It’s October of 2016, and I actually find it easier to take basketball season seriously than I do the election season. The latter may initiate the apocalypse, but it is basketball season that will still be entertaining while we watch from our nuclear warfare safe houses.
This season is already a big one—offseason storylines rode the media’s airwaves this summer more than the endless promotion for Batman V. Superman, and the NBA is growing in popularity at an unmatched rate. What can you expect?
For one, expect a dark abyss of nostalgic despair for those of us who grew up wanting to be like Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, or Tim Duncan. The court will never be the same without those icons gracing the hardwood. The league will still be there, and the teams will still be there, wearing the same jerseys they did—but it’s like revisiting your childhood home, the sense that something important and unforgettable is missing.
That’s just one of the many signs that basketball is on the cusp of a new era. Expect floor spacing and off-ball movement to be at least equally, if not more of a focus. That’s bad news for back-to-the basket players but great news for everyone looking for quality team basketball.
Speaking of which, if there were a teaser trailer for the upcoming season, the Golden State Warriors are the first team that they would show. They have the same star power from last season, plus the Durantula. That means three of the top perimeter shooters on one roster. It’s not your father’s offense.
The thing is, it doesn’t just stop with the Warriors. NBA teams everywhere are seeing that the analytics support spacing, tactically placed screens, and ball movement. It may even be something that the infamously iso-centric Oklahoma City Thunder look to employ more this year, now that they just have one superstar at the helm.
However, with every strategy comes counter-tactics. You can expect the top defenses this year to aggressively contest three point shots and play tight off-ball defense to try and prevent the constant movement from tearing them apart.
Last year, it was the San Antonio Spurs who best used that strategy, and they led the NBA in defensive efficiency by a landslide. But that was back when Tim Duncan was a part of the team. He’s been replaced by Pau Gasol, who has a poor defensive reputation, and a mixed report when it comes to the advanced metrics.
This year, it may be the defending NBA champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers. In the end, it was their aggressive and physical defense that clogged Golden State’s high-octane offense and supported their long-awaited ascension to the top of the basketball world.
Beyond just the tactical interior of the NBA game, there is an entire atmosphere of media waiting to feast off of it all.
The high-pressure focus will be on the team in Oakland. You can bet that every loss will come under great scrutiny, and any signs of Kevin Durant not meshing with the overall offense will be sacred reporting grounds for columnists everywhere.
Meanwhile, LeBron is finding himself in a new kind of spotlight. No longer is he deemed an attention-seeking kid with unspeakable raw physical talents. Now he’s a weathered down veteran, grinding it out in a city that wears its grit and determination as its biggest pride.
Out in Oklahoma City are the ruins of what was supposed to be a dynasty. Three drafted superstars and yet, only one to show for it in Russell Westbrook. The Thunder have a roster packed with high intensity players willing to bleed on the court. They are, in a way, a team desperately looking for vengeance.
We are only a few months removed from last year’s finals, yet everything has changed. It’s still basketball—the NBA is as great as ever. But something is different in the air.
Legends have gone missing. A franchise’s hero has become its newest villain. Basketball wisdom has changed into something that numbers can quantify, and three point shots are falling like layups. This is the 2016-17 season, and I expect we’re going to love it.