Some hoops to consider, part 1

In a league that includes 30 teams that EACH play 82 games, there is no shortage of information during the course of an NBA season. From the opening tipoff in late October until the final games in June, hoops heads everywhere will watch, listen, text, tweet, email, compare, complain, dissect, analyze, over-analzye, and do anything and everything else it takes to understand what’s happening in these upcoming months. Since we’re about 10 games into the season, there are already a number of things to consider. Here are a few:

The Timberwolves will be good as long as they stay healthy.

While staying healthy is obviously important, the Minnesota Timberwolves are the one team who’s had the players to compete the past few years, but because of injuries they have only been a fraction of how good they can be. They haven’t been to the playoffs since 2004, but don’t expect them to miss out again this year. Injuries to both Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio were two very big reasons why the Wolves haven’t had much success, but all that has passed. Not only is Love putting up MVP-like numbers (he’s currently 2nd in the NBA in scoring and rebounding, averaging 27 & 14, respectively), Rubio is continuing to be the kind of point guard that people predicted a few years ago, and that’s to create (he’s 3rd in the NBA in assists with 9.7 a game) for his teammates and wreak havoc on the defensive end. Between Love’s dominance, Rubio’s health/improvement, and a strong supporting cast, there’s no reason why the Wolves shouldn’t be one of the last teams standing in the Western Conference.

The Thunder will be praised and questioned more than any other team this year.

It’s no surprise that the Oklahoma City Thunder are still one of the best teams in the league. Despite trading away James Harden last season, the Thunder still have what it takes to compete for a championship. Since they never fully succeeded (never winning a championship, that is) while they had Harden, the general consensus is that they still can’t do so, especially since Harden was never replaced (they tried with Kevin Martin, but now he’s making baskets for the already mentioned Wolves). But you can’t forget about Nick Collison, Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka, solid role players who have played a major part in their success over the past few years. And there’s also the Oklahoma City fans themselves, who have proven to be one of the best home crowds in the league. As long as you have the best scorer on the planet, one of the best point guards, and an improving supporting cast, you’re gonna continue to win some games. Yet, people will still doubt them until the end, especially if they lose a few in a row. Expect to hear the Thunder called everything in the book. Either way they should be around in the end.

The Knicks were obviously not going to be good and they’re living up to it.

Maybe I care more about the Knicks because I live in New York, but in my opinion the Knicks are like the Yankees of baseball or the Cowboys of football; always relevant even when they shouldn’t be. The Knicks are off to a slow start, and it won’t get much better from here. Amare Stoudemire isn’t what he used to be (to put it lightly), Tyson Chandler is out for over a month, their new starting center is earning collecting over $11 million this year to average about 4 rebounds a game, people are getting tired of the Smiths, and they’re just old. And they have no money to spend. It’s a shame to see what’s been done to that franchise over the past 15 years, and I’m not expecting much more anytime soon. But I do thoroughly enjoy New Yorkers bitch about the Knicks, so that should be fun.

The Magic are actually pretty good, and they will continue to make things interesting.

This is definitely one team I couldn’t care less about until this season. No one anticipates the Orlando Magic to be making much noise this year, with very little hopes of even making the playoffs. But they are going to be a very annoying team to play on a nightly basis. While no one on their team is a household name, they’re not a bunch of scrubs, either. They have quality veterans in point guard Jameer Nelson and forward Jason Maxiell, two guys who’ve always been consistent, as well as up-and-coming guys like Andrew Nicholson, Maurice Harkless and Nikola Vucevic. Starting at shooting guard is Aaron Afflalo, whose reputation as a shooter may turn into something more now that he’s leading the team in scoring with 21 points per game (compared with 10 ppg for his career). And then there’s Victor Oladipo, the 2nd pick of this year’s draft. Last year he was considered a tough college player who might make a decent NBA player one day; now it seems he’s a can’t-miss. Expect this team to get some big wins throughout the year.

He may or may not be anything special, but I’m going to keep an eye on Giannis Antetokounmpo.

I haven’t seen Giannis Antetokounmpo play much other than what I’ve seen from some highlights, but I like the look of him. At 18 years old he is the youngest player in the NBA, so he’s got loads of potential. Born to Nigerian parents but raised a Greek citizen, he has four brothers who also play basketball, so athleticism seems to be a common theme for the Antetokounmpos. Since he came up through the Greek pro system rather quickly, no one really knows how effective a player Giannis will become for the Milwaukee Bucks, but there’s hope among fans that the ‘Greek Freak’ will turn into something special. He can dunk without trying, and as this writer points out, he looks genuinely happy to be where he is. Hopefully he can help the Bucks get to the next level, whenever that may be.

The Bulls will struggle to score, but their defense will carry them.

There’s already been plenty of hope and praise shelled out for this year’s Chicago Bulls. They’ve taken some necessary steps along the way (quality draft picks, new head coach, free agent pickups, etc.) to get better, and now they’re here, ready and willing to do whatever it takes to win a championship. Critics have said that they play too hard during the year to be effective later in the season, and that head coach Tom Thibodeau has a habit of doing so. Call it what you want, but he expects nothing but their best, and that’s what coaches do: they bring out the best in their players. While it’s been frustrating to watch them offensively, this isn’t news. They have always been near the bottom of the league in terms of points, but as long as they continue to rebound, distribute the ball to each other, and play effective team defense, there’s no reason why this team shouldn’t have a successful year. There might be times throughout the year where the Bulls seem rather short-handed, but make no mistake about it: every team is flawed on some level.

By June, all 30 teams will have a story to tell, but only one will really like the ending. Let’s enjoy the drama while it lasts.

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