Last year saw the landscape of power in the NBA turn west toward the Rocky Mountains, where the Denver Nuggets and their world class big man Nikola Jokic won their first NBA championship over the Miami Heat. But there are other teams such as the Lakers and Heat who also exceeded expectations and are poised to build from last year’s success. Teams who went out in disappointing fashion like the Bucks and Celtics are reloaded and ready to make another title run. But despite the presence of these other teams, the Nuggets kept most of their championship core intact and are primed to repeat even if Jokic is more interested in his horses than basketball.
With that being said, here are my biggest takes going into this NBA season.
1. The Los Angeles Lakers Will Win Their 18th Championship
Even with future Hall of Famers LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers' season looked like a lost cause as they stumbled into the trade deadline with a mediocre 25-30 record. But with a series of midseason acquisitions the Lakers went 17-9 after the deadline despite missing James for a large portion, and advanced to the Western Conference Finals. Although they got swept, the Lakers have established a new foundation that should carry over into next year.
At the center of this team is LeBron James. At 38, James continues to play at an All-NBA level, averaging 28 points, eight rebounds, and six assists while shooting 50% from the field. In the playoffs, James sometimes looked like he was drinking from the Fountain of Youth, throwing down reverse dunks and chasing down opponents.
Alongside James is Anthony Davis who might be the second option, but is fully capable of thriving as the number one option. This was seen multiple times last year such as his scorching hot start, and later keeping the team in the playoff hunt for much of March without LeBron.
In addition to James and Davis, Austin Reaves showed lots of improvement in his second season, where he started to blossom into a playmaker during the playoffs. D'Angelo Russell and Rui Hachimura are also two players who can step up if James and Davis are having an off night. All of these players will be sticking around as the Lakers managed to retain them in free agency with reasonable contracts with the most being Reaves' 56 million.
The Lakers also signed players who can thrive with James in different ways. Jaxon Hayes is a solid pick & roll threat, Tareun Prince can take on the role of a catch and shoot player, and Christian Wood is another big man who can space the floor.
For the Lakers to reach the promised land, it's essential that Davis stays healthy during the year. James is going to miss a decent amount of time given his age, but with Davis being just 30 years old, he should be counted upon to play a large portion of games. Davis clearly has plenty left in the tank and the Lakers need him to build off his resurgent 2023 campaign in order to reach the ultimate goal.
2. The Oklahoma City Thunder will be a Top Four Team in the West
Although many believed last season would be a rebuilding year for the Thunder, they surprised many experts and came within one game of clinching the eighth seed. They boost a young, homegrown roster that will be on everyone’s radar this season.
Leading the way is point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who absolutely looks like the real deal. He was always a rising star, but this year saw him make the full transition to stardom. Last season, Gilgeous-Alexander averaged a career high 31 points along with five assists on 51 percent shooting from the field. He also made notable strides on the defensive end, finishing in the top five for steals and deflections. This breakout season resulted in Gilgeous-Alexander earning first team All-NBA at the end of the year.
Yet even after his breakout year, Gilgeous-Alexander didn't hesitate to praise his teammates. "None of that stuff matters without the team," he said following the season.
Fortunately for Gilgeous-Alexander, the Thunder have slowly constructed an effective supporting cast to complement his abilities. Lu Dort is arguably the team's best defender as he'll take on the opponent's top scoring option on a nightly basis. Josh Giddey gives the Thunder another good playmaker at guard, and small forward Jalen Williams finished second in Rookie of the Year voting. The team will also get a significant boost with their 2022 pick Chet Holmgren returning from a foot injury that kept him out all of last year.
3. Jayson Tatum Wins MVP
Since becoming the face of the franchise for the Boston Celtics in 2019, Jayson Tatum has quickly ascended to one of the NBA's premier players. The last two years have seen Tatum make the leap into the prime of his career, making All-NBA in back to back seasons while leading the Celtics to the 2022 NBA Finals.
Offensively, Tatum has averaged 27 points in the last three years but he is so much more than a scorer. Defenses also have to respect his ability to facilitate just as much as his scoring.
"He's an unbelievable playmaker," said his teammate Peyton Prichard after Tatum's Finals debut. "We know he can score at the highest of levels, but when you can score and pass like he did, it's a game changer."
