NBA Column: The NBA’s Stranger Things

Boston Celtics' Kyrie Irving (11) drives to the basket past Philadelphia 76ers' Dario Saric (9) in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)

Boston Celtics' Kyrie Irving (11) drives to the basket past Philadelphia 76ers' Dario Saric (9) in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)

While not as weird as finding out your friend has been sucked into a reverse-dimension by a Demogorgon, the early NBA season is home to a lot of strange things.

For fans of teams that are underperforming, it may as well be the End of Times. For others, the early NBA season gives you a glimmer of hope that your favorite team might not be the perennial loser it always is. Sometimes we have quotes that make you scratch your head for hours at a time. Here’s my ranking of just some of the stranger things of the NBA season so far.

4. Cleveland’s Struggles

On the surface, it’s weird to look at the standings and see the three-time defending Eastern Conference champions currently out of a playoff spot.

While Cleveland has some issues, the team has had to go through some major growing pains. This isn’t the same team as last year and the players are very much in the process of figuring out their roles on the team while also dealing with injuries.

Dwyane Wade was given the opportunity to begin the season in the starting lineup before rightfully heading to the bench. Wade can be the second unit’s primary ball handler with Derrick Rose in the starting lineup until Isaiah Thomas comes back. Still, Wade is an all-time great. If he thinks he can still start, he should probably be given the benefit of the doubt.

After solidifying his spot as Boston’s starting small forward, Jae Crowder has been in and out of the Cavalier’s starting lineup while head coach Tyronn Lue figures out the right combination of floor spacing and defense.

With Thomas out for at least a couple more months, Rose is the team’s starting point guard but even he has been in and out of the lineup while dealing with injuries.

The Cavaliers have been juggling egos, injuries and playing time. There is more than enough time for the Cavs to figure it out and they have a Top 5 MVP candidate from last year waiting the wings to make his return. Cleveland isn’t burning just yet.

3. Just About Everything That Kyrie Says

Kyrie Irving has been great for the Celtics so far this season. He’s bought into Brad Stevens’ system and has stepped into a leadership role in Gordon Hayward’s absence.  His play isn’t what’s going to land him on this list, however. It’s about anything he says within a couple feet of a microphone.  

Prior to the Bucks’ “Return to the MECCA” game against the Celtics, Irving made some comments that definitely implied he believed the court was the same one the Bucks played on from 1968-1988. After being informed by a reporter that was a new court; just given a retro paint job, Irving was still dubious.

“It took me three steps to realize this is not the same NBA court I’m used to playing on,” said Irving.

While Irving later somewhat backed off from his comments, saying he was a fan of the court, I’m still not quite sure he still doesn’t think this the same court that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played on.

Which is honestly fine. No one likes to admit when they are wrong. I can accept Irving being stubborn. But the comments Irving made on Geno Auriemma’s podcast nearly put me into an existential crisis when I saw them.

While Irving has since said his original flat earth comments were an attempt to troll the media, as usual, Irving’s comments created more questions than answers.

“When I started actually doing research on my own and figuring out there is no real picture of Earth, not one real picture of Earth- and we haven’t been back to the moon since 1961 or 1969- it becomes like a conspiracy, too, he said.”

This obviously raises the question of what Irving believes the pictures we see of Earth actually are. And really I don’t have an answer. I’m going to throw towards  “Illuminati Conspiracy.”

But what’s stranger: The fact that the Celtics are entrusting their franchise to a guy that might believe the Earth is flat, or that I am perfectly okay with it.

2. There’s Reason to be Happy in New York.

Have you noticed the New York basketball fan in your life is acting a little different? Maybe they’re spending less time watching 2013 Knicks highlights. Perhaps your friend who has never missed a Nets game is starting to look for the help he deserves. Or maybe you’ve even caught them smiling while watching a game for once.

This is because, despite probably not making the playoffs and losing two franchise players, there’s genuine reason for positivity if you are a Knicks or Nets fan.  

The Knicks already had reason to believe this season was going to better than the last few. Phil Jackson was finally kicked out of office and trading Carmelo Anthony also allowed the Knicks to fully commit to the Kristaps Prozingis era.

New York Knicks' Kristaps Porzingis, right, blocks a shot by Denver Nuggets' Mason Plumlee during the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Oct. 30, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

New York Knicks' Kristaps Porzingis, right, blocks a shot by Denver Nuggets' Mason Plumlee during the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Oct. 30, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

In a Knicks’ offense allowed to flow freely for the first time in years, Porzingis has been a nightmare for opposing teams. So far, only the Celtics and their No.1 ranked defense have been able to hold Porzingis under 30 points in the Knicks’ first six games. The 7’3” big man is finally able to make use of all the talents at his disposal and the rest of the NBA should be terrified.

There’s even good times on the horizon for Brooklyn. This is the last year the Nets won’t have their own pick in the draft, just in time to add young pieces to a core built around D’Angelo Russell.

After Jeremy Lin suffered a season ending knee injury in the first game of the season, Russell has taken over the point guard and ran with it. The Nets are currently third in the NBA in points per game. The former No.2 pick has shown he has the capability to be an offensive star in the NBA, averaging 19.8 ppg on 45 percent shooting.  

Behind their young stars, there’s reason for both of New York’s franchises to be hopeful for the future for the first time in a long time.

1. The Magic May Have figured It Out.

The Magic have been basement dwellers in the Eastern Conference for years. After seemingly throwing draft picks and free agent big men at the wall and seeing what sticks, Orlando finally has a direction.

While it’s still very early in the season, just about everything has been progressing for the Magic just as they had hoped. Aaron Gordon has made marginal improvements with each season but the fourth overall pick in 2014 has finally developed a deadly shooting touch.

Gordon’s partner in the frontcourt, Nikola Vucevic has also stepped behind the arc and found success, shooting 30 percent from distance. Evan Fournier is averaging career high 22 points per game and newcomer Jonathan Simmons is an early contender for sixth man of the year.

Much of the credit should go to head coach Frank Vogel. He was installed an offense that gets the absolute best out of everything his team has to offer.

Orlando is currently second in the Eastern Conference. It’s unlikely they finish there but entering the season, Magic fans would have been happy to just be in contention for a playoff-berth in March. Instead, Orlando looks like a team capable of fighting for home court advantage in the playoffs. Imagine saying that a couple weeks ago.


Bryan Lambert is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at bryan.lambert@uconn.edu.