So it is becoming pretty clear that the normality of the first few games of the season is becoming quickly replaced by the extreme dysfunction that we saw at the beginning of the season. The last two games, the Wolves have simply looked like they are not interested in playing basketball together. Karl-Anthony Towns is playing some of his worst basketball in his career, Andrew Wiggins has been missing games, and Jimmy Butler has not been at the same level he normally is. Things are simply not going to fix themselves until Butler is traded, which brings us back to the original problem of the trade being an indictment of Tom Thibodeau and his future with the franchise.
So, Timberwolves aside, what has been going on in the rest of the league?
While the Wolves were completely demolished in their last two games, they also were playing against the only remaining undefeated teams in the NBA, as both the Raptors and the Bucks have started out 6-0. Both of these teams have simply been outstanding, ranking number 1 and 3 in net rating thus far. The Raptors have successfully integrated Kawhi Leonard immediately and have become one of the deepest teams in the NBA with a plethora of small-ball lineups that can punish opponents. With Leonard, Danny Green, OG Anunoby, Paskal Siakim, and Serge Ibaka, they can put together any number of strong defensive lineups across the 2-5 positions.
The Bucks under Mike Budenhoizer have lived up to the early excitement that comes with a new coaching system that stresses a space-and-pace style. The Bucks are also building off the proveable model that a player like LeBron (or Giannis) surrounded by three-point shooters is impossible to defend. The Bucks are taking an astounding 39.8 threes per game, ranking 2nd in the NBA, a far cry above their 24.7 three-point attempts a game last year.
The rest of the Eastern Conference is shaking out somewhat as expected. The Celtics have struggled at times integrating all their new players, but their defense has been stifling. The 76ers have had growing pains with Markelle Fultz, but they still are going to win a decent amount of games. The big surprises have been the Pistons, who are sitting 4-1 off of a few outstanding games from Blake Griffin, and the Wizards who are 1-5 and are imploding earlier than expected. Dwight Howard has not even played yet!
The Warriors are good. What a surprise. Steph Curry is just doing ridiculous things and the team might as well start working on their acceptance speech for at least the Western Conference Champions. It is truly difficult to imagine a team even pushing them to 7 games in the Western Conference right now.
Part of that is due to the Houston Rockets struggling. After winning 65 games last year, the Rockets have started 1-4 and look out of sorts. After boasting the 6th best defense in the NBA last year, the Rockets have sunk to 27th. It is hard to pinpoint the struggles on exactly one element, whether it is the new personnel, the rest of the NBA adjusting, or just a slow start, but the Rockets do not look their normal dominant self. Perhaps that is why Daryl Morey seems so eager to try to pry Jimmy Butler from the Wolves.
The ballyhooed move of LeBron to LA has not amounted to much yet. Going into the year there was a lot of wavering amongst NBA writers about how the Lakers would pan out. On one hand, the roster was a mishmash of washed-up veterans and young players, with little three-point shooting, defense, or rim protection. On the other hand, LeBron James typically wins lots of basketball games.
So far, the former’s opinion has been winning out. While LeBron is still putting together incredible individual performances, averaging 27.3 points, 9 rebounds, and 8.3 assists per game, the Lakers are 2-4 and look like they are going to struggle with the current personnel.
As for everyone else, the Nuggets are cruising and Nikola Jokic has somehow made another leap forward, the Pelicans are a force, Memphis is good again now that they are healthy, and the Jazz are working through some shooting woes, but still winning games. The Spurs remain the Spurs, even though I am pretty sure they are not playing with a point guard at this point.
The Thunder have completely imploded, starting 1-4, but it is hard to believe that will not be able to figure things out.
As expected, the Western Conference is incredibly competitive this year, with 12 teams trying to make the playoffs. The Wolves are already sitting on the outside along with the Rockets, Thunder, and Lakers. It’s hard to believe, regardless of what trade happens, that they will be able to work their way back into the playoff discussion.
What else has caught your eye around the league?