A refresher on everything you missed before All-Star Weekend
Now that we’ve finally washed the lingering stench of professional football off of us following the conclusion of the 2020 Super Bowl, it’s time we get right back into the thick of things.
In case you were unaware, the National Basketball Association (NBA) is about half-way through their 74th regular reason, and let me tell you, it’s been a (space) jam packed one to say the least.
As we prepare for the All-Star Weekend in Chicago, I think a brisk and bearable jaunt through the happenings and goings-on of the season so far will catch everyone up to speed.
To start our little excursion, let’s look back at what made the anticipation for this season to begin so palpable. The NBA had one of its biggest and most meaningful free agency periods in history this past summer.
Household(ish) names like Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins, Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker all switched teams. Even Kawhi Leonard jumped ship to the Los Angeles Clippers after bringing a championship to the Toronto Raptors.
Before the season began, the two Los Angeles teams were the favorites for making it to the finals to represent the Western Conference. Conversely, speculation on who the Eastern Conference’s champion would be was narrowed down to the Philadelphia 76ers and the Milwaukee Bucks.
As of today, the Lakers and the Bucks lead their conferences respectively. While the NBA is probably not predetermined, each passing victory from each team is making their eventual showdown for the title more and more likely.
Speaking of old, this season has also been uncharacteristically characterized by the reemergence of former stars returning for one last go around.
Derrick Rose, Most Valuable Player of the 2010-11 season, has averaged almost 19 points a game for the Detroit Pistons.
Much like Rose, Carmelo Anthony was another former star who was decidedly written off from ever returning to league form. Anthony bounced around the league to a few teams since his time headlining Madison Square Garden as a member of the New York Knicks, but he found a home in Portland this season.
As a member of the Trailblazers, the 2013 scoring champion has posted 16 points and seven rebounds in an average of about 33 minutes per game.
Rose and Anthony used to be the faces of their franchises, but now they’ve taken on the lofty but crucial role of being the locker room’s leader.
Alright, we’ve talked about the guys who are old and established. What about the future? Look no further than the second and third picks of last year’s draft.
Luka Doncic and Trae Young have been lighting up the scoreboard and stat sheet with their astonishing performances this season.
Young has averaged 29 points a game. That’s good enough for fourth best in the league. His counterpart, Doncic, has had an MVP caliber season averaging 29 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.
To go along with his gaudy and eye popping numbers, he’s dragged the Dallas Mavericks to legitimate playoff team status.
While Young and his Atlanta Hawks can’t say the same, both second year players have proved why they were chosen so high and even gone above what was initially expected of them.
Alright, we’ve talked about the old and young guys showing out this season, but what about the REALLY young guys. I’m talking once in a generation talent, Zion Williamson.
Well, things haven’t been great. When he’s been healthy on the court, the guy has demonstrated the physical dominance and explosiveness he has over other players. But that’s just the thing. He hasn’t been consistently healthy.
On Jan. 22, he made his debut against the San Antonio Spurs. That’s exactly three months deep into the six month season. Williamson tore his meniscus during the preseason.
However, in this case, the positives definitely outweigh the negatives. So if Williamson’s not the likely Rookie of the Year, who is? Look no further than the guy selected right after him in the 2019 NBA Draft, Ja Morant.
Morant has led the Memphis Grizzlies to around a .500 record and surprise playoff standing. Averaging 17 points a game may not seem like a lot, but no other rookie has taken over their team like Morant has. Without him, Memphis wouldn’t be anywhere close to the top eight spots of the Western Conference.
So we’ve covered the old and the new, so what’s left? Oh yeah, the “not at all.”
Players like Durant and Klay Thompson have been out with injuries, and other known stars like Stephen Curry and Victor Oladipo have only played a handful of games.
Some eagle-eyed readers may have noticed two players from the Golden State Warriors on that list. Their dominant and almost tyrannical rule has temporarily expired.
Instead of leisurely gliding to another playoff appearance, the Warriors are comfortably getting bodied by the rest of the league.
If you haven’t been watching or paying attention to the NBA for the last three months, the Warriors’ momentary spiral to the bottom of the Western Conference may come as a surprise to you, but don’t fret my friends. When they win the draft lottery and receive the first overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, they’ll be right back in tip top shape.
So what have we learned today? We learned that the Lakers and Bucks dominated the first half of the season, old guys still got game and young guys similarly have game; they’re just slightly better.
Now that we’ve got that settled, what can we expect from the rest of the season? We can look forward to the All-Star game itself where we’ll see Young, Doncic and seven other first time All-Stars. We can look forward to potentially the most competitive playoff matchups we’ve seen in some time. However, most of all, we can look forward to LeBron in the Finals and my Washington Wizards continuing their residential stay in mediocre limbo.
~Matthew Morhiser, Staff Writer~