With 2018 around the corner, Last Word on Pro Basketball writers joined forces to answer three questions recapping 2017.
New Year’s Eve NBA Roundtable 2017
Which NBA player impressed you most in 2017?
Blaine Henry, contributor: In a world of Greek Freaks and boogey-man super teams, it’s Kristaps Porzingis who is the most impressive player to me. After having the hellacious offseason that New York had, Porzingis has stepped up and impressed the entire league. After losing GM Phil Jackson and future Hall of Famer, Carmelo Anthony, it looked like the Knicks were set up for disaster. Instead they’re in ninth in the East, led by Porzingis.
David Knight, contributor: As someone who has had their share of disappointments, I love a good redemption story. So the player who has impressed me most this year is Victor Oladipo. After a lost year in OKC watching Westbrook put up remarkable numbers, Oladipo is running his own team now. He was traded to the Pacers in the off-season in the deal that saw Paul George join OKC. He has flourished back in the state he played his college ball. He is averaging career highs with 24.9 points, 5.3 boards, and 1.8 steals per game. Not only has he raised all his numbers, but he has led the Pacers to a winning record and a surprising playoff spot so far.
Ryan Nelson, contributor: I am most impressed with the play of LeBron James in year fifteen. You would think eventually James would slow down. But up to this point in his career he is still in his prime and arguably the best player in the league. In his 15th year, James is an MVP candidate. In terms of points, assists, rebounds, field goal percentage, three point percentage and free throw percentage he is above his career averages. If James is able to win an MVP award this season, this late in his career, he would cement himself as one of the greatest players of all time, if not the greatest.
Lauren Gewirtz, contributor: Donovan Mitchell, a rookie out of Louisville, ended up on a Utah Jazz team that lost their star in Gordon Hayward and had to find someone else to take a leadership position; Mitchell has done just that. Although the team is not where they were last season, he is leading the team in scoring, averaging 17.9 points per game. Mitchell also dropped 41 points in a win against New Orleans earlier in the season. Rookie of the Year? It is in the realm of possibilities.
Thomas Tittley, contributor: The most impressive player to be has been DeMar DeRozan. It is not often that you see a 28-year-old player improve so drastically. The 2016-17 season he relied heavily on isolation to score, now he is one of the better off-ball scorers on Toronto and has improved his efficiency. DeRozan is still a master at getting to the rim and the free throw line, but this year he has a new dimension to his game. He has also improved his distribution drastically, showing he would rather win than get personal accolades, something we don’t always see in elite level scorers.
Daniel Richeson, contributor: In 2017 as a whole, I’d have to say Kevin Durant had the best year out of any NBA player. His new team, the Golden State Warriors, won the NBA Title. He went head to head with LeBron James and went home with an NBA Finals MVP award. This of course went to the backburner when his twitter fiasco broke loose. His use of fake accounts to lash out at his “haters” was scrutinized and joked about to this day. However, he took a big step up as a professional and admitted he acted stupidly and owned up to the things he said. This speaks volumes to the kind of person Durant is; although he did a shady thing on social media, he owned up to it. As professional athletes, the top can be the hardest place to live as the fall down is long, Durant stumbled but caught himself and went right back up the mountain with this season so far.
If you had to choose one, what is your storyline of the year for 2017?
Blaine: The budding LeBron James and Kevin Durant rivalry will not only be the biggest story this year, but for the next four of five years. The fans are dying for another Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird rivalry. James and Durant have the history to do that. It’s almost inevitable they meet in the Finals again. And after the dramatic ending to the Christmas Day game, LeBron James has a massive chip on his shoulder to fix at Durant’s expense.
David: The numbers. There are more than a handful of players who are putting up ridiculous numbers lately. Russell Westbrook took home the MVP last season by averaging a triple double. Let that sink in. He AVERAGED a triple double. James Harden has been putting up similarly outrageous numbers, even raising his scoring and shooting percentages to career highs this season. His 32 points per game lead the NBA, and he still dishes out 9 assists each night. We have all grown numb to LeBron James, as his 28-8-9 on 56% shooting is just what we expect now. He is so good that we just brush off astronomical numbers like this. Giannis Antetokounmpo is another walking triple double, currently pouring in 29.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. Throw in Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins and there are five players averaging 26+ points, 7+ boards, and 5+ assists per game.
Ryan: The most intriguing storyline is how interesting Kyrie Irving leaving LeBron James has made the Eastern Conference. The minute Irving was traded to the Celtics there was immediate debate about who would would come out on top. Over a quarter into the season there is no clear cut dominate force in the Eastern Conference with the Celtics, Cavaliers, and Raptors within just a few games of each other. With the dominance of James over the past 7 seasons, these playoffs should be the most interesting and competitive in many years.
