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Around the NBA: Fast and Slow Starts, Rookie Watch

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Some random notes of things I've noticed in the first week around the league.

Steve Dykes

So the NBA season is now in full swing, and it's time to take a look at some things that have been going on around the league.

Whose Hot?

The Western Conference. Currently 14-3 against the East, which is even worse than it has been over the past few years. Obviously this will even out some, but once again the West is the dominant conference. Making the playoffs in the West is going to be a pretty big accomplishment.

The Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies, and Golden State Warriors are all undefeated, but we also expected those teams to be good.

More interesting is that the Sacramento Kings are off to a 4-1 start. They lost badly to the Warriors on opening night, and have won four straight since, including a road win against the Clippers, and most recently back to back against the Nuggets. They have been above average on both sides of the ball, in part thanks to strong rebounding. The real story is they are leading the league early in FT/FGA, getting to line a shocking (and unsustainable) 40 times a game. This is being driven by Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins, who are both averaging over 9 FTA per game. Those two are also shooting over 50% from the field, a combination unlikely to last.

As a team, they are not shooting well from the field, and are losing the turnover battle to their opponents. I would not be surprised if they are a better team this year, mostly due to a major step forward for Cousins, but much of what they are doing is not sustainable. Still, it's fun to see. Their fans deserve some success.

In the East, the Toronto Raptors are 4-1, albeit with a less than impressive schedule. They have the best turnover differential in the league, and are 2nd (to the Kings) in FT/FGA, so they have won games despite being badly outshot and outrebounded. They are averaging 22 3PA/g and shooting 28% from behind the arc. That is not good. They are also giving up an astounding 56% efg% to their opponents. Obviously lots of this will stabilize, but they are going to have to close the shooting percentage gap if they want to continue to win.

Whose Cold?

Take your pick. Glory in the Lakers 0-5 start, featuring an absolutely atrocious defense (56.4% opponents efg). Kobe Bryant carrying a 38% usage and scoring 27 a night on 24 shots. Wes Johnson 3rd on the team in minutes. It's a trainwreck at Staples Center.

Elsewhere, the Pacers and Thunder are both 1-4 due to injuries. The Pacers without Paul George all season, and with George Hill and David West for a few weeks (not to mention Lance Stephenson's departure for Charlotte) simply don't have the firepower to compete at a high level, and likely won't for the entire season. The Thunder have to be careful not to fall too far behind in the absence of Kevin Durant and Russel Westbrook. Things are tough enough in the West even when you are healthy.

Most notably, the Cavs have been a mess at 1-3 following last night's loss in Utah. Their defense has been atrocious, and their offense only average, incredible for the talent they have. Kyrie Irving's usage rate is way too high, and Kevin Love's is way too low. Irving has a shockingly low number of assists, highlighted by last night's 23 shot--0 assist performance. That can't be good. LeBron James has been sluggish to start the year as well.

This obviously isn't going to last for too long, but they need to figure out how to play to get the most out of their talent.

Rookie Watch:

There are 20 rookies who have logged at least 40 minutes of playing time so far. Nobody has truly distinguished themselves with a great start in the early going. K.J. McDaniels has looked like a real scorer for the Sixers, but it's the Sixers. Someone has to score. He's been shooting it well early. Other than him, most of the guys who are contributing are older guys often with European experience:  Mirotic, Papanikolaou, Bogdanovic. Elfrid Payton has done some good things with the Magic (leads all rooks in assists and steals--and turnovers) but has such trouble shooting the ball. A bit similar to Rubio numbers wise, but as we'll see on Friday, a much different player. Andrew Wiggins is 2nd among rookies (to Jabari Parker) in ppg, though he's still under 10 per. Nerlens Noel fills the box score but has to shoot it better and become a stronger rebounder to fulfill his promise.

Notes:

  • The Rockets once again lead the league by far in 3PA at 32 per game. They are also shooting an astounding 44% from three. And are undefeated. Perhaps they won't shoot as well in Mexico City.
  • The league as a whole is shooting 34% from downtown. Is it usual for the league to start slowly? I don't remember.
  • The Wolves are 2nd in the league (to the Knicks) in percentage of FGA from 16' to the three point line. The Sixers and Rockets are at the bottom of that list.
  • The Rockets also trail the league in % of shots from 10-16 feet. They take, by far, the fewest shots from 10' to the 3 point line in the league.
  • According to SOS, toughest schedules so far have belonged to the Lakers and Celtcs, easiest to the Bulls and Wizards.
  • The Warriors and Nuggets have been the fastest teams in the league so far, the Cavs and Knicks the slowest.
That's enough for today. What have you noticed around the league.