The NBA made its glorious return this past week, and this season looks like it will be a special one. A few things that stood out to me after week one: the Nets showed they can compete with the Heat; James Harden and Dwight Howard are already developing chemistry; the Magic, Suns and 76ers don’t want you to know they really are tanking (who would have thought those teams would have the same or better records than the Heat after week one?); and the Pelicans not only unveiled a very creepy mascot, but Jrue Holiday forgot he was traded.
With each new season comes excitement, enjoyment and most of all, a healthy dose of optimism for each fan base. The players are engaged in the games, make the extra pass, and seemingly every game is competitive. That will change. I’m a glass-half-full kind of guy, but even I know two or three games does not a season make. I frequently check my Twitter, and after scrolling through my news feed this past week, I found myself asking myself “People really think that?”
Listen, I get it. You’re excited, your team is doing well (or terribly), and some player goes on a tear and puts up outrageous numbers. I don’t blame you for your irrational thoughts. Really, who am I to judge? I’m the one who thought the Cavs were making the playoffs after beating the Celtics their first game without LeBron (and then they came back to planet Earth and finished 19-63). The point is people overreact every year. I want to sit back and just smile when I see some of the things people say (This is Bismack Biyombo‘s year!), but inside there’s a part of me begging to say something. So let’s straighten a few things out.
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Michael Carter-Williams is the NEXT star point guard!
Sorry to rain on your collective parades, 76ers fans, but we need to slow down the MCW bandwagon momentarily. After bursting onto the scene with his near quadruple-double against the Heat in his first game, MCW had fans calling him the next Gary Payton. He followed up that game with two more stellar performances (14 points and five assists against the Wizards; 26 points, 10 assists and three steals against Chicago). Did he have an amazing first game? Yes. Is he the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year? Probably. (Nothing against Michael, but who else can they give it to outside of Victor Oladipo?) Did the Heat overlook Philly in their first back-to-back of the season? It sure looks like it. Even Carter-Williams himself admitted LeBron was “coasting a little bit.”
Remember when that Jeremy Lin guy went on an absolute tear for two weeks in New York last year? Once teams figured him out, we saw his true level of production. Look Philly fans, I like Carter-Williams a lot. I really do. I saw him dominate some games first hand at Syracuse last year. He really does have the talent. But, I also saw him submit some serious duds (like his 3-for-17 shooting night against Temple). The point is, he has some serious potential (his decision-making and shot selection looks 10 times better already), but he is also going to go through major struggles this season, as the 76ers as a whole will. Let’s wait a little before announcing him as franchise savior and definite All-Star lock.
The Lakers aren’t that bad, and when Kobe comes back…LOOKOUT!
Laker-fan and fellow writer Elizabeth Benson probably thinks otherwise, but I’m not sold on the Lakers. Sure, they came out and played great D’Antoni-ball game one, and I’ll admit Xavier Henry looks like he might finally have found a place to call home after shuffling around the NBA in his first few seasons. But, do you really think the Kobe-less Lakers can win enough games to even be in the running if/when Kobe returns?
After going 2-2, Lakers fans still are hoping for a miracle. I know nobody wants to say it, but I will: the Lakers are reloading this season (the Lakers don’t rebuild). The Lakers front office has to be thrilled now. They came out and beat the Clippers (defending the Staples Center) and if Pau Gasol keeps playing like this, he’s going to net them a nice first rounder come the trade deadline. You think they’ll keep him around in the last year of his contract, especially when the only large contract on the books next year is Steve Nash? I don’t doubt for a second that Kobe will return and be some form of himself, he’s the Black Mamba! But I also don’t expect the already apathetic defensive-version of Bryant to suddenly expend himself on the defensive side of the ball when he returns.
With Nash looking every bit of age 39, (and sitting out the second of most back-to-backs), is a Nash, Bryant and Nick Young (who has never once been mentioned positively in regards to defense) grouping really going to stop anyone out West? AND that’s not even including Gasol and the undersized Shawne Williams down low. With bottom feeders like the Pelicans and Kings improving over the offseason, (have you seen Anthony Davis yet? He’s playing on a whole different level this year) and the Mavs looking more competitive than predicted, this is finally the year the Lakers will miss the playoffs.
