Here’s a quick look at five things we’ve learned now that the first six days of NBA action this year are complete:
1. The Lakers are who we thought they were
Through two games, things have largely held to the form we anticipated from the Lakers before the start of the season. They’re going to outrun virtually every opponent, they’re going to get out-rebounded by virtually every opponent, and they have a team full of inconsistent three-point shooters.
To that end, the Lakers won the fast break point battle in each of their first two games, were out-rebounded in each of them and have shot 15-for-62 (24.2 percent) from deep. The result is that they are now 0-2, and will be without Brandon Ingram for the next four games and Rajon Rondo for the next three after they were suspended Sunday.
The sky isn’t falling in Los Angeles. The Lakers should get better as the season progresses and their many new pieces have time to gel. But through those opening two games, their expected strengths and weaknesses have shown.
(One additional note for bettors out there — the over has won in each of the first two Lakers games. Given they seem intent on playing at a breakneck pace on a nightly basis, this could be a smart bet moving forward).
2. The Warriors can’t shoot
Through three games, Stephen Curry is 16-for-34 from three-point range. Pretty good, right?
Well, through three games, all Golden State Warriors not named Stephen Curry are a combined 8-for-40 from three-point range.
Some of this, naturally, is regression. Klay Thompson has gone 2-for-18 from three. Kevin Durant has gone 1-for-10. Both of them will obviously start shooting much better eventually.
The rest of the Warriors, though, aren’t such sure bets. Among the group of Draymond Green, Jonas Jerebko, Quinn Cook, Andre Iguodala, Alfonso McKinnie, none are consistent threats from deep.
It certainly isn’t time to worry about the Warriors after one loss, and they still have four all-stars (plus a fifth, DeMarcus Cousins, still rehabbing from his torn Achilles'). But Golden State nearly got bit last year by its lack of wing depth and shooting outside of Curry, Thompson and Durant, and early returns this year on whether that will change aren’t encouraging.
3. The Raptors are for real
Through three games, Toronto looks every bit like the contender it was supposed to be entering the season.
The Raptors went 3-0 in their opening week of games, including a win in a potential Eastern Conference finals preview over the Boston Celtics, before going on the road the next night without Kawhi Leonard, who was rested, and winning in Washington.
Leonard looks healthy. Kyle Lowry looks great. The team’s new coach, Nick Nurse, has mixed-and-matched his lineups by opponent thus far, and the results have been excellent. and provided proof that Toronto’s depth and versatility at every position can allow it to credibly play any style against any opponent on any night.
Yes, it’s early. But, at least so far, team president Masai Ujiri’s summer gambles appear to be paying off.
4. The “Kevin Love Trade Watch” has already begun.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are now 0-3 after a demoralizing home loss to the Atlanta Hawks Sunday evening, and the talk of the Cavaliers being a potential eight-seed in the East is already looking a bit silly. I’ll be the first to admit I was among those saying it.
With that in mind, keep an eye on Kevin Love as the potential first major trade chip to be moved in the non-Jimmy Butler category. Yes, Love signed a long-term extension with Cleveland this summer. But as Blake Griffin showed last year, that just means he could be more attractive to another team as a trade chip.
The Cavaliers want to be competitive this season and Love can’t even be moved until late January. But by then, Cleveland could be far outside the playoff picture — and Love, like Griffin last year, could be going elsewhere.
5. This year’s popular sleeper teams aren’t sleeping
The Denver Nuggets, New Orleans Pelicans and Milwaukee Bucks entered the season with varying degrees of hype. The Nuggets were expected to finally break into the playoff picture in the West after knocking on the door the past two seasons while seeing steady improvement from their young core. The Pelicans boast a potential MVP candidate in Anthony Davis, plus some intriguing pieces in the frontcourt like Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle. The Bucks have their own potential MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo, plus Khris Middleton, an upgrade at coach and a ton of shooters.
Those three teams are a combined 7-0.
Questions do remain about all three. One good week of defense for Denver won’t erase questions about its play at that end. New Orleans needs perimeter players other than Jrue Holiday to live up to the necessary standard all season. Milwaukee has to continue to prove its different look in the preseason under Coach Mike Budenholzer was a real thing. But all three were thought to be potentially dangerous this season. So far, all three have been.
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