Through three-plus weeks of the 2016-17 NBA season, plenty has gone as expected. The Warriors have been an offensive juggernaut. LeBron James and the Cavs have been sharp, motivated and all-around excellent. The Spurs have been ... the Spurs.
Other things have registered as varying degrees of surprising.
Hello, Clippers. You are who we ... always thought you were?
Here are seven takeaways from the early going of the season.
1. Watch out Clippers, here come the Warriors
Los Angeles took a tough loss to Memphis on Wednesday, despite the fact that it didn't play well. The Clippers (10-2) struggled and were off their game yet were still one bucket away from tying or winning on the final possession. This is an excellent team with great balance between offense and defense, the starters and the bench.
Meanwhile, the Warriors, after a stumble to start the season, are just a half-game back as of this writing. The Warriors (9-2) are No. 1 in the NBA in offensive efficiency, and the gap between them and the second-place Raptors is the same as the gap between the Raptors and the 10th-place Lakers. Their defense remains questionable and suspect, but legitimately, it doesn't really matter because they are simply scoring that much.
The Clippers aren't going to get any distance from the Warriors, and that has to be frustrating for how well they have played. They're still in a promising season, and look like a legitimate threat to Golden State, but it says a lot that the Warriors have raised so many flags and yet they're very likely to overtake the Clippers in the next week for the top spot in the West.
2. It's time to warm up the panic trades
Orlando's roster didn't make sense coming into the season and doesn't make sense now. The Magic have five wins as a product of a cupcake schedule and an emotional win over OKC behind a career game from Serge Ibaka. Basketball Reference has them as the second-worst team in Simple Rating System, which factors performance vs. schedule. The Wizards seem like they hate playing together and can't put together two good quarters -- much less two games -- in a row. The Nuggets and Suns have underperformed, and the Blazers look wobblier than a newborn goat kid.
The Kings are the Kings.
Basically, the way the NBA season works, if you don't have a foreseeable trajectory to where you want to go (playoffs, mid-tier seed, contention status, etc.) by mid-January, you're doomed. The NBA season just started, but if you see every night that your roster doesn't work or the team doesn't play well together, you start thinking about emergency moves to get out of it. That means a trade.
The Kings are the most interesting team, with DeMarcus Cousins rumors rising with actual serious rumors starting to genuinely percolate. But enough teams have major concerns, like Boston with its subpar defense, that it makes you wonder who's going to be the first to pull the ripcord.
3. Portland and Boston's résumés are really rough
The Blazers' only win against a team over .500 was on opening night when they faced the Jazz, who were without Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors. The blowout loss to the Bulls was a sobering moment. Evan Turner has one of the worst net ratings on vs. off court of any player averaging more than 15 minutes per game in the league.
The Celtics lost to the Pelicans and went to the wire with the Mavs. They've gotten their defense sorted the past few games, but continue to really struggle. Their talking point is that Al Horford and Jae Crowder have been out. The problem is that players returning from injuries, outside of superstar, top-five-level players, don't tend to immediately fix systemic issues. Boston's offense has been great because of Isaiah Thomas, but with its rebounding woes, perimeter containment problems and how few quality wins it has, there's a reason to be really concerned about whether this team can not just get back on track, but get back to being a legit Eastern Conference threat.
4. The Thunder are weird
They're great at defense (ranked sixth) and terrible at offense (25th). Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis are both shooting better than 40 percent from 3-point range and Andre Roberson was over 35 percent until Wednesday night. Yet they're also ranked 27th in spot-up shots this season via Synergy Sports. They have a very odd offensive profile.
5. Your Unofficial NBA Tiers Ladder Update
Top rung: Clippers, Cavaliers, Spurs, Warriors
Runners-Up rung: Hawks, Raptors, Hornets, Bulls, Jazz
The Pretty-Good rung: Rockets, Thunder, Pistons, Lakers, Grizzlies
The Messy Middle rung: Celtics, Heat, Bucks, Knicks, Nets, Blazers
The Not-Good rung: Nuggets, Pacers, Wizards, Kings, Wolves
The Bottom rung: Sixers, Pelicans, Magic, Suns, Mavericks
6. Something I did not expect to say this season
The Mavericks are awful despite how good Harrison Barnes (23 points, 5.5 rebounds per game on 49 percent shooting) has been. (For more on Harrison Barnes, read up on this from James Herbert.)
7. Unsung role player
This honor goes to Frank Kaminsky. The second-year player who was apparently nearly traded for four first-rounders and was taken over Justise Winslow is helping to anchor what was thought to be a weak bench unit for the Hornets. Kaminsky is averaging 11 points on 46 percent shooting and his defense has not been noticeably bad. He's giving the Hornets a huge boost many weren't expecting.