Opening Night is here

The NBA season is finally upon us. There was no off-season this year as major trades happened during the summer. Opening night has been moved up and with all the moves this summer we were blessed by the basketball GODS to have the Boston Celtics visiting the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first game of the new season.

Usually opening night is an afterthought for NBA fans but tonight is a tad bit different. After three years, three trips to the NBA Finals and a shot that will live on in NBA history; Kyrie Irving wanted out of Cleveland and wanted to get away from LeBron James. LeBron only addressed the trade during media day but Kyrie made waves recently with his shade towards Cleveland. When the trade took place I thought he would get some cheers on his return but now he will hear nothing but boos from the Cleveland fans. It will be interesting to see if James and Irving greet each other and everyone will be watching to see what other interactions they have on the court.

On the other side the Celtics lost their leader in Isaiah Thomas, two reliable defenders in Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley and game 7 savior Kelly Olynyk. Sure they added Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward but that is a lot of depth that went missing. We still never seen Kyrie excel without LeBron and now he finally has his shot. Defense will be the key this season and that isn’t exactly his strong point.

Just think the defending champs the Golden State Warriors are having their banner raised and they might win 70 games this season and they are probably the fourth most interesting team on opening night. The new look Houston Rockets will challenge the champs tonight and they have plenty of questions.

We all wonder how Chris Paul and James Harden will play together. What will happen during late game situations, who has the ball, who takes the shot? I think they will be fine on and off the floor. With both guys on the floor they will be able to get open shots all game. In the preseason they took over 40 3-pointers in each game. This team will launch 3s at an incredible rate. When teams adjust to that I think Cp3 will be able to go back to his mid-range game. They finished 18th in defensive rating last season and with the new additions they could be better on defense.

The Warriors are the favorites once again and they might be even better this season. Only a handful of teams will actually challenge them in games but they are fun team to watch. They added depth with Omri Casspi, Nick Young and even rookie Jordan Bell might see some time. Patrick McCaw will have a more important role which might mean less time for Shaun Livingston.

It’s only the first night of the season but it should be a great year with interesting storylines throughout. Here’s hoping everyone stays healthy.

What's Next: Jimmy Butler

Jimmy Butler was one of the many All-Stars who changed teams this off-season. He’s a workhorse who has finished in the top four in minutes per game the past four seasons. Over the past three seasons he has increased his scoring and assists per game. So what’s next for Jimmy Butler as he gets ready to start his first season with the Minnesota Timberwolves?

Well Butler will be reunited with coach Tom Thibodeau who made Butler an All-Star player while with the Chicago Bulls. This time around Thibs will have to get Butler to be more of a mentor for the up and coming Wolves. In the past Butler was the guy learning from guys like Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and even Derrick Rose.

Many experts expected the Wolves to take a leap last year with the addition of Thibodeau but the young core of Karl Anthony-Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine could not get a grip on Thibs style and struggled to win just 31 games. Thibs is known as a defensive guru but the Wolves finished 26th in defensive rating.

Butler is one of the top 2-way players in the league. He has become a better scorer throughout the years but at his core he is a defensive minded guy. He should not be the go to guy on this team; that duty should fall on Karl Towns. So this season Butler should focus more on efficiency. The majority of top players in the league are efficient scorers. Butler has finished with an EFG over 50% just once in his career. He’s surrounded by better talent so he should get better shots.

He hovers around 45% shooting for his career. He was a decent 3-point shooter last season but that was only on 3.3 attempts per game. With Towns demanding double teams and Wiggins on the other side; Butler should find more open shots this season. He often settled for contested mid-range shots but his strength is getting to the basket where he finished 4th in free throw attempts per game at 8.9.

Butler’s biggest contribution to this team may never show up in the box score. As great as Towns is, he’s only 21, Wiggins is the same age. Butler needs to be the leader of this team. Yes, he’s an All-Star but he is also battle tested. He’s played in meaningful games after the All-Star break and made playoff runs. The Wolves lacked composure down the stretch in games. In clutch moments (last 5 mins within 5 points) the Wolves only scored an average of 5.7 points and were 10-30 in those games. In other words, the Wolves were terrible in close games.

Butler can still average 20+ points alongside Towns and Wiggins next season but making those two guys better defensive players is key for the Wolves going forward. He already knows the system that Thibs loves to run. He has to be willing to sacrifice some touches but still be able to come through with clutch plays; either by scoring or making the right pass.

The Wolves are getting better and many have picked them to make the playoffs this season. They still lack some depth but the addition of Jimmy Butler has them going in the right direction.