NBA

NBA Roundtable: Reacting to the first week of the season

The first week of the 2018-19 NBA season is in the books, and we’ve been treated to some WILDLY entertaining basketball. High scoring games, 50-point outbursts and even a fight between two legendary point guards. We gathered several writers for a roundtable discussion on the fireworks we saw fly in the first seven days of this years campaign. 

1. What has been your biggest takeaway from the first week of the NBA season?

Anderson: The biggest takeaway from the first week would be the rookies that are showing out and looking really good. Two players that are stand out are Luka Doncic and Trae Young, both of whom were traded for each other during this past years NBA Draft. Doncic is averaging 18 points per game, along with seven rebounds, and 3.2 assists. Young just had a 35-point performance and is leading all rookies in scoring, averaging 23 points per game to go along with 3.3 rebounds, and 8.3 assists. Both of them have consistently shown they can knock down the perimeter shot and get points for their teams, which is beneficial for both franchises. The way they are performing and producing for their teams has been incredible and it’s only the first week of the NBA season.

John-Baptiste: There’s going to be a TON of scoring this season. We saw the Pelicans put up 149 against Sacramento, then Sacramento turns it around and hangs 131 on the Thunder. Remember that Atlanta team that’s supposed to be pretty terrible this season? They put up a whopping 133 on Cleveland. I guess some of the old-timers are right in saying the new defensive rules are set up to spark offensive bursts to entertain the fans. However, it is early in the season and some of those total outputs could be anomalies. Only time will tell.

Calpin: For me, the biggest takeaway thus far is that the Denver Nuggets are the REAL deal. They currently sit at 4-0, including a big-time win over the Warriors this past weekend. In that game, they had not even played their cleanest brand of basketball. They are one of two Western Conference teams (New Orleans Pelicans) that remain undefeated, and they currently boast one of the best defenses in the league. They have had stellar performances from Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic through four games and they have the DNA and play style to be able to hang with the best and they are a team to keep an eye on this season.

King: I would say the biggest takeaway would be Giannis Antetokounmpo starting his 2018-2019 campaign in a dominant fashion. I have gone on record in stating that it is going to be a three-man race for the MVP between James Harden, Anthony Davis, and Antetokounmpo. Getting off to a hot start for Antetokounmpo by averaging 27.3 PPG, 16 RPG, and 5.7 APG in three games has been huge for him as well as Milwaukee, who is currently undefeated at 3-0. As long as the Bucks can win games and Antetokounmpo can keep producing and enhancing his stat line, his MVP candidacy will definitely be the early storyline that must be monitored.

Allan: The Denver Nuggets are for real on both sides of the ball. Nikola Jokic has probably the best numbers in the NBA so far this season averaging nearly seven assists per game at the center position. Defensively, they are playing the best team basketball in the NBA and as Ryan Calpin said above, for them allow triple-digits only once thus far just shows what type of ability they have as a unit. Another surprise would just be how much scoring we have seen from the Pelicans thus far. We knew what type of ability Anthony Davis has but for his team to play like this around him it is very fun to watch.

2. Give your early impressions of LeBron James and the new-look Lakers.

Anderson: They will get to where they want to be as a team as the season progresses. Right now, the team is still learning and adjusting to playing with each other. We’ve seen some tough matchups which resulted in losses, like their home-opener against the Houston Rockets when the fight involving Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul broke out as well as their season-opening loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. At the end of the day though, it comes down to their shooting. They have to improve their shooting in order to become a complete team. I’m talking about every single person on that Lakers roster, including LeBron James. With what we’ve seen so far from Brandon Ingram, Lance Stephenson, and Lonzo Ball, they have the skill to score but they must hit perimeter shots more often to keep defenses honest.

John-Baptiste: Simple. LeBron has mostly looked like LeBron. Fast break dunks, powerful drives with the finish through fouls, and passes that make you go WHOA. The Lakers overall have looked like a work in progress. Not woeful, but not the greatest either. In the least, they show the potential to be very scary. Once they figure out minutes distribution and get their shooting percentages up from distance, they can be very good. They have a few interchangeable parts that can switch on defense and initiate the offense in the half-court and also on the break. We’ve seen flashes of Ingram, Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope go off the dribble with LeBron on the other side of the court. That’s not something he’s used to. Those new toys could bode well for the young squad that can attack defenses from multiple angles. The league is officially on notice.

Calpin: I think that through the first week of the season they have looked about what I had expected. It is a big learning curve to play with LeBron and the new-look team is currently trying to adjust. Plain and simple the shooters are going to have to make shots. Lonzo Ball is going to have to shoot well, Kyle Kuzma is going to have to shoot well, Josh Hart is going to have to shoot well. You get my point. LeBron is going to do what LeBron does. It is going to have to be the supporting cast that steps up in their roles and I think that will take some time.

