What a start to the 2016-17 NBA season. We've seen eye-popping stat lines, mind-blowing results (like the mighty Warriors getting housed at Oracle), and solid, midseason-form play overall. The league got off to a great start, both in terms of quality of play and interesting things to discuss in its first two days. Here's what we've seen as the season has now officially started for 26 of 30 teams.
*Consider all of these with an extremely heavy dosage of "small sample size," "it's just one game," "it's a long season," and "subject to immediate revision."
1. Russell Westbrook getting last laugh? Russell Westbrook is 1-0, Kevin Durant is 0-1 and Westbrook has worn a kilt once more than Durant. Westbrook is just dominating this rivalry in the first 48 hours of the season. Granted, the Thunder did have trouble dispatching the Sixers, but Westbrook was predictably brilliant with 32 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists. Plus, the Sixers looked ... you know ... like a real NBA team. Joel Embiid looked like a legit All-Star in his NBA debut. More on that later ...
2. The Lakers are going to be watchable. The Rockets-Lakers late-night tilt Wednesday was hilarious for its lack of defense. The Rockets led 71-63 at the half, and both teams shot better than 50 percent from the field for the game. James Harden was incredible with 34 points and 17 assists, but the Lakers managed to sneak out a 120-114 victory.
More important than a random opening night win, though, was that the Lakers, for the first time since Phil Jackson left, genuinely looked like they had a plan on both ends of the floor. They look like they might actually be watchable this season, which is a big improvement and important since they're on national TV so often. D'Angelo Russell got them going, Julius Randle kept them in it, and Jordan Clarkson took them home. You couldn't have drawn that up any better.
The ball moved with energy, as Mike D'Antoni always says, and Luke Walton's team competed hard. The Lakers are still a bad team, but Russell, Randle and Clarkson all showed the ability to take over the game for stretches. They're young, but they've been in this league for at least a season so they know what they're doing. As such, that makes them much more of a basketball team and less of the train wreck they were last year.
Randle finished with 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists, Clarkson with 25 points and Russell with 20 points. Staples had something to be excited about that wasn't nostalgia, and the Lakers' season got off to the bright start they wanted.
3. Big men are back. Anthony Davis goes for 50 points, 16 rebounds and five assists. Karl-Anthony Towns has 21 points and five assists. Joel Embiid gets 20 points and seven boards in his debut. Myles Turner puts 30-16 on the Mavericks in an overtime win. DeMarcus Cousins, 24 points. Jusuf Nurkic, 23 points and nine boards.
The league has evolved so drastically in the direction of 3-point shooters that it's easy to miss that there is an absolutely transcendent group of big men laying wood every night in the paint. These guys are all versatile, good passers, most of them are great defenders, and they are all some of the most exciting players in the league. For so long, 3-pointers were novelty. But now, it's not uncommon or surprising to see a great guard rise up from 28 feet or deeper and drain the shot. It's almost routine now. But those brilliant combinations of footwork and touch, of counter-moves and power step-throughs? Those are once again new and unique ... and loads of fun.
What's more, most of these guys can switch onto those guards and disrupt them, which is becoming the true test for a big man. It's not that these are all players in the mold of the old-fashioned center, it's that they combine that new-age versatility with power and fluidity.
The revolution is over, the 3-pointers won. The new revolution is versatile big men, and it has arrived.
(For more on Embiid, be sure to read James Herbert's recap of the seven great moments from his debut.)
4. Myles Turner is the real deal. The Pacers looked really good in their first game under Nate McMillan vs. a solid Dallas squad. Coming in, the big question was about Myles Turner and what he would bring to the table.
On Wednesday, he brought a ton. Turner finished with 30 points on 13-of-19 shooting, 16 rebounds, two steals and four blocks, leading Indiana to an overtime victory over the Mavericks. Turner hit both the dagger that shows his versatility and range and the runaway exclamation mark that shows his athleticism.
And Turner presented so many problems when the Mavericks tried putting smaller guys on him. He recognized it, first, and then he abused the Mavs' interior defense.
