Harrington Gardiner | Contributing Writer
This NBA season so far has its fair share of expectations. The Warriors, Spurs and Rockets are expected to compete for the Western Conference crown. It’s also expected that LeBron James will lead the Cavaliers to Eastern Conference supremacy for the fourth year in a row.
However, every year, it’s important to recognize the different highlights that occur in the association. Even with annual big surprises, there are always flops–whether it’s individual performance or teams not playing up to their true potential. With this being said, surprises and flops are important to help fans understand who’s improving and who needs a little bit more work.
1. Trusting The Process
The Philadelphia 76ers have been one of the emerging young teams in the NBA. Although they are currently 8th in the Eastern Conference, the play of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons has been really impressive.
These two players have shown star power material, and they’ve both proven that they can help this team reach the postseason for the first time since 2011.
Simmons is showing that he can win this year’s rookie of the year award, averaging 16.6 points, 7.2 assists and 3 rebounds per game. Simmons was drafted in 2016 but missed all of last season with a foot injury. Embiid is just dominating this year, averaging 23.9 points, 11 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game. Embiid also made the All-Star team for the first time in his career. The process has been somewhat delayed with No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz being out for a while, but improvement is looking good in Philadelphia right now.
2. The Greek Freak
Although the Milwaukee Bucks aren’t playing up to their true potential as of now, Giannis Antetokounmpo is playing like a man on a mission. He’s an MVP candidate not just because of his major improvement, but because of his dominance over other players.
His long wingspan and dangerous versatility make him nearly unguardable. He’s also carrying his team right now. He has a career high in points, field goal percentage and rebounds. Giannis, otherwise known as “The Greek Freak,” is easily in the MVP discussion, but who knew he’d be in the discussion this fast?
3. Rookies making their mark
This year’s rookie class has definitely balled out. Of course, going into the season, the hype revolved around Lonzo Ball and his impact on the Lakers.
However, many of this year’s rookies have played just as well if not better than Bell. Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, Kyle Kuzma, Dennis Smith Jr. and Lauri Markkanen have all shown they can become the cornerstones of their respective franchises. They’re all putting up stellar numbers and are helping their teams ascend in the win column. Highlights and crossovers are great and all; but when a young player can come into the league and contribute night in and night out, that’s flat out impressive.
1. Oklahoma City Big Three
Going into this season, the trio of Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George were thought to be lethal. It turns out that they’ve been absolutely horrendous. Inconsistency has been a problem for this OKC team and it has caused them to be less of a threat as the year progresses. Lastly, their biggest weakness is their bench play. If they plan to go deep into the postseason, things have to improve, and it starts with their bench.
2.Sacramento Fountain of Youth
Years of drafting young talent on this team hasn’t really paid off for the Kings. This past draft, they got four very skilled rookies: De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson, Harry Giles and Frank Mason. They also acquired Zach Randolph, Vince Carter and George Hill from free agency this year.
They have a great mixture of veteran presence and young potential, yet they currently sit in last place in the Western Conference. Sacramento is way behind schedule in a conference that’s already tough as nails.
3. Inconsistency in D.C
The Washington Wizards have one of the best backcourts in the league in John Wall and Bradley Beal. They also have a decent supporting cast with Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre and Marcin Gortat. The question many are asking is what’s wrong?
Last year, this team was in the discussion for the best team in the East, but this year, inconsistencies have plagued them. They’ve had some injuries here and there, but that certainly can’t be an excuse for losses to teams they should not be losing to.
The Wizards have the talent to be the best in the conference, yet they just aren’t playing like it.