At some time between revolutionizing his position and casually accumulating scoring nights the likes of which would be almost any other player’s career highlight, Steph Curry re-inverted the basketball court. As singular as he is a shooter, playmaker and scorer, his exploits have influenced the way teams play, even beyond his own Golden State Warriors.
A hallmark of the Warriors dynasty – and, accordingly, a window into NBA team assembly prior to and during Golden State’s run – has been a lack of a dominant center in the traditional sense. Because the Warriors typically shoot more threes than any other type of shot and tend to eschew the midrange and rim, and because they have a nontraditional big man, Draymond Green, act as center in their most important lineups, the notion of a center in the Shaq or Hakeem mold never made sense for the Warriors; many other teams tried to follow the blueprint, to mixed results at best.
If Curry was the endpoint of the NBA’s first three-point revolution, he was also indirectly the catalyst for revitalizing the center position. Even as we are inundated with reminders that the NBA’s position classifications are antiquated and, in cases where contract bonuses are tied to honors and awards, harmful, they nevertheless remain useful as a contextual foundation for what a player could be on offense, a foundation, even if that doesn’t pan out: Luka and Giannis are point guards in the bodies of forwards; Russell Westbrook is essentially a tiny center; Karl-Anthony Towns is a massive, volume-scoring shooting guard.
Through this lens, no single player in today’s NBA represents the return of the center specifically better than two-time defending MVP Nikola Jokic, whose pursuit of a threepeat this season has already taken shape. As his Denver Nuggets press for top playoff seeding in the Western Conference, Jokic, nominally a center, is among the league leaders in assists, something only Wilt Chamberlain has previously done as a center.
Not so fast – To focus on the “sudden” rush to the bottom for Victor Wembanyama and, especially after their recent matchup on national TV, Scoot Henderson is to overlook what lies directly before us this NBA season. In what was bound to be a year of questions surrounding contenders, we’ve returned to another slate full of them.
In any case, we return, steeled to run directly into the fire. Who knows what awaits this caravan? New stats, new players, a continuous flow of publicly-available scandals: it isn’t all here, but we’ll make do. Forget STOCKS, or AST:TO ratio. The new way to identify player efficacy is assists+steals+blocks divided by/turnovers. Get used to it, identify your new Point Gawd, and get ready for tip-off.
Some of this is chatter; some of it is Mike Breen’s idiosyncratic delivery (courtesy of his alma mater, obviously). The Golden State Warriors enter Game 6 of the NBA Finals with a chance to win their fourth title in eight years largely because of the former number one overall pick, a tweener-ish guy left to falter but by the grace of God, Kevin Durant, and Bob Myers.
Over a week later, the question everyone was asking before the playoffs is now one that continues to lurk: what becomes of these Brooklyn Nets? Steve Nash’s team has lit itself aflame once again, but who threw the match? They, of the highly touted scoring tandem, once briefly of a threatening trifecta that no team could think about stopping, could shudder? They could seek fate?
A 116-112 Boston Celtics win on Monday night sent the Nets packing. While they were busy making love with their egos, Ime Udoka was leading his continually resurgent squad to a sweep over a team many once considered to be NBA Finals favorites. It’s worth asking of this iteration of the team: do they seek fate, or does fate become them?
The days are getting longer. They look short but continue for ages. At once, a new day will be upon you and gone almost before it happened. They pile up, the days, and the blurring of colors at dusk can just as easily be the memories of events that slip between the cracks, regardless of importance.
When we think about the things that are familiar, we can have a sense of present-nostalgia: yes, I know that deli; of course, I’ve seen that player many times; indeed, I fell out without ever actually falling in with a group of people during that game. We think we know who we are, and we assert that to the world, only for the world to remind us of a different reality.
For a time almost destined to be locked inside of itself, quarantined or otherwise, the Philadelphia 76ers are a perfect emblem. The sense of what the Sixers are, or were, or will be(?) has shifted in the various allegedly-conscious organs of fans and onlookers nearly by the minute ever since Ben Simmons essentially ruled himself AWOL. Joel Embiid is currently enjoying an MVP-caliber campaign, this time as earnest as ever, but – thanks to old pal Daryl Morey – here comes James Harden, and the bevy of his flavor in seeming full force.
What we’ve more or less known for several years spanning multiple presidential administrations is that a person, currently in his thirties and born in Ohio, is the most important and influential men’s basketball player of the past twenty years, at least. While it’s contentious to suggest that the state is the birthplace of aviation, as the state itself does, instead of aviators, which is what it is, its place as a basketball haven is beyond question.
The antecedent, however, lies in the heart of the beholder: LeBron James is, by most credible accounts, at least the second- or third-greatest basketball player ever to walk the earth. His performance in the 2015 NBA Finals, nevermind the following year, won many people over following his period of Heat villainy.
Then again, well, the guy who spearheaded the Finals win over him, as well as two more later on, put on a 37-point performance Tuesday night against a former teammate’s would-be superteam when the Golden State Warriors beat the Brooklyn Nets 117-99. That guy, Steph Curry, was (and, the hope goes, always will be) cooking.
After all of that, Kevin Durant managed to play nine games with the Brooklyn Nets, only six of them alongside Kyrie Irving, before that team acquired another All-Star Wednesday afternoon. Joining Durant, Irving and DeAndre Jordan, the latter of whom Jarrett Allen had finally supplanted as the Nets’ starting center this season prior to the trade, will be one James Harden, Durant’s ex-teammate, the 2018 MVP and a revolutionary offensive genius.
Of course, Harden has become as confounding a teammate as he is an actual basketball player, and his uneasy exit from Houston begs many questions, not the least for which because of the destination. The ever-prickly Durant is playing at an MVP level; Irving is essentially AWOL; Harden openly ripped the Rockets organization Tuesday night, all but forcing his team’s hand. Now, those three find themselves together, apparently at their communal behest.
A circus comes to town, and you expect a few things. Maybe it’s a flame-eating swordsman, or a karate hero, or someone whose tattoos outnumber your hangers, or a lady with the high-wire abilities of your last boyfriend, struggling to explain why you need to make his share of this month’s rent. It happens.
What you end up expecting, though, is something magical, something surreal. It becomes something that you yourself do not think you could ever accomplish, even provided the time and, perhaps, physical ability to do what you are seeing. The Oklahoma City Thunder have become the NBA’s traveling circus. I cannot tell you how much it pains for me to describe them as such.
Free agency in professional sports, in its ideal form, is the best and most prominent example of the free market at work that exists in this country. A worker earns their keep; their employer either decides that they are or are not worth the trouble, and then there are suitors everywhere lining up to give that person their just deserts. It’s deceptively simple.
Yet – and that word does a percentage of the salary cap’s worth of lifting here – it is much more deceptive than simple. The salary cap itself is one measure of inequality-via-equality; were LeBron James ever paid as much as he deserved in his career, he would likely be rivaling Gaius Appuleius Diocles at this point. Alas, at least in salary-capped leagues, the reality is thus: make what you can of what you have, and be judicious with your forecasts. A tornado doesn’t have to spring up to be destructive; if it gets you to move, it’s done enough of its job.