In addition, Tatum is a solid defender who takes advantage of his length when guarding some of the game's other premier players. The Celtics have boosted a top five defense in the last two years and Tatum's improvement on that end is a major reason why.
This offseason saw the Celtics reload their roster with the acquisitions of Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis - two players who also will command attention from opposing defenses along with Tatum's fellow all star Jaylen Brown. Although these moves did come at the cost of cutting ties with some of the players that made the Finals, this might be the best roster in Tatum's years as the lead option. Tatum will have even more opportunities to excel at a high level, and if the Celtics play up to expectations or even exceed them, Tatum will be a huge reason why.
4. Joel Embiid's Tenure In Philadelphia Will End
If there's any reason why the Philadelphia 76ers have regularly appeared in the playoffs throughout the last six years, it’s because of Joel Embiid. This year saw him continue to establish himself as the best thing to come out of the Trust the Process phase, with Embiid winning his first MVP award.
Embiid is practically unstoppable in the post thanks to a bevy of savvy moves he's mastered over the years. To complement his inside game, Embiid has developed a respectable outside game where he can either drive or shoot with ease.
He's also a strong defender which is evident from his three second team All-Defense selections. Whether it's in the paint or on fast breaks, it always seems like he's lurking somewhere as seen in game five of the semifinals against Boston.
However, the 76ers have failed to build a sustainable team around him. Most of the all stars he's played with have weaknesses that become untenable, such as Ben Simmons' unwillingness to shoot, or James Harden's frustrations with management. They've also made poor personnel choices, such as trading Mikal Bridges after drafting him, and re-signing Tobais Harris instead of Jimmy Butler. The best player besides Embiid as of now is an unhappy James Harden who has no intention of repairing his relationship with the front office.
Eventually one has to wonder how much longer Embiid can put up with the team’s shortcomings. Last summer, Embiid said that he wants a shot at a title even if it might mean potentially leaving Philadelphia. While he later backpedaled on these comments, no one would be surprised to see him want out if the 76ers fail yet again to make a deep playoff run.
If Embiid does request a trade, one realistic option would be the New York Knicks, who won their first playoff series in a decade and are building a strong foundation. Embiid also has ties to team president Leon Rose, as he used to be Embiid's agent. The Heat would also be a possibility since Embiid won't have contemplated the what-ifs of keeping Butler.
The last weekend of August was a banner weekend for track and field sprinter Noah Lyles. He took home gold at the 2023 World Athletics Championship for the 200 m which he won for the third time, as well as the 100 m for the first time. However, he arguably generated as much attention, if not more, for his comments to the press about NBA champions. He ripped players for calling themselves the 'World Champions' after winning the Finals since they're not playing for their country. Lyles' comments unsurprisingly sparked anger from NBA players such as Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Aaron Gordon, who all expressed frustration.
It's understandable to see why such a statement would draw controversy, but I believe it's worth analyzing the whole thing from both sides.
Despite being a big basketball fan, Lyles is somewhat right to a slight degree. NBA teams are not playing for the United States, but rather their team, their city, and their fanbase. When they compete, they're doing so against teams that are also from the United States with the Toronto Raptors being the one exception. Yet even the Raptors aren't representing Canada during the season. When teams win the Finals, they're doing it for the franchise: not their country.
Now with all that being said, Lyles' statements are still pretty ignorant for the most part. The NBA Finals itself is one of the biggest events in all of professional sports. It’s the ultimate goal that all NBA players dream of while playing for the biggest professional league in all of basketball. The teams who always make it have to suit up for 82 games in a regular season for a span of six months. During the playoffs, most championship teams end up playing an average of 22 games to hoist the Larry O'Brian trophy. If you're doing the math, that amounts to 104 total games during the regular season and playoffs. Championship teams like the 1983 Philadelphia 76ers, 2001 Los Angeles Lakers, and 2017 Golden State Warriors who lost only one playoff game, don't come around that often.
Winning the Finals is additionally one of the most challenging titles in sports because anything can happen in a seven game series. For both teams, momentum is so important to preserve. In a best of seven series, there are plenty of things that could change a series. A road team could steal a home court advantage and never relinquish it. Injuries might happen. Maybe a superstar breaks another team's spirit with an unbelievable performance in an elimination game.
