10 Story Lines NBA Fans Should Be Thankful For

Today you probably woke up with excitement in your eyes because of the amazing dinner selection that will await most of us later in the day. Thanksgiving is famous because of the turkey, ham and stuffing that we all love to engulf over the holiday. But somewhere in that huge pile of food, we’ve lost what the true meaning of Thanksgiving is.

While you should enjoy that turkey and the subsequent apple pie that you’re getting afterward, it’s important to remember what the holiday is truly about. It’s really elementary stuff – Thanksgiving is about being thankful. Being around our loved ones for one more year is always something to be thankful for.

On the basketball side of things, we have things to be thankful as well. This NBA season is proving to be very exciting and there are plenty of reasons why. At Dime, we’re thankful for a lot of things. In fact, we’re so thankful that we’ve compiled a list of things that all NBA fans should be thankful for.

Here are the top ten.

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Not that anyone should’ve expected otherwise, but LeBron James is still playing out of his mind. You would think that after a third MVP trophy, a Finals MVP, and his first championship that there would be some kind of drop off. Not with this guy right here – James is leading the league in PER once again with a 29.0 rating.

What’s more is that James is shooting a career-high figure from beyond the arch at 44 percent. If he can keep that pace up he’ll be virtually unguardable this season. Will he? I doubt it. But while it lasts, we should definitely be thankful for it.

Yes, the New York Knicks are actually good for a change. Right now they’re sitting at the top of the NBA as the only team (outside of Memphis) with just two losses, and they look for real. They aren’t just running through teams that can’t hang with them. They’ve beaten the likes of the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs, two teams considered among the best in the NBA.

For those of us, including myself, who thought the Knicks weren’t for real have another thing coming. They haven’t won a playoff series for over a decade now and it looks like that should change soon. Raymond Felton and Carmelo Anthony have become a great combination for the Knicks, and their 4-1 set with ‘Melo on the high block is extremely hard to defend. Unless Amar’e Stoudemire comes back and changes things for worse, I don’t see the Knicks being completely stopped anytime soon.

The Grizzlies’ offense is one of the most unorthodox things I’ve ever seen. They play a free throw line-down style of offense, which means they pride themselves on playing close to the basket, and don’t really focus on getting threes involved in their game. In the ’80s and ’90s, this style would be more normal, but in today’s game, it’s a definite oddity to see a team shooting a lack of threes and winning.

The Grizzlies functioning like this is a breath of fresh air for hoop fans, and the way Marc Gasol has the gears turning is unbelievable. He controls the elbow like no other player in the game. The Grizzlies pinch the post, run high-low plays, and attack the post all through Gasol. It’s no wonder he has a 133 offensive rating, and is averaging 4.6 assists per game.

Before the season started, the Thunder threw us that first gut punch by trading James Harden to Houston, and getting back Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and a bevy of draft picks. Many of us thought that the Thunder would fall off after trading Harden, a sure All-Star-caliber player. But Martin has stepped into that role without losing stride at all.

Right now, Martin is averaging 17.8 points and 2.1 assists per game while shooting 95 percent from the free throw line and 54 percent from beyond the arc. His per-36 numbers (21.3 points and 2.5 assists) are even better, per Basketball-reference. He also among the league leaders in true shooting percentage at 71 percent, which blows James Harden’s 66 percent from last year out of the water.

Kevin Martin has been amazing for the Thunder and I’m sure they’re thankful for the scoring touch he brings off of the bench. The Thunder will be just fine.

Speaking of the Thunder, how can we talk about them without talking about how much Kevin Durant has improved his game this season? We know he can score the ball with some of the best players in NBA history. He’s the youngest scoring champion ever and he’s done it three straight years, which is unprecedented for a player in his sixth year.

This year, the pressure isn’t on Durant to score but instead to do everything else. The Thunder don’t really need him scoring so much more than he already has – he’s averaging 25.4 points per game. He may not be leading the league in scoring, but he’s averaging 10.1 rebounds per game along with 4.7 assists and 1.3 blocks per game – all career high numbers for him.

He’s gaining an edge in all other facets of the game that aren’t scoring and that’s more important for the Thunder without James Harden. I’m sure that some of this is because Harden is off of the team, but the Thunder have to be thankful for the improvements Durant has made.

O.J. Mayo is showing us a side of him that we haven’t seen since his high school days. He’s scoring 22.2 points per game, and is making us forget about his horrible seasons in Memphis. Mayo is shooting at a 50 percent clip right now and has a true shooting percentage of 65. That’s a ridiculous clip after shooting no higher than 55 percent (true shooting) during any of his seasons in Memphis.

I’m not really a Mayo fan, but he’s making even me eat crow. I didn’t expect him to perform very well after Memphis failed to extend him a qualifying offer. I thought he was going to be out of the NBA limelight fairly quickly. This rejuvenation, of sorts, is sparking Dallas. Their star player isn’t even back yet, so expect to see them in the postseason again once he does return.

Jamal Crawford finally found his home in Los Angeles. Since becoming a Clipper and playing alongside Chris Paul, Crawford has been playing out of his mind. He’s shooting a career-high 48 percent from the floor and scoring 19.7 points on only 13 shots per game. It’s not like his shot selection is improving – it’s just gotten easier for him to take those shots.

When you pair Jamal Crawford with two of the best screeners in the game, the best point guard in the game, and a wide open offense he’s going to score plenty of points. He’s playing with Blake Griffin and Paul, who are going to always command extra attention from the defense. There’s more than enough space for Jamal Crawford to work, whether that’s on the ball or off of it.

The Clippers were in the bottom half of defensive efficiency last season, placing 18th among the 30 teams in the NBA. Now they’re fifth in defensive efficiency, allowing just 97.6 points per 100 possessions. That’s championship-caliber defense from a team that wasn’t very good at it last season.

We’ve seen vast improvements from Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan on the defensive end this season. Instead of trying to take a swat at everything, Jordan is staying on the ground and keeping his hands straight up in the air. Griffin is working on using his lateral quickness to provide more help defense in the paint and the pick-n-roll.

This is a team that wasn’t really considered a championship contender coming into the year. They’re obviously in the conversation now. The improvement on defense – and showing the capacity to defend a stacked Miami Heat team – have turned me into a believer in this team. Vinny Del Negro has to be thankful for his team’s newfound effort defensively.

Tim Duncan is playing like he’s 25 again, and it hasn’t changed the Spurs pace of play at all. Sure, they’re out of the top ten in pace, but they’re still tied for No. 14. That’s not a huge drop off from last year (seventh in the NBA). Duncan is functioning in the Spurs offense that wore him down over the past few seasons. He’s averaging 18.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. He’s providing the Spurs with an anchor on both ends of the floor and I know Gregg Popovich loves that.

Duncan contemplated retirement over the last few seasons. He just signed a two-year deal with the Spurs, but we know he wants to remain with this team once his career is over. Maybe he’s giving more effort this season because this is his last hurrah? We’ll find out soon enough, but for now let’s be thankful for what we’re seeing here.

Last but not least, Steve Nash is back with his partner in crime, Mike D’Antoni. Of course, Nash isn’t on the floor right now because of injury but once he returns we’ll get to see a bit of the magic that won Steve Nash two MVPs when this pair was together.

Sure, they’re in Los Angeles now and the offense will probably be slightly different because of all the extra firepower they have. That doesn’t mean it won’t be as exciting. Really, we’re replacing Amar’e Stoudemire with Dwight Howard and Shawn Marion with Kobe Bryant. That’s an upgrade.

Seeing Steve Nash on a stacked L.A. team is something we’re excited for, but seeing him with the coach that brought out the best in him is probably something that we should be straight giddy for. Showtime is finally returning to Los Angeles.

Big thanks to basketball-reference for all of the stats.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

What do you think?

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