Lonzo is who I thought he was. Boston’s season isn’t over. The “OK3” should have the Warriors shook. These are just a few of the takeaways after every team has played at least one game.
Lonzo Ball Disappointed Many, But Showed Who He Is
Ball had a very underwhelming debut, scoring only 3 points while being absolutely hounded by one of the NBA’s toughest on-ball defenders in Patrick Beverley. He couldn’t create much separation, struggled to use his length to get to the basket, and lost his dribble with Beverley in his shorts. But he did have 9 rebounds, 4 assists, and had an underreported yet impressive showing on the defensive end. People need to understand that Ball is not a scorer. He’s not overly quick, has close to no pull-up game, and still needs to learn how to use his size at the rim. His value transcends the stat sheet, creating a culture of passing and rewarding his teammates for being in the right spots. Thanks to his dad’s unwarranted trash talk, he’ll have a target on his back every game. The good news is that he can take it. His demeanor didn’t sway much while Beverley was clearly getting the better of him. Lonzo is just getting his feet wet, so for those labeling him a bust, you’re short-sighted and ignorant. As I’ve said before, he can’t be one of your top scoring options. LA needs some more scoring options to maximize Lonzo’s ability.
OKC Has What It Takes To Beat Golden State In a Series of 7
Everyone knew the roster looked good on paper or in a game of 2K, but people wondered how the OK3 would play together. I know the Knicks aren’t much of an opponent to make judgments, but I saw some ball movement that I haven’t seen since the Thunder became a franchise. Players were moving, the ball was swinging, and the right guys were taking the right shots. It may seem obvious, but Russell Westbrook is the key. If he can maintain that controlled, floor general type of role, the Warriors will be sweating all season. The toughest part of the Warriors is guarding them, but the Thunder have the pieces to guard them. No, this isn’t a hot take. Roberson and George are top 10 wing defenders in this league. Westbrook is salivating at the chance to go at Steph. And Steven Adams has quietly dominated Golden State over the last few years. Avoiding an iso-driven offense may be hard to maintain throughout the year, but the style they played with yesterday would be a problem for the reigning champions.
Boston Can Still Be a Top 3 Team in the East
First of all, Gordon Hayward’s injury was heartbreaking. After the injury, many speculated that Boston’s hopes in the East were over. Let’s be honest, they weren’t better than the Cavs even with Hayward. Now, the young Boston wings will have a chance to grow as second and third options. Jayson Tatum is averaging 11 points and nearly 10 rebounds through two games and looks like a lock for All-Rookie first team. Jaylen Brown has been a revelation, averaging 21 points through the first couple games and showing that his handle, jumper, and finishing ability have taken monumental steps forward. While they won’t be as competitive with Cleveland as many Celtics’ fans hoped, they could still challenge Washington for the second spot in the East if the young guns continue to thrive.
The Harden-Paul Duo is Going to Struggle Together For a While
CP3 was definitely hurt in the first game, but there seems to be a disconnect between the style he wants to play and the quick culture that the Rockets have created. There were multiple times when he was calling for the ball in the backcourt while his teammates were racing up the court for a fast look. He will probably adjust to that. What could be more difficult for Houston is distributing the ball-handling duties? Chris Paul should be the primary ball-handler. He’s smarter, less turnover prone, and worse off the ball than Harden. Hopefully, they can avoid butting heads, but taking pressure off of Harden will only make the Rockets better.
Porzingis is The Truth, But the New-Look Knicks Are a Lie
KP had 31 points and 12 rebounds against a stacked OKC team. He is more than ready to be the star in the Big Apple. The rest of the team looks beyond suspect. I have faith that Frank Ntilikina can be a solid player with time. Tim Hardaway Jr. was in foul trouble so I’ll give him a pass, and Enes Kanter and Courtney Lee are solid but the rest of the roster is a whole lot of nothing. The front office tried to sell the firing of Phil Jackson like a shift to a bright future, but I don’t see a bunch outside of Porzingis that truly points to something positive. Sorry Knicks fans.
Blake Griffin Is A Legitimate MVP Candidate
Just when it seemed like Blake couldn’t get any more lethal on the offensive end, he comes back with a three-point stroke. He went 3-for-6 from deep against the Lakers as part of a 29 point and 12 point performance. Minus CP3, Blake can be the point forward that his play style demands. His usage will be through the roof and rightfully so, as he has all the prerequisite skills to be a dangerous primary ball-handler. As long as he doesn’t settle and can stay healthy (a huge if), there is no reason why he doesn’t finish somewhere in the 25 point, 12 rebound, 6 assist range. The Clippers should finish between 4 and 6 in the West, good enough to start some “Blake for MVP” chatter.
