5 Big Takeaways From The First Month Of The NBA Season
What a first month it’s been. Young players all over the league are making an impact and some teams have been pretty surprising. Everybody’s still less than 20 games into the season but here’s a look at some of the biggest takeaways after the NBA’s firts month of action. (All stats and records as of 11/18/17)
The Celtics are an Eastern Conference Threat
After Gordon Hayward went down with a gruesome leg injury just a few minutes into the season, not many expected the Celtics to be at the top of the Eastern Conference this season. Well, after the first month we’re looking at just that. Boston is coming off a statement 92-88 win over the Golden State Warriors, pushing their win streak to 14 games after their 0-2 start. Additional absences from Al Horford (concussion) and Kyrie Irving (who’s currently playing with a mask after a facial fracture) haven’t been enough to stop the Celtics from rolling early on this season.
The play of the franchise’s young cornerstones, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, has helped alleviate the blow of the injuries to the Celtics’ veteran stars early on. Brown is averaging 15.1 points and 6.8 rebounds and has upped his 3-point shooting percentage to 37%. Perhaps most important for the Celtics has been Brown’s defensive versatility, as he’s shown the ability to defend all five positions on the court. He’s played a crucial role in the Celtic’s top-ranked defense this season. Tatum, on the other hand, has averaged 13.9 points and 5.6 rebounds to open his NBA career and if it weren’t for the Sixers’ Ben Simmons (more on him later), might be the favorite for the Rookie of the Year award. The rookie has also impressed on the defensive side of the ball as he currently ranks 7th in the league in defensive rating (97.4).
📊22 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks pic.twitter.com/pndLwCtTTn
— NBA TV (@NBATV) November 17, 2017
Some may think that the Celtics are peaking too early but it appears they have a clear formula for sustained success this season. They’re winning with defense and even on nights when their shots aren’t falling (they shot just under 33% against the Warriors and Irving is shooting around 43% on the season) they’ve shown that they can win. They’ve shown that once they gain even more comfort and chemistry with one another that they can pose a threat to the Cavaliers’ Eastern Conference supremacy.
The Process is beginning to bear fruit
On Wednesday night the 76ers’ Joel Embiid dominated and overpowered the Los Angeles Lakers to the tune of a near quadruple double. He had a career-high 46 points, 15 rebounds, 7 blocks, and 7 assists. Anyone who watched saw excellent footwork, Olajuwon-like shakes and post moves, 3-pointers, and hosted a block party. Embiid showed his massive potential as he helped the 76ers secure a victory in the Staples Center.
Embiid is a special player with the skillset, potential, and personality to become a true superstar in this league but there’s another rapidly rising star on the Sixers who might be even better: Ben Simmons. After missing all of last season, Ben Simmons has took the league by storm and is having one of the best rookie campaigns in league history. The Aussie point guard (or forward, whatever you want to call him) is averaging 17.8 points, 9.2 rebounds, 7.7 assists, and 1.9 steals over his first 14 games of NBA action, numbers that even LeBron James didn’t post in his rookie year. He’s still working on getting a reliable jump shot but he’s been able to get his off a combination of runners, floaters, hook shots, and other creative finishes around the baskets. Oh yea and dunks. Ohh man, the dunks.
Ben Simmons really likes dunking. pic.twitter.com/mbX3Fc2M4X
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) November 14, 2017
Simmons and Embiid have the 76ers tied for fifth in the Eastern Conference at 8-6. Even with more draft picks on the way (in addition to their own they own either the Lakers 2018 draft pick if it’s ends up 1 or 6-30 or the Sacramento Kings 2019 first round pick), the Process, or at least the aggressive tanking part of it, is over. Now it’s time to watch the growth of Philly’s two potential franchise cornerstones. It looks like Markelle Fultz has been struck by that 76ers’ rookie injury bug (or their medical staff), providing us a reminder to cross our fingers and hope for the health of Philly’s young stars.
Don’t judge the Cavs… yet
To say the Cavaliers have struggled to meet expectations is an understatement. After starting 5-7, the Cavs have gone on a 4-game win streak but they’ve still been underwhelming for a team that was expected to dominate a weak Eastern Conference. The main problem for Cleveland has been their defense. They’re 28th in the league in points allowed per game (112.2), 29th in opponents adjusted field goal percentage (54.3%), and dead last in in defensive rating (110). One particular area where they’ve really struggled is transition defense.
