Seasons Greetings!

It is that time of the year again. The time when the lights are turned up and we gather by burning rubber on the hardwood to celebrate our gift under the Jumbotron. A time when some Elves are in peak you-can-see-my-rippling-muscles shape because they worked out all summer while others look like they ate a reindeer, or two.

The League is not perfect, as is clear from the Delay-Of-Game rule, and neither are the players, as is obvious from Shabazz Mohammed getting sent home from rookie orientation camp. But it is important that we count our blessings. It is important because this is the last season for Father NBA before he brings in Father Silver, and because every few years we run the risk of not experiencing a season at all.

Let us be glad and rejoice! It is here!! Merry NBA Season!!!

So with this ’13 Season upon us, I humbly count 13 blessings I am thankful for this season.

No. 13: Karan Madhok & Akshay Manwani on NBA.com/India. I have been working in the Indian basketball scene for over half a decade now and no where have I been reminded of the stark difference between the talkers and the walkers. Madhok falls squarely into the latter.

See, basketball is growing in India. And growing fast. You may not see it, but believe me, the rumblings are there. And you’d be hard pressed to find anymore more in tune with this growth than Madhok. Madhok has been at it since 2009, and despite his strong affection for the NBA makes sure he gives as much (and often more) importance to covering the game and its growth in India. The guy is near relentless in his pursuit of recognition for basketball in India and is big inspiration in getting me started on my writing.

Between Madhok and Manwani the Indian NBA fan, a big part of the NBA’s global outreach focus, gets analysis of the world’s best basketball league from the eyes of one of their own. Both Madhok and Manwani are part of an elite group of global writers that are spreading news and views about the league to unchartered corners of the world.

If you aren’t following them, I could not even try to tell you what you are missing. So, let me help you with this and this.

No. 12: NBA Gametime. Every. Game. Live. And recorded. All of them. Need I say more?

No. 11: Sony SIX: It happens. It is inevitable. The younger generation will always have it better than those that came before them. But to have it this good? God how I hate them! As recently as last decade, There were exactly two, yes TWO live NBA games a week. Friday and Saturday. There was the occasional game on Wednesday, but that’s if the India channel partner (at the time) felt generous. Every once in a while, we’d also get a surprise (like the one you get when you pull on an old pair of jeans to find 100 bucks in the back pocket) when the channel would throw in a double header. Wow! Four games for this week!!

Of course that number never went up, instead staying at only two games a week. No one took NBA fans seriously, no one took basketball seriously. Cut to 2013 and blessings have poured from the NBA gods and how. F O U R T E E N Live games a week! Not to mention nearly 10 game repeats and highlights from nearly every game around the league. Never have NBA fans had it better and, if sources are to be believed, SIX is in this for the long haul. There has never been a better time to be an NBA fan in India.

No.10: The Brow Power. Here is some perspective. Below are the numbers through games 1 – 3 in each respective player’s Sophomore year in the League.

FG%

FT%

PPG

RPG

BPG

APG

SPG

TPG

SophScore™*

Davis (20)

0.495

0.950

23.7

12.3

4.0

1.7

2.7

2.0

42.4

Garnett (19)

0.477

0.583

14.3

8.0

3.0

4.0

2.3

3.0

28.6

Howard (19)

0.397

0.613

15.0

7.3

1.7

0.7

0.3

1.3

23.7

Lebron (19)

0.410

0.743

26.7

6.3

1.0

7.3

1.7

3.7

39.3

Kobe (19)

0.250

0.882

10.3

2.3

0.3

3.0

1.3

1.3

15.9

Duncan (22)

0.471

0.519

20.7

15.3

1.3

3.3

0.7

4.3

37.0

*SophScore™ is arrived at by adding all relevant stat categories (less) turnovers per game.

Look at that chart. Really look at it. Don’t skim.

Granted we are at the beginning of a season, and everything is about games 1 – 15 is premature (Philly at 3-0 anyone?). I’ll also give you the argument that Kobe’s, a 5-time NBA Champion no less, numbers are downright outrageous. But if you watched Davis’s first three games you know this kid is special. He annihilated the Orlando and Charlotte frontlines and put up a very respectable 20-12 in addition to 3 blocks and a steal against The Legend’s Pacers, only the best defensive team in the league.

Are we really gonna let our acute sense of skepticism cloud our passion for the immense basketball talent, acumen and IQ this kid brings to the hardwood? I hope not. I really do.

