After precisely 130 days of relentless offseason discussion, the NBA finally returned last Tuesday, providing us with some real, meaningful basketball action. No longer are the headlines dominated by LeBron James’ latest Taco Tuesday post or how many pounds Dwight Howard has lost.
Basketball is back.
While it’s only one week into the season, we already have some answers to many of our offseason questions, including; how many power forwards the New York Knicks can put on the court at the same time? (So far, the answer is four); are the Toronto Raptors still good without Kawhi Leonard? (Kawhi who? Toronto belongs to Pascal Siakam MVP); which player will be the next to make the jump and enter the MVP conversation; can Karl-Anthony Towns raise his game to the elite level and look unstoppable? (He certainly did before he tapped out to Ben Simmons while playing the Philadelphia 76ers).
Ben Simmons is still not a three-point shooter
We all saw the offseason scrimmages where Ben Simmons was knocking down threes at will, with mechanics that didn’t make you cringe as you watched his release. He went one better and hit a three-pointer in a preseason game against the Guangzhou Long-Lions, sending the Philadelphia 76ers bench and NBA Twitter into a frenzy.
It left us all wondering whether this would be the season that Simmons would look competent from long range, elevating him into the upper echelon of NBA players and giving him another string to his well-equipped bow. Well, we are just over a week into the season and are still to see a single attempt. It’s not hindered the Sixers yet, as they are yet to lose a game and look as tough-to-beat as any team in the league. Maybe those offseason pick-up videos aren’t that trustworthy after all.
No, the Pelicans might not be amazing straight away
Along with many, I predicted the New Orleans Pelicans would make a strong start and make a push for a playoff spot.
Things took a turn after they lost their star man, Zion Williamson, for around 6-8 weeks before the first game of the season. Brandon Ingram has taken a step up to lead the team in scoring and rebounds (27.3 points, 9.5 rebounds) but the team is still yet to win.
Eight of the 13 players on the roster are new additions for the Pelicans, and so it might take some time before we see their raw talent consistently translate into wins. Taking all things into perspective, there’s no need for New Orleans to worry about this season’s win total as they continue to build a roster full of young, exciting prospects around Zion. Their concern should lie with how durable their new rookie superstar is and how many games we might see him this year and beyond.
Listen to Sky Sports’ Mike Tuck talk to Mike Miller on the Double Clutch podcast about the season so far
The Jazz are the real deal… and will get better
After adding Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic, you would have struggled to find someone that wasn’t high on Utah coming into the season. So far, they haven’t disappointed, at least without the ball. On the defensive end, they have a league-best defensive rating of 92.7 and have held opponents to a sixth-lowest effective field goal percentage of 46.4 percent (it was 39.1 before they beat the Clippers).
Offensively, they are yet to fully realise their potential: 27th in points scored per game (101.0) and 25th in offensive rating. So far, it’s not mattered too much as their defense has carried them through, remarkably still leaving them with a fifth best net rating of +8.6.
Conley struggled to find his form in his first four games, averaging only 7.8 points and hitting only three shots from deep (he averaged 21.1 points and made 2.2 shots from three per game, last season). Against the Clippers, he showed signs of returning to his old self, hitting five three pointers on his way to scoring 29 points. As their chemistry continues to build, Conley finds his fit and their shots start to fall, Utah will surely emerge as one of the top teams in the league
Are the Suns actually good?
No one could have predicted the start the Phoenix Suns have had. They certainly improved over the summer, adding Ricky Rubio to their ranks, but made some on-brand perplexing moves that made their present and their future uncertain. They have started the season with some uncharacteristically positive performances, beating the Los Angeles Clippers, Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors, and lost by one point to the Denver Nuggets and the Jazz.
Deandre Ayton has ensured some negativity surrounds the Suns, as last year’s number one pick tested positive for a banned substance and was banned for 25 games. Nevertheless, they continue to perform admirably under the leadership of Rubio and scoring from Booker and Oubre Jr.
If they maintain their current level of performance, there’s a chance they could reach a playoff spot for the first time in 10 seasons. A playoff seed is still far from realistic, but neither was their hot start. They will forever be slept upon until they prove their doubters wrong and lock in a top-eight position.
Are the Warriors finished?
The Golden State Warriors were never going to maintain their transcendent playing style after losing Kevin Durant to the Brooklyn Nets, Andre Iguodala to the Memphis Grizzlies and Klay Thompson to injury. They have had a slow start to the season, following a win over the Los Angeles Lakers with concerning losses to the Clippers, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Suns. Things went from bad to much, much worse after Steph Curry broke his hand in their loss to Phoenix – an injury that will likely sideline him for the majority, if not all, of the season.
Their defense has been atrocious, with a league-worst defensive rating of 119.1 and opponent effective field goal percentage of 63.4 percent (a leap above the second-worst Pacers, who are holding opponents to 56.7 percent ).
“The reality is we f****** suck right now,” stated Draymond Green after their 28-point loss to the Thunder. The Warriors have so far relied on Glenn Robinson, Eric Paschall, Jordan Poole, Omari Spellman, Damion Lee and Marquese Chriss for more than 15 minutes each, which will only increase with Curry now out for the long-term. With Klay Thompson also out until the All-Star break, at least, one has to question whether the end of the Warriors dynasty has arrived.
Every argument comes with “but it’s only early…” and there are many more twists and turns ahead as teams find their identities, play through more favorable and difficult periods of the fixture list and deal with injuries, chemistry problems (*cough* Brooklyn *cough*) and other issues. Whether they are overreactions or not, I’m just glad we have some real basketball to talk about at last.
Featured photo – Ezra Shaw / Alex Goodlett / Jeremy Brevard / USA TODAY Sports / Getty Images / Steven M. Falk / Double Clutch illustration – Matthew Wellington