The mother of all NBA seasons is almost here. So as you finalize your League Pass subscriptions, complete your fantasy drafts, and prepare the guacamole for your watch parties, take some time to ponder the true meaning of the season — specifically, the benevolent stars who make such a joyous holiday possible with their prodigious athletic talents.
Here I present, each NBA team’s most important player heading into 2017-18:
Atlanta Hawks — Dennis Schroder, PG
“All my friends are dead,” said Schroder in his best Lil Uzi Vert voice as he gazed upon his roster following the respective exits of his last remaining All-Star teammates in Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard this summer. Yes, the Hawks are now as thin as a toothpick, and the incentive for them to “Do Badly for Bagley” or “Make The Fans Puka for Luka” will be enormous. But someone has to lead this JV squad, and their resident German is as good of an option as any. Perhaps we will see Dennis the Menace gun for 20 and 10. Maybe he develops some nice pick-and-roll chemistry with new additions Dewayne Dedmon and rookie John Collins. Perhaps he finally bleaches his entire head blonde. Anything to give this team a modicum of watchability this season.
Boston Celtics — Kyrie Irving
After selling an arm, a leg, and a hip for him this summer, the Celtics will hope that Irving’s performance in his first season with them does not fall flat. The outside noise in Uncle Drew’s ear will be deafening — mockery of his decision to ditch LeBron James and go off in search of his own empire, jeers at the perceived stagnation of his playmaking skills, pervasive meme treatments of his unorthodox views on astronomy. But Irving is here for one reason and one reason only: to ball out. And that’s what he’s gonna do. Just remember kids, there’s no such thing as distractions when you’re very much woke. [mic drop]
The 20-year-old’s eruption on March 24 was the second-highest single-game scoring total in the 21st century and tied for tenth-highest in NBA history. While there was some controversy over the way Booker did it, it was a historic display in every sense of the word and will now be immortalized as such. Not bad for a kid who’s still the age of most college sophomores.
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker has been on fire since the team shut Eric Bledsoe down for the year. Listed as a shooting guard, Booker has been lighting up the scoreboard and dropped 70 points in a game last week against the Boston Celtics. But he has also shown an ability to set his teammates up.
While the Suns have lost 12 straight, Booker’s individual performance has been enough to inspire his coach to compare him to one of the best players in the NBA.
“I don’t know if I’ve said this publicly before, but he reminds me a lot of James Harden,” Suns coach Earl Watson said Sunday, via Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic. “When Devin Booker took off at the end of last season, he was at the point. He had a lot of 30-point games. This year he’s had a 70-point game. It’s not a coincidence.”
Booker has essentially been Phoenix’s backup point guard behind Tyler Ulis since Bledsoe went down, and the former 13th overall pick has averaged 6.8 assists over the past four games. The 39.3 points per game he is averaging is the number that sticks out more, but the increase in assists is what reminds Watson of Harden.
Harden, a shooting guard for most of his career, was given the keys to the offense by Mike D’Antoni this season. He’s averaging 11.2 assists — the highest total of his career by far — to go along with 29.2 points per game.
“I think if that’s possible, James will open up the door for (Booker to be a point guard),” Watson said. “You definitely see him with the ball in his hands down the stretch. It depends on the roster and creativity and vision of the program.
“He plays at his own speed. He plays not fast, but it’s quick. Not blazing, but somehow he dunks on you. He can shoot, he can handle, he can pass and he can post up. He’s very versatile.”
The Suns have the second-worst record in the NBA, meaning they are likely to get a high pick in a draft that is loaded with talented guards. If they end up drafting Lonzo Ball or Markelle Fultz, it will be interesting to see who plays the point. Based on the way Watson defended Booker against criticism over Booker’s 70-point game, you might conclude the former Kentucky star has the early upper hand.
After the game, Jae Crowder threw some shade at the Suns for celebrating after a defeat. Crowder commented on a photo posted by the NBA’s official account of the Suns celebrating in their locker room around Booker. He said “never seen so many guys happy after an ‘L'” in the comment.
Booker responded in the comments saying that Crowder couldn’t guard him. Both Marquese Chriss and Tyson Chandler chimed in, while Crowder also responded. He told Booker that he was talking about the rest of the Suns, not Booker.
Many others must feel differently, because stars like Chris Paul and John Wall liked the photo on Instagram.
Devin Booker had a game he will never forget and players from around the NBA had some great reactions to his historic night.
Coming into Friday, Booker’s career-high for points in a game was 39, which he has done on three occasions. Against the Celtics he bettered that number by 31.
The 20-year-old set a new Suns franchise record with 70 points, topping the previous mark of 60 set by Tom Chambers. Ironically, Chambers set the prior record on March 24, 1990. Booker had 19 points at halftime before exploding for 51 in the second half. It was the highest single-game point total since Kobe Bryant’s 81-point performance against the Raptors in 2006.
Not only were fans in awe of Booker’s accomplishment, but other players from around the NBA were as well. Here are some of the reactions.
Phoenix was down 128-115 with 44 seconds left and called a 20-second timeout. Booker was sent to the line by a foul from Isaiah Thomas and made all three of his free throws. Then after the Suns fouled Boston and Thomas made both his free throws to make it a 12-point game with 41 seconds left, Phoenix called timeout again.
The Suns were also fouling as part of a comeback strategy, unwilling to concede defeat despite the large deficit in the final minute.
Booker still had to play awesome to get that many points, and he did. He was 21-for-40 and made 24 of 26 free throws to get to 70 points. He probably would have scored in the sixties if his coach didn’t help out with the fouls and timeouts, but it seems like Phoenix did its best to get him to that pretty, round number.
Suns head coach Earl Watson certainly wasn’t apologizing for his tactics.
Earl Watson unapologetic about using fouls and timeouts to aid Booker's 70 point night. Watson: "Do something about it."