We’re about one week into the NBA season and each team has played a handful of games, so here are a handful of early takeaways. Let’s remember, it’s still very early.
Zach LaVine Heard my Criticism
Look, here’s the deal. I’m not always right, but I’ll be the first one to tell you when I am. That’s the whole bit — self-proclaimed elite sports mind.
To stay real, I have to admit when I was wrong as well. So far, LaVine is doing his best job to show everybody how stupid I am.
I’ve made many comments in the past about how LaVine is extremely inefficient, a traffic cone on defense, and has a shot selection package of a perennial All-Star swingman. I stand by those comments! Up until a week ago those comments were extremely accurate. I didn’t think the Timberwolves would miss him. Wrong again. I’d like to document an official apology to LaVine.
(It’s amazing how much better a gym rat can get in one offseason.)
He has only played a few games, but LaVine has basically DOUBLED his efficiency and scoring totals with only four more shots per game.
32.3 points per game with a .700 eFG%. OBVIOUSLY that field goal percentage is going to trend down, otherwise he’s going to become the greatest scorer in the history of basketball, but the talent is dripping from his game.
LaVine has always been a strong three-point shooter, but he’s north of 45% this year on 20 attempts. The issue that he faces is maintaining the efficiency while being the number one scoring option. But it doesn’t matter, he’s done it, LaVine has made the Bulls fun again.
Timberwolves fans will weep for years if he continues to be a strong scorer, or at the bare minimum, among the league’s elite deep specialists with nearly seven attempts per game. He has transformed into straight nastiness. Above anything else, LaVine will be an entertaining scorer night in and night out.
Timberwolves Defense is Improving, but Long Way to Go
I have another confession to make. I’ve officially done a 180 and joined Team Jimmy. There are many universes that exist with the Butler scenario, but what if we’re living the one where he simply told Wiggins, Towns, Thibs, and the rest of the team how it is. Sometimes the best thing to say is what others are scared to.
Butler’s intensity and (fake) tough guy attitude could inspire this team to reach their full potential. It’s going to be a process, and the Wolves have already shown both the good, the bad, and the ugly early this season.
The largest issue with the Timberwolves last season was their horrible defense. They ranked 25th in the league with a defensive rating of 110.1. So far, their rating is worse at 113.1, but they are actually the 21st ranked defense.
Nothing to be proud of, but using the simple eye test early on, it’s easy to see they’re trying to improve. Wiggins and Towns both are passing the body language test as well. They are looking more engaged and have earned multiple compliments from teammates and head coach Thibodeau.
From what I’ve seen, it is a simple lack of communication. Great defensive teams have phenomenal communication. Watch a defensive anchor like Kevin Garnett and Draymond Green — they’re literally BARKING commands and rotations out to their teammates, making sure they are all on the same page.
On many accounts with Towns, he’s just anticipating poorly and making correctable mistakes. The Timberwolves lack a communicator on their roster. Whether it’s Butler or Towns, someone needs to take command the way Thibodeau does on the defensive side of the floor. Say what you want about Thibs, but he’s at least attempting to put his guys in the right defensive positions to get stops.
Communication will come with time and trust this season. During timeouts, it’s easy to see the command that Butler has on this team as he’s shouting out instructions basically the entire time. They need more players to step up and follow his charge on the court — basically what Butler has been complaining about for the past six months.
His attitude and confidence has led to teammates following through. If you’re going to talk the talk, you better make sure you follow it by walking the walk. Butler has done exactly that with his intensity and 25 points per contest. A dagger from the bucket getter leads directly to a statement block from KAT.
The intensity and effort need to be there each night. It’s difficult to be the only guy yelling and asking for it if you’re Butler, but it’s a requirement with where the other players on the roster are at defensivley.
I think they’re very close, and I think they need one more alpha personality. If they can get that out of Towns or Wiggins, I think there’s a chance that Butler would re-sign.
The Knicks are Fun and can STROKE
All hail David Fizdale.
A season after ranking 29th in three-point shooting, the Knicks are chucking it up. So far, they’re sixth in the league in three point shooting.
It starts with Tim Hardaway Jr. He’s making his case early to be in the Most Improved Player conversation after jumping to 27 points per contest and hoisting over 9 three-point attempts per night.
