For the NBA fan 25-years-old and over, 2016 is a weird year. Michael Jordan is a meme, Kobe Bryant is done wearing Purple & Gold and cats is out here dry snitching on teammates with video tapes (and not catching no types of fades).
Despite all this new-new, there’s one thing that remains the same: Basketball itself.
Stars are still scoring, records are being broken left and right and guys like Draymond Green, Anthony Davis and Kristaps Porzingus point to just how evolved and near position-less players are becoming.
Every season has its own chapter in the long NBA storybook, but what will we really take from this period when we look back on this year?
Read along and vibe with us.
You Loved Kobe Bryant (Admit It)
Whether you actually cheered for Kobe Bean Bryant over the past 20 years or not is irrelevant. The fact is because you love basketball, you loved his game.
The response Kobe received during his farewell season wasn’t expected - least of all, to his own admittance, to the Black Mamba himself. Since ‘96, fans either cheered or were saltier than his in-game jersey sweat he so often sucked on. But more disgusting than that was how he did defenders and teams en route to his legendary Laker status.
There were highs and (a lot) of lows for Bryant this season, but he finished his career in a way only he could: 60 points and a W with the whole sporting world watching — and rooting for the old gun slinger to go out chucking his way to a record-setting last game. He was the last of an incredible draft class and, in many ways, the last samurai from the Jordan era. Like the GOAT he chased, we’ll never see another Kobe Bryant.
But we will see remnants of his game in some players like…
Paul George Is Closest Thing We’ll Have To Kobe For A While
OK I know if you ask Kobe Bryant which current player reminds him of himself, he’ll say Russell Westbrook. And while the Oklahoma City Thunder guard is every bit the DAWG that Bean was in his prime, it’s actually Indiana Pacers swingman Paul George whose game resembles Kobe’s the most. If you look at the shot selection, to the footwork and overall style of play, George does his best impression of Bryant in today’s NBA. At least in style.
That reminds me. There’s another current Laker who has a young gunnin’ doppelgänger…
Stanley Johnson Is Ron Artest 2.0
That’s right. A California native, Stanley Johnson is going to be an All Star one day and might be the game’s best defender even sooner. He’s shown no fear when guarding the likes of LeBron James during the Detroit Pistons playoff run. And, he talked all kinds of (insert a string of poo emojis here) to Kevin Durant about having no fear in guarding the former league MVP.
More important than smack talk, Johnson can actually lock up. Known for a relentless work ethic, he’s already shown flashes of an outside shot. Once his offense catches up to his defense and his confidence, he’ll be a problem for anyone playing against Detroit.
Speaking of the Pistons…
Hack-a-Center Needs To Go
Man, listen. Andre Drummond was doing some Incredible Hulk type stuff in the paint this season. A league-leading nine 20+ rebound games, four 20-20 games; two of which were a few points or rebounds short of 30 and 30’s.
But he makes Ben Wallace look like Ben Gordon at the Free Throw line. A player that good gotta get in the gym, right? Yes, but at the end of the day the NBA is in the business of entertainment. And there’s nothing entertaining about watching teams intentionally foul Drummond and others like him who can’t get right at the line.
Maybe limit it to the last two minutes of a half or it’s a technical foul. I don’t know, I’m not Adam Silver. But he’s gotta do something about this. And NBA coaches need to resort to better tactics to win games. It’s an archaic strategy that should be on its way out because these new coaches like Luke Walton and Brad Stevens are coming.
Matter of fact…
Brad Stevens Is The Next Great Coach
If not for Luke Wal.. I mean Steve Kerr’s record breaking 73-9 coaching season, my pick for NBA Coach of the Year would’ve been Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. Dating back to his back-to-back NCAA Tournament Final runs with Butler University in 2010 and 2011, no coach has done more with less than the 39-year-old Indiana native.
By all accounts, in his short tenure, Stevens has kind of quietly improved the Celtics from a No. 7 seed in 2015 to a No. 5 seed this season that forced the veteran Atlanta Hawks team to six games in the opening round of the playoffs. And with the Celtics receiving the Brooklyn Nets’ draft pick this season, Boston is bound to get better.
Speaking of teams on the come up…
The Timberwolves Are The Scariest Team (in 2020)
Just look at the roster: A dynamic wing in Zach LaVine, options for the future or the right now in Tyus Jones and Ricky Rubio at point guard, and back-to-back ROYS / soon-to-be stars in Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns.
Considering they have the fifth pick in June’s upcoming NBA Draft, which could turn into University of Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield to round out their young core, Minnesota has the upside of a 6-foot-4 eighth grader with a 38 inch vert (which half of them used to be).
