A Fan’s Guide to Navigating the NBA: Mean Girls Edition

In celebration of opening night, I am going to demystify the NBA, one high school stereotype at a time.  You got your freshmen, desperate wannabes, burnouts, nerds, varsity jocks, art freaks, the greatest people you will ever meet, and the worst. Beware of the Plastics.  So, what are you waiting for? Let’s meet these guys… (keep scrolling down)

Freshmen

2013 NBA Rookies

2013 NBA Rookies

A new NBA season always means fresh meat.  The spotlight may be on Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant, and Rajon Rondo’s triumphant (or woeful) post-injury returns, but you won’t want to miss out on this year’s rookie class.  Here are a few of my favorites…

First up is Victor Olapido, the overall number two pick by the Orlando Magic.  This 21 year-old shooting guard is trying to make the difficult transition to point guard this season.  He is in great company when it comes to guards who came into the league without clearly defined positions (think Russell Westbrook and to some extent Dwyane Wade).  Many believe that he will develop into an elite perimeter defender, but let’s see how he handles the position switch!

Next up is Ben McLemore, a 20 year-old shooting guard who will be suiting up for the Sacramento Kings.  There is no doubt that this guy will be a dominant offensive force.  He is still a little rough around the edges, suffering at times from a lack of aggressiveness and consistency, but I cannot wait to see his raw talent on display this season.

You should also keep an eye on the Celtics’ Kelly Olynyk, one of the few talented big men in the 2013 draft.  He had a great run in the Summer League, but people are starting to question his defense.  He might not be the next Dirk, but it will be interesting to see how Olynyk stacks up in the regular season.  For what it is worth, he is not soft.

Desperate Wannabes

JaVale McGee

JaVale McGee

Next on the social ladder are those guys who for whatever reason just don’t quite get it.  We all have one or two friends like this, and over the years, the NBA has collected many of these types of players.  I will leave you with my must-knows for this season:

The most loveable of these wannabes is JaVale McGee.  I am not ashamed to say that I created and maintained a Twitter account just to follow this man.  Here is just a sample of his awesomeness. And don’t forget the time he tried to give away 10 free burritos and failed. And definitely don’t forget the time he tricked the media into thinking he had pet platypuses by posting pictures of them on Twitter.

Kwame Brown is up there when it comes to the biggest draft busts in NBA history.  He has gained the reputation of someone who is just satisfied to be in the league.  That is probably not something you want to hear from a former number one pick.  And what makes this funnier?  Guess who drafted him.  (It was Michael Jordan!)

Monta Ellis is probably one of the best players to make this list.  It makes me sad to list him here—I was at Oracle Arena (Game 3 of the first round of the epic 2006-07 playoffs) when he received the Most Improved Player Award and later helped pull off one of the biggest upsets in professional sports.  Monta may be a very talented player, but he also plays very selfishly and might be one of the most arrogant guys in the league.  Last spring, he told reporters that the only difference between Dwyane Wade and him is that Wade has “more wins and two championship rings.”  Now that’s three rings to Monta’s none.

Some other hot messes who have earned honorable mentions include Josh SmithLuke Walton, and Mario Chalmers.

Burnouts

Dwight Howard & Kobe Bryant as Lakers

Since we are on the subject of hot messes, let’s talk about the mighty that have fallen.  When I think burnout, I can’t help but think about the star-studded Los Angeles Lakers of last season.  This time last year, these guys came in like gangbusters, ready to make some noise and win a championship.  Their starters were: Kobe BryantDwight HowardPau GasolMetta World Peace (Ron Artest), and Steve Nash.  Even if you are not a diehard basketball fan, chances are that you have heard of most of these guys.  A combination of old age, growing egos, injuries, and questionable coaching led to a subpar overall season.  And once Kobe had a season-ending Achilles injury, the Lakers effectively threw in the towel.  Dwight Howard even managed to get himself thrown out of Game 4 of the playoffs when a sweep was imminent.  That was his last game as a Laker.  In addition to a disappointing season, the great Dr. Jerry Buss, one of the best owners in professional sports, passed away last February due to complications from cancer.

Former Laker Lamar Odom takes the individual honors home in this category.  Some of you might recognize Odom as Khloe Kardashian’s boo (or ex-boo, I just can’t seem to keep up with the Kardashians).  Others of you might faintly remember the player he once was from his days in Miami and as a Laker.  In 2012-13, Odom was averaging just 4.0 points and 5.9 boards in 19.7 minutes of play per game.  It is a shame if he leaves basketball on such a low note, but it looks like he is currently trying to work through his drug troubles and has not yet been picked up by any team for this season.

