The NBA is finally back. Since the Spurs took home the trophy back in June, we have anxiously waited for the new season, but it’s finally here. After the draft, summer league and preseason ball, we can now watch meaningful NBA basketball. Before the season began, there were a lot of questions regarding teams that were supposed to compete for top spots in the playoff picture. Some of those teams are thriving so far, while other top teams are struggling, dealing with injuries and chemistry issues. With the new season finally underway, there are a few things that have stood out to me about the way the league may shape out this year. Though early, this is what I have noticed about the upper-echelon of the league through week 1:
Klay Thompson Is Worth His Max Contract
Klay Thompson is good, like really good.
We all knew he could shoot, but little did we know that he could be a dominant scorer like he has been through his first few games. He’s averaging 29.7 points per game in this young season, on his way to being named the Western Conference Player of the week.
There were trade rumors swirling around all offseason regarding him possibly moving to the Twin Cities in the Warriors’ pursuit of Kevin Love. No deal was made, and Thompson was rewarded a max contract by Golden State. After watching Team USA basketball and preseason games, it looked like he was ready to take the next step in his growth as a basketball player. We saw more of Thompson driving to the hole and making plays in isolation, and that has translated to the regular season. To go along with his nearly 30 points per game, he is also averaging 3 assists, the most of his career. The pairing of he and Steph Curry will be a dominant backcourt, and easily the best in the NBA (sorry Cleveland and Washington).
If Klay Thompson continues his scorching hot play, there will be no dispute that he is the best two-way shooting guard in the NBA. That is a great thing for the Golden State Warriors and very scary for the rest of the league. The Splash Brothers are taking over games and are good enough to control the games when they are in the zone. Pairing those guys with their talented defense, led by Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala, makes this team very dangerous and one of the top five teams in the league.
The Memphis Grizzlies Are A Contender
For the first time in their franchises history, the Memphis Grizzlies are undefeated through four games. Some of the wins haven’t been pretty, particularly the teams 71-69 win against the Hornets in Charlotte. Regardless, they one of three undefeated teams remaining. They have done so by maintaining their physical “grit n’ grind” style of play, led by their core of Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Zach Randolph, and Tony “the Grindfather” Allen.
Marc Gasol is playing in a contract year. So far this season, he’s showing his worth. He started the season with a career high 32 points, and has built on that by being more aggressive on the block. He’s averaging 22.5 points per game and 8.5 rebounds. He is playing like a guy who deserves a max deal. Not only has Gasol has been a force, his forecourt mate has also been playing well. The bully of the block, Zach Randolph, known around the league as “ZBo” has started out hot this year as well. The 33 year old has averaged his usual double-double with 18 and 12 to start. With those two guys performing at a high level, they can make up for the early season struggles of star point guard Mike Conley. He hasn’t found his shot yet, but I expect him to end up around his averages of last season. He’s averaging 13 points and 6 assists per game so far while playing on a hobbled ankle. Tony Allen is his usual self, creating havoc on the perimeter and exciting the fans while being the heart and soul of the team. Courtney Lee is also back and was off to a nice start before suffering a concussion against Charlotte. Overall, the starting five is carrying the team.
The bench is off to a slow start. The offseason’s major acquisition was Vince Carter, but he hasn’t been able to make a big impact yet. After losing sharpshooter Mike Miller to Cleveland, he was brought in to add a scoring punch off the bench. The Beale Street Bears also got back Quincy Pondexter, who made a huge impact in the 2012-13 playoffs. He and power forward Jon Leuer were expected to add more scoring. So far, they are combining to average 3.8 points per game. The Grizzlies really need them to get things going, because they are expected to play a large role for this team that has deep playoff aspirations. If these players can get things turned around, this is easily one of the deepest teams in the league, and are capable of beating anyone.
The Memphis Grizzlies win games in an unconventional way, but it works. This isn’t a team that is going to put up 110 points every night. What you can expect from them is to beat their opponents up and play stifling defense. This team doesn’t care about your style of play, they will slow you down and make you play in the halfcourt. Look for the Grizzlies to make some noise in the league this year. This is a very, very good team.
It’s Going To Take The Cavs Some Time
The Cleveland Cavaliers have been tabbed by many as the NBA’s best team since acquiring the services of Kevin Love and LeBron James. Although there was a ton of hype entering the season, and one of the best introductions that I have ever seen, this team has come out slow to start. The players just don’t look comfortable on the floor together yet. These guys have all been their teams top options for their entire careers. They need time to learn how to play together. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.
The struggles they have experienced so far can be attested to this talented group of players trying to get their roles figured out and get used to being on the court together. It’s not just about the Big 3 figuring out the most effective way for them to play as a unit. Guys like Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters are also trying to figure out what their new roles are going to be. Thompson is coming off the bench this year and Waiters is moving from being the teams second option to fourth or fifth.
I wouldn’t be too worried about this team. They are 1-3, but have played their top competition for the East’s top seed in the Chicago Bulls, and the Blazers with their high-octane offense. Give the Cavs some time, they are still going to be one of the leagues best teams and a top seed in the Eastern Conference. The early struggles of LeBron and Kyrie Irving won’t last for long, and this team will get on a roll soon and look like the team we all expected.
The Thunder Are In Trouble
Coming in, the Thunder were hoping that Russell Westbrook would be able to carry the team until Kevin Durant returned. In their first game, they lost but Westbrook looked very good as the lead man. He put up 38 points and had the Thunder in the game against the Trail Blazers until the very end. Unfortunately, Westbrook went down against the Clippers with a broken hand. Now, the team is limping from game to game with a roster that doesn’t have any depth. Serge Ibaka and Perry Jones III have played well so far, but it may be a bit to much to expect those two to lead them very far until Durant and Westbrook can return. They signed point guard Ish Smith to go along with Sebastian Telfair as the lead guard, but a pair of those two at the point isn’t very inspiring.
The bottom line is that this is not a team that can win many games in this league with the talent they have. Their record won’t be very good by the time their star duo returns. All the Thunder can hope for is not be too far behind when they get back. If they can’t win many games and hang around the bottom of the league when Durant and Westbrook are back, the best they can hope for is a 7 or 8 seed. The best case scenario for this team is that Kevin Durant and Russ Westbrook are dominant in their returns and hope Serge Ibaka can hold down the fort until they return.