No.9: To Harden or To Howard, that is the question. I’m not a Howard fan. No more. After his monster ’09 season when he carried a dysfunctional team to the Finals, Howard gave us two beautiful seasons reminding everyone that he can lead a team to 45 wins and the playoffs as its best player. But then it went downhill. Fast. Howard sulked the whole ‘11-’12 season until he moved to a team of his choice, then sulked again, mailed in the ’12-‘13 season (because playing with  5-time champion and one of the 10 greatest players ever was not enough) and (again) signed with a team of his choice. How is this different form Lebron’s infamous “Decision” to sign with Miami, you ask? Two differences:

One, Lebron never sulked and the Cavs finished no less than Eastern Conference Semi Finalists in his last five seasons there: EC SF, NBA F, EC SF, EC F, EC SF. Check out the three best players on those teams: Ilgauskas (No more in the league), Hughes (No more in the league) and Mo Williams (Playing backup in Portland). We could even throw in a Washed-Up-Shaq (now playing owner at SacramIndia). With the exception of Williams in ’08-’09 none of those guys cracked 16 ppg.The Howard / Magic comparative?: EC SF, NBA F, EC F, EF 1R, EC 1R, while playing alongside Hedo (18-5-5, in his prime), Rashard Lewis (16-5-3, just past his prime) and Vince Carter (17-4-3, over the hill but still very effective).

Two, Lebron moved to hook up with the sixth greatest shooting guard ever, submitted to being publicly humiliated, took all that criticism and belted out two championships back-to-back, with a legit chance for a three peat. Howard moved to hook up with the second greatest shooting guard ever and a top 5 Forward-Center, took almost no criticism (he got away because of his back problems), and ran away because this would never be his team. (He stupidly believed the Lakers were gonna do this)

So why am I thankful for a clearly thankless Howard?! I am not. What I am thankful for is Harden finally getting rewarded with a chance to form one of the greatest Pick & Roll duos of this generation. What I am thankful for is that Houston hired one of the greatest power forwards ever in McHale as their coach. What I am thankful for is Houston then goes and hires the fourth greatest center in NBA history in Hakeem Olajuwon to coach Howard! And all I (want to be) thankful for is that Howard stops bickering, realizes what an opportunity he has been gift wrapped and finally live up to his immense potential.

No.8: Lob City: Day 3 Regular Season (L.A.) – It’s 7 minutes into the 3rd quarter of an offensive showdown. Nothing out of the ordinary considering it’s the Clippers against the Warriors.

Then it happens. Not once. Not twice. But Thrice.

Three Steals. Three lobs. Three Dunks. Six points. Fans and viewers (at home) on their feet? Every. Single. One.

No, Griffin did not spend the summer turning into a devastating post up presence.

No, DeAndre is not winning Defensive Player of the Year.

No, the Clippers still cannot defend effectively enough for a Championship contender.

Question is, does all this matter? The Clippers have assembled, and continue to grow into, the most exciting basketball team of the decade. With sharp shooters Reddick and Crawford alongside two of the nastiest dunkers in Griffin and Jordan, this team is a point guard’s dream. Oh wait, did I mention they also have the best point guard in the League?! Are you kidding me?!?!

You want to watch their every game. You hold your breath every time they get a long rebound. You look for that eye contact between Paul and The Dunkerons™. You want expect them to do something spectacular every possession. You want … Oh geez, turn on the game already!

No. 7: The Legend’s Pacers: The Pacers sign … Larry “The Legend” Bird.

Ladies & Gentlemen! Your NBA Champions…The INDIANA PACERS!!! What? You doubt me? Wait, wait, WAIT!!! … You doubt (dramatic pause) The Legend?! Do you not know what this man is capable of?!

Let me lay it down for you. No one can argue that a big factor in Miami’s Finals appearance last year was Indiana’s woeful bench and absolute lack of Big Game Reps a.k.a. Big Game Cojones. They could not have asked for a better match up, thumping Miami in the paint who were clearly on the brink of a series loss. Instead, the Pacers suffered from the classic Too-Far-Too-Soon Syndrome.

Enter Larry Legend.

The Pacers now:

  1. Have brought back every relevant piece from the ’12 – ’13 run. Including Coach Vogel
  2. Have cleared out the bench and made it exponentially stronger.
  3. They did this and STILL managed to keep Danny Granger who is widely perceived to be the biggest Tier 2 trade chip this season.
  4. Have one of the five greatest Big Game Winners guiding them.

Can you imagine playoff practice time with Larry Legend? Breaking down opponent game film. His words failing to match the intensity in his eyes as he explain what it truly means to step up and close out big games. Him doing this. Him … gahhh! I’ll stop now…

How is this not a championship team? Barring injuries, Indiana are, for the first time since 2005 a legitimate title contender. I’d dare to put them ahead of The Heat and the Spurs. There … I said it.

Ladies & Gentlemen! Your NBA Champions…The INDIANA PACERS!!! (cut to shot of Larry Legend seemingly unfazed by this “development”)

No.6: The Warriors Cry. The Warriors need to seriously consider making more room on their bandwagon. A whole lotta us gonna climb dat baby!

