Happy Holidays! The 2018-19 NBA season is nearing its halfway point. The Association still believes that its destination will be another championship for the Golden State Warriors. But that doesn't mean we can't enjoy the season as a whole. Last year was wonderful, so let's return to the path. Let's go back to the Journey.
Song of the Week: Robert Tepper - "No Easy Way Out"
It may not often be directly stated, but an integral part of the enjoyment of most video games is that the game provides a challenge to go along with other elements like aesthetics, gameplay mechanics and storytelling. Aside from the "Get Good" type of games that are difficult to play from the onset, most games increase in difficulty as a player progresses. And while games don't always follow a continuous upward spike where the final level is the hardest, the latter parts of games are usually where the challenge lies. This excludes Battletoads for the original NES, where the infamous Turbo Tunnel level is only the third stage one of the game.
In addition to this, some games are not so lenient with easing players into harder gameplay. At some point, the challenge in the level or mission is noticeably more difficult, whether its more enemies, trickier platforming or the Water Temple level in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Here, the game goes from traditional labyrinth design with a boss fight to all those factors plus double the playing time. However, while most people I know detest this level, it does prepare players to not be too surprised at whatever else Ocarina of Time decides to throw at them. Nothing in the rest of the game is as difficult or as surprisingly difficult as the Water Temple, and its not even the final level or close to it.
Basketball has a way of raising its difficulty for its young players. Standout rookies learn how daunting it is to continue to excel as the rest of the NBA grows increasingly aware of his abilities. Suddenly, teams have more info about that player in the scouting report and though the player isn't tendered completely useless, more effort is required to be effective. This may lead to the "Sophomore Slump," a team coined for second-year players who have difficulty adjusting to the game adjusting to them.
Neither Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell nor Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum won last year's Rookie of The Year award. But both of them had stellar inaugural campaigns, filled with regular season and playoff success. This increased the expectations surrounding them. Granted, we judge young players (and people) who are good and still trying to figure out all of who they are a little too harshly at times, but there is a quote about power and responsibility that a certain superhero franchise loves to use. Greatness requires rising to and being expectation.
Both Mitchell and Tatum are near their rookie averages across the board. Where the struggle lies is in the shooting, with both players below their field goal clips a third of the way into their sophomore season. Mitchell in particular is still averaging 20 points per game, but that average is coming on 40 percent shooting with 29 percent from 3, both down from 44 and 34 percent, respectively. Tatum has increased his scoring average, but it's his shot from 3 that's taken a slight dip down to 39 percent from 44 a year ago.
This does not suggest that either of these players will have careers similar to Michael Carter-Williams, who won Rookie of the Year in 2011 and has been a journeyman since. All signs point to Mitchell and Tatum becoming very good players, but this adjustment period in the game can and has stifled young players because they were unable to adapt. The difficulty spike is real, and Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum have to refine and improve if they want to advance their games.
- The biggest takeaway from the Christmas Day games on Tuesday is that we take LeBron James's durability for granted. He left the game against the Warriors with a strained groin, causing us to note that he's only missed 39 games in his career due to injury. That is remarkable considering age and attrition inevitably cause some type of nagging ailment. It could be a blessing in disguise for the team, as the young Lakers watched veteran Rajon Rondo take over the game and shift momentum back to the Lakers after Golden State went on a run in the 3rd quarter after LeBron's departure. Maybe it'll instill some belief in their individual abilities that could propel the Lakers into contention.
- This week's Hooper Appreciation Blurb goes to Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam. The third-year wing from Cameroon is a viral member of the East-leading Raptors, averaging 15 points per game and shooting 59 percent from the field. He's added more isolation moves to his game and can create for himself. If you're a basketball bettor, put a few dollars on Siakam winning the Most Improved Player award this season.
That's Week Ten in the books. The Journey continues. 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.