It’s early in the season, but we have now got enough of a sample size to have a look at which teams have and have not impressed so far.
Of course, some teams have had tough schedules whilst others have been gifted with cakewalks, but the eye test can correct some of that. It’s hot take time!
30. Philadelphia 76ers (0-5)
Joel Embiid has been awesome. In just five games, he has shown flashes of why the Sixers out-tanked everyone and risked Greg Oden-syndrome to take him at pick three in the 2014 draft. Often compared to Hakeem Olajuwon, the big man has looked incredible down low, averaging 18.5 points in just over 22 minutes per game. Translate this to per 36 minutes and he’s averaging almost 30 points per game. Of course, we will have to wait and see whether he can stay healthy, but the early signs are promising for the self-labelled ‘Process.’
For the Sixers, close losses against the Thunder on opening night, the Magic and the Cavs have shown promise, but blowouts against the Hornets and Hawks have been timely reminders that this is a young team that will be inconsistent. Either way, Sergio Rodriguez has been solid at Point Guard, Dario Saric has shown promise and Joel Embiid should be Rookie of the Year at this rate. All we need now is a healthy Ben Simmons and a win.
29. New Orleans Pelicans (0-6)
Well, at least Anthony Davis has looked awesome. On the bright side for the Pelicans, their defense is starting to resemble some sort of mediocrity – something that is expected from a team with a frontline of Davis, Omer Asik, Terrence Jones and Alexis Ajincia.
Unfortunately for this team Tim Frazier has been the second best player after Anthony Davis, and in the NBA, that is a recipe for disaster. The return of Jrue Holiday will be eagerly anticipated – whenever that is – whilst Tyreke Evans’ return from injury should help with the teams scoring issues. For now, however, the Pelicans must keep playing hard, tough defense and hope that AD is enough to get them some scrappy wins.
28. Dallas Mavericks (0-5)
The Mavericks could not have got off to a worse start. Tight losses in their season opener to Indiana and on the road against Houston will hurt them in the long run – two and three is a lot different to zero and five. Their last two games have been blowouts at the hands of fellow playoff contenders Utah and Portland, which have only been soured by the news that Dirk will miss the next week with an Achilles injury.
Their schedule for the upcoming week has them facing the Warriors and Celtics on the road – games they would probably lose even with Dirk – but also the Bucks, Lakers and Knicks. With a healthy Dirk, the Mavs would probably go into all three games as favourites and would likely come out with at least two wins. Without Dirk, the Mavs could start 0-10 and miss a chance to chalk up some easy wins against fringe playoff or lottery teams. These sort of breaks in the schedule need to go your way if you’re a fringe playoff team like Dallas, and so far it seems that they may be lottery bound.
Maybe this is the year the Mavs finally drop off and go into an all-out tankathon, potentially dealing an Andrew Bogut type for assets. Either way, the playoffs look unlikely for the Mavs even at this early stage of the season.
27. Brooklyn Nets (2-4)
The Nets are trying, and that’s all you can ask for. Their losses have been close and their wins have been scrappy, which is a positive sign for a franchise that has no incentive to lose. This team has no late game offense, which will cost them some close ones, but it’s unlikely that they finish with the worst record in the league. Brook Lopez has stroked seven threes from his 21 attempts, Bojan Bogdanovic has looked awesome offensively on the wing and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has shown great early signs covering for him defensively.
Their upcoming schedule doesn’t look too bad either. They’re at home against the Wolves, followed by a road trip that sees them play the Knicks, Suns, Clippers, Lakers and Thunder. If the Nets can win two or three of those games, it will do wonders for the confidence of the playing group and the fanbase.
26. Minnesota Timberwolves (1-5)
Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine have all looked great offensively to start the year. Towns is averaging 22.4 points and 8 rebounds in 34.4 minutes per game and has shown glimpses of the superstar he will become. Defensively, he’s been solid but unspectacular, once again getting lost on some possessions whilst showing flashes of brilliance on others. These growing pains will get less and less as the season progresses. Wiggins and LaVine are combining for 38 points a night, but are probably leaking just as many on the other end, with no indication so far that Tom Thibodeau has improved them defensively.
