Most of you know me as a writer; as someone who tries to objectively assess situations across the NBA and communicate my position in a way that stands apart from my peers. I’m modestly successful in this pursuit, and along the way I’ve developed a small and continually growing contingent of people who respect my work. It’s an astounding reality I never thought to be possible.
But apart from my identity as a blogger, I’m also a rabid fan of the game of basketball. I’ve played the game my entire life, closely followed every season since I could comprehend what was happening on the court and have now begun to establish myself as a knowledgeable resource on the game’s most intricate details. Bottom line, I love the NBA, and beyond my family, there isn’t much I love in this world with such fervor.
The juxtaposition that exists between being someone who must cover the game with a certain level of objectivity and someone whose every instinct pulls them in certain fan-biased directions is one of the most difficult struggles I encounter on a daily basis. I allow it to creep into my coverage on a consistent basis and contaminate the work I ultimately produce.
With that acknowledged, I’ve purposefully taken some time this offseason to reflect on this internal struggle and to honestly assess my shortcomings in this regard. So it’s with utmost transparency that I intend to communicate my resolutions for the upcoming season. Here are 10 things I’ll try to remove from my psyche, or to reduce the importance of when providing coverage of the league as a whole.
1. I will not allow my tendency to loathe Russell Westbrook affect my coverage of the Thunder.
I’ve made no secret about my inherent dislike for Westbrook and his game in general. I simply don’t find him aesthetically pleasing to watch, and his demeanor on the court tends to rub me the wrong way. But there’s no denying his nearly unrivaled physical dominance on the court. Perhaps no guard in history has displayed such an impressive combination of size, speed, athleticism and pure desire. So what is it exactly I don’t like again?
It’s hard to put my finger on the answer to that question, so maybe I’d be best served by simply removing that from the equation. This guy is damn special.
2. I will appreciate what the Grizzlies bring to the table, and not be lulled into thinking this will be the year they fall off.
Every year, as sure as the seasons change, I fall into the trap of thinking “well, someone has to take more losses in the west. Why not the Grizzlies?” And every year, the Grizzlies and their fans (thanks @HPbasketball) remind me how foolish I was.
This is the year that changes. The Grizzlies will back right back in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race and are realistically good enough to finish anywhere between the third and seventh seed. But there’s no chance — you hear that Grizzlies fans? – no chance that they slip out of the top eight. Take that to the bank.
3. I will appreciate the beauty of James Harden’s game, even if I don’t find it all that beautiful.
Much like Westbrook, there’s something about Harden that gets under my skin. It could be his overly-manufactured personality (ugh, not the mixer again), or it could be the way he grinds his way to 59 free throws per game. No matter, because this year I will instead focus on the way with which he rhythmically handles the ball as if strings attached it to his soul. I will focus on the ease with which he knocks down step-back 25-footers over outstretched arms of helpless defenders. I will even try to embrace his ridiculous celebrations, as difficult as that may be.
The point is, I will try to not allow his unique, generational type of talent go unnoticed.
4. I will watch every game Kevin Durant plays.
I’ve always liked Durant, although he’s begun to test my admittedly thin patience a bit with his fake tough-guy persona, but I’ve never paid as much attention as I should to how great he is over the course of a season. His 2013-2014 season was one of the greatest in basketball history, and yet somehow I became so mired in the coverage of my putrid Nuggets that I missed most of it.
That will not happen this year I assure you. I’m preparing myself for what could amount to the single greatest season of all time. Are 35 PPG, 8 RPG and 6 APG really out of the question? Is doing so on 51 percent shooting and 42 percent from three-point range beyond the realm of possibility? I think the answer to both of those is an adamant no, and so I will be sure to witness every game he plays. I don’t want to miss out on history again.
5. I will not become overly enamored with the trendy, upstart teams entering the season.
Last year, I bought into the hoopla that surrounded the Charlotte Hornets. The year before that I was all in on the Nuggets hype train. This year, all the talk entering the season is about the promise of a young Utah Jazz team and how they can make noise in the fight for the final two playoff spots. In related news, I’d like to remind you that if everyone is picking them to be a dark horse playoff team, they probably aren’t a dark horse anymore.
I do like the Jazz and will have to fight every inclination to fully buy into them, but I will force myself to be cautious about their potential. Sure, they were the best defensive team over the second half of the year, but they still haven’t proven anything. Until they do, color me skeptical. That’s my new self-defense technique by the way.
6. I will open my mind to the science experiment that is the Philadelphia 76ers.
I don’t like what Sam Hinkie is doing. I find that it repulses my sensibilities as a competitive person, and it goes against everything I was taught growing up. I expect fans to be able to stomach a one or two year stretch of being bad, but to be so abjectly terrible entering their third season of this process is nauseating to me. I frankly don’t understand how Hinkie has sold the fan base on this approach, but to his credit he’s done that in spades.
