This essentially serves as a 2017 NBA preview. I’ll take a look at who I believe the most interesting player will be for all 30 teams in the coming season. They could interesting for any reason, and they may be interesting only to myself. Hopefully, though, you’ll learn a bit about each player and how they will help decide their team’s fate. The regular season starts tonight! Let me help you prepare for it.
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Boston: Kyrie Irving
A mystery is always exciting (Scooby-Doo, Sherlock Holmes, etc.) and Kyrie has become one of the most mysterious players in the NBA. Does he really believe the world is flat? (It turns out, no.) Why did he really want to leave LeBron and the Cavs? Are those things related? Does he actually think he looks better clean shaven? Is he capable of taking a team to the Finals as its lead ball-handler?
That last one is the most important. Gordon Hayward is in Boston now and Al Horford remains, but this will be Irving’s team. He got what he wanted, but he has to prove he hasn’t bitten off more than he can chew. You’ve either seen the numbers or used your own eyes; Irving running the Cavs with LeBron was lackluster at best. Their Offensive Rating dropped four points per 100 possessions and the Assist% went down 8 points. This isn’t crazy to expect when the best player on Earth goes to the bench, but it shows a lack of ball movement that’s going to be necessary in Boston. That roster will be better suited to run with Irving, we just have to wait to see the results.
Cleveland: Jae Crowder
Crowder isn’t better than Isaiah Thomas, but you could argue that the Cavs needed his abilities in the trade more than they needed Thomas’s. So I’ll do that. Kyrie Irving’s isos and acrobatics were always a nice complement to LeBron James, but they were never necessary. (It was great to win Game 7 in 2016, but really LeBron could have got himself a shot there, too.) What was more necessary, especially last Finals, was another 3-and-D guy. Someone to cover one of Golden State’s dangerous wings while providing spacing on the other end, and who was better than Richard Jefferson.
Will Crowder’s game alone put the Cavs above the Warriors? Of course not. But Cleveland can now play Tristan Thompson, LeBron, Crowder and one of Dwyane Wade/JR Smith/Iman Shumpert and hide Thomas’s D even better than they could Kyrie. On offense, Crowder means LeBron should always have 2-3 shooters with him on the floor. The point guard situation will be fluid until Thomas returns, and LeBron functions as the ball handler anyway. Crowder creates balance on the court when clankers like Wade, Shumpert or Derrick Rose are out there as well. Against a connected and switch-heavy Golden State defense, that’s vital.
Golden State: Jordan Bell
The Warriors are interesting in the way that a giant meteor heading directly towards Earth is interesting. Like, it’s fascinating that we’re all doomed. It’s pretty wild that in all the vastness of space these two objects somehow set on a collision course toward each other. But I don’t really need to know more about it than I already do. It’s gonna kill me, that’s all the knowledge I need. The Warriors are so damn good already. I get it.
What I don’t get is why they need to pay $2 million cash for a rookie in the 2nd round. Who is this guy? Earlier this summer he admitted he’s physically incapable of guarding LeBron James, which probably hurts his chances for playing time in the Finals. He also seems to have been chosen mostly for his defensive abilities, so that sounds like a problem. Golden State folks seem to like him, though. And I can’t doubt that Steve Kerr and Co. will turn anybody they get into a useful NBA player. Will Bell look solid in limited time and end up with a nice contract somewhere else like Ian Clark? Will he grow into an unexpected superstar like Draymond Green? I’ll believe anything when it comes to this team. Show me more, please.
Houston: Chris Paul
If you have the chance to get Chris Paul, you get Chris Paul. It’s that simple. You’ve got time to work out all the kinks. Just get a second MVP-caliber player on your team and figure out the rest later. Easy. If you don’t have at least two superstars you’re not going to keep up with Golden State. That’s just math. Having just two doesn’t really mean shit either, but kudos to Daryl Morey for trying.
About those kinks, though. They’re real and they’re not simple. Paul thrives in the midrange, Mike D’Antoni offenses do not. Somehow that oil and water need to mix. To Paul’s credit, he’s trying. He’s jacked up 7.5 threes per game this preseason. He finished last season at 5 per game, the highest of his career. He’s gotten 75% of his points from deep and hasn’t scored from midrange. That’s bonkers (threes were 33% of his scoring last season), and probably not how this season will end up. You can take Chris Paul out of the midrange but you can’t take the midrange out of Chris Paul. That problem needs to be solved to give the Rockets a chance.
Los Angeles Clippers: Blake Griffin
If the man stays healthy, the Clippers are fine. It’s honestly just that simple. Of course, staying on the court has never been a simple task for Griffin. Most of his joints and extremities have had some sort of issue. He punched a dude and broke his hand. He even got what I assume was the only staph infection in NBA history. This season there’s going to be more on his shoulders than ever. Will his body hold up under that weight?
