There are many storylines worth following in every NBA season. The players that deserve more focus than others in 2015-2016 consist of LeBron James and Kevin Durant for obvious reasons, but also LaMarcus Aldridge with the San Antonio Spurs bringing him to be their man of the future, Russell Westbrook who has to deal with a partner once again, Anthony Davis trying to become more than just the “next big thing” and Stephen Curry, coming off winning the MVP and the NBA championship, facing the hangover year that can go either way.
LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs
Aldridge was the big prize in this summer’s free agency, and landed in San Antonio not just so he can help them win a championship now, but also keep the ship going in the right direction once Manu Ginobili retires, Tony Parker starts fading away and Tim Duncan decides to end one of the greatest careers in NBA history. Along with Kawhi Leonard, he’s on the team so the Spurs remain relevant even after the Big Three are no more.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Antetokounmpo is important for a number of reasons, but mainly because he’s hope for a European player to make the All-Star game. Yes, Dirk Nowitzki and the Gasol brotherhood have been doing it over and over again (Marc Gasol not so much), but except for them, and despite the “internationalizing” of the game, it remains on a sub-star level. Antetokounmpo is in the East, which always makes it easier, and all that talent and potential need to become more than just highlights to fill up Youtube and Reddit.
DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
Cousins just might be the best center in the NBA, but playing on a bad team, and probably for a coach that prefers to see him traded. But if he’s that good, shouldn’t the Kings be doing a little bit better? Also, centers in this league – centers that score and not just clog the paint and pick up offensive rebounds, need to start showing they can be the face of a successful team, and Cousins is the best one suited for that.
Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Easy. The MVP. Coming off a championship and a historic season in a number of ways. All Eyez on him, more than ever before. Curry needs not just to remain as good or maybe even better. It might not be fair, but that’s how it works.
Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
Someone new to crash the party. Not just the face of the franchise, but someone who can shove the LeBron-Durant duopoly from the ranking of two best players in the league. Curry is the MVP, but most don’t consider him as the best or second best. Davis is one of those “next big things” that’s already arrived, but this season should be another year of progress towards the #1 spot in the MVP rankings, besides getting the Pelicans back into the playoffs and more.
Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
A comeback year for Durant, who was the 2014 NBA MVP, and if he really is injury free, there’s no one more unstoppable on offense in this league. Seeing him share and split the ball with Russell Westbrook under a new head coach should be very interesting as well.
James Harden, Houston Rockets
Besides shouting drunk things regarding his $200 million deal with Adidas, Harden is one hell of a basketball player. But it’s always incredible to see his highlights of his offense next to his defensive, umm… lets call them flaws. Harden took the Rockets to the conference finals last season (not alone, really not alone) but they didn’t contend with the Warriors for the most part. A re-tooled roster, but it’s mostly on him to get this team into the finals.
LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
The most popular and hated player in the NBA. The man who is bigger than a franchise, and is acting as a player, coach, general manager and maybe some other roles we don’t know about. James wants a championship, but he also wants to control everything, or makes it seem like that. Conflicted, sometimes transcendent, and it’s always impossible to take your eyes off of him when he’s on the court.
Ty Lawson, Houston Rockets
Lawson is a point guard that Harden has never played next to before. But Lawson is trying to save his career, while also taking control of his life, if his drinking problem is as bad as advertised. He can be a great story of a team taking a chance on a player the Nuggets dumped as soon as the extent of the problem was exposed, but it could also be the beginning of the end for a player that’s done quite well since entering the league.
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
The thing about Lillard being special this season is the fact that he’s been abandoned. No Aldridge, no Robin Lopez, no Wesley Matthews, no Nicolas Batum. A completely new starting lineup, which adjusts expectations, but also puts Lillard in a whole new role, and the star of a very interesting experiment in trying to bounce back from a mass exodus during the offseason.
Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers
Okafor is different from Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid because he wasn’t drafted as a project and raw potential material. He’s built to succeed now, and slowly get better. But the Sixers can’t keep on their embarrassing Win-Loss records and expect anyone to take Sam Hinkie seriously. At some point, all this tanking and building has to start showing some upward movement.
Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Is Paul the best point guard in the league? It probably depends on the week or month, but despite the talent around him, it’s still his team, and the Clippers, with Paul as the vanguard, are trying to show you can build a team around a pass first point guard and win a championship. The arrival of Paul Pierce might help take the pressure off of Paul, especially in the playoffs.
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Why Porzingis? Because he’s probably the only player on the Knicks that can get the fan base hyped, if the huge gamble on this long, talented Latvian pays off. Carmelo Anthony is the star, Lopez and Arron Afflalo are solid signings. But Porzingis can turn into something special. He doesn’t need to do it right away, but enough signs to galvanize a depressed basketball vibe in the city should do the job.
Rajon Rondo, Sacramento Kings
Rondo falling from All-Star point guard and arguably the best at the position (never was) to someone who is ridiculed for his shooting, unwanted by every team in the league (almost) and one of the least likable guys in the league (unless you’re a connect four freak), leads us to this point: Of him trying not just to lift the Kings from a terrible decade, but also make himself noticed for the good things he does on a basketball court.
Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
Last year was the semi-comeback year. Rose still missed too many games, and was incredibly inconsistent, even if the averages aren’t bad at all. This season? It’s probably riding the last glimmer of hope Bulls fans have in the Rose-based era mounting to something. The team is exactly the same, so it’s up to Fred Hoiberg to make it, somehow, happen.
Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Being the number one overall pick in the draft obviously puts a lot of focus on a player. But Towns is the next prospect that’s going to be expected to pull the Timberwolves out of the NBA’s cellar, and end the streak of 11 consecutive seasons without the playoffs, the longest in the NBA. He’s not expected to do it right away, but it would be nice if they get close to that somehow.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Westbrook was on fire last year. A one man tornado on the court. A Tasmanian devil. At least the one from the cartoons. He did everything on the floor. He also cost his team so many points with his misses, turnovers and lapses on defense. This season it should be back to being #1.5 on the Thunder’s offense, and the usual debate of whether he can be a “real” point guard or not and what’s best for the Thunder.