Watch Cavs D in transition. 1st minute of game. Casual jogs, everyone taking their guy, no one loading/helping, no big touches paint, layup pic.twitter.com/z4vkQ30sTj
— Steve Jones (@stevejones20) October 30, 2017
Many of their issues on that end can be brought down to a lack of effort and poor communication. There’s no excuse for their effort but some of their communication issues can be boiled down to the fact that new additions to the team like Jae Crowder and Dwyane Wade still have to adjust to Cleveland’s system and their new surroundings. They’ve also been without their anchor, Tristan Thompson for much of the season. Even at their best they might be a middle of the pack team on that side of the ball but it’s almost impossible to judge the Cavs and their chances at a championship run until they can field a respectable defense.
Long-term, the Cavs main concern is likely the workload LeBron James has taken on early this season. At 32 years of age, LeBron is currently leading the league in minutes at 38.6 minutes per game. Part of the reason for this has been a lack of health for the Cavs after the turnover they’ve undergone at the point guard position. Isaiah Thomas, presumably their new starting point guard after trading away Kyrie Irving, remains out until January as he recovers from a hip injury. Derrick Rose has dealt with several injuries this year and has been in and out of the lineup. As a result, the Cavs have been starting guys like Iman Shumpert at point guard and LeBron has handled primary facilitator and traditional point guard duties for Cleveland far more often. They simply can’t afford to have him off the court for extended periods of time.
LeBron is still the best player in the league, putting up a ridiculous 28.9 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 8.6 assists a night, but he’s been able to thrive and take his game to another level the past several postseasons because of the rest he’s been able to get in the regular season. Father Time is undefeated and if the Cavs can’t get healthy and lighten LeBron’s workload sooner, he may not be able to carry them when they need it most. We still don’t know what the Cavaliers truly are as a team and we won’t until Thomas, Rose, and Thompson are all healthy but ultimately they’ll be judged for what they do in the postseason.
Kristaps’ Big Apple Breakout
When Carmelo Anthony got traded before the start of the season, the New York Knicks officially became Kristaps Porzingis’ team. It was up to him to take a leap and lead this team as far as he could. So far, Porzinigis has done just that and more. The Zinger has taken the league by storm as he currently ranks fourth in scoring (27.8 ppg) and second in blocks (2.3 bpg). He’s provided a unique mix of rim protection and 3-point shooting efficiency as he’s shooting at a career high 41.8% clip from deep. I mean just look at this.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) November 8, 2017
Porzingis has led the Knicks to an 8-7 record and has the Knicks thinking playoffs early in a year when most of the talks centered towards tanking. In the Knick’s wins, Porzingis has played like the best player on the court for either teams and has proven he can go toe-to-toe with some of the league’s best. That’s the sign of a future superstar in this league.
In today’s NBA it often takes more than one star player to bring a team to the next level and it remains to be seen if rookie Frank Ntilikina can be that player for the Knicks but their future is bright. It’s been a while since that’s been said about the Knicks and we should applaud Porzingis for that.
The Andre Drummond Renaissance
After a disappointing 2016-17 season, many questioned whether Andre Drummond had any future as a star in this league. During the summer, the Pistons made Drummond widely available in trade talks but no deals came to fruition. Many wondered whether the former number 9 overall pick ever live up to the big contract Detroit gave him. He was a liability late in games and often had to be benched due to his infamous struggles at the free throw line.
This season, Drummond has been a revelation for the Pistons. He’s tweaked his free throw form and it’s led to a drastic increase in his shooting percentages from the line. A career 39% free-throw shooter, Drummond is currently shooting 63% from the line and has earned the Pistons’ trust. He also shed 30 pounds over the offseason while maintaining his power and tenacity on the court.
Drummond is averaging a career-high 15.7 rebounds but he’s always been a force on the glass. Almost as impressive as his improved performance at the line, Drummond has been operating as a hub of the Pistons offense, averaging a career-high 3.4 assists (over 3 times his previous career high of 1.1!). Drummond’s improved play has resulted in the Pistons being one of two teams in the top 10 of both offensive and defensive rating (the other is Golden State), and the Pistons are off to a 10-5 start, sitting in second place in the East behind Boston. The young NBA season has been full of surprises and improvement from young players and Drummond’s emergence provides yet another feel-good story.