By anyone’s standards, the 2010-11 NBA season will be remembered as extraordinary for a multitude of reasons.
There was spectacular individual play, like Kevin Love’s incredible propensity to rebound and his 53-game double-double streak. Love also posted the first 30-30 performance in nearly 30 years, as he recorded 31 points and 31 rebounds against the Knicks in November.
Another star was born in Chicago, where Derrick Rose brought his game, and more importantly, his team to the next level in 2010-11. Rose’s statistics are up across the board, including a significant increase in his three point field goal accuracy. It is a mortal lock that he will win the Most Valuable Player Award this year, which will certainly be one of the most surprising winners in several years.
Blake Griffin enjoyed one of the most successful rookie seasons in league history in 2010-11. Despite missing his entire true rookie year, Griffin hit the ground running from day one and posted astounding averages of 22.5 PPG, 12.1 RPG and 3.8 APG. He also became the first rookie to earn an All-Star nomination since Yao Ming in 2002-03.
All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook each raised their games to new levels and guided the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 56-26 record and the No. 4 seed in the playoffs, and have many analysts considering them as a bona fide championship contender.
The 2010-11 season also saw a number of significant trades which changed the balance of power in the league.
The Celtics opted to deal Kendrick Perkins to the Thunder, and the decision hasn't paid off to this point. Boston has struggled to find themselves defensively since his departure, and are now relying on two oft-injured, veteran big men in Jermaine O’Neal and Shaquille O’Neal to fulfill the defensive assignments Perkins frequently completed for the C’s.
The Nuggets put an end to a soap opera of sorts by finalizing a trade sending Carmelo Anthony to New York. The Knicks have been largely inconsistent since Melo’s acquisition, as evidenced by a six-game losing streak and a seven-game winning streak in Anthony's short time as a Knick.
When LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Amare Stoudemire signed elsewhere this past summer and left Cleveland, Toronto and Phoenix as desolate NBA cities, the Utah Jazz took notice. They didn’t want the same fate for themselves when/if their franchise player Deron Williams opted to take his talents elsewhere.
Consequently, Deron was shockingly traded to New Jersey in February, shifting yet another All-Star from the West to the East.
In October, many prognosticators from coast to coast predicted the Miami Heat to flirt with 70 wins and to claim the Eastern Conference. Likewise, the Los Angeles Lakers were chosen to breeze through a weak Western Conference and again earn another bid to the NBA Finals.
Turns out, the Chicago Bulls would surpass the triumvirate of the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat and Orlando Magic in the standings and finish with the best record in the league. The San Antonio Spurs began the season winning at a torrid pace, cooled off somewhat, and completed the season as the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
We saw the decline of multiple franchises from 2010 to 2011, including the Suns, Jazz, Cavaliers, Raptors and Bucks. On the other side of the coin, there were five teams (Grizzlies, Hornets, Knicks, 76ers and Pacers) who ended playoff droughts, in some cases, very lengthy droughts.
Coaching changes sparked improvement in New Orleans, Philadelphia and Indiana. Monty Williams’ Hornets began the season 10-1 and defied the odds in landing a playoff spot in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.
Doug Collins’ 76ers won 14 more games than the year prior with largely the same roster, and directed Philadelphia to a 41-41 record and a playoff berth.
Frank Vogel took over a depleted Pacer team that was ten games under .500 in January and finished with a 20-18 record as coach. Vogel’s Pacers earned their playoff berth since 2006 under his direction.
There is routinely one team that starts hot and runs away with the league’s best record. However, in 2011, there is a very balanced playing field. Nine teams won 50 or more games, which is a fairly high total. This will undoubtedly make for a thrilling playoff season.
One can only hope it will match the regular season that preceded it.