It was the kind of start you wanted to see for a team many are divided on. If Turner makes a leap, the Pacers could be fighting for as high as the No. 2 seed in the East.
5. GOOD WINS VS. BAD LOSSES: Not all wins and losses are equal in an 82-game season, not with the disparity in talent across the league, and not with so many contextual scheduling issues like road trips and back-to-backs. After two days, an early review:
- Nuggets: Withstood 50 points from Davis and got a road win
- Grizzlies: Timberwolves are tough matchup, and they handled it
- Spurs: I mean, yeah.
- Blazers: Put a 121.9 offensive rating on a very good defensive Jazz team
- Thunder: The Sixers?
- Wolves: Hung with a playoff team for four quarters with a real chance to win. Growing experience.
- Jazz: The Jazz were without two starters, hung with a really good Blazers team, and couldn't finish the job. Great game.
- Mavericks: Indiana won that game, Dallas didn't lose it
- Bucks: Were just soundly outplayed by a Hornets team they should be within range of, and at home to boot.
- Warriors: Housed. On opening night. At Oracle. With Druant. By 29.
- Rockets: I don't want to hear any more about "defensive assistant" Jeff Bdzelik who's going to make sure they defend in D'Antoni's system. Game over.
6. Let's talk Warriors. We talked about it on the podcast, I broke it down the night of. One thing that stood out, other than the Spurs' dominant rebounding advantage (21 offensive boards), was that Golden State was outscored by the Spurs 24-20 in fast-break points. The Spurs took a page out of the Thunder's book as far as what they used in the Western Conference finals in pushing the ball vs. Golden State.
Fighting fire with fire, basically.
Stephen Curry winds up exposed in a lot of these transition defensive sets because A) it's his responsibility to get back, and B) he's often up high offensively. This is a problem. He's just so small, he can't do anything here.
Then Curry gets cute and tries to gamble in transition for a steal. Nope.
Curry gets caught on skates, and Iguodala can't recover here.
The Warriors had all sorts of problems Tuesday, but those transition buckets really hurt. Kerr lit up Draymond Green for not getting back on one possession, but it was a team-wide problem.
7. This is why Al Horford matters. You want to know what Al Horford brings to the table that's going to make such a big difference in Boston? It's not raw production. It's ability. Horford is able to shoot off the pick and pop, but so are most of the Celtics' bigs. But what Horford can also do is shoot, read the defense, take the dribble and score, or, if the defense adjusts, fake, drive, draw defenders, and pass. Forget the stats. He can just flat out play basketball.
That's such a nice play, and Horford's ability to do that in the pick-and-pop with Avery Bradley will make them so much more efficient this season. The Celtics trounced the Nets in a game that wasn't as close as the five-point final deficit. (Nets 1-0 vs. the spread!)
8. Taking care of business. The Raptors were at home vs. a Pistons team without its staring point guard. Good combo for them, and they were great. Jonas Valanciunas had a huge game (32 points, 11 rebounds), which is indicative of a huge problem for Detroit. When Andre Drummond took an elbow to the head and got in foul trouble early, the Pistons had zero rim protection. They have to do better about shoring up the interior coverage. You can't have that kind of weakness, it's what opens up the game for guys like DeMar DeRozan, who had 40.
But for the Raptors, just a very "we're a higher level squad" win, which is promising. They aren't still trying to find answers.
9. SWATTED. JaMychal Green had one of the best blocks of the night with this clutch rejection of the much-larger Karl-Anthony Towns.
Speaking of Memphis, they attempted six more 3-pointers than they averaged last season. The team really is different, though the Marc Gasol-Zach Randolph old-school combo did spend a lot of time on the floor in the fourth and was very effective.
10. THE KINGS?! The Kings ran the Suns out of their own building, handing them the worst home loss for an opener in franchise history. We're holding off on this one more than any other for "it's only one game" purposes, but you did notice the Kings' defense was much better, which seems to show the impact of Dave Joerger. They face San Antonio Thursday on a back to back, so that's a schedule loss. But after that, we'll have our eyes out for what the Kings do.