The greatest association in professional sports, the NBA, has evolved into a competitive landscape where any player, no matter how old they are, can ascend into the spotlight on the biggest stages.
The last few years have featured predictable outcomes such as the Warriors winning several championships, LeBron James dominating the Eastern Conference, and Kawhi Leonard performing his role as a deadeye mercenary.
With Golden State temporarily out of the championship picture, a healthy LeBron in full form in Los Angeles, and Kawhi Leonard exhibiting emotion for the first time in his esteemed career, the NBA has become anything but predictable.
There are now more regular season storylines than the wildest, most addicted to crack-cocaine Knicks fan could ever think of:
Luka Doncic's ascent to superstardom
Trae Young's offensive brilliance
Zion Williamson's alien-like abilities
The 8th Seed in the Western Conference is wide open
Ja Morant superseding expectations as a bonafide Point God
Chris Paul's resurgence as a number one option
Alex Caruso's rise and Kyle Kuzma's stagnancy
Joel Embiid and Philadelphia's complicated relationship
The list truly goes on and on. This is why I've decided to implement a new weekly series of my own personal NBA grab bag: storylines that fascinate me, and the ones that will shape basketball for not just this season, but the next 10-15 years.
1. Jayson Tatum is a Top 10 Player
There is no doubt in anyone's mind (except for the delusional LeBron fans like myself) that Giannis Antetokounmpo will win the MVP award for the second season I a row. He's hands down the best player in the Eastern Conference, but this bad man right here, Jayson Christopher Tatum, has ascended into the second best player in that same conference. And he's done it at an absurdly efficient rate.
Tatum is no longer settling for contested 20-foot fadeaway jumpers and is attacking the rim with a grace rarely seen by 21 year olds, let alone any All-Star hoopers. Khris Middleton has never fully achieved this momentum. CJ McCollum has the same intangible fundamentals and fluidity but isn't as long as JT. Jayson has combined those two's games and morphed them into a younger, slightly less polished version of last year's Paul George. He's improved his handle tremendously which is allowing him to create space off the dribble and step-back or side-step into his jumper.
The Grab: Most importantly, the Celtics are 8-2 in their last ten games. Jayson's hot streak is the most influential reason for this spurt of a winning brand of basketball. #DukeInTheNBA
2. Zion Williamson is the most dominant rookie since...
Two years ago today, the answer to this question would've been LeBron James without any reservation or hesitation. But because there is another sub-21 year old superstar phenomenon in the league, the only correct answer is Luka Doncic. Granted, Luka may not have been quite as absurd in his first 10 games as Zion has, but that's not a knock on Luka by any means because literally nobody else has.
We all knew that Zion was going to be good, but I don't think there's a single soul out there (including me, who has a tendency to make hyperbolic statements) who thought that Big Z would be this dominant this quick. He's making professional athletes, full grown men, some of the best athletes in the world, look like rag dolls within five feet of the basket.
The Grab: Zion's ripping away the rock like he's from professional hoopers like he's Mr. Incredible and his opponent is Kip from Napoleon Dynamite. He's 19 years old (two years departed from the label of "child") and he is quite literally a superman amongst men. #DukeInTheNBA
3. Oklahoma City is a damn good basketball team, whether you like it or not
The Oklahoma City Thunder have been the league's most pleasant surprise this regular season. They've looked like a legitimate contender to come out of the stacked Western Conference, and if you think that's an overstatement then please take a look at the most successful 5-man lineups that have played 100 or more minutes together according to net rating:
CP3, SGA, Schroeder, Gallinari, and Adams have demonstrated a chemistry and effectiveness that is rarely achieved by middle-of-the-pack organizations. And it all starts with the tantalizing tandem of Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: a gaudy veteran who has been one of the three best point guards in the NBA for the last decade and a half, and an up-and-coming bucket getter with a fluidity in his game that is unteachable.
Their chemistry which is fueled by "friendly" competition during shoot arounds and after practices is what has taken this team from a borderline playoff team to a legitimate threat to the Western Conference Crown.
The Grab: If I were the Lakers, Clippers, Rockets, or Nuggets then the last team I'd want to face in the first two rounds is the Thunder. Give me the Jazz, Mavericks, Pelicans, Blazers, or Grizzlies before OKC every day of the week. CP3's veteran leadership backed by the best 5-man lineup in basketball is no joke, and they are absolutely out for blood.
4. The big difference between Luka Doncic and Trae Young
Trae Young and Luka Doncic are two of the brightest stars in the league and they've managed to gain these statuses as gentlemen that are barely eligible to buy White Claws without Fake IDs. Even though Trae looks like a 65 year old in a 14-year old's body and Luka still has baby fat on him, they both possess a swagger and confidence that is rarely seen in players this young.
Ice Trae shivers every time he does something as cold as the ice around Quavo's neck and Luka will step-back over anybody and everybody and loft the ball up in the air effortlessly.
Although they share a lot in common, the difference is that Luka has taken the talent around him and transcended them from a lottery team to a threatening playoff opponent.
The Hawks are far from being contenders in a weak East, while the Mavs are already positioning themselves as one of the bright young rosters in a stacked West.
The Grab: Trae Young and Luka Doncic have a lot of things in common
They're both 21 years old
Both Luka and Trae are their franchise's centerpieces for the foreseeable future
They're both CERTIFIED BUCKET GETTERS (Trae: 30.1 PPG, Luka: 28.7 PPG)
Each of them have extraordinary vision for how young they are, an innate ability that only the greats possess (Trae: 9.2 APG, Luka: 8.7 APG)
And both of them shoot the living shit out of the ball: Trae attempts 9.5 3's per game and is shooting them at a 37% clip, while Luka attempts 9 3's per game and is shooting 32.3% from beyond the arc
Things they don’t have in common: winning basketball games at a consistent rate
5. The Utah Jazz are bad at basketball and Philadelphia is in major trouble
It's safe to say the regular season isn't going according to plan for either the Jazz or the Sixers. Each team entered this year with not just high-seeded aspirations, but with the ultimate goal of winning a championship. Utah acquired Mike Conley Jr. and Bojan Bogdanovic, and the Sixers added Josh Richardson and Al Horford. While Bogdanovic and Richardson have performed close to how they were expected to, Conley Jr. and Horford have been legitimately atrocious. Flirting with being kicked out of their respective starting lineups on several occasions.
The largest difference between these two franchises is that the Sixers have been one of the three best teams in the league on their home floor and absolutely tragic on the road. Their biggest issue now though is that Ben Simmons is going to be sidelined for an unknown amount of time, and things are looking pretty shaky for Joel Embiid once again. Two familiar sights for these two unicorns who haven't seemed to totally mesh on the court yet.
The Jazz however are completely healthy, and are just playing bad basketball. Conley is yet to mesh with their franchise cornerstone, Donovan Mitchell, and Rudy Gobert will play terrifically one game and then become a shell of himself the next. Nobody really knows what's going on Utah, especially considering the fact that Quinn Snyder is a pretty damn good coach (who might have a cocaine addiction) and not even his evil genius lookin' ass can figure it out.
The Grab: If I were a Philadelphia or Utah fan, I wouldn't be mad at my team's front office. No, I would be fucking livid and would place all the blame on the players for not performing up to the lofty expectations that they set for themselves.