We are just three weeks into the new NBA season and already irrational conclusions are being drawn. Giannis is the GOAT. LeBron and the Cavs are done for good. Lonzo Ball is a bust, then a stud, then a bust again. Sorting through the pandemonium, sensible statements can actually be made regarding early season trends. Here are some players and teams off to sizzling starts and others who cannot say the same:
The biggest surprise of the season thus far has undoubtedly been the team with the Disney patch on its jerseys. The Magic got off to a scorching start and currently hold a 6-4 record, tied for sixth best in the league. Their success can largely be attributed to the highest scoring offense in the association, led by the unprecedented dominance of their impressive Big Three consisting of Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon, and Nikola Vucevic. Each player is averaging at least 19 points per game, while the team has led the league in both half-court scoring and three-point percentage. Fournier, who has steadily improved his play as he has taken on more responsibility each year in his league, tops the team in scoring and currently holds an astonishing .688 true shooting percentage. Gordon, who drew comparisons to Blake Griffin when he was drafted fourth overall in 2014, is finally starting to live up to the hype. He has been consistently stuffing the stat sheet with averages of 21 points, nine rebounds, a block, and a steal to go along with a couple game winning threes. Vucevic is averaging a healthy 19 points and eight rebounds, while also expanding his game beyond the three-point arc, shooting 40% from deep so far. Off the bench, free agent acquisition Jonathan Simmons has looked like an early season sixth man of the year contender, and the sixth overall pick of this year’s draft Jonathan Isaac has already flashed the immense defensive potential that was promised. It is unlikely that this early season surge will prove sustainable, considering that it has depended on sky high shooting numbers. That said, having not reached the playoffs since the Dwight Howard era, the Magic are finally showing promise.
It may time to quell the masses that the Thunder ripped off the Pacers this summer. The Indiana Pacers finally traded their franchise centerpiece, Paul George, this offseason to the Oklahoma City for Domantas Sabonis and Victor Oladipo. Critics jumped on the trade, quickly railing against Indiana’s front office for letting go of a future hall of famer in his prime for so little in return. It made sense. After all, Oladipo had averaged less than 16 points per game as a secondary scorer in his one season in Oklahoma City. In spite of the criticism, Oladipo has gotten off to a sensational start in his return to the state where he played college basketball. One of the fastest players in the league and increasingly celebrated for his perimeter defense, he has turned his scoring up to a whole other level this season. Averaging 23.8 points per game and shooting 50% from three-point land, Oladipo, against all odds, has led his Pacers to a 5-5 start. The potential is finally coming to fruition for the second overall pick of the 2013 draft.
After one week, the Greek Freak is the leading MVP candidate. He is leading the league in scoring while shooting 60% from the field. As if he weren’t already dominant enough, he is shooting the three-point shot at a solid 35% clip. He went toe-to-toe with LeBron in their first meeting of the season. There is little more that can be said about Giannis Antetokounmpo that has not already been spouted by every sports media personality. He is not even 23 years old yet and many are already claiming that he is the chosen one to take the torch from the King in Cleveland. It will be interesting to see how his leadership skills and basketball IQ develop, but, for now, it can be said with absolute certainty that Giannis has put the NBA on notice.
What is going on in Cleveland? The Cleveland Cavaliers were expected to take some time to coalesce after an offseason roster shakeup including the loss of point guard Kyrie Irving, but struggling this mightily was always out of the question. After a 3-1 start, the Cavs lost four straight games including three losses to non-playoff teams. On Wednesday, they lost by 17 points to the Pacers, the team they swept in the first round back in April. The injury bug has certainly been a factor. Second team All-NBA point guard Isiah Thomas is not expected back until January. Derrick Rose and Tristan Thompson have both suffered early season knocks and are expected to miss some time. LeBron’s teams are accustomed to getting off to rough starts, but it has never been this bad. The lackluster early season performance begs the question: Will the loss of Kyrie end LeBron’s epic finals run?
The beginnings of Markelle Fultz’s NBA career have left media and fans alike nothing short of bewildered. It all started in training camp when people started to notice a sudden change in his free throw shooting form. Fultz has long been a below average free throw shooter for a point guard, so many assumed that was the motivation behind the switch. As it turns out, the overhaul was actually due to soreness in his right shoulder. Curiously, the form on his jump shots has not changed noticeably. Working with an approach at the line reminiscent of Shaquille O’Neal’s career long struggles at the stripe, Fultz has made just half of his attempts in the league so far. His struggles have gone beyond foul shots though, as he is averaging just 6 points and 2 assists per game. In addition, the shoulder issue is not going away anytime soon. According to Basketball Reference, “Fultz is expected to miss at least three weeks as he has been diagnosed with a scapular muscle imbalance and soreness in his right shoulder.” Clearly, this is not the start that the number one overall pick was envisioning.
Eric Bledsoe has spent the last four years of his career flirting with status as an elite point guard in the league. His inability to cross that threshold can largely be attributed to a flagrant lack of team success. The Phoenix Suns have not had a winning season since Bledsoe’s first year with the team back in 2014. Bledsoe, now in his eighth season, has yet to make the progress he has hoped for in his career, but 2017 brought the promise of an ever-improving side kick in Devin Booker and the arrival of number three overall pick, Josh Jackson. As the leader of a team stocked with young talent, this was a make or break year for Bledsoe. It has been disastrous for him since the get go. In their first game, the Suns set the record for largest opening game loss in NBA history, with Bledsoe going 5-18 from the field. After two more losses, including a 42 point blowout against the Los Angeles Clippers, he posted a tweet stating, “I Dont wanna be here [sic],” and head coach Earl Watson was fired. Following Bledsoe’s comment on social media, the Suns have kept Bledsoe out of their games and away from the team. General manager Ryan McDonough has also stated that Bledsoe’s time with the Suns is over and he will be traded in the near future. Perhaps most interesting about this bizarre series of events is how well the Suns have performed since. They are 4-3 under new head coach Jay Triano and most recently had a come from behind victory against the stalwart Washington Wizards. Bledsoe’s plus-minus on the season currently stands at -71, while the Suns, as a team have a -20 since he was dropped from the lineup. It is fair to say that the first two weeks of this season have not been kind to Bledsoe’s resume.
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