Derrick Rose's return is one of many storylines we'll see culminate in 2013.
This year's NBA season is only about a third of the way through, but it's already led to the creation of tons of great storylines, many of which we'll see culminate in 2013.
Everyone loves a good story, and the NBA proves to be no exception. It seems like every season, a few narratives are spun bigger and bigger until they end up defining that particular season.
The spinning has already started on a few of next year's biggest stories, and they'll undoubtedly help to define that year in the NBA. Here are a few of the biggest.
All stats are current as of 12/23/12
As good as they are individually, Harden and Lin have yet to bring out the best in each other.
The James Harden and Jeremy Lin pairing is not ideal for the Houston Rockets. At all.
When the Rockets signed Lin, they did so with the intention of making him their ball-dominant guard and the guy that ran the offense for them.
Of course, then a potential trade for Harden opened up and suddenly he became the guy running their offense, leaving Lin to figure out how to play off of the ball.
Lin and Harden are both primarily pick-and-roll players. That's the way that they create shots—both for themselves and for others. The problem is that Lin is a dreadful outside shooter (He's connected on just over 29 percent of his threes this season.), making him much less effective without the ball in his hands.
Harden is far better than Lin in that regard, so the easy solution would be to play him off the ball more. But Harden scores a whopping 1.1 points per possession in the pick-and-roll (per mySynergySports.com)—good for second in the league.
The Rockets are seventh in the league in offensive rating (they score 108 points per 100 possessions via Basketball-Reference) mostly because Harden is so good as a primary ball-handler. So what do they do with Lin?
Some are already debating whether the Rockets should bench Lin and have him come off the bench the way that Harden did with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Lin and Harden have plenty of time to work on things, but the way their skills overlap will certainly make it difficult for these two to bring out the best in each other.
It's been too long since Amar'e has been on the floor.
We're going to see Amar'e Stoudemire suiting up for the New York Knicks sooner rather than later, which means the great “Amar'e Stoudemire, sixth man” experiment is about to get under way.
And with the Knicks playing the best ball they've played in about a decade, you can bet this will be a story for the rest of the season.
One concern surrounding Amar'e's return is that the Knicks live and die by their outside shooting.
They're on pace to take (according to Newsday.com's Barbara Barker) 2,403 three-pointers this season, which would easily break the current NBA record of 2,284. Amar'e can't hit from outside, and to make matters worse, he can't contribute on defense like Tyson Chandler or Kurt Thomas.
In theory, playing Stoudemire off of the bench should work.
Amar'e is still a strong offensive player and should be able to draw defenders away from the Knicks' deadly outside shooters. But if it doesn't work and the Knicks start losing games, people are going to blame Amar'e.
The Knicks have a pretty good thing going right now, and they look like legitimate contenders in the Eastern Conference. If they start losing games, Amar'e will be the scapegoat, fair or not. The level of concern about Amar'e's return is unprecedented for a perennial All-Star. Pretty soon, we'll see if those concerns are valid.
Thanks to LeBron, the Heat have a chance to go on a historic championship run.
In last year's playoffs, LeBron James finally put it all together. LeBron was a one-man wrecking crew, reaching a level of two-way dominance that the league hasn't seen since Michael Jordan was still lacing them up.
But this year is going to be even more important for LeBron, the Miami Heat and quite frankly, the league.
This season could go a long way in determining the future of the NBA for the next four or five years.
If you look at this year's Heat team, you could easily make the case that it's better than last year's team. Ray Allen was obviously a big get, and guys like Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers have gotten another year of experience. They're just better.
Most importantly, the Heat have LeBron James, who, as mentioned, hit a gear in last year's playoffs that no one else in the league could even come close to matching.
LeBron is 27 years old. He's been in the league for a while, but he's a freak athlete and has at least four or five great years left in him.
If he can hit that same level in this year's playoffs, then you might as well write off the next three or four championships to the Heat. Because unless someone like Kevin Durant, Chris Paul or even Carmelo Anthony is able to up their game, the Heat will go on a huge run. LeBron's just that good.
We saw him go supernova in last year's playoffs. This year, we'll see if he still wants it enough to get to that level again. This year, we'll see who's going to rule the NBA roost for the next few years.
