The 2017-2018 NBA season has begun. Let’s take a look at our first capsule of the year which features fast starts and unfortunately even faster finishes for some of our teams in question.
Teams With Surprising Starts
Orlando Magic (6-2): It remains to be seen whether or not the Magic can actually sustain this type of success. If you take out a 32-year-old Aaron Affalo and a 29-year-old D.J. Augustin this is a roster that quite frankly doesn’t have a lot of NBA experience under its belt.
Key contributors include Evan Fournier who is rolling to start the season averaging 22 points five rebounds and four assists per game. Fournier has coupled his effort with efficient shooting at 55 percent from the field while hitting free throws (24-for-25) at a blistering 96 percent. Aaron Gordon has kept pace averaging over 20 points per game. Gordon is also stepping up his game from distance (15-for-26) becoming an early season threat from deep. Former San Antonio Spurs surprise Jonathon Simmons is averaging just under 16 points per game off the bench. Starter Nikola Vucevic will continue to do the heavy lifting as the season goes along.
A strong coach is getting a second chance to show what he can do. Frank Vogel got a raw deal in Indiana because if not for a Paul George injury, the Pacers could have had something to say in the playoff series against the Cleveland Cavaliers a few years ago. Vogel has his current Magic team off to a terrific start with signature wins over the Spurs, Cavs and the Memphis Grizzlies.
This organization will not care that the Cavs and Spurs are banged up at the moment, the Magic have starved for respectability and a strong seed in the Eastern Conference since the days of Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway in 1995 and as late as 2009 since making the NBA Finals with Dwight Howard and current Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy. Right now it looks as though the Magic are ahead of schedule. With the amount of shakeups that happened this off-season the East is wide open for several new playoff standouts.
Detroit Pistons (5-3): The Pistons still need to figure out their identity as an organization. That will largely depend on the progression that 24-year-old Andre Drummond will take. Some say he has peaked already. I still see Drummond as an old-school center who will bang inside and grab rebounds. But the Pistons didn’t pay Drummond a max contract of $127 million to be a player that is still underwhelming on defense and unable to play the fourth quarter of tight games because of his poor career free-throw shooting (38.4 percent). Make no mistake about it, Drummond is freakishly-athletic but he doesn’t yet have the help-side defensive skills to truly match what he could be capable of on defense.
Ben Wallace made his name in Detroit with incredible defensive play. Wallace was a four-time Defensive Player of the Year (2002-2003, 2005-2006); made All-NBA First-Team All-Defense five times (2002-2006); led the league in rebounds twice (2002-2003); and led the NBA in blocks in 2002 (per the NBA.com stats tool). Wallace listed at 6-foot-9 is arguably the greatest undrafted defensive player to ever enter the league. Wallace was subpar offensively and quite frankly Drummond is ahead of him in this category, but Drummond is way too gifted to not be improving steadily each season on defense.
At the time of the five-year $90 million deal it seemed as though the Pistons got a steal in acquiring point guard Reggie Jackson from the Oklahoma City Thunder. Jackson has been battling injuries for most of his tenure in the Motor City.
Tobias Harris has been wonderful since coming over from the trade in Orlando averaging 20.5 points with just under 4.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game. In the off-season the Pistons traded Marcus Morris to the Boston Celtics in exchange for Avery Bradley. Bradley is averaging 14.5 points per game with three rebounds and two assists on the young season. Bradley is a strong defensive-wing player with an adept ability to score the basketball. He will fit well with Van Gundy as the team works to create a blue-collar culture that lived up to the ‘Bad Boys’ and ‘Goin To Work’ Pistons.
Now playing at Little Caesars Arena in downtown Detroit, the attendance hasn’t quite been up to snuff. I think it’s safe to say that fans are waiting to see what this Pistons team can be. I’ll say it now. This squad needs to make the playoffs this year and win a series. The pressure is on Van Gundy as coach and president of basketball operations to see this plan through. The only issue I can see going forward for the organization is the salary cap, as the Pistons are up against it now with the contacts of Drummond, Jackson, Harris, Boban Marjanovic and Jon Leuer.
