With all of the recent injuries (Derrick Rose, Marc Gasol, Andre Igoudala, Bradley Beal), still no return of Kobe Bryant (although there are signs) and the disappointment of whatever the hell is happening in New York and Brooklyn, there has to be something to be thankful for in the NBA.
Something besides the obvious. Something other than the play of the Indiana Pacers and the San Antonio Spurs. Someone besides LeBron James (and the fact that Kevin Love might be the one to stop him from getting his fifth MVP).
Beneath the NBA's superstar, major-market, marketing-driven surface there are six storylines this Thanksgiving that are worth appreciating. Even if you aren't fans of the teams, players or organizations that are somehow below the radar yet making things happen.
And if you haven't recognized them, this holiday break might be the perfect time to do so.
1. Bradley Beal and John Wall emerging as the future best guard tandem in the NBA: Disregard the injury that is going to keep the Wizards' Beal off the floor for at least two weeks. In the first 15 games of the season, he's making a strong argument that he, not Klay Thompson, is the best shooting guard in the game.
Don't just look at Thompson's shooting accuracy and scoring average when comparing. Consider Beal's minutes logged (40.2 mpg), assists (3.5 apg) and three-year age difference before you disagree.
And while Steph Curry, the "Can't Miss Kid," gets magazine covers, all Wall has done since he returned from his injury last season is play himself into the discussion of "best point guard alive." There's enough plausible evidence to support this case that this Beal/Wall collab is worth giving thanks. And oh yeah, Wall was just named NBA Eastern Conference Player of the Week.
2. Portland Trail Blazers living up to their potential
Eleven wins in a row before their streak was snapped. Wins against the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors help make that streak more impressive. Those are the only "elite" teams the Blazers have played, so this could be fool's platinum.
What they have stopped -- at least to begin this season -- is losing games. Recent history with the Blazers showed a tendency to lose games as opposed to getting beaten. Thankfully, somehow that has stopped. LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews (who is the true difference-maker here) are making sure that if you get a "W" against the Blazers, you earned it. They are no longer giving teams anything.
Aldridge, Lillard and Batum were all draft day acquisitions, and Matthews has spent all but one season with Portland. Fans have seen these players grow up, and as a result, they're well-liked. The vibe is similar, although not quite as strong yet, as the esteem the 1977 championship team enjoyed.
3. Monta Ellis on a team with which all of his flaws become virtues
For years Ellis has been in the wrong place at the right time. The minute he left Golden State, it seemed like the team got better. In Milwaukee, there was just too much drama going on for him to save the franchise. For the first time in Ellis' misunderstood career, a team fathoms and appreciates him. He understands his role, and what he needs to do.
With the Dallas Mavericks, he's Dirk Nowitzki's better half. If Mark Cuban decides to do a "Kobe" and sign Nowitzki to an unnecessary extension it would make sense only because of Monta being there. He's Dallas' answer to James Harden. And when the early conventional belief is that the road for coming out of the West is at some point going to have to go through Texas, it makes Monta probably just as important -- and intrinsic -- as Dwight Howard.
4. Michael Jordan's ownership of the Bobcats/future Hornets looking bright
Finally! The pieces of the puzzle that Jordan has been building in his mind are beginning to develop into an image that is indelible instead of unimaginable.
The crazy/questionable/heavily criticized draft picks and illogical personnel and player moves, which held back the team over the years, are slowly becoming irrelevant. There's hope. And wins. Wins in games that in the past would have been losses. It's something to be truly grateful for.
5. Anthony Davis becoming the next Tim Duncan before our eyes
For two generations, the game of basketball has been in this search for the "next" Jordan. All the while no one seemed to have an interest in when the next Duncan was going to appear in the NBA. The Pelicans' Davis has shown in a short period of time that Duncan-status is an attainable goal. He's also building a case for heavy consideration as the best "big man" in the game.
Davis' current averages of 19.4 points, 10. 6 rebounds and 3.9 blocks per game are beyond comparable to Dwight Howard's 17.7 ppg, 13.2 rpg and 2.3 bpg and Roy Hibbert's 11.6 ppg, 8.9 rpg and 4.1 bpg. Plus, at only $5.4 million and still on his rookie contract, Davis is easily the best bargain found by any team in the NBA. That's something to be thankful about.