Quickly

  • The NBA is back—and there's no shortage of storylines and drama entering the new year. From LeBron and Embiid to Lonzo and KD, here are 72 reasons to watch the 2017-18 season.
By Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney
October 17, 2017

With the NBA tipping off its 72nd season on Tuesday, here are 72 reasons to watch in 2017–​18, in case a budding Warriors dynasty, a LeBron James contract year, and a compelling new pack of superstar-laden challengers wasn’t enough for you.

(As always, a hat tip to veteran NBA writer Steve Aschburner for the inspiration.)

1. The NBA’s offensive boom shows no signs of abating. Last season, the average NBA team scored 105.6 PPG, the highest mark since 1991 and well, well above the 96.3 PPG that teams averaged just five years ago. The pace-and-space phenomenon has trickled out in all sorts of ways: three-point shooting records, 50-point games, triple-doubles galore, super small lineups, and more. While some voices lament the Warriors’ dominance, remember that their influence has made for a far more entertaining and electric product. — Ben Golliver

2. Kyrie Irving, out from LeBron James’s shadow and straight into the Boston fishbowl. It’s never quite clear if Mr. Very Much Woke knows exactly what he is doing or if he has no clue what he’s getting into. Either way, his split from Cleveland intensifies an already lively rivalry and sets up the new-look Celtics as perhaps the league’s most intriguing team. — BG

3. Kevin Durant’s run at the throne. There’s no use waiting around for LeBron’s decline, but with every passing year, Durant inches closer. The NBA could have a new top player by season’s end. — Rob Mahoney

4. The Warriors’ understanding that their place in society extends beyond the court. Even before the season started, Golden State had already expertly maneuvered through a tricky dilemma concerning its White House visit and come out loudly in favor of its basic core values of decency and mutual respect. There seems to be a clear organizational alignment—from ownership to Steve Kerr and on to the players—that the Warriors will participate in and help drive the conversation when politics and sports intersect. There’s no telling how many flare-ups and controversies will arise this season, but NBA commissioner Adam Silver is lucky that his league’s flagship franchise looks ready to rise to this moment. — BG

5. Gregg Popovich’s willingness to thoughtfully consider current events and to unleash biting commentary on the powers that be. As the NBA heads straight for a political minefield that has consumed the NFL, Pop’s blunt, fearless and fair-minded talk provides genuine support to a group of players that has already gone back and forth with the commander-in-chief. — BG

6. A superstar turn for Karl-Anthony Towns. There are still some i’s to be dotted and t’s to be crossed, but no young player in the league is better equipped to break through. — RM

7. The Lonzo Ball Effect. Sure, the hype currently exceeds the reality around the Lakers’ No. 2 pick, but Ball’s passing ability and pace command clearly set him apart from most one-and-done rookies. He’s bound to struggle with turnovers and his shooting will likely prove to be inconsistent, but Ball may well prove to have a bigger stylistic impact on his team than any teenager since... LeBron James.  — BG  

8. The undeniable flair of Miloš Teodosić. In all seriousness: it would be a worthy investment of your time to watch every assist Teodosić throws this year. Every. Single. One. — RM

9. Some long overdue diversity in the broadcast booth. Doris Burke, queen of the NBA, will become the league’s first full-time national TV analyst this season. Sarah Kustok (YES) and Kara Lawson (NBC Sports Washington) will join Stephanie Ready (Fox Sports Southeast) and Ann Myers Drysdale (Fox Sports Arizona) as regular color analysts on the team broadcast scene. Ros Gold-Onwude’s move to Turner Sports is just icing on the cake. — RM

10. Another round in an endless cycle of history-making for LeBron James. The four-time MVP will almost certainly become the youngest player to reach 30,000 points during his age-33 season, eclipsing Lakers legend Kobe Bryant (34 years, 104 days). He needs just 1,213 points to hit the threshold and has easily surpassed that total during each of his 14 seasons. James also has a good shot at becoming the 11th player (and first forward) to reach 8,000 career assists. — BG