The main issue so far for the Wolves is their depth. This issue is two-fold. Firstly, Thibs just doesn’t trust these guys, which has led to secondly, the bench struggling to get into any sort of rhythm with each other due to the limited opportunities they’re getting.
Losses to similarly placed fringe playoff teams Memphis, Denver, Sacramento and Oklahoma City aren’t ideal at all for the Wolves, and their one win came against a Conley, Parsons and Gasol-less Grizzlies at home. The next two games against Brooklyn and Orlando on the road are crucial if the Wolves are to make the post-season. There is plenty of potential for Minnesota and it’s too early to write them off as a playoff contender, but the early signs aren’t good.
25. Washington Wizards (1-4)
Coming into the season, the Wizards were a popular rebound pick to once again make the playoffs and potentially make waves in the Eastern Conference. The logic was that new Coach Scotty Brooks would give them a fresh start and a retooled defensive identity and that their injury woes cost them last season.
This could still be the case, but the Wizards have looked woeful so far this season. Offensively, Bradley Beal is currently shooting just 37% from the field and their depth is atrocious, with bench units getting hammered and letting the opposition back into games.
Defensively, oppositions have been gifted to open threes, with the team giving up points galore. John Wall has started the season strongly, although he will miss back-to-backs for the foreseeable future and didn’t play against the Magic as he recovers from offseason knee surgery. Without him, the team shot just 39% from the field against Orlando and had 11 assists combined.
This combination of factors, along with upcoming games against the Rockets, Celtics, Cavs and Bulls could torpedo the Wizards playoff chances before November ends.
24. Phoenix Suns (2-4)
The signs are positive in Phoenix, who have been to overtime in three of their six games so far, winning two of them. The Suns took a lead into halftime against the Warriors, pushed the Thunder to OT and were rewarded with victories at home against Portland and on the road in New Orleans.
Their defense has looked solid, with everyone other than Devin Booker and Brandon Knight at least holding their own, whilst the offense has received almost no help from the frontcourt. T.J. Warren is finally getting the opportunity to show his old-school scoring arsenal that saw him taken in the 2014 lottery, averaging nearly 22 points and 6 rebounds on a 48% Effective Field Goal Percentage. Devin Booker looked shaky before a huge performance against the Pelicans, where he put up 38 points on 13-22 shooting and 9-9 from the line. Still, he has a long way to go as a facilitator and as long as the Suns don’t have a ‘true’ Point Guard, he must improve that aspect of his game.
Eric Bledsoe took over at home against the Blazers, hitting two huge shots to win them the game and has looked okay on both ends of the floor without setting the world on fire. This team still seems to lack a definitive identity, a problem which will cost them some games this season, but they have enough talent and have shown enough to encourage fans. The next few games against the Lakers, Blazers, Pistons and Nets will give us a better indication of whether this team can be a fringe playoff team.
23. Orlando Magic (3-3)
The Magic currently sit in 9th place in the Eastern Conference, with three wins and three losses. A close road win in Philly followed by home wins against Sacramento and the John Wall-less Wizards mean that the Magic’s record masks their deeper issues.
The Magic were expected to be awful offensively this season and that has come to fruition so far, with just Evan Fournier showing any signs of being a capable offensive player. Elfrid Payton has struggled once again this year, shooting just 28 from 74 (37.8%) from the field and 3 from 19 from deep (15.7%). The spacing is a huge issue, as expected, so the Magic must continue to draw fouls and get to the line if they are to win games.
The real issues have come on the defensive end, where the Magic were expected to excel. They currently have the sixth-worst defensive rating in the league, where they have struggled immensely with the chemistry of implementing Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo. In the last two games their aggressiveness, recovering and general attentiveness on that end of the floor has improved. This locked-in mentality must continue if the Magic are to grind out wins.
22. Sacramento Kings (2-5)
After winning two of their first three games, the Kings are currently on a four-game losing streak following losses against Atlanta, Miami (OT), Orlando and Milwaukee on the road. Ideally, Sacramento would’ve won at least one of these games, but they haven’t really gone close apart from in Miami, where DeMarcus Cousins picked up six fouls in the fourth quarter to foul out before the Kings got crushed in overtime.
