Last year, SLAM PH ran GET HYPED, our way of breaking down the upcoming NBA season. Back then it seemed as if the NBA went through an overhaul of sorts with all the changes that happened in the 2017 offseason.
“That’s cute,” said the 2018 NBA offseason.
LeBron left the East to join the young Lakers. That one move simultaneously opened up the conference for any takers, and turned LA into a sudden contender in the West. That was just the beginning. Kawhi was shipped North, Melo joined the Rockets and Boogie completed the Warriors’ All-Star five.
The new NBA season is gearing up to be one of the most exciting and unpredictable ones in the history of the league. So, once again, get hyped! The NBA is back!
I’m guessing you know what a rebound is.
Not that rebound though; not that thing basketball players do, but that thing regular people do when they break up with someone and they settle for the first person that sends them an eggplant emoji.
Yeah. Well I’m in the middle of a break-up. Not just any break-up mind you; a basketball break-up.
And I need a rebound.
(Does this sound confusing? I promise it isn’t.)
There are a ton of reasons to break up with your basketball team.
Maybe you’re sick and tired of playoff irrelevance, front office facepalmery, and off-court shenanigans from your B-list star player. Maybe you’ve finally realized that Russell Westbrook will never learn to make his teammates better. Maybe you’re a Kobe lifer who absolutely refuses to cheer for a Lebron-led Laker squad. Maybe James Dolan is actually Satan himself and your religious parents would never approve. Maybe after putting up with an excruciating rebuild, year after year, the basketball gods finally grace your deplorable franchise with a number 1 pick—in a draft with a transcendent, generational, 19-year-old messiah who had just won the MVP in the second-best league in the world—and your team picks DeAndre freakin’ Ayton.
If any of those sound vaguely relatable, then brother, I got news for you. It’s time to break up with your NBA team. It’s not us, man. It’s them! And we refuse to stay in a painful, abusive, thankless relationship for one season longer.
We deserve better. We deserve ballers who play hard and work harder, whether or not they’re on their rookie contracts. We deserve coaches who instill a culture of sharing and who can draw up ATO plays that will make you and Mike Breen go “BANG!” together. We deserve fun and excitement in our lives again, with no strings attached.
We deserve a rebound—and luckily for you and me, these three teams are sending you eggplant emojis right now.
There’s nowhere to go but up for the Bulls. Remember when the Bulls fielded a team of Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, and Jimmy Butler? Pau Gasol does. Remember last season when the Bulls kicked off one practice by kicking each other’s asses? Bobby Portis does. Nikola Mirotic, maybe not so much, on account of him getting his ass handed to him.
But those days are over. Just like you and me, the Bulls are moving on. And there’s reason to be optimistic! Chicago has a group of young, hungry talent who could be shepherded by Fred Hoiberg, who I believe, has yet to show what he’s truly capable of; Zach Lavine will dunk on a dude’s head every other night; their rookie Wendell Carter Jr. is a modern day big who loves to set-up his teammates, in the mold of Al Horford or Nikola Jokic; I will never not root for Jabari Parker.
But if there’s one reason to be optimistic, and I’m telling you there is reason to be, it’s Lauri Markkanen—living proof that The Unicorn isn’t one of a kind after all. Don’t believe me? Let’s compare Kristaps Porzingis’ rookie season to Markkanen’s:
Markkanen: 15.2 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.2 APG, 0.6 BPG, 2.1 3PTM, on 43/36/84 shooting
Porzingis: 14.3 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.9 BPG, 1.1 3PTM, on 42/33/84 shooting
Save for Porzingis’ obvious edge in blocks, Markkanen’s seems to be uncannily the same offensive player Porzingis was in his rookie year—they even have the same number of field goals made and attempted (roughly 5 shots made for every 12 taken)! Interestingly enough, Markkanen’s career high came against the Knicks. The Finnisher finished with 33 points, 10 rebounds, 8 triples, and this baptism of Enes Kanter (KP ended up with 24 points, 6 rebounds, and the loss in OT).
