The “return of parity” NBA season is fully underway. After an exciting offseason that featured the league’s last two Finals MVPs moving to new teams, the start of the new basketball season has been filled with great competition and significant uncertainty. And some of the biggest stories of this young season have been focused on just a couple of the big name players.
Going into this NBA season, everyone was asking, how will LeBron James perform in his 17th year in the league?
James, who is currently 34 years old, has arguably been the best player in the NBA for over a decade. But after he missed the playoffs for the first time since his sophomore season, some questioned whether James really still had it.
So far this season, James has completely silenced those questions. Through the Los Angeles Lakers’ first 11 games, James has recorded four triple-doubles and is averaging a league best 11.1 assists-per-game, according to Basketball Reference.
On top of those impressive numbers, James has turned his defense up a notch or two from his past few seasons of subpar play on that side of the ball. The king is showing no signs of slowing down, and it could be quite some time before we see his quality of play really start to dip.
Across the Staples Center hallway stands another star tearing up the league this season: Kawhi Leonard. But unlike James, Leonard’s season isn’t silencing questions, it’s raising them.
What is load management? Should it be allowed? Is it “soft”? There are so many more, but these are just a few on many fans’ minds.
Right now, Leonard is the poster boy for load management. Last year, Leonard played just 60 games. This year, Leonard has already sat for one game of each of the Los Angeles Clippers’ two back-to-back series. And while Leonard is apparently dealing with a lingering knee injury, there is no question that his pattern of resting is a form of load management.
Many around the league, especially older heads, seem to have a problem with this load management, claiming that it is “soft.” But sports medicine has never been better. The technology the NBA has is better than ever.
If Leonard understands that his body can only play for 60 to 70 games a year in order to maximize his playoff performance, then he should be completely accepted for doing so.
Another burgeoning topic on everyone’s minds right now is the ongoing rise of Andrew Wiggins.
The number one overall pick from the 2014 draft was once hyped to be the “Maple Jordan.” But his career thus far has been buried in disappointment.
Entering this season, his best scoring season, 23.6 points-per-game, coincided with the most field goal attempts and minutes played for his short career, according to Basketball Reference. And last season, Wiggins recorded a career low true shooting percentage, while also making only tiny improvements to his rebounding and passing numbers.
But this year, Wiggins has been an absolute stud. He’s averaging career bests in points-per-game, assists-per-game, blocks-per-game, field goal percentage and turnover rate.
And while we’ve seen Wiggins have an occasional stretch of impressive hooping in the past, this time feels different, as Wiggins looks about as confident and capable as he did back at Huntington Prep School.
The Magic’s abysmal offense is something that a lot more NBA fans need to be talking about. Entering their Wednesday night game against the Philadelphia 76ers, the Magic ranked dead last in the league in scoring, averaging just 98.1 points-per-game, according to NBA team stats.
And while a 112 point performance against the 76ers was certainly a nice sign of life for the Magic, they still have lots to figure out. They can’t connect on threes. Their post brilliance with Nikola Vucevic from last season has disappeared. Aaron Gordon has not taken the step forward in production that many expected from him.
Of course a lot falls on their point guard situation. Markelle Fultz has his upside, but he is not ready to be an NBA starter. The Magic defense can hold things down for now, but a trade may be needed to shake up this lackluster offense.