Every year far too many players are forced to end their season early because of injury. Injuries are impossible to plan for and the loss of a team’s top player can ruin an entire season in less than a second. Some teams, such as the Spurs or the Lebrons, can weather an injury and still contend. Other teams can react quickly and pull off a one year tank job in between seasons of relevancy (Spurs, Celtics). More often than not, a major injury will ruin months of planning and high hopes. As a fan, injuries mean I don’t get to watch some awesome players. I want to take time now to welcome some sweet ballers back into my life.
In descending order of expected impact on the upcoming season:
- Kevin Durant:
Two years ago Durant was the MVP of the league. He averaged 32ppg/7.4rpg/5.5apg that season, and his 32 points per game were the most put up in an MVP season since Jordan averaged 35 in 1988. In the 27 games Durant played last year the Thunder were 18-9, a 55-win pace. Kevin Durant may be the second most important player in the NBA.
A year ago Durant had 1) Led the league in scoring four times, 2) started 73 playoff games, and 3) was the clear air apparent to Lebron James. Today he 1) has had a disconcerting amount of surgeries for someone his height, 2) did not participate in last year’s playoffs, 3) is a free agent after this season, 4) has a running mate who is a free agent the year after and is a little bit crazy, and 5) has to listen to people saying that the future of the league belongs to Anthony Davis. How fast things change.
The Thunder are not as sure a bet to be great this year as some other teams in the league. They have 17/2 title odds (1), ESPN summer forecast had them as 5th most likely to win the West (2), and NBA 2K16 rated Durant as only the 5th highest overall player (3). They have a new coach, have endured a good amount of criticism of their front office and management, and the idea is floating around that their title window may be near closed (4). Me? I think Durant and Westbrook will ravage the league just a little bit more than usual, you know to make up for last year. And next year I think Durant will look great in his spanking new Wizards uni.
- Chris Bosh:
Bosh is ahead of Melo on this list because he should have a greater impact on the actual fight for the title. Some say that the Heat will be the second best team in the East this year with their boom or bust starting lineup, while others say they suck at shooting. Bosh is their best player. Last year Bosh was averaging 21.1/7 before he had to sit out due to a blood clot in his lungs.
Back to full health, this year Bosh will lead a team that has Wade and Dragic to share playmaking duties and has a starting C and SF who could be solid (count me not as sold on Whiteside and Deng). This will be a fun team to watch, and if things go right it could be one of the top teams in the East, in a group with Atlanta, Chicago, and Washington. I’m not going to put them ahead of anyone in that group, however, until they prove it. Things could also go wrong. Regardless, it will feel good to welcome back the best power forward in the East (Kevin Love’s second, with a chance to overtake him, and Paul Millsap’s third).
- Carmelo Anthony:
The 8 time all-star and 6 time all-nba selection also currently boasts the 12th best scoring average in NBA history, with 25.2 ppg, right below Kobe Bryant and right above Karl Malone. Melo has been in the league 12 years, made the playoffs 10 times, won 50 games 4 times, and reached the conference finals once. He has not shown decline, as his PER of 21.5 last season was actually higher than his career average PER of 21.3. The team he plays for, the New York Knicks, has already been written out of this years playoffs before the season has started.
Yes the Knicks are a disaster, but since Melo has been on the team they’ve made the playoffs three times and missed them twice. Last years team was awful; this year’s is a bit more compelling. Besides a superstar, the Knicks also have a starting Center in Robin Lopez who played a major role on the back to back 50 win Trail Blazers. They have a veteran shooting guard with an all around game in Aaron Afflalo. And they have a hot young rookie in Kristaps Porzingis who is Dirk combined with Pau Gasol (5). And they have nothing else. Whether the Knicks are good, bad, or awful, Carmelo Anthony knows how to put on a show.
- Paul George:
If George fully recovers from his injury he could move up to number 2 on this list. Unfortunately, he is less of a sure bet to return to normal than the three players above him. PG’s injury was horrific enough that if shown to a non-NBA fan, it will disgust them. He played 91 minutes last season and looked gimpy doing it. On the other hand, maybe the fact that he was able to play for the Pacers five months ago means now he should have no problem. He scored 18 points in the Pacers preseason debut (6), and all parties seem confident George is fully healthy (7).
George was one of the most athletic players in the NBA before he got hurt—will he be again when he returns? Two years ago he killed the Wizards in the playoffs, clearly the best player in that series. George was perhaps the most exciting young all-star in the East. Now the question is: Will he be a Derrick Rose or a Russell Westbrook?
Last season Kobe had 15 games with at least 25 points, 6 games with at least 30, 1 game with 44, and 1 game with 39 (8). He only played 35 games last year, but those 15 with 25 points were fun to watch. Kobe Bryant jacking shots is decent theater. The Lakers are lucky they have Kobe, because they are a bad team who doesn’t have a first round pick this year unless they finish 1-3 in the lottery. They have lots of national TV games and they have Kobe.
Kobe is a character, and even if he hasn’t been effective since 2013 he is still one of the faces of the NBA. The Lakers’ suckiness is not actually the end of the world because they have three exciting young players in D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, and Jordan Clarkson. They’ve also devoted part of their roster to vets who nobody wants to watch such as Roy Hibbert, Nick Young (sorry Nick), Lou Williams, and Brandon Bass–because remember they don’t have a draft pick. They’re on TV so much that everyone will have to watch a couple minutes of the Lakers this season—just hope Kobe does something cool when you do.
- Jabari Parker:
Can new additions Jabari Parker and Greg Monroe combine with a core of Kris Middleton, Greek Freak, and Michael Farter Williams to build on last years playoff team? Will Jabari Parker be as good as advertised? Will he come out motivated after watching Andrew Wiggins win rookie of the year? Have I ever even seen him play basketball? He played in and started 25 games last year. He shot 49%, but only made .2 threes a game and only averaged 12.3 points.
Hopefully this year he will stay healthy and have a full season to get comfortable on the court. I remember when Milwaukee drafted him many people said he would be the Bucks next franchise player (9). The jury is still out. Regardless of Jabari’s play this season, I don’t really see the Bucks jumping too many of the teams who were ahead of them last year. But they still have an exciting young core to watch today and moving forward.
- Danilo Gallinari:
The least famous person on this list—but he did make the list!—is 27 year old Danilo Gallinari. Did you know that Gallinari had the 11th highest one-game point output last season with 47 against the Mavericks on April 10th? Now it’s true that game featured 287 total points and went to double overtime… But Danilo also had 40 points against the Magic in March.
On the down side he played in 59 games and averaged 12.4 points, the lowest since his rookie year. It is certainly possible that last year was a recovery year and that this season he will be back to his normal dynamic self. The Denver Nuggets think so, as they’ve renegotiated and extended his contract so that he will now make 46 million dollars over the next three years. If so he will be a great running mate next to Emmanuel Mudiay in high-altitude, stoner-central Colorado.