Are the Pistons interested in dealing Reggie Jackson to obtain the services of Eric Bledsoe? According to both Marc Stein of The New York Times and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.com it seems likely a third party would have to be involved because Phoenix Suns general manager Ryan McDonough is only looking to “make a move when the best offer presents itself.”
Check out the video breakdown to couple with the article: http://bit.ly/2itzGxy
Los Angeles Clippers (5-2): When Chris Paul joined the Clippers in the 2011-12 season it was clear that coupled with the dynamic Blake Griffin and athletic-defensive stopper DeAndre Jordan that “Lob City” would be born. In fact outside of the aforementioned lockout shortened season, the Clippers would win at least 50 games in the regular season throughout Paul’s tenure which was never done previously in franchise history. The problem, the Clippers never advanced out of the second round of the playoffs despite having head coach and president of basketball operations Doc Rivers at the helm his success that stemmed with the ‘Big 3’ in Boston didn’t translate to what the organization would have hoped in Hollywood.
We can talk about CP3’s awards and accomplishments forever, he is without a doubt a hall of famer, but as many of us know he doesn’t have the ultimate prize he seeks yet. Now he is going to have to do that with another team.
In the off-season, the Clippers completed a trade that sent Paul to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, Darrun Hilliard, DeAndre Liggins, Kyle Wiltjer, a protected first-round pick next year and cash considerations. The Rockets acquired Hilliard from Detroit and Liggins from the Dallas Mavericks for cash considerations before adding them to the deal (per Kristie Rieken of The Associated Press).
GRIFFIN WILL CONTINUE TO SOAR
Now the Clippers organization continues on without Paul and it seems as though the future outlook remains unchanged. Look at it this way, (per basketball-reference.com) it is a minor setback that the 30-year-old Milos Teodosic (overseas standout with CSKA Moscow good for about 17 points per game and seven assists) was injured, but the signing of professional scorer Danilo Gallinari (14 points, five rebounds and three assists per game) brings versatility in the frontcourt along with Griffin. Was it possible that Paul hindered some of the playmaking ability of Griffin? Sure. Blake has improved his outside shooting (16-for-37) and he is averaging 23 points per game this season. Now at 28-years-old, even if Griffin has lost a half of step of athleticism, he is still a few full steps ahead of the next guy, making himself more well-rounded as a scorer will only strengthen his ability as a playmaker. Griffin is more than capable of being an early day Charles Barkley on the Philadelphia 76ers. That means Rivers will look for him to take the ball coast-to-coast and make his defenders look silly. That’s a good thing for his team and the fans.
THE REST OF THE CAST
Patrick Beverley is a junk-yard dog. That’s a complement. The Clippers will not lose anything as a team on defense because his infectious energy will not allow it. Beverley prides himself on being a defensive-stopper and will not hesitate to guard anyone the entire length of the court. He is an improved three-point shooter early this season (18-for-35) which is well above his 38 percent mark of his career and is averaging around 13 points per game. He is flourishing in his starting role.
Lou Williams could score double-digits in street clothes. Another strong pickup for the Clippers and when already paired with Gallinari and Beverley this team will not struggle to score. Williams is already averaging around 14 points per game while shooting around 89 percent from the free-throw line with his new team.
Jordan has been as consistent as can be at the center position providing strong defense and currently leads the NBA in rebounding at just over 15 a game (per the NBA.com stats tool).
This Clippers team will not venture far from its recent stretch of regular season success, but the question remains if advancing past the Western Conference Semifinals will be too much to ask.
