The NBA can be as unpredictable as the weather on any given night, and with fewer tanking teams around the league entering the 2019-20 season, any team can step up and pull off an upset.
On the second night of the NBA season, there were already potential overtime game-winning shots, players getting ejected and the Miami Heat, Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs all secured wins to start the season as predicted, but some teams either failed to live up to expectations on their opening night or surpassed everyone's predictions.of the season. Teams like the
It's incredibly early in the season, so teams that struggled shouldn't be panicking, and those who pulled off upsets shouldn't be punching their playoff ticket just yet. Still, there were plenty of storylines from the NBA's first full slate of games. Here are five of the biggest surprises.
1. Hornets may not be as bad as we all predicted
This was the year for the Hornets to tank and get a high draft pick to restart their team. While that very well could still be the plan by season's end, their opening-night win against the Bulls inspired some thought that, if this team is going to lose a lot this season, at least they'll be fun to watch in the process.
The two highlights from the Hornets' win were second-year player Devonte' Graham and the Hornets' No. 12 overall pick in the 2019 draft P.J. Washington. Graham might have been the bigger surprise, considering he came off the bench for Charlotte and then played in crunch time at the end of the game over Terry Rozier, who the Hornets just paid $58 million to be their starting point guard. Graham finished the night with a career-high 23 points on 6-of-7 shooting from beyond the arc, to go along with eight assists and four rebounds.
If you watched any of Graham's college career at Kansas, then the scoring outburst wouldn't shock you. This guy is a natural shooter and can get hot in a hurry, but after having a lackluster rookie season, Graham made his NBA arrival as the driving force behind Charlotte's win.
Graham finished the game for the Hornets, but Washington is the reason Charlotte got out to such a fast start against a optimistic Chicago team. Washington not only put up a team-high 27 points in the win, but hefor most 3s made in an NBA debut -- he made seven. It's only one game, so the Hornets should temper their expectations, but if Washington and Graham continue to shine like this, at least Charlotte will have a young tandem to focus on throughout the season.
2. Kemba Walker struggled mightily in first game with Celtics
Maybe it was jitters of playing with a new team, or maybe it was playing in his first meaningful game ever in his career. Whatever it was, Kemba Walker did not look great in his Celtics debut. There's no reason to worry or completely write the man off; he's adjusting to a new system with significantly more talent around him. Still, for the majority of the 34 minutes he was on the floor, Walker's shot was cold.
You can credit Philadelphia's defense for making life miserable for Walker. Josh Richardson and Matisse Thybulle were not giving Walker a sliver of space to create anything, which is why he finished the night shooting an ice-cold 4 of 18 (22 percent) from the field. What's worse, among the open looks he did get, he was missing them. There were also times when Walker was playing a little erratic, with a couple of careless turnovers and poor shot selection on several occasions.
Going against one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference in the first game of the season is tough, but doing so while you're trying to build chemistry with a new team is an even taller task. Walker will be fine, but after so much build up and anticipation to see him with this Celtics team, it was a little disappointing that he couldn't get it going.
3. Thunder looked like a playoff team, while Mike Conley whiffs in Jazz debut
Seeing Chris Paul in a Thunder uniform may take forever to get used to, and there's still a good chance that he could get traded before the season is over. For now, however, he's on Oklahoma City, and while it lost by five to the Utah Jazz Wednesday night, it looked like a team that can compete for a playoff spot.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander proved why the Thunder should invest in him for the long haul after finishing with 26 points, while Paul also proved to everyone that, yeah, he's still got it. Yes, he has dealt with some injuries in the past couple seasons in Houston, but when he's 100 percent healthy, he is still an elite point guard that any team would be lucky to have. Last night, that was on full display.
Part of OKC's solid showing against Utah could have something to do with Mike Conley's lousy 1-of-16 shooting performance. Conley, making his Jazz debut, finished the game with just five points, missing all six of his 3-pointers and committed five fouls. The Jazz still won, but the Thunder were able to keep it close with Conley being a non-factor.
While the Thunder would probably prefer to still have Paul George on their team, the players they got back not only showed up in the first game of the season, but also showed that the Thunder can compete this year. Remember, Danilo Gallinari (who provided 21 points in the win) and Gilgeous-Alexander were traded from a Clippers team where they were both key pieces to them making the playoffs a season ago. Adding them to a core of Paul and Steven Adams forms a lineup that's not too shabby to go with on a nightly basis.
4. Drummond, Kennard lift Pistons in Griffin's absence
It was just two days ago when the Pistons announced that Pistons roster, it's definitely a huge blow. In their season opener against the Pacers, Detroit showed that it can hold it down until Griffin returns.for the first few weeks of the season with a hamstring injury. Having their star forward miss any amount of time isn't ideal, but considering who else is on the
Andre Drummond dominated the Pacers duo of Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis. He out-muscled them on the offensive glass, and registered four blocks on defense. Drummond is typically a walking double-double, but Wednesday night's 32-point, 23-rebound performance reminded everyone that he can be one of the most dominant big men in the league when he's engaged on both ends of the floor.
The Pistons' bench made up for the rest of the starting lineup's average performance, thanks to a huge showing from Luke Kennard. Since being drafted by Detroit in 2017, Kennard hasn't exactly lived up to expectations, but his 30-point outing in the Pistons' win might be the start of something promising for his career. In college, Kennard was a sharpshooting threat, but it hadn't translated to the NBA until last night. He went 6 of 9 from deep, and displayed a lethal stepback 3 that should be given more respect. Detroit will definitely miss the versatility that Griffin provides, but for right now they can rest easy as long as Kennard averages 30 points while Griffin's out.
5. The Kings got torched ... by the Phoenix Suns
It's not the loss that's surprising. It's that the Sacramento Kings got the breaks beat off them to the the tune of a 29-point deficit by the Phoenix Suns, who have been one of the worst three teams in the league for the past decade.
The Suns are better, yes, but the Kings are the team that is supposed to be battling for that final playoff spot in the West, and just signed Buddy Hield to a $94 million contract extension. Hield did show up, finishing with 28 points, but ended the game with a plus/minus of -15. In fact, the entire Kings' starting lineup finished the game with a negative plus/minus.
The most disappointing performance came from De'Aaron Fox. After proving to be one of the most exciting young guards in the league last year, Fox came out flat in his season debut against the Suns. He had eight points, but also racked up five turnovers, and couldn't really find his shot all night. It also didn't help that Fox committed five fouls in the game, three in the first half. For the Kings to take that next jump to becoming a playoff team, Fox has to take better care of the ball and not commit silly fouls on defense. His shot will begin to fall, but if he's coughing up the ball too much he'll become detrimental to this team.
The first game of the season for every team is going to provide some unexpected surprises, and while there's still plenty of basketball left to be played, some teams got off on the right foot, while others will need to go back to the drawing board and course-correct before the next game.