New and Familiar Stars Emerge as the NBA Returns
After the shortest offseason to date, the NBA is back in action. The season officially started on December 22 after one week of preseason games. Along with the start of the season, there were also new beginnings for teams trying to reach one common goal: to win the O’Brien in July. There were many familiar faces in different places to start the season as well; a major one would be former MVP, 2x Finals MVP, and 4x scoring champ, Kevin Durant, making his debut with the Brooklyn Nets after signing with the team last offseason. Defensive stud and crafty playmaker John Wall was traded from the Wizards to the Rockets in exchange for Russell Westbrook, who has been a consistent triple-double-getter for the past 4 seasons. The reigning NBA champions, the Los Angeles Lakers, are looking to repeat after adding more depth in scoring by picking up solid players Dennis Schröder, Montrezl Harrell, and Wesley Mathews. Harrell and Schröder were first and second, respectively, last year in the race for Sixth Man of the Year. Harrell, who played for the Clippers last year, ended up taking the award. These additions have helped the Lakers be the favorites to win it all again.
On opening night, NBA fans were gifted right before Christmas with matchups between the Los Angeles Lakers against the Clippers and the Golden State Warriors against the Brooklyn Nets. Both games had good headlines going into the game; of course, the battle of Los Angeles caught most of the attention, however the Warriors-Nets game featured two top-five players returning from injury. Stephen Curry would be returning from fracturing his left hand early last season, and Kevin Durant would be returning from a torn achilles he suffered in game five of the 2019 NBA Finals. Interestingly enough that was the last time these two players were on the same court together. Both were teammates for three years on the Warriors, and together they won two championships, ultimately creating a dynasty. Nonetheless, those days are overshadowed by them now being on completely different teams. In the Clippers-Lakers game, the Clippers spoiled the ring ceremony for the Lakers on behalf of Paul George’s 33 points. The Nets got an easy win against the young Warriors team, and Kevin Durant with his new sidekick Kyrie Irving combined for 48 points; Steph Curry struggled with shooting, only putting up 20 points on 2-10 from the three.
Jump forward a few weeks and the NBA has shaken off the rust with new stars emerging, as well as major trade conspiracies unfolding. The NBA has had a handful of rookies play far better than initial expectations, finally in an environment where they can truly thrive. Rookies such as Lamelo Ball, James Wiseman, Tyrese Haliburton, and Anthony Edwards are just a few standout rookies broadcasting their skills on the court this season. Lamelo Ball became the youngest player in NBA history to get a triple double, and he has been averaging 11.6 points, 6.3 assists, and just under 7 rebounds per game. James Wiseman has been a very good mix in the Golden State system, especially next to the leadership of Steph Curry and Draymond Green. Wiseman averages 11.3 points per game along with 6.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. Tyrese Haliburton and Anthony Edwards have also been great additions to their teams. For the Kings, Haliburton has been a great floor spacer, and his jumpshot has transitioned surprisingly well as he shoots 52% from three. Anthony Edwards' scoring has been beneficial for the Timberwolves as they deal with injuries from their main stars. He averages 12.5 points per game to give a good contribution off the bench.
Another new star has been Rockets big-man Christian Wood, who has officially put his name on the map as he averages a double-double in his first year with Houston. In nine games, he averaged 23.1 points, 10.1 rebounds, and just under 2 blocks per game. His point and rebound averages are both top twenty in the league, which is extremely impressive for a player who went undrafted five years ago. Celtics guard Jaylen Brown has played spectacularly as well, proving that he can be a great second or even first option for Boston. The pairing of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown has been key for Boston, who is currently fourth in the Eastern Conference. Brown this year is the league’s eighth best scorer, averaging 26.3 points per game, a six point difference compared to his scoring average last season. With this production from Brown, the Celtics can be true contenders to win the East and go to the Finals.
Since the beginning of the season there has been speculation on whether or not the Houston Rockets would trade their franchise player, James Harden. There has also been rumors that Bradley Beal could possibly be on the move from Washington as well. Recently the Nets pulled the trigger and traded for former MVP James Harden to pair him up with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. This blockbuster trade formed the league’s premier big three, and solidified the Nets chances at being top-tier contenders to win the O’brien trophy. Harden, who had previously played with the Rockets for the last nine years, will reunite with Durant, who was his teammate back in Oklahoma City in 2012. This new big three is also unusual due to the fact that each of three players were in the top 10 in usage rate since the 2014-15 season. In exchange for Harden, the Rockets along with two other teams were granted with players and picks. The Rockets were able to pick up four draft picks and Caris LeVert, who they eventually traded for Victor Oladipo from the Indiana Pacers. The Nets also sent away big man Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince to the Cavaliers to help the trade go through. With such a trade happening, many began to question whether or not Washington would make the same decision in trading away Bradley Beal. Beal already this year dropped a career high 60 points in a loss to prove that he is not the problem for the Wizards and that he is driven to win. Possible suitors for Beal could be the Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers, the Golden State Warriors, and the Toronto Raptors.
As the season continues fans across the country will be able to see the emergence of new super teams, new superstars, and they could quite possibly see the start of a new dynasty. Throughout the season, competition should not be lacking in any way, and each game should be filled with at least one bright spot for either team. Players will separate themselves from the goods to the greats as the MVP race will gradually progress and change through the season. As a fan of the NBA, we should be destined for another great season.