We’re a week into the NBA season, and what an eventful week it was. Today’s Fastbreak Managing Editor Jason Patt and Assistant Editor Kelly Scaletta got together to talk early-season surprises and disappointments.
Jason: To tip this off, a simple question: What team has surprised you the most after one week of hoops?
Kelly: I know this is a weird answer, considering they’re the defending champs who are coming off one of the best seasons in history, but HOLY MOLY Golden State Warriors. They’re just MAULING teams. Stephen Curry is obliterating egos. And what they did to the Grizzlies? Oh my expletive goodness! That was just R-rated basketball. I mean, 82-0 anybody?
Jason: Four games against teams they beat in the playoffs last year and 4 beatdowns. It really is remarkable how good they look. Some people had doubts about whether they could replicate their dominance, but they’re even better than last year. I know you joked about 82-0, but IF they stay healthy, can they get to 70? Or dare I say it…73?
Kelly: If they stay healthy, they could legitimately chase the Jordan Bulls record. I was joking on Twitter that you’ll be watching another game and then you’ll switch over to the Warriors, and you’ll think, “THIS is what basketball is! What was I just watching?” The passing, the shooting, the defense, the things Curry does. I mean, it’s so close to perfect that you don’t have to be a Warriors fan to enjoy watching it. Honestly, the most fun team I’ve seen play since those Jordan Bulls.
Jason: Yeah, it’s hard to say otherwise in terms of entertainment value. Considering they won 67 games last year and look even better now, 70 wins certainly isn’t out of the question. Just gotta stay healthy, and I’m crossing my fingers it’ll happen to see them chase that mark. It’d be a great story.
In terms of another surprise, what do you think about the Detroit Pistons? They lost last night, but Andre Drummond put up another 20/20 game and looks like an absolute star. Will they keep it up and make the playoffs in the East? That bench is pretty rough, but in that conference, they could still be good enough to make it.
Kelly: I picked them to win 50 in the preseason, so I’m not surprised by Detroit at all. First, Van Gundy is a VERY good coach and he knows what he’s doing. Second, he’s got the team assembled now that’s his this season. Third, Drummond is going beast mode, and that’s what they need to make this team click. I absolutely think they’re an Eastern Conference playoff team. In fact, I think the entire Central Division could be in the playoffs. And you know what would be crazy, but is actually possible? If the entire second round was the Central Division.
Jason: On that note of all Central teams going to the playoffs, let’s transition to some early disappointments. The Indiana Pacers and Milwaukee Bucks have gotten off to rough starts, although both teams just picked up their first win (with the Pacers beating the aforementioned Pistons). What’s been the problem with those two teams and what will it take for them to turn it around?
Kelly: I think the situations are similar. Both teams are incorporating major changes to their offense and new players into it. I mean, the Pacers technically had Paul George last year, but he was out for most of it. Now he’s back, playing (at times) a different position and Roy Hibbert’s gone (not that that hurts the offense). The Bucks are incorporating Greg Monroe, and Jabari Parker is returning tonight.
I think for the first month of the season we’re going to see a lot of weird results. The New Orleans Pelicans’ start, the Hornets blowing out the Bulls the way they did. Just crazy stuff. But a lot of that is on new pieces fitting in or old pieces trying to fit into new systems. These things take time to learn. If it gets to be Thanksgiving and these things are happening still, then it’s time to worry a bit more. But my general take is that not much that happens in the NBA (injuries being the exception) matters until after Turkey Day.
Jason: Certainly fair to say. With the Pacers, they’re incorporating that whole new philosophy and Paul George has shot really poorly. They’ve looked like kind of a mess, but that’ll happen with such a big culture change. The Bucks’ defense has been wretched, but you’d have to think that’ll turn around at some point given the track record from last year.
Now that you mention the Pelicans, they’ve probably been the biggest disappointment of the season (Rockets may be close, but at least they have that Thunder win to hang their hat on). But New Orleans is 0-4 with some really ugly losses. Part of that is the long list of injuries they’ve dealt with, but they also just aren’t playing well.
The defense has been one of the worst in the league, and the anointed one in Anthony Davis has gotten off to a slow start on both ends of the floor? It’s only four games, but how long before a bit of panic creeps in? You just can’t afford to fall into too deep a hole in the Western Conference.
Kelly: I think a few more games. Two of the losses have come against the Warriors. So, that 0-4 record isn’t fair. Between that and the health issues, it’s not going well. To me, it looks like Brow is getting frustrated, and maybe even quitting a little at times. And that would be my greatest concern if I’m New Orleans and Gentry. And I guess that’s the answer to your question. My panic level is directly proportional with Davis’s frustration.
Jason: Zach Lowe noted on more than one occasion a lack of effort from Davis in the loss to Orlando, so you’re clearly on to something with the frustration. He’s missing shots, he has little help right now and that’s led to lackluster play. I have to imagine this thing turns around, but not pretty to start.
To finish this off, who are some other individual players who’ve surprised and who are some who’ve disappointed?
Kelly: Alright, I’ll go “small, medium and large” here because different players surprise at different levels. These “sizes” are relative to what we expected of them heading into the season.
Small: Jeremy Lamb is shredding. He’s averaging 13.3 points with a 69.0 eFG%. Not sure how many saw that lamb doing the slaughter.
Medium: Derrick Favors is averaging 21.3 points and 8.3 boards and he’s doing so while still playing very good defense. I think we expected a breakout year from him, but he got a bit lost in Rudy Gobert’s shadow.
Large: Blake Griffin is quietly doing amazing things and no one notices because Curry is spicy. I mean, he’s pushing 30/10 and 4. That’s pretty good, don’t you think?
Jason: Watching Jeremy Lamb slaughter the Bulls last night was truly depressing. Derrick Favors and the Jazz look legit. But Blake Griffin. There are still so many dolts out there who can’t appreciate just how good he really is. I get he and the Clippers are easy to dislike, and his flopping antics are annoying, but man alive is he a phenomenal basketball player. People really do just need to take the time to realize how awesome he is.
Kelly:I just looked this up. Guys who have matched his numbers (points, rebounds, assists and FG%) through the first four games:
I’d say that’s pretty good company.
Jason: Good company, indeed. How about biggest disappointment? Davis and James Harden are two obvious disappointment candidates, but is there anybody else who hasn’t lived up to the hype yet?
Kelly: I would say Derrick Rose, but ole One Eye has a pretty good excuse for now.
Maybe the Nets as a whole. I thought they’d be bad; I didn’t think they’d be THIS bad. They’re making the Sixers look good.
And of course, the Grizzlies. They’ve been on the wrong end of a couple of maulings. I don’t know what’s going on there.
Jason: The Nets are just so boring and bad. Woof. The Grizzlies bounced back nicely from their utter destruction at the hands of the Warriors, but a win over a Boogie-less Kings team is nothing to write home about.
And speaking of those Kings, that brings me to one guy who’s really disappointed thus far. I haven’t gotten a chance to watch him that closely, but Ben McLemore has been awful:
He has a PER barely above 0 and he’s getting benched. Not the ideal start to the season for a young player trying to take the next step after a decent second season.
Kelly: Ben McLeLess?
Jason: And I think that’s a perfect note to end on.