The NBA season is officially underway, and everyone is already drawing conclusions about their favorite teams. While some fans are planning their championship tattoos, others are begging their team to start tanking for a high draft pick. Anything can happen during the course of an entire season, but so much has already been revealed in these first weeks.
Firstly, the Golden State Warriors have been as great as expected. To the dismay of many, they have continued to be dominant. The NBA’s latest dynasty looks like it has a legitimate chance at continuing its reign.
The Toronto Raptors and the Milwaukee Bucks have been as good as, if not better than, expected. They each started with 6-0 records and have shut down any doubts about their star players. Kawhi Leonard of the Raptors faced questions about how he would deal with a new team and his first season since injuring his thigh. Many critics wondered if Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks would take the next step in his progression to All-Star status. Both of them have been playing better than ever. If anyone presents a challenge to the Warriors’ title hopes at this point, it’s these two teams.
Everyone expected the East’s best representative to be the Boston Celtics. Point guard Kyrie Irving has had problems with his scoring, but the Celtics are still holding their ground. It would be an exaggeration to say they are struggling, as nothing has indicated that they can’t still secure first place in the East by season’s end.
Those are about the only four teams that are living up to their projected success so far. The list of teams defying expectations, both good and bad, is much longer.
The Denver Nuggets have almost come out of nowhere and taken the competitive Western Conference by storm. Their young core centered around Nikola Jokić has proved to be an offensive juggernaut. While Jokić has shown steady improvement over the past couple of seasons, many of Denver’s other starters remain unproven. It would be awesome to see their success continue, but Denver may soon be overshadowed by playoff regulars who have simply gotten off to slow starts.
Young big men seem to be the trendiest players right now. Jokić is obviously an example of this, but New Orleans MVP candidate Anthony Davis is perhaps the epitome of it. His impressive individual success has led the Pelicans to a great start. If his numbers stay as high as they have been, the Pelicans will be able to get a higher playoff seed than most would have thought. But in the current state of the NBA, one good player, with LeBron always being the exception, can’t lead a bad team to a championship. So, unless the Pelicans can give Davis an elite teammate, the team doesn’t stand to get too far into the playoffs.
Despite the impressive achievement of these teams, others are not as happy with their current status. The Houston Rockets, who were predicted to be Golden State’s main Western Conference competitor, have been struggling to find their footing. Carmelo Anthony is about as bad as his critics expected, and the holes in the Rockets’ defense have been showing.
Anthony and reigning MVP James Harden have both been mocked for their lack of defensive effort in the past, and having both of them on the same team this season isn’t doing Houston any favors. Trevor Ariza was a key defensive piece on the team last year, and after losing him during the offseason, no one has stepped in to fill his role. Beating the Warriors requires near flawless performance, and, while still possible, the Rockets have a lot to do to get there.
The Oklahoma City Thunder weren’t exactly championship-bound this year, but their season has been quite a disaster so far. Chemistry issues, defensive breakdowns and injuries are all to blame for the rough start. André Roberson, one of the Thunder’s best lock-down defenders, will eventually come back from his injury, and chemistry can be fixed over the course of a season, but the Thunder seem to be in a tough spot. The most they will achieve this season will probably be a low playoff seed, and that will only be possible if Russell Westbrook puts up unbelievable stats like he has the last two years.
Likewise, LeBron’s Lakers have been doing worse than many expected. LeBron is famous for taking bad teams to the Finals, but perhaps this season will be different. The former MVP has been playing as well as usual, but after taking a more laid-back approach to basketball and surrendering control to coach Luke Walton, LeBron may have his success wasted by another bad Lakers season.
Perhaps the only team who was projected to be bad and is still underachieving is the Cleveland Cavaliers. Everyone knew that without LeBron, the Cavaliers were doomed for the foreseeable future, but no one expected them to start 0-6 and subsequently fire their coach Tyronn Lue. Although firing Lue has been a controversial move, Cleveland can make things right by finding a coach who will focus on developing its young talent over the next few years. If it fails to do this, Cleveland is bound to return to the mediocre status it had after LeBron left the first time.
Hopefully this season continues to bring the excitement. 82 games is a long time, and so much can still happen. Unexpected storylines are not uncommon in the NBA. Underdogs will rise and titans will fall. Here’s one prediction that is bound to come true: This season is going to be a lot of fun.