NBA begins new season following Olympics
On the heels of one of the most dramatic NBA seasons in recent memory, professional basketball players are lacing up their shoes and hitting the hardwood once again.
The 2016-17 NBA season began Oct. 25 with a plethora of storylines running through the minds of broadcasters, analysts and fans. The biggest involves the Golden State Warriors, a talented team that has won more than 80 percent of its games the past two years.
“I’m looking forward to the trilogy of the (Cavaliers) versus the Warriors,” said Mahmoud Henderson, a sophomore guard for the basketball team. “I think those two teams will be in the Finals again. The Warriors went and got one of the best players in the world in Kevin Durant — so that’s a story I’ve been following — to counter LeBron (James) and his two teammates, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.”
During the offseason, the Warriors signed Durant to a two-year, $54.3 million deal. With the addition of Durant, the Warriors hope to snag a second Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy in three years. Last June, they lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 7 of the Finals, despite having a 3-1 series lead.
Durant was drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics in 2007, a year before the team relocated to Oklahoma City and renamed themselves the Thunder. In his nine years with the Sonics and Thunder, Durant averaged 27.4 points per game and shot 48.3 percent from the field.
Some wonder if Durant will gel with new teammates Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
“I think the (Cavaliers) will go back (to the Finals), but the Warriors will have trouble,” said Josh Shepherd, a junior infielder for the baseball team.
After becoming the first NBA team to comeback from a 3-1 series deficit in the Finals, the Cavaliers are a likely contender for a title this season too.
The core of the team, featuring James, Irving and Love, remains untouched. However, the production of Cleveland’s supporting cast has been questionable in the past.
A few other teams are mounting championship campaigns. According to Sportsbook, an online firm dedicated to sports betting, the odds that the San Antonio Spurs will win the Finals are 8-1, the third best in the NBA. Behind them are the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Clippers, both with 25-1 odds.
For the Charlotte Hornets, the chance of winning a title is considered remote among gambling circles. However, the team is coming off a 48-34 season last year that resulted in a playoff berth.
Henderson attended a preseason game Oct. 6 between the Hornets and the Celtics at the Greensboro Coliseum and gathered impressions of the team.
“(The Hornets) looked more energetic, more athletic,” said Henderson. “They’re younger, especially with Al Jefferson leaving.
“They just look a little bit faster. I don’t know if they’ll do any better. Their game has changed in that they space the floor more. They can shoot better than they did in previous years. That’s what I noticed from them.”
The Hornets also have a new affiliate team in the NBA Developmental League: the Greensboro Swarm. The Swarm will begin their season at the Coliseum Nov. 12.
The NBA continues to change as the sport of basketball grows abroad. According to an official press release opening day, 113 international players from 41 countries were on NBA rosters, the highest number in the history of the league and the third consecutive year that total has been more than 100.
The Utah Jazz have the most culturally diverse team, with seven players from five nations abroad. All 30 NBA teams have at least one international player.
During the 2016 NBA Draft, 15 international players were chosen in the first round, breaking the previous record of 12 set in 2013.
One thing is clear, the strength of play abroad has improved.
“The U.S. (men’s basketball) team struggled in the Olympics,” said Darin Salter, a senior pitcher for the baseball team.
In August, the United States went undefeated and won gold in Olympic basketball. However, they faced tough matchups against Australia, France and Serbia during the group stage. The games against France and Serbia were decided by three points each.
What drives the push for foreign players and better players in general is clear to Henderson.
“At the end of the day, it’s about getting buckets,” said Henderson. “With players like Kevin Durant or LeBron, with three minutes to go in a game, you need those players who can get your team a bucket to win the championship or to win a playoff game.
“Having a bunch of average NBA players won’t win you those close games. You need the special talents.”