11. New blood on Christmas. The league office decided to bet big on two up-and-comers for its annual holiday quintuple-header, adding Philadelphia and Minnesota to the mix this season. This year will potentially mark Christmas Day debuts for four No. 1 picks and a No. 3 pick: Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. — BG

12. The NBA’s reformed schedule, which starts a week earlier, totally eliminates the dreaded “four games in five nights” stretches. It ensures that marquee nationally-televised games don’t fall on back-to-backs. Last season, multiple high-profile showdowns were sabotaged by the strategic resting of star players. The new schedule framework should significantly reduce those major letdowns. — BG

13. Golden State and Cleveland look destined to become the first pair of teams to face each other in four straight Finals, but it’s difficult to overstate how different the Cavaliers will look this season. LeBron James is the only Cleveland starter from the 2017 Finals to open the season in a similar role; Kyrie Irving is gone, Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith have been demoted, and Kevin Love has shifted positions. Two other key reserves who played Finals minutes—Deron Williams and Richard Jefferson—are out too. 

James’s overhauled cast features a long list of notable newcomers—Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose and Jeff Green—that will likely spend most of the season gelling. Bottom line: Don’t assume that the 2018 Finals would mirror the 2017 Finals just because it features the same two franchises. — BG 

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

14. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, picking up their bromance right where they left off. Peanut butter and jelly might somehow be an undersell. — RM

15. The baby Raptors. With much of last year’s reserves gone, it’s time for Toronto’s deep store of up-and-comers to do their part. Hold on to your butts. — RM

16. An MVP field so deep and clustered that the “Teammates will split votes” truism no longer applies. With six possible candidates now crunched onto three of the West’s top teams, compelling friendly-fire debates are bound to emerge. Steph or KD? Harden or CP? Russ or PG-13? Voters better start stretching now in preparation for the mental gymnastics that will be required to weigh superteam stars against solo acts like LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo. — BG

17. A chance for Rudy Gay to rework a reputation that went from “Promising lottery talent” to “Advanced stats pariah” to “Perennial loser” in the blink of an eye, without stopping on anything resembling glory or postseason impact. San Antonio is the ideal place to fade gracefully, but Gay is still young enough at 31 to be more than a hanger-on. — BG

18. Stiffer penalties for the slide-under closeout. Unfortunately, one of the dirtiest basketball acts—moving under a defenseless shooter while he’s off the ground—was the turning point of the long-awaited Western Conference finals showdown between the Spurs and Warriors. The NBA responded swiftly and smartly to Kawhi Leonard’s ankle injury with rule changes that enable referees to assess flagrant or technical fouls for undercutting a shooter. — BG

19. The West’s ongoing arms race. Houston and Oklahoma City both made big deals this summer for the sake of challenging Golden State. Don’t expect either to sit quietly the rest of the way—not with active traders at the helm in both front offices and a fascinating buyout season ahead. — RM

20. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s dark horse candidacy for MVP. Go ahead and pencil in a spot on your ballot for the basketball anomaly no one knows how to stop and few know how to score on. — RM

21. ‘Fear the Deer’ nights in Milwaukee. Alternate jerseys are a nice touch, but there’s something special to the pageantry of pairing a fresh look with its own alternate court design. — RM

22. Russell Westbrook’s latest reinvention. After playing 1B to Kevin Durant for years and then playing 1A1B1C and 1D without Durant last season, the 2017 MVP gets perhaps his best setup to date. This year, he’ll be The Man and he’ll have real help in the form of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Will he thrive in the best of both worlds? Or, will his domineering style leave Thunder fans, and potentially his new star teammates, wanting? — BG

23. A fearsome, flexible Thunder defense … and Carmelo Anthony. The prospect of working around Paul George and Andre Roberson on the perimeter is daunting. Outfoxing Steven Adams in rotation is no small feat. OKC has the personnel to match up with almost any offense in the league, if only it can find somewhere to put Melo. — RM

