It has been a fun two weeks of NBA basketball so far. Triple-doubles, multiple 50 point games, buzzer beaters… It’s been a good.
Before the start of the season, we form our own expectations of how the season is going to go. We put teams and players in boxes and some out of them. Naturally we don’t get everything right and surprises are always sprung. With that said, here are some of the things that have come as surprises to me so far in this early 2016-17 season.
The Los Angeles Lakers
Are the Lakers actually decent again?? Wow, it has been a long time… The Lakers sit above .500 with a 4-3 record — rolling behind a 3 game streak after they fought off the Suns. And they’ve beaten some decent teams too. The most notable being the home drumming of the Golden State Warriors, but they’ve also beaten the Hawks on the road as well as the Houston Rockets at home in their season opener — all teams that figure to be pretty decent.
And they haven’t been driven by a single player like the Pelicans are with Anthony Davis, it has been by committee. Five Laker players are averaging double digit scoring and Luol Deng and Brandon Ingram are not among them. It has been their bench has given them such a boost: 50 points per game (the most in the league) led by Jordan Clarkson (14.1 PPG) and Lou Williams (15.3 PPG). Brandon Ingram is also coming off the bench to begin the season and I think that’s the smart thing to do with Ingram. There’s no rush here, let him adjust to NBA second units first and take it from there. It’s a long season and injuries happen (especially to Luol Deng), there’s no rush. Good stuff from Coach Luke Walton.
D’Angelo Russell has been pretty good so far, as has Jordan Clarkson. Other players that have impressed are Larry Nance Jr. and Tarik Black, whose emergence meant that Yi Jianlian wasn’t going to play a whole lot of minutes, and he subsequently asked Laker management to be released.
But perhaps the biggest surprise for me is Nick Young is actually playing and contributing in a significant manner. I thought this guy was absolutely done, at least with the Lakers. So to see him actually start and play well (averaging 13.7 PPG and 33% shooting from deep).
The Los Angeles Lakers and Nick Young… Things I didn’t think I’d be talking about at this early stage of the season in a positive manner. It’s early days but this team might have to be taken a little more seriously this season. The Byron Scott chains have been broken!
Dwyane Wade — three-point specialist?
While the Bulls sit with a 3-3 record, they’ve actually begun the season pretty decently. They started 3-0 before losing their next 3 games, but it has been Dwyane Wade that has shocked the basketball world by shooting 47% from three on 3.5 attempts per game.
Let’s just put this into context: for his 13 season career Wade has shot 28% from behind the arc on 1.6 attempts per game — Josh Smith like. So to see these numbers out of Wade is staggering. I certainly thought his Game 6 three-point heroics vs the Hornets (triggered by Purple Shirt Guy) was a one off, but it may have been just the start.
People made fun of the Bulls’ hilarious lack of spacing with Rondo, Wade, Butler and Lopez, but if Wade can even hit 35% of his threes, they might have the last laugh… As they get KO’d in Round 1/2 of the playoffs.
The Washington Wizards
There’s a lot to be said for continuity in this league and the Washington Wizards have been one of the better examples of this in the recent years. The core of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Marcin Gortat and Otto Porter have been together for years now and they’ve done well to add to that core. The addition of Markieff Morris has helped the Wizards quite a bit (an unbelievable upgrade over Nene, holy crap…) and Ian Mahinmi is a player I like quite a bit, coming off the bench. Add to that bench unit of point guard Trey Burke, second year wing Kelly Oubre, veteran Jason Smith, Marcus Thornton and Andrew Nicholson — decent players to have coming off your bench. This, combined with a very decent starting five, is a team that is definitely better than the 1-4 record that the Wizards currently rock.
Their offense has been shaky (96.6 points per 100 possessions) and their defence isn’t good enough to make up for their lack of offense (104 points conceded per 100 possessions). Bradley Beal has been healthy so far but has shot a very poor — for his standards — 29% from behind the arc and John Wall has been turning the ball over an awful lot: 5.3 per game. This is killing the Wizards, who concede 21 points per game off of turnovers — only the Timberwolves concede more in the league.
They have played some tough teams: Memphis, Atlanta twice and the Raptors. Not the easiest schedule but if the Wizards want to be in the playoff picture they need to be beating some of these playoff calibre teams.
It’s early days but in the competitive — at least for playoff seeding — Eastern Conference, but the Wizards need to enforce themselves as a legit playoff contender. They have no excuses right now, everyone is healthy.
The Minnesota Timberwolves
A lot of people where very quick to hop on this bandwagon before the start if the season and it seems as though it was too much too soon — at least at the start of the season. The Wolves sit at 1-4 and things haven’t come together as people expected.
Towns, Wiggins and even LaVine have been great but the Ricky Rubio injury really hurts this team in the short term because now Kris Dunn is thrown into the frying pan. It’s so hard to be a rookie point guard in the Western Conference, the quality of opponent is unbelievable. Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Mike Conley and technically James Harden. These are all the guys you’re facing 3-4 times a year, and that’s tough for a rookie. There’s going to be a huge adjustment period for the Wolves with Dunn and that’s going to hurt them in the short term while he figures things out.
They’re a young team, and with K.A.T entering Year 2, Wiggins and LaVine entering Year 3, Kris Dunn being an interesting prospect and the addition of Thibs on the sideline, I think people expected too much too soon and they’ve been let down by this team just being themselves: young. They’ll get better as the season progresses as they figure out and grow into Thibs’ system and his ways, but it might be too late for the playoffs by the time they do hit their stride.
I would mention Joel Embiid, but his season is of no surprise to me. You only had to look at his college highlights to know that he was going to be a monster if he did play.
And look, take all of these things with a grain of salt: we’ve played, like, six games. There’s a long way to go yet…