The 2017-18 NBA season is underway. There will be scores of articles about questioning good teams, declaring individual award races over, and whoever is the upstart surprise team we love this week before they lose three in a row. Conveniently, there is also a feeling surrounding this season that we're headed towards the inevitability of a Golden State Warriors championship. Thus, some of the fun is met with a bit of gloom. Cheer up, lover of hoops. Basketball is a sport in which the journey of the season is just as important as its destination in the Finals. Here at TSFJ, we're going to highlight some things and people the basketball realm can be excited for between now and June.
Song of the Week: Curtis Mayfield - "Eddie You Should Know Better"
Three weeks into the season, and there are several annoyances I have with watching NBA basketball. In a surprise twist, the New York Knicks — except the wonderful Kristaps Porzingis — do not top the list, despite being firmly entrenched in it. The most irritating thing in basketball less than a month into the NBA year is this: the Cleveland Cavaliers don't play any defense.
LeBron and The Rest of Them recently went through a six-game losing streak. While they halted it with a LeBron-led win in Washington against the ever-chatty Wizards, last Friday's victory doesn't erase their problems. If winning is the ultimate deodorant, the Cavaliers need clinical strength with long-lasting antiperspirant. Their terrible defense can be smelled across the country. The lowly Atlanta Hawks snapped their eight-game losing streak in Cleveland Sunday evening. Point guard Dennis Schroeder looked indefensible on his way to 28 points, with forwards Luke Babbitt and Taurean Waller-Prince on the path to Hall of Fame careers based on their easy scoring, each netting 17.
Though I am offended by the way Cleveland plays defense, the season is not yet a month old. Championship teams know it is a proverbial marathon, not a sprint, from Opening Night to the Finals. So while there is a valid concern for Cleveland's flaws, the sky is not falling over LeBron's empire. Besides, if anyone has bet on a LeBron James team to not make the Finals this decade has lost. It has been a safer wager to bet against the Warriors or Spurs than LeBron James. The dynasty may crumble, but that moment is far from nigh. However, those bad habits need to be fixed before permanence sets in. Old habits die hard, and Cleveland's defensive ineptitude is so stubbornly bad that it should star Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson.
Up north, the Minnesota Timberwolves are off to a much better start than recent years. The addition of Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson, along with the continued development of Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins, seems to create a quality mix of youth and maturity. Jeff Teague is also a member of the team, whatever that may mean.
The knock on this team has not been talent. There was a missing confidence and a belief the team is good enough to win. Last season, the young Wolves gave up numerous fourth-quarter leads. This proves the team has the ability to hang with any team in the Association, but it was devoid of the knowledge and faculty to cement those wins. Maybe having two players who've played Tom Thibodeau has allowed the head coach to better translate his message. With a 6-3 start, let's hope it continues. Jimmy Butler, as the proven All-Star, may fill the role of Mr. Goodkat in "Lucky Number Slevin," and take Towns and Wiggins under his tutelage.
I'd like to focus on Wiggins. Blessed with loads of talent, the query that laces his springy game is if he has the aggressive nature to ascend to the top tier of wing scorers. The positive is that Wiggins appears to want the ball in late-game situations, despite being the third-best player on the team. He hit a semi-lucky three to beat Oklahoma City. But the drawbacks to his start to the season is that there are little statistical signs of improvement — the field goal percentage (46%) is about the same as his previous three seasons, and his free throw percentage is down significantly from 76% to 57.4%. While he's only 23, the fourth year of a supremely talented player should see a more sizable leap in efficiency. There is also the matter of a player of his athletic explosiveness and natural skill being a below-average rebounder and even worse playmaker. In short, his skill tree needs to fill out a little more if that max contract will be looked at as great value.
- Manu Ginobili is 40 years old and dunked on Frank "The Tank" Kaminsky. Manu has now played in one thousand career games, a commendable feat for one of the game's smartest shooting guards. See you in the Hall when you retire.
- Speaking of dunking, I propose that if any game is aesthetically boring, the broadcast should immediatly run a montage of Dennis Smith, Jr attacking the rim. In these few short weeks, he's become must-see television. Hopefully, the Dallas Mavericks become a better team so more casual fans can witness his explosive athleticism.
- Fifty-six points in 35 minutes?!?!?!? James Harden is the fully optimized form of Mike D'Antoni's dreams. D'Antoni is The Mad Scientist and Harden is the bearded humanoid with a propensity to draw contact and nail step back threes. The Rockets still need Chris Paul, though.
- Don't look now, but the Boston Celtics have won eight games in a row. No one wants to see an injury, but Hayward going down so early allows for Brad Stevens and his team to faster overcome the shock then gel together what remains.
Week Three is in the books. Happy NBA, folks.
Poemer. 8-time Hug Champion. Pick&Roll Enthusiast. Guardian of Logic and Tact. Apocalypse's good Brother. Collector of muted souls for Mt. Filtermanjaro.