Tuesday, December 5, 2023

The NBA returns in a big way: impact signings, a Cup-type tournament and a French ‘alien’

Three and a half months after the Denver Nuggets They will end 47 years of waiting and lift the champion title, the NBA loaded with incentives. It will start at dawn from Tuesday to Wednesday with a menu for gourmets. The Jokic Nuggets will enjoy the ring ceremony at the Denver Ball Arenabefore receiving some renewed Lakers (01.30 hours). A couple of hours later, in San Francisco, the Warriors of Curry will face the Phoenix Suns Durant. It’s just a small sample of what’s to come.

The arrival of the French center Victor Wenbanyama triggers the expectations of an NBA that will increase its European influence due to the dominance of stars like the Serbian Jokicthe Greek Antetokounmpo and the Slovenian Doncic; that leaves with doubts about the future of James Hardenwho has requested the transfer to Philadelphia and has declared itself in rebellion and will launch a new competition in December, a Cup-type model. And with the lowest number of Spanish players in the last 18 years.

Damian Lillard, signing of the Bucks, and one of the big transfers of the summer. EFE

1. Bucks and Celtics challenge the Nuggets

Nikola Jokicthe MVP of the last finals, and Jamal Murray continue to lead the Denver Nuggets, the defending champions. But they have barely strengthened themselves, as is the case with some of their great rivals. Instead, they have lost some of their supporting players. Will it give them something to repeat? The bets place them next to the Boston Celtics and ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks and the Phoenix Suns. A market with spectacular movements this summer justifies it. The Celtics of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown They have incorporated two key pieces: the Latvian power forward Kristaps Porzingis and the base Jrue Holiday, although they have lost rotation. The bucks of Antetokounmpo have signed one of the great additions of the summer, a star like Damian Lillardfrom Portland, which can be the key piece to take the last step. Without so much noise, Phoenix Suns has completed his particular ‘Big Three’ with the arrival of Bradley Beal to a team with Kevin Durant and Devin Booker. In that list of teams that may be in the fight, some cannot be ruled out. Lakers that they have made a profound restructuring in the locker room to give LeBron James and Anthony Davis an option to fight for the ring, nor to the Miami Heat of Jimmy Butlerwho managed to reach the finals last year.

Ricky Rubio, in an archive image with Cleveland last season. Europa Press

2. Fewer Spaniards than ever

Europe It is, by far, the continent that contributes the most international NBA. This next season there will be 75 players. But this will be the season in which Spain will have the lowest representation in the last 18 years: Santi Aldama (Grizzlies), Usman Garuba (Warriors) and Ricky Rubio (Cavaliers). Only in the 2005-06 season, the number was lower with Pau Gasol in Memphis Grizzlies and Jose Manuel Calderon in Toronto Raptors. And, furthermore, of the three, only Aldama, 23 years old, he seems to have guaranteed minutes. After two years of intermittency in Houston, Garuba21 years old, has signed a ‘two-way’ contract, which will allow him to play for the reserve team of Golden Statethe Santa Cruz Warriorsand play a maximum of 50 games of the 82 games of the season with the Warriors. Even more uncertain is that of Ricky Rubio33 years old, who decided to retire due to mental health problems last August when he was preparing the world with the selection and about which there are no indications that he can return to the Cavswith whom he has a contract until 2025, and who have given him their full support to continue in Spain and recover.

Wenbanyama shoots a basket in the Spurs’ preseason friendly against the Warriors. AFP

3. The impact of the Wenbanyama giant

The exciting 19-year-old, 2.24m French center is one of the great attractions of the American League. Chosen number one in the draft by the San Antonio Spurs will debut in the League on Wednesday against the Mavericks of Doncic and Kyrie Irving. His ‘highlights’ and his numbers in the preseason (19 points, 5 rebounds, 3 blocks and 1.5 assists) have done nothing more than raise expectations around him. Wembythe ‘extraterrestrial’ or the ‘unicorn’ as it has become known in the United States, and which he made clear in an interview with the ESPN what’s your objective. “I want the ring, of course, as soon as possible. And he will arrive, for sure. “The Spurs know how to do it, they have done it many times and they are going to do it again.” From Lebron James no one had raised so much expectation and the Spurs, with the franchise’s worst record since the 96-97 league, will have 19 games televised on national networks this season. Is he Wenbanyama ‘effect’.

LeBron James, the day he broke the NBA scoring record last season. DPA

4. The ‘king’ LeBron James will play his 21st season

On the way to 39 years old and about to start his 21st season in the NBA, no one doubts that Lebron James, now the oldest player in the League, will also be one of its references. Only five players before him managed to play as many campaigns (Vince Carter, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, Robert Parish and Kevin Willis) and none did so averaging 29 points per game as he did ‘King’ James last year with the Lakersin which he surpassed the legendary scoring record of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In this two other legendary marks await him: the player with the most minutes in the NBA and the Brazilian’s top scorer in basketball history Oscar Schmidt (49,937 points). He has left behind the rumors about his possible retirement and this campaign he will fight, along with Anthony Davisfor the fifth title of his career with a team that has been well reinforced with Christian Woods (Mavericks), Gabe Vincent (Heat), or Taurean Prince (Timberwolves).

Warriors star Stephen Curry in a recent preseason game. AFP

5. A new title in play in December

The ring won’t be the only thing at stake this season. Following the example of European basketball, the NBA will have its own Cup mid-season. It will be a tournament that will be held between November 3 and December 9, with the 30 teams divided into six groups of five. Each will play two games at home and two away. The best in each group and the two best seconds will qualify for the quarterfinals and the winners of that match will compete in a tournament style ‘final four’ in Las Vegas from December 7 to 9. To increase the incentive, each player on the winning team will receive a prize of half a million dollars, which due to the tax regulations of the state of Snowfallwill be tax free.


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