Speakers of NBA players, the ones who do participate are some of the best athletes in the world. The Finals is the greatest stage for them to showcase their talents to an audience that has been more global in recent years. Players' legacies in particular, revolve around championships a lot more compared to other athletes. When you look at the game's greats such as LeBron James and Michael Jordan, most of those guys have multiple championships on their resume.
So while it might be a tiny exaggeration for NBA players to call themselves 'World Champions', it makes sense for teams to think of themselves in that way. After all, NFL and MLB teams use this type of language when they win it all and the Finals shouldn't be an exception. For many basketball players, winning the NBA Finals is the pinnacle of all basketball. Hall of Fame coach Rudy Tomjanovich said it best: “Don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion.”
When we watch today's All-NBA players, it's common to make comparisons to previous legends they might resemble. It rarely occurs that someone comes along, and is so good that you can't find someone to compare him to. Current players that come to mind are LeBron James and Stephen Curry. But after winning his first NBA Finals, Nikola Jokić is approaching that territory if he's not there already.
Now that doesn't mean he's better than the two players mentioned. He's not even a top five center of all time - at least for now. But with a championship ring to go alongside his MVP awards from the previous two seasons, Jokić already has a resume that could catapult him into the Hall of Fame right now if he chose to retire today. That's because his play style has barely been seen by any other great big men that came before him. His skill sets might look like other centers, whether it's the footwork of Hakeem Olajuwon, or the ability to back opponents down like Shaquille O'Neal, but that doesn't mean he has the exact same playstyle. What makes Jokić special is his IQ
For many centers, they were simply too imposing for opponents, which is why they were able to make a significant impact. For example, many players who played against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar probably knew he would shoot a skyhook over them, yet they still couldn't stop it. For Jokić, on the other hand, he has a unique intelligence that's never been seen before by a center. He reads the defense extremely well for a big man, and always knows how to react. There could be one possession where Jokić converts an easy jump hook, and then on the next possession, he'll make a difficult skip pass to an open teammate look easy.
Thanks to his spectacular vision, Jokić is already regarded as the best passing big man in NBA history. His play style has made passing contagious for Denver. This season, he surpassed Wilt Chamberlain to become the all time leader in triple doubles by a center. His playmaking was on full display during the Finals, where Jokić averaged 30 points, 14 rebounds, and seven assists. In game three, he became the first player ever to record at least 30 points, 20 rebounds, and 10 assists in a Finals game.
More importantly, he's changed the Nuggets' franchise since arriving in 2015 from Serbia. Going back to his rookie year, only six teams have won more games than the Nuggets. Each year, Denver has continued to build around him with successful draft picks like Jamal Murray, and key acquisitions such as Aaron Gordon. This year's team might've been Denver's most compete roster in years, but Jokić deserves credit for that because he brings out the best in others.
As the first piece of Denver's championship puzzle, Jokić will undoubtably be a legend in Colorado. Hall of Famers such as O'Neal haven't been shy to complement the man who goes by Joker. "He's the true definition of letting the game come to you ... not only does he makes himself good, but he makes everybody else good." However, his legacy goes further than the Rocky Mountains. Jokić is already an international icon. Don't be surprised if kids playing center, are trying to be like Jokić.
Last Monday officially marked the end of an illustrious career for Carmelo Anthony. The future hall of famer announced his retirement via social media after sitting out this season as a free agent. Although it would've been nice to see him compete for one last title, Anthony seemed content with his decision. While I've had the privilege of watching a few great athletes, Anthony stands alone, and here's why.
All of the playoff seasons the Knicks enjoyed from 2010-2013, can be attributed to the arrival of Carmelo Anthony. It's true Amare Stoudemire was propelling the Knicks in the right direction prior to Anthony, but injuries would ultimately keep him from reaching his full potential. However, Anthony made an immediate impact, leading the Knicks to the playoffs in his first three years. The 2013 season saw the Knicks have their best season in almost 20 years, and their first playoff series win in 13 years. Having been dreadful before, those were some of the best seasons Knick fans could remember for awhile. Even in the dark years, Anthony still proceeded to give fans something to cheer for despite being maligned by management.
