Now that all 30 teams have played, it’s time to take stock of where we stand.
Sure, the “it’s only one game” crowd rightfully keeps the discourse objectively level-headed, the safe approach over the course of a meandering 82-game marathon. After all, what plays out over a three-day stretch in October likely won’t dictate how this all shakes out in June.
But that’s not fun.
Why reflect on the first week of the season with a measured approach when you can instead wildly overreact, fall prey to small sample size theater and pretend that we’ve seen all there is to see? With apologies to Ben Simmons and Kyrie Irving, we’re keeping this chatter to players and teams who actually played basketball… I know, CRAZY.
Drop the top, crank up the volume and let these 10 wild overreactions steer the NBA conversation straight towards crazy town.
The Russell Westbrook trade was a mistake
LeBron James shot down any notion that Westbrook’s underwhelming Lakers debut should provide any reason for concern. “I’m not worried about Russ at all. He just needs to be himself.”
Remember when Adam Banks joined The Mighty Ducks and in his first game, just kind of skated around as the new kid, awkwardly called for the puck and didn’t really do anything? That was Westbrook on Tuesday.
Few players in the history of the game consistently make their presence felt more than Westbrook when stepping on the court, for better or worse. That magnetic presence was nowhere to be seen on Tuesday as he finished with just eight points and four assists without getting to the line a single time. No defender was within six feet on any of his four 3-point attempts and yet he still managed to miss all of them.
Westbrook’s first game alluded to an uncomfortable truth that nobody will ever want to admit and certainly not after one game: the Lakers never should have traded for Westbrook.
Unlike Banks on the Ducks, Westbrook is not nor will ever be the best player trying to fit in on his new team. To fit in, he’ll have to significantly adjust, something he’s not once done in his entire career.
The Warriors are the best team in the West
In the same game that Westbrook had Lakers fans dreaming of Buddy Hield in purple and gold, the Warriors immediately dumped cold water on the idea that they would somehow struggle this season.
Stephen Curry couldn’t shoot yet still finished with a triple-double. Jordan Poole looked like Klay Thompson, Draymond Green looked spry on both ends, Nemanja Bjelica looked like the biggest heist of the offseason and the Warriors looked like the old Warriors.
In their second game, Curry erupted for 25 points on 9-for-9 shooting — IN THE FIRST QUARTER — before the Warriors eventually held off the Clippers for a 2-0 start.
Add in the fact that Klay Thompson looks great in practice and the Warriors look every bit the part of a major problem in the West. We ranked Golden State 10th in our opening week Power Rankings, behind five other Western Conference teams: Lakers, Suns, Jazz, Nuggets and Mavericks. We’re sorry.
Giannis will soon be a top-10 all-time player
Midway through the first quarter of Milwaukee’s season opener against the Nets, Giannis Antetokounmpo casually jogged up the court and confidently stepped into a pull-up three with no hesitation. Wet.
If he starts doing that, it’s over. Just hand him the MVP award right now. And if the Bucks are actually better than Brooklyn, then we need to seriously start entertaining the idea of Giannis’s all-time place. In SN’s rollout of the top 75 peaks of all-time, a panel of over 50 voters ranked the Greek Freak 15th.
That’s even before considering the prospect of a third MVP by the age of 27. Only four players have ever done that: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, LeBron James, Bill Russell and Moses Malone.
If the Bucks’ season opener was any indication, Antetokounmpo will become the fifth name on that list and very easily could hoist yet another Finals MVP trophy. If that happens, Giannis enters the conversation with Kevin Durant, Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, Oscar Robertson, Tim Duncan, Julius Erving and others who hang around the cusp of that top-10 penthouse.
Miami is a co-favorite in the East
If we’re going to collectively lose our minds over what Giannis did to the Nets, then we likewise have to for what the Heat did to Giannis and the Bucks.
Miami annihilated the Bucks on Thursday, winning by 42 points in what was tied for the fourth-largest season-opening win in NBA history.
SN PREDICTIONS: Will Heat make the Finals?
Every starter recorded a steal, Bam Adebayo outplayed Antetokounmpo, Jimmy Butler outplayed Khris Middleton, “Bubble Tyler Herro” returned to the tune of 27 points and Kyle Lowry dove all over the floor, an incredibly effective and on-brand Heat debut on a night when he finished just 1-for-8 from the field.
It doesn’t matter that Jrue Holiday did not play for the defending champs, this was an absolute butt-kicking and one that warrants serious praise. Pat Riley did it again!
Ja Morant is a lock for the All-Star team
Ja Morant is ready to make the Year 3 Leap.
We saw it from Trae Young. We saw it from Luka Doncic. Going further back, we saw it from Derrick Rose. Will Morant pull a Rose and emerge as an MVP? I’m not ready to go there only because unlike that Bulls team, this Grizzlies team isn’t going 62-20. Just because we’re driving to crazy town doesn’t mean we need to completely lose our collective minds.
