It’s a wonderful time to be a basketball fan. The 2018-2019 NBA regular season in the books and the first round of the Playoffs has just begun. While the League’s 16 best teams battle it out in the Conference Quarterfinals, it’s a great opportunity to look back on the regular season and pick out some of the best stories and milestones to come out of the 73rd season of the National Basketball Association.
It’s been a year full of surprises. From teams that performed contrary to expectations to players who made important announcements, the 2018-2019 season was definitely one of the most interesting ones in recent memory.
The Greek Freak tops the NBA with his Bucks
Thanks to Giannis Antetokounmpo and his supporting cast of stars, the Milwaukee Bucks topped the League with a 60-22 record. While they were expected to do well, few could have stated with certainty that they’d run away with the season.
This young and dynamic team, coached by Mike Budenholzer, dominated the Eastern Conference on both ends of the court. They were the highest scoring team this season, averaging 118.1 points per game. They also averaged 9 more points per game than opponents this year, finishing 11th in the league in points allowed. And while the Golden State Warriors continued their dominance in terms of shooting percentage, the Bucks weren’t far behind. They finished in the top 3 in field goal percentage and points in the paint.
Backed by Giannis’ MVP-worthy year, the Bucks were simply one of the best defensive teams in 2019. They finished top of the league in field goal percentage allowed and third in blocks per game.
Drafted 15th overall in 2013 as a little-known prospect, Antetokounmpo has undoubtedly contributed the most to the Bucks’ surprising year. He has grown in stature and skills every year since his rookie season. He has the 2017 Most Improved Player award and 3 All-Star appearances to show for it. Now, NBA fans will get to enjoy Giannis at his best trying to lead this stacked team to the Finals.
LeBron fails to lead Lakers to Playoffs
The Los Angeles Lakers are in the middle of one of their biggest slumps in history. The arrival of LeBron James in the City of Angels was supposed to change that. Instead, the Lakers missed the playoffs for the sixth straight season. And this comes after a 65-year run of making the Playoffs 60 times.
It may be too much to expect King James to turn the Lakers’ fortunes around in one season. But it’s also a huge disappointment for James’ fans to see him miss the playoffs. Unfortunately, the Lakers were hit with the injuries and suspensions of key players like Rajon Rondo and Brandon Ingram. LeBron himself played a career-low 55 games this season after suffering a groin strain. This follows a run of playing 70 games or more in the 14 of his previous 15 years NBA seasons.
At 34, James may not have many more seasons to add more rings to his trophy cabinet. He’s going to need more help from his teammates and a respite from injuries to lead the Lakers out of the lottery.
Russell Westbrook’s triple-double season
The Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook hit several milestones this season that may cement his place among the all-time greatest NBA players. Earlier this month, the 2016-2017 Most Valuable Player secured his third straight season averaging a triple-double. Just three days before locking this record up, he also became the second player to log 20 or more points, rebounds, and assists in one game. When the only other player to achieve this feat is Wilt Chamberlain, you know you’re watching someone special.
Not content with just two NBA records, Westbrook also became the first player in the history of the game to record 30 or more triple-doubles in multiple season. Once again, only Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson have managed this in one season. Oh, and he’s also the only player to lead the league in points and assists in multiple seasons.
Something he hasn’t achieved yet, however, is leading his team to an NBA trophy. He came close in 2012. But if the Thunder are going to get past the Warriors this year, Westbrook had better be in record-breaking form.
Dirk Nowitzki retires from the NBA
The end of an era. Following the retirements of fellow 2000s superstars Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce, Dirk Nowitzki ended his NBA career in 2019. Over the course of 21 seasons spent with the Dallas Mavericks, the German shooter amassed an impressive list of achievements.
Dirk is a 14-time All-Star and the tallest player to win the 3-Point Shootout. He revolutionized the game, becoming the first big man to pose as much of a threat beyond the arc as he did in the paint. He ended his career the sixth-leading scorer in NBA history, leading Dallas to a shocking NBA Finals win over the Hear in 2011. He won MVP just once, in 2007, but his contributions to the League make him a sure Hall of Famer.