Despite this, the Kings have looked better under Dave Joerger than they did under George Karl and Joerger hasn’t been afraid to make big calls. The Kings have started to make strides on the defensive end, even if it is just by putting in an effort, but have really struggled offensively, with only Boogie and Rudy Gay averaging over 10 points per game.
Guys like Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo must start hitting the scoreboard, whilst Omri Casspi and Willie Cauley-Stein must re-affirm their spots in the rotation after both receiving DNP-Coach’s Decision’s already this season.
21. New York Knicks (2-3)
Kristaps Porzingis is the best player on the Knicks. The only problem is that Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony don’t know this. Porzingis has started the season averaging 17 points and 6 rebounds in 32 minutes per game, whilst knocking down 43.5% of the 23 threes he’s taken.
The Knicks starting lineup and lineups that include some combination of Porzingis, Anthony, Joakim Noah and Courtney Lee have been positive, per NBA.com, but the Knicks lack of depth is concerning. Jeff Hornacek has tried Willy Hernangomez, Mindaugus Kuzminskas and most recently Maurice Ndour to little avail. The Euro’s have looked bad defensively and Ndour has some serious fouling issues. With Lance Thomas out, Brandon Jennings is the Knicks only reliable bench option – a serious issue for a team that has starters with serious injury histories.
However, the Knicks looked much better on the road against the Bulls and have done quite well to start 2-3 after versing Cleveland, Memphis, Detroit, Houston and Chicago. The schedule doesn’t get any easier though, with Utah, Boston and Toronto being three of their next four matches.
20. Miami Heat (2-3)
The Heat have taken care of business so far this season, defeating the Orlando Magic and the Sacramento Kings for their two wins. Early losses to the Charlotte Hornets, San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors were expected, and the Heat staying close in all of these matches is promising.
Goran Dragic has looked like his old self, putting up 19.4pts, 6.6asts, 5.2rbs on 47.2% shooting from the field. He’s also been red-hot from deep, hitting 14 of his 26 threes so far this season. His combination with Hassan Whiteside (20pts, 14.2rbs in 31.6mins per game) has been critical to the Heat’s offense – especially with Justise Winslow and Dion Waiters largely struggling on that end of the floor so far.
Defensively, Erik Spoelstra has established an identity based around Hassan Whiteside and Justise Winslow and currently the Heat sit 10th in defensive efficiency, per Hollinger. The team looks a little thin, especially seeing as Spo hasn’t used Derrick Williams or Josh McRoberts so far this season, but getting Josh Richardson back to full fitness should help that. He made his debut against Toronto, but will be closely monitored as he recovers from his MCL injury.
19. Denver Nuggets (2-3)
The Nuggets have so many good players on their team that they will be competitive in almost every game they play. This is a team that is likely to have an excellent point differential that may not translate into wins due to their issues with fourth quarter offense. This is an issue that has already shown to be true, with the Nuggets getting outscored by a cumulative 26 points in the fourth quarter through their first five games.
However, the Nuggets have still looked solid accros the board and shouldn’t get blown out this year with their depth of talent. Wilson Chandler has returned well, averaging nearly 15 points and 6 assists from the bench and despite struggling with his three-point stroke, he’s been quite efficient from the field.
Their big men have looked awesome, with Nikola Jokic, Jusuf Nurkic and Kenneth Faried all having good starts to the year. Jokic has shown that he can make good plays with the way he reads the game, whilst Nurkic has dominated down low and has had no issues creating his own shot. Faried has provided energy in a new bench role and all three have looked surprisingly competent defensively.
On the negative side, Emmanuel Mudiay is currently shooting just 27% from the field, despite receiving over 30 minutes of action per night and hasn’t shown any improved shot selection or shooting range. The Nuggets have no other viable Point Guards and have recorded the least assists per game in the league so far this year, which only adds to their issues. Gary Harris’ return should help, but the creation won’t be fixed with just him. Add to this their fourth quarter scoring problems and there’s reason to be concerned about Denver despite their solid start.
18. Indiana Pacers (3-3)
The Pacers looked much better in their home blowout of the Chicago Bulls than they did in their first five games, where they recorded wins against the Lakers and Mavericks.