That they are offensively phenomenal is no surprise as they trot out Curry-Thompson-Lee as their Big Three. But it is their defense that casts doubt on their ‘14 Western Conference Champions Campaign. (No, they aren’t beating Indiana or Miami if they make out of the West). That doubt, I would believe, is now laid to rest with the signing of Andre the Iggy. Yes, the Bogut signing last season helped them improve from 27th to 14th in the League in Defensive efficiency, but a bigger part of that improvement was a season and a half including an offseason with one of the greatest defensive point guards ever, Marc Jackson, as their coach. They have already showed signs of sheer brilliance by blowing out the Lakers (by 30) and hanging in the mix with the Clippers, who many believe will lead the league in all offensive categories this year. I know they have yet to face a real defensive line up, but I doubt I will be missing any of their games this season.

No. 5: Love in the time of Rubio, FINALLY! 2013 has been a  good year.  The Spurs and Heat played one of the five greatest Game 7’s ever, Lebron vanquished his demons by proving that Championship ’12 was not a fluke and Derrick Rose returns for his 1st full season (fingers crossed) since surgery. But for this fan of all things K-Love, I find it hard to hard to be thankful for anything more than the Love – Rubio combo suiting up for what would be their first full season together. Take a look at the stats of these two 1-2 combinations:

  FG% 3P% FT% RPG SPG PPG
I 0.448 0.372 0.824 13.3 1.4 26.0
0.360 0.293 0.799 4.0 2.5 10.7
  0.404 0.333 0.812 17.3 3.9 36.7
II 0.496 0.423 0.896 9.8 2.6 25.8
0.562 0.000 0.713 6.8 1.8 7.6
  0.529 0.423 0.805 16.6 4.4 33.4

If you guessed I was Love-Rubio, then you’re right. Question is, who’s the other combination? Those, my friends, are numbers of the two of the greatest passers in the history of the NBA during their magical ’85-’86 season. So transcendent was their passing that Bird   and Walton almost never needed words or actions to communicate each other’s position on court, leaving defenses dumbfounded, even admitting to being “bored” at how easy it was.

I would not dare put the Love-Rubio duo at that level, not until they have played at least one full season together and put in more, much more effort on defense. But to see one of the smartest point guards ever play Picks and Passes with one of the smartest forwards ever!!! Warning: Not advisable for basketball fans with heart problems.

No. 4: The San Antonio Spurs. We sleep on these guys yet again?! Did we not learn anything last season? This is the only team that is bringing back ALL of its key players from last season’s championship run and traded up from Gary Neal to bring in Marco Belinelli. The Green / Kwahi / Bonner / Splitter / Belinelli lineup is a playoff team by themselves and all could start for all four of last season’s finalists. Add to this a guaranteed Most Improved Player season from Kwahi (who I am huge fan of after his phenomenal performance in the Finals) and you have this seasons Western Conference Champions.

“Blasphemy!!” you say, “The Duncan-Ginonli-Parker trio are still the heart and soul of this team!” Oh, I agree. The most definitely are. But If you think Pop’s not taking on a few more fines in order to rest his Big Three and expose the young’uns to more game time, preparing them for battle in the playoffs, then you are nuts. And we cannot be friends.

No.3: Kevin “F.U.” Durant. Give me one logical explanation as to why KD does not go into F.U. mode this season on the way to breaking the 35 ppg barrier for the first time since Kobe’s 35.58 in ’05-’06? The entire league thinks he cannot do everything (read: Make it to the Finals again) by himself and needs Westbrook, not to mention the widely held belief that OKC traded themselves out of (and lost all those pieces in more trades this summer) perennial contention talk as Harden continues to give Sam Presti sleepless nights. KD has already cracked the 50-40-90 club and with Westbrook’s return the team could not be in “better” shape for KD to play with a vengeance not seen since Bird in ’86 and score at a maniacal pace.

No. 2: Lebron James.  Aren’t we all thankful for him? (cut to Spurs / OKC / Pacer / Bulls fans burning my effigy)

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No. 1: Derrick Rose and his Bulls. Panic seems to have set in with what many people believe is a subpar performance so far from one the greatest point guards ever, leading a team (arguably) on course to upset the reigning 2-time Champions. What these same shallow emotional fans do not realize is that Rose is back after nearly two seasons off. This is first time in that same period that the Bulls have had their best five best players on the floor all at once. And who do they draw on opening night?…the wall that is the 2-time Championship wining Miami defense. Give them some time. Rose is back at full speed, Noah hates the Heat even more, Deng is still an All Star and Butler and Boozer seem ready to do what it takes to make this work to the Ring.

They’ll be fine.