Nerds

San Antonio's Big 3

San Antonio’s Big 3

Next up are low-key, sometimes misunderstood guys who play by the rules and continue to excel sans the fanfare.  Yup, I am talking about the San Antonio Spurs.  When I call the Spurs nerds, I mean no disrespect.  The team, in a way, brings this distinction upon itself.  Tim Duncan even has a Dungeons and Dragons tattoo on his shoulder for crying out loud!  The Spurs are the longest remaining dynasty in the NBA.  Their core of Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and Tim Duncan has been intact since 2001.  Making the playoffs for all of seasons since Duncan was drafted (16 years!), the Spurs have taken home four titles.  Though their heart-breaking loss to the Heat in last year’s finals will be tough to forget, these guys may surprise us all this season. You can never quite count the Spurs out (even though people generally do), especially as Danny Green and the soft-spoken Kawhi Leonard continue to develop.  Coach Pop will make sure of it.

You can also add Harvard-boy Jeremy Lin to this list if you must. I know you are probably thinking it.  If he is not careful this season, he might soon find himself rubbing shoulders with the desperate wannabes.  A 25% field-goal percentage in the playoffs this year will not cut it.

Varsity Jocks

Blake Griffin throwing it down.

Blake Griffin throwing it down.

The varsity jocks of the NBA are the jockiest of the jocks, if that makes sense.  These are the guys who jump over cars, sometimes swat balls into the stands just because they can.  For the most part, these are the biggest men in the league and they want you to think they are the toughest, too.

Dwight Howard is first on my list.  This guy managed to get two coaches fired in a very short window of time.  Though Dwight has averaged about 170 blocks a season for his career versus Tim Duncan’s 166, the value of each of his blocks is actually lower.  Based on an analysis presented in one of my favorite books, Scorecasting, Howard’s value per block in 2008 was .53 versus Duncan’s 1.12.  Not all blocks are created equal, after all—a block that creates fast break opportunities is probably more valuable than a powerful swat to the stands.  For what it’s worth, the Rockets won the Howard lottery in the off-season.  I expect a high level of play from him this year.

Blake Griffin is also a notable giant.  This big man is why the Clippers are called “Lob City.”  His monster dunks and efficiency have helped turn the Clips into the best team in LA.  And yes, we must not forget that he jumped over a car.  He has also has a knack for air balling free throws.  That, in addition to his lingering injury, has really affected his ranking in most Fantasy League drafts.  Doc River’s arrival to LA could be just what the doctor ordered for Griffin and the Clippers this season.

You can’t forget one of the best trash-talkers in the game today,Kevin Garnett.  This is the same guy who wished Timmy a “Happy Mother’s Day” when he was playing the Spurs in a Mother’s Day game (Tim Duncan’s mom passed away when he was young).  He also let Melo know that his wife “tasted like Honey Nut Cheerios.”  With all of the J.R. Smith—Paul Pierce drama in addition to the Melo—KG situation, it is going to be a pretty fun Battle of the Subways this year.

If these guys intrigue you, I suggest you also watch some highlights of Metta World Peace (Ron Artest), Paul Pierce, Zach Randolph, J.R. Smith, and Amare Stoudemire. 

Art Freaks

Stephen Curry driving to the hoop against the Spurs in the 2013 Western Conference Semi-finals.

Stephen Curry driving to the hoop against the Spurs in the 2013 Western Conference Semi-finals.

Next we have the artistic players, the guys who are nothing but net.  They wow us with how easy they make the impossible look.  Here are just some of the guys who leave me breathless:

Of course, number one on this list is Golden State Warriors’ Steph Curry. If you don’t believe me, check out this epic highlight reel from this past season. Not only did Curry snag the record for most threes in a single NBA season, but he can finish at the rim, too.  I can’t think of a player in the league today who has a prettier shot than Curry’s.  Last season, Steph’s three-point percentage was higher than his overall field goal percentage!  Let’s hope he can stay healthy this season because he is probably one of my favorite guys to watch.

Next on my list is the aging Steve Nash.  If you study film, you will actually notice that this two-time MVP maintains the same shot release every time.  He is also one of the all-time best free throw shooters, averaging 90.4% for his career.  In his prime, almost every drive to the basket would be highlight-reel worthy.

I want to also call out Kevin Durant.  There is a reason why most Fantasy Drafters selected him at number 1.  Oh, and he has also won the league scoring title three years in a row.  The funny thing about Durant’s shot is that he has a very uncommon release—it is quick and very high-arcing.  Watch out for it the next time you see the Thunder play!

The NBA has such talented players who are fun to watch that this list can just keep on going.  I recommend you also checkout some highlight reels of Kyrie Irving, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Ray Allen, Kyle Korver, and Mo Williams—just to name a few.

Plastics

Miami's Starting 5

Miami’s Starting 5

And this brings us to the rich, popular, hot girls who everyone hates but secretly wishes they could be.  There is no doubt that the Miami Heat are the Plastics of this NBA season.  The trio of LeBron James,Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh are already talking three-peat before opening night!  Whether you love them or you hate them, it is hard to deny that the Heat will be the team to beat this season.  With Derrick Rose back in the picture and the Nets emerging as the best team in New York, the East might not be as wide open as it was last year.

So, who are the “greatest people you will ever meet”? I will let you decide that one for yourself.  Tune in tonight to watch the drama of the new season unfold.  If you don’t, then I will leave you with these words of encouragement: “Boo, you whore!”

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