But if there's one thing anyone could agree with when debating Carmelo Anthony's legacy, it's that he was one of the few athletes who embraced playing for a tough sports market like New York. Many athletes might want to play for a New York City-based team, but they're not prepared for the pressure that comes with being in the Big Apple. Anthony knew what he was getting into, and he welcomed the challenge. During his time with the Knicks, Anthony explained "When you go to places like New York, you feel the excitement, the energy is different, the fans are different, and the game is different playing in New York."
A few years after his Knick career, Anthony reiterated his desire to play, saying "I wanted to take that challenge on. Whether I failed at it or not, I wanted to be able to say that I did it. I took it upon myself to say 'Get me there.' Not everyone has that same mentality." That earned him the respect of many New Yorkers including myself.
On the court, it was hard not to appreciate Anthony's game. He might've not been the all around player his buddy LeBron James is, but when it came to scoring, Anthony was pure. He was also a strong rebounder, particularly on the offensive end, but his scoring will always be talked about, as it should be. In a league where three point shooting has rapidly increased, Anthony was definitely no stranger to using the three point line, but he used the whole floor offensively. With the strength to score inside, along with a deadly jump shot, Anthony's game was was as sweet as soft serve ice cream. In short, good things were bound to happen whenever he had the ball.
Even after getting traded, Anthony was such a likable player who was easy to follow. He grew as a person over the years, and it was evident through his efforts in becoming a leader of his community during the social unrest in America. Anthony's work earned him the 2020-2021 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion Award.
It will be weird watching the NBA with Anthony officially retired. Although he never won a championship, he conducted himself like a champion, and had many championship-worthy nights. There will never be a day where I wasn't happy to have him as my favorite athlete.
The Knicks gave their fans an unforgettable season, winning their first playoff series in 10 years, before ultimately falling to the Heat in the semifinals. They were a tough, resilient team that fit the city and its fanbase like a glove. Unlike most years, where they become more irrelevant as the season goes on, New York got better as the games went on, going further than they have in a decade.
While there are many reasons why New York had their most successful season in recent memory, a few stand out in particular.
From a roster standpoint, the team got a major boost from the free agent signing of point guard, Jalen Brunson, who took this team to the next level. While a decent amount of players from the 2021 season still remained such as Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley, and Obi Toppin, the Knicks were in desperate need of a point guard who could guide the offense. Brunson did show plenty of improvement the year prior, but that didn't stop some Mavericks from letting him walk in free agency. Although the Knicks were criticized for signing him to a $110 million contract, that now seems like a bargain if anything. While this is only Brunson's first year as a Knick, he already has a legitimate case as the best free-agent signing in Knicks history.
Throughout the season, it became more apparent that Brunson was finally the point guard the Knicks have been searching for. His production and leadership were essential in helping the Knicks rebound from a 37 win season the year prior. Brunson posted career highs in points and assists, while spearheading an offense that averaged 10 more points than last season. More importantly, he helped the Knicks maintain their success over the course of the year in a competitive Eastern Conference. He further proved himself in the playoffs, averaging 27 points, five rebounds, and four assists. This included an incredible 38/9/7 in 48 minutes in game five against Miami to stave off elimination. Brunson's presence, also allowed other players like Randle to thrive in more comfortable roles.
For head coach Tom Thibodeau, anyone who viewed him as incredibly stubborn, must think twice. He's not perfect, but he made many adjustments that had a major impact. His best move, without question, was going with a nine man rotation despite having a fairly deep roster. It jumpstarted an eight game win streak, and while some wondered how long it could last, the strategy ultimately proved to be the right decision. Other smart moves, included inserting Quentin Grimes into the starting lineup, and finding an immediate role for Josh Hart after the Knicks traded for him in February.
If there's one attribute the Knicks had this season, it would be their resilience. With all due respect to their top options, Brunson, Randle, and Barrett, they aren't superstars. A team constructed like the Knicks must do all the little things right from hard-nosed defense every possession, to picking up after another's mistake. Whereas some teams might struggle in that department, it was easy for the Knicks because they had such a tight knit group. Everybody understood their responsibilities, and were determined to excel in their roles. New York's chemistry only got better when they acquired Hart, who was Brunson's Villanova teammate, at the trade deadline.