24. The very real chance that a bunch of Summer League heroes—Kyle Kuzma, Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, and John Collins—will log meaningful minutes right out of the gate. Instant gratification. — BG 

25. Frenetic rookie big man Jordan Bell emerging immediately as a garbage time All-Star in Golden State. Switch the channel during a blowout at your own risk. — BG

26. Dragan Bender, healthy again and free of expectations after a forgettable rookie year. Still a teenager, the 2016 lottery pick gets a second chance to make a first impression for a Suns organization that badly needs him to deliver on the pre-draft hype as soon as possible. — BG

27. The off chance that, during another late-season losing streak, Devin Booker puts his mind to chasing a new career high. — BG

28. George Hill’s new dual life in Sacramento: starting point guard by day and De’Aaron Fox’s driver’s ed instructor by night. The sooner the lightning-quick rookie is ready to take the keys the better for the Kings’ long-term outlook. In the meantime, the unselfish Hill is the right guy to hold down the fort and set up a successful transition.  — BG

29. Lonzo Ball and Ben Simmons aren’t the only rookie ballhandlers injecting new life into once-proud franchises. Meet Dennis Smith Jr., the high-flying and basket-attacking lottery pick who brings much-needed athleticism to the aging and fading Mavericks. Could he sneak into the Rookie of the Year conversation?  — BG

30. Love a good comeback story? Then look no further than the Grizzlies, who have somehow collected Chandler Parsons (a $94 million man who barely saw the court last year due to injuries), Wayne Selden (a highly-touted high school prospect who went undrafted), Tyreke Evans (a former Rookie of the Year who has played just 65 games combined over the last two seasons), Ben McLemore (the latest Kings cast-off to get a badly-needed fresh start), and Mario Chalmers (a two-time champ in Miami who is back after missing last season entirely) on the same roster. How many careers can Mike Conley and Marc Gasol resurrect at once?  — BG

31. A trigger-happier Mike Conley. The world is a better place when Money Mike comes around every ball screen ready to let loose. — RM

32. David Fizdale’s next bit of rousing press conference oratory. Ready the t-shirt presses. — RM

33. The playground-style All-Star draft. While the NBA should have gone further to improve the quality of its All-Star Game by allowing fans, players and media members to vote for the 24 best players regardless of conference, their compromise solution will still be fun. Rather than have the East face the West, top vote-getters like LeBron James and Stephen Curry will get to select their teammates from a pool of All-Stars. Will James and Curry pick their teammates? Their former teammates? Will they pick each other’s rivals to spite each other? Which top star will be unfairly snubbed? And who will be the last player selected? All of those questions should make for great theater, jumpstarting an event that has felt increasingly pointless and one-sided over the last five years. ​— BG ​

34. Thanks to a major westward movement of talent, the first-time All-Star and snub conversations are both extra spicy this year. In the East, Joel Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis, Bradley Beal and Goran Dragic could all make their first appearances. In the West, potential first-timers Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert, Nikola Jokic and C.J. McCollum could all have trouble sneaking in. — BG

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

35. Every glorious (and anxious) minute of Joel Embiid. — RM

36. Ben Simmons and the nightly mismatches he creates. The 2016 No. 1 pick is a point guard in a power forward’s body playing for a Philadelphia team that might just be creative enough to use him as a small–ball center at times. What’s the best way for opponents to handle that walking, talking, no-look passing, dunking predicament? And what line-up benefits can the Sixers extract while building around such a unique commodity? — BG

37. Brett Brown, finally stepping out of the darkness. Philadelphia made a brilliant hire in Brown, whose cheer buoyed the franchise through years of losing. The man has earned a core as promising as this one. — RM

38. The warm reception for Zach Randolph’s first game back in Memphis. All heart. — RM

39. A new, inverted sort of two-man game between Nikola Jokic and Gary Harris. — RM

40. The ongoing tension between the Nuggets and their rising expectations. With the justified hope of a playoff berth—the first in five years—comes the pressure to measure up. — RM

