NBA 2016-2017 Preseason Takeaways

The 2016-2017 NBA Preseason is over, and the final standings are in. What do we know? What are we excited about? Basketball! That’s what.

1617 preseason

The rich get richer
Of all the storylines to follow during the off- and preseason, let’s address one thing right off the bat: Cleveland and GSW seem destined – now more than ever – to meet each other again in the NBA Finals, making them the first teams to meet in three consecutive finals. It’s a long time until June, but this seems the only logical outcome if you look at the field.

Kevin Durant signing with Golden State turned both him and the team into villains, and they will embrace this role, score a ton of threes and win 65+ games again this season. People were afraid of how they would integrate KD into their offense, but after a 6-1 preseason, we should be confident they’ll figure it out. Their bench took quite a hit, but they kept the crucial Andre Iguodala and coach Steve Kerr will work his magic on rotations.

Cleveland also kept the band together, with the big three all returning (which might not have happened had they lost in the finals), as well as Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and adding some nice pieces like Mike Dunleavy. But even if they just had one player, they would probably still come out of the east. LeBron James seems destined to remain the Final Boss of the East, and might even be motivated enough to go for a fifth regular-season MVP trophy.

The result is the continuation of a great rivalry, with some new flavor added to it.

They grow up so fast
Apart from the top dogs, one of the main reasons to look forward to this season is the teams whose young cores are looking to take a huge leap forward. Of these, Utah is almost guaranteed to do so under Quin Snyder. Their players are healthy and have improved year after year, they play solid defense and they also added a solid veteran in Joe Johnson.

The Milwaukee Bucks will prove to be very entertaining to watch with the growth of point guard/forward Gianni Antetekounpo and Jabari Parker. Adding Matthew Dellavedova (maybe not the best, but certainly one of my favourite point guards in the league) is a nice bonus.

But even more appealing are the two teams I detailed below.

Teams To Watch
Every season I pick one team in the east and one team in the west to watch. These teams follow a certain magic formula which make them especially appealing for the fans:

  • They are unselfish and share the basketball.
  • They have a great coach
  • They are developing young talent
  • They will improve (sometimes significantly) throughout the season
  • They will win more games than last season
  • They are exciting to watch

This season I’m picking the Boston Celtics in the east. They had a great offseason in which they added Al Horford to a young but talented core who continue to improve. Their coach is Brad Stevens who has managed to impress from his first days in the league. The Starters even tip him to win coach of the year, and I tend to agree. The Celtics are exciting to watch with Isaiah Thomas being one of my favourite point guards not just in the league right now, but all-time. Gerald Greene is very entertaining with both highlight dunks and his ability to get scorching hot on outside shooting. Jaylen Brown could be a dark horse for Rookie of the Year. What was really inspiring to see is how good the team atmosphere was during preseason. Every dunk was met by even better reactions from the bench. The fact that they had the best record in the east during preseason doesn’t mean anything, but it’s a nice bonus.

In the west there can be no doubt of who I pick. It’s only a matter of time before the Timberpups grow into the Timberwolves and end the longest streak of playoff-drought in the league. I believe Tom Thibodeau has the potential to be a great coach. People sometimes still paint him as a defensive specialist and knock him for his overuse of his starters and the top of his bench. While those things are true, I believe he will improve Minnesota almost immediately and as long as he watches out for overusing players he might get them back into the playoffs. If not this year, then certainly next year.  The Timberwolves dismantled the Memphis Grizzlies during preseason, who – while maybe not a top-tier team – are definitely solid with some big stars like Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. They also utterly trashed the Charlotte Hornets. Let’s see if they can produce results during the actual season, versus tougher competition.

A list of things to look forward to this year (in no particular order)
– Both GSW rivalries: the villain rivalry with the LA Clippers and the Finals rivalry with the Cavs.
– Seeing KD play for the Dubs
– Jeremy Lin playing in New York again (albeit for the Brook-Lin Nets this time)
– The Lakers being fun to watch again with Russel, Ingram, Clarkson, Randle and Black
– Trust The Process; Joel Embiid is going to be great. He’s technically still a rookie, so it’s great to see his preseason tussle with Detroit’s Andre Drummond. He responded through his play, and showed he doesn’t back down from anyone. It will be exciting to watch someone with his combination of size, skillset and spirit.
– Boston’s Jaylen Brown
– BKN-NYK might actually become a nice in-town rivalry
– Russel Westbrook has been completely unleashed in OKC and Steven Adams continues to improve, which makes for a great combo.
– Defensive highlights from the Orlando Magic
– The old guy show in Chicago
– The Perpetual Drama in Sacramento
– Blake Griffin is a superstar (look at the handles and drop-off at 1:05)
– Miles Turner being the second best player on the Pacers

Two Random Preseason Awards:

How the pros prep for the season
One of the best parts of the NBA season revving back up to full speed is The Starters Season Preview: 72 Burning Questions. Skeets, Tas, Leigh and Trey cover everything and then some in a 9-part YouTube epic. I embedded Part 1 below and you will find links to the other parts below the video.

NBA Season Preview Part 2 – The Starters
NBA Season Preview Part 3 – The Starters
NBA Season Preview Part 4 – The Starters
NBA Season Preview Part 5 – The Starters
NBA Season Preview Part 6 – The Starters
NBA Season Preview Part 7 – The Starters
NBA Season Preview Part 8 – The Starters
NBA Season Preview Part 9 – The Starters

Aw yeah.