Lauren: 2017 was really a year of betrayal and pettiness in the NBA. Looking at the whole trade with Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas, NBA fans got two new petty story lines to follow: Isaiah Thomas has scheduled hating hours, and Kyrie Irving and LeBron James are not friends. However, one cannot help but feel empathy for Thomas after all he went through near the end of last season and then having Boston trade him away. Aside from that, the petty war between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook is still as alive as ever.
Thomas: As much as it pains me to say, the biggest story of the year is Big Baller Brand and Lavar Ball. He talked his son from being a lottery pick to the second overall selection to the Los Angeles Lakers, making him millions more in the process. He established his own shoe and laughed at the powerhouse companies of Nike, Adidas and Under Armour. Now just imagine if his league for kids who do not want to go to college is even remotely successful. He could at the very least make millions if the NCAA is forced to buy the league just to dissolve it.
Daniel: The 2017 off-season. This past summer, the league saw a shift in ideals. Executives are willing to sacrifice team superstars for wins. The most obvious of this is the Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas trade between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Boston Celtics. How could Thomas, a Celtic legend in the making be traded off to the conference rival? This question brought many criticisms of Danny Ainge but ultimately, it’s turned out to be a huge success for the Celtics as Kyrie Irving led the team to an outstanding start. The results of this trade were not only multiplied by trades involving Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Enes Kanter, and D’Angelo Russell, but they are still being talked about.
What are you most looking forward to in the NBA in 2018?
Blaine: The most exciting thing coming to the NBA in 2018 is the return of Isaiah Thomas. Getting to see a scorer of his caliber on the floor with the best player in the world is bound to produce fireworks. Thomas not only adds his offensive production to the Cavs, but it opens up options for everyone else. LeBron James, Kevin Love, Isaiah Thomas; who do you double team? The return of Thomas makes Cleveland a legitimate threat to the Warriors dynasty.
David: LeBron James has reigned over the Eastern Conference for 15 seasons now, including 7 straight Finals appearances. Finally though, there are some legit challengers looking to emerge. The East is beginning to fill up with some fun and entertaining teams stocked with young talent. The Greek Freak has made the Bucks must watch basketball. The Process is showing itself in Philly behind the talents of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Tobias Harris, Andre Drummond, Kristaps Porzingas, Bradley Beal, Victor Oladipo, Myles Turner, and Aaron Gordon are just a few of the wildly talents players in the East under the age of 25. Then there are the Celtics, with Kyrie Irving leading the way, they have built a young core that could be a factor for a decade. The East still belongs to LeBron James, but when or if he slows down, there is plenty of young talent looking to take over the conference.
Ryan: I am most looking forward to which player separates himself as the best candidate for Rookie of the Year. At the start of the season Ben Simmons was the most obvious candidate but the emergence of Donovan Mitchell and Kyle Kuzma has shortened the gap. Simmons still has the edge because of his ability to pass and rebound the ball, but since Mitchell and Kuzma have surpassed Simmons in points per game the conversation has been reopened. Mitchell and Kuzma have some work to do in order to make a case for Rookie of the Year, but they have plenty of time to make up the ground. The decision for Rookie of the Year could come down to the wire.
Lauren: The two Houston and Golden State matchups coming January 4th and 20th are promising as far as entertainment goes. Their matchup in October was decided by one point with the Rockets taking the win. If that game was any indication of what is to come, then I am interested in seeing if the Rockets will be a viable threat to the Warriors in the playoffs.
Thomas: The possibility of not having Cleveland vs. Golden State would make me the happiest guy on the planet. The rivalry is wonderful for the NBA and makes them millions, but as a fan of parity it has gotten on my nerves. This year there may be a chance of that finally happening. San Antonio has continued to be good without Kawhi Leonard, Houston have been incredible and that’s without Chris Paul. In the East Boston has had a terrific start to the season while the Toronto Raptors are quietly one of the best teams in the league. Add the fact that Stephen Curry has been dealing with injuries all year and James is one year older. Could we see a different matchup in 2018? Probably not, but it feels closer this year than the previous two seasons.
Daniel: The development of the big men. The days of a bully center or post heavy forward are basically passed. The 7-footers of today need to shoot threes and dribble around defenders. Stars like Kristaps Porzingis and Giannis Antetokounmpo are showing the transition of these positions into a brand new world of basketball. The “stretch-5” is even slightly outdated with these players coming into a more point-forward style of play. Players like this are turning up more often and altering offensive and defensive strategies around the league. It will be highly interesting to see what new stars come into the league like Giannis Antetokounmpo or Kristaps Porzingis, but even more interesting to see five or ten years into the future.
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