Those who do not follow the NBA seem to view it through some nostalgia-filled goggles. Much like Adam Sandler’s comedic chops, they are stuck in the nineties. Mostly everyone has an opinion on who the Greatest of All Time Is (Jordan), when the game was at its best (the 1990s), and the greatest team of all time (‘96 Bulls?). In some way, this season is challenging all three of these assumptions. So if you’re most recent memory of the NBA is the Chicago Bulls’ Opening Lineup Theme, here’s an update on two of the most important stories so far.
The Youth Movement
This season has seen many rising stars realise their potential. Perhaps the best case of this is Giannis Antetokounmpo, or “The Greek Freak.” Antetokounmpo, the star of the Milwaukee Bucks, challenges many conceptions surrounding basketball. Even though he is listed as a small forward, the 6’11 slasher moonlights as a Point Guard. This presents some obvious matchup problems for his opponents, as most point guards are at least five inches shorter. The twenty-two year old Greek Freak has put up some pretty freakish numbers, averaging 23.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 5.6 assists — all career highs.
Here’s just a tiny glimpse of some of the things he can do:
(Also, hearing different announcers struggle with pronouncing Antetokounmpo is pretty damn entertaining).
A close second – and perhaps more promising – rising star is Philadelphia big man Joel “The Process” Embiid. His nickname comes from former General Manager Sam Hinkle’s rebuilding strategy that involved losing a lot in order to build assets in the form of draft picks, which would then hopefully be turned into perennial franchise players. Embiid has been sidelined for two years, riddled with injuries that left many fans worried. But the 7’0 giant has put all those worries to rest this year, averaging 20 points in less than 25 minutes a game. His productivity, accompanied by a surprisingly efficient three point shot, gives him all the skills to potentially blossom into one of the greatest of all time.
Plus, he does a mean Triple H impression.
The MVP Race
The Most Valuable Player award is the most coveted prize outside of a championship ring. But what makes a MVP a MVP? Does the MVP have to come from a winning team? What does “Most Valuable” even mean? The jury is still out on all these questions — but here are the two frontrunners for the award this year.
If you are not sure about the NBA – but you are very sure about your love of beards – I have your favourite player. Houston Rockets’ James Harden. His facial hair game is about as on point as his basketball handles. Harden’s true position is Shooting Guard. As the name suggests, the Shooting Guard typically shoots. A lot. But The Beard has transformed into a Point Guard this year, showing off his passing skills, all the while keeping his ability to put the ball into the basket. Harden’s averaging 29 points a game and 11 assists, leading the Rockets to a potential third seed in the NBA playoffs.
Here’s a glimpse of what he’s been doing this year.
The leading candidate is Oklahoma City Thunder Point Guard Russell Westbrook. Westbrook is doing the unthinkable – averaging a triple double (averaging more than ten points, ten assists, and ten rebounds per game.) The last – and only – person to do this was Oscar Robertson in 1961. Robertson’s feat is legendary, but Westbrook’s is perhaps even more impressive given how different the league is now (and how much more parity there is). Westbrook is playing with a grudge – his former teammate and superstar Kevin Durant left the Thunder in order to join the Golden State Warriors – who already has the best roster in the league. Westbrook wants to show the world that he could be the superstar that leads the Thunder to a championship, even without his former teammate.
Unless something truly crazy happens, this years’ championship match is virtually set in stone. It’ll a rematch of last year, the Lebron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers vs. the Superteam of the Golden State Warriors. But that doesn’t mean there are plenty of other reasons to watch the NBA this year. Tune in.