What will Derrick Rose play like when he comes back from injury?
At some point this year, we'll finally get a good idea of the kind of player that Derrick Rose will be following his injury in last year's playoffs.
It might be this season, or it might be the next. But barring some kind of catastrophe, he'll be suiting up in 2013.
The Chicago Bulls are 15-11 right now and the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. But they don't have a chance at a championship without a healthy Rose, and they know it. His offense is far, far too important.
Ultimately, there are three possible outcomes to Rose's injury:
- Derrick Rose comes back as the same exact player.
- Derrick Rose comes back, doesn't have the same athleticism, but remodels his game like Chris Paul did.
- Derrick Rose comes back, doesn't have the same athleticism and can't regain his superstar status.
That's what it comes down to, and frankly, the next decade or so of Bulls basketball hangs in the balance. Pretty high stakes.
The Kings have some major decisions to make concerning DeMarcus Cousins.
As you read this very sentence, there's a good chance that hundreds of NBA fans are plugging "DeMarcus Cousins" into the ESPN Trade Machine to see how their team can get the talented big man.
Cousins was recently suspended by the Sacramento Kings, bringing him up to three suspensions just 26 games into the season. That's ridiculous.
There's no question that Cousins is wearing out his welcome in Sacramento, and the “he just needs to mature” line is getting stale fast. But it's still really hard to get a gauge on what Sacramento is going to do in this situation.
Cousins is easily Sacramento's best player. He's a double-double machine, is absurdly skilled for his size and is just 22 years old. He has genuine MVP potential if he ever puts it all together. That's not an exaggeration.
Sacramento can hardly afford to give up that kind of talent—not when there's next to no chance that they get even close to equal value back. But at the same time, they also can't afford to have Cousins continue to cause problems internally. Young teams can't have that kind of stuff.
The Kings have quite the dilemma on their hands. Let's see what they do about it.
Deron Williams hasn't been the same player that he was with the Utah Jazz.
Now that some of the excitement and hype surrounding the Brooklyn Nets is starting to die down, people are asking the question, “What's going on with Deron Williams?”
It's a valid question.
Williams hasn't been nearly the same player since he was traded away from the Utah Jazz. Last season, Williams averaged 21 points per game, but shot just 41 percent from the field and 34 percent from three.
This year, things are even worse. Williams is scoring just 16.8 points per game and is shooting under 40 percent from the field (including just 29 percent from three). And it's not like his playmaking is improving to offset this—Deron's averaging 8.2 assists per game, his lowest mark since his rookie season.
There was a time when “Deron Williams or Chris Paul” was a legitimate debate. That feels like ages ago. Deron's Player Efficiency Rating (17.42) is 21st in the league among point guards (per ESPN). Not the entire league. Just point guards.
Deron recently said that he has to adjust to the Nets' isolation-heavy offensive system, telling the New York Daily News' Kristie Ackert:
I grew up in high school, my coach wasn’t one of those guys who would just throw out the ball and let us play. We were a system team. We had a staple of plays that we relied on. We were good at execution. In college (at Illinois), we ran the motion offense. A lot of cutting, a lot passing, a lot of screening, a lot of extra passes. I’m used to just movement. So I’m still trying to adjust. It’s been an adjustment for me.
Maybe that's true. Maybe Deron just needs more time to adjust. But he's already had a lot of time to figure everything out, and the skeptics are growing by the day. By the end of this year, we'll find out if Deron Williams is a true top point guard, or was simply the product of a point guard-friendly system.
Howard's upcoming free-agency is just one of many storylines that involve the Lakers.
Take your pick. There is an absurd amount of storylines here, including:
- Steve Nash's health
- If Mike D'Antoni was the right choice for head coach
- Dwight Howard's back
- Dwight's free-agency
- Whether or not the Los Angeles Lakers will make the playoffs
- Kobe Bryant's porous defense
- A potential Pau Gasol trade
- The Lakers' lack of depth
Whew. The Lakers have always been a bit more Hollywood than other NBA franchises, but that's a bit ridiculous. We're likely to see every single one of these storylines unfold at some point this year, so all that's left is to sit back, relax and enjoy it.