Fact or Fiction – The most important early storylines of the 2022-23 NBA season

16 days of NBA action is not a huge sample size. At the same point of the 2021-22 season, Paul George was leading the league in scoring and the Pelicans were 1-8, with plenty of basketball still ahead of us before we crown a new champion. Still, there are mainstream talking points around the association that continue to dominate headlines; some of which are true and some of which I don’t expect to hold up. 

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FICTION: Firing Steve Nash will fix Brooklyn’s problems

Following a 2-5 start, Steve Nash became the fall guy for Brooklyn after he agreed to ‘part ways’ with the franchise. In another plot twist, the Nets are looking to immediately hire suspended Celtics coach Ime Udoka, who previously spent time as an assistant with the ball club before he was hired by Boston. While a change of voice might help Brooklyn in the short term and turn some of their fortunes around, there are no guarantees that this Nets team will ever live up to the hype they’ve shown on paper. Currently the 30th-ranked team in defensive rating and rebounding percentage, there’s still plenty of work to be done and a new coach won’t instantly fix things.

FACT: Dennis Smith Jr is back!

Just last week a story came out about Dennis Smith Jr and how he had given up hope of returning to the league, instead focusing on a transition into an NFL career. Luckily for DSJ, the Charlotte Hornets rolled the dice on him and it’s paying off handsomely through the early portion of the season. With LaMelo Ball sidelined and Terry Rozier also missing time, Smith has played some of the best basketball of his career, posting averages of 12.3 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 7.2 APG and 2.3 SPG through six starts with the Hornets. Those numbers may not jump off the page, but to revive himself as a competent NBA starter after there were fears his career was over is worth celebrating.

FICTION: The NBA is full of easybeats

No one, and I repeat, no one expected the Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs to be a combined 11-4 going into tonight’s slate of games. The moniker that ‘anyone can beat anyone on any given night’ rings true around the NBA with a sense of parity falling over the league. While all the preseason talk revolved around the tanking race for Victor Wembanyama, teams have burst out of the blocks to pull off some stunning upsets so far and there’s no reason why that trend won’t continue as the year progresses. That doesn’t mean that I expect to see the Jazz and/or Spurs maintain their residence as top-6 seeds in the West, but we could see the race for play-in spots in both conferences fo down to the last day of the regular season.

FACT: Kawhi Leonard’s injury is concerning

The L.A. Clippers have played eight games so far and Kawhi has only appeared in 42 total minutes. After so much promise and optimism around the team in the preseason, there are now concerns that Leonard’s injury issues will have ripple effects through the rest of the franchise. It’s worth noting that there are still 74 games left on the Clippers’ schedule, however, after their superstar missed all of the 2021-22 campaign it’s concerning that he’s still dealing with the side effects from his previous ACL tear. Time will tell whether Kawhi’s problems are going to be a talking point for the entire season, but the Godfather of load management isn’t off to a promising start.

FICTION: Philadelphia is in trouble

Everyone was ready to panic after the Sixers lost their first three games and looked disjointed as a team. Things can change quickly in the league and there’s no denying that Philadelphia can battle with the best of them when they click on all cylinders. They’ve managed to right the ship somewhat after a shaky start and their spike in performance coincides with Tyrese Maxey taking a leap in production, averaging 29.8 PPG during Philly’s last five contests. This 76ers outfit still needs their top tier talent in Joel Embiid and James Harden to lead the way, but if Maxey can keep providing them with another sparkplug scorer to support his star teammates, the sky is the limit for this squad.

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FACT: Giannis is the best player on the planet

The MVP race is wide open with the league’s premier talent making themselves known. While the likes of KD, Ja, Luka, D-Book and more are dominating on the court by filling up the box score, they all remain a step behind Milwaukee’s franchise guy Giannis Antetokounmpo. Seven games is a small sample size, but the Bucks are yet to lose this season and the Greek Freak has been the driving force averaging an absurd 33.6 PPG while shooting 56.9% from the field. Giannis currently leads the league in points in the paint and transition buckets, and if opponents keep letting him get a head of steam on the break then it’s hard to see a world where Antetokounmpo doesn’t claim his 3rd MVP trophy.

FICTION: Pascal Siakam can’t be a No. 1

While Toronto star Pascal Siakam doesn’t lead the league in scoring or have the same flashy highlights as some of his peers, there’s no denying he is one of the best players in the competition. Averaging more assists than LeBron James, more points than DeMar DeRozan and more rebounds than Joel Embiid, Siakam has started the year with a bang, highlighted by an impressive triple-double against the Nets (37/12/11) and setting a career-high for assists (13) less than a week later against the Sixers. The Raptors are one of the budding stories in the East and as long as Siakam is playing like an All-NBA talent expect them to keep making noise.

FACT: Koby Altman already deserves the Executive of the Year Award

Donovan Mitchell to the Knicks seemed like a forgone conclusion earlier this offseason. Then, Koby Altman entered the chat. The Cavaliers GM helped his franchise take a massive leap by acquiring Mitchell and his savvy signings to complement the roster have helped Cleveland get off to one of their best starts in franchise history. This Cavs team is set up for success well into the future and trading for the 3x All-Star has helped propel them towards the top of the Eastern Conference. They’ll still need to pay their dues before Cleveland can establish themselves as a perennial title threat, but thanks to Altman’s swift manoeuvre at the beginning of September, those days may not be too far away.

Image from theitem.com

FICTION: Utah’s core is set…

One of the biggest surprise stories so far has been Utah’s fast start, with the Jazz sitting at 6-3 with big wins over the Nuggets, Pelicans and Grizzlies (twice). This motley crew of discarded players and trade chips has galvanised around first-year head coach Will Hardy and started the year with a bang, currently sitting 5th in assists, 3rd in steals and 7th in overall net rating. With that being said, it’s hard to see Danny Ainge content by sitting on his hands and resisting the urge to gather more assets via trade. We could see the likes of Kelly Olynyk, Malik Beasley or Mike Conley on the move once Utah regresses back to the norm and they look to the future.

FACT: …but Lauri Markkanen should stay

Even if the Jazz want to keep on wheeling and dealing, it’s hard to see a scenario where Lauri Markkanen is on the move. Despite shooting a career-low 29.3% from behind the arc, the Finnish forward is rolling to commence the 2022-23 season. His 21.7 PPG are a huge reason why Utah is winning early on, with Markkanen carrying the momentum from a successful EuroBasket campaign into his first handful of games as a member of the Jazz. At 25, there’s no reason why he can’t emerge as a solid scorer that remains in Utah for years to come. 

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