The Bulls Need To Feed Lauri Markkanen More
In his first game, the 7-foot rookie went for 17 points and 8 rebounds showing off the touch and fluidity that made him a top-10 pick. He still has a ways to go with the physical aspect of the NBA, but looking at the lack of offensive weapons on display for Chicago, encouraging the Finish 20-year-old to be more aggressive should only help the current team and the future. Against Toronto, Lauri did a phenomenal job of forcing switches on pick-and-rolls but the Bulls guards failed to give him the ball in mismatch situations. He has to do a better job of demanding it when guards are on him so he can get easy looks for a team in dire need of some. I’d also like to see him attack off the bounce a little more against slower defenders. Before the season, I wanted to see Markkanen get the opportunity to be a 15 and 8 threat this year. Bobby Portis and Niko Mirotic made that hope that much more realistic, as both appear more expendable now. I have a lot of confidence in Lauri and his potential. In what looks to be a bottom feeder in the NBA, the Bulls have a chance to groom their lottery pick so he’s ready to be a dynamic 1-2 punch with recovering Zach LaVine for years to come.
The Greek Freak is on Another Level This Year
After just a few games, it’s clear that Giannis Antetokounmpo has taken that step into true NBA superstar level. He’s gone for over 30 in both games, shooting over 60% while still avoiding looking at the hoop from past 20 feet. That’s not to say his jumper doesn’t look better. From mid-range, the stroke appears much smoother and he’s shot it with more confidence. What has been so remarkable is his growth in patience. Giannis can still score whenever he wants in transition, but now he looks just as scary attacking off the bounce in the half court or in the post against plus defenders. The stat-sheet stuffing will only take a boost this year as the game continues to move in slow motion for the Greek Freak.
Ben Simmons and Dennis Smith Are In the Best Positions to Win Rookie of the Year
Simmons is every bit as complete of a player as he was advertised to be out of LSU. As a 6’10 point guard, he sees and makes every possible pass. In game one, he had 18 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and a block. Get used to that type of versatility throughout the year for a guy who is the real franchise changer for the Sixers. Smith has been given the keys to the Mavs franchise. Rookie point guards rarely put up the stat line that Smith had in his debut (16 points, 10 assists, 3 turnovers). His explosiveness is historical, though his playmaking poise is really what is most surprising for a 19-year-old. Mark Cuban had the steal of the draft snagging a franchise point guard at #9.
Taurean Prince, DeJounte Murray, and Henry Ellenson Are Primed For Breakout Sophomore Seasons
I wasn’t sure how ready Prince was when the Hawks drafted him a year ago. With his work ethic, energy, and two-way progress, he gained a lot of fans in Atlanta as the year went on. Now he should be the second option, as he showed with his double-double in the season opener and then dropping 15 against Charlotte. He has the physical tools and mentality to make a lot of noise. Leave it to the Spurs to take a high-upside, high-character teenager like Murray was and mold him into a viable starting point guard in under a year. Obviously having a 7-foot wingspan helps, but Murray had to learn how to use that body to his advantage on both ends. He doesn’t look nearly as tentative handling versus pressure or attacking early in the offense when he sees a scoring opportunity. With Tony Parker again and out right now, Murray will continue to gain the trust of his teammates while he learns to lead for the best-run team in the NBA. Ellenson had a different story last year, as he spent significant time in the D-League (now G-League). I considered him a top-10 player in last year’s draft, but a bevy of frontcourt players in Detroit and overall lack of readiness limited his opportunity. In only 16 minutes in the opener, he scored 13 points and hit a pair of threes in a solid win. However, he didn’t play against the Wizards in the following game. Even with the depth, he is good enough to be the first big off the bench right now. It’s just a matter of time until Ellenson is in the regular rotation this year.
Pat Connaughton is Here to Stay
A few months ago, Connaughton was a phone call away from being cut by the Blazers and pursuing a career in professional baseball, where he could make a good living as a pitcher that throws 95+ miles per hour. Instead, he had his option picked up and Portland retained what looks like a big piece of their second unit. When Damian Lillard says you were in the gym this summer more than him, you’re doing something right. That’s why it’s great to see Connaughton get the chance to produce, going off for a career-high 24 points in the opener and having an efficient 8 off the bench after C.J. McCollum returned. Not only is Connaughton more than a hype man in the NBA, but he has the athleticism and dead-eye shooting to make a nice chunk of change as a serious weapon off the bench or as a fringe starter.