The opening weeks of the NBA Regular Season are now behind us. Many exciting games have already been played and many more are on the horizon. From scoring outburst, high flying dunks and historic starts to surprising losses, misplays and more, the action around the NBA is already starting to heat up. Here are five talking points from the first few weeks of the 2016-17 NBA Season.
Honourable Mention: 46th Best?
After being ranked as just the 46th best player in the NBA by Sports Illustrated, Demar DeRozan has come into this season with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. Derozan has been quoted as saying “it [the ranking] will always add a little extra motivation.” Whether or not the Sports Illustrated Ranking has been the driving factor behind the 27-year old’s recent play, one thing is certain, Demar DeRozan is a man on a mission.
Derozan became the first player since Michael Jordan in 1986 to score 30 or more points in 5 straight games including, two 40 point outbursts. Although DeRozan’s historic streak would be broken against Sacramento on November 6th, (23 points) Derozan is reminding fans everywhere that even after lackluster playoff shooting performances, he is indeed worth all 139 million dollars that his new, lucrative contract will pay him over the next five years. Currently, Demar DeRozan leads the NBA with 34.1 points per game. If this stellar play can continue, not only will DeRozan find himself suiting up for the Eastern Conference All-Star in New Orleans but, he will also be a driving factor in Toronto winning a fourth straight Atlantic Division title and, punching their ticket to the Postseason once again.
5. The Portland Trail Blazers will go as far as Damian Lillard can carry them
Damian Lillard’s ability to continually raise the level of his play is truly amazing. Currently, the 26-year-old point guard is ranked fifth with 30.0 points per game. James Harden (ranked fourth) is averaging 30.6 and Anthony Davis (ranked third) is averaging 30.9. C.J McCollum is also putting up good numbers but the Portland Trail Blazers are Damian Lillard’s team.
Portland may be sitting in seventh in the West right now but if the stellar and almost un-human level of play from Lillard continues, the Trail Blazers can go as far as Lillard can carry them. This year will also be the year that Damian Lillard makes the All-Star Team, without a doubt.
Many would argue that last season the standout guard should have made it and rightfully so, however, this year, after once again taking his level of play to a whole other level, Lillard will set foot on the court at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans as a member of the Western Conference All-Star.
There will be games where Portland’s star will indeed, in fact, appear human but for Portland, the key to their success starts with the man wearing “the letter O”.
4. Don’t worry because every little thing is going to be alright
When Kevin Durant signed with the Golden State Warriors this past summer, many fans were in shock and other may have even hit the “panic button”. In Oklahoma, Durant’s departure did not mark the end of the story but rather the beginning of a new chapter. The Thunder, are Russell Westbrook’s team now and so far the early MVP favorite has not disappointed.
Not only is the 27-year-old sensation averaging 9.6 assists per game but he is also averaging 31.1 points and 8.3 rebounds per game as well. Westbrook also already has notched two triple-doubles in the young season. The first, came against Phoenix on October 28th a game in which, Russ exploded for 51 points, 10 assists and 13 rebounds. The second game against the Los Angeles Lakers on October 30th in which he scored 33 points, 16 assists and 11 rebounds.
Westbrook is not the only member of the Thunder contributing to the team's early success. Center Steven Adams’ continual ascent to greatness has also filled the hole left by the departure of Serge Ibaka very nicely. Victor Oladipo is also making very nice contributions as well. Both players previously mentioned were both recently rewarded with long-term, lucrative contract extensions. Currently, Oklahoma is tied for second in the Western Conference with none other than the Golden State Warriors.
3. It is going to be a LONG season for Anthony Davis
You have got to feel for the New Orleans Pelicans. The team made the playoffs just two seasons ago and it seemed that with the addition of new Head Coach Alvin Gentry, things were really starting to be looking up.
This season, a serious of injuries and unfortunate events struck leaving the Pelicans on the outside looking in. For a team with a very little chance of making the playoffs, the early play of Anthony Davis is New Orleans’ biggest victory. As previously noted Davis is averaging 30.1 points per game (including a 50 point outburst) which, ranks him third in the NBA and is averaging 11.0 rebound which, ranks him 8th in the NBA.
It is inevitable that at some point, Davis will go down with some sort of injury due to overuse and the grind of being New Orleans’ literal only offensive option. Teams are literally only guarding Davis on defense during some possessions of the game. Not to say that the big man can not handle the role because, we all know he most certainly can but after all, he is human.
The return of Jrue Holiday next week will most definitely provide the Pelicans with a much-needed boost. Davis is not showing any signs of slowing down, at all. The stellar play of the young big man will most definitely earn him a spot on the Western Conference All-Star Team and should earn him Most Valuable Player votes come season’s end.
New Orleans may not make the postseason but Anthony Davis is undoubtedly their Most Valuable Player.
2. Will anyone be able to stop Cleveland?
The reigning NBA Champions already look as though they are in Midseason form and that, is scary. Through Seven games Cleveland is currently first in the Eastern Conference with a 6-1 record. The Cavs did however, start the season 6-0 before an eventual loss to Atlanta on November 8th. As previously noted, Cleveland is firing on all cylinders.
LeBron James is already averaging 22 points, 8 rebounds and 9 assists per game while Kyrie Irving, is averaging 22 points, 3 rebounds and 4 assists. Early, outstanding play from