41. One more chance for the Rudy Gobert/Derrick Favors frontcourt pairing. The best-case: Utah finally has its two franchise bigs healthy and their shared size, skill and commanding presence stands as a nightly nightmare for opponents in a San Antonio-like manner. The worst-case: The NBA’s downsizing trend has passed this duo by, and Favors is reduced to a smaller role or, given his expiring contract, turned into a midseason trade chip. It would be a shame if these two never truly sustained their high-level ceiling. — BG

42. The strange, ongoing subplot between the Mavericks and Nerlens Noel. Oh, how quickly a promising trade can sour. A presumed building block center will wind up coming off the bench for a lottery team while playing on an qualifying offer. — RM

43. An ever-improving and constantly overlooked Anthony Davis. The transcendent four-time All-Star is quite possibly the only thing standing between New Orleans and a total shake-up, not to mention a DeMarcus Cousins trade.  — BG

44. Houston’s push for smaller and stranger lineup combinations. When the Warriors are the elephant in the room, why not try P.J. Tucker at center? — RM

45. Double the lobs for Clint Capela, who should make a killing as a DeAndre Jordan Starter Kit. — RM

46. Brooklyn should be marginally more interesting thanks to the arrival of D’Angelo Russell, but the biggest story about their success (or lack thereof) once again concerns their pick. Thanks to the Kyrie Irving blockbuster, Cleveland now owns the rights to Brooklyn’s first-round pick in June’s draft, which will almost certainly fall in the lottery. How will the Nets’ early play influence the Cavaliers’ willingness to trade the piece in a midseason deal? If Brooklyn starts fast and the pick’s value drops, does Cleveland pull the trigger? Or, if Brooklyn struggles out of the gate, does Cleveland find itself weighing juicier offers? No matter how it plays out, the also-ran Nets should once again wind up playing a major role, tangentially, in shaping the East’s power balance at the top. — BG

47. Omri Casspi, at long last, on a contender. A great team player joins the greatest team going. — RM

48. Ricky Rubio, feeling the love. How freeing it is to play for a team that isn’t trying to trade you at every opportunity. — RM

49. The Jazz, uptempo. The slowest team in the league last year played nearly 10 possessions faster in the preseason. What might that mean for a team built around its deliberate execution? — RM

50. Portland’s scoring brought to perfect balance. One might think the skill sets of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are too similar for high efficiency. The Blazer offense—with its churning fluidity and many misdirections—begs to differ. — RM

Brian Babineau/Getty Images

51. The search for the right lineups in Boston, featuring every wacky possibility imaginable. The Celtics’ roster is stocked with tantilizing possibilities and led by a coach creative enough to try them all. — RM

52. The Caris LeVert experience. LeVert is too erratic to be destined for any one fate, but he’s the rare net for whom great things seem possible. — RM

53. Myles Turner, on an island. We’ve seen what the upstart 21-year-old forward can do while Paul George, Jeff Teague, and Monta Ellis control the ball. Now we see Turner left to his own devices. — RM

54. The Great Dwight Howard versus Cody Zeller debate. Yes, this one is for the basketball nerds, but there’s good reason to track how this unfolds. On one hand, there’s the aging former Defensive Player of the Year and All-Star with an established relationship with his new coach and questions about his mobility, free-throw shooting, offensive effectiveness and personality. On the other hand, there’s the relatively anonymous up-and-coming advanced stats darling who fits more naturally with Charlotte’s other pieces. How will coach Steve Clifford handle his two centers? And how will Howard handle himself if his role starts to shrink? — BG

55. The genuine surprise of watching John Wall. To see Wall rev up in the open court is to have no idea what comes next. — RM

56. Washington knocking on the door of the East’s upper tier … and yelling loud enough to let everyone in the neighborhood know. — RM

57. Contract Year Jusuf Nurkic. Everything is lined up for the Bosnian Beast in Portland: He’s in good shape, he has a starting role, he can count on major minutes, and he plays with trustworthy guards that make a point to keep him involved. Sounds like a great formula for a major payday. — BG