The 76ers fans are fully invested in this rebuild, often to a fanatical extent. Maybe I need to take a step back and appreciate the uniqueness of what’s unfolding. This is an unprecedented occurrence, and I’d probably be better served by taking a more objectively passive stance and allow this experiment to unfold this season without judgment attached to my observations. After all, if the 76ers fans are on board, who am I to protest?
7. I will fully appreciate the greatness of the Golden State Warriors.
There’s a debate to be had about the prospects of the Warriors becoming one of the all-time greatest teams for a sustained period, but what isn’t debatable is the fact that they put together one of the best seasons in NBA history last year.
I watched every game I could and enjoyed every minute of it when I did, but I failed to realize the magnitude of what I was actually witnessing. Their unprecedented style of basketball was truly something to behold. You know you revolutionized the game when every other team is now trying to emulate what you did.
This year, I will watch every one of their games, relish the experience of being able to watch the greatest shooter of all time (yes I said it), and appreciate the incredible amount of depth and versatility that exists throughout their roster. I will watch them like I wish I would’ve watched the Bulls teams of the ‘90s or the Lakers and Celtics of the ‘80s.
8. I will not unabashedly criticize Randy Wittman.
One of the favorite pastimes for bloggers everywhere is to pick a coach, or a handful of coaches, and bash them for every decision or statement they make. For me, this coach has been Randy Wittman for the past three seasons. I simply don’t think he’s been a very good coach, even despite of his team’s relative success.
He plays an overly-traditional brand of basketball, doesn’t believe in pace or space, doesn’t employ the proper lineups at the right times and ultimately creates an utterly predictable product on the court at all times.
All that said, he did show a different side of himself in the playoffs last season, which allowed the Wizards to overachieve and push the top-seeded Hawks to the brink despite being without their best player for much of the series. So maybe there’s hope for him after all.
Also, coaching is hard, and it’s someone’s livelihood, so maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to criticize someone else for a job I probably couldn’t do.
9. I will appreciate Carmelo Anthony for what he is: a superstar.
I’ve always been a fan of Carmelo Anthony. He was the savior of my hometown Denver Nuggets, putting them back on the map in a serious way in 2003. He was my favorite player the entire time he wore the powder blue and gold, and I wasn’t even mad at him when he decided to leave. It was the wrong decision, but I can’t fault a man for doing what he thinks best for his family.
The narrative surrounding Carmelo has taken a drastic turn for the worse over the past three seasons, however, and I’ve allowed some of that negativity to creep into my perception of him. Now, people simply view him as someone who doesn’t play defense, constantly stops the ball and as someone who can’t be the centerpiece of a contending team.
Sure, there’s some truth to those assertions, but let’s not forget how damn good Carmelo actually is. He’s one of the top 10 pure scorers in NBA history, in my opinion. The ease with which he puts the ball in the basket is only rivaled by one Kevin Durant in the modern NBA, and only by a few legends historically.
Most importantly, he remains the focus of opposing team’s preparation. When film sessions revolve entirely around how to stop a certain player, that player should be recognized as the force they are.
He’s absolutely the centerpiece of this Knicks franchise, and if he can stay healthy, something he hasn’t done in a few years, he could be a big reason why the Knicks could compete for a playoff spot.
10. I will not have unrealistic expectations for Emmanuel Mudiay in his rookie season
This is the one that probably hits the closest to home. Anyone who knows me knows how closely I follow and love the Denver Nuggets. After two seasons of absolute misery, both in having to withstand them as a fan, and having to endure the painful grind of covering them as a blogger, there’s a huge part of me that wants to jump onto the “Mudiay as our savior” bandwagon feet first.
But history hasn’t been kind to rookie point guards, and I urge Nuggets fans and their front office to be incredibly patient with this kid. Sure, there have been some notable exceptions. Allen Iverson went off for 30 points in his first NBA game en route to a 23.5 PPG and 7.5 APG rookie season. Chris Paul made an almost immediate impact for the woebegone Hornets, on his way to earning Rookie of the Year honors. Penny Hardaway set the world on fire the moment he stepped on the court. But these were all-time great players in unique situations, and they shouldn’t be used to set the standard for what should be expected from Mudiay.
I anticipate that Mudiay will show flashes of brilliance, but he’ll also show many more signs of being an NBA rookie, and well, 19 years old. He’ll get an enormous amount of playing time, and despite my warnings, will be surrounded by inordinate expectations. If anyone is up to the challenge, it’s Mudiay, but I just won’t allow myself to be set up for disappointment.
I’m all in on the Mudiay train. I just want it to be a long and pleasurable ride.