Through five games, the Pacers boasted the worst defensive efficiency in the league, and even though it looked better against the Bulls, there is still plenty of room for concern. Myles Turner has been their most consistent defender, but is still averaging nearly four fouls in his 28 minutes per game. This team has the look of a legitimate bottom-10 defense, which means that it will need every last inch of offense in order to make the playoffs.
Luckily, the offense has looked fluent despite their lack of shooting, with the improved play of Myles Turner and new frontcourt partner Thaddeus Young a big reason for this. So far, Indiana have taken and hit their threes, with Paul George and C.J. Miles especially shooting straight fire to begin this season (both over 52% from deep).
The Pacers have the Hornets, Sixers (twice) and Celtics coming up, so we should know a bit more about this team after that stretch.
17. Los Angeles Lakers (3-3)
Back to back wins against the Atlanta Hawks and Golden State Warriors are promising signs for a young roster that looks much better under Luke Walton than they did under Byron Scott.
The defense hasn’t been great, but that is to be expected from a team starting well-known sieves such as D’Angelo Russell, Nick Young and Julius Randle. Mozgov too has looked a step slow defensively, which is concerning given his contract.
Offensively, however, Luke Walton has breathed life into this team, with Julius Randle the biggest beneficiary so far. Switchy lineups with Randle at the 5 alongside some combination of Russell, Clarkson, Young, Ingram and Deng have proven to be effective and Walton hasn’t been afraid to use the depths of his rotation (9 players average 18+ mins).
The early signs are good for this team, who have an extremely soft run of the Suns, Mavs, Kings, Pelicans, Wolves and Nets coming up. Win four or five of those and the team will grow in confidence, potentially becoming a low 30 win team.
16. Memphis Grizzlies (3-3)
The Grizz are tough to gauge so far this season. They were outplayed in their opener against the Wolves, but escaped with a win, then lost to the Knicks, were taken to OT by the Wizards and Pelicans and got smashed by the Clippers. Of course, they had a loss to the Wolves in there as well, but without Gasol, Conley and Parsons, there’s not a lot to take from that.
Chandler Parsons hasn’t played yet, but the offense looks terrible. Marc Gasol has struggled immensely – despite his newfound three-point shot – shooting just 34% from the field. Mike Conley’s shooting (59% 3pt) is unsustainable and they’re getting very little production from their bench and role players.
Defensively they’ve been better but still not exceptional and Gasol has been forced to fix some shotty perimeter defense. Upcoming games against teams around them such as the Blazers, Nuggets, Bucks and Jazz will paint a clearer picture of where they sit in the scheme of things.
15. Milwaukee Bucks (4-2)
The Bucks have taken advantage of a relatively easy schedule, with wins over the Nets, Pelicans, Pacers and Kings so far this season. However, that should take nothing away from Milwaukee who have looked solid on both ends to beat the teams put in front of them.
Giannis has been huge, averaging 22.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 6.7 assists in 33.7 minutes per game on an incredible 53.3% Field Goal Percentage. He completely outplayed Paul George against the Pacers and currently sits 8th in the league for Box Plus-Minus out of starters, per Basketball Reference.
Add to this Jabari Parker, who has shown some promise scoring, creating and handling the ball and some big games from Greg Monroe and Mirza Teletovic and the Bucks look promising. As long as Delly, Snell and Teletovic keep shooting the ball at a decent rate, there should be enough space on the floor for Giannis and Jabari to continue doing their thing.
Their light schedule continues with games against the Mavs, Pelicans, Grizzlies, Hawks and Heat coming up. This should allow this team to develop more chemistry and confidence as the season progresses.
14. Houston Rockets (3-3)
The Rockets have been up and down to start the year, beating the Mavs twice and the Knicks and falling to the Lakers, Cavs and Hawks.
The offense has looked predictably awesome and James Harden has challenged Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook for the early season MVP favourite. Harden is posting 31.5 points, 12.3 assists and 7.3 rebounds in his new role as Point Guard. He’s also doing it efficiently, shooting over 50% from the field and over 40% from deep.
It’s not quite the fast-paced, 7-seconds-or-less offense that Mike D’Antoni is known for, with Houston currently sitting mid-table in pace and second last in passes per game. In fact, it looks quite similar to what Harden’s former teammate Russell Westbrook is doing in Oklahoma City at the moment, only with a better supporting cast.
