Practically three weeks into the season, right here’s a glance across the NBA panorama, with ten observations ranging in influence from having a direct impact on the chase for the Larry O’Brien Trophy, groups who’re exceeding or failing to fulfill expectations, analyzing the play of a few of the league’s high rookies, being attentive to milestone accomplishments and far more.
1. The Return of the Slim Reaper
Within the Brooklyn Nets’ preseason opener in opposition to the Washington Wizards, it rapidly turned evident Kevin Durant is similar participant he was earlier than tearing his Achilles. He was slithering by way of the protection, stopping on a dime for pull-up soar photographs and attending to the rim in a few strides.
Then, throughout a Christmas matchup in opposition to the Boston Celtics, Durant erupted for 16 factors within the third quarter. He completed with 29 factors, serving to the Nets earn a 123-95 win. In Brooklyn’s subsequent sport, the previous MVP poured in a season-high 33 factors, en path to a 145-141 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
The one questions Durant has left to reply are how he’ll maintain up as we get deeper into the season, and later, because the Nets advance additional into the playoffs. These questions are issues of sturdiness. When it comes to efficiency, Durant’s taking part in like an MVP candidate.
2. Joel Embiid, Early-Season MVP
The early-season entrance runners for MVP are Joel Embiid and Durant. You may actually argue the latter’s within the lead, however the former is an offensive drive who’s additionally making a compelling opening assertion in his case for Defensive Participant of the 12 months.
Defensive stats are flawed, so it’s finest to keep away from counting on one or two of them to color the whole image of how a workforce or particular person is acting on that finish. But, throughout the board, Embiid’s registering numbers that talk glowingly concerning the influence he’s making defensively. In response to Basketball-Reference, Embiid’s yielding the third-fewest factors per 100 possessions.
Moreover, he ranks fifth in defensive win shares and eighth in defensive field plus-minus. Embiid’s blocking 1.eight photographs per sport this season, the seventh-most within the NBA, and he’s corralling 10 defensive rebounds per sport, that are the third-most within the league.
Offensively, Embiid’s producing 24.6 factors per sport whereas taking pictures 52.5 % from the sphere and averaging 9 free-throw makes an attempt per contest, that are the fourth-most within the NBA, and he’s changing them at an 83.three % clip. Although the pattern dimension is small, Embiid’s taking pictures 45.eight % from past the arc whereas taking a decent three makes an attempt per sport. For the final three years, he’s been a below-average three-point shooter.
What issues extra for Embiid’s improvement and the Philadelphia 76ers’ title possibilities is his enchancment in passing out of double groups within the low put up. In earlier years, he’s struggled to learn the place the second defender was coming from or how the protection would subsequently rotate. Final season, he misplaced confidence his teammates would make opponents pay when he kicked it out to them after drawing two defenders.
Now, Embiid is flanked by Seth Curry, who’s a profession 44.9 % three-point shooter that’s splashing 59.5 % of his makes an attempt from past the arc this season. He’s additionally exhibiting belief in Danny Inexperienced, a profession 40 % three-point shooter that’s changing 37.7 % of his makes an attempt from past the arc this season.
This season is in its infancy and the Sixers have principally feasted on dangerous groups. However surrounded by gamers who’re well-suited to enhance Embiid’s sport, he’s taking part in one of the best ball of his profession, handing over an MVP-caliber efficiency that’s helped place Philadelphia in a four-way tie atop the NBA standings. For additional studying, that’s even why Basketball Insiders’ Drew Maresca is looking to hurry up the method.
three. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are Evolving
Jayson Tatum has a formidable potential to get considerably higher at weaker components of his sport throughout the season. Final November, he shot 51.9 % on the rim, and he took appreciable flak for it. The subsequent month, Tatum improved by 11 %.
Being named an All-Star lifted a weight off Tatum’s shoulders, and his sport subsequently soared to new heights. As his scoring common rose to over 25 factors per sport after receiving that validation, Tatum needed to adapt to frequently coping with double groups; particularly, when working out of the pick-and-roll.
Right here’s an replace on how that’s going:
Tatum’s additionally engaged on breaking his behavior of settling for step-back three-pointers with the sport on the road. Thankfully for him, every week after that actual shot clanked off the rim, sealing a 108-107 loss to the Indiana Pacers, Tatum acquired a possibility to redeem himself.
As for the opposite half of Boston’s burgeoning duo, Jaylen Brown, who’s much more spectacular off the courtroom than he’s on it, continues to maximise his time within the offseason to attain important progress yearly.
