NBA Early Season Story Lines
The return of Derrick Rose: This one is exceedingly obvious. Once the most explosive point guard in the league, Rose was named the MVP of the 2010-11 season, but tragedy struck when he went down with a devastating knee injury in April of 2012. If you have watched ESPN's basketball coverage for more than five total minutes over the past few months, you know that Rose did not play at all in the 2012-13 season, and he took quite a bit of heat for it. The long anticipated return of D-Rose will finally happen on Tuesday night. Will he be the same player he was two years ago? Has he lost a step? If you ask Rose, he'll tell you that he's even more explosive than he was before his injury - he claims his vertical jump has increased five inches. It will be very interesting to see if one of the game's most exciting players can return to dominant form.
Who will step up for OKC of the bench?: We all know that James Harden was shipped off to the Rockets two offseasons ago, but the Thunder suffered another blow when they lost Kevin Martin, who had replaced Harden as the sixth man. If the Thunder want a shot at making it to the finals, they are going to need someone to step up off the bench. The two frontrunners are Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb. Jackson will begin the season as the starting point guard with Russell Westbrook (knee) hurt, allowing both him and Lamb to get some solid minutes. Whoever is the most impressive while Westbrook is sidelined (the first 4-6 weeks of the season) will likely be the primary sixth man when the superstar point guard returns.
Is Dwight Howard healthy and ready to dominate?: Howard was obviously not himself in Los Angeles last season. Whether it be due to his health, the insurmountable pressure, his relationship with Kobe Bryant, or his happiness with a new team, Howard was not as dominant as usual. He is now healthy and playing for a team that he got to pick himself. The spotlight in Houston does not shine nearly as bright as it does in Los Angeles, which should make Howard more comfortable. He's the clear top option down low for the Rockets, unlike when he was playing alongside Pau Gasol last season. I'm expecting a huge year out of Howard, and I am exciting to see if he is ready to dominate right out of the gate.
The Pistons' promising frontcourt: This one is flying a bit under the radar because, well, it's the Pistons - people just aren't talking about them these days. They may start talking about them after a few weeks of NBA action, however. With the addition of Josh Smith, the Pistons have three great pieces in their frontcourt - Smith, Greg Monroe (entering his fourth NBA season), and Andre Drummond (entering his second NBA season). Drummond is a vicious bruiser down low who can swallow up rebounds, clean up on the offensive glass, and terrify opponents who want to drive into the paint. Monroe is not the flashiest player, but has a 1960's-style game that is very effective. He can score, rebound, and even pass the ball at a high level, making him a great complement to Drummond. Finally, we have Smith, the prize of the offseason. Standing at a jacked up 6'9'', 225, Smith has the explosiveness and penetration ability to create great opportunities for the other two bigs. He is also a phenomenal defender. If Monroe and Drummond continue to grow as players, and Smith clicks with them, this frontcourt could be a lot of fun to watch.
Just how bad are the 76ers?: We can all say with near certainty that the 76ers are going to struggle mightily this year, but just how bad will they be? I guess their best player is Evan Turner, who is a solid player, but is not the kind of guy you want as the face of your team. The point guard position - led by rookie Michael Carter-Williams and 20-year-old Tony Wroten - should be a roller coaster ride all season long. The big men aren't impressive either, outside of Thaddeus Young. So how bad, exactly, will this squad be? They could be like last year's Cavaliers, who won only 24 games but did pull off wins against the Thunder, Clippers, and Bulls. On the other hand, they could be like the 2009-10 Nets, who didn't win a game until December and finished the year 12-70. Some people believe that the 76ers will be historically horrible. The worst record of all-time belongs to - coincidentally enough - the 1972-73 76ers at 9-73. Can the Sixers top (or bottom?) their own mark? We'll find out soon enough.