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The Scarlet & Black

For good reason, the NBA is becoming the most fun pro sport

James Harden and Aaron Gordon go head-to-head in a matchup last season. Both are having stellar seasons so far. Contributed photo.
James Harden and Aaron Gordon go head-to-head in a matchup last season. Both are having stellar seasons so far. Contributed photo.

The NBA is back, and it’s more fun than ever before. Maybe it’s because the NFL has been shrouded by racist executives and concussion coverups this year. Or, maybe it’s because, while it’s great for Houston that the Astros won the World Series, it seemed like everyone wanted a Cubs-Yankees World Series matchup and we didn’t get it. Yet, I think those reasons make light of the fact that the NBA is simply the best professional sports league on the planet right now.

For starters, the NBA is experiencing a level of parity that I haven’t seen in my lifetime. The Cleveland Cavaliers had a losing record in their seven October games. They lost to the Brooklyn Nets, who were mostly considered a bottom-feeder in preseason predictions. The Timberwolves beat the Thunder twice in a week, and they’re sitting at the top of the Northwest Division of the Western Conference. Likewise, the Detroit Pistons are at the top of the East’s Central Division with wins over the Warriors and Clippers, among others.

The level of relative equality among teams is a product of some incredible development among younger players, and while it’s early, it’s been a blast to watch. Aaron Gordon is leading the Orlando Magic to wins they’ve never been able to reach in his three previous NBA seasons. Andrew Wiggins and the Wolves look haphazard at times, but ultimately, they’re pulling off victories they wouldn’t have dreamed of last year.

All of this success among last year’s bottom-feeders leads us to one question: What’s going on with teams like the Warriors, Cavs and Raptors?

To me, it seems that the league is simply beating them at their own game. The Nets, Pacers and Magic, despite their lack of star power, are playing fast. NBA writer Dan Arnovitz of ESPN noted last week on Twitter that “The Phoenix Suns ‘7 Seconds or Less’ ’04-’05 team, which led the NBA in pace, would rank 25th this season.” If the Cavs are to survive, they need to be less reliant on an aging LeBron James, and they might even have to look at trading some other players to cater to the way the game is being played this year.

Lastly, the league’s young “unicorn” players who showed flashes of brilliance last year seem to have a new level of comfort this year. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kristaps Porziņģis, Devin Booker and Aaron Gordon are ready to take over their teams, and experience is on their side this season.

Despite this early season fun, we still have to wonder which teams will make their success last. My guess is it’s teams like the Celtics and Rockets, who have veteran players and experience playing at a quick clip. The Celtics, for that matter, seem unphased by the loss of Gordon Hayward in their first game. They’ve gone on a ten game winning streak, and Kyrie Irving has adjusted well. In Houston, James Harden is charging through their schedule with his chaotic brand of basketball, naturally, and players like Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson seem to have hitched on for the ride.

As the season progresses, I can’t imagine the Warriors, Cavaliers and Raptors not getting their footing and rising to the top of their respective conferences. It will be tough to get past the mega-team Warriors in the West and LeBron James in the East, who has won seven consecutive Eastern Conference Finals.

Whether or not we get a third-straight Warriors-Cavs rematch (and I hope we don’t), there will be youngsters making it harder on the veterans than ever before.

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