One of the perks from Kawhi Leonard’s decision last weekend for the majority of NBA fans was that it led to a feeling of balance in the league. Where the average fan could have predicted one of the two NBA Finals teams, and often the champion, each of the last nine seasons… now the league appears to be wide open.
Without knowing what major free agency domino falls next, the top half of the NBA teams have more or less each found a pair of stars to construct their team around. Nine years after the creation of the Miami Heat Big 3, the league has returned to more parity through pairings. And there’s something nice about a league full of even pairs, as opposed to some three or more headed monster resembling Harry Potter’s Fluffy looming in some corner of the league.
While the NBA game is far from just a 2-on-2 game, 2-on-2 has been played in gyms across the country for decades. It’s as simple as pick and roll, isolation and kick out, and “can you stay in front of that guy on defense?” There’s beauty in the simplicity of 2-on-2, much like the splendor of a league of pairs.
While it is older than some of the players in the NBA today, one of the hallmark depictions of 2-on-2 basketball was the NBA JAM video game of the 1990s. While the game adapted to include more players, the initial console and arcade style versions of NBA JAM were just 2-on-2.
Friends could pair up to be the L.A. Lakers vs the San Antonio Spurs, but had to be Shaq and Kobe vs. Tim Duncan and David Robinson. There were difficulties, however. For the Rockets side, you had to chose two players from Hakeem Olajuwon, Kenny Smith, Robert Horry, and Clyde Drexler. The Sonics had the same task with Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, and Detlef Schrempf. And the Warriors? How can someone choose two thirds of the famous RUN TMC trio?
While the NBA JAM franchise shifted and added more players to the court in 2001, it may be time for a comeback in 2019-20. The pairings would be much, much easier as free agency just ended.
Atlanta Hawks – Trae Young and John Collins
Boston Celtics – Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum
Brooklyn Nets – Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant (or DeAndre Jordan, until Durant is healthy)
Charlotte Hornets – Terry Rozier and Miles Bridges
Chicago Bulls – Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen
Cleveland Cavaliers – Kevin Love and Collin Sexton
Dallas Mavericks – Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis
Denver Nuggets – Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray
Detroit Pistons – Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose
Golden State Warriors – Steph Curry and D’Angelo Russell (until Klay Thompson returns)
Houston Rockets – James Harden and Chris Paul
Indiana Pacers – Victor Oladipo and Myles Turner / Malcolm Brogdon
LA Clippers – Kawhi Leonard and Paul George
LA Lakers – LeBron James and Anthony Davis
Memphis Grizzlies – Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.
Miami Heat – Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic
Milwaukee Bucks – Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton / Eric Bledsoe
Minnesota Timberwolves – Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins
New Orleans Pelicans – Zion Williamson and Jrue Holiday
New York Knicks – RJ Barrett and Julius Randle
Oklahoma City Thunder – Russell Westbrook and Danilo Galinari
Orlando Magic – Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon
Philadelphia 76ers – Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons
Phoenix Suns – Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton
Portland Trailblazers – Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum
Sacramento Kings – De’Aarron Fox and Marvin Bagley
San Antonio Spurs – DeMarr DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge
Toronto Raptors – Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam
Utah Jazz – Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert
Washington Wizards – Bradley Beal and John Wall
Granted, some of the pairs are much better than others. It’s a league of more parity, not complete equality. But as going quickly through indicates, the league is full of dynamic pairs of talent. Some, like Atlanta, Phoenix, Dallas, or New Orleans, are young talent that project to a bright future. Some, like Houston, the Lakers, or the Spurs, may be nearing the end of their reach. Then there are pairings like the Clippers or 76ers, who have their sights set on an NBA title for the next several seasons.
Dominoes may still be falling in free agency, but right now, the NBA is full of pairs of fun players to watch as they come through town. Further, with the talent so spread out, the truth is that it really does seem that several pairs of stars can win a title in the near future.
There is no inevitability that LeBron James’ team is making one of its eight consecutive trips to the NBA Finals; there’s no predictable powerhouse in Oakland making its way through the west for a sixth consecutive year; and there’s a zero percent chance there’s a repeat Finals MVP and repeat NBA champion… ok so there is a chance they give the Finals MVP to Kawhi Leonard in a loss and the Raptors win it all, but the odds are near zero.
