October basketball is in the books. NBA teams have now each played between six and nine games and here’s what we have learned so far.
In the first nine games of the season, Curry is averaging 33.0 points on an effective field goal percentage of 70.1! The year Steph took home his unanimous MVP award he averaged 30.1 points on an effective field goal percentage of 63.0. His lowest scoring game of the season is 23 in a blowout win over the Bulls in which he had a plus/minus of +27 in just under 25 minutes of playing time. If Curry could somehow keep up this pace, he would become the first player in NBA history to shoot 50/50/90. When you look at the top 40 three-point shooters in the NBA (based on percentage), not a single one of them has shot even half as many threes as Curry, and yet Curry still ranks ninth in three-point percentage at 52.9 percent. We all thought his 402 total three-pointers he hit in 2015-16 was totally absurd? Yeah, if he plays in all 82 games at this pace, he’d hit 500! It is simply absurd how good Curry has been to open the season.
The top five scorers in the NBA so far, Steph Curry, Kemba Walker, Damian Lillard, Zach Lavine, and DeMar DeRozan, are all Guards. The last time that happened was…never! Never in the history of the league have the top five scorers been guards. Now, I know it’s early, but with such an emphasis on pace and three-point shooting, it makes sense that the ones shooting it are the players with the ball in their hands the most.
Pace and Freedom of Movement
When Mike D’Antoni’s 2005-06 Suns, quarterbacked by Steve Nash, were running their revolutionary “7-seconds-or-less” offense and leading the league in scoring at 108.4 points per game, they were playing at a pace of 95.8 possessions per game. So far this season, 23 teams are averaging at least 108.4 points and even the NBA’s slowest team, the Indiana Pacers (96.7), are playing at a faster pace than the D’Antoni Suns.
Nobody would have predicted that six games into the Rockets” season, they would already be three games behind the Sacramento Kings in the standings. Chris Paul has missed games to suspension, Harden has missed time with a hamstring injury, and Carmelo isn’t exactly lighting it up with his 37/34/73 shooting slash with a PER of 9.9. The rumors of trading for Jimmy Butler better come to fruition because the Rockets need help badly to lift them from ranking 25th in the NBA in both Defensive and Offensive Rating.
Lakers Slow Start
We have learned that any game the Lakers play is going to be a track meet. The Lakers have the NBA’s third-highest scoring offense and run at the league’s fifth-fastest pace, they also allow the second-most points. Lebron is being Lebron and the Lakers young players have all taken turns looking good. Kuzma, Ball, Hart, and Ingram all show promise. Don’t worry about the Lakers. They will figure out how to get defensive stops and will learn how to win close games eventually…or Lebron will have them traded or replaced.
In an NBA that is playing faster than ever before and most big men finding it difficult to keep a spot in the rotation, the rare exception is 7’1″ Rudy Gobert. Unlike other thriving bigs in today’s NBA, Gobert shoots fewer threes than Ben Simmons (or at least the same number, zero). Everyone knows Rudy is a beast on the defensive side, but in this season where Guards are dominating the scoring, Rudy is posting a career-high 18.3 points on an NBA-leading 75 percent from the floor. He has 34 dunks through seven games and is on pace to break the single-season dunk record (they starting tracking that as a stat in 2000-01).
The Rise of the Bucks
Sure Giannis’s scoring and shooting numbers are down slightly from last year, but he is averaging career-bests in rebounding (14.2) and assists (5.7) to go with his 25 points for his undefeated Bucks. That means Giannis has figured out that stats aren’t everything and he has learned to do whatever he needs to do to help his team win. It also doesn’t hurt that he has a healthy Kris Middleton as his sidekick. Middleton has been shooting out of his mind while averaging 20.7 points per game on 54.9 percent shooting from deep. Giannis has help? That’s bad news for the rest of the NBA.
The Sophomore Slumps?
Last year’s rookie class gave NBA fans lots to cheer for and lots to look forward to. That meant expectations. So far, Simmons, Mitchell, and Tatum have struggled to meet those expectations.
Simmons’ numbers are down almost across the board, but especially his shooting numbers. After some off-season video of Simmons working on his three-point range was circulated on social media, you might have expected him to shoot at least one three-pointer in the Sixers’ first seven games, but that’s not the case. Teams are inviting him to shoot the three and he is shooting just 46.3 percent from the floor, more than eight percent worse than last year. His pairing with Fultz in the backcourt has taken away his driving lanes due to a lack of spacing. This looks typical of a sophomore slump.
