The NBA community is still reeling from last week’s four-team trade that gave birth to the league’s newest big three.
While the Brooklyn Nets subplots have taken up much of the spotlight, there are other intriguing storylines developing that deserve attention.
Namely, new stars that are asserting themselves into the MVP race and the refreshing allure of New York’s forgotten franchise.
That being said, it should come as no surprise as to where this week’s wrap-up begins.
Nets Big Three Officially Debut
In the ten days since the blockbuster trade for guard James Harden, there are already many takeaways from these new-look Nets. Let’s jump right in shall we...
First and foremost, much of the basketball world owes Harden an apology.
In Houston, he was ridiculed for his half-Herculean, half-unbearable usage rates. In Brooklyn, however, he’s become their unquestioned lead distributor.
Through five games, Harden has been the leading assist man in each one, averaging an impressive 12 per game.
What’s not so impressive is the near six turnovers a game in that span.
Nevertheless, it is apparent Harden has bought into playing a team game, something many questioned if he was still capable of.
Equally newsworthy, guard Kyrie Irving is back on the basketball court and fans everywhere are the beneficiaries.
Yes, the Nets dropped back-to-back games against the middling Cleveland Cavaliers, but let’s not make a mountain of a molehill with this.
One game didn’t conclude until double-overtime and the sequel featured just Harden and Irving (their first game as a tandem), but no forward Kevin Durant. They were still ironing out their chemistry as well as experimenting with rotations.
In just their second game as a collective unit, a win against the Miami Heat, Brooklyn found their footing in a major way.
Offensively, this team is downright scary good. Their closing rotation of Durant-Harden-Irving along with forward Jeff Green and guard Joe Harris Harris presents problems everywhere.
Defensively sure, something is left to be desired, but sometimes the best defense is simply a better offense.
There isn’t a scheme in the world designed to stop a team with three superstars who command a full defense’s attention alongside consistent long-range shooters.
Harden is the facilitator that can also get you 30 points. Durant is the scoring machine that fuels the engine. And Irving can do whatever he pleases while the other two gladly take a back seat.
We haven’t seen an offense this potent since Durant’s days in Golden State. The Nets need to find a way to win games other than scoring over 120 points, but it sure is fun watching them try.
Surprise, the Knicks are Fun to Watch Again
The Nets aren’t the only team making a splash in the Big Apple. The New York Knicks may be on the cusp of turning around their fabled misfortune.
A recent five-game losing streak has caused many to pump the breaks on the Knicks’ 2021 bandwagon. Wins and losses don’t always tell the whole story, though.
There appears to be a new energy circulating through the organization, likely emanating from the top-down.
This past offseason, the Knicks hired Leon Rose as their new team President, who then assembled a new front office of highly-respected executives.
All this coming after the team announced Tom Thibodeau as their new head coach.
Decisions like these were uncharacteristically sound and forward thinking in nature. There wasn’t the marquee name brought in hailed as ‘The Savior of the Mecca.’
Instead, New York rested on their laurels, believing that its young core of players and new management would bring out the best in each other. Early indications are that this relatively safe move is paying off.
Forward Julius Randle is having a monster breakout season averaging over 22 points, 11 rebounds and six assists.
Teams were aware of his skillset, but now more than ever, he is imposing his will with that skillset. Oftentimes the rest of the team follows his lead.
The Knicks had become regarded as an afterthought in the Eastern Conference, somewhat of a pushover even. But with players like Randle and guard RJ Barrett leading the charge, there is no lack of toughness anymore when mentioning the Knicks.
Young talent like center Mitchell Robinson, forward Kevin Knox II, rookies Immanuel Quickley, and Obi Toppin bolster their roster with rightful optimism.
Not only are some talented pieces already on the roster, New York in great shape for the future.
The Knicks enter next offseason with the most projected cap space in the league, as well as the second youngest roster.
Thanks to moving Kristaps Porzingis, the Knicks have some additional first round draft picks in years to come, plus all of their own.
The league better take notice that the tides have turned for New York and this may be the decade that their fans have been desperately waiting for.
At almost a quarter through the NBA season, let’s acknowledge the players who have separated themselves from their peers as candidates for the Most Valuable Player Award.
In no particular order, this is the case for why each player deserves the honor as of today:
LeBron James – Still the best player on the best team. In year 18, James continues to evolve. He’s making a career-high in three-pointers while leading one of the best two-way teams in the league. All while playing the fewest minutes per game of his career for the Los Angeles Lakers. He’s making it look too easy.
Joel Embiid – “The Process” is on full display in Philadelphia. Embiid is averaging over 27 points and 11 rebounds in under 32 minutes, which is remarkable. He’s the league’s premier post player, where he possesses a glaring advantage that leads to better opportunities for his teammates.
Nikola Jokic – The seven-foot, Serbian, triple-double machine, “The Joker” is truly one-of-a-kind. He blends three-level skills that have never been demonstrated by a player at his size. Averaging career bests in points, rebounds, assists and steals – it doesn’t get much better than what Jokic is doing on a nightly basis.
Kawhi Leonard/Paul George – This may be the most uncool option, but the Los Angeles Clippers two leading men are playing lights out. In year two together, their coexistence has been fun to watch. It’s impossible to tell who is following whose lead, because their imprint on both sides of the ball is so consistently dominant. So, take your pick.
Kevin Durant – Coming off an achilles injury, the fact that KD is averaging the most points since his 2013-14 MVP campaign is ridiculous. His presence was dearly missed, but as soon as he got back on the court, he reminded us why we should all fear the “Slim Reaper.”
Luka Doncic – No 21-year-old should be able to dominate the way that Doncic can. What makes his near triple-double average more impressive, is that he’s doing this without a true second-in-command. Whereas everyone else on this list has a consistent, all-Star level player or close to that on their roster, that’s not the case in Dallas. The odds-on favorite coming into the season, it’s a matter of when, not if, Luka gets his hands on the MVP award.
Honorable Mentions: Donovan Mitchell and Domantas Sabonis