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Padding the Stats: The NBA’s Return and a LOVB-ly Idea

October 20, 2021

Welcome Back, Basketball

Basketball is back, everybody!

To be perfectly honest, I still haven’t quite fully gotten over my Phoenix Suns falling short in the Finals in July, but here we are, three months later, starting it all over again.

The NBA tipped off its 2021-22 season on Tuesday night with a pair of games between four teams that figure to be on the short list of title contenders this season. Giannis Antetokounmpo led the reigning champ Milwaukee Bucks (ugh) to a dominant win over the Kyrie Irving-less Brooklyn Nets, then the Golden State Warriors took down the Los Angeles Lakers despite a poor shooting game from Steph Curry and monster performances from LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

I didn’t get to focus too much on the first game because I was invited on the Locked on Suns podcast (check out Wednesday mornings’ episode wherever you get your podcasts if you want to hear me talk about the Suns), but I did thoroughly enjoy Stephen Curry trolling Russell Westbrook in his Lakers debut by dropping a triple-double with 21 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists while shooting 5-of-21 from the field.

Beyond that, though, it was fun to see the Warriors playing more like the pre-Kevin Durant, pre-Klay Thomson injury Warriors. Golden State had 30 assists on 41 buckets, and that was without Curry playing like himself and without Thompson playing at all. I throughly enjoy watching high-IQ players share the ball, and after a rough year last year, it looks like the Warriors have gotten back to that identity with the additions of guys like Andre Iguodala and Nemanja Bjelica. I can’t wait to see what they look like once Thompson returns.

Here are some other things I’m interested in this season:

>> Obviously, I’m looking forward to seeing how the Suns follow up their first trip to the Finals since I became a fan of the team. The Suns were really good and really fun last season, andthink the additions of Landry Shamet and JaVale McGee will make that even more true this year.

Watching Devin Booker and Chris Paul take turns surgically picking apart a defense and targeting the other team’s weak link (‘sup, Michael Porter Jr.?) is an absolute joy.

>> Oklahoma City is going to be really bad once again, but I’m hoping that will give Isaiah Roby a chance to log plenty of minutes and continue to develop his game.

On a related note, I wrote a bit about Dalano Banton and his place on the Toronto Raptors last week, so you can check that out if you missed it.

>> Banton won’t be the only rookie I keep tabs on. Unfortunately, an ankle injury will delay Cade Cunningham’s debut with the Detroit Pistons, but I’m very much looking forward to seeing what he will be able to accomplish this season. Ditto for Jalen Green in Houston; I didn’t follow him close in the G League last year so Summer League was my first real exposure to his game and I am intrigued.

I think it will likely be a two-man race for Rookie of the Year between those two, though I wouldn’t be shocked to see Jalen Suggs, Josh Giddey, Chris Duarte or Trey Murphy III force their way into the discussion at some point.

I like Evan Mobley, Scottie Barnes and Davion Mitchell as well, but I feel like the first group might have more opportunity to put up numbers right away.

>> The Ben Simmons-Philadelphia 76ers disaster should continue to be entertaining, if nothing else, and if Daryl Morey ever finds a deal he finds acceptable it could shake some things up league-wide. I’m glad I don’t have any rooting interest in the matter, though.

>> The MVP race should be spectacular once again this season. Nikola Jokic won it last year and is just entering his prime, and with Jamal Murray out for most of the year the Nuggets will rely heavily on him once again. Joel Embiid will likely be looking to prove something in the wake of the Simmons mess, and he was firmly in the discussion last year anyway. Antetokoumpo reminded everyone what he was capable of in the Finals and since someone else won it last year the voter fatigue might have worn off for him. I’d never count out LeBron, and Curry looks to have a team around him more capable of winning games this year than he did last year when he led the league in scoring and finished third in voting on a mediocre team.

I left out so many talented players that could easily thrust themselves into the discussion this year as well. The talent in the league right now is ridiculous. This season should be a lot of fun.

LOVB

Volleyball is the most popular sport among girls in the United States, yet if volleyball players want to continue their playing careers beyond college, they have to head overseas to find a professional league to play in.

Despite progress in recent years, the U.S. still lags behind the rest of the world when it comes to investment in women’s sports. A new league, announced on Tuesday, is hoping to shrink that gap by eventually providing opportunities for athletes to stay home and play the game they love.

League One Volleyball (Or LOVB for short, pronounced “Love” with a silent B) is taking a new approach with the hopes of building a sustainable model for professional volleyball in this country by first investing in youth club programs to build a fan base and community support from the ground up before launching the league itself.

I knew next to nothing about the sport when I began covering the Creighton volleyball team my sophomore year of college, but I quickly came to appreciate the game and now consider myself a volleyball fan. I’ve been lucky to cover arguably the best program in the country going on seven years now, and I’d love to see volleyball become a larger part of the general sports fandom and discussion.

Last month, I asked Jordan Larson about her involvement with Athletes Unlimited Volleyball, the fantasy-draft style short-term pro league that launched last spring. Larson is a member of the Athletes Unlimited Advisory Board and also competed in the league’s inaugural season, capturing the championship.

“I think, for the longest time, we’ve needed to have something in the States,” Larson said. “A lot of us struggle to go overseas and to be away from family and friends for a long period of time. And so trying to find a balance — it’s hard to get something started initially and so the fact that they’re starting with six weeks is great. To be in it kind of from the beginning has been even cooler and to get to know the athletes and why they’re playing and what they really want to represent. I think they’re finding athletes want to represent more than just being an athlete, and I think that’s pretty cool, and allowing those avenues for those people to do that.”

Unlike Athletes Unlimited, LOVB is hoping to launch a more traditional league, though details have not yet been announced. There will be a lot of financial obstacles, but I really hope the league can find the kind of backing it needs to be successful, because volleyball players deserve the chance to play without going overseas, and young volleyball fans deserve a league they can follow filled with athletes to look up to as well.

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