Every year the NBA provides us with more than just thrills on the hardwood for 48 minutes. Drama, signings and trades during the preseason give us an idea of what to expect come opening night and beyond. The season unfolds and new stories immerge; some teams do better than expected, some not so much. New players make their mark upon the NBA landscape, some falter in the spotlight. Here are what I think are the top five NBA stories this season so far.
The Golden State Warriors
Who blew a 3-1 lead in the finals? If you don’t know that by now then this must be your first time encountering the NBA. After going 73-9 the previous season, breaking the 1996 Chicago Bulls for the most regular season wins in NBA history AND getting the league’s first unanimous MVP, playerthe Golden State warriors famously threw away the title to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. So how do you do improve the best regular season team in NBA history? Only go and get another playersin the league.
Kevin Durant left the team that drafted him after losing to Golden State (blowing a 3-1 series in the process) and joined forces with Curry, Klay and Draymond to form the most talented ‘Big Four’ in NBA history. Although they have already lost as many games as they did last year with 24 games remaining nobody worth anything cares about that right now. It’s all about getting to the Finals and redeeming themselves after last year’s collapse. Has this lone regular season been enough for the Warriors to sufficiently gel to get them all the way? Grab your popcorn and put your feet up, we’re in for one wild ride.
Russell Westbrook and James Harden vs. The World
Oklahoma City fans must really think they’re cursed. Just a few years ago they had a very talented, young core set for greatness composed of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. After losing a competitive finals series in 2012 with the average age of their stars under 23 the future looked immensely bright. Five years later? Harden was traded to the Rockets and Durant has left to play in San Francisco. Only Russell Westbrook remains and it appears that he’s venting his wrath upon the entire league.
Westbrook is averaging a triple double. I’ll say it again; Westbrook is averaging a triple double. Most players would count getting a triple double as one of their best games in their career. Russ gets one nearly every other night. So far he’s at 29 in 59 games whilst also leading the league in scoring, and his team is currently playoff bound. The man is a monster determined to rewrite the history books and his main competition for the MVP used to be on same team as him.
The 2015/16 NBA season must have been very frustrating for James Harden. After averaging 29 points per game and making the playoffs he was omitted from every All-NBA team. What were they thinking? Harden seems to have taken that to heart though, since he’s now leading the league in assists AND averaging 28.9 points AND 8.1 rebounds AND leading his Rockets to the 3rd seed in the Western Conference.
James Harden for me is the MVP thus far. With the addition of Mike D’Antoni as head coach these two have worked wonders together. D’Antoni brilliantly moved Harden to point guard and the Beard has been taking full advantage. Surrounded by the new additions of Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, Harden has a huge amount of space to drive and either finish at the rim or find a teammate for a wide open three. The Rockets are the highest scoring team in the NBA and currently also lead the league in made three-pointers a game at a record-setting 14.7 a game. Harden is also second behind Westbrook with 15 triple doubles and has two 50 point triple doubles to his name this season. These two guards are making it look easy to the point where a triple double for them it isn’t even an achievement anymore. That’s when you know you have something special and the showdown for the MVP will be one for the ages.
When you think of the model for building an NBA player there is usually one physical characteristic required above all else; height. With the average NBA player listed at 6 ft 7 in, being head and shoulders above the rest of the world is seen as a prerequisite. However, occasionally someone comes along and throws that mould completely out the Window. Isiah Thomas, Allen Iverson and recently Chris Paul have become household names when it comes to little guys battling with the bigs. This season, however, has seen the rise of another star looking to personify the phrase “heart over height.”
His name is Isaiah Thomas.
After Stints in Sacramento and Phoenix, the 5 ft 9 in Thomas found himself in Boston where the city has come to adore him. Thomas is second in the league in scoring at 29.7 points per game and has lead Boston to the second-best record in the East behind the Cavaliers. Not only this but Isaiah Thomas is the best 4th quarter scorer this season with a league-leading 182 points scored in money time. His diminutive statue belies his grit and determination to win and succeed. He has electrified the Boston garden night after night and has deservedly put himself right there in the MVP conversation. Can he the Celtics challenge LeBron and Cleveland this offseason? Their fate rests very much on Isaiah’s small shoulders.
The New York Knicks
Before the start of the season, every team is ranked according to what moves they made during the offseason and how good they look on paper for the coming 82 games. Teams are ranked and guesses are made as to how successful they’ll be. Usually, the order in which teams are placed is pretty close to the end result with a few variances. However there is usually one team which sticks out for a bad reason. This year again it’s the New York Knicks.
After making two blockbuster moves acquiring the youngest MVP in league history Derrick Rose along with his teammate Joakim Noah, a former defensive player of the year, the Knicks looked like they were to be taken seriously again. With the pairing of those two former Bulls with Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis along with the additions Courtney Lee and Brandon Jennings New York sort to bring success back to Madison Square Garden.
This alas has not been the case. As of now they stand at 24-35 and don’t look like improving enough to make the playoffs. Even with this below par play it’s the off-court antics that have grabbed headlines this year, and for all the wrong reasons. Derrick Rose left the team without permission prompting rumours he had given up all together. Knicks fans constantly booed their team when, in their eyes, they didn’t play well enough. Carmelo Anthony was constantly scapegoated for the Knicks problems, prompting numerous distracting trade rumours. Then you had the whole incident with Charles Oakley being thrown out of the Garden for his dispute with owner Mike Dolan. Phil Jackson along with Dolan have created a very toxic culture in a city where the pressure to play well was incredibly high. Draymond Green even went as far as saying that Dolan had “a slave master’s mentality” when it came to Knicks players.
The whole culture and aura of the Knicks has never been lower and like most of these sorts of situations, it starts from ownership and management, then trickles down to the players.
The San Antonio Spurs
Why have you put the Spurs in you may ask? They win every year, they’re just boring. Well you said it, they win…every single year. Yet again Gregg Popovich shows that he is the greatest NBA coach of all time. His consistent excellence is worthy of note every single year due to its impressiveness. The Spurs under Popovich are on schedule to yet again win 50 games this season. They’ve been title contenders for nearly the past two decades. Even this year, their first without Tim Duncan they look ready for a deep playoff run. This unprecedented level of success should be getting far more praise that it is. The Spurs haven’t recorded a season where they’ve lost under 60% of their games in the past two decades. This is just unreal.
The Spurs constantly show that unselfish teamwork on offence combined with effort and intelligence on defence lead to team success. They are the model from which every other NBA team should look to for guidance. They’ve been to the Playoffs every year for the past 19, made the finals six times and won five titles. In my opinion, the league has just got bored with San Antonio’s mastery of basketball, but not me. I’ll always give them due credit when they continue to prove that they are the best team in sports.
All stats unless otherwise stated from basketballreference.com