It was not since the 2005-2006 season that the NBA produced three scorers with over 30 points per game. Many of us thought we would be waiting decades to see numbers put up similar to the ones Iverson, Kobe and Lebron put together that season; however, early signs indicate that we NBA fans may not be waiting much longer. Sure, we’ve seen Chef Curry shatter shooting records galore over the last couple seasons, but never have we seen such consistency among superstar players on each team like we are early in this 2016-2017 season.
As expected, the headlines going into this season revolved around Kevin Durant’s move to what was already arguably the best team the NBA has ever seen. Fans and analysts spent nearly the entirety of last year’s season drooling over Stephen Curry’s mind-boggling numbers. Over the offseason, instead of reminiscing on the fact that 1/3 of the Western Conference All Star Team now resided in the Bay Area, I asked myself three questions: What could rising-star Anthony Davis do if he finally managed to stay healthy throughout an entire season? How much did the Dwight Howard saga truly affect James Harden’s numbers? And last, but certainly not least, what kind of show is Russell Westbrook going to put on with the absence of one of the NBA’s best scorers in Kevin Durant?
In the 2005-2006 season, Allen Iverson’s 33 points per game led the 76ers right into their living room couches to watch the entirety of the NBA playoffs as a 9-seed. He, similar to the play of James Harden and Anthony Davis early on in this season, took the lead role on a young team that just didn’t seem to have enough of a supporting cast to guide them into the playoffs. Now, granted that the Houston Rockets have a new coach and starting line-up, they still have time to learn how to play well together. However, that is more of an “if” situation rather than a “when”, keeping in mind that Dwight Howard and James Harden couldn’t play well together if they entered an adolescent 2 on 2 tournament. Barring any injuries or relationships with Kardashians, James Harden should continue to put up monster numbers with the bigger question being: will it be enough to power the Houston Rockets into the playoffs?
Move up a little North to the city of New Orleans, and you’ll see what it really looks like to lack a supporting cast. Anthony Davis’s 148 total points at nearly 32 points per game are the most points scored by any player in the history of the NBA for a team with an 0-4 start. Someone get this dude some assistance. The next leading scorer on that team is Tim Frazier with a sub-par 13 points per game. WHO?! Exactly. Maybe, just maybe, if we give some time for Oklahoma sharpshooter Buddy Hield to adjust to the pace and increased defense of the NBA, Anthony Davis could have himself a sidekick. However, until then, the young star is going to kiss the floor (probably not in New Orleans) if his team manages to rack up enough wins to capture the 9-seed in the Western Conference. We’ve seen teams in these types of situations succeed such as the turnaround of the Chicago Bulls which are now built around Jimmy Butler or the Oklahoma City Thunder who appear to be picking up where they left off with the departure of Kevin Durant. It is possible, but nowadays it seems like nothing more than the opportunity to win a championship is enough to lure superstars in during free agency. What New Orleans is putting together right now, just isn’t going to cut it.
Eerily similar to how Kobe Bryant took over the 2005-2006 Lakers following the departure of his partner in crime, Shaquille O’Neal, Russell Westbrook faces a similar challenge with the departure of Kevin Durant. Now I’m just spit balling here, but something tells me that neither of these scorers-at-heart had much of a problem being in full control of their team’s offense. Going into this season, Russ managed to average nearly 8 more points per game when Kevin Durant was sidelined while only averaging ONE more minute per game with the absence of his superstar former teammate. Kobe Bryant’s 35 points per game in that season was borderline unheard of; however, through the first four games of this young 2016-2017 season, Westbrook is averaging nearly 38 points per game and as usual, shows no signs of slowing down. Westbrook is playing with anger and a chip on his shoulder: two things that tell one-on-one defenders that its best for them to bring a friend along for the ride if they plan on shutting this guy down. Unfortunately for the rest of Oklahoma City’s foes in the Western Conference, 05-06 Kobe and this years Russell Westbrook have something in common: the will to show the rest of the league that the scoring title is theirs to win.
There are 70-plus games left to tell whether Russell Westbrook can stay on pace for a historic season with the absence of Kevin Durant, or whether the uncanny abilities of James Harden and Anthony Davis are enough to carry their mediocre rosters into the playoffs. One thing is for sure though: if these teams don’t show vast improvements among the supporting casts of their superstars, Spurs and Warriors fans might as well buy their Western Conference Finals tickets early.