The NBA regular season is a long. With 82 games to not only watch great basketball, you learn a lot throughout the process. Here are 10 things we learned in the Eastern Conference this season.
10. Big names does not always mean Big wins
Lets admit it, Detroit doesn’t know what they’re doing.
When Blake Griffin was traded to the Pistons, many knew it was a move to fill seats in their newly build arena in downtown Detroit. Griffin was a former All-star who wowed fans with highlight dunks and bruised his way in the low post for points; This was of course until his injury report card began to fill up. Injuries from hand brakes to Knee issues, Griffin could not escape from the DNP bug. With all his ailments piling up, Blake has lost most of his explosiveness. He has began shooting more threes and less attacking the rim, which doesn’t help Detroit much due to his poor shooting percentage.
Griffin alongside with Andre Drummond was seen as one of the best front courts in the entire league. Blake’s playmaking ability along with Drummond’s low post defense was seen to propel the Pistons to a high seed in the playoffs. Detroit were a couple of games out of the playoffs but Griffin was the anchor that was suppose to hold the ship down. What happened instead was the complete opposite.
The team started off hot, winning seven straight before the train began derailing. The team began losing their defensive edge, Griffin and Reggie Jackson got injuries (again) which ended their season early, and Drummond’s offensive limitations began to rear it’s ugly head.
Detroit could have the building blocks to make it back to the playoffs, but it is clear both management and the players do not know where to start.
9. Wizards better without John Wall? Of Course NOT!
Washington has had a disappointing season this year without question.
The Wizards were seen before the season started as a team that could challenge for the top-spot in the East. With All-NBA guard John Wall and backcourt Allstar Bradley Beal, Washington had the pieces to give anyone a run for their money. Otto Porter was improving yearly and Kelly Oubre was a bright spot coming off the bench. All seemed primed for the Wizards to flourish this season. But from playing to the level of their opponents to seemingly forget how to play defense for many stretches of the year, Washington played well below their expectations.
Wall was dealing with a recurring knee injury that limited his play on the court. He did not have his explosiveness we are use to seeing and his defense was a step slow. Because of this, Wall elected to undergo minor knee surgery that forced him to miss majority of the season. In that span of time, Washington showed their true colors.
The team started off hot without Wall, winning five straight and 7 of out 10. The ball was moving and players were getting looks they previously wouldn’t have with Wall. Players and other media outlets began questioning Wall’s value to the team. Center Marcin Gortat and Beal even took shots publicly at their Allstar teammate. Then everything came crumbling down.
Washington proceed to lose 14 of their last 18 games and fall all they way to the eight seed. Team started loading up on Beal, making non-playmakers handle the ball. Beal showed just how unclutch he could be, shooting the fifth worst percentage in the NBA in crunch time at 30 percent. The team was labeled “selfish” by head coach Scott Brooks and any title hopes for the team have nearly vanished.
With Wall back, Washington hopes he can put the team on his back and lead them to a first round upset again the top-seeded Raptors. But asking that from a guard that is still getting back in the flow of things is a tall task.
8. Who said 33 was Old?
What LeBron James is doing in year 15 should not be possible. Not only is he still head and shoulders the best player in the world; but he might of had his best season of his career.
To say Cleveland has a rollercoaster year would be stating the obvious. After trading away Kyrie Irving in the offseason for guard Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and Brooklyn’s first round pick; no one cold image the troubles the Cavs would face. To start, you trade of the the greatest finishers around the rim for a 5’9 guard who was dealing with a hip injury that would keep him out majority of the first half of the season. Then Crowder, who was known for his defense, seemingly left his powers in Boston and became more of a liability than anything else. The team gets Derrick Rose, who turns out to not fit the system you want to run. THEN at the trade deadline, you trade nearly everyone. AND ON TOP OF THAT, Kevin Love breaks his hand, forcing him to miss major time and head coach Ty Lue is forced to miss time due to health. Everything that could go wrong for Cleveland did, except for LeBron James.
For the first time in his career, James played in at 82 games of the season. Logging nearly 38 mins a night, he finished the season averaging 27.5 points, 9.1 assists, and 8.6 rebounds a night (all career highs outside of points.) Even with the team around him in disarray, James was the only constant.
With a number poster dunks to mind boggling passes this season, James has firmly left his mark on the “greatest of all time” argument and made his case for this years MVP race.
7. Speaking of Kyrie Irving and the Celtics…
If Brad Stevens does not win Coach of the Year this season, we’d have to seriously look at the criteria of how to win it.
Losing your second best player in Gordon Hayward for the entire year just minutes into the season would send a team into ” there’s always next season,” territory. With Kyrie Irving and Hayward leading Boston, it was felt that the Celtics had all the ingredients to make it to the Finals. But with Hayward out, that thought was seen to be only a fantasy.
But then Boston happened!
Thanks to the brilliance of Stevens, Boston bloomed into one of the best teams in all of the NBA. Behind Irving and rookie sensation Jayson Tatum, Boston used it’s defense to stay viable in the league. Irving grew as a leader on a young team and Boston now sits second in the East.
Irving reaggravated his knee towards the end of the season, forcing him to miss this years playoffs but his impact on the team is evident. He, along with Stevens, will have Boston at the top the league for years to come.
6. Let’s have a honest talk about Giannis
Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of the top ten best players in all of basketball.
“The Greek Freak” can get anyone on the court he wants and is nearly unstoppable inside the paint. His long frame and quick feet allow him to bag down low with bigs and his guard like dribbling ability makes turns him into the ultimate weapon.