Each month, the Knicks continued to make significant strides as a team, and it showed from December up until the semifinals. Some moments that highlighted their grit included the eight game win streak that sparked the turnaround, an overtime road win in January against the Celtics, a 20 point comeback against the 76ers, a nine game win streak from February to March, and their first round triumph.
This was a significant step for the Knicks in becoming a playoff contender. They have a strong foundation of unselfish players who work extremely well together. With the majority of this team likely returning, along with the possibility of the Knicks being an attractive destination this offseason, there are plenty of reasons to be excited going forward. With Brunson on the roster, anything is possible.
It seemed like every few weeks, a new team was making a legitimate case as an NBA title contender while another team was just treading water in that time period. As a result, this was the first time since the 2000-2001 season that no NBA team won 60 games in an 82 game season. However, that doesn't mean this year's playoffs will be entertaining. There are a number of teams that could go on a deep playoff run whether it's the league best Milwaukee Bucks, or the Los Angeles Lakers who didn't clinch a playoff spot until Tuesday's play-in win. Here are my predictions.
Eastern Conference: Western Conference:
#1 Bucks 4 #1 Nuggets 4
#8 Heat 0 #8 Timberwolves 1
#1 Bucks 4 #1 Nuggets 4
#4 Cavaliers 1 #4 Suns 2
#4 Cavaliers 4 #4 Suns 4
#5 Knicks 3 #5 Clippers 2
#1 Bucks 4 #1 Bucks 4 #1 Nuggets 4
#3 Celtics 2 #3 Nuggets 1 #2 Lakers 1
#3 76ers 4 #3 Kings 4
#6 Nets 1 #6 Warriors 3
#2 Celtics 4 #7 Lakers 4
#3 76ers 3 #3 Kings 2
#2 Celtics 4 #2 Grizzlies 2
#7 Hawks 1 #7 Lakers 4
It's no secret that today's NBA players have a lot of power to determine their future compared to other athletes. Teams are always willing to satisfy the needs of their superstars because they're investing so much in them. This ultimately puts the player in a position where he wields a lot of power to influence his team's decision making. However, that power is sometimes used to request a trade if he's dissatisfied for some reason.
This year, as Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant had their trade requests granted as the Brooklyn Nets shipped them off to the Mavericks and Suns, ending the championship dreams Brooklyn once had when they signed the two stars.
While all players deserve the freedom to seek a new destination, one must wonder when should a player be entitled to want out.
It's very common for high-profile players to voice frustration with their teams whether it's the departure of an important player, displeasure with the coach, or concern about their team's direction. Granted, it does brings another layer of entertainment to a league filled with storylines each week. Durant himself stated, "It just brings more attention to the league, and really what makes you money is when you get more attention. So, I think it’s great for the league, to be honest."
But is it really great for the league when a superstar takes advantage of the power his team gives him?
There are plenty of scenarios where a player wants to be traded even though he might have been the problem. The NBA is a league where teams need stars to perform at a high level, and if they fall short because of their best player's personal shortcomings, that's not on the other players or the coach. Irving is a perfect example, as his personal beliefs and actions held the Nets back from reaching their potential. While he felt like the Nets hadn't respected him, it was Irving who did them a disservice - making more headlines for his controversial opinions rather than winning.
So that goes back to the original question: when is it reasonable for a player to seek a new destination?
The answer is that a player must consistently star for their team, embrace every challenge thrown at them, and hold themselves accountable before expressing his desire to be traded. If it's the team that fails them every season, then they have every right to seek greener pastures. Even after wanting out, they still must conduct themselves professionally. Anthony Davis and Carmelo Anthony are two players who fit this category.
Anthony proved to be the superstar the New York Knicks were hoping for as he consistently performed at a high level for six seasons. But with poor executive decisions, the Knicks began to waste Anthony's all-star years. While he didn't ask to be traded, everyone knew he wanted a fresh start. Even under a regime that was intent on criticizing Anthony, he continued to compete each game. Today, the majority of the Knicks fans appreciate him for embracing one of the most demanding markets in sports.