The Rockets are dead last in defensive efficiency, and that will have to improve if they are to be a serious player this season. It’s hard to gauge how they can do this, but putting in effort on every possession will be a good start.
13. Chicago Bulls (3-3)
The Bulls have crashed back to Earth after starting with three straight wins, losing to the Celtics, Knicks and Pacers. The crux of the issue is the team’s defense, which is the sixth worst leaguewide so far, per Hollinger. The backcourt of Rondo and Wade has struggled to force turnovers and bench units with Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott have struggled to keep pace defensively.
On the other end of the ball though, the Bulls have looked good. The ball is fizzing, with Chicago currently making the fourth most passes per game in the league and bench units are dominating (especially when Michael Carter-Williams was fit). Taj Gibson’s strong screens create space for the three ball handlers to operate, even with their tight spacing and his rebounding from the four has been pivotal. The Bulls are getting out in transition in a way that they couldn’t with Pau Gasol and Derrick Rose, with skip and outlet passes galore. Rajon Rondo doesn’t look great (is anyone surprised?), he’s scared of finishing at the rim and often turns it over or commits to a bad pass because of it, but he gets the ball moving and that’s been good for Chicago.
Yes, they’ve been hitting their threes, but even when they’re not falling there is going to be enough smart offense for this team to score reasonably well. Their defense does need to be tightened though if they’re going to make a run for the playoffs.
12. Portland Trail Blazers (3-3)
The Blazers have had an interesting start to the season, winning where they should (against Dallas, Denver and the injured Jazz) and losing where they should (against Golden State and the LA Clippers) save for an OT loss against Phoenix on a back-to-back after the GSW game.
As such, it’s hard to take much from their start to the season. They have looked quite similar to how they did last year, save for Damian Lillard. Dame has looked incredible to start the season, averaging 34.2pts, 5.7rbs and 4.5asts on 52.3%FG and 42.9%3pt. He’s been the single best offensive player in the league so far, which has allowed guys like C.J. McCollum, Allen Crabbe and Al-Farouq Aminu to play complementary roles.
Mason Plumlee has played like he’s going to get paid this offseason, finishing pick and rolls and acting as a facilitator once again this year. This team will be in the hunt for the playoffs again; but must prove that they can beat the teams around them before they move up in the power rankings.
11. Detroit Pistons (4-2)
A soft schedule has been kind to the Pistons who are missing their offensive focal point Reggie Jackson for the start of the season. No player is missing him more than Andre Drummond, his dynamic Pick and Roll partner, who is currently shooting just 45% from the field.
Despite this, the Pistons are still winning, thanks in large part to the contributions of Tobias Harris and Marcus Morris who are averaging 18.8 and 17.5 points respectively with both hitting their threes. They currently sit last in the league in 3 point attempt rate, though, with KCP, Ish Smith and their bench reluctant to shoot. This is something that they will need to rectify as the season wears on.
The Pistons are a force on defense, however, forcing plenty of mid-range shots and not allowing many open threes. Pair this with an improved offensive flow when Reggie Jackson comes back (the Pistons are currently third last in passes per game) and you have a potential home-court advantage team in the East. For this to happen, though, they must survive the period until Jackson returns.
10. Oklahoma City Thunder (5-1)
The Thunder have started the season on fire, dropping a game only to Kevin Durant’s Warriors. They’ve had an easy schedule and only eeked out tight wins against the Suns, Sixers and Clippers, but they won them nonetheless and are in a strong position to make the playoffs once again. Thumping the Lakers and Timberwolves at home is a good indicator that their Chesapeake advantage hasn’t slipped.
Also, this team looks real on defense. Adams has proven to be an elite rim protector who moves his feet well in the pick and roll and they have length all over the perimeter. OKC’s identity will have to be forged on the defensive end because they simply don’t have the offensive cattle to outscore an opposition.
As I tweeted earlier this week, there is a resemblance between this team and a certain Philadelphia team of the early 2000s. Whether this works in this day and age is yet to be seen, but Russell Westbrook will be damned if he doesn’t try it.