Derrick Rose will never be the same
After starting the season shooting just 15-for-52 (just 28.8 percent), there is a growing skepticism that Rose will never be what he once was. My advice? Don’t do it. Rose is still working his way back and while he is going through an awful shooting slump to start the season, I don’t doubt at all that the former MVP will get back into the swing of things as the season progresses. If the preseason was any indication (he was tied for second in scoring with 20.7 PPG, including 44 percent from three), Rose can still score, and unless my eyes deceive me, Rose looks like he’s just as athletic as before. Maybe the hype surrounding the Bulls has been a little blown out of proportion — it looks like they really need a secondary scorer to knock of the Heat — but Rose will be just fine. Let’s give him more than a week to get back into it before we mourn his career.
The Clippers are the best in the West/and the Thunder are in for a down year
With the addition of Doc Rivers and role players J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley, the Clippers are obviously stronger. With the loss of super-scorer Kevin Martin, and Russell Westbrook coming back from a torn meniscus, the Thunder are supposed to take a step back. But does that mean the Clippers are a lock for the Finals and the Thunder are doomed? I don’t think so. First of all, both teams have to get through the Spurs (my number one out West).
The Clippers have started the season 2-1, and have rolled off two straight wins since their disappointing opener against the Lakers. While the Clippers won a shootout Thursday against another improved Western Conference team, the Warriors, did anybody notice how Hack-A-DeAndre kept the Warriors around longer than they should have been? Are you sold on a contender playing that poor of a free throw shooter (42.4 percent from the line for his career) in the closing minutes of a tight playoff game? I’m not. While the offense is running smoothly, and CP3 is off to a great start (27.7 PPG, 12.0 APG, 3.7 SPG), the West is too tough to from top to bottom to predict the top just yet.
The Thunder, on the other hand, can still compete. Durant looked locked-in during the first game (going off for 42 points) and now Westbrook is back, and showing no sign of injury. While game two didn’t go as planned (a 100-81 loss to the T’Wolves, including only 13 points from Kevin Durant), don’t look too much into that one. For one, Jeremy Lamb finally looked comfortable (scoring a team-high 16 points, after scoring only four in the first game), and what about Reggie Jackson‘s continued breakout (14 points in game one, eight in game two) at the point? Game three just finished up Sunday night and resembled the Thunder you’re used to seeing: Durant finished with 33 (on 10-for-19 shooting) and 10 rebounds, and Westbrook looking strong in his first game back, finishing with 21 points and seven assists.
Do they need another veteran third option to make a Finals run? With a whole lot of assets (young players like Lamb, Jackson and Perry Jones III), plus Kendrick Perkins, the Thunder could deal when the trade deadline comes around.
The reality with these two teams is it’s simply too early to have a grasp on their full team dynamics. With the Western Conference being uber-competitive (I haven’t even mentioned the Rockets) from top to bottom, anything can happen.
Monta Ellis and DeMarcus Cousins are changed men!
Ellis, after being bashed by most (including myself in a recent Lawson vs. Ellis column) as a chucker and inefficient scorer, is out to prove us all wrong this season. Ellis was an efficient 11-for-17 from the floor, ending up with 32 points (and eight assists) in the Mavs’ season opening win. He followed up that performance with 20 and 18 points in the next two games as the Mavs finished the first week 2-1.
Immediately fans blamed a paltry Bucks offense as the reason for Ellis’s inefficiency (somewhat valid). While playing in a better organized offense, not to mention a proven scorer in Dirk Nowitzki, will surely lead to better shots for Ellis, let’s wait a little longer before we call the career 45.6 percent shooter efficient. Need more proof? Ellis returned to his chucker past after game one, shooting 36.8 and 35.7 percent in the last two games.
Boogie Cousins didn’t switch teams, but he did get a new owner and coach. So far, the results have paid off for the player the Kings gave a four-year, $62 million contract extension this offseason. Cousins’ reputation as a talented but enigmatic player who doesn’t always play hard was nowhere to be found in game one, as Cousins went off for 30 points and 14 rebounds. He followed that up with 24 points and 10 rebounds. Boogie is a changed man! Wait… he finished game three with only eight points and seven rebounds.
This one hurts me a little because Boogie is one of my favorite players. I believe in Boogie. But, as a rational person I’m not ready, just yet, to crown Cousins a changed man. Will his effort keep up if the wins aren’t coming? Here’s to hoping I’m wrong about this one. Both team’s success is greatly effected by the performances these two put forward. Can they prove their reputations wrong? Right now, I’m leaning towards no (sorry, DeMarcus).
What do you think?
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