Year after year, each N.B.A. season possesses its own unique storylines. They add character to the season, distinguishability. While the 2017-18 season is only a quarter of the way in, it has already produced some fascinating stories that will only further develop as the season nears completion. Most notable of these is the payoff of the process, the new Pistons, and the shocking Celtics.
In 2013, the Philadelphia 76ers, a team that finished the previous season 34-48 and missed the playoffs, hired Sam Hinkie to the position of general manager. Hinkie quickly made it clear that he intended to shake things up. He was more concerned with long-term success and would do whatever it took, even tank (intentionally losing games in order to gain a better position in the draft), to make this happen.
His willingness to stray from a traditional N.B.A. model was made clear when he traded All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday for a top-5 pick and Nerlens Noel. He continued to flip players at an alarming rate, as well as put together some of the worst seasons in N.B.A. history. After three seasons totalling 47 wins, Hinkie stepped down and was replaced by Jerry Colangelo and his son Bryan.
The Sixers put together one more poor season, finishing 28-54 and again missing the playoffs. Now, however, after four years of painfully bad basketball, the process has finally paid off. They are 13-9, sitting at fifth in the Eastern Conference. Anchored by Joel Embiid, the 3rd pick in 2014, and Ben Simmons, the 1st pick in 2016, the Sixers seem poised to do some damage as the season progresses.
Embiid has been quite impressive, averaging 23 p.p.g. and 11 r.p.g. while playing less than 30 m.p.g. He stretches defenses with his perimeter and post skills, while thriving on the offensive and defensive ends.
In addition to Embiid, Ben Simmons, a strong frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, has begun to shine. After being sidelined in his first season due to injury, and growing two inches to nearly 7 feet tall, Simmons, a point guard, has torn offenses apart with his ability to attack to the basket, pass the ball, and freak athleticism. Sam Hinkie may have known what he was doing after all.
In addition to the 76ers, the Detroit Pistons have also shocked the basketball world with their greatness. Since the great Pistons of the mid-2000’s began to disband during the 08-09 season, they have made the playoffs twice, both times sneaking in as an 8-seed and being eliminated in the first round.
It has been a rough nine seasons, watching their consistent mediocrity. Now, however, after several rounds of thinking this year is the year, they may have finally arrived. The Pistons are anchored by their big man, Andre Drummond. Drummond is a physically imposing beast, dominating players on both ends of the court. Additionally, he has allowed himself more minutes by going from a sub-40 percent free throw shooter last season, to 65 percent this season, all while averaging a league high 15 r.p.g. and 14 p.p.g.
The team also has strong contributions from Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, and Reggie Jackson, all posting strong stat lines. The final piece to the puzzle for the Pistons is undoubtedly Luke Kennard, a rookie from Duke. Give Kennard 30+ m.p.g. and the Pistons become easy Finals contenders.
The final notable storyline of this season thus far has been the Boston Celtics. Prior to this season, newly-weird Kyrie Irving, then a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, asked to be traded. He was done playing in Lebron James’ shadow and wanted to become a superstar on his own. Irving was traded to the Boston Celtics in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and a first round pick. He would be joining newly acquired Gordon Hayward, and the Celtics were set up to perhaps keep Lebron from his eighth consecutive N.B.A. Finals appearance.
Then Gordon Hayward’s foot went the wrong way during the Cavs-Celtics season opener and all hope was lost. The Celtics were done for. They would have to wait until next season. But no, the Celtics won 20 of their first 24 games, with a 16 game win streak in there. Kyrie is impressive as ever, embarrassing defenders with his dribbling skills and shooting and finishing ability. Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum, a rookie, have begun to shine, with Brown averaging 15 p.p.g. and Tatum 14 p.p.g., both playing more than 30 m.p.g. Additionally, Marcus Smart and Al Horford has impressed, putting in solid performances. Without Hayward, the Celtics are shining. Only time will tell if they are truly here to stay or just riding high.
The season is just getting under way and so much can still happen, but the N.B.A. definitely has a good one in store for us.