58. All the ways that James Harden and Chris Paul will make each other’s lives easier. Tension can be riveting, but at the heart of Houston’s superstar pairing is the creative spirit of two fantastic playmakers. Their instincts won’t be competing so much as compounding. — RM

59. The Magic's new starting lineup will finally move Aaron Gordon to the four. If Orlando is going to make noise at any point in the near future, the 22-year-old former lottery pick must play a central role. Saving him from life at the three, where he started last season, was an absolute must.  — BG      ​

60. Patrick Beverley, amped beyond reason for some random game in March. — RM

61. After two tumultuous seasons in Chicago, Fred Hoiberg finally has the kind of roster that can put his system into action. The “three alphas” are gone, and with them the red tape of accommodating three ill-fitting veterans. — RM

62. The never-bashful, always-aggravating Dennis Schroder has been entrusted to be The Man with a real, live NBA franchise. Fasten your seatbelts. — BG

63. Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker and Chicago’s Zach LaVine—a pair of 22-year-olds with burgeoning potential—are slated to return from devastating season-ending injuries. Both the Bucks and Bulls will welcome back their former lottery picks with open arms and as many minutes as their surgically-repaired knees can handle. — BG

David Santiago/Miami Herald/TNS via Getty Images

64. The Heat, working from a clean slate. Think of what they might accomplish without an 11–30 start hanging around their necks. — RM

65. Justise Winslow, back in the mix. One of the league’s most precocious young wings rejoins the Heat rotation just after the team learned to live (and win) without him. Whether there’s really a place for Winslow in Miami depends on the lengths the Heat are willing to go to work around his wobbly jumper. — RM

66. Nike’s sleek new jersey design, which dumps the gimmicks that held back prior Adidas models. The alternate looks still need some fine-tuning and reimagining, but the overall product is a big and noticeable improvement that helps compensate for the long-dreaded addition of sponsor logos. — BG

67. The moment that the depth of the Knicks’ futility truly sinks in for Kristaps Porzingis. New York executed the first steps of a teardown this summer, parting ways with Phil Jackson, Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose in a matter of months and leaving Porzingis as the last man standing. How will the budding star handle what is sure to be a dreadful dead-end of a season? Will the inevitable adversity bring the best out of his game and/or reveal a new ferocity? The stage is his. — BG

68. The Avery Bradley test case. For years, Bradley looked like a model of transferability, a quality 3-and-D whose comfort playing without the ball made him an ideal backcourt partner for virtually any high-usage lead scorer. An offseason trade from Boston to Detroit will test that hypothesis, as Bradley must now run alongside the polarizing Reggie Jackson. If the pairing works, the Pistons become infinitely more relevant. If not, Bradley becomes a fascinating target for contenders at the trade deadline or as a free agent next summer. — BG

69. The last year of completely shameless tanking. Back in September, the NBA’s Board of Governors voted to tweak the draft lottery odds so that the three worst teams would have the same chance to receive the top pick in the draft. In other words, the league was trying to cut down on teams resting players and playing marginal talents in hopes of accumulating losses in a race to the absolute bottom. The new system, however, doesn’t kick in until the 2019 NBA draft. In other words, Atlanta, Chicago, Indiana, Phoenix, Sacramento and others will all get one final shot at marginally improving their chances at landing a franchise player through aggressive tanking. Let the games begin. — BG   

70. Cutthroat competition for the West’s bottom four playoff spots. In all likelihood, three of the Clippers, Jazz, Grizzlies, Blazers, Nuggets, Pelicans, and Timberwolves will miss the postseason cut, likely with serious implications. The Western Conference is not for the faint of heart. — RM

71. The building of a dynasty in real time. These Warriors are quite possibly the greatest team of all time. In all the madness of the season—the moves, the squabbles, the dramatic flourishes, and the lingering questions—don’t let the magnitude of that standing go unappreciated. — RM

72. Manu Ginobili decided not to retire! — BG

You May Like