Schedules for the 2015-2016 NBA season dropped on Tuesday, and the world is going crazy over DeAndre Jordan’s reunion with the Dallas Mavericks and a Finals rematch on Christmas Day. However, there are some other games that you should be watching this season that’ll show you a lot more about the re-shaped NBA.
Milwaukee Bucks @ Indiana Pacers, 11/21/2015
While both these teams aren’t exactly on a casual fan’s radar of NBA squads, this game will be a look into the future. Both teams experienced major changes this offseason and have key players returning to the floor. Milwaukee’s biggest pick up of the summer was center Greg Monroe. The big man spent his first years in the league with the Detroit Pistons, where he showed off formidable offensive skills, averaging around 14 points per game. Former 2nd overall pick Jabari Parker will return from the ACL tear which ended his rookie season. Even after losing starting center Larry Sanders due to retirement, the Bucks still managed to snag the 6th seed in 2014.
Against Chicago, the team showed off their incredible length and defensive capabilities, losing the series primarily due to their lack of offense. Both Monroe and Parker are prolific scorers (Parker averaged 23 points at Duke), which will help fill Milwaukee’s offensive void, and Parker’s 7ft wingspan and ability to play both offense and defense in the post only increases Milwaukee’s versatility. Indiana’s offseason action seems to indicate a change in philosophy. After rising to the top of the Eastern Conference through gritty defense and toughness, the Pacers let go of their two toughest players; starting big men David West and Roy Hibbert. They then signed guard Monta Ellis, a dangerous scorer who isn’t exactly the league’s best defender (overview of signing here). Star forward Paul George is also returning from injury after breaking his leg during the USA Basketball Blue vs. White game. The new Pacers look very different from just two years ago. The team is now faster and smaller, resembling a modern NBA team. With George returning, PG George Hill coming off an extremely productive season, and Ellis joining the fray, Indiana has turned itself into a very dangerous offensive team. Rookie center Myles Turner and free agent pickup Jordan Hill will also help slim down the once bulky Pacers, adding versatility in the post. Only 11 games into the season, this matchup will continue to expose us to the teams’ new looks, and with both squads looking primed for a playoff run, we could be getting an early glimpse at a playoff series as well.
Utah Jazz @ Minnesota Timberwolves, 12/30/2015
Another possible head scratcher for casual fans, this is a game you should tune-in to for fun as much as importance. Both the Jazz and the Timberwolves are young, talented teams that are ready to take off this season. Utah’s newfound success has stemmed from young center Rudy Gobert. The Jazz had spent the preceding years building around rising star Gordon Hayward and talented forward Derrick Favors, but had found little success. After trading away problematic center Enes Kanter, Gobert was inserted into the lineup as his replacement. The frenchman provided energy, effort, and athleticism that the team had lacked with Kanter. Having another real threat to pair with Favors down low did wonders for the Jazz. With Gobert sucking up loose balls and blocking shots, Favors could to go to work on the offensive end, finishing 2014-2015 averaging 19 points per game. With Favors to deal with in the paint, teams couldn’t put as much pressure on Hayward, who averaged 20 points per game last season. With Gobert starting the season as the team’s starting center, those numbers and Utah’s record are likely to improve, and the team looks ready to capitalize on the open playoff spots left by the struggling Dallas Mavericks and the rebuilding Portland Trail Blazers. Minnesota’s success is much more theoretical, but there’s a lot of evidence pointing towards a major improvement from last season. The Timberwolves will pair this year’s first overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns with last year’s first overall pick Andrew Wiggins and highflying guard Zach LaVine(More on Towns the T-Wolves here). Towns’ versatility will help Minnesota deal with starting center Nikola Pekovic’s lack of athleticism and defensive capability, and his rebounding and defensive are sure to open up more fast break opportunities for LaVine and Wiggins. Young and athletic are the first two words that come to mind when describing the Wolves and Towns will fit nicely into the speed of Minnesota’s style of play. The Timberwolves older starters will also play a major role in Minnesota’s success. While Pekovic is a sieve on the defensive end, he is a talented offensive player who can cover up Towns’ lack of polished offense. PG Ricky Rubio is a talented playmaker who, when given enough talent, is a great facilitator and a good defender. While neither team is ready for a run at the Finals, both look to be fighting for a playoff spot in the tough Western Conference, and the game is guaranteed to be an entertaining slugfest of athleticism and scoring. These squads are part the next generation of dominant teams, and it’ll be great to watch them battle for the first of many times.