NBA Recap: Harden, Westbrook dominating early

Tony Attia

Sports Blogger

@Tonyattiaokst

 

2016 has been a down year in human existence; a horrific hodgepodge of bad football and worse politics, however, the NBA came back to save all of us from the clutches of this cruel world, and it has not disappointed one bit.

This season was thought to be an ultimately useless time eater; a tie breaking finals matchup between the Warriors and the Cavaliers was all but set in stone, and while that still may be true, the league boasts an unmatched number of stars, sneakily entertaining teams (for both good and bad reasons) and a touch of pettiness that should keep the viewer’s gaze on all franchises all year long. Here are the happenings of this new season so far.

Look out, Tiny Archibald

James Harden is one of two players in early contention to lead the league in both points and assists. (KUNVAR sanjeevkumar Singh, Flickr)
James Harden is one of two players in early contention to lead the league in both points and assists. (KUNVAR sanjeevkumar Singh, Flickr)

Tiny Archibald is the only player in NBA history to stand atop the league in both points and assists per game in the same season. This year, Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook and the Rockets’ James Harden have the potential to join Tiny. Harden is fourth in scoring with 31.5 points per game and first in assists at 12.3, while Westbrook is second in bucket-getting at 33.2 and fourth in assists at 9.7. Both are the only true stars on their respective teams and thus dominate the ball, but Harden is better suited to make history because better marksmen surround him, and Mik D’antoni, the man who revolutionized this small ball, pace-and-space era the NBA currently resides in, is his coach.

Big men doing little men things

For a while, there was a dearth of quality big men in the association, at least in the archetypical sense of big bruisers with low post moves. The current crop of big men is every bit as deep as it ever has been, and they are much more talented. Karl Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid, Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, Myles Turner, Kristaps Porzingis and a host of others are ushering in a new era of forwards and centers, and they’re doing it with finesse. These behemoths can do all the traditional things: grab heaps of boards, shield the rim and throw down thunderous slams, but also add a new layer of skill on top of that. They can be trusted to lead fast breaks, curl off screens like Ray Allen in his prime, hoist pick-and-pop jumpers all over the court and even break their defender down in isolation like a seasoned wing scorer. At this trajectory, in 2040 every player on the court will be 6-11-plus with guard skills, and the next incarnation of Steph Curry will be merely the best player at your local YMCA.

The cycle of success

The Lakers, Sixers and Timberwolves had three of the worst records last year, each plagued with different illness that halted winning. For the Lakers, it was the Kobe Bryant freak show, a case of a legend still thinking he was the Mamba, when he was simply a garden snake. The 76ers were continuing to “trust the process” and tanking for a young prospect. The Wolves suffered the tragic loss of coach Flip Saunders. All three ailments were remedied; Bryant retired, Joel Embiid got healthy, and the Wolves hired defensive guru Tom Thibodeau. Now, these three teams are among the most fun to watch in the league. The Lakers young core of D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram and Jordan Clarkson fit smoothly in ex-Warriors assistant Luke Walton’s offense; if you squint hard enough they look like the Warriors only with a lot less facial hair. Minnesota’s trifecta of Karl-Anthony Towns, Zach Lavine and Andrew Wiggins is flying around handing out posters to all who dare to challenge them at the rim. Joel Embiid looks like Hakeem Olajuwon if Hakeem was four inches taller and could shoot 4-for-4 from 3-point territory, as Embiid did against the Heat. He’s even got the dream shake down pat. These teams were down in the dumps last year, but they could seriously contend in the near future.

Pettines oozes everywhere

As commendable and deserving as NBA athletes are, some can’t help but look like prima donnas from time to time, and you know what? I like it. In Westbrook against Kevin Durant, who jumped teams after playing eight years with Westbrook, not even bothering to tell Westbrook before the news broke, Westbrook came to the arena with an orange photographers vest on. Photography is one of Kevin Durant’s favorite hobbies, as evidenced by him taking pictures on the field at last year’s Super Bowl. You gotta love it.

Not to be outdone, Lebron James had a fully decked out Halloween party, complete with a drum set that had “3-1 lead” etched into it, a reminder of the 73-9 Warriors blowing a 3-1 lead in June’s NBA finals. He also ordered cookies that served as tombstones for Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, their lives only spanned 2015- 2016 according to James.

That’s the NBA for you, a mix of great basketball, fun storylines and all the drama you can handle.

ozone@ocolly.com

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