
ROOKIES! We mentioned Lonzo already, but heavens there are some incredible first-year prospects in the pipeline. Among just the point guards we have Ball, Markelle Fultz, De’Aaron Fox, Dennis Smith Jr., and Frank Ntilikina. Jayson Tatum, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Lauri Markkanen looked awesome this summer. Josh Jackson, Jonathan Isaac, and Donovan Mitchell have high fun quotients. And let’s not even get into Kyle Kuzma ...
Keep Calm Like Porzingis. Having moved on from Phil Jackson and Carmelo Anthony for different reasons, the Knicks can finally commit to slowly building around Kristaps Porzingis. That’s a shift, and it will be interesting to see how Porzingis steps into the void. We still don’t know whether he’s a future All-Star or he’s a future Best Center in the League. This season will offer guidance.
Paul George has a superstar friend for the first time ever. Remember that PG-13 had the Pacers very competitive during the Heatles era with George Hill, Roy Hibbert, David West, and Lance Stephenson as his co-stars. Those were all plus players, and Indiana made its mark on defense, where the supporting cast excelled. But we have not seen George play with an All-Star caliber scorer outside of the weird Indy overlap with Danny Granger. Going from Jeff Teague to Russell Westbrook should be life-changing for PG-13.
LeBron. I mean, that’s really all that needs to be said. If LeBron is playing basketball, you should be watching.
Peanut Butter and Jelly. LeBron lost Kyrie Irving, but he got reinforcements, too: Dwyane Wade signed with Cleveland in the middle of training camp after getting sprung from the Bulls. And their reunion is every bit as glorious from a Banana Boat perspective as you’d imagine! (The basketball perspective? We’ll wait and see.)
New Heatles. One of the most disappointing moments of the 2016-17 season was when the Miami Heat fell just a game short of making the playoffs after an incredible mid-season turnaround. Well, they are back. The front office retained the roster to great expense and added Kelly Olynyk. If they start the season like they finished the last one, the East had better watch out.
Kemba Walker. The Hornets’ watchability is directly correlated to how much Kemba is feeling himself in any given moment.
The John Wall-Brad Beal Encore. The Wizards hit their stride last year thanks to health and camaraderie. Wall is deeply underrated as a passer and attacker; everyone knows Beal can shoot and scoot to the rim. The dual attack is really something.
Guards Galore! Speaking of which: The East is relatively weak compared to the West, especially at the team level. But holy smoke the East has some fantastic guards, from Kyrie and Isaiah Thomas to Kemba, Wall, Beal, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Goran Dragic. If you like guard play, those early East games usually have something for you. (Just don’t watch the Knicks, Pacers, or Bulls.)
Isaiah Thomas might explode into flames. It’s a scientific fact: every time someone in a position of power doubts Isaiah, he gets stronger. That’s why he was so successful entering the league as the No. 60 pick. That’s why he became a 20-point scorer after coming off the bench behind Jimmer Fredette. That’s why he became an All-Star in Boston after the Suns pawned him off. And that’s why he’ll drop 50 in a game for Cleveland after Boston traded him. Provided his hip doesn’t keep him off the court too long, he’s going to be a maniac this season.
Boogie And The Brow. DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis were thrown together with the Pelicans already in peril of missing the playoffs last year. Now they have a training camp together, plus Jrue Holiday and Boogie-whisperer Rajon Rondo in the backcourt. The Pels remain desperate for shooting, but the whole roster and organization is desperate enough to win — Davis and Cousins for their reputations, Alvin Gentry and Dell Demps for their jobs — that something magical is possible. And if something magical does not happen and the Pels disappoint ... well, that will be its own kind of magic, won’t it?
Blaze On. Portland didn’t solve its major roster problems in the summer (hello Evan Turner), but Damian Lillard continues to set a high bar, C.J. McCollum continues to impress, and Jusuf Nurkic looks to be in shape and healthy in the preseason. I dare say the Blazers will be shockingly fun this year.
The Pack Survives. For the first time in more than a decade, the Timberwolves are going to be straight-up good. Adding Tom Thibodeau to a team led by Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins didn’t do the trick a year ago. Adding Jimmy Butler? That’ll do it. The Wolves’ Thibsian style of play may not be too aesthetically pleasing to the masses, but watching the growth of a future MVP like Towns, a manageable role for Wiggins, and a happy environment for Butler — that should be joyous in its own right. Minnesotans have suffered long enough. Go get ‘em, Wolves.
Brotherly Love. Perhaps the most intriguing, endearing, and exciting team to watch early this season will be the Philadelphia 76ers. They have two Rookie of the Year candidates, the two runners-up for Rookie of the Year last year, J.J. Redick, assorted other fun youngsters, and a coach with the most inexplicable accent in the nation. Most of all, they have Joel Hans Embiid, a damn good player molded for internet godliness. He’s funny, he’s brash, he’s completely self-aware. And we just might get more than 1,000 minutes of him on the court this season. It’s Embiid’s time. Treasure every second.
Revenge LeBron. Look, Kyrie requested a trade while playing under LeBron’s tutelage. Kyrie’s Cavaliers were winning 30 games a year before LeBron came back. And this is the thanks LeBron gets? Dude’s going to be mad when the Cavaliers line up across from the Celtics on opening night. Mad mad mad mad mad.
The Golden State Warriors are overwhelming favorites to win the 2018 NBA championship. The Warriors almost swept through the playoffs last year, and they arguably improved in the offseason. Meanwhile, we aren’t yet sure how much their top challengers improved.
Enough to truly test Golden State? Probably not.
Enough to make the season compelling? Absolutely.
In objection to the binary nature of sports commentary, we are going to completely ignore the Warriors in this preview piece, instead focusing on the 25 reasons you should be excited about the new NBA season even though the Warriors are going to win the title.
This is now a Warriors-free zone.