Davis quickly blossomed into the player the New Orleans Pelicans hoped he'd be when they drafted him with the first pick in 2012. However, they only managed to make the playoffs twice, and in the midst of another losing season Davis expressed his desire to be traded. Despite backlash from fans and being forced to play restricted minutes, Davis still performed at an exceptional level before getting shipped to the Lakers in the offseason.
At the end of the day, players will always have their opinions regardless of whether they're justified or selfish. They know the power their teams are granting them and some will use it for themselves while others don't find it that important. Then again, anytime a star player gets traded, there's always the chance for bitter feelings between all parties involved. But if a he gets traded after years of embracing the responsibility of a star, he'll be remembered for all the right reasons.
As the calendar flips to 2023, most of the NBA title favorites such as the Bucks, Celtics, and Nuggets have been making their case during the season's first quarter. However, there is always a new team that enters the mix and this year, it's the New Orleans Pelicans. After sneaking into last year's playoffs, they've taken a significant step forward thanks to the return of Zion Williamson. There are obviously a lot more games left but this team is seriously good enough to win a round or two.
After a strong showing against the 64-win Suns in last year's playoffs, New Orleans has stormed out the gate to begin the season. They are currently sitting in third place of the Western Conference with a 21-12 record. A big reason why they've been so successful is that they have one of the league's most well-balanced rosters. Young players such as Williamson and Brandon Ingram and veteran acquisitions like C.J. McCollum have all been making significant contributions because they all know their roles.
Zion Williamson has unquestionably been the most important player of the Pelicans. Viewed as a franchise-altering pick, Williamson has dealt with numerous injuries, and even though he's played well when he was healthy, the team often lost. But now Williamson is playing like an MVP candidate, and the Pelicans are winning, which is the combination fans have waited to witness since the day he was drafted. Williamson is currently averaging 25 points and seven rebounds, while seemingly defying gravity in some way every game. It would not be a surprise to see him make the All-NBA first team at the end of the regular season.
In addition, Williamson's supporting cast is arguably one of the best in the league. On offense, Ingram and CJ McCollum are two crafty players who can score in various ways, and hit big shots down the stretch. Their defensive standouts consist of two sophomore players in Herb Jones and un-drafted guard Jose Alvarado. Jones is a tough wing defender thanks to his freakishly long wingspan, while Alvarado makes his mark with his IQ and tenacious hustle.
If there's any concern, it could be the lack of a true point guard. McCollum may be productive at the position in the regular season, but he has usually played shooting guard his whole career and opposing defenses could affect his decision making.
Other than that, they have all the tools to make a deep run. Their roster as a whole consists of many players who have at least one year of playoff experience. Even though Williamson has yet to appear in a playoff game, he is used to the spotlight and will certainly thrive. When they go into the playoffs as one of the best in the west, don't be surprised.
It is not even three full years into this decade, but if there's any recurring trend, it's that plenty of teams were finally able to overcome years of mediocrity and make the playoffs. Whether it has been adjusting to COVID, a major acquisition, or a well timed winning streak, teams such as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cleveland Browns, and Phoenix Suns finally managed to break long standing playoff droughts. The Seattle Mariners and Philadelphia Phillies also recently added their names to the list.
Here's why this pattern continues:
Surprisingly, the first cause has been the effects of the COVID pandemic. Although all teams were challenged with adapting to empty venues, COVID actually might've helped teams who were previously struggling.
Some teams who benefited from these unusual circumstances include the Cleveland Browns, who allowed more fans and only played three games in empty stadiums, unlike many of their opponents whose stadiums were empty all season. In another example, the Miami Marlins and San Diego Padres. were particularly fortunate to play in a shortened season. While some might see these seasons as fluky, it is fair to say that they benefitted from these unusual circumstances as both teams underachieved the following year.
Regardless of COVID, there were other teams who were already well-positioned to break their playoff droughts and were just one player away.
In 2019, the Buccaneers boosted a talented roster that was competitive, but missed the playoffs for the 12th straight year. However, their progress was enough to lure Tom Brady in free agency. The rest was history, as Brady won an seventh Super Bowl in a convincing 31-9 triumph. The following season saw them lose in Divisional Round but there's no question Brady has changed the culture in Tampa Bay.
