Statement games have ruled the first few sips of the NBA season. While not necessarily competitive, the blowouts have been like shots of Espresso, decisively powerful.
The Spurs crushed the Warriors, spoiling Kevin Durant’s regular-season debut at the new Superteam Arena. Instantly, the “Golden State isn’t going to rule basketball” crowd broke out in song and dance.
Golden State then destroyed Oklahoma City this past week, backing KD wholeheartedly in the team-building exercise of making sure Russell Westbrook didn’t leave Oracle happy with himself while wearing his photographer get-up. Durant caught fire and the Thunder were toast. It’s OKC’s only loss of the season entering play on Nov. 7, but somehow, the spin on that is that Westbrook is stuck with a bunch of role players. It was the same team that had beaten the Clippers in L.A. the previous night, handing them their only loss thus far, but wild exclamations are easy to make this time of year.
Cleveland, the last unbeaten remaining through six games, is going to go 82-0. See? Simple.
So far, it’s been fun. Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah returned to Chicago and played conquering heroes the same day the Cubs had their victory parade. Unfortunately, that happens to be the Knicks best effort of the short season. The Bulls have split their first six games, showing signs of cohesion and grit while also demonstrating examples of why some feel their makeup will never work and Fred Hoiberg will wind up being the first coach fired.
It feels like Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and Phoenix’s Devin Booker have made the greatest strides, set to earn a new level of stardom. Dirk Nowitzki looks a step slower. Klay Thompson has forgotten how to shoot.
You can make all those statements with a blanket asterisk that it’s far too early to make any real determinations. Instead, all we can do is capitalize on five early trends that will likely shake themselves out, but may be profitable for another few weeks.
Golden State isn’t going to win 63 games, much less 73: This one may hold up. Durant’s flurry of 3-pointers against the Thunder produced a 122-96 rout in a performance no one in the league can touch, but that type of output can’t be depended upon. The Warriors lack of rim protection means they’re going to have to outscore teams on a nightly basis, so on nights where the 3-pointer isn’t falling, as was the case against the Lakers on Nov. 4, they’ll be vulnerable. Golden State started 4-2, but scored 122 or more in three of the wins, averaging just 101 in the other three games (1-2).
Boston can’t defend: The Celtics defensive rating has dipped to last in the league with Al Horford unavailable due to a concussion, and they have slipped to 29th in points per possession allowed behind only the Knicks. He’ll return this week, so their ability to defend teams should return to normal. Celtics are plus-83 with him available and minus-53 without him, so between him and Jae Crowder getting back in the mix; look for the days of Boston giving up 77 points in a half to end.
Anthony Davis has no help: Despite averaging 30 points and 11.7 rebounds per game and opening the season with 95 points in the first two games, the Pelicans are awful. They badly miss point guard Jrue Holiday, who has taken an extended absence to tend to his wife as she deals with a brain tumor. Replacement Tim Frazier is capable offensively, but small, which really limits New Orleans on defense. Tyeareke Evans remains out, guys like E’Twaun Moore, Solomon Hill, Langston Galloway and rookie Buddy Hield have holes in their game on the wing, and help isn’t coming any time soon. It’s tough to find yourself fading one of the best players on the planet nightly, but that’s what you should do most of the time until Holiday comes back.
Tom Thibodeau won’t transform the Timberwolves overnight: This is painfully visible on his face. Going in, he knew he wouldn’t have skilled, willing defenders like Noah and Jimmy Butler to build around, but it’s obvious Minnesota’s kids have a lot of work to do to get up to speed. Thibs’ concepts are sublime and he’ll mold them into a solid unit, but it hasn’t helped matters that Ricky Rubio got hurt, forcing rookie Kris Dunn into a heightened role. Dunn is going to be excellent and should be a strong defender, but there’s a learning curve ahead. Expect there to be more than a few instances ahead where the tremendously talented Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine wind up losing to inferior competition.
Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge can’t share the floor: ESPN’s Mark Stein pointed out that the Spurs have been outscored by 25 points in the 113 minutes these two have been out there at the same time. The sample size is small, but neither has gotten any faster over the years and there are teams capable of exploiting them in the pick-and-roll. They’ve played teams with quality bigs like the Clippers, Jazz, Kings, Pelicans and Heat, who have some of the better post threats. This should shake itself out as the season unfolds and the chemistry between the two improves, especially with Gregg Popovich on the case. In the short-term, it’s worth keeping an eye on.