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The NBA is Wild: Three Storylines to Watch

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The NBA resumes soon, and there’s a lot of cool stuff to look forward to. It goes from the obvious (LeBron James to the Lakers) to the analytical (Bud’s offense with the Bucks) to the truly, wonderfully insane (whatever the freak is going on with Jimmy Butler and the Timberwolves). Let’s take a look at what we can look forward to in the 2018-2019 NBA season.

OBVIOUS

LeBron James is a Laker. That’s kind of crazy! We just kind of glossed over it! People were talking about him going there for so long that it felt like an inevitability, but it’s worth mentioning how different of a decision it is in either his jump to Miami or his return to Cleveland.

In both instances, he left a worse basketball situation for a better one –– in taking his talents to whatever beach the Lakers prefer, he’s going to a better off-court situation. Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and Lonzo Ball are not nearly as enticing as Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

LeBron James
Lakers’ LeBron James drives to the basket

It’s hard to interpret what that means for the rest of LeBron’s career. He still cares about winning, obviously, but if his main concern was championships he would’ve either stayed in Cleveland or gone to the 76ers. I’m not the first person to say that, of course, but going back even five years, a major superstar jumping from a championship contender to a worst team (for less money, I might add) would’ve been nuts crazy. I think the thing that sticks out to me the most is that LeBron is completing the arc that he started with The Decision: using basketball as a fulcrum point for the rest of his life outside of the sport itself.

As a basketball storyline, we’re going to find out if LeBron can play off the ball and whether he wants to play fast. It’d be a big change and would signal maybe the last phase of his career. I already think he’s the greatest of all time, but becoming a superstar player well into his thirties and changing his style while doing so would really be something special.

ANALYTICAL

Mike Budenholzer, now head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks, is known for his ball-movement, three-point centric offenses. The 2017-18 Atlanta Hawks shot five hundred more threes and shot half a percent better than the 2017-18 Bucks. In Atlanta’s best year, in that magical run to 60 wins and the Eastern Conference Finals, 32% of their possessions ended in a three-point shot, with a 38% success rate.

Last year, in which Milwaukee won 44 games (their best season since the 2009-10 season), they used only 30% of their possessions on three-pointers. Now, that doesn’t sound like a big difference –– but it is when you realize that the Hawks season is from 2014-15, and the Bucks are from last year. The three-point revolution has long since swept through the league, and the Bucks are still lagging behind.

Giannis Antetokounmpo
Bucks’ Antetokounmp celebrates during a game

The Bucks also have something the Hawks never did –– a genuine, true-blue franchise superstar. Al Horford and Paul Milsap are the perfect third players on a championship team; overqualified to be the tertiary option, but also great at filling in the cracks as glue guys. The Bucks have Giannis Antetokounmpo, one of the greatest athletes to ever step foot on the court. He’s also one of the hardest workers and most intelligent guys in the NBA, and his constant, near-linear improvement pattern is evidence of that. He’s a downhill wrecking ball with arms so long he could be typing this very article from Milwaukee. He’s essentially the perfect person to put in the middle of a Mike Budenholzer offense –– surrounding him with shooters and letting him run point puts him in the center of a never-ending jolt of arms and legs and leaves the basket at his mercy.

Even with average or slightly above-average shooters (which is what I would call the Bucks roster), Budenholzer will be able to create that free-flow that he loves. If he can create even a little more space for Giannis to work, he’s unlocking a potential MVP year. Making things easier on his franchise guy offensively will also improve them defensively –– if Giannis no longer has to arm-freak his way through a crowded lane, he can instead arm-freak the opposition in their lane.

Imagine an octopus, except its arms, are like 30% longer than a regular octopus and also it had a real fondness for curb stomping people who drove the paint or sat on the perimeter or, hell, decided to dribble at the said octopus. Giannis is a large, long-armed freak of nature who also seems like a hardworking and decent guy. The Bucks have a lot to look forward to, is what I’m trying to say. And we do too! Hooray for us! Hooray for League Pass!

BUMFREAK INSANE

What the freak is going on with the Timberwolves? How the hell did they piss Jimmy Butler to this degree? Why in the freak are they letting Jimmy Butler be a bad teammate? Has Tom Thibodeau died and gone to hell? Has Tom Thibodeau died and gone to heaven? All of this is crazy as hell.

Tom Thibodeau
Minnesota’s head coach Tom Thibodeau

I don’t understand any of this, but it’s the funniest thing I’ve seen since David Stern muffed the Miami Heat championship speech and then stared off into space like the end of a movie about saving the environment. Butler is a second-tier superstar –– capable of taking a flawed team to the playoffs and maybe even the Finals, but not capable of dragging them to a championship on his own. The thing is, he’s not supposed to be alone! He has the human trampoline Andrew Wiggins and the big man evolution in Karl Anthony-Towns. He’s back with the coach that helped turn him into an unlikely superstar. And yet, things are falling apart! Utterly apart!

There have been rumors about the alleged softness of that Timberwolves team. KAT and Wiggins have been getting crap for their attitudes for more than a year now. Butler was supposed to be the fix to that. He was supposed to be Thibs on the court, teaching these young guys what it means to be a player in the NBA. But that has obviously, catastrophically, failed.

But, and here is the important part –– maybe the failure (if KAT and Wiggins are soft, which, what the hell does that even mean and also I’m pretty sure “being soft” is just bad players complaining that good players won’t indulge the least interesting and most easily acquirable skill, physicality) isn’t on KAT and Wiggins, but Thibs and Butler. If you style yourself the leader, and then your charges fail, that’s your fault. You don’t get the big chair without the big responsibility.

CONCLUSION

Anyway. This NBA season is going to be wild. These are but three storylines to watch going forward, and there are plenty more to keep an eye on. The NBA is full of drama and players with incredible skill and frankly alarming Twitter habits, and while that media attention probably feels a little oppressive to the players, it’s a bunch of freaking idiots like me, who like to stare at social media instead of learning Spanish or reading a book or something.

Hunter Bishop
Hunter Bishop
Senior Editor for The Ball Out: Hunter Bishop has been published over two hundred times on topics such basketball, television, and film. He holds a BA in Creative Writing from Georgia State University, and is nearing the completion of his MFA in Stage and Screenwriting. He has written for Uproxx, Swish Appeal, TVOvermind, the award-winning local newspaper the Henry Herald, and many others.

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