The NBA season tipped off a few days ago on December 22nd where we saw some marquee matchups. The Nets and Warriors played first with the Nets blowing the Warriors out in Kevin Durant’s return. This was followed by the battle of L.A. that saw a hungry clippers team beat the, supposedly overbearing, Lakers. This was followed by a total of 13 games on December 23rd that showed the rest of the NBA talent. While it may be early, and we have only seen each team play one game, there are still some important takeaways from these first games.
- The Wizards Will Make the Playoffs
Since entering the NBA in 2008, Russell Westbrook has only missed the playoffs once. In the 2014-2015 season when Kevin Durant was hurt, Russell Westbrook led the Thunder to 45 wins and missed the playoffs by tiebreaker. Now Russ has moved to an easier conference, and has an all-star teammate in Bradley Beal with some decent supporting pieces. Last night, the Wizards were leading the 76ers for most of the game, and could have easily came out with a victory. I would not be surprised at all to see the Wizards as the 6th seed by the end of the season.
2. The Nets are Real
Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving returned to the basketball court and completely obliterated a team that was supposed to make the playoffs in the western conference. The Nets showed that they are an insanely deep team, running 10-deep with some really solid players coming off the bench. The bench unit was dominant as Levert, Shamet, Allen, Green and Prince continued a masterful performance by the team once the starters sat. This was probably shown best by the bench unit averaging a +10.2 net-rating. This team’s starter are up there with the best in the league, but the bench is better than previously thought to be.
3. The Clippers are Still a Top-3 Team in the NBA
I know, the Clippers started their 2019-2020 season with a resounding victory over the Lakers as well, and we all believed that the Clippers would do the same come playoff time. This year, their victory showed the opposite, this team is still going to contend with the Lakers, and could give them problems. Kawhi had a surprisingly inefficient night, by his standards, while Paul George led both teams in scoring. The Clippers one weakness was their bench, but we all knew this coming into the season. Hopefully if Kennard can step up, a bench duo of Kennard and Lou Williams could help fix this problem.
4. LaMelo is Starting to Look Like his Brother
Since entering the NBA in 2017, Lonzo Ball has struggled to put the ball in the basket. Don’t get me wrong, averaging about 10 points per game is something, but Lonzo was a second overall pick that was touted to do more. Last night, LaMelo showed that he too might have the same issue as he struggled to both find and hit shots. The number 3 overall pick in this past draft attempted only 5 shots in 16 minutes of playing time. This combined with the fact he went 0/5 is concerning and could be a sign of a long-term issue for LaMelo.
5. The Raptors Clearly Miss Ibaka/Gasol
The Raptors lost the battle for points in the paint to New Orleans. Although they did not give up many, it likely would have been less with Ibaka and Gasol defending the rim. Together the two raptors bigs averaged a -7.5 net rating between them. This was not the only problem for the Raptors as the team allowed New Orleans to shoot 45% from the field, but by having weaker perimeter defenders it could have allowed for more drive-and-kick opportunities. While Gasol and Ibaka were missed, I believe this was a game for the Raptors that will not be similar to how they will play for the rest of the season.
6. The Bulls are Still Not Ready to Take a Jump
While the Hawks vs. Bulls game was not closed, and that could be attributed to Trae Young and the Hawks offensive dominance, I believe it was due to a poor performance by the Bulls. The Bulls came out flat-footed, being outscore in the first quarter by 13 points. The Bulls combined to shoot an abysmal 22.9% from three-point range through this game against a Hawks team that has been known to be a weaker defensive team. While Lavine and Markkanen both shot better than the rest of the team, they led the team in worst plus minus, recording -26 and -34 ratings respectively. This could be a sign of poor defense, or isolation offense.
7. Denver is Going to Miss Their Top Wing Defenders in Craig and Grant
The Denver Nuggets began their season with an overtime loss to the Sacramento Kings on a game-winning buzzer beater by Buddy Hield. After losing both Jerami Grant and Torrey Craig this offseason, the Nuggets lack of defense on the wing was alarming, as the two leading scorers for the Kings were Buddy Hield (SG) and Harrison Barnes (SF). While Jokic had a great game, it wasn’t enough for a Nuggets team that struggled to hit three-point shots. This team may not have lost this game if Jamal Murray had shot better, but regardless, this game should never have been close between last year’s 3rd and 12th western conference seeds.
8. The 76ers New Offense Could Fit, But They Need More 3’s
Last night the Philadelphia 76ers squeaked out a win against the Washington Wizards. While most thought this game wouldn’t have been so tightly contested through the first few quarters, the one point of promise was that Embiid and Simmons both played well. This is a good sign that the two of them cold fit together with some better 3-point shooting. The issue last night was that Danny Green and Seth Curry shot 1/9 from deep. These two guys were brought to the team to provide shooting. If they can go 4/9 this game would not have been as close, and the floor could be better spread for Embiid and Simmons.
9. Brandon Ingram is Going to Get the Touches he Deserves
Last year, before the all-star break and before Zion Williamson’s entrance into the New Orleans Pelicans lineup, Brandon Ingram was the star of the team. He averaged around 28 points, and was named an all-star. However, once Zion returned these numbers dipped significantly. This could have been one of the reasons for Alvin Gentry’s firing, as he was not finding a way to maximize both Ingram and Williamson. This changed in the Pelicans first game this season with Stan van Gundy as the bench boss. Ingram put up 19 shots, hitting 10 of them for a game-high of 24 points vs. the Raptors. This could be a promising sign of another all-star selection for BI.
10. Utah Has Hope
Coming into this season it was clear that the Portland Trailblazers had improved their team by adding Robert Covington and Enes Kanter, yet last night, the Utah Jazz beat them by 20 points in a major win. Some had believed that Utah could possibly fall out of the playoffs this year, but after this win, that rumour has clearly been dispelled. The key takeaway for me, that makes Utah better than thought to be is their core bench group of Jordan Clarkson, Joe Ingles, and Derrick Favors. Those three combined for 39 points and an average plus minus of +11.5. This is a promising sign for Utah fans as the Jazz could possibly finish as a top 5 seed in the west again.