CrossFit – My thoughts after 3 months

One lazy afternoon, I was browsing the Netflix catalogue when I happened upon a documentary called ‘Fittest on Earth’. The documentary follows several athletes while they compete in the 2015 CrossFit Games, a “a 5 day, 13 event, grueling test to find the fittest male and female on earth.”

Like so many others before me, this was my introduction to CrossFit. Intrigued, I browsed the web to find some more information. So what is this CrossFit business, you ask? According to wikipedia it is

Promoted as both a physical exercise philosophy and also as a competitive fitness sport, CrossFit workouts incorporate elements from high-intensity interval training, Olympic weightlifting, plyometrics, powerlifting, gymnastics, calisthenics, strongman, and other exercises. It is practiced by individuals who complete daily workouts (otherwise known as “WODs” or “workouts of the day”).

Seems interesting, but I have no idea what any of this means. So I had a look at CrossFit’s own definition: Constantly varied, functional movements at high intensity.

I enrolled in a local gym and started training there. A couple of things one notices right off the bat: CrossFit mainly consists of group classes. There is always a certified coach present who teaches you the movements and helps you throughout a workout. The coaches at our box (the name for a CrossFit gym) are all very friendly and they know what they are talking about. Newbies like myself are not allowed to jump into regular training when starting out, but have to complete 6 intro classes to learn all the basics of air squatting, deadlift, front squat, ring rows, wall balls and other movements that are often used in normal classes. Special attention is paid to people with current or previous injuries and more often than not, people got individually altered exercises to alleviate stress on parts of their body that have been injured or are stressed. CrossFit has a pretty bad reputation as far as both form of execution and injuries is concerned, but at least for my box this is simply not true. I feel very safe , especially because all coaches let new people work out with broomsticks instead of barbells to get the movements just right. Only once you have correct posture are you allowed to move on to barbells and actual weightlifting.

Benchmark workouts are CrossFit’s way of measuring your performance and improvement. These workouts usually involve an AMRAP (as many reps as possible) or AFAP (as fast as possible) scheme.

After I had completed the six intro classes, I moved on to regular classes, or WODs (workout of the day). These have proven to be immensely fun, while often also quite challenging.

Constantly varied? Yes
Workouts are indeed constantly varied: throughout the course of one year you would normally not do the same workout twice. Some of the components of a workout come back: like squats, pushups, pullups, etc, but they’re always combined in different ways. I’ve noticed I’m always pretty excited to check to see what madness they have in store for me today.

Functional Movements? Yes and no
One thing you notice when walking into a CrossFit gym is that while there are some machines here and there, most people are working with their own body. Most movements are composite movements that require core strength and use many different parts of the body at once. The burpee, pull-up and handstand come to mind as nice examples of this. As real-life activities also require you to move in this way, it’s normal to train in this way. But while I use squats on a daily basis to pick things up and reach the mugs hidden in the bottom of kitchen cupboard, I wonder how often I do some of these other movements in real life. Of course things like deadlifts and snatches help with picking things up, but I feel like they’re mainly practice for doing heavier deadlifts and snatches. But then again, I like doing deadlifts and snatches, so no complaints here.

High intensity? Yes, but…
The high-intensity part is definitely true: workouts feel more like sprinting than going for a 10k run. Which brings me to my own practice: I have kept running on days I didn’t go the box, and I wouldn’t just throw out all other activities you do just yet. As you start out, your body simply isn’t ready to do WODs every single day. You need rest days every other day. In my case, that meant having to go for runs 2-3 times a week for weight control. As you get more experienced you can start going more often, until you reach the goal of working out every day. But even then I feel like CrossFit is mainly weight training in short bursts, and benefits from being complemented with running longer distances every now and then. In all fairness, one of the WODs I have done simply stated “run 10k”. Based on the low attendance that day and the way some of our regulars struggled with running I would say running on your own every now and again is probably a good idea.

Cold hard Cash
When shopping around for a place to train, it seemed like membership for a box is around 4 times the fees one would pay at a traditional gym. I have been quite willing to fork over these high fees, because if it allows me to have a skillful coach correcting my movements so I don’t injure myself, it is money well spent.

I had never thought of myself as someone who would go to a gym on a daily basis, but that’s exactly where I’m headed. I’ve really enjoyed the classes, met interesting people and am amazed at how much fun I’m having. I love being somewhat competitive (understatement of the week), and this sport allows me to challenge myself on a daily basis.

Boys will be boys

What is better than watching sports on a holiday? Not much, except perhaps for watching sports on a holiday with nachos. Enter NBA TV!
Because of the ongoing discussions over (what else?) money and the resulting lockout, the basketball season in the USA has started embarrassingly late, though I’m sure fans are glad there’s even a season at all. Since December 25th, my favourite spectator sport (well, second favourite after StarCraft 2, but that’s a subject I’m not touching with an adamantium-coated stick) has kicked off again. Sean is quite the basketball fan himself and so we decided watching a game of hoops would be the perfect holiday activity.

nba01As Sean is from California and fell in love with NBA in Sacramento where he went to high school, the game to watch was a no-brainer: the Kings’ revenge match against the LA Lakers, the team nobody likes yet is annoyingly consistent in posting good results (*cough* Anderlecht, Hannes?). The Lakers had stopped the Sacramento Kings in the semi-finals of the play-offs last year, so there was indeed quite a bit of revenge to be taken. On top of that, the Lakers had lost their first match the day before, and this match would be played in Sacramento. Enter second bag of nacho’s.
The game was awesome. The Kings quickly gained the lead in the first quarter, and even though LA came back to within 2 points, they never managed to overtake their Californian rivals. The Kings eventually won the game with 91-100. Tiny Lakers tears were shed, and all was well with the world again.