I very much hope so. The Clippers and the NBA itself are more fun when he’s at his best. He’ll need to be, just for LA to make the playoffs. Those last four spots will be hotly contested. Griffin will essentially be a point forward, with the offense rotating around him at the elbow. A gifted passer, he had a top-10 Assist% among all forwards despite having Chris Paul soaking up assists beside him. He’ll miss JJ Redick to be sure, but the Paul trade gave the Clips more depth than they’ve had in years. If Griffin play unselfishly, refrain from doing anything stupid, and maintain his superstar qualities he should lead his team, (now his alone) back to the playoffs.
Milwaukee: Giannis Antetokounmpo
How many leaps is Giannis capable of taking? How soon can he be legitimately MVP caliber? Other than just general strength and knowledge improvement, the last real challenge for him is a credible jumper. Although his FG% has risen every season (dunking with 25-foot arms is a high percentage shot) anything outside of 5 feet has been spotty at best. Giannis shot 35% from three his rookie season somehow, then regressed back to below 28% ever since. He’s 4 of 34 in his career from the left corner. That’s 12%!
The Bucks can only go as far as Giannis takes them. Admittedly, they’re in a fairly comfortable spot right now and we shouldn’t expect too much too soon. It’s just hard not to with this guy. He’s part of a young core that can steadily improve while waiting for LeBron’s Cavs to decline or blow up. He shouldn’t over-exert himself trying to win an MVP while knowing what’s waiting in the playoffs. My advice? Wait for Jabari Parker to get healthy and for Thon Maker to leap in your footsteps. You’re already great, don’t rush the rest.
Oklahoma City: Carmelo Anthony
If you have the chance to get Carmelo Anthony, you get Carmelo Anthony. It’s that simple. You’ve got time to work out all the kinks. Just get a third MVP-caliber player on your team and figure out the rest later. Easy. If you don’t have at least three superstars you’re not going to keep up with Golden State. That’s just math. Having just three doesn’t really mean shit either, but kudos to Sam Presti for trying. I think I’m having deja vu. Anyway.
This is a really admirable undertaking, fitting Anthony, Russell Westbrook and Paul George all on one floor. Two will be able to coexist well enough but the third is going to have to change up what they quite drastically. My guess is it will have to be Anthony. And he might not do it. The team’s chemistry could go sour as everyone tries to get theirs. But all three have been in the league for a while, they should be smarter than that. Everyone will have to scale back, but Anthony should know he’ll have to change the most for the good of the team. He should. We’ll see.
San Antonio: LaMarcus Aldridge
A rare splashy free agent signing for the Spurs, Aldridge hasn’t quite lived up to those expectations in his first two seasons in Texas. He wasn’t tailor-made for the San Antonio culture, but it was assumed that culture was strong enough to integrate him easily. It mostly has but the shortcomings have shown up, especially in the playoffs. The Spurs will be the first to tell you winning 60 games don’t mean jack if you can’t turn it into postseason success. And now that Kawhi Leonard will miss some time, Aldridge will have to lead by example far better than he did against the Warriors in the conference finals.
This is apparently all being fixed as I type. Not only did Aldridge and Gregg Popovich have a heart to heart and/or airing of grievances over the summer, but he made his case so well that he got himself a 3 year, $72 million contract extension. So everything is golden! All good here! See you in June! This wasn’t just the best San Antonio could do, it was what they wanted to do all along! NOTE: I will maintain this sarcasm until the Spurs make those statements literally true, and then I will feel the required shame that comes with doubting Pop and R.C. Buford.
Toronto: DeMar DeRozan
There’s really only one thing not injury related that can happen for Toronto to get any further in the playoffs than they have already: DeRozan developing a strong three-point jumper. This isn’t to say that he’s been the problem in their lack of postseason success. Obviously, the Raptors wouldn’t be near where they are without him. But damn, DeRozan shooting threes would be so nice.
Now that both Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka will be expecting big minutes, the spacing from another deep shooter would be invaluable. As good as DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are, opposing defenses can pretty much figure them out during a playoff series. That won’t change unless the roster changes or their style of play does. The simplest way is to give in to league peer pressure by taking and making more threes. DeRozan has apparently been working on it this summer. If it doesn’t work and he remains baffled by taking a few steps backward and staying behind that painted line, Toronto will be stuck on their (admittedly quite impressive) plateau.
Washington: Bradley Beal
Beal missed just 5 games last season, his first time playing 70+ games since 2013-14. With all those extra attempts and more mileage, he only got career highs in points, efficiency, three pointers, free throws, assists and did I mention games played? But when you read the subheading above did your brain automatically put “‘s Ankles” after Beal? Because by now it’s supposed to.
I really wish that weren’t the case because oh man he and John Wall are scary when they’re at full powers. The Wizards starting lineup played 1,347 minutes together, the most by far. The Timberwolves and Clippers starters came in at 880 and 871, respectively. That lineup yielded a 8.1 Net Rating, any lineup with Beal and Wall played the 4th most as a duo and put up a 6.1 Net Rating. The team actually fared better when Beal played without Wall than vice versa, according to NBAwowy. There’s noise in all those numbers but the point is: Beal is good and fun and possibly underrated. Playing with Wall will do that do a person. As long as he actually does get to play, I don’t think Beal will mind the relative lack of attention. Especially if they win as much as they’re capable of.
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