Observations From The NBA’s Opening Week

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Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

There is no better time to drop NBA hot takes than right this instant.

One week of action is in the books and there is no shortage of things to overreact about. Is Stephen Curry just a regular dude who is now getting exposed? Is Karl Anthony Towns a top ten guy? The Suns are watchable?

After watching the first 2% of the NBA season we did get a few early answers to questions that loomed at the end of August. Six days of action have also inspired new questions before the new-car smell has even worn off of the new season.

In some cases, things have gone as expected. The Clippers are the title favorites as the deepest team in the league. LeBron and AD will end up working. Russell Westbrook and James Harden are talented but will need to work out a few kinks. All good dramas provide curveballs though, and this season is not short on unexpected twists in the early going.

Here are some things we know, some things we don’t know, and whatever there is in between.

 

Better Than Advertised

Trae Young

No one thought that Trae Young was going to be bad. We saw him shooting from the logo at Oklahoma and it made sense to us because Stephen Curry was doing the same thing at the pro level. We knew that his combination of range and ballhandling would give him a place in the NBA as a scorer. What we didn’t know was that casting Young as a Steph Curry mini-me was selling him short on his game.

Young got Eastern Conference Player of the week honors after leading the NBA in scoring through two games (he’s now 2nd behind Kyrie) with high-level playmaking and the patented accuracy from anywhere behind the three-point line. He gets a ton of attention for the shooting but his range might actually be the second-best part of his game.

Young is one of the special passers in the game and reminds me more of a Steve Nash mold point guard that combines accuracy from range with elite playmaking skills and an uncanny ability to thwart would-be shot blockers with smart use of the body at the basket. Trae is a wizard in the pick and roll and punishes defensive mistakes with ease on each possession down the floor. Atlanta is a team on the rise and it is because Trae is the real deal.

The Phoenix Suns

NBA
Alex Goodlett – Getty Images

Nobody is concerned for the Los Angeles Clippers after their loss to the Phoenix Suns. However, that win was a good sign for what has shown to be a scrappy Phoenix team that managed to beat the title favorites without Deandre Ayton and Ricky Rubio.

I have no idea what to expect from this team going forward but it is undeniable that this Phoenix team is already significantly better than last year’s version. They’ve added some veteran pieces with floor stretcher Frank Kaminsky and acquired Ricky Rubio who has already proven to be the best lead guard Phoenix has had in quite some time.

Deandre Ayton is a beast and his absence will be significant. He dominates the glass and has a polished offensive game that pairs well with his pick-and-roll lob threat ability. Without him, the Suns will have to continue to rely on Devin Booker’s offensive mastery. I don’t think they’re going to make a ton of noise still this season but with a full-strength roster, they are going to be a tough out on a nightly basis.

Pascal Siakam

There was a little pushback on Instagram a week ago when I wrote about Pascal Siakam cementing his place as a top-20 NBA player a week ago. I’d like to take this opportunity just to double down on something I think will grow to be common knowledge as the season goes on.

The question for Siakam coming in was whether he would be able to be the best player on a good team. The Toronto Raptors have been fine with Siakam averaging 27.5 points and 10.3 rebounds per game on a blistering 42.9% from beyond the arc. His outside shooting will certainly cool off but Siakam is an elite offensive weapon and that won’t change.

His length when attacking downhill provides Giannis-like problems for the defense and his ability to knock down the longball does not allow for defenders to sag off. Siakam is well on his way to his first of what may be many All-Star appearances.

 Surprisingly Bad

The Golden State Warriors

Sue Ogrocki – USA Today Sports

All dynasties come to an end and Golden State’s 5-year run reached an abrupt halt when Kevin Durant left for Brooklyn. The loss of Durant combined with Klay Thompson’s injury and the departures of Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala has left the Warriors with Steph, Dray, D’Angelo Russell and the remnants of what once was. It has not been pretty to start.

Getting beat into submission by the Clippers is understandable. The Warriors are no longer that calibur of team. They are also predictably bad defensively. The problem comes when the things you are expected to be good at are not happening.

Stephen Curry is 8-30 from three-point range. I have gone on record saying that I feel like he is the greatest point guard of all time. Even if you are not sipping the kool-aid as hard as I am, Curry needs to elevate his game if he is the generational talent that many claim him to be. He is facing a different level of defensive presence than he did when he had two other world-class shooters as running mates. The great ones adjust and find ways to win games. It will be interesting to see how he handles the adversity going forward.

Coaches Challenges

The first-ever significant coaches challenge happened when the Portland Trail Blazers challenged a foul call on Damian Lillard with 9.4 seconds to go up one point on the Dallas Mavericks.

Luka Doncic took and missed a three and Dorian Finney-Smith came down with an offensive rebound. Smith then pivoted against a smaller Lillard and got the ball stripped on his attempt at the go-ahead putback. The referees concluded that the strip was clean and overturned the call. Game over.

I am all for accuracy and accountability in big moments. The problem is that as a fan I am genuinely confused about how officials watched the tape from above and were able to feel strongly enough about the lack of contact to overturn a game-changing call. A call like that would make a much bigger splash in May than it does in the second week of the season. The NBA is going to have to do a better job of clearly defining to fans why calls are upheld or overturned.

The Sacramento Kings

The Sacramento Kings have the longest playoff drought in the NBA and many people felt good enough about their young core to predict that their time of suffering was coming to an end sooner than later. Things cannot get much worse for Luke Walton with the Kings losing and losing big.

Bogdan Bogdanovic and Buddy Hield have struggled to start the season en route to Sacramento losing their first three games by an average of 23.7 points. They showed better grit in a losing effort against the Denver Nuggets on Monday night holding the Nuggets to 36.7% shooting in a 101-94 loss.

The room for error in the Westen Conference is micro-thin and Sacramento does not have the top-end talent required to make up for sloppy play as the season progresses. They will need to gel quickly to save their season and maybe Luke Walton’s job.

 

Bonus Thoughts for Week 2: 

  • Kyrie Irving is playing out of his mind yet the Nets sputtered to a 1-2 start complete with since-rejected reports of Irving’s mood swings already hitting the internet. Irving is a known mega-talent but this is his last opportunity to prove that he can be the best player on a team that matters. When Durant comes back so will the Robin-to-Batman scenario. Is Irving an alpha?
  • The Miami Heat are 2-1 and benefitting from strong play by Bam Adebayo and rookie Kendrick Nunn. Jimmy Butler makes his return this week. Miami is an early sleeper for a surprise high-playoff seed.
  • Can someone let James Harden know that the season has started?

 

 

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