NBA tips off 2017-18 season

The feud between LeBron James (23) and former teammate Kyrie Irving (left) forms a main storyline of the 2017-18 season. Photo courtesy of ESPN Stats and Info/Twitter

After a busy offseason of trades and signings, league is ready to thrill fans once again
Sunit Bhakta | Contributor | The USD Vista
The sports world may be at its peak right now. The NFL and college football are well underway, and Major League Baseball just found out who will play in the World Series.
Now, sports fans can add the NBA to that list, as the league tipped off its 2017-18 season on Oct. 17.
Last season might have lacked the intrigue and excitement of previous years because everyone knew the Golden State Warriors and their “superteam” would march through the season all the way to a championship. And that they did, losing only one game in the playoffs.
However, this offseason was an exciting one, starting with the NBA Draft and a draft class that many scouts and experts tabbed as one of the best in years.
It was headlined by former UCLA and current Los Angeles Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball due to the national attention his dad, LaVar Ball, brought upon him and their family.
The elder Ball did so by making continuously outrageous claims attacking or disrespecting NBA stars or prominent media members. These statements included a claim that his son, while still in college, was already better than two-time MVP Steph Curry.
The excitement around Lonzo Ball comes from more than just his outspoken dad, however. According to many within the business, Lonzo’s passing ability, court vision, and ability to make teammates better are generational and resemble the skillsets of Hall of Famers Jason Kidd and Magic Johnson.
Playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, one of the league’s most visible franchises, will only inflate the hype, which is now so high that many have tabbed Ball as the Rookie of the Year favorite. Meanwhile, others have questioned if he can even come close.
Senior Eugene Wackerbarth fits into the former group of NBA fans.
“I think he will live up to the hype en route to the 2018 Rookie of the Year,” Wackerbarth said.
However, others such as senior Jason Clapp do not think Ball will be able to back it up.
“I don’t think Lonzo will win Rookie of the Year, but I think the hype will stay with him throughout the season,” Clapp said. “He will probably play well enough to make the All-Rookie team, but others such as [Dallas Mavericks point guard] Dennis Smith and [Sacramento Kings point guard] De’Aaron Fox have a better chance at the award because of their impact and usage rates on their respective teams.”
After the draft came free agency, bringing significant player movement both via trade and free-agent signings. All-Stars such as the Boston Celtics’ Gordon Hayward and the Denver Nuggets’ Paul Millsap left their former teams for chances at a championship elsewhere.
On the trade market, franchise players were dealt around like never before. Paul George and Carmelo Anthony were both traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder and now have a legitimate “big three” alongside last year’s Most Valuable Player, Russell Westbrook.
Chris Paul chose the Houston Rockets over remaining with the Los Angeles Clippers. Jimmy Butler was shipped out of Chicago to Minnesota. Kyrie Irving was involved in a blockbuster trade that saw him go from Cleveland to Boston in exchange for one of the NBA’s best scorers in Isaiah Thomas, a quality player in Jae Crowder, and a first-round draft pick that belongs to the Brooklyn Nets and could end up being a lottery selection come next June.
With all of these transactions, the NBA has an entirely new landscape, which should bring back some of the intrigue it lacked in previous seasons.
The Eastern Conference appears destined to be dominated once again by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, especially after their main competition, the Boston Celtics, lost star forward Gordon Hayward for the year with a broken ankle suffered during the Celtics’ first game of the season.
The Cavaliers have a team loaded with talent. Many experts believe that their bench players could form a starting lineup capable of making the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. Combine that talent with what is viewed as a soft schedule (the Eastern Conference is widely considered to be the lesser conference because of the disparity in talent and quality teams), the Cavaliers should snag a top seed in the playoffs and give LeBron James a good shot at his fifth career MVP award and his eighth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals.
In the Western Conference, meanwhile, the Golden State Warriors are still in a class of their own, but the conference got even stronger with George, Anthony, Butler, and Millsap coming over and improving their respective teams.
The Rockets and Thunder are widely viewed as the most significant threats to Golden State because of their firepower.
However, some people such as senior Kelsey Carreras still think that the San Antonio Spurs, a longtime Western Conference power, maintain an advantage over the Warriors.
“I think the Spurs are the biggest threat because they don’t let the Warriors dictate how they play,” Carreras said.
Senior Eugene Wackerbarth disagreed, saying he believed that the Chris Paul acquisition will be the most impactful of the offseason and make the Rockets the Warriors’ biggest challenger.
“I think Paul and (James) Harden make a prolific enough backcourt to challenge the Warriors,” Wackerbarth said. “As a whole, the Rockets have more cohesion and depth than the Thunder and more star power than the Spurs. They can shoot a bunch of threes to keep up with the Warriors, and they have a bunch of wing defenders (Trevor Ariza, P.J. Tucker, and Luc Mbah a Moute) to defend the perimeter.”
Clapp echoed Wackerbarth’s sentiments about the newest member of the Rockets.
“Chris Paul will simply do what he’s done the last few years, except with an elite scorer and MVP-caliber player by his side,” Clapp said.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are another team that has generated debate among NBA fans looking to predict this year’s contenders. On paper, they have the talent to compete, but Anthony and Westbrook have a reputation for being players who most excel in one-on-one matchups and demand the ball. This makes Clapp believe, like those within the industry, it will be hard for Anthony and George to coexist, thus limiting their impact and the team’s success.
“I think ‘Melo and Paul George will have trouble gelling together, at least to start the season,” Clapp said.
Carreras believes that there is a reason to be excited because of George’s playing style, talent level, and the fact that he has entered his prime.
“I think he’s great because he can blend into the offense in many ways,” Carreras said. “For example, he’s a decent catch-and-shoot type of guy, but he can also create his own shot. I think he’s an underrated defender as well.”
Paul and George join a growing list of MVP candidates in the conference, as Harden, Westbrook, and San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard are all threats for the trophy according to industry insiders.
One player who has the talent like that of the players listed is forward Blake Griffin, but many believe he will not be in the MVP discussion because his team, the Los Angeles Clippers, figure to take massive steps backward after losing Chris Paul to Houston.
It will be interesting to see what Griffin can do now that he is the focal point of the offense. Video game-like numbers are attainable, but the fact that he missed 83 games over the last three years proves that he is injury-prone and he won’t be able to match the usage rate of Westbrook.
Ultimately, while the league appears destined for Warriors-Cavs Part IV (the teams have met in each of the last three Finals), the path to getting there should be a little more exciting for fans, albeit predictable. There are still other compelling storylines to keep an eye on, from the MVP race to Lonzo Ball’s first season in the league, and it is these stories that should keep fans entertained all winter long.