The Phoenix Suns, with a young roster led by Devin Booker, went 8-0 in the NBA bubble but narrowly missed out on the play-in tournament. Despite this, they established a foundation and would soon trade for Chris Paul whose greatest ability is elevating his teammates. Since then, the Suns not only broke their 10 year drought, but have won more games than any other team, and made the 2021 Finals.
If there's one thing great teams have in common, it is the ability to embark on a winning stretch at the right time. This is also how some teams were finally able to get over the hump to make the playoffs. Just as they would slowly start to fall out of the playoff picture, they heated up at the perfect time.
The 2021 New York Knicks are a perfect fit for this category. While they had already showed significant improvement, it looked like their luck was starting to run out with just over a month left. What followed was a nine game winning streak, culminating into 16 wins in their last 20 games: good enough to clinch the fourth seed. Their first playoff series in eight years against the Hawks lasted only five games, but witnessing their game 2 win in person was an incredible experience for me.
Unlike the Knicks, this year's Seattle Mariners were looking to take the next step after falling short of the playoffs the previous season. They started slow but found their stride in July: the exact time baseball games become significant. Seattle won an amazing 14 consecutive games, which boosted them into the wild card picture, a position they would not relinquish. Last Friday, they finally put an end to their 21 year drought; the longest out of any American sports team at the time.
Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
When you’re going to an event for the first time, there’s probably a ton of thoughts racing through your mind.
Will I enjoy it, what am I going to get out of it, and will I want to go again?
For me, those were some of the things I was wondering about before going to Tuesday night's Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) game between the New York Liberty and Las Vegas Aces with the New York Times Sports Storytelling course. As someone who has gone to plenty of Knicks games for the last 10 years, I was curious about what type of experience I would get from watching a WNBA game for the first time. Forty minutes later, I left Barclays Center hoping for another chance to attend a game.
Las Vegas emerged victorious last night as they extinguished the Liberty’s burning torch, leading throughout the entire contest. The Aces improved to 16-7 while the Liberty fell to 9-14. In a game that featured a combined six all stars, four of them on Las Vegas, the Aces barely broke a sweat in the first half, leading 53-28 at halftime thanks to a balanced scoring attack led by All Star MVP Kelsey Plum. However, the Liberty fought back valiantly in the second half, scoring a WNBA record 73 points in a single half. With superstar Sabrina Ionescu on the bench, her fellow all-star Natasha Howard and Sami Whitcomb trimmed the Aces lead to single digits by the end of the third quarter. Ionescu joined the rally in the fourth quarter by scoring 21 of her 27 points, but the Aces hit key shots down the stretch and ultimately emerged victorious.
After the game, Liberty coach Sandy Brondello credited the team for their ferocious rally, but stated that if they continue to replicate their first half performance, “We’ll lose against every team.”
While watching, I tried to observe more than any other basketball game I’ve previously attended. What I witnessed was tons of off-ball movement with all five players working as one. Yes, there were still one on one baskets whether it was from Ionescu or Plum, but more often than not, each basket involved an off-ball screen, a cut to the basket, and the extra pass. As someone who has seen lots of basketball, I would rather see possessions where everyone plays as one compared to sequences where someone tries to dunk it over everybody. There’s plenty of times in the National Basketball Association where teams have a sequence involving all five players working together, but that tends to come during the first minutes of action or when a coach draws up an out of bounds play.
When an NBA game is free flowing, players will try to use their athleticism to outsmart their opponents which can only do so much. In last night’s game, the possessions that saw lots of passing were more frequent. The most impressive part is the fact that they aren’t running a specific play, but rather trying to outsmart the opponent by using their brains.
In a question surrounding the play style of teams, third year player Jocelyn Willoughby has missed the majority of the season with a knee injury but still finds the WNBA teams to be “more team oriented” and “fundamentally sound”.
If more NBA teams could adapt the playstyle WNBA teams play with, the game as a whole would be more beautiful because everyone would have a significant role on each possession. As a matter of fact, it would open more opportunities for highlight reel plays since players will be in a better position to make those spectacular plays. Everyone, including myself, understandably enjoys watching the entertaining moments of an NBA game but if good ball and player movement can lead to a great play, it’ll be the best of both worlds.