Let's get to a few big stories around the league, shall we?:
Yeah, the Golden State Warriors are pretty good. 7-0 to start the year and just toying with teams. Stephen Curry is on another planet right now, and all we can do is wait for him to return to Earth. Hopefully. They are the best shooting team in the league and hold opponents to the third lowest efg%. They play fast but don't commit turnovers, rebound their own misses, and run people out of buildings before you can blink. At some point they will look beatable I'm sure, but don't ask me when. Meanwhile, they've been doing it without Andrew Bogut, who is recovering from an early season concussion.
The end of Kobe Bryant. Heading into Sunday's game, Kobe Bryant was shooting 32% from the field and had hoisted up 38 threes in five games, making eight, and carrying a usage rate of 28%. Friends, he's done. It isn't so much that he's missing jumpers--the jump shot has always come and gone for Kobe. It's that he cannot get to the rim anymore. At all. Nobody plays him to drive, and he doesn't elevate on his shot like he used to, so there's just nowhere for him to go to get efficient offense. He's barely averaging a point per shot (81 points on 78 shots) and is still sucking up a huge number of possessions for the Lakers.
What is going on with the Pelicans? This was supposed to be another season with a step forward after they made the playoffs in the 8th seed last year. They have started 0-6, and while the schedule hasn't been friendly, it hasn't looked good for them. Their defense is worst in the league, Anthony Davis has been human, and you can't fall too far behind in the Western Conference before you are in real trouble. The injuries, especially to their centers have not helped, but it's been a supremely disappointing start for them.
Well, there are always some early in the year. On the good side, let's take a quick look at the 4-1 Detroit Pistons.They sport one of the best defensive ratings in the league, which makes up for a poor offense, they dominate the glass at both ends with Andre Drummond, and they never put opponents on the free throw line. So far it's added up to a good start, with wins over the Hawks and Bulls among others. Tonight they take on our surprise team from the Western Conference...
The 4-2 Portland Trailblazers. Expected to be a rebuilding year after most of their starting lineup left, the Blazers have won three in a row after losing two of their first three. It all starts with three point shooting--they take and make a lot of them, led by their starting back court of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. They defend and rebound just well enough to make the shooting stick, at least so far, and have gotten off to a promising start behind a bunch of young veterans. It will be interesting to watch this play out as the season goes on.
Other than the obvious Warriors, in the Western Conference, after losing their first three games, the Rockets have righted the ship and won four in a row, including quality wins over the Thunder and in Los Angeles against the Clippers. Things were not looking good in Houston the first week, but it looks like they are getting on a roll as James Harden comes out of his start of the year funk. There is a lot of talent in Houston.
In the East, the Hawks lost their opener and have since won seven in a row. The Wolves will get a look at them tonight in Atlanta, but they are rolling along much like they did last season, with a balanced attack (six players averaging double figures, three between 16 and 18 a game), that gets good shots and makes them, while they avoid fouling and force turnovers. The main thing is they don't play bad players. Nobody in their rotation really hurts them, and they have very few weaknesses. It's going to be a tough one for the Wolves tonight.
Well. We covered the Pelicans. In the West, the Grizzlies have gotten out of the gate stumbling to a 3-4 record, though they have the point differential of a 1-6 club. They have the worst efg% in the league, and amazingly are 28th in efg% against after years of terrific defense. I expect this, and them, to get better, but it's also true that they are not young. Everyone involved is shooting the ball poorly, something that can't continue forever, but the defense...again, they can't possibly be this bad, and the schedule hasn't helped them a ton, but if they are no longer a top defensive team, they are no longer even a fringe contender. We'll see.
In the East...well, the Sixers and Nets were widely expected to be terrible, and they have not disappointed, with 0-6 and 0-7 starts respectively. For the Sixers, this is all part of the "process" for better or worse, and they do have a couple of interesting players on their roster, as Nerlens Noel enters his second year and Jahlil Okafor has scored very well for a rookie. T.J. McConnell, undrafted out of Arizona, is also making an impression at point guard. It hasn't added up to any wins yet, and there won't be many. The Nets..the less said the better. Veterans Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young have been playing OK, but that's about it for the good news. They aren't young, aren't good, and have no draft picks. It's gonna be a rough time in Brooklyn.
Yeah, we'll go with the non-Curry division.
Blake Griffin is off to a tremendous start, putting in 30 a night on 60% shooting, while carrying a 23% assist percentage and lowering his turnovers. He's also shooting better from the free throw line (78%) than he ever has in his career. It's been a fantastic start to the season for Griffin, and if he continues like this he might be 1st team All-NBA.
Russell Westbrook is leading the league in assists and assist percentage while scoring 27 a night for the Thunder. He's a walking triple double machine who is carrying a 34% usage rate with a career high TS%. If Curry wasn't dominating the guard conversation, everyone would be talking about Russ, who is doing it with Kevin Durant back on the court. Unfortunately, as they get used to one another again and new coach Billy Donovan, the Thunder have started only 3-3 on the season.
LeBron James is always worth mentioning. Still one of the dominant forces in the league, the Cavs are trying to keep his minutes reasonable early in the season. He's still putting up 24/7/7 per night, shooting 50% from the field, and leading the Cavs defense as they are off to a 5-1 start. He's been off from beyond the arc, and, oddly, from the free throw line, but those things should rebound closer to his career norms. His days of winning MVPs might be over with the new wave of stars demanding recognition, but he remains, at least for now, one of the best players in the NBA.
It looks like a terrific rookie class, at least early, as several guys have warranted notice over the first couple of weeks of the season.
Willie Cauley-Stein has been very impressive in a low usage role in Sacramento, patrolling the paint defensively and making nearly all of his minimal shot attempts. He should help shore up the front court for the Kings.
Kristaps Porzingis has been excellent for the Knicks, dominating the offensive glass and scoring around the rim. He's struggled from beyond the arc but has gotten to the line a decent amount for a rookie, and has impressed observers with his toughness and smarts.
Jahlil Okafor seems to have turned the switch since the regular season began, and is scoring like he did at Duke. He's leading all rookies in minutes and is scoring over 20 points per 36 while shooting nearly 53% from the field. He isn't doing much else, but a rookie who can carry a 27% usage rate at that kind of efficiency is impressive.
I try to avoid talking Wolves in Around the League since we do that everywhere else, but the Wolves have arguably the two best rookies in the class thus far in Karl-Anthony Towns, who is doing every damn thing you could ask of a big man, and Nemanja Bjelica, who is looking every bit the smart, skilled, play making four we were hoping for.
What's caught your eye Around the League?