Basketball fans today have the opportunity to engage in this great sport in so many ways. Growing up in Melbourne, Australia in the 90s we very much experienced something similar to the dark days of the NBA in the 70s that are so often spoken about, with tape delay NBA Finals airing at 2am on the local networks. Granted, basketball is not a native pastime of Australian culture, but for us fans who wanted to see Steve Kerr splash a long two off a pass from Michael Jordan in the 1997 Finals, we’d have to pray that our VCR timer recording skills were on point, in addition to the local TV Guides being accurate as well. There is nothing more heartbreaking than an infomercial for knives cutting off your game during the 3rd quarter!
Enter the Internet, add 17 years and look how far we’ve come! I can be walking on the street, streaming a live game as random as Utah @ Philadelphia on my phone! I can compete with friends living all over the world in Fantasy Basketball competitions (even if there is an unwillingness to pay up to the winner, often citing inabilities to transfer funds cross countries ironically in this connected day and age!). I can be a true fan from multiple angles, following my team and my favourite player but also keeping an eye on my rival team. There’s your favourite player not on the team you follow, tracking my guys on my Fantasy team and that young team you have that soft spot for. So as we cross the quarter mark of the season, let’s do a 360 degree view on my fandom.
My Team – Chicago Bulls
The Bulls have had an ok start to the season. You wouldn’t say dominant at 14-7 but with the injuries we’ve endured early on in the season you wouldn’t say that they were underperforming either. The surprise is that the Bulls offense is now actually entertaining to watch! The acquisition of Pau Gasol has had such a large impact in his own individual play but also what it means for the offense as a whole opening up the lane for Rose or increasing the space for shooters. Nikola Mirotic has been a pleasant surprise, stepping up when needed and looking like a keeper and possible Rookie of the Year candidate. There are concerns over the defense that seems to have lost its league leading prowess, however a minutes restriction on Noah and the fact he now guards 4s instead of centers at the rim will see an adjustment period continue to take place as the team has more experience playing together. If it ain’t humming by the All Star break, I might think about worrying. And speaking of humming, we have Jimmy Butler becoming a legitimate go to scorer. His improvement in the post and decision making have added the right weapons to his offensive game to combine with his elite defense and make him one of the best two way guards in the league.
My Rival Team – Cleveland Cavaliers
It has to be the Cavs doesn’t it? LeBron has stopped playoff runs of the Bulls multiple times, that it would be sweet revenge to take them out this year while their big 3 is still finding their way. And they seem to truly still be a work in progress. Kevin Love’s gaudy Timberwolves numbers seem to be a thing of the past instead of a daily occurrence. Kyrie Irving is also having trouble with consistency and finding the right role on this team. Lumping all that together with the inconsistency of veterans LeBron drags along with him and new coach David Blatt yet to put his stamp on the team, it’s becoming difficult to imagine the Cavs coming out of the East. Yet, you can never doubt LeBron. Miami were 8-9, Spolestra under heavy pressure and South Beach under a microscope before pulling themselves together and making the Finals. The silver lining for the East is that Dwayne Wade was already a champion, Chris Bosh already had dragged his team to the playoffs, which cannot be said for Irving or Love. The silver lining is that those two, still trying to prove themselves, will need another season before producing in the playoffs. Time will tell, and as my rival team, I’m always keeping an eye on them!
My Guy – Derrick Rose
Everyone has their guy. Defend him on the off days, love him on his good days, wear his jersey, have him as your desktop wallpaper. After a setback earlier in the season with a hamstring injury the hate started to pour in. He didn’t help his cause by explaining his reasons we not wanting to push too quickly to come back. What can you say, the guy just isn’t media savvy but I couldn’t care less. The main point is that he’s back to playing, and you’re starting to see why the Bulls missed him so much the past two seasons every time he goes on one of his coast to coast lightning quick runs. He’s falling in love with the 3 ball a little too much for a lot of fans, which was clear as day when the Warriors beat the Bulls at home. But the next game against the Nets he got back to driving and all was well again. He’s adjusting and figuring out what more he can do in this team that’s as offensively gifted as he’s ever played with. If he bricks 7 threes against elite competition in a game in early December, you’d take it over clanking them in May. And who knows he might just be getting the misses out of the way early in the season. His penetration game will always be there, so I say fire away! More than anything, I’m just happy to have my guy back. And then there’s my other guy…
My Other Guy – Kevin Durant
Aside from your favorite player who is generally the best player on the team you root for, there’s always your favorite player who plays for another team. Kevin Durant is this guy for me. It’s a combination of him being great, being clutch (hence entertaining) and a good dude. It’s easy to admire him. This could very well have been LeBron James had it not been for The Decision. But it’s been a rough start to the season for KD injuring his foot in the offseason and coming back to a team that was 4-13 in a crazy competitive West. It’s only been a few games back so he will work through shaking off the rust, increasing his minutes slowly but you can bet on KD getting his shots in to catch up in the West trying to grab that 7th or 8th seed. The looming question remains that what if they miss the playoffs or bow out early. The 2015-16 season becomes a very important one for OKC to give Durant reason to stay before he becomes a free agent. It will be a very interesting 1 and 3/4 seasons coming up for Iceberg Slim.
My Fantasy Team – #thereturners
Durantula also happens to head up my head to head daily fantasy basketball team. He was still sitting there at 5th pick, so with Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Chris Paul and James Harden off the board I decided to bite the bullet, try to stay afloat and hope Durant came back in early December which he luckily did! Keeping me competitive early on has been: Kyle Lowry (great numbers a must for All Star this season), Trevor Ariza (hot start from 3) , Tim Duncan (I’ve never known the true pleasure of having an automatic double-double, 2 blocks and great shooting % until this season. I don’t even care that he doesn’t play a third of the season) , Mike Conley (low key but effective) and Draymond Green (relishing small ball in Golden State and having a greatly improved 3 ball. A Most Improved candidate).
My injured guys slowly coming back are: Durant, David Lee (yet to play a game and likely to cannibalize Draymond Green’s stats) and Taj Gibson (slowly making his way back from an ankle injury).
Then there’s the slew of rounding out the roster/waiver wire guys: Amir Johnson, Joe Johnson (great value as a 7th round pick), Aaron Brooks, Donald Sloan (never watched him play but jumped on him because our league’s waiver wire is so damn active!), Greivis Vasquez (trying to capitalize on the DeRozan injury), Kyle O’Quinn (capitalizing on the Vucevic injury) and most recently Mason Plumlee (showing signs after a terrible start).
#thereturners are sitting 8th my 12 team league, but with Durant and David Lee coming back I expect to be climbing up the standings quickly!
My Young Soft Spot Team – Milwaukee Bucks
These young kids are fun to watch. I kind of loathe to root for them because I thought the whole Jason Kidd saga was a rat move, but you have to have a soft spot for the kids. First of all, they’re likeable. You want to root for Giannis wondering if he’ll just keep growing and growing until he can ultimately euro step to the basket from quarter court! Brandon Knight, probably the most ridiculed player in the league last season because of the DeAndre slam and Kyrie All-Star cross, broke out for near triple-doubles early in the season. Just warms your heart to see the underdog have some success. Larry Sanders is back in the league, and not getting ejected every game, giving hope that he can return to being LARRY SANDERS! And overall number 2 pick Jabari Parker is starting to find his scoring touch after a rough start to the season. They are an interesting, diverse bunch of players, have the ‘good guy’ vibe that just make you want to see them steal the 8th seed in the East for the entertainment value. Fear the young Deer!
That’s my 360 degree view, what’s yours?