I entered my basketball fandom at an exciting time of the sport.
As the NBA was transitioning away from the post-Jordan era, I witnessed Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Allen Iverson, Shaquille O’Neal, and many more legends at their peak. The season my basketball fandom began, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwyane Wade arrived in the league.
The big question for the league, one that looms large with this ratings issue, is this - what happens in the post-LeBron era?
It’s definitely a legitimate question. Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Steph Curry — three active players that have been near, or in, LeBron’s stratosphere recently — are approaching, or are in, their 30s. The landscape of the league is going to change real quick. The basketball I’ve witnessed over my life has been remarkable, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to decline anytime soon. If the upside of a lot of these young guys is legitimate, the league is in as good of hands as it has ever been.
This past weekend illustrated that.
The Rising Stars game was just the first case, headlined by Ja Morant, Luka Doncic, Zion Williamson, and Trae Young. This exhibition was marvelous and truly showcased their talents. From Luka’s halfcourt buzzer beater, to the Ja to Zion alley-oop’s, to Trae Young nutmegging RJ Barrett, it was just an amazing game that highlighted the future of the NBA — a future brighter than I’ve ever seen. While those 4 are probably going to garner the most mainstream attention, other rising stars like Jaren Jackson Jr., Deandre Ayton, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Brandon Clarke have the upside to become major players for years to come.
We also witnessed a nice blend of the NBA’s younger generation in this year’s All-Star game. For the second season in a row, reigning MVP Giannis Antetokoumpo was the leading vote-getter for the Eastern Conference. As he continues his quest to a likely MVP repeat, it’s crazy to think he’s not even 25 years old yet. Luka Doncic was not far behind LeBron James in All-Star votes this season, and the 20-year old is posting up similar numbers to King James. Likewise, Trae Young was the other sophomore in the starting lineup for this year’s All-Star game, and his style of play is captivating, though it hasn’t cultivated into many wins to this point.
The benches from each conference boasted a lot of young stars ready to take the torch as well. Jayson Tatum, Brandon Ingram, and Donovan Mitchell made their first All-Star appearances, as they all have taken tremendous leaps as go-to, primary playmakers. Though originally snubbed, Devin Booker falls into the aforementioned category, as his shooting efficiency has risen. Pascal Siakam and Bam Adebayo’s emergence as All-Stars only further highlighted the new prototypical big man — a versatile one that can defend all 5 positions, handles the ball like a guard, and runs the floor like a gazelle. Nikola Jokic and Ben Simmons, two of the league’s most wicked passers, showed out in this year’s festivities as well.
All these guys I just mentioned, with the exception of a 25-year old Siakam, aren’t even 25 years old yet. And that doesn’t include Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, De’Aaron Fox, Jamal Murray, Jaylen Brown, or any youngster that could emerge to take a huge leap within the next couple years.
The future of the league is bright, and it’s time to start recognizing it.
One of the coolest parts about the league’s future is, the Memphis Grizzlies could be at the forefront of it.
Brandon Clarke is already a trendy NBA hipster pick, but he could become a completely League-Pass darling for the Blog Boy community. His offensive efficiency is off the charts, and his defensive versatility is eye-popping. Though he doesn’t have the flashiest perimeter game, he can rise up and dunk on someone’s head, or swat the air out of a basketball, in an instant. If he develops his perimeter game to another level, the sky is the limit.
Jaren Jackson Jr. can be what the NBA unicorn is designed to be. Ideally, he’s projected to be the team’s center of the future. He can defend across all positions, switching onto perimeter players within the pick-and-roll and protecting the rim with his pterodactyl-like wingspan. He’s not the traditional back-to-the-basket, double-double machine, but he can get hot from deep and take any big man off the dribble. Thought the casual fan will see him as Ja’s sidekick, he’ll be one-half of Memphis’ brilliant 1A/1B combo.
Ja Morant can be a top-5 star and a future MVP in this league. His game is reminiscent of a lot of the great point guards I grew up watching — Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo, to name a few. His leadership and maturity are advanced for his age. His social media presence, on-court swagger, and highlight-reel style of play make his marketing potential out of this world. As the league transitions away from the stars a lot of people in my generation and below grew up on, Ja can be at the top of the next wave of players that carry the torch. And from early impressions, he’s going to do a damn good job at it.
Basketball fans, the NBA is in good hands. Grizzlies fans, this franchise is in good hands.
Grab your shades, because the future is bright.