This Westbrook offense is distracting from how good OKCs defence has looked. Similar to AI Philly teams. Defend hard, give the ball to Russ
— Elliott Hoffmann (@PFPElliott) November 5, 2016
After all, he is averaging 33.2 points, 9.7 assists, and 9 rebounds with shooting splits of 44/41/78. Not bad at all, but he needs help from the rest of the team.
9. Atlanta Hawks (4-2)
The Hawks are still figuring it out. Wins over the Wizards (home), Sixers, Kings and Rockets have been levelled out with losses to the Lakers and Wizards (away). The Hawks have had some teething issues integrating Dennis Schroder and Dwight Howard into their system, but both have started the season fairly well.
Schroder has been a mixed bag to begin his career as a starting Point Guard, often avoiding contact in the paint and settling from the pick and roll. His decision making also has a ways to go, but overall he’s been serviceable. Teams haven’t been afraid to foul Dwight in the paint and force him to hit his free throws – something he hasn’t been able to do so far this year, hitting just 50%.
Despite these hiccups, the Hawks are still moving the ball well, which is leading to decent looks and their spacing is still making it tough for other teams to defend them.
On the defensive side of the ball, they haven’t missed a beat. Paul Millsap is showing why he was given All-Defensive team consideration and Dwight Howard has started well also. They’ve improved their rebounding and they still look like a playoff lock, however it will be interesting to see how they perform against decent opposition.
8. Utah Jazz (3-3)
Losses to the Blazers, Clippers and Spurs have put a lid on pre-season expectations a little, but their performance without Gordon Hayward and with Derrick Favors on a minutes restriction have been impressive.
Gobert is dominating the interior on the defensive end, but their overall defence hasn’t clicked just yet. They’re not attacking the offensive boards as much this year, which may be a product of Favors not playing as much but is still concerning. Boris Diaw is out, Hayward is out and Alec Burks is hurt again, so the dream of an injury free season in Utah is already over, but their newly acquired depth has got them through this period.
George Hill has been phenomenal and Joe Johnson has spread the floor nicely, all of which trends positively for when their stars return to full health. Add to this Rodney Hood’s continued ascent and some improvement from guys like Trey Lyles and Dante Exum and the Jazz will contend for home court advantage.
7. Boston Celtics (3-2)
The Celtics are staying afloat amongst a series of minor injuries that have threatened to derail their start to the year. Jae Crowder hurt his ankle against the Bulls, Al Horford is out for the next game or two with concussion, Kelly Olynyk hasn’t played yet and Marcus Smart has just returned.
Still, the Celtics have posted wins over the Nets, Hornets and Bulls and when they’ve been close to full strength, they’ve looked good. The offence hasn’t suffered through the injuries with Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley both currently shooting the lights out, but the defence has. I wouldn’t be too concerned though; it’s looked pretty damn solid when they have the whole cast available. A few soft games against the Nuggets, Wizards, Knicks, Pacers, Pelicans and Mavs should allow the C’s to get back to full fitness before they test themselves against Golden State in two weeks time.
6. Charlotte Hornets (4-1)
The Hornets have taken care of business, defeating the Bucks, Heat, Sixers and Nets to open their season, with a road loss to Boston the only blemish.
The defence under Steve Clifford looks stout once again, with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist once again imposing himself on that end of the floor. Cody Zeller still looks solid under the rim and the switchiness of Batum, Williams and MKG has been successful thus far.
Offensively, they’ve run some nice stuff in the halfcourt and have great chemistry on their passes. Kemba Walker has picked up where he left off and all their guys are hitting threes. If Frank Kaminsky’s early season form is real, the Hornets are still deep enough to cover injuries anywhere and have enough flexibility to throw different looks at opponents.
At the moment, we don’t know much more about the Hornets than we did last season, but they’re well coached, limit turnovers, play hard defence and have a big-shot guy to go to in tight games. That’s a pretty good combination for success.
5. Golden State Warriors (4-2)
The Warriors have cruised to victory against lesser competition such as the Suns, Pelicans and Thunder so far, have fallen to their biggest test against the Spurs and surprisingly lost to the Lakers. Klay Thompson isn’t even hitting 20% of his threes, Curry is only at 35% and Draymond is shooting just 40% from the field. But you know what? It doesn’t matter.
