Cleveland was alive. The stadium was pulsating, the air was thin and bitter but the fans did not want to be anywhere else. Every seat was filled; everyone’s eyes were bright with excitement. This moment was a once in a lifetime experience. The rafters have been empty for decades but not on this night. Cleveland opened the World Series against the Chicago Cubs at Progressive Field, but across the street at the Q, the Cavaliers raised Cleveland’s first championship banner in over 50 years. After the extravagant banner and ring ceremony, the NBA season tipped off.
The 2016 NBA season came blazing out of the gates and took the gates with it. The teams are sharp, in mid-season form, and the stars are shining bright. The season is only a week in but some teams and players are already beginning to stand out. And with baseball captivating the sports world the past couple weeks, it’s appropriate to let fans catch up with what they’ve missed.
Picking Up Where They Left Off (Not including LeBron, Steph)
The candidate for very extremely early NBA MVP.
Fueled by Kevin Durant’s free agency move to the Golden State Warriors, Westbrook is a man on a mission. And his performance is exhibit A.
Averaging 37 minutes per game, he’s leading the league in scoring with 37.8 points per game. He poured in 32 against the Sixers in OKC’s first game, 51 against the struggling Suns, and 33 against the rebuilding Lakers. Westbrook also messed around and got two triple-doubles in his first three games. He was an assist shy of his third against Philly. His absurd 51-point, 13-rebound, 10-assist performance was the first 50-point triple-double since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s in 1975.
His stat line currently reads: 34.2 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 10.0 APG, and 44 percent shooting from the field over five games.
James Harden looks different than the James Harden of years past. It seems as though Harden and his team have found the role that he has always wanted. And apparently, the role he performs best in: ball handler.
Harden in a full-time point guard role has evolved his playing style from a straight scorer to a good teammate. In the past, he has been known as a bit of a ball hog, but with good reason. Now in his expanded role, he has gotten the best out of his own skills and his teammates. The Rockets are fourth in the Western Conference in scoring and third in both assists per game and assisted field goals. Houston was eighth and ninth in those two categories last year. The Rockets are also third in assist percentage and second in assists per 100 possessions. They were eighth and 10th in those categories last season.
This is not to say that Harden is single-handedly responsible, but the point guard is known for controlling the offense and facilitating the ball. And at 36.8 minutes per game, he is responsible for plenty.
He is putting up the following numbers—31.8 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 12.4 APG—to start the season, and the Rockets are 3-2.
Next Level For the New Season
There is a new sheriff in San Antonio. Kawhi Leonard is one of the best two-way players in the entire NBA. Word on the street was that Leonard had been practicing with Kobe Bryant during the offseason but it turned out to be false. But by the way Leonard has started off this season, it made perfect sense. Kings center DeMarcus Cousins said he saw “flashes of Kobe” in Kawhi Leonard during a recent game against the Spurs.
Leonard began this season in a leadership role with the retirement of Tim Duncan, and he showed it in the Spurs’ season-opener on the road at the Oracle. The stage was set for the biggest game on opening night, the San Antonio Spurs against the new-look Golden State Warriors in a riot-like Oracle Arena. Leonard and the Spurs showed up to play a big game, the Warriors just watched. Leonard put up a career-high 35 points in a 29-point win against the Western Conference champions. Since, he has scored 30 points against Sacramento, 20 against New Orleans, 27 against Miami and another 30 against Utah. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year also has the most steals in the NBA with 15 in five games. And, Leonard has the second-highest player efficiency rating among those with more than 65 minutes played.
Anthony Davis’ shoulders are going to be sore from carrying his team night in and night out. After a shortened 61-game season last year, Davis has started with a sharp scoring touch. A career 21.0 points per game is great for a 6’11” power forward, but 30? Well…
Davis had the NBA’s first 50-point game of the season and followed up his scoring frenzy with another great scoring display of 45 against Golden State. He passed Michael Jordan’s record of 90 points in the first two games, but didn’t not stop there. After a pedestrian 18 points the following game against the Spurs, he dropped a cool 35 points against the Bucks at home. Wednesday night in Memphis, he’d struggle, putting up just 10 points on 13 shots.
And in case anyone forgot about his size, Davis grabbed 15 rebounds against the Nuggets, 17 against the Warriors and 15 against the Bucks. He has had at least two blocks in all five of the Pelicans games. The one thing that separates him from the rest discussed here is that his numbers are not translating to team success. Davis has the highest player efficiency rating among players with more than 65 minutes played. Yet the Pelicans are winless at 0-5.
And with his sizzling stat line—31.6 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 3.0 BPG, 2.4 SPG—that’s got to start changing.
Looking for redemption after the Eastern Conference Finals exit, DeMar DeRozan looks poised for a huge year in the 6. DeRozan scored a career high 40 points in the season opener against Detroit at home. He followed his career night with a 32-point game against Cleveland in a three-point loss on the road. Then, 33 in a win against Denver. But DeRozan wasn’t done yet, as he’d put up 40 more in a win against Washington.
DeRozan has not scored less than 30 points in all four games this season. He only had 13 games with +30 points all of last season. And last year, he did not record his first 30-point game until December. What happened?
Top Offensive/Defensive Teams to Start the Season
Atlanta Hawks (3-1—1st, Southeast Division)
The Hawks were the best defensive team in the NBA through three games, with the (literal) big free agent Dwight Howard in the middle of it all That was until suffering a 123-116 defeat against the Los Angeles Lakers. Atlanta was allowing the fewest points per game (they’ve dropped to sixth) on the fourth-fewest field goals made per game (That’s plummeted quickly into a tie for 13th. But they are averaging the most steals per game (11.3). Atlanta also has the highest point differential in the NBA.
Upcoming games to watch:
at CLE on Nov. 8th.
vs. CHI on Nov. 9th.
Chicago Bulls (3-1—2nd, Central Division)
Chicago sits near the top of Eastern Conference and currently the third-best scoring team in the East (110.3 PPG). The additions of Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo and other key role players are paying off early. The Bulls have also made the fourth-most field goals per game (40.3) in the Eastern Conference. And, own the highest three-point shooting percentage in the conference at 41 percent. Chicago has the second-highest point differential in the league as well.
Upcoming games to watch:
vs. NYK (ESPN) on Nov. 4th.
at ATL on Nov. 9th.
Utah Jazz (3-2—2nd, Northwest Division)
The Jazz are coming off a huge win against one of the NBA’s perennial powerhouses—106-91 against San Antonio—which they followed up on with a 97-81 victory over the Mavericks. The Jazz beat the Spurs without star forward Gordon Hayward by 15 points on the road. Utah missed out on a playoff spot in the last week of the season in last year, and with an improved roster, look to do more damage. They’re off to a good start.
Los Angeles Lakers (2-3—3rd, Pacific Division)
After a terrible season that was buried within Kobe’s farewell, the only way the Lakers can go from here is up. LA won their first game of the season against the Rockets before losing the next three. But they bounced back Wednesday against the Hawks. There are going to be some growing pains with new head coach Luke Walton, but the Lakers have the talent to be a playoff team. If they can slide into the 8th spot. LA’s roster is full of talent and athleticism to win more than last year’s total of 17 games. D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Nick Young, Julius Randle, Lou Williams, Luol Deng, Larry Nance Jr. and No. 2 overall pick Brandon Ingram presents a pretty special core.
Statistics as of Friday, November 4, 2016.