By Ryan Winner
When looking back at the 2016-2017 NBA season, it becomes very clear that the league has vastly changed in just the last decade. Three point shooting is at an all time high, stars are leaving their longtime franchises to form super teams, and the balance of power is continuing to shift. A lot of young and exciting players broke out this season, while some of the aging stars are slowly fading away. The league is still controlled by players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant, but they are already making way for young superstars like Karl Anthony Towns and Devin Booker. There are multiple aspects of this season to break down, including the shift of balance in the league, multiple broken records, and a couple of new problems that have arisen this year such as players resting too often and numerous bad contracts this past offseason.
One of the most promising things about this season has been seeing some younger players have breakout season. While no rookies outside of the Sixers’ center Joel Embiid (who only played 31 games) had breakout rookie years, numerous other young players had breakout seasons, and it looks like the league will have some very formidable franchises that had been hapless for years.
One of the main examples of this is the Minnesota Timberwolves, who have not been a good franchise since Kevin Garnett left in 2007. However, after dealing star forward Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers a few years ago in exchange for number one overall pick Andrew Wiggins and drafting center Karl Anthony Towns at number one overall the following year, they are shaping up to be a serious contender for years to come. Wiggins has continued to improve every season so far, and Towns, after already having an incredible rookie season, absolutely exploded this season, averaging 25 points and 12 rebounds and already playing like a top five superstar. He does not seem to have any weaknesses in his game. If the Timberwolves continue to develop and add pieces, they could become major threats to the top teams in the West within just a year or two.
Another example of an up and coming team who had been mostly hapless for years is the Milwaukee Bucks, who now look to have an actual big three of their own for next season. They are led by 6’11” small forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, who does a lot of the ballhandling and runs the offense. He is known as the “Greek Freak” because of his insane athleticism and grace with his ballhandling at his height. He had a breakout year, averaging 23 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 blocks per game. The other two major players on the Bucks are guard Khris Middleton and power forward Jabari Parker, both of whom have shown the capability to be high level players when healthy. Because of an injury to Middleton and then Parker, they have not played a single minute on the court together this season, but both have separately shown incredible potential to take this team to the next level when all three play together.
There are a few other teams that look to be on the rise as well, including the New Orleans Pelicans, Denver Nuggets, Philadelphia Sixers, and Miami Heat, all of which have young and talented rosters, and they could give the top teams some major problems for years to come.
This season has also featured a few records being shattered, including the single season triple-double record which was previously thought to be unbreakable. Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook notched 42 triple doubles, which broke Oscar Robertson’s record of 41 set in the 1961-1962 season. Westbrook was also the first to average a triple-double for the season since Robertson. This was one of the major headlines throughout the year, and it kept fans excited to see if he could actually do it.
Also, future Hall of Fame forward Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks became the seventh player in NBA history to reach 30,000 career points, and he is now sixth on the all time list after passing Julius Erving too. Nowitzki has had an amazing career, and he revolutionized the game by being one of the first seven-foot big men to be able to shoot so gracefully from outside. His impact will be felt on the game long after he retires.
There have also been a couple of major downsides to the league this season, a lot of which are due to either rules that recently changed or rules that need to be changed immediately. One of the biggest issues this season was the large amount of bad contracts given out to players after the salary cap skyrocketed this past offseason for the first time in a while. Teams had a lot more money to work with, and as a result, they made the mistake of dramatically overpaying for players that certainly were not worth the money. One of the teams that made this mistake badly was the Memphis Grizzlies, who handed forward Chandler Parsons a four-year, $94 million deal and point guard Mike Conley a five-year, $151 million deal. While Conley is at least an above average player who they were smart to keep despite overpaying for, Parsons has given them absolutely no return on their investment. He missed over half the season, and when he did play, he posted the worst stat line of his entire career. The Lakers, Knicks, Magic, Blazers, and Pistons all overpaid for players as well.
The league also has a problem with players resting too frequently, especially stars on some of the top teams. The Cleveland Cavaliers seem to be the biggest offenders of this, often resting stars LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love on away games where opposing fans buy tickets almost solely to see them play. While the rest is understandably needed in the long, tiring season, many argue that they should rest during home games instead, since a lot of opposing fans don’t get opportunities to see these stars play outside of when they come to town.
This season has been a very exciting one to watch, and it has definitely set the stage for a new generation of good teams and stars to break out. It saw records broken that were once thought to be unbreakable, and it has shown just how much teams will overpay players to put a winning product on the court. This has definitely been one of the best seasons in recent years, and hopefully the playoffs will continue to be as exciting as ever.