But does “Great” always equate to “valuable?”
Milwaukee is a weird team. With arguably the longest roster in the NBA, the Bucks are nearly last in Defensive rebounds and 12 in offensive rebounding. They are 19 in opponents field goal percentage and 15 in points per game. And seeing as Giannis has the ball in his hands nearly 80 percent of the time, he only averages 4.8 assists a game. Outside of Eric Bledsoe and maybe Jabari Parker, no one from last years team has shown signs of improvement and even head coach Jason Kidd was fired halfway through the season.
While Giannis is great, he does not necessarily make anyone better around him. He is an attack first, second, third, and fourth player who can not shoot outside of 13 feet from the basket.
Like Washington, Milwaukee limped to the playoffs by the skin of their teeth. And while Giannis is a top-tier player in the NBA, a real question needs to be asked on just ow valuable he really is?
5. What a difference a year makes
Remember when Paul George told Indiana we was leaving if they did not trade him? Remember when the team then traded him for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. Remember when may felt it was one of the most uneven trades in NBA history?
Yea I know, time flies!
Oladipo has not only exceeded expectations; he also shed the “bust” label that traded with his from Oklahoma City Thunder. In this Orlando does, Oladipo was seen has a good player who put up a lot of puts in meaningless games. His Magic squad lost more times than they won and he was seen as a good, but not great, player. Then when he was traded to OKC, many felt we would be the prefect third option to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Then Durant’s decision to leave the Thunder for Golden State changed the dynamic of the team. While Oladipo wasn’t expecting to be the second option, he was more than capable of doing so. But he struggled all season playing alongside another ball dominate guards, averaging career lows in nearly every statistical category. So when he was then traded to Indy for George, it was viewed that the Pacers got the raw end of the deal. Oh how wrong we were.
Not only has Oladipo reminded us just how good he could be; he’s elevated his play to Allstar levels. He now saw career highs in every category and he lead the Pacers to the fifth seed in the East (and an identical record than the Thunder.)
What a difference a year makes.
4. Home is where the heart is
Let’s be honest, Dwyane Wade never looked right in a Bulls or Cavs uniform.
The future Hall of Famer made a career of memorable game winning shoots and championship runs in Miami before darting off to the Bulls two seasons ago. There, Wade struggled with both “fitting in” to his new team and getting into a groove. These problems followed Wade when he signed with Cleveland after being bought out in Chicago.
It was not until Wade was traded back to Miami at the trade deadline that we saw the “old Wade” return. No, he is not flying through the air dunking on poor souls under the basket. But Wade finally looks comfortable again. He is the leader of a dangerous playoff team and looks to make another signature run in this years post season.
Wade is and will always be known as a Heat. And that’s how it should be.
P.S. Those “Miami Vice” Jerseys are gorgeous
3. Injuries Suck!
Injuries hit the NBA had this season. Nearly every team was hit with a key player going down. No team was arguably more effected by injury that New York. While The Knicks certainly did not have the most injuries hit the team, losing Kristaps Porzingis ended their season completely.
Before the injury, Porzingis was playing at a near All-NBA level. His defense had improved from previous seasons and he was flourishing in the number one option seat. New York was in the fourth seed in the East and it looked like the Knicks were going to end their five year playoff drought. Porzingis was even inching into MVP conversations. Then boom, it was all over.
On February 6, Porzingis tore his ACL during a game against the Bucks. Since that time, New York has not only handed over their playoff spot, they turned back into “the Knicks.” Terrible offense, no defense whats so ever, and no leadership ruined any hopes of a successful season.
With Porzingis, New York is a fun, dangerous team.
Without him, they are nearly unwatchable.
2. Magic, is that you? *Wipes eyes*
Ben Simmons is a once in a generation type player.
Finishing third in the NBA in triple double behind Russell Westbrook and LeBron James, Simmons is on another level (and it’s only his first season…sorta.)
Standing at 6’11, Simmons is a matchup nightmare for everyone not named LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Giannis Antetokounmpo. He is the true definition of a point-forward and it is nearly impossible from keeping him from getting to the rim. Simmons passing ability along with his strength forces teams to take smaller guards out because they simply can’t guard him.
Alongside Joel Embiid, Philly has showed the world that the process is complete. Sitting in the third seed in the East, the 76ers has all the tools to make it all the way to their first finals since Allen Iverson was noting caring about practice.
Ben Simmons can not shoot (like Magic couldn’t his first two years), he is terrible from the free throw line (like Magic was his first two years), but with more practice, Simmons could truly turn into a one of a kind player.
1. The Raptors are For real this time
Best bench in the NBA? Check!
DeMar DeRozan developed a reliable three point shot? Check!
The Raptors are top ten in both defensive and offensive efficiency? Check and Check!
After having a great season come to an uncompetitive end by the hands of the Cavaliers a year ago in the conference semifinals, Toronto got in the lab and worked on their game as a TEAM. Every single player say statistical improvements in nearly every category from a year ago. Kyle Lowry is still the rugged, defensive minded point guard who’s never shy shooting the ball. DeRozan is still arguably the best midrange shooter in the NBA. And Serge Ibaka is still a 3-point threat from outside. But as a whole, everyone has raised their level of play.
After handedly beating the Cavs twice, Thunder, Houston, Boston twice, and San Antonio once, Toronto snatched the number one seed in the East and never looked back.
While they are accustomed to having good regular season, time will tell if they can shake their post season demons. But this team feels different, and a trip to the NBA finals will be the only thing that can officially validate Toronto.