Hardaway Jr. is going to be an All-Star this year if he continues to have this much command in a the Knicks market. He’s not only hoisting shots, but he’s spreading his irrational confidence to those he plays with and those who watch.
Look at the confidence here. 15 seconds on the shot clock, tied in the 4th, blanketed coverage, doesn’t matter.
Another player on the Knicks who I’ve been impressed with early on has been the undrafted rookie, Allonzo Trier. He’s shooting over 42% from deep on the season and has been successful driving to the cup. He’s more than a floor spacer and just does productive things on offense. This dude is on a two-way contract!
The Knicks have been relatively competitive each night, without Kristaps Porzingis. They aren’t going to make the playoffs or anything, but they’re appealing to watch and will have cash to spend on potential free agents like Kevin Durant.
Terry Rozier, All Shift Team, 2019 Summer Bag Secured
The Celtics are loaded. They couldn’t get a deal done to extend Rozier before the deadline, which makes him a trade deadline/free agent piece for many teams looking for a point guard. He’s going to get paid very handsomely this summer.
Without Kyrie Irving last playoffs, Rozier showcased his skills in front of the national audience that intrigued many. He’s still taking questionable shots around the basket, and needs to improve that, but his three-point stroke has never been better. He’s just a player that will explode when he’s given a starting role.
Also, he has one of the toughest handles in the league.
Caris LeVert is back at Michigan
This first week has been a reminder that the 24-year-old kept a Jimmy Butler deal from happening. I don’t blame them. Like THJ, and LaVine, LeVert is on the early ballot for Most Improved Player this season.
He’s averaging about 25-4-4 this season with unworldly efficiency. Of course, that number is going to come back to Earth, but the start has been entertaining as hell. He looks so comfortable, it’s like he’s at Michigan again.
With doubled scoring, his playmaking has been equally impressive. He’s a complete player that the Nets gambled on in the draft, and were absolutely right by doing so.
LeVert is a fun player to watch as he’s not overly athletic by any means, but has a unique ability to slash to the cup and score in sort of an old-school, throwback way with his ability to change speeds and use the spacing on the court.
He looks like a 6’7″ Chris Paul with how he’s able to use a snake dribble and get defenders on his back before pulling out a floater.
Also, my respect level for him grew to level infinity the other night because he drove to the basket with the game on the line. This has been a lost art in the NBA since the takeover of shooting. What ever happened to going to the basket in the closing moments and grinding out a win like a warrior?
Jonathan Isaac is Going to be a Force
I’ll admit, I’ve watched a small amount of the Orlando Magic to start the season, but it’s easy to identify that Isaac is going to become a problem in the league.
NBA fans need to stop labeling players busts after only one season in the NBA. Isaac is growing into his body, becoming stronger, and has shown his offensive versatility early on this season. He’s north of 50% from deep, and grabbing over 7 rebounds a game in about 20 minutes.
What has impressed me the most with Isaac has been his motor. He’s relentless on the offensive glass and came in crashing multiple times from the three-point line against Boston to not only get the rebound, but the bucket too. You just gotta want it.
Slow Start was Expected from Boston
Many have chosen the Boston Celtics to be the team to beat in the Eastern Conference after their run last season without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. With that, nobody was expecting them to come out with perfect chemistry.
As they’re still adjusting to playing with the two stars, along with getting their legs back, I’ve made a couple of observations. One is out of worrisome and one is out of optimism.
Jaylen Brown looks as if he has forgotten how to shoot the ball. There were huge concerns with his shooting coming out of college, but that was three years ago. He has been above 50% eFG each season. Hopefully the percentages even out after more games are played.
He’s getting great space, but not converting anything. It feels like he has had 50 shots already that feel like this one.
Something to get excited about have been the flashes from Gordon Hayward. It’s going to take a little while for him to get completely comfortable again, but it’s easy to be optimistic when you can see what he’s going to add to this team. His playmaking and shot creation will severely help an offense that was stagnant most of the playoffs.
However, the most impressive value he has added so far has been his defensive awareness. He’s a smart defender who has been very active in passing lanes causing deflections and steals. Hayward has been a big reason why the Celtics have the second best defense in the NBA through the first week.