The NBA season is finally here with the Cleveland Cavaliers kicking off the season at 7 p.m. against the Boston Celtics. The Minnesota Timberwolves open their season against the San Antonio Spurs on Oct. 18 and play again Oct. 20 against the Utah Jazz in their home opener. The games go all the way until Oct. 21 at 9:30 pm, when the Phoenix Suns play the Los Angeles Clippers.
There is a whole lot of action to watch — 37 games in five games to be exact — and because of that, a guide would be nice. So here are the top-10 matchups, players, games and storylines to watch in the first week.
- Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins have had an entire offseason under head coach Tom Thibodeau to work on their defensive skill set. Then defensive stud Jimmy Butler joined the team, along with wily veteran Taj Gibson. Both moves should bolster the defense and help the rising talent already on the roster. All the growth will not happen in one game, but with the youth on the Spurs roster paired with the absence of Kawhi Leonard, glimpses of it should shine through in game one for the Wolves.
- It is easy to see Thibodeau running his starters pretty hard in the opener, but there will be a time when the bench needs to grab some minutes in this game. It will be a great test to see where the second unit is against a well-prepped Gregg Popovich team. It will be important to see the second squad not blow a lead or help extend the Spurs’ advantage. These are some great early tests for the team in the first week.
Rubio Coming Back
- Former point guard Ricky Rubio will be returning to Minneapolis in the Timberwolves’ first home game. The Timberwolves have had a bad history with former players coming back and burning them for great games. Wiggins or Jeff Teague probably grab that assignment which means they need to play him tight. More than anything, they’ll try to keep him from really getting the ball around to other Jazz players and force him into isolation basketball.
The Teague Effect
- How will Teague look in the offense? That may be more intriguing to watch than even Butler. There are two major spots Teague can have maximum impact. The first is pushing the pace in transition and off-ball movement to pull defenses. He shot 44.2 percent last season and leaving him open would be a problem for opponents. His speed in space can force a defense to pull towards him after knocking down shots, getting teammates open. Using that speed in transition forces a defense back on their heels for easy buckets. If he can do a few things, this offense will cruise for plenty of points.
Hawks vs. Mavericks
- The Atlanta Hawks are on the road against the Dallas Mavericks and this will make for a great rookie watch. Specifically, John Collins for the Hawks and Dennis Smith Jr. for the Mavericks. Both are freak athletes, with Smith starting at point guard and primed for some great offense — which will be run through him — while Collins is a great rim runner and off-ball offensive threat. The explosive rookies on both sides will make for a great game.
- The Rockets play Golden State, Sacramento and Orlando in the first week. Right away, look for how Chris Paul and James Harden have their minutes handles by head coach Mike D’Antoni and how they handle the shared offense. Keep an eye on how P.J. Tucker helps their defense off the bench.
- The Los Angeles Clippers are rebuilding their team around Blake Griffin. The forward has always been an entertaining star despite his injury history, but now he is also the face of the franchise. How will he handle the spotlight and how will the new-look Clippers play with additions like Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams and Danilo Gallinari? These will be Clippers storylines all season long.
Former Kansas Jayhawks Proving Their Worth
- Former teammates Wiggins and Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers both signed five-year, $148 million contracts in the offseason. With Wiggins, questions about defense were raised while Embiid’s mere 31 games of proof left others surprised. Both have a fair amount of doubt about the size and length of their contracts. Watch for them to go out and try to prove why they are worth the money.
Big Man Experiment
- DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis lead the New Orleans Pelicans on Oct. 18 against Memphis. They are running back the dual big men move after last season’s blockbuster trade to send Boogie to New Orleans. It is a bold move in a small-ball league, leaving much to be desired from the small sample size we watched last season. Both can stretch the floor but also need some help from the team around them to do likewise. The storyline here is to see some signs of life from the team or the sign of a trade for one of the big men to get out of dodge.
- This has been a big story in the NFL and while the NBA is usually at the forefront of social issues, they have rules to the contrary. The NBA has backed their rules about standing for the anthem headed into the season, despite the players’ outspoken history in the league. The storyline to watch will be what the players do to join with the NFL before or during the anthem to start the season.