It may not be fair to call Donovan Mitchell’s season so far a slump because his scoring (23.3) and efficiency (51.1 eFG%) are both up from last year, but at times it is clear that Mitchell is feeling pressure to take over games in the fourth quarter and so far he has not answered that bell. 0-for-7 in the fourth quarter in a close home loss to the Warriors was a good example. The Jazz’s offense was rolling until Mitchell took it upon himself to take over, shooting the Jazz out of the game. Mitchell will be great and has been great at times this season, but as teams game plan for him, he needs to learn that trusting his teammates and picking his spots to take over will only help him. That said, his efficiency is up, so he’s avoided a true “sophomore slump” so far.
Jayson Tatum’s scoring is up to 16.6 points per game, but like Mitchell, it’s clear Tatum is pressing. At least Mitchell’s efficiency is up, Tatum on the other hand is down to 40.4 percent from the floor and 28.6 percent from three, both dramatic fall-offs from last year. What Tatum is experiencing so far, looks more like the classic sophomore slump.
The Warriors are Unbeatable
This is not how the typical dynasty starts a new season. Typically, a dynasty like the Warriors, who have been playing over 100 games every season over the last five seasons, start at a slow and steady pace in October/November, knowing that it is a long season, and the only thing that really matters is being ready for the Playoffs. Not this team. The Warriors look like they are playing with a chip on their collective shoulder and have something to prove. Maybe Kevin Durant told Steph he was leaving after this season and before he goes he wants to break the NBA win record and cap it off with the title. Doesn’t it look like Steph is a man on a mission to wipe away his only Finals blemish? Remember when the Warriors won 73 regular season games only to lose to Lebron and the Cavs in the Finals (after a Draymond suspension)? Of the top 39 scorers in the NBA, Kevin Durant and Steph Curry rank number one and number two in field goal percentage. Then you have Klay Thompson going off for 14 three-pointers and 52 points, in three quarters! Just days after Steph goes for 51 in three quarters! Just days after Durant goes for 41! The Warriors have had just one game where one of their “Big 3” didn’t go off for at least 30 and that was against the Suns when Steph scored just 29 in a blowout game where no Warriors starter played 30 minutes. Their offense is better than the Rockets’ last season and their defense is anchored by Draymond Green, who is openly admitting that winning Defensive Player of the Year is a “big goal” for him. Also, don’t forget that DeMarcus Cousins has now been clear to practice. Don’t be surprised if these Warriors win 74 games and the NBA title. Yeah, they are that good.
Grizzlies and Kings are not as bad as everybody thought
I was among the many who thought the Grizzlies and Kings would be near or at the bottom of the West standings. Granted the Grizz have just one quality win (@ Utah), but they have looked much better than most people expected them to. With Gasol back healthy and leading their defense, the Grizzlies may not be done with the Grit and Grind era. They are 3rd in Defensive Rating and 29th in Pace. They are a team that can slow you down and grid you to death. Don’t sleep on them. I don’t think the Kings’ early season successes are that flukey either. The Kings are playing fast, really fast. They are 2nd in the league in Pace and De’Arron Fox looks like he was made to run that offense with Buddy Hield finding the scoring touch we haven’t seen since Oklahoma. Their three losses have come to the Jazz, Pelicans, and Nuggets, all high quality west playoff teams. This much is clear, there will be no easy wins in the West this year.
Another Strong Rookie Class
Trae Young, Deandre Ayton, and Luka Doncic headline what looks to be another strong rookie class. Young has already delivered on some of the “Next Steph Curry” hype by dropping the first rookie 35 point-10 assist game since Steph. He has a golden opportunity in Atlanta and is averaging 19.1 points and 6.6 assists and shown that he can get his shot off against NBA defenders. Ayton is as good as advertised. At 16.9 points and 10 rebounds per game while shooting better than 61 percent from the floor, Ayton how shown that he could very well be that foundational piece the Suns were looking to put with Devin Booker. Bigs who can run and move well enough to guard on the perimeter are not easy to find and Ayton fits the bill. Doncic has stepped in the Mavs lockerroom and somehow looks like it’s leader. He is currently averaging 19.9/6.3/4.4 on efficient shooting (40 percent from three). There are not a lot of rookies that average 20-5-5 (like, you can count them on one hand) and Doncic could do it.
Whether Rose’s 50-point Halloween explosion against the Jazz was a flash in the pan or something real, you have to feel good for a guy who has gone through so much over the past few years. The 2011 MVP hadn’t put up a 40-point game since his MVP season and had never scored 50. Now, after the NBA world wondered if he was done with basketball just a year ago, he scorches one of the better defenses for a career-high. Good for him.