It’s been nearly a decade since we’ve had this much uncertainty in the NBA, and another decade since we’ve cared this much about pairs of players… but perhaps it is as good a time as any for NBA JAM to come back.
Isaiah Thomas to Miss Start of the Season After Having Thumb Surgery
Since his breakout season in 2016, it has been a revolving door of injuries for Isaiah Thomas.
Thomas left the Boston Celtics after a year where he garnered MVP attention in the 2016-17 season, when he was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for Kyrie Irving.
A hip injury plagued his tenure with the Cavaliers, leading him to be traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in the middle of the season, prior to becoming a free agent the following year.
Thomas would then sign a one-year deal with the Denver Nuggets, as he tried to regain his value before heading to free agency again.
With the Nuggets, Thomas was kept off the court with injuries, before falling out of the rotation altogether by the time Denver was in the playoffs.
Now Thomas was set to get another chance to lead a backcourt, when the Washington Wizards signed him to play alongside Bradley Beal for the upcoming season.
Unfortunately Thomas cannot catch a break, as he had to undergo a thumb surgery today after getting injured in a pickup game with teammates.
Thomas will now miss the beginning of the season, as string of bad luck continues for the two-time All-Star.
Outside of DeMarcus Cousins, no one has had worse luck in the NBA when it comes to injuries then Thomas.
Hopefully he can make a fully recovery from the injury and return to have a productive season for the Wizards this year.
Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard Want to Play in 2020 Summer Olympics
The FIBA World Cup proved to be an embarrassing affair for Team USA, as the Americans were defeated for the first internationally in some time.
Team USA advanced to the quarterfinals in the tournament, before being upset and eliminated by France. From there, the Americans lost their next matchup to Serbia and ended up finishing seventh overall.
But the one thing that Team USA did accomplish in the FIBA World Cup is that by making it to the quarterfinals, they qualified to play in the 2020 Summer Olympics.
The biggest reason that Team USA struggled in the FIBA World Cup is that a majority of our best superstars chose to stay home and not play.
That likely won’t be the case for the Olympics though, as players are more motivated to compete in that event, on a stage that garners way more national attention.
The Team USA is already starting to look much deeper, as Stephen Curry has announced his interest in competing in the Olympics next summer.
Curry has never played in the Olympics, but would obviously give Team USA a great chance to take home a gold medal. Another player that has not appeared in the Olympics is Damian Lillard.
Lillard is another superstar guard that has announced his intentions to play in the upcoming Olympics, giving Team USA a great one-two scoring punch.
Lillard and Curry can make threes rain from any place on the court, giving Team USA a potent scoring backcourt like we have never seen in international play.
With all due respect to Kemba Walker and Donovan Mitchell, Lillard and Curry would represent a great upgrade to Team USA’s FIBA roster. Especially as they would push players like Walker and Mitchell to the bench.
Finishing seventh in the FIBA World Cup was disappointing for Team USA, but there is a great chance they rectify that in the upcoming 2020 Olympics.
Three-Time NBA Champion Shaun Livingston Announces His Retirement
Over the past five seasons, the Golden State Warriors have put together one of the greatest dynasties in NBA history, winning three championships and making five-straight appearances in the NBA Finals.
Now they are turning the page to a new era of Warriors basketball, still surrounded around their homegrown ‘Big Three’ of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green’.
But the role players from those great Warriors teams have moved on and for some, are calling it quits altogether. As Shaun Livingston just announced his retirement from the NBA.
In his farewell message, Livingston cites “the injury”, referring to a devastating knee injury that he suffered back in 2007.
The injury was so bad for Livingston, that it almost resulted in his leg being amputated it was so bad.
Livingston made a remarkable recovery from the injury and turned in a fantastic career. The last stages of his career came with the Golden State Warriors, were he proved to be an excellent backup point guard to Curry.
Without Livingston’s ability to make plays and play stout defense at 6-foot-7, the Warriors would not have been three-time champions.
Congrats to Livingston on a great career, which we never could have expected him to have back in 2007.
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