Bury Them Now
Atlanta Hawks (1-7): I totally get that this is the Eastern Conference and doing columns like this opens things up for premature criticism. Even though the Hawks opened the season with a five-game road stand it doesn’t necessarily mean that things will get better. The Hawks have already lost to the Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat and the 76ers this season, the argument can be made that each of these teams won’t fare that well this year. Barkley of the Inside The NBA crew roasted the Hawks last week joking that he spoke with the fans who said they wish the Hawks could play all 82 games on the road. He went on to say that even the Dominique Wilkins statue is ‘crying.’
When Kent Bazemore, Marco Belinelli, Dewayne Dedmon and Mike Muscala have to be the only scoring options with experience to pair with Dennis Schroder it is going to be a long season. Schroder (averaging just under 23 points, three rebounds and seven assists per game) is the best bargaining chip that the Hawks have. It will be interesting to see if they choose to make a move at the deadline. On the bright side, Taurean Prince (14 points, six rebounds and two assists per game) looks like a solid player. It’s clear that the playoff success didn’t come to the Hawks when they had Paul Millsap, Al Horford and Kyle Korver. It is going to be a long road ahead for head coach Mike Budenholzer and the Hawks.
Sacramento Kings (1-7): No doubt about this one. This team hasn’t found success since the days of Oscar Robertson (http://bit.ly/2z92Exb) and Chris Webber. What exactly are Vivek Ranadive and Vlade Divac doing in Sacramento? Just go back to last year when Divac said he made the deal because character matters. Didn’t the Kings have a so-called cancers in the locker room in Isaiah Thomas and Hassan Whiteside? Oh wait…. they’re not, in fact it’s quite the opposite, Thomas revitalized basketball in Boston and captivated the Celtics crowd while Whiteside rebuilt himself to get a max contract from the Miami Heat.
The Kings are clueless. The organization traded a top-5 player at the position in Cousins and now the only player left from that trade that happened just last year is Buddy Hield. That is grand larceny. I feel bad for the fans, minority owner Shaq, as well as Vince Carter and Zach Randolph.
Why did you guys go to the Kings?
In other news, check out this Bloomberg report from Scott Soshnick, would you want to be a minority owner of this franchise? (https://bloom.bg/2Ad2cvn)
Level of Concern?
Cleveland Cavaliers (3-5): It’s early I know. LeBron James is going to have a lot on his plate. But, I’m not about to go out on a limb and say that he has less talent then the 2006-07 team that he first took the NBA Finals. I couldn’t believe I heard that. Do you guys remember David Wesley, Ira Newble, Donyell Marshall, Daniel Gibson and Scot Pollard? Didn’t think so.
However, what I won’t argue is that this team is getting older and is dealing with the injury bug. Tristan Thompson could be out for up to a month with a calf injury. Thomas will be out for awhile as he is still recovering from the playoff injury suffered with the Celtics last season. Derrick Rose, Iman Shumpert and Dwayne Wade are banged up at the moment and may continue to be throughout the season.
Still, with Kevin Love and Jae Crowder to go along with James there should be no problem for this team to get back to where they want to be once again. The Cavs still have J.R Smith, Korver, Jeff Green and Jose Calderon on the roster, are we still going to call them less talented than the 2006-07 playoff team? See the First Things First clip… do you agree? (http://bit.ly/2h884l4)
Golden State Warriors (6-3): I’m going to go ahead and answer this myself. NO! The level of boredom for this team could also be lumped in with the Cavs. There is nothing wrong with that however. The Cavs and Warriors have met in the NBA Finals for three straight years and it is very possible to have a fourth straight meeting this year. To be quite honest the level of apathy for the NBA regular season might have also been shared amongst the fans, if not for the bevy of moves in the off-season. There is nothing wrong with a championship team battling amongst itself to find motivation, just ask Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen or Kobe Bryant and Shaq during the three-peat (s). This Warriors team is so good it’s ridiculous. It would be impossible to fathom another team that could take them out on the way to the NBA Finals. Do you honestly see another team getting the job done? Book the plane tickets now. The only enemy this team has to deal with is itself for the foreseeable future.