Finally, the real basketball season has arrived.
That means no more exhausting talk about LeBron resting and looking for playmakers, or what Kevin Durant's presence will bring to the Warriors postseason construct, or the lazy narrative that there's no defense being played in the NBA, or if Russell Westbrook's MVP candidacy is more valid than James Harden's and others, or the rest of the tired storylines that have permeated the hoops landscape over last few months.
To paraphrase the great urban philosopher Redman, it's time for some action!
If you merely get your information from microwaveable highlight clips and television's bulbous talking heads, you'll be surprised to learn that the NBA deliciousness expands way beyond the usual suspects that dominate the headlines.
After some great opening games to tip off the first round of 2017 NBA Playoffs, it's time that you started paying attention to the depth and nuance of what makes the league so incredible.
You might not know it now, but beauty of pro ball is that beyond LeBron, Steph Curry, Westbrook and Harden, there are innumerable storylines and players that warrant your attention.
Here are few:
We told you before and we'll tell you again, The Greek Freak is not fakin' the funk. He's the future of it. This year, He led the Bucks in minutes, points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals. Please read that last sentence again.
He's only 22 years old, but he's already served notice to the game's exalted hierarchy that they better get it now while the getting is good, because there's a new sheriff in town.
In Milwaukee's 97-83 win on the road against Toronto, Antetokuonmpo had 28 points and eight rebounds. But please don't just rely on the stat sheet to understand what he brings to the equation. Watch him on the defensive end and you'll walk away with the understanding that you're watching the beginning of what should be a generational type of greatness.
And if you think the Bucks are simply about him, you're sadly mistaken. Head coach Jason Kidd is quietly building an Eastern Conference takeover with the likes of the currently injured Jabari Parker, 157-year-old rookie Malcolm Brogdon and veterans Greg Monroe and Matthew Dellavedova. They've got some excellent complimentary pieces in Kris Middleton and Tony Snell as well. And if Thon Maker develops into a fraction of what what his potential ceiling is, Fuhgetaboutit!
Yeah, yeah, yeah, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Splash Brothers, blah-blah-blah. I've been screaming it from the mountaintops for years now - as amazing as his teammates are, there is no one more valuable to the Golden State Warriors than Draymond Green.
In yesterday's 121-109 win against Portland, he put up 19 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists, five blocks, and three steals. On offense, the man is a power forward with the vision who possesses the passing ability of a point guard. Defensively, he guards every position on the floor. From the wing to the paint, his impact on the game is incomparable.
Yes, KD had 32 points and 10 boards and Curry pumped in 29 points as well, but Green is the intangible element that elevates the Warriors toward the supernatural.
If you’re into metrics and statistics, you won’t be able to quantify Green’s true worth. But if your sensory perception is truly tuned into the hidden nuance and texture of the game, you’ll see that the reason why Golden State plays with such confounding inventiveness has everything to do Green being utterly indispensable on both ends of the floor.
He’s a playmaker and a shot-maker, a rebounder and facilitator whose pick-and-roll prowess with the Warriors' shooters produces more damage to the foundation of every other NBA franchise since crack cocaine in the 1980’s. He’s an exceptional two-way beast that also happens to be the league’s best and most remarkable defensive player, a force of nature that can guard Damian Lillard one minute, and Anthony Davis the next.
Damian Lillard has already established himself as an NBA superstar and the franchise's marquee name, but it's time that more people recognize how incredible Portland's CJ McCollum is. Yesterday, he gave the Warriors all that they could handle, and then some, en route to scoring 41 points and grabbing eight boards.
Lillard and McCollum are the league's most exciting backcourt outside of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson in the Western Conference. As a rookie, McCollum played in only 38 games, none of which he started, and averaged 5.3 points. Now, in his fourth year as pro and a full-time starter, he blazed for 23.0 points per game.