With Kemba Walker injured and Gordon Hayward now on the Charlotte Hornets, the Celtics rely extra closely on Brown to facilitate their offense. He’s risen to the problem, demonstrating improved handles and higher courtroom imaginative and prescient, permitting him to create high quality scoring possibilities for himself and his teammates.
Brown’s averaging 26.three factors per sport; taking pictures 59 % from contained in the arc, whereas taking 5.7 three-point makes an attempt per sport and connecting on 42.1 % of them. After by no means shelling out greater than 2.1 assists per sport within the first 4 years of his profession, the 24-year-old is averaging three.5 assists per contest to start out this season.
All 4 of these groups made it to the Finals, and three of them received championships.
Simply sayin’ 🤷♂️https://t.co/iRJnq8tsXT
— Taylor Snow (@taylorcsnow) January 9, 2021
four. The Enhancing New York Knicks
One in every of Tom Thibodeau’s strengths is he can instantly change the tradition of a franchise. In his first season with the Chicago Bulls, the workforce received 62 video games, tying the NBA report for probably the most wins by a rookie head coach. He was named Coach of the 12 months, and the Bulls received their first division title since Michael Jordan was on their roster.
In 2018, in his second season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, he helped information the franchise again to the playoffs for the primary time in 14 years.
Quick ahead to this season, and whereas it’s early within the marketing campaign, it’s clear the New York Knicks are reaping the advantages of shopping for into what Thibs is preaching.
They beat the Milwaukee Bucks by 20 factors and got here from behind to earn highway wins in opposition to the Pacers and the Hawks. These two victories away from Madison Sq. Backyard, together with their house win over the Utah Jazz, meet NBA.com’s definition of clutch wins, that means the sport was inside 5 factors within the remaining 5 minutes.
The Knicks carried out so properly in crunch time of these video games, their plus-minus charge within the clutch is seven, which is second-best within the class.
That’s the results of a stingy protection yielding three.7 factors per sport in its first three alternatives of the season to play in contests that got here all the way down to the wire. Moreover, New York has but to permit some extent off a turnover, quick break, or surrendered a second-chance basket within the clutch. The Knicks’ late-game success can also be a testomony to an offense that ranks within the high 10 in crunch-time scoring, averaging 10.7 factors in these wins in opposition to Indiana, Atlanta and Utah.
When it comes to particular person performances, RJ Barrett is averaging 17.three factors per sport, and opponents can’t hold him out of the paint, the place he’s scoring 55.1 % of his buckets. These drives to the paint are sometimes getting Barrett to the foul line – and he’s averaging 5.1 free-throw makes an attempt per sport and changing on these alternatives at a 71.7 % clip.
As for the remainder of his sport, the previous third general decide is averaging 7.2 rebounds per sport, three.2 assists per contest and he’s contesting four.6 three-point makes an attempt per sport, which ranks fifth within the affiliation, and is a sure-fire method to win over his new head coach.
Barrett’s additionally forming an efficient tandem with Julius Randle:
Talking of Randle, he’s taking part in like an All-Star, averaging 22.6 factors, 12 rebounds and seven.three assists per sport, which is a testomony to him passing up photographs to play a extra unselfish model of basketball. Randle’s additionally exerting extra power defensively, limiting opponents to 105 factors per 100 possessions. The pattern dimension is small proper now, New York has performed 9 video games, however his defensive score is decrease than it has ever been in his profession.
The Knicks are additionally getting high quality minutes from their level guards: Elfrid Payton’s producing 14.eight factors, four.6 assists and four.2 rebounds per sport. Austin Rivers is producing 13 factors per contest whereas taking pictures 48.1 % from past the arc, offering much-needed spacing for the likes of Barrett and Randle. And rookie level guard, Immanuel Quickley, is off to a formidable begin to his NBA profession, together with a 16-point efficiency in opposition to the Hawks, a sport he performed 18:47 minutes.
Barrett and Randle rating first and second in minutes per sport, respectively, is regarding, but not a shock, contemplating who their coach is. Nonetheless, the Knicks are off to an expectation-defying begin to the season, and Thibodeau seems to be dwelling as much as his fame as a head coach who can rapidly change a franchise’s tradition.
5. Standout Rookies
Anthony Edwards: 15.1 factors, 2.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists
The choice to make Anthony Edwards part of the second unit is paying off for the Minnesota Timberwolves. He’s taking pictures 51.four % from contained in the arc, and whereas he has lots of work to do to spherical out his sport, averaging 26.three minutes and never having to cope with the opposition’s starters as usually as he could be if he had been beginning, helps that trigger.
James Wiseman: 11 factors, 6 rebounds, 1.7 blocks
James Wiseman’s NBA profession is off to a formidable begin. As a shot blocker, he instances his leap properly, and he can rapidly cowl lots of floor across the rim. Wiseman runs the ground properly in transition, and he generates simple factors for the Golden State Warriors when he dives to the cup. If the protection leaves him open from past the arc, he’ll make them pay for that call, as evidenced by him taking pictures 42.9 % on 1.6 three-point makes an attempt per sport. And as if that wasn’t sufficient to earn the second general decide rave opinions, he’s additionally snug making performs off the dribble.
Merely put, Wiseman appears like the full package deal.
LaMelo Ball: 12.eight factors, 6.three rebounds, 5.9 assists
On Jan. 9, Ball turned the youngest participant in NBA historical past to report a triple-double, placing collectively a 22-point, 12-rebound, 11-assist efficiency.
Ball’s three-point taking pictures and his protection are noticeable blemishes, however he’s a 19-year-old rookie who’s ten video games into his NBA profession. He has a preternatural really feel for the sport and delivers highlight-reel passes with regularity.
Deni Avdija: 7.1 factors, three.9 rebounds, 2.three assists
The ninth decide within the draft has began each sport for the Washington Wizards, making a optimistic influence on each ends of the ground.
Deni Avdija’s 6-foot-9, he units his ft rapidly and he has a quick launch. That mixture makes it troublesome for defenders to problem his shot. What’s worse for his opponents is he’s flattening 45.7 % of his three-point makes an attempt. Shortly, anticipate him to extend his present common of three.5 photographs from past the arc per sport.
The opposite a part of Avdija’s offensive repertoire that requires mentioning is he’s a flashy passer, particularly off the dribble.
Defensively, Avdija’s effort doesn’t wane. In response to NBA.com, he’s contesting 7.5 photographs per sport, which is the fourth-most amongst rookies this season. He’s additionally averaging 1.9 deflections and 1.1 steals per sport.
The Wizards have gotten off to a gradual begin this season, and even their most optimistic followers most likely don’t envision them getting previous the primary spherical of the playoffs. Nonetheless, Avdija’s play has been a vivid spot, and he’s rapidly proving he could be part of this workforce’s turnaround.
Tyrese Haliburton: 12.1 factors, 5.5 assists, 1.four steals
Tyrese Haliburton is taking part in like he’s a 10-year veteran. He has an amazing really feel for the sport, he’s decisive, and he’s a menace with and with out the ball.
At 6-foot-5 with a 6-foot-7.5 wingspan, Haliburton’s lengthy strides permit him to rapidly get to the basket, the place he successfully makes use of his size to complete on the rim. As a shooter, regardless of unorthodox mechanics, the previous Iowa State Cyclone is averaging four.eight three-point makes an attempt per sport and making 50 % of them. His deep vary permits him loads of area when he shoots, however when defenders shut in on him, he’s unfazed.
Defensively, even when shooters create area in opposition to Haliburton, his size usually permits him to get well rapidly sufficient to problem their photographs.
Payton Pritchard: eight.6 factors, three.1 assists, 1.three steals
Essentially the most stunning identify on this checklist is Payton Pritchard. He performs like a veteran level guard, hardly ever choosing up his dribble, patiently probing the protection till he finds a weak spot to use.
Pritchard’s offered the Boston Celtics with a much-needed increase off the bench, serving because the catalyst for his or her comeback win over the Pacers and tipping within the game-winning shot in opposition to the Miami HEAT.
For extra on how this season’s freshman class is performing, Basketball Insiders’ Ariel Pacheco wrote in-depth concerning the race for Rookie of the 12 months.
6. Steph Curry’s 62-Level Bonanza
In a Jan. three showdown with the Portland Path Blazers, Steph Curry placed on a scoring clinic en path to a career-high 62 factors, which stays the very best particular person scoring output within the NBA this season.
Curry was in rhythm from the opening tip, setting the tone for his milestone efficiency by scoring 21 factors within the first quarter. The 2-time MVP had 31 on the half and 45 after three quarters. Curry scored 17 factors within the remaining body, guiding the Warriors to a 137-122 win.
The anatomy of Curry’s profession evening is as follows: He shot 58.1 % from the sphere, made eight of his 16 three-pointers and transformed 18 of his 19 free-throw makes an attempt. This season is in its infancy stage, but it will hardly be a shock if nobody tops Curry’s efficiency.
7. Bradley Beal’s Profession Night time
The Washington Wizards don’t win many video games, however regardless of how a lot they’re trailing by, they appear able to making the matchup aggressive. That’s principally because of Bradley Beal, who in a Jan. 6 tilt with the Sixers, practically helped his workforce overcome what at one level was a 21-point deficit by going supernova for the primary three-quarters of a career-high, 60-point efficiency.
Within the opening body, Beal had 13 factors. He completed the primary half with 32. Getting into the fourth quarter, Beal had 57 and appeared poised to interrupt Gilbert Arenas’ franchise scoring report of 60 factors. Surprisingly, within the remaining body, Beal shot 1-for-6 from the sphere, missed all three of his three-point makes an attempt and he went simply 1-for-2 in his lone journey to the free-throw line, that means he needed to accept tying moderately than surpassing the franchise’s single-game scoring report.
On the finish of the Wizards’ practically miraculous comeback win in Philadelphia, Beal had made 20 of his 35 subject targets, good for 57.1 %. He hit 7-for-10 on three-point makes an attempt and 13 of his 15 free throws. For good measure, Beal additionally chipped in seven rebounds and 5 assists – however will he finish the yr as a Wizard?
eight. The Chris Paul Impact
The place Chris Paul goes, successful follows. After lacking the playoffs his first two seasons within the NBA, his workforce has solely didn’t make the postseason as soon as within the final 12 years. Now, the longer term Corridor of Fame flooring common is elevating the Phoenix Suns, who’re in a tie for the league’s finest report.
Paul is averaging 13.2 factors, eight.5 assists, the fourth-most within the league, and four.6 rebounds per sport. The stingy Suns are yielding simply 106.four factors per 100 possessions, which ranks seventh within the affiliation. Offensively, they’re scoring 112.5 factors per 100 possessions, the ninth-most within the league. That two-way manufacturing has led to Phoenix having the fourth-highest internet score within the NBA.
Paul is a perfect choice to run the purpose alongside the Suns’ younger cornerstones, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, and catch-and-shoot three-point threats akin to Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson and Jae Crowder. They’re making the 15-year veteran’s job simpler; in flip, every certainly one of them is benefitting from taking part in off the nine-time All-NBA level guard.
9. Toronto Raptors Stumbling Out of the Gates
Even these anticipating the Toronto Raptors would regress after ending with the second-best report within the NBA final season most likely didn’t forecast them dropping six of their first seven video games to start out the 2020-21 marketing campaign.
Eight video games into their season, they’ve the fourth-worst report.
As the primary workforce to reach on the Orlando bubble, the Raptors spent two grueling months there. They’d little time to get well, because of a condensed offseason, and so they’re taking part in their house video games in Tampa Bay this season, creating extra pressure than regular for group members who didn’t convey their households with them.
Within the offseason, Serge Ibaka signed with the Los Angeles Clippers, and Marc Gasol joined the Los Angeles Lakers. The Raptors signed Aron Baynes to start out at heart, but he’s getting outplayed by Chris Boucher, who’s slender body restricts how head coach Nick Nurse can make the most of him.
Whereas Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet proceed to carry out at a excessive stage, Pascal Siakam is but to shake off the struggles that plagued him within the bubble. The Raptors want Siakam, whose $130 million most contract extension kicked on this season, to snap out of his funk. Maybe, his 32-point efficiency in opposition to the Suns is an indication he’s thawing out from his ice-cold begin to the season.
10. Los Angeles Lakers’ New Additions Becoming in Seamlessly
LeBron James and Anthony Davis are correctly pacing themselves with the massive image in thoughts. They’re additionally two of one of the best gamers within the league, that means they will nonetheless common over 20 factors and eight rebounds per sport.
The Los Angeles Lakers’ new additions, Dennis Schroder, Montrezl Harrell, Marc Gasol, and Wesley Matthews, are veterans who know their roles, serving to them mesh rapidly with James and Davis.
Although Talen Horton-Tucker isn’t new to the workforce, he’s already performed in additional video games than he did as a rookie, and he’s contributing high quality minutes in addition to 7.1 factors per sport this season. He’s one other new member of the Lakers’ rotation, serving to hold them atop the Western Convention standings with out taxing its famous person duo, which ought to pay dividends within the postseason.
Whereas the season remains to be within the early goings, there’s loads of worthwhile tidbits to dig by way of. From spectacular rookies to future all-timers, the NBA and it’s revolving carousel of parity by no means fails to disappoint – and it hasn’t up to now by way of a fraction of the frantic 2020-21 marketing campaign.