The Minnesota Timberwolves’ stunning victory over the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday was a beam of light shining down on what is a dead zone in most seasons. This is normally the time at the end of the season when statistically eliminated teams have nothing important to play for, when fans have little incentive to care. But there was an inarticulable, you know it when you see it quality to the Wolves that night. Between Andrew Wiggins and Shabazz Muhammad tapping into their past glories as prep-star titans and Karl-Anthony Towns showing us the shape of the NBA to come with his critical late-game defense of Steph Curry, we were treated to a sneak peek of something. And we’re seeing it not only in Minnesota. The blockbuster postseason is a week away, but for now, please enjoy the trailers for some paradigm-shifting talents, coming to a future near you. Here are a couple of others:
Monster Apocalypse Flick: Giannis Antetokounmpo
It was a disappointing season in Milwaukee, but fans will forever remember 2016 as the year we witnessed the birth of Jason Kidd’s Monster: a 6-foot-11 triple-double machine who was less Vitruvian Man, more Vitruvian Mantis. With Giannis, it begins and ends with his exceptional body — and that’s not a slight. When Magic Johnson would make cross-court bounce passes in the ’80s, the action was an undulation of all 6 feet and 9 inches, from the arching of the back to the downward propulsion of the ball, akin to cracking a whip. Antetokounmpo’s innate sense as a facilitator is nowhere near what Magic’s was, but Giannis similarly manipulates his physical presence to bend the will of his opponents. They sputter when he minimizes himself on the court and weaves through defenders. They buy his exaggerated ball fakes, because Giannis’s size and agility trigger an immediate fight-or-flight response. He’s a giant in the sandbox. With bated breath, we wait as he discovers the rest of the playground.
The Reboot: Devin Booker
Back in March, on his first-ever possession with Kobe Bryant defending him, Booker caught the ball in the post and proceeded to do what millions around the world have dreamed of: The Suns guard stole his childhood hero’s signature move — a fadeaway jumper in the post — and used it against him. Kobe loved it; he’d done the same thing to Jordan. The NBA isn’t necessarily about reinventing the wheel, but learning what can be accomplished through modern adaptation and reinterpretation. Booker, the league’s youngest player, already plays with the poise of a swingman who understands how to create for his team — something many of the league’s established wings spend several seasons easing into. Combine that with one of the NBA’s smoothest 3-point strokes, and Booker begins to resemble an unfinished, modernist Klay sculpture of Kobe himself.
This piece originally appeared in the April 8, 2016, edition of the Ringer newsletter.