Even in the Western Conference, the idea of that much talent sticking around on one team, gelling and learning the game over the course of a three to four year period is nothing to scoff at. Remember it only took a little bit of time for OKC to turn into a playoff team once they drafted the right players. This young Pack could potentially be even more complete.
And since we’re talking about Zach LaVine…
The Dunk Contest Ain’t Dead
Every year Kenny “the Jet” Smith and-them say the NBA dunk contest has either been reduced to an outdated novelty or it’s back and better than ever. There’s just no in-between.
But even after 2015’s damn-near twitter breaking performance by Zach LaVine, this year’s aerial battle between LaVine and Orlando Magic power forward Aaron Gordon cemented that creativity in the form of flight still exists. It was unquestionably the best dunk contest duel since Michael Jordan vs. Dominique Wilkins — complete with a controversial ending.
Diet Blake Griffin and high-jumping Drake opened the flood gates for many a youth that’s on the way (search 2K Ferguson and Seventh Woods if you need convincing) and they used the dunk contest for what it used to be: a platform to elevate the relatively unknown to stardom.
Other superstar players could take notes on showmanship because….
Kawhi Leonard Needs a Puppet
In his first All-Star season, Kawhi Leonard averaged 21 points and 6.8 rebounds. The Leader of the New Spurs also averaged nearly two steals and a block per game to take home Defensive Player of the Year hardware. He even finished ahead of LeBron James in the MVP voting. And you never noticed.
If you’re being honest with yourself, Leonard can seem like an afterthought at times. Sure, he is a bit refreshing in the era of the athlete that has more side hustles than homies still handing out mixtapes in 2016.
However, Leonard’s inability to connect and show any bit of personality makes it super easy to forget the young superstar. While quietly winning championships worked for his teammate and all-time great, Tim Duncan, it just won’t for Leonard.
Big men who do too much don’t usually go over well (ask Dwight Howard) unless they win chips (ask Shaq). Tim being timid off the court was kind of endearing. But Kawhi’s fighting for attention in a league with likes of King James, Chef Curry and Russell Westbrook, just to name a few of the league’s most polarizing stars. Actually, he’s not — which may hurt him down the line for awards or even his legacy.
Numbers should do most the legwork in that regard but the game’s biggest ambassadors have always won over the public with personality. Magic, MJ, Kobe, LeBron. They gave us something to remember them by. Public opinion probably shouldn’t hold the weight it does, but ask yourself this: How come history doesn’t remember Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the GOAT? Some circles even talk about Wilt with the likes of Jordan before they do Cap. If Kawhi isn’t careful, he too will be asking to be immortalized with a statue.
Unlike the dudes who sent him home this post season…
Breaking Up KD & Russell Westbrook Would Be A Crime
As in it’s just a matter of time before these two figure it out and become the title toting tandem we’ve always expected. KD is as cold a player the NBA has ever seen. In an era when the point guard is key to winning, Westbrook is redefining the position as we know it.
So the idea of “blowing up” the pair just sounds silly. Neither of them seem disengaged or unhappy with the other, new head coach Billy Donovan or their “small market.” In fact, all season, and the further we get towards June, they look more and more comfortable together than ever before. They look like the team we thought they’d end up being (sans James Harden, of course). Just ask the defending champion Golden State Warriors what they think of OKC four games into the Western Conference Finals.
Young teams turn into good teams and, if they’re lucky, good teams become legendary and remind us…
Records Were Meant To Be Broken
Have to close out the 2015-16 season discussion with the best team in the league during the regular season: Golden State Warriors. They’ve handled everything the league’s thrown at them with a flair for the outside shot that’s revolutionized the game. But now they’re on the brink of playoff elimination.
Mark Jackson may feel a way about kids emulating Steph Curry’s shots (which they probably shouldn’t) but the message with each deep-three is simple: put in them gym hours. He might look 12-years-old, but the reigning MVP has been in the gym for like 30 hours a la Kanye working on his craft. Couple that with a special two-way, two-guard and fellow Splash Brother, Klay Thompson; and point-center Draymond Green and you have a championship formula.
Season up the team with next level coaching from both Steve Kerr and Luke Walton, and bench play from vets like Shaun Livingston and reigning Finals MVP Andre Iguodala and you’ve got a team that breaks the Chicago Bulls 72-10 record to rewrite history.
Now, with their backs against the wall, let’s see if they can pass their stiffest test yet, down three games to one in the Western Conference Finals en route to being crowned to greatest NBA squad of all time.