Technically the 2015-16 NBA season is already upon us. It kicked off in late October and promises to be one of the most intriguing campaigns yet. But your ability to converse about said season around the proverbial water cooler may require a little background, especially if you count yourself among the more casual fans—that is, any fan who doesn’t follow every night’s action religiously. Should you find yourself in that group, there’s no need to be ashamed. Chances are you’re just a bit busier than the average NBA junky.
We’re here to fill in some of the gaps just in time to enjoy the new season. What should you be looking for? Which teams are especially worth watching? And who among the league’s biggest stars will shine brightest?
Here are some must-know answers.
It Might Be the End for Kobe Bryant
He’s 37 years old, which is fairly ancient in NBA terms. And worse yet, he’s starting to look his age. Not one to outlive his usefulness, Bryant seems to be seriously considering an exit from the career that’s made him an icon. The superstar shooting guard has previously alluded to the possibility, and the most recent hint comes courtesy of head coach Byron Scott.
“We’ve talked about it a few days ago,” Scott told reporters this month. “Talked about it again and his feeling was, ‘Coach, this might be my last year. So if possible I would like to try to play every game.’”
It’s the kind of ambition we’ve come to expect from Bryant, even if he now seems like a shadow of his once supernova self. And that’s precisely why you should care about what very well may be his farewell tour. No, the Los Angeles Lakers won’t be very good this season. They’re still working to incorporate young talent while attempting to do justice to Bryant’s final days in uniform. It won’t all be pretty, but it should be plenty entertaining.
The Golden State Warriors Could Be Even Better
Granted, that’s a bit hard to even comprehend. The reigning champions were more than impressive a season ago under first-year head coach Steve Kerr. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson formed what’s arguably become the league’s most formidable backcourt, and they got lots of help from the likes of Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes and NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala.
Their combined efforts translated into a gaudy 67-win season en route to the 2015 title, an achievement that’s awfully difficult to top. Somehow, though, the Warriors now find themselves in position to do exactly that. This is a young team, and its chemistry continues to grow. That’s bad news for the rest of the league, even a highly-competitive Western Conference filled with would-be contenders.
The San Antonio Spurs Are Back… Again
One of the West’s would-be contenders just got better this summer. The Spurs welcomed All-Star big man LaMarcus Aldridge and secured the bargain-priced services of former Indiana Pacers forward David West. Both veterans bolster a rotation that won a title in 2014 before suffering a first-round ouster a season later. Importantly, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili both opted to return rather than retire at this late stage of their careers.
The best news of all, however, may be that swingman Kawhi Leonard is taking his game to another level. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year is thus far averaging over 20 points per contest for the first time in his career, proving he’s got the offensive chops to accompany his exceptional defensive prowess.
San Antonio will have its hands full with the likes of the Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder, but any team coached by the legendary Gregg Popovich has a chance to mix things up when the postseason rolls around.
LeBron & Co. Have Some Unfinished Business
The Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t emerge from the 2015 NBA Finals victorious, but they had some pretty legitimate excuses—namely the loss of All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love to injury. If this club can remain healthy when it counts, it could write a very different story this time around. Much as LeBron James can carry the load, there’s little doubt the Cavs could have given the Warriors a better fight in the event they had all of their stars in action.
Fast-forward to this season, and Cleveland certainly has something to prove. On an individual level, James might even feel a little extra motivation in light of the fact that Stephen Curry snagged last season’s MVP award. So while you’re watching the Cavaliers’ collective exploits, don’t forget that James himself is a man on a mission—and that could spell trouble for anyone who tries to get in his way.
Keep an Eye on the Young Folks
More than ever, the NBA appears to be defined by two categories: legitimate playoff contenders and a number of up-and-comers with increasingly bright futures. Even the long-suffering Philadelphia 76ers have something to cheer about with rookie center Jahlil Okafor showing off his supremely sweet post moves.
Add the Minnesota Timberwolves and Utah Jazz to your list of young teams to watch. It may be unlikely for either to crack the playoffs out West, but they’ll both upset some superior teams while trying. The former now boasts a tandem of reigning Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins and 2015’s first-overall draft pick Karl-Anthony Towns. The latter is host to an ensemble cast of young talent led by Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors.
Meanwhile, the East features emergent clubs like the Orlando Magic, Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics. It’s been a while since we took these teams seriously, and they’re aiming to change that in short order. Aside from the Cavaliers’ virtual lock on a return to the NBA Finals, the Eastern Conference is pretty wide open, thereby creating ample opportunity for some aspiring organizations to take that next step.
Are the Knicks Finally for Real?
Some skepticism is probably in order. The New York Knicks have become masters of disappointment, leaving fans in a seemingly perpetual state of waiting. This is head coach Derek Fisher’s second year on the job, though, so there may well be some improved results. A healthy Carmelo Anthony will help, as will the offseason additions of center Robin Lopez and guard Arron Afflalo. Rookie Kristaps Porzingis is already showing signs of why the franchise selected him with the fourth-overall draft pick this summer.
So yes, there are real reasons for optimism in NYC. Just don’t start counting any chickens before they, you know, actually hatch.
There was plenty of movement during the offseason, so it’s probably worth double-checking your favorite team’s roster to see what’s new. One of the more quietly intriguing moves was Paul Pierce’s decision to reunite with head coach Doc Rivers and join the Clippers. Pierce and Rivers won a championship together while with the Celtics, and they’re looking for similar results in a new locale.
The Dallas Mavericks also have some new faces in guards Wes Matthews and Deron Williams. The big question there is whether it’s enough help to return franchise face Dirk Nowitzki to the title conversation before the 37-year-old’s career comes to an end. Mavs owner Mark Cuban nearly convinced Clippers center DeAndre Jordan to change zip codes, but the free agent infamously reversed course at the last minutes and decided to return to L.A.
There’s plenty more intrigue surrounding the weeks-old season. This is but a starting point. To really keep your talking points fresh, it’s certainly worth paying attention to the 2014-15 season—especially as the playoffs near in March and April. Let us know what you’ll be watching for in the comments section below.
Main image by Ricardas