Markkanen also holds the record for least number of games needed to hit 100 career triples, doing so in only 41 games. FORTY-ONE. Coincidence? I think not.
Whether he’s the next Dirk or Porzingis Lite will be one of the season’s interesting subplots. We might have to wait a bit to see, though. Markkanen is currently sidelined with an elbow injury and will miss the first six to eight weeks of the season. Expect the Bulls to be downright unwatchable until his return. But with a healthy Markkanen, Lavine, Parker, and a hyper-aggressive, find-the-open-man offense, can the Bulls make a push for the 8th seed in a greatly weakened Eastern Conference? Swipe right to find out.
Do you want the D?
If yes, then maybe Denver isn’t the team for you. The Nuggets have thrown all defense out the window, in favor of a free-wheeling, crash-the-boards offensive mentality. Last season, the Nuggets ranked third in second-chance points and second in offensive rebounds. As an effect, their reluctance to run back on defense had them ranked in the bottom seven in fastbreak points allowed and dead last in points allowed from turnovers. Part of this was out of necessity; Paul Millsap was the closest thing the Nuggets had to a decent defender and he was sidelined for 44 games. Everyone else, more or less, could’ve been substituted for Yi Jianlian’s foldable chair on defense.
But whatever deficiencies the Nuggets have on D, boy oh boy, do the Nuggets make up for it on offense. Nikola Jokic is in a league of his own as the best passing big man in the game today. As good as the behind-the-backs and the over-the-heads are, it’s the fundamental creativity that gets me—things as simple as setting a pick, rolling to the basket, drawing the defense, then dropping it to another rolling forward for an easy lay-in.
If plays as quote-unquote “easy” as that are impactful enough to separate him from the rest of the NBA bigs, it makes you wonder why nobody else is willing to do the simple stuff like that. But hey, that’s exactly what made Tim Duncan an all-timer. And at 23, the sky’s the limit for the Joker.
Surrounding Jokic is a team of tantalizing talent. Jamal Murray is your classic shoot-first point guard, with range you have to respect and stones to bury the last shot. With the pressure to facilitate and create for others placed solely on the shoulders of Jokic, Murray is free to slither around defenders and score with zero conscience. For a point guard, Murray is equally adept at moving around without the ball, looking for split-second openings where Jokic is sure to find him—a trait he shares with running mate Gary Harris, who can shoot the lights out too on the nights he’s feeling it. With a veteran like Millsap to plug all the holes in their games, this core is as exciting as they come. They missed the playoffs by a single game for two consecutive seasons. Don’t expect the third time to go the same way.
I don’t have to sell Luka Doncic to you.
You’ve probably seen every dime from the preseason; every three from Euroleague; every Instagram post of his mom (No? Just me?). You, along with the rest of the world are gonna be watching every one of Luka’s highlight reel plays very closely, whether to declare him an overhyped bust or the next great European superstar.
But I’m appealing that you watch the Mavs to see Dirk Nowitzki’s 12th round. If the first two rebounds were all about pure, unadulterated fun with zero attachment, this last rebound is all about saying farewell to the end of an era. Savor every one legged fadeaway, every dagger triple, every time his calcified body gets left behind on defense. Because after this season, we’re never seeing that again.
Nowitzki truly represents the last of the old guard—the final artifact from a time when the shorts were shorter, the games were slower, and when most of us truly fell in love with the game.
His turnaround fadeaway was our version of the skyhook—a play so unstoppable, so unprecedented, so mind-numbingly frustrating, that it single-handedly derailed the most talented and most reviled team we had ever seen (at the time).
He’s probably not gonna play more than 50 games. Hell, I’m not sure if he can. But with only 232 points separating him and Wilt Chamberlain as the league’s 5th highest scorer, he only has to play 25 games at the most. And I implore you, with every fiber of my being, to see every single one of them.
We’ll miss you, big guy.
Photos from Getty Images
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