King: Sloppy, but it has been a good sloppy if that makes sense. It is never good to start off losing your first three games, but with all of the new pieces that have been added this off-season, it was to be expected. There is still a steep learning curve to get everybody on the same page, especially with LeBron James. I have seen LeBron become more patient in his time on the court. Yes, you seem him take over in some areas throughout a game as he always does (especially vs. San Antonio) but you see him deferring on offense at times to create plays for his teammates and find out where he can get them their shots and put them in the best position to be effective on offense. I would like to see Josh Hart take over for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope as the starting two guard. It is simple, in three games KCP has had five points, five points, and four points. Hart has had 20, 11, and 20. Anyway, my KCP rant is over.

The Lakers’ defense has been suspect as they have giving up a league-high 131.7 PPG. A huge issue that cannot be ignored. A big reason for that is not having a solidified backup big man and post presence. JaVale McGee has performed tremendously in his first three games but he can’t be out there all game, especially with his inability to play big minutes in previous years. When he comes out the Lakers go small with Kyle Kuzma and/or LeBron playing the five, leaving little to no rim protection resulting in teams attacking the interior. There still is no panic in Laker Land given how early it is. After all, having LeBron helps a good amount.

Allan: Its just going to take time, defensively they look out of sync, but at the same time, they have been just playing some tough opponents as Portland is always a problem at home, and Houston is just a better team. The Spurs game they had right at their fingertips but just lost it in the end. When it comes to their offensive playmaking, they need to figure out how they can create maximum success with Lonzo Ball, Rajon Rondo, and LeBron all being distributors of the basketball. It will be interesting to see how they can keep giving Lonzo minutes while also giving quality minutes to Rondo.

3. Which rookie has been the most striking through their first few games?

Anderson: Luka Doncic. He has been playing tough basketball since the start of the season and really looks like a new huge asset to the team, and he’s displaying his skills with ease. The swingman looks huge and can create space for himself on the perimeter. I believe Doncic will compete well with DeAndre Ayton and Young for Rookie of the Year.

John-Baptiste: Trae Young. There’s something to be said about putting up 35 points and 11 assists in your third NBA game. Even more impressive is that those numbers came on 57% shooting from the field and 43% from behind the arc. For someone’s game who has been scrutinized as much as Young, it’s good to see a young player stick to what they do best and continue to play their game despite what critics say. If he has more games of this caliber, we can see the Rookie of the Year award go to a player whose team won around 25 games.

Calpin: Luka Doncic. I think he has played very well through the first week of the season. He leads the Dallas Mavericks with 18 points per game while shooting 41% from the field. Yes, his three-point percentage does need to improve but I think what I am most pleased with is his aggressiveness. He is averaging seven three’s per game, seven rebounds per game and has been doing a good job of getting his teammates involved as well. Unlike Young, I think that Doncic will be able to fully involve his team a little more just because of how well-rounded of a player he is.

King: As good as guards Luka Doncic and Trae Young has been, I am going to give a little love to Jaren Jackson Jr. out in Memphis. His game against Atlanta really stood out to me and he looked like anything but a rookie. He chipped in 24 points on 8-12 shooting, while also splashing home two threes and even swatting away two shots and bringing in six boards. He was held in check by his opponents in the other two games but still was able to contribute in other ways. In the season opener vs. Indiana, he collected three steals. He brings a breath of fresh air to a Memphis front-court that has been lacking a reliable young big man since Marc Gasol was a rookie back in 2008-2009. I think when you look at the top-two rookie big men in DeAndre Ayton and Jackson Jr., you really are seeing two physically imposing young bigs who can put it on the floor and stretch the defense as well. Think of them both as unpolished LaMarcus Aldridge prototypes.

Allan: Easily Luka Doncic. He has shown his ability to play alongside Dennis Smith Jr. and has shown that he is not afraid to shoot the basketball. He is a little slower on the defensive end but that will come with time in the league. Averaging 18 points per game proves that he has no problem picking up where he left off in Spain last season. Doncic has a great chance to be one of the best European prospects we’ve seen in the NBA in quite some time.

4. What’s an early season trend that you think will or won’t continue for the remainder of the year?

Anderson: Kawhi Leonard quietly dominating for the Raptors. The Raptors are 4-0 right now and Kawhi has played in three of them, as he was given a night of rest against the Washington Wizards. In those three games, Leonard dominated against the Cavaliers, Celtics, and Hornets, which helped Toronto to secure victories. Leonard is averaging 25 points, nine rebounds, and three assists per game to start the year. We haven’t seen Leonard play in a long time since his non-existence last season, but he’s been showing that nothing was lost in the meantime. He’s still aggressive driving to the basket and knocks down tough shots over defenders. Not to mention his versatile defense as well.