But we are going to see the Year 3 leap from the main man in Memphis, who hung 37 on the Cavaliers, undressing the Cavs SexLand combo of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, who combined for 30.
During his MVP season in 2010-11, Rose averaged 25.0 points, 7.7 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game, driving the lane at will and attacking the basket with ferocity. In that sizzling debut, Morant drove a whopping 26 times, a Rose-esque style reminiscent of that magical 2010-11 campaign.
Book it right now: Morant will be in Cleveland for the 2022 All-Star Game.
Jaylen Brown is the Celtics’ best player
I said it in our preseason top 50 storylines and I’ll say it again now: Are we sure that Jayson Tatum is the Celtics’ best player?
To be clear, that’s no knock on Tatum. The 23-year-old popped off for 60 last year and then dropped a 50 burger in the playoffs.
It’s more of an appreciation for Brown, who has taken massive steps in every year of his career. In Boston’s wild double-OT loss to the Knicks, Brown erupted for 46 points and scored over twice as much as Tatum despite taking the same number of shots. The Celtics outscored the Knicks by 16 with him on the floor and were pummeled by 20 in the 12 minutes he sat.
Brown and Tatum are the NBA’s best under 25 duo. But if we’re playing Batman and Robin, perhaps we need to reconsider the roles.
Jason Kidd will be the first coach fired
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it…
…unless you’re Jason Kidd tinkering with the Mavericks’ offense.
Needless to say, not a great start for Kidd’s third head coaching stint. Not only did the Mavericks get run out of the gym by the Hawks, the whole “we’re going to take more mid-range jumpers” mantra preached by Kidd completely backfired.
After the game, Kidd told reporters “I thought guys got great looks. They just didn’t go in for us tonight.” Well, the evidence doesn’t back that assertion up either. There’s a stat from the player-tracking company Second Spectrum called expected shot quality that essentially measures shot selection based on location, nearest defender, who is shooting, etc. As noted by ESPN’s Tim McMahon, only six times all of last season did the Mavs finish with a worse expected shot quality than they did on Thursday.
Remember, this is the same team that led the NBA in offensive efficiency two seasons ago and ranked inside the top 10 last year. Offense should be the least of their issues, especially with Luka Doncic who might be the greatest 22-year-old offensive player in the history of the league.
For a team that got bounced in the first round each of the last two seasons, the pressure is mounting to translate Doncic’s hype into sustained postseason success. We’re one game in and that seat is already starting to get hot.
LaMelo Ball will break Instagram
Before even stepping onto the floor, LaMelo Ball flashed some serious spice with a pregame fit that broke Instagram.
Given its nine-year marriage to Cam Newton, Charlotte knows a thing or two about show-stopping athletes who live at the intersection of on-court flair and off-court style.
While Ball’s pre-game and post-game look generated nationwide buzz, it shouldn’t overshadow what happened between the lines as the second-year point guard engineered a 23-point second-half comeback en route to finishing with 31-9-7. With every dazzling dime and downtown dagger, Ball brought all 20,000 at the Spectrum Center to their feet in an eerily Steph Curry-esque fashion.
Regardless of what happens on the floor, expect Ball to trend 82 times this year with a surging, high-voltage electricity that powers the conversation on social media.
The Bulls D will stuff NBA analytics into a locker
You either loved or hated the Bulls’ offseason.
Most of the analytics community hated it. Too many mid-range chuckers, not enough spacing, not enough free throws, not enough high-level defenders, yada yada yada. And before you get too up in arms in defense of the number-crunchers, just know that I’m a major nerd staring at a TI-83 as I type this very sentence. So yeah… I get it.
Well, the Bulls heard the hate and responded by holding the Pistons to 88 points in a game that felt like one from a past era. After leading the NBA in defensive rating during an unbeaten preseason, the Bulls opened their season with an inspiring and active effort on that end, racking up 19 deflections, a number that would have ranked first last season (Chicago ranked 25th).
They won’t play the Pistons every night and not every opponent is going to shoot 2-for-12 on wide open 3s. But make no mistake, DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic have the receipts.
The Kings will end their historic playoff drought
How long has it been since the Kings made the playoffs?
OK, so maybe it just feels like 84 years.
The whole benching Marvin Bagley situation is undoubtedly odd but the Kings have to feel good about where they stand following the season-opening win over the Blazers. The Kings haven’t made the playoffs since 2006 with the 15-year drought tied for the longest in NBA history and three times longer than any other franchise.
While Harrison Barnes isn’t suddenly going to explode for 36 every night, I am absolutely HERE for the Richaun Holmes late-bloomer breakout season. He had an 18-game stretch last season in which he averaged 17-11 before eventually tailing off. After filling up the box score going head-to-head against Jusuf Nurkic, Holmes is off to a strong start and ready to take advantage of the bizarre Bagley benching.
Even if FiveThirtyEight isn’t a believer, I am. Make it happen, Sacramento.