What is shaping up to be an exciting NBA season is unfortunately trekking to one that threatens to bring the promising year crashing down in one big heap.
Even before the 2016-2017 season tips off, Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers figure to be the odds on favorites for the title especially after the Warriors added Kevin Durant to an utter worldly roster that features two time Most Valuable Player Steph Curry and two players who feature among the top 15 players in the league.
For Cleveland, little is needed to bolster their chances of repeating as Eastern Conference champions other than getting younger; which they are as Kay Felder and Markel Brown are in line for a roster spot. But the main intrigue lies in the battle for playoff places.
Teams lying on the other side of the postseason picture;the likes of Philadelphia Sixers, Orlando Magic on the East side and Minnesota Timberwolves, Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans on the West side, figure to be also runners in the league.
However, a host of teams find themselves in between the two brackets and two of the most prominent, Utah Jazz and Milwaukee Bucks are primed to be in the loop; well that is before their respective seasons suffered potentially season fortunes.
The latest reports of Swingmen Khris Middleton of the Bucks and Gordon Hayward of the Jazz suffering injuries have given cause for doubt.
Middleton’s ruptured hamstring effectively means the 2012 draftee will miss at least six months of the season and that counts as a serious blow to the postseason ambitions of Milwaukee in the Eastern conference. Middleton is crucial to what the Bucks are creating with the longest team in the league by having 6 foot 11 inch Giannis Antetokounmpo playing in the Point Guard position.
Antetokounmpo’s pairing with walking mini giants Thon Maker, Miles Plumlee, John Henson, Jabari Parker and Greg Monroe to name a few, makes Milwaukee’s lineups easily the tallest in the NBA. Aside the advantage of having extra long hands on the court which disrupt passing lanes and equips the team to contest shots better, Middleton’s ability to space the floor with his three point shot will be missed most.
Last season, he scored 143 three point shots off 361 attempts which fits rightly into the fray of an above average shooter in the league (39.6%) but it puts him as the best option on the Bucks roster. After getting ranked 26th out of the 30 team league in offensive rating, Milwaukee is sure to find a hard time scoring against opponents without Middleton’s involvement for much of the season. His ability to play multiple positions due to his 6 foot 8 inch frame and a 6 foot 11 inch wingspan, makes him one of the best swingmen in an association that is increasingly depended on to produce on multiple fronts.
Getting Michael Beasley plugs the hole a bit but the team’s reported interest in Sacramento Kings Ben McLemore suggests management is still in need of more shooting in Middleton’s absence. In the jumbled conference that Chicago Bulls, Washington Wizards and Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks have done great business to make the elite eight, Milwaukees’ chances don’t look so bright again.
Out west, the Utah Jazz, prior to Gordon Hayward’s broken finger, looked destined to make the playoffs for the first time after three barren seasons. But news of the former Butler University player’s injury has sent projections trekking down. Hayward has been the teams’ best player since Deron Williams and Al Jefferson left town and multiple Team USA call ups including that of this year’s Olympics certainly backs that assertion up. The team has in the past looked good after doing good business (including drafting) with the likes of Derrick Favors arriving from New Jersey now Brooklyn Nets in the Williams trade deal and drafting Rudy Gobert, Trey Lyles and Dante Exum, laid the right foundations for a powerhouse in the making.
But after adding George Hill-by flipping 2013 draftee Trey Burke- and Joe Johnson, Utah has turned into a sure playoff team with the veteran additions viewed as the remaining pieces to get the side over the postseason mark. Though Hayward’s injury isn’t as bad as Middleton’s-reported six week recovery time-is still leaves Jazz’ chances up in the air against an equally tough Western Conference without its’ top scorer; Hayward averaged 19.7 points per game last season.
Though Hayward is set to miss about two months, a good start is key to the progress of a team as Portland Trailblazers showed last season. Racking up wins early in the season proved to be a major catalyst in steeling the young side to an unlikely semifinal playoff run before losing out to the Warriors.
The budding teams on either side of the league may have lost their stars to ailments of varied degrees but it is the thought of likely missing out on the playoffs, that puts off playoff projections.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah