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Wednesday, June 5, 2024

A new era of the NBA is upon us

Insights from the 2024 NBA first round playoffs


By DIEGO CERNA — sports@theaggie.org


As the first round of the 2024 National Basketball Association (NBA) playoffs has come to an end, NBA fans are left to see faces they were not accustomed to before. Many of the superstar players who dominated during the 2010 to 2020 NBA era are no longer competing in the playoffs, at least for this year.

This is the first time that fans will not see Suns Forward Kevin Durant, Lakers Forward Lebron James and Warriors Point Guard Stephen Curry in a playoff series past the first round since 2005. The three superstar players combined have achieved 10 championships and seven Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards from 2010 to 2021. The three athletes are highly regarded as the faces of the NBA from the 2010’s era of basketball. 

Curry’s Warriors were the first to go in the NBA playoffs, as they lost to the Sacramento Kings in the first game of the play-in game tournament, which can make or break a team’s chance in the playoffs. This may be the last time fans see the dominant core of Curry, Forward Draymond Green and Shooting Guard Klay Thompson all in the same jersey. The trio gathered four championships from 2015 to 2022 together, cementing themselves as having one of the most dominant dynasties in sports history. 

James’ Los Angeles Lakers lost to the Denver Nuggets in five games, which makes it the second year in a row the Nuggets ended their season. The Nuggets were led by Center Nikola Jokic, who was just awarded his third MVP in the past four years.

Nuggets Point Guard Jamal Murray hit two game-winners in the series. The first game winner happened in the second game after the Lakers’ blew a 20-point lead. The other game winner occurred in game five to send the Lakers home. With James hinting at retirement being “not very far” in the future, the 21-year pro veteran may call it quits sooner rather than later. 

Durant’s Phoenix Suns were swept by the Minnesota Timberwolves in round one, suffering four straight losses. With three max contracts including Durant, Guard Devin Booker and Guard Bradley Beal, the Suns may look to make major changes to the roster and coaching personnel during the offseason

The Timberwolves, led by rising superstar Guard Anthony Edwards at just 22 years old, averaged 31 points along with eight rebounds and two steals. Some are saying that Edwards is becoming the “new face of the NBA” from his improvement over the past couple of years, and some even go as far as to say he is the next Kobe or Michael Jordan.

Other notable young teams are also on the rise. The Oklahoma City Thunder also swept the New Orleans Pelicans in four games led by MVP runner-up Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who averaged 27.3 points per game in the series. The Thunder have the second youngest team in the NBA currently with an average player age of 25 years old. They achieved NBA history this regular season by becoming the youngest number one-seeded team ever. 

The Milwaukee Bucks, led by Forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, Point Guard Damian Lillard and Forward Khris Middleton faced an upset by the Pacers led by young star Guard Tyrese Haliburton in six games. Injuries to Antetokounmpo and Middleton may have been the deciding factor of the series. The signing of Coach Doc Rivers mid-season may not have been the best move for the Bucks, as they finished the season with a 17-19 record under Rivers after going 30-13 with former Coach Adrian Griffin. The window to win a championship with this trio may be closing faster than expected due to age, as Lillard will turn 34 entering next season while Middleton will be turning 33. 

The Los Angeles Clippers also fell far short of expectations and were handed a first round loss by the younger Dallas Mavericks led by Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving in the sixth game. The team was led by Forward Kawhi Leonard, Forward Paul George, Guard James Harden and Guard Russell Westbrook. This is the third series Leonard has sat out hurt for some period of time in the playoffs, which once again had a huge effect on how the series turned out. With the four once superstars hitting their mid-30’s, the team may need to rebuild their core players for the future.

With the league becoming more of a fast-paced game and the offense having a larger emphasis than defense, many young and emerging stars have mainly been smaller guards than forwards or centers. 

Examples of emerging guards highlighted in the playoffs are the Knicks’ Jalen Brunson, the Pacers’ Tyrese Haliburton, the 76ers’ Tyrese Maxey, the Nuggets’ Jamal Murray, the Timberwolves’ Anthony Edwards and the Thunders’ Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. All these guards have showcased the importance of having a scoring and playmaking guard on your team, especially in the playoffs. 

Even the 2024 number one pick, the Spur’s Center Victor Wembanyama, and 2023 number two pick, the Thunders’ Center Chet Holmgren, have guard-oriented skills such as three-point shooting, ball handling skills and playmaking ability. The talent level in the NBA has increased by a substantial amount over the past decade.  

Although the stars we once knew may not be playing in following years, they have exceeded expectations for their consistency at their age. James at 39 years old became the first player in NBA history to exceed 40,000 all-time career points, which continues to increase. Curry at 36 years old continues to increase his three-point shooting record which stands at 3,747, about 774 more three-pointers than the second highest in NBA history. Durant finished with his 15th consecutive season of averaging over 25 points per game in a season (while healthy).

Curry, Durant and James look to join Team USA in the 2024 Olympics that will be held this upcoming summer in Paris, France. Along with other American superstar-caliber players, the team will look to gain their 17th gold medal in Olympic history.

Written by: Diego Cerna — sports@theaggie.org


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