The Warriors will work it out soon, and while they do, they can rely on new addition Kevin Durant to continue to be a freak; currently averaging 30pts on 59.3/42.9/85.1 shooting splits. The production of the big three will return once they get some chemistry with their new play toy and the Warriors will begin to crush opponents once again.
There are some real concerns here, though, namely the lack of rim protection and interior presence, with Zaza Pachulia looking awful so far. Andre Iguodala hasn’t looked much better and has struggled to score both from deep and at the rim. If Iguodala’s age has finally caught up with him, GSW have reason for a little concern, but then again, four of the top twenty guys in the league are on the team. They’ll work it out.
4. Toronto Raptors (4-1)
The Raptors have rode DeMar DeRozan’s hot early season form to a 4-1 record, with their only loss coming at the hands of the Cavs in a tight one.
DeRozan has been insane. He’s averaging nearly 36 points per game on 55% shooting from the field, all whilst hitting just one of the eight threes he’s attempted. He’s hitting nearly 59% of his mid-range shots from 10 feet to the three point arc and is finishing at 75% around the rim. He’s still drawing fouls as well. Contract year DeMar is awesome.
Throw in Kyle Lowry, who has been down on efficiency, to knock down some big shots down the stretch and the Raptors are looking as solid as ever. Their bench big man rotation is a concern and they’ve been monstered by Denver’s bench bigs, but if that’s the biggest concern, you’re probably travelling pretty well.
3. San Antonio Spurs (5-2)
Recent home losses to the Jazz and the Clippers move the Spurs down a couple of places, but this team has still looked like a 60 win team so far this year. Their passing hasn’t missed a beat and they have enough isolation offense to stay afloat when it breaks down.
Kawhi Leonard isn’t putting up the insane shooting splits we saw last year, but he has made huge strides as a ball handler. Patty Mills has made the necessary step to cover Tony Parker’s rapidly declining production and Jonathon Simmons has looked good in patches.
The offense has struggled without Leonard on the floor and the defence has looked solid despite a few teething issues. The game against Golden State is probably the best indication of what this Spurs team can be at full strength and the quality of that performance will excuse some bad losses at home.
Danny Green’s return will be welcome by a team that is calling out for another scoring threat on the wing. Hopefully he can reproduce his form from two seasons ago rather than last season.
2. LA Clippers (5-1)
The Clippers have the best defence in the league so far and it’s not even close. One blemish on the road against OKC won’t detract from quality wins over the Blazers, Jazz and Spurs in which the Clippers have looked sharp.
Blake Griffin has returned seamlessly from his injuries last season, averaging 20.3pts, 9.7rbs and 3 assists in his 32.8 minutes. Chris Paul has started the season well, but hasn’t quite executed at his usual high standard; occassionally struggling to get his teammates involved.
But his defense has been as good as ever, as has DeAndre Jordan’s, whose ascent into an elite defender has nearly completed after he was annointed as one far too early in his career. Their bench looks solid as well (for once), with Marreese Speights, Raymond Felton and Austin Rivers all getting off to decent starts
Once guys like J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford find their feet once again and start hitting their shots the Clippers offense will start firing on all cylinders and they’ll be a legitimate contender for the Western Conference Finals.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers (6-0)
Did you expect anything else?
The Cavs have looked awesome so far this season, as evidenced by their 100% win record. Their chemistry is evident and it looks like they’re having fun playing with one another. Despite huge early season exploits from guys like Westbrook, Harden, Lillard and Davis, LeBron has to be the MVP favourite so far, posting 22.8pts, 10.7asts and 8.8rbs on 49% shooting from the field. Oh, and he’s the best player on what looks to be quite clearly the best team so far.
Another early takeaway is Kevin Love’s early season form, averaging 21.7 points and 8.5 rebounds and looking much more confident on the court. Throw in Kyrie Irving being back to full fitness and his best form and you’re looking at a pretty good team. It’s been six games, but book your NBA Finals tickets now, Cleveland fans, this team is legit.
- Written by Elliott Hoffmann
- All stats are from Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise stated.