By Ollie Hall
The new NBA season has started and for my money, no league can equal its drama on and more importantly off the court. Seriously, it could give reality shows a run for their money!
As a result, I wanted to present and break down some storylines I think you should follow this NBA season.
The discourse around 7 foot 3 inch French rookie, Victor Wembenyama, has been ubiquitous on any news or social media page covering basketball and if you’re looking to escape that I suggest skipping to the next storyline.
It is hard not to talk about him though. His unique body type and skill set, a mammoth centre that exhibits fluid handling and perimeter-oriented offence more akin to that of a much smaller guard, are enough to warrant him a spot as the 8th wonder of the world. But just how much will he live up to the expectations placed on him by the NBA media and general public?
The first storyline to follow is whether he could be the first rookie, since Blake Griffin in 2011, to make an all-star team. This one seems highly likely; he is ready to immediately improve the San Antonio Spurs and should be able to average around 20 points per game. This should, alongside the voting media and the public’s fascination with him, secure him an all-star place, provided he remains healthy for the first half of the season.
The more intriguing storyline is can he push an all-star inclusion one further and get an all-defensive team or all-nba inclusion? His 8-foot wingspan means he is an intimidating force for anyone trying to shoot near the basket, swatting away basketballs as if he were a human fly-swat. He averaged an incredible 4.7 blocks per 36 minutes during the preseason, although from a small sample size, and if he continues at a similar rate his hat is definitely in the mix for a defensive team inclusion, especially since Jaren Jackson Jr’s Defensive Player of the Year award last year was largely due to his high block per game numbers. However there are some obstacles to overcome: one, can he remain healthy enough to play at least 65 games to qualify for the awards and two, will his team’s record be good enough to suggest that his defence contributed to winning basketball?
If anyone can coach him to an all-defensive or all-nba inclusion though it’s Greg Popovich, who also coached the last rookie to make an all-defensive or all-nba team: another Spurs number one pick by name of Tim Duncan.
Star player problems
Players in the NBA hold all the power and as a result, we have seen lots of star players try to force their way out of a team in search of an NBA title. Damian Lillard was the latest culprit of this, trying to force his way to a Miami Heat, who had nothing even resembling an attractive asset to trade, this offseason despite his previous adamant stance that he wanted to stay with the Portland Trailblazers.
Usual suspect James Harden is also at it again before the season has even started, not turning up to training camp and publicly calling Sixers President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey a liar, in a bid to force his way to the Los Angeles Clippers. He is yet to get his way but if he did this would be a fourth team in four years for the former Most Valuable Player.
So keep a lookout for the first star player to request a trade this year, and maybe even start a friendly wager with your friends. One of the trio of Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and James Harden would be a safe bet but could I intrigue you with a slightly different flavour? A Kawhi Leonard or Joel Embiid perhaps?
Last season, the Miami Heat achieved a rare feat by reaching the NBA finals as an 8th seed. This was in large part due to the play of Jimmy Butler or “Himmy Butler” but it was also helped by the Heat’s random array of undrafted players that no one has heard of suddenly stepping up in the playoffs. Gabe Vincent and Max Strus’ playoff performances helped Miami to reach the final and earned them large contracts this offseason, whilst undrafted forward Caleb Martin’s performances almost won him conference finals MVP.
How they continue to do it is astounding and they are by far the best team in the league at developing undrafted players. The Heat will certainly need to dip into the undrafted players bin again this season though if they want to seriously contend for the title as a failure to trade for Damian Lillard this season has left them with an ageing point guard in Kyle Lowry and depleted depth on the bench.
So have a look and try to predict who’s next in line of the undrafted prospects to explode during the playoffs for Miami?
Image credit: Erik Drost – Wikimedia Commons