By: Will pembroke, Associate multimedia editor
Following the daunting challenge of hosting playoffs from inside a pandemic bubble, the NBA continues to encounter difficulties posed by COVID-19.
The league, at this point, has suspended 23 games due to COVID-19 outbreaks. Experts have speculated several times that the NBA would need to temporarily pause the season due to the number of postponements. Shockingly, that has yet to happen.
Pandemic aside, there have also been plenty of basketball storylines to follow. Here are a few:
Rookies who aren’t playing like rookies
Despite the bashing of this year’s incoming class prior to the draft, several lottery picks have been playing meaningful minutes for their respective teams.
LaMelo Ball — the third pick in this year’s draft for the Charlotte Hornets and member of the always controversial Ball family — has shocked fans with his impressive play. The Hornets currently sit tied for eighth place in the Eastern Conference with a 9-11 record, a far better position than the team was expected to be in at this point. This is largely due to Ball’s contributions.
LaMelo is averaging 12 points, six rebounds, six assists and 1.5 steals per game, while shooting a surprisingly decent 43% from the field and 30% from three. Many in the league expected Ball to struggle out of the gate, especially shooting the ball. His shooting numbers have not been amazing, but respectable, and his impact elsewhere on the court has been felt.
Another rookie who has made waves is Tyrese Haliburton, the twelfth pick in this year’s draft of the Sacramento Kings. Haliburton is playing nearly 30 minutes a game for the Kings and is on the court for almost every fourth quarter, a sign of his maturity in his first 20 or so professional games..
While Sacramento is currently on the outside looking in at the Western Conference playoffs, the Kings are only three games below .500. Tyrese has put up great numbers thus far, averaging 11 points, three rebounds, five assists and a steal per game. More importantly, Haliburton is shooting 47% from the floor, a whooping 42% from three and 84% from the free throw line.
Only time will tell if these rookies can keep up this level of play, but they are off to a great start.
Who is leading the Western Conference standings?
Once again, the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers are leading… NOPE.
The Utah Jazz currently sit atop the Western Conference and the rest of the league with a 15-4 record. The Jazz have won 11 straight games and have been playing great basketball, beating playoff teams like the Bucks, Nuggets and Mavericks over the duration of their winning streak.
After being called out by Shaquille O’Neal, Hall of Fame basketball player and Inside the NBA host, guard Donovan Mitchell has not let the Jazz lose.
Mitchell is averaging 24 points a game to go along with four rebounds and five assists, all while shooting 40% from three. The other major highlight on the team is sixth man Jordan Clarkson, who in only 25 minutes a game off the bench, is second on the team in scoring with 18 points a game and is the clear favorite thus far in the season for the sixth man of the year award.
LeBron James is really, really good at basketball
Yes, I know this is not new news. LeBron has been in the discussion for being the best of all time for years now, but what he is doing in his eighteenth year in the league is nothing short of astonishing.
James is averaging a career high 41% from three point range, roughly six percentage points above his career average. Despite playing a career low 33 minutes per game, LeBron is still hovering around his career averages in almost every major offensive category.
Twenty-five points, eight rebounds and eight assists from a 36-year-old has only been done a handful of times in NBA history, not to mention the fact that James has started all 21 of the Lakers regular season games, despite having played in last year’s NBA finals only two months before the start of the new season. Pundits around the league expected this to be the year where LeBron James takes a step back, when in reality, he keeps taking steps forward and improving his all-around game in his eighteenth season.