We continue on with our look into reasons as to why we should follow the NBA this season. From part one we looked at the rivalry between the Cavs and the Celtics as well as the Thunder and the Warriors. For the next three we will look at the Houston Rockets, the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Toronto Raptors as each team has challenges to overcome that will be quite interesting to follow.
For the first time in a long time, the Houston Rockets perplex me. Which surprisingly is an upgrade from previous years. Years ago I really hated them and that upgraded to I just strongly disliked them. Main reasons for those emotions is that the Rockets contained the two players I hate most in the NBA and that was Dwight Howard and James Harden. Side comment: Howard and/or Harden will never win an NBA championship. Ever. That’s been my prediction for a number of years and still hasn’t changed. But I digress.
What makes the Rockets one of the teams to watch this year is not to see how successful they will become, after all they did just beat the Warriors 122-121 to start the season. The interest lies in how well their off-season acquisition Chris Paul is going to fit in, if at all. Paul is an incredible athlete that has the skill and talent to match his incredible vision. Give him the ball and watch the people around him get better. But, for James Harden to be effective, he needs the ball in his hands. So, in a game that has two teams and two baskets there still is only one ball. It will be interesting therefore to see who dominates the ball and how the rest of the team adjusts accordingly.
For a team that has not made the playoffs in the past 13 years, why would they be of interest? Well, because they will make the playoffs this year. I say that with one caveat, they do need some depth otherwise coach Tom Thibodeau will play his top 6 players to death. He has a reputation of playing his starters a lot and if they don’t get more of a bench (outside of perennial 6th Man of the Year Winner Jamal Crawford) he could tire them out.
They traded away point guard Ricky Rubio and brought in Jeff Teague to provide a bit more stability. Their biggest acquisition was bringing in Jimmy Butler who reunites with Thibodeau since their Chicago days. Now where Chris Paul’s addition didn’t make that much sense, Butler does. First and foremost he is a two way player and had his best years under Thibodeau. He can be a voice… a loud voice, in the locker room that won’t only help the rest of the team adjust to Thibodeau, but he can also be a leader that lights the spark under everyone else’s butt. Something that youngsters Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns may not be able to as of yet. This youthful team now has a leader and if things click all around, they’ll be playing in the postseason.
The Raptors biggest offseason move was bringing in CJ Miles notwithstanding resigning Kyle Lowry. So with such little movement, why is this a team of interest? Simple. Besides being the local team in these parts, the Raps are looking to change their style of play. They understand that the NBA landscape has changed to a faster, more open 3pt shooting style. They will still run isolation plays for Demar DeRozan in certain situations, but the game plan is to defend well and still put up a lot of points. So their 117-101 victory over the hapless Chicago Bulls, should be a sign of things to come, not just an aberration.
The other factor that will keep people buzzing game in and game out is their bench play. When Casey looks at the end of the bench he no longer has veterans such as Corey Joseph, Patrick Patterson or P.J. Tucker. Other than Miles, the Toronto coach now has sophomores Delon Wright, Fred Van Vleet, Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam and rookie OG Anunoby. This lack of experience is going to mean a roller coaster of a season. They can play well like they did opening night, taking a 2 point Raptor lead and stretching it to 20 behind the shooting of Miles and the playmaking of Wright. But again, this was against the Bulls. There will also be a few nights when they completely stink the joint out too. How many of one compared to how many of the other, might very well determine which out of the top 4 spots in the East they finish at.
Therefore it will be real interesting to see how the season unfolds for the Raptors and what, if anything, they can do in the postseason. But let’s not be too hasty for that playoffs just yet. Let’s grab a seat and a beer and enjoy what the season has to offer first.
That is, before Golden State defeats the Cavs in the finals as everyone has already predicted.
» Sports » Why bother NBA? Part 2