FIVE to eight games is more than enough of a sample size to assess the NBA season so far. Kyrie is still moody, LeBron and Luka lived up to the hype and Steph Curry won’t be back until it’s nearly All-Star time, with a wealth of other stories unfolding from the first 14 days of basketball. Expect some of the early trends to mean very little, while others will stay constant over the duration of the entire campaign. I waded through the trending tendencies through two weeks of ball to find the real and the fake takeaways worth mentioning.
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Real – The competitive Phoenix Suns
LET the record show I had this headline listed before Phoenix turned heads against the last undefeated team in Philadelphia. Fueled by Devin Booker, the Suns have won five of their first seven games, surprising almost everyone with their early-season success. Going from the worst 3-point shooting team last year to the 8th best currently is just one positive new head coach Monty Williams has had in his short tenure with the team. We all know that the Western Conference is a bloodbath and a high wins total won’t be expected for this youthful group. However, they are already off to one of their hottest starts in the last decade with teams no longer looking at the schedule and expecting an easy W when they see Phoenix’s name.
Fake – Mike Conley’s ugly percentages
WHEN Utah landed Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic this past summer, it was believed by many the offensive boost they provided could shoot the Jazz into the upper echelon of Western Conference teams. I had my doubts over this squad’s title legitimacy, but through seven games Bogdanovic’s is holding up his end of the bargain, averaging over 20 PPG while shooting 45%+ from downtown. It hasn’t been the same story for Conley, with the perennially underrated floor general putting up the worst shooting numbers of his career through the first fortnight of action. His free throws are going down, but shooting 31.8% from the field and 28.2% from behind the arc is uncharacteristically bad for Conley. The former Grizzlies legend has never been a high-volume scorer, but I have faith the veteran will refind his mojo and score with much more efficiency as the season progresses.
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Real – The Warriors are screwed
THINGS were looking dire for Golden State even before they lost their dual MVP and now with Steph Curry set to miss at least three months with a broken hand, the Warriors can hit the panic button. The absences of Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson meant succeeding this season was always going to be a tough ask, but without Curry, turning this season into something noteworthy is virtually impossible. Draymond Green succumbing to a finger injury last week means that this roster barely resembles the one that won nearly 400 games of basketball over the past five years. It’s going to get a lot uglier before it gets better for GSW, but a high draft pick after a down year could be the silver lining for this ailing ball club.
Fake – The +.500 Minnesota Timberwolves
I’M a big believer of what Karl-Anthony Towns brings to the table for the T-Wolves. Offensively. When it comes to putting the ball in the basket, KAT is in rarified air with the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis as the greatest scoring bigs the league has to offer. His defensive deficiencies are just one thing that holds people back from believing in Minnesota as a potential playoff team this season. Similar could be said for Andrew Wiggins, who annually around this time starts to disappoint those who believed he was going to turn the corner and truly become a star of the NBA. Credit where credit’s due, the Timberwolves are off to a decent start, but I have my doubts over how long these winning ways will last. Especially if Towns’ defense and Wiggins’ work ethic don’t change.
Real – Anthony Davis’ MVP campaign
AS long as Anthony Davis stays healthy this year, the MVP award is his to lose. The staying healthy part is hardly a certainty, but even if Davis misses 10-12 contests, his eye-popping numbers will help alleviate any problems voters have putting his name at the top of the ballot. Highlighted by a 40 point, 20 rebound outburst against the Grizzlies, Davis is posting career-best numbers in most categories in his first season as a Laker, with his defensive prowess equally as impressive as his performance on the other side of the ball. If L.A. maintains their current level of play both Davis and LeBron will get a look in as the MVP, with the lankier Laker putting forward a more pressing case thus far.
Fake – Houston’s 3-point shooting woes
RIGHT now, there are only three teams who are shooting a worse clip from behind the arc than the Houston Rockets. That’s not a stat you want to hear from a team that is leading the league in three-point attempts with a whopping total close to 50 tries a night. Having paced the NBA in three-point attempts for the past three seasons, these poor percentages can partially be contributed to James Harden’s rough start, connecting on just 25.3% of his attempts in his seven games. He, Eric Gordon (23.3%) and Russell Westbrook (25%) are the main offenders and considering they’re relied upon nightly to carry the scoring load for this Rockets team, this poor shooting effort to start the year is a worry, but not likely a serious problem. Canning a few more three’s will help Houston get their season back on track and they need to find that magic shooting touch sooner rather than later.
Real – Houston’s defensive woes
WHILE I expect Houston to turn around their deep ball dilemmas, the same can’t be said for their defense. Despite owning a 4-3 record, the Rockets have a negative point differential at the moment, giving up 115 points or more in all but one of their games. On average, only the Pelicans are letting their opponents score more, with a recent Washington Wizards box score an alarming one for Rockets faithful. Some will be happy they left DC with a win, but they were made to work for it, eeking out a one-point triumph with a final score of 159-158. The fact that two teams scored over 150 in a game is pretty unreal, but don’t let it distract you from the fact that Houston needed all 159 points to beat a Wizards team that is expected to be in the mix for the No. 1 overall pick. Defensive guru Jeff Bzdelik isn’t coming back to the sidelines to save the day this time around, so the Rockets had better implement Plan B or they could be staring down the barrel of another poor start.
Fake – Andre Drummond isn’t worth a max-contract
I kind of cheated here and dropped the double negative to compliment Andre Drummond. His box scores are partially being put up out of necessity thanks to early Piston injuries, but the shade commonly thrown at Dre can’t be used any more. Hate him or love him, there’s no denying Drummond’s worth with the Pistons big man quickly becoming one of the more memorable rebounders to play pro ball. Since entering the league in 2012-13 no player has grabbed more boards with Drummond’s average of 13.8 rebounds a night also an NBA best. Detroit’s franchise pillar does far more than rebound the ball though, currently posting career-best scoring (21.3 PPG) and shot-blocking (2.5 BPG) stats through eight matches. The point I’m making is that free throw percentage aside, Drummond is proving to Detroit, the NBA and fans worldwide that he deserves to be paid like one of the premier players in the league when his contract expires at the end of the year.
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Real – Redemption tours
IT may not continue through the next 74-77 games, but there are a lot of reasons to feel good after two weeks of the new season. A clean bill of health has helped Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose and Isaiah Thomas become popular talking points early on and their play is forcing us to continue paying attention. Dwight is making the most of his second chance in L.A. playing an effective role for the Lakers off the bench, Rose is thriving without Reggie Jackson in the lineup by averaging over 20 points and IT re-immersed himself into a starting 5 over a year and a half after his last start came! Throw in a rejuvenated Kevin Love, a happy Jimmy Butler and a confident Gordon Hayward and this year could go down as the year of the redemption tour. Surely Carmelo Anthony’s next, right?
Fake – Trae Young’s scoring title quest
HE has only appeared in four games so far in his sophomore season, but Trae Young is proving to the world that the now infamous Hawks/Mavericks trade really was a win-win for both parties. Having poured in 38, 39 and 25 points before injuring himself in his 4th game, Young has the rare mix of opportunity, efficiency and an otherworldly skill set that could see his points per game average lead the NBA by seasons end. A number of factors are also working against Trae’s crusade to pace the league in PPG, mainly the fact that so many other more accomplished guards who stand a better chance of topping him – Kyrie, Harden and Lillard are three who spring to mind. Don’t be fooled, Trae Young is going to be a star for the Hawks, but let’s temper expectations before we start putting him in the same breath as those All-NBA types.
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