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There’s nothing quite like the first few weeks of the NBA season.
Hope and excitement are in the air, and fans get to enjoy watching their teams play for a little bit before we remember that the Warriors are going to sweep their way to yet another title.
Forgetting about Golden State for a minute, the 2018-19 season was always going to be one of the most interesting ones in recent memory. Among other things, LeBron James’ move to the Western Conference created a huge power vacuum in the east, and a star-studded class of rookies hit the scene ready to make a splash.
So if you’re an NBA fan, there has been no shortage of storylines to track over these first three weeks. Here are just a few of them.
Joel Embiid is a real MVP threat
Preseason MVP discussions were dominated by the same few predictable names. Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and so on.
But no one was really talking about Joel Embiid. If you’ve followed his career, you probably had a feeling that the 2018-19 season would be a big one, as he has been injury-free for a while and finally had a full offseason to work on his game.
His massive talent has always meant that Embiid had the ability to dominate on any given night, but he needed to display more offensive consistency to entrench his name in the top-ten player discussion.
So far, so good for the star centre as he is averaging 27.7 points per game, good for third in the league and the only true big in the top ten. He’s already gone for 30 or more points eight times and has broken the 40-point mark twice.
A season where he averages close to 30 points per game along with his reliable defensive and rebounding dominance could stamp Embiid as the best centre in the NBA and give him a real chance to be crowned the league’s most valuable player.
It would most likely also mean that the 76ers have a strong chance to make it to the finals.
Jimmy Butler is finally out of Minnesota
If you like NBA drama, you’ve really enjoyed these past few seasons, with something bizarre happening seemingly every few weeks.
We had the Kevin Durant ‘hardest road’ experience, then the Kawhi Leonard mystery injury drama. This time around, we had Jimmy Butler whining, complaining and screaming as he attempted to force his way out of Minnesota.
The Timberwolves avoided trading him for a long time – too long, many thought, as they had some decent looking offers from the Heat and Rockets.
It looks like the waiting paid off though, as they flipped Butler to the 76ers for a package headlined by Robert Covington and Dario Saric.
The deal seems good for both teams – the Wolves fix a dysfunctional locker room and get a couple players that should fit perfectly into their rotation, and the Sixers add another star player to their collection of talent.
Philadelphia will have some spacing issues to figure out, but talent tends to win out in the end. Any way you look at it, both Butler and Minnesota will be relieved to have a fresh start.
The Kings and Nets aren’t laughing stocks anymore
I truly feel for anyone who has spent a lot of time watching Sacramento and Brooklyn play over these past few seasons. Year after year, they’ve floundered at the bottom of the league – both teams feeling the effects of poor management.
It’s been horrible to watch, honestly. So you’d be forgiven if you haven’t been paying attention, but things might just be starting to turn around for both franchises.
General manager Sean Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson have done an excellent job working around the Nets’ lack of draft picks, and Brooklyn is now sitting on a nice collection of talent that includes D’Angelo Russell, Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen.
LeVert, in particular, caught my attention last season with some productive all-around performances and he has kept that momentum heading into this season by averaging 19 points-per-game. Just a few days ago, he hit a last-second floater to beat the red-hot Nuggets.
In Sacramento, their years of lottery picks finally looks to be paying off with last year’s draft choice, De’Aaron Fox, chief among them. He’s averaging 18 points and seven assists per game, and his elite quickness produces highlight after highlight.
The nightmare might just be over for Kings and Nets fans. At the very least, they have things to be excited about now.
Mike Budenholzer and Brook ‘Steph Curry’ Lopez
Ever since Giannis Antetokounmpo blossomed into one of the league’s best players, the Bucks have been lurking just outside the conversation about the NBA’s top teams. However, they were saddled with coach Jason Kidd, who was a fantastic point guard in his playing days but had no idea how to run a team.
Milwaukee finally brought in a real coach in Budenholzer this season and suddenly look like a real contender in the east. They finally have offensive and defensive systems that make sense, and the results are showing.
While Budenholzer got most of the Bucks-related headlines during the off-season, a couple key signings flew under the radar in Ersan Ilyasova and Brook Lopez. Both are veteran players that added some much-needed depth to a team that was stuck relying on Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton (who, in all fairness, should be an All-Star this season) too often.
Lopez has revamped his offensive game since his Nets days, turning himself into a legitimate three-point threat from the centre position. He’s been pouring it on this season and has had some huge games from behind the arc, including hitting six threes against the Trailblazers and Clippers and then dropping eight more on the Nuggets.
This added spacing just makes it easier for the Greek Freak to operate and could be a deciding factor come playoff time.
Yes, there are more than a few other storylines worth discussing, and not enough time to get into them all: the Rockets’ troubling regression, Kawhi Leonard reasserting himself as one of the best in the league, the Nuggets blossoming into a contender, and so on.
As the season progresses, we’ll start to see which ones are worth diving into with more detail.
One thing’s for certain though – NBA basketball is just about as good as it’s ever been, and we’ve got another exciting year to look forward to.