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Photo via: Getty Images

John-Baptiste: As I stated in question one, there has been tons of scoring through the first week. We get it. Teams haven’t fully implemented defensive schemes. Players are getting gassed rather quickly, and no team has had to dig deep as of yet. That trend will surely go down as teams continue to get into mid-season form.

Calpin: Anthony Davis’ domination and I am here to say that it will continue for the rest of the year. This man is an absolute problem to deal with for opponents. He is averaging 3o.3 points per game on 59% shooting from the field, and he’s putting up 13 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game to boot. He is at the prime of his career and is ready to take this Pelicans team to the next level. I believe this could be his MVP year and I am excited to continue to watch him dominate opponents.

King: The projected Western Conference powerhouses struggling will definitely be a trend that is snapped quickly. Houston sits at 1-2, and the Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder both at 0-3. We kind of saw Oklahoma City starting out a little slow due to not having their heartbeat in Russell Westbrook for the first two games and the Lakers with all the new pieces that have been added and how they will mesh with the established young core that existed prior to their arrival. As far as Houston, I do not think there is any fear in them getting things going and flipping the switch on any given night. All these teams WILL make the playoffs so I believe that their early season woes will only be a small bump in the road.

Allan: The Nuggets being very under the radar and could potentially be a team in the Western Conference no one would want to face come playoff time. I think defense, especially now, is so important in today’s NBA. For them to be the NBA’s best defensive team thus far and to hold all but one opponent under 100 points, just shows how deep they are on that side of the ball. Most teams will have a few good defenders, and guys who can bring the rest of the teams’ ability down. It seems like, thus far, the Nuggets know how to defend as a unit.

5. Do you think the high-scoring marks around the league so far are just a product of today’s game or do they stem from a lack of focus on defense?

Anderson: I think that can go both ways. It’s only two weeks into the season, so many teams may not take the ending of games as seriously as if it were one of the last important games of the season. However, lack of defense is becoming a continued trend and players are becoming increasingly disengaged on that end of the floor. Defense is much more difficult with these bigger players, but on the offensive end, they have the advantage as well. Look at guys Kevin Durant (7’0) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (6’11), two huge players that can play any position on the court. They will score, regardless of their defenders’ height, and the defenses will only have to get better in order for these games to end with lower scores. Lack of defense has always been a problem to fans, which is why many debate whether college ball is more interesting to watch.

John-Baptiste: A little bit of both most likely. We have seen players tend to play some level of matador defense and let ball handlers get away with things they shouldn’t have. However, with so many skilled players in today’s game, it is difficult to shrink the floor and grind it out. We’ve been constantly introduced to stretch 4’s and 5’s that can play from the post but are more skilled at hitting shots from the perimeter. Combine that with guards that show increasing range every year, and it becomes tough to keep bodies connected in the open floor. Add a pick and roll to that equation and some players become virtually unguardable (see Steph Curry).

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(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Calpin: Well I actually think those two statements go hand in hand. Today’s product has a lot to do with the lack of focus on defense especially at the beginning of the season and the fact that today’s game screams offense. But the difference between good teams and great teams (like the Warriors) is that when they need to lock down on defense and get a stop, they are focused, they know their spots on the floor and they get it done. The end of the season and the playoff run still always has to do with defense and you still can’t win a championship without a great defensive presence.

King: A product of the modern NBA. The adage that college basketball is better than the NBA because they play defense needs to be put to rest. In reality, the NBA and it’s players play defense and work on it just as much as their offense. However, all the work on defense that is out there can easily be covered with a heavy cloud given the elite-level talent as well as several physiques and body types that exist in the NBA today. When you have to guard a LeBron James who is barreling at you at full-speed in the open-court, tall and long players like an Anthony Davis and Giannis Antetokounmpo who can get down the court in five strides and can shoot, dribble, and dunk all over you, is there a way to stop that? Quick answer, no. You cannot stop it, making it seem like defense is not being played. However, I do believe that the pace that the game is being played at today tires out a lot of players and it can become easy to take defensive plays off. That being said, the NBA is overflowing with talent and when that occurs, no matter how good the defense gets, the great players always find ways to still score even with that tight pressure.

Allan: Easily just a product of the modern NBA. When four-to-five positions are able to shoot the three it’s just tough to consistently stop it. You see players like Joel Embiid looking to shoot a handful of three-pointers per game and that was just never going to be the case twenty, even ten years ago. Teams are modeling the way the Warriors formed their team around shooting, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

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