People out here talking about the mid-range game being a lost art in the NBA have obviously not watched him at all over the past two seasons. Off the dribble, fading away, off-balance, off the catch, one-dribble, two-dribble, pull-ups, step-backs, in-and-out, crossovers, off the screen or attacking the tin, he's the best mid-range perimeter scorer in the entire league.
McCollum was utterly unstoppable in the first half against Golden State, hitting 11 of his 15 shot attempts. At one point, with one of the league's best defenders trying to cool him down, he made Draymond Green look like Jose Calderon with his ability to blow past his man and get to his sweet spots.
Lillard is incredible, but folks need to start paying more attention to his partner in crime in the backcourt. Yesterday, he and McCollum's combined 75 points were two off the franchise playoff record by teammates. They became the first Blazers teammates to score 34 or more points in a playoff game since Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter did it 22 years ago.
Most people outside of the Washington, DC area haven't been paying attention to the Wizards this year, but they should have been, because John Wall is one of the most incredible talents in the entire NBA.
Make no mistake, his 32 points and 14 assists in yesterday's 114-107 win against the Atlanta Hawks were not an anomaly. He's been rocking out like that for this entire season. This year, he's averaging 23.1 points per game, and this is the third season in a row where he'a averaged over 10 assists.
There isn't a faster player with the ball in his hands. Wall gets to the rim whenever he wants to, is a vicious defender, and is always looking to get his teammates easy looks.
The Wizards and the Celtics will provide Cleveland its stiffest test in the East. The two squads, who have utter disdain for one another, are favored to advance to meet in the next round. If you aren't excited to see Wall and Boston's exceptional little man Isaiah Thomas go at it, you aren't a true basketball fan.
It seems weird to see Chris Paul on this list, because he's a future first ballot Hall of Famer. But admit it, nobody has been talking about him outside of those State Farm commercials. But just when you needed a reminder of how special he truly is, he gave us one in the Clippers 97-95 loss to the Jazz on Saturday.
With the rest of his squad looking uninspired, CP3 was a one-man force of nature with 25 points, 11 assists, seven rebounds and three steals.
Due to the historically great past few seasons put up by Golden State, along with the Spurs' consistent excellence, the narrative has shifted away from the Clippers. Don't fall for the banana in the tailpipe. Can they win it all? Probably not. But never say never.
Are they fun to watch? Without a doubt.
In the playoffs, trust me, you don't want to miss what Chris Paul brings to the party. Win or lose, his game is one to be cherished.
The Utah Jazz
No one will hold it against you if this is your first real exposure to the Utah Jazz this year. However, if you don't take this opportunity to watch Gordon Hayward every chance you get during these playoffs, you'll be missing out on something special. He's one of the brightest young talents in the game today.
In Utah's 97-95 win over the Clippers in Game 1, he scored 19 points and grabbed 10 boards. Sadly, we won't get to see this Utah team, the NBA's best defensive unit, at full strength due to the injury to french center Rudy Gobert, aka The Stifle Tower.
But we will get to see the makings of a squad that's equal parts youth and experience, an off-the-radar compilation of compatible talent that, if able to remain intact and escape the ravages of free agency, will pose problems for everyone in the Western Conference for years to come.
Utah will miss Gobert's 14.0 points, 12.8 rebounds and incredible shot-blocking prowess, along with his instituting a no-fly zone around the paint. His injury may ultimately curtail what could have been an unexpected deep playoff run.
But given that, please watch Hayward, Joe Johnson, George Hill, Boris Diaw, Derrick Favors and Rodney Hood rocking out with a precision and intellect that is normally associated with the San Antonio Spurs.
Other Non-Household Names Watch With a Discerning Eye During The First Round:
Jimmy Butler, Bobby Portis, Avery Bradley, Dennis Schroder, Bradley Beal, Markieff Morris, Kelly Oubre Jr., Patrick Beverley, Miles Turner, Lance Stephenson, Marc Gasol, Patty Mills, Malcolm Brogdon, PJ Tucker