It’s a Small Size But…(Part 1)
National Basketball Association is back. And it was missed. The sound of the ball swishing through the bucket, the pounding of the ball on the hardwood, the dunks, the buzzer-beaters, Steph Curry making Steph Curry 3-pointers, LeBron churning out yet another great season, Doc yelling at the referees for every other call, the hilarious kiss cam moments, the awkward proposals during the time-outs where the girl is forced to say “yes” because 20,000 eyes are ogling her, cheerleaders seducing men during the time-outs and the joy on the face of every fan when something amazing happens on the 94*50 feet box, all of this was missed.
Now that the NBA is back, so have some of the trends of the early season. Early season trends are like opening sequence of movies. Occasionally the movie stays true to the brilliant opening sequence like The Dark Knight or ghastly one, The Last Airbender being one example, and sets the tone or does a complete flip and follows up a brilliant opening sequence with a horrendous 2-hour bore-fest, case in point: Spectre. Hence you never know what you are getting with the early season trends. So, let this be the first of hopefully an annual column, “It’s a small sample size but…”:
1. Joel Embiid is a monster.
(The following paragraph was written while pounding the wood)
It was two years in the making. Injuries, reports of him being overweight, funny (and occasionally insightful) tweets, the fact that he started playing organized basketball at the age of 16 and videos of him beating the living crap out of white trainers half his size in empty gyms, only added to the excitement.
But on the fateful evening of Philadelphia’s season opener against OKC, Jesus in the form of Joel Hans Embiid walked in the Wells Fargo Center. And NBA was never the same again. This dude knows nothing about team basketball and is putting up: 18.8 PPG, 6.8 RPG and 2.3 BPG to go with 8.0 FTA in just 22.2 MPG. The list of people who averaged more than 18 PPG, 6 RPG and 2 BPG during their rookie seasons are: David Robinson, Duncan, Shaq, Hakeem, Alonzo, Ralph Sampson, Ewing and Joel freaking Embiid. That’s crazy. His per 36 minutes numbers are even crazier: 30.6 PPG, 11.1 RPG and 3.8 BPG with 10.3 FTA. Those numbers will come down once he’s off the minute’s restriction, but it’s not just about the figures. The way he has embraced the city and “The Process”, makes him the guy whose trade would most likely cause riots in the city (all of this if he stays healthy and that’s why I’m pounding the wood so hard).
2. James Harden is Out for Revenge
Lessons to be learned from James Harden’s 2015–16 season:
1. Never date a Kardashian.
2. Never Date A Kardashian
3. NEVER DATE A KARDASHIAN
It was no surprise that last year Rockets, after making it to the Conference Finals a few months ago, stumbled to the 8th seed with a 0.500 record. And James Harden is the sole bearer of it. You can’t date Khloe Kardashian in the summer and hope to have a completely healthy sports life. You just can’t. That’s rule 101 when it comes to sports, NEVER DATE A KARDASHIAN. But he broke up with her just in time and met Mike D’Antoni for the greatest offensive marriage in the history of NBA. And now he’s spewing fire all over the court. His shift to the point guard position was the final nail in the coffin of Tiny Archibald’s claim to fame of being the only person to lead the league in both points and assists. He’s the fulcrum of his team’s offense, with every move on the offensive end being dictated by him and his beard. Yes, he’s still a sieve on defense and with Howard gone and Ariza looking a step slower, the team has taken his identity on the defensive end too. But people couldn’t care less about defense. After all, defense is for cowards.
3. John Wall is turning to the dark side
“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
John Wall is afraid. John Wall is afraid of missing out on the playoffs for yet another year (that’ll give him two playoff appearances in seven seasons), afraid of not making it to any of the All-NBA teams AGAIN this season as his team stumbles out of the gate, afraid of not getting the respect he deserves, afraid of being the second-best paid player on his own team and afraid of being stuck with another mediocre coach as he watches his prime being wasted away. And so, he’s turning to the dark side.
Two consecutive ejections over two dumb and completely avoidable situations isn’t the best example you can set for your team as its leader. And you can’t blame him for it entirely when the highest earning player on your team is shooting 36.6% from the field and an abysmal 29.4% from the 3-point line, and has featured in only 60% of the games in the last four years. Improvements from within the roster seem far-fetched. Beal is never healthy, Gortat is on the wrong side of 30 and Potter and Oubre Jr. are wild cards. Durant didn’t even honor them with a meeting, so importing All-Star level talent through free-agency seems like a pipe-dream too. Here’s to hoping that he finds his peace before some Emperor Palpatine (probably Denver) steers him away from the nation’s capital.
4. Free the Brow
Lebron’s “decision” to leave Cleveland wasn’t the problem. The way it was executed was the problem. Ever since that day, if you are an All-Star, the decision to leave your parent team has been met with reactions ranging from “What are you doing?” to “You’re the worst person on the face of this planet”. But when your front office surrounds you with guys who will be out the league in the next three years, you have every right to suck the living soul out of them (but not the fans. Never make the fans your enemy). LeBron carried the Cavs on his back for seven straight years without any help. And it might be headed that way with Davis too. In fact, it’s worse with him. In his seven years at Cleveland, LeBron at least had Mo Williams (who made the 2009 All-Star Game) and Zydrunas Ilgauskas to count on. Davis is stuck with Omer Asik (who moves at 1/17th of the speed of a regular basketball player), Tyreke Evans (and his albatross of a contract) and Jrue Holiday (who is always sitting on the bench in street clothes). In Thursday’s win over the Bucks, Gentry played Tim Frazier and E’Twaun Moore, 34 and 32 minutes respectively. This shouldn’t happen. Period. One of the five best players in the league shouldn’t be sharing 80% of his minutes with players who won’t even be the seventh or eighth best player on a competitive NBA team (the obligatory “nothing against these guys” comment).
He’s averaging 31 PPG to go along with 10.8 RPG and league leading 3 BPG. Those are historic numbers, and the situation he’s in is a joke. He’s too good to land them a top-5 lottery pick and the lack of respectable cast around him isn’t tempting enough for others All-Stars to tag along with him. It was premature of him to extend his contract for five years, but it’s difficult to turn down $145 million. His 2020 free agency seems too far away to worry about, but it’s never too early to prepare for it, just ask the Thunder fans.
5. Celtics could be in trouble (and it isn’t the reason that you think it might be)
The ultimate goal of playing organized professional basketball in the United States of America is — to win the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy. And the processes of achieving it are defined too, draft couple of superstars or nab them from the free agency or gather enough assets to trade for one. When Celtics traded Pierce and Garnett to the Nets, they were banking on the plethora of picks thrown at them to ease through the rebuilding process. The Nets’ part played out as it was supposed to. KG and Pierce soon left, so did Joe Johnson and whatever was left of Deron Williams. With 2016 and 2018 Nets’ draft picks along with the rights to swap picks in 2017, the Celtics looked all set up for the future.
Although Isiah and Horford are All-Stars, they are probably the third best players on a championship contender. Celtics are in search for that first and second option. The picks from the Nets are supposed to be the answer to that question. They landed Jaylen Brown with the 3rd pick from the 2016 draft. Now they have two more shots at landing that foundational player. This is where the problem starts. The Nets (at least in the early part of the season) don’t, you know, suck. Kenny Atkinson has his group of players playing hard, and they have a fun vibe about them. If somehow, Brook Lopez’s foot holds out, they might not be as bad as everyone else expects them to be. 76ers are still not good enough, and the Pelicans are one Anthony Davis injury away from turning into a D-League team, so the top two seed could still elude them in the upcoming draft. Given Danny Ainge’s draft history, which has been sketchy, not having the chance to draft a sure-shot superstar could stagnate the team’s progress. There’s always the chance of him packaging these picks and some of the assets for an established star, but with the exception of Wall, Boogie and Carmelo, no stars are available in the market. And trading for any one of them presents with their own set of problems.
Despite all this, with the exception of 4–5 teams, everyone would love to swap positions with them. The chances of them not landing a generational player requires certain things to happen in certain ways, and the probability of all of them occurring is Lilliputian. But the window exists for it to happen. And happen it may.
(Part 2 will be up soon)
(Yes, there’s a part 2)
Note: All stats are as per basketball-reference.com