The first few weeks of the NBA season have concluded, and a lot has already happened. Some teams are off to hot starts, while others can’t seem to find an early rhythm. Team are scoring at an unbelievable rate as if there wasn’t any defense at all. Some exciting things have happened, so I wanted to highlight some of the bigger storylines.
Two New Title Contenders?
Coming into this season, we all knew the Warriors were the favorites to win the championship, and their 8-1 start to the season signifies that they fit that bill just fine. Then we knew some other teams were going to be near the top of the standings as well, including the Rockets (more on them later), Celtics, 76ers, and Raptors. However, two one-loss teams right now weren’t necessarily seen as title contenders, nor were they really considered lottery teams either, finding themselves stuck somewhere in the middle. Out of the East, the Bucks led by their Greek star Giannis Antetokounmpo are off to a blazing start and sit atop the Eastern Conference. Coming into the season, they were seen as a four-seed at best, but new head coach Mike Budenholzer has this team playing great ball. The departure of Jabari Parker looks to not have hurt them too much, and they’ve replaced him with Ersan Ilyasova and Brook Lopez, who are two bigs who can spread the floor and create space for the Greek Freak. In the West, the Denver Nuggets sit only behind Golden State in the standings and look to have found their stride. Paul Millsap may be the key to their success, who was hurt for most of the season last year. He’s not really particularly excellent at anything specific, but he’s good at just about everything. He’s a great frontcourt mate for Nikola Jokic, too. Throw in Jamal Murray and Gary Harris as they continue to improve, and this team looks dangerous. The scariest thing about them is that two of their players, Will Barton and Michael Porter Jr., are both out with injuries. Once they return and are inserted in the rotation, this could be an even more dangerous team come playoff time.
Will the Slow Starts Hurt in the Long Run?
On the flip side of the coin, a couple of should-be playoff teams are off to some bad starts to the season. The Rockets sit at 1-5 right now, though in their defense, they haven’t played many games with all of their players together (Chris Paul suspension and James Harden injury). However, the biggest glaring issue with this team is their defense, or lack thereof. When you don’t re-sign strong perimeter defenders like Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah Moute, your defense will definitely take a hit. But when you replace those guys with the likes of Carmelo Anthony, your defense will suffer tremendously. Look for the Rockets to make a big move sooner rather than later to help their defense (they’ve already had aggressive trade talks with the Timberwolves about Jimmy Butler). The Thunder are another team that’s off to a slow start, though they’ve won their last three games after starting the season 0-4. This team desperately needs Andre Roberson back, who is their rock on the defensive end. Even if he is a offensive liability, he is a serious game changer on the other end of the floor. Lastly, in the Eastern Conference, the Washington Wizards are off to an 1-6 start. They made a big splash by signing Dwight Howard to a one-year prove-it type of deal this offseason, but he has yet to play. We will see how well this team plays once he hits the lineup (Howard is expected to debut soon), but their slow start, as well as the Rockets and Thunder, may hurt in the long run when fighting for home court advantage in the playoffs.
Is Derrick Rose Back (again)?
Maybe the feel-good moment of the year happened Wednesday night when Derrick Rose dropped a career-high 50 points against the Utah Jazz, who are supposed to be one of the stingier defenses in the league. Coach Tom Thibodeau and the “Timberbulls” seem to be a perfect fit for Rose, who usually comes off the bench, though he did start for the injured Jeff Teague Wednesday. He’s averaging a little over 18 points, 4 rebounds and 5 assists per game this season, which makes everyone ask, “Is Derrick Rose back?” That question is tough to answer since it’s so early, but it’s a pleasant sign seeing him playing at such a high level again. No, he’s not the same player that won him his 2010-11 MVP. Watching him drop 50 against the Jazz, none of those points showed signs of him back to his explosive self and highlight dunks. However, he has done a great job adapting to a new style of play that he can still play at an efficient level. The Timberwolves are off to a 4-4 start, so not great, but not terrible either. Still plenty of time to find a good game plan going forward, but one thing that’s hurt them in the past is their bench play, and it’s nice to know they have a reliable scoring punch off the bench in Rose.
What’s going to happen with Jimmy Butler?
Sticking with the Timberwolves, there are a lot of rumors circling Minnesota right now, all involving Jimmy Butler, but it’s so hard to tell what’s true and what’s not. It was pretty clear that Butler wanted out of Minnesota heading into the season, however it seems things may have changed since then. He did not play in their last game in which Rose dropped 50 in a winning effort, but the reason remains unclear. He may be trying to force himself out of Minnesota, and from what reports have said, the Rockets have offered four first-round picks for Butler, so that looks to be the minimum asking price for him to get shipped out. The Miami Heat were another team that were consistently engaged in trade talks for Butler, but they may not be able to offer a package to the same caliber as Houston. If Minnesota was smart, they should ship Butler out sooner rather than later. His stock could only go down as the year goes on. If he gets hurt, then they’ll potentially get nothing in return if (or when) he leaves this summer. Unless they plan on winning the NBA title this year, they won’t be able to win him over to stay, so ship him out now while his asking price is still high, and teams are meeting that asking price.
Who is in the Early MVP Race?
There are a handful of players this year that have entered the “way too early” MVP conversation. Guys like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden will always be in the MVP race. However, a few guys have already emerged as serious contenders for the award. Steph Curry looks to be the early favorite and is playing at a ridiculous level and shooting at historical rates. He leads the league in scoring at 33 points per game, hitting just over six three-pointers a game at about a 53% rate. If he continues that sort of play through the end of the season, he could be named MVP unanimously. Damian Lillard is right behind him in scoring and has led his Blazers to a 6-3 start to the season. The Greek Freak is playing exceptionally well too, where he is near the top of the league in rebounding and has his Bucks atop of the Eastern Conference. Blake Griffin is a bit of surprise this year, who’s played a very all-around game at a high rate. Anthony Davis is another star who’s has a major impact on both ends of the floor, but his biggest problem will be staying on the floor, for injuries look to have already had an impact on this year.
Yes, it’s early, so there’s no reason to panic or overreact with your favorite team and/or player. But the beginning of the year can always be used a good early indication on what your team/player needs to do to improve and what steps need to be taken to get in the right direction.