After a big opening night for the NBA, which featured the Golden State Warriors being upset and Gordon Hayward suffering a brutal leg injury, the season will be in full swing on Wednesday, with 11 games to choose from. None may be as exciting as the LeBron James vs. Kyrie Irving matchup, but there are certainly plenty of amazing things to look out for.
Jimmy Butler’s Timberwolves Debut
After six seasons with the Chicago Bulls, Jimmy Butler will suit up for the Minnesota Timberwolves tonight as they face off against the San Antonio Spurs. In his time with Chicago, Butler, developed from a decent role player known for his defense, to a perennial All-Star and two-way nightmare for opponents. Last season, the 28-year-old posted career-highs in points per game (23.9), rebounds per game (6.2), and assists per game (5.5). However, teaming up with the likes of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, Butler is no longer the clear-cut first option for his team. It’s going to be very interesting to see how head coach Tom Thibodeau sets up the offense with these three All-Star-caliber players. Don’t mistake them for the Warriors though; with much less versatility and spacing, this star-studded lineup could falter early on.
Big-Time Rookie Debuts
The 2017 NBA draft class was one of the most talented and exciting in several years, and Wednesday night will feature several important debuts across the league. The Philadelphia 76ers will take on the Washington Wizards, with both Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons expected to make their NBA debuts. Simmons missed all of last season with a foot injury after being the first selection of the 2016 NBA draft. Meanwhile, Philadelphia traded with the Boston Celtics to acquire the first pick in the 2017 draft and select Fultz. Both players have some pretty big expectations, which include taking the 76ers back to the postseason for the first time since 2012.
The first step by Ben Simmons here is FIERCE. Tatum had no chance. pic.twitter.com/ZP2OwSjA3W
— Justin Jett (@JustinJett_) October 10, 2017
Out west, Dennis Smith Jr., the ninth pick in the 2017 draft, will make his Dallas Mavericks debut. With an aging Dirk Nowitzki, Smith steps in to a situation in which he’s already set up to be a focal point of the offense. In his lone season at North Carolina State, he averaged 18.1 points, 6.2 assists and 1.9 steals per game. The electrifying guard can pass, shoot, and has ridiculous bounce, something he’ll hopefully show off early and often.
Finally, Josh Jackson will make his league debut with the Phoenix Suns. For years, the Suns have struggled maintaining an identity in the strong Western Conference and have been missing strong play from their wings. Jackson will look to flip the script and be a franchise cornerstone. The Kansas product has the potential to be a terrific “3-and-D” player, which is something Phoenix has desperately needed. Last year, Jackson posted 16.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, three assists, and added over one steal and block per game. On top of that, he shot over 51 percent from the floor. Between him and Devin Booker, the future finally looks bright for the Suns.
Can Nikola Jokic Replicate his 2016 Success?
The Denver Nuggets are one of those teams that may not win a ton of games and probably won’t get much hype on the national level, but they are so incredibly fun to watch. The driving force behind that is none other than Nikola Jokic. The big Serbian is an absolute wizard with the ball in his hands, performing magical passes on seemingly a nightly basis. With an improved supporting roster, featuring Paul Millsap, Gary Harris, and others, Jokic is set to take the next step to becoming an NBA superstar this season. Last year, he recorded 39 double-doubles and six triple-doubles on his way to averaging 16.7 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 4.9 assists per game.
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) October 18, 2017
Giannis Antetokounmpo Begins his MVP Bid
Over the last four seasons, Giannis Antetokounmpo has gone from an athletically-gifted project to an absolute freak of nature on the court. He’s the textbook definition of a stat-sheet stuffer; last season, “The Greek Freak” posted averages of 22.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1.9 blocks per game, all on 52.1 percent shooting. His one glaring weakness is his three-point shooting, which was an unsightly 27.2 percent last year. If he can develop a consistent outside shot, the league will be in deep trouble. Even on nights where his shot may not be falling, Antetokounmpo is a defensive nightmare.
If anyone is ever gonna dethrone LeBron as the chasedown gawd one day, it‘s Giannis Antetokounmpo 😳 pic.twitter.com/5IBDf0hfVo
— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) October 14, 2017
He makes plays, like the one above, that don’t seem possible at the human level. He ran half the floor in five steps and blocked a lay-up off the backboard that shot all the way back to the three-point line. Those are the kind of plays that an MVP makes. Keep in mind, his 23rd birthday isn’t until December. If he’s already this good at 22 years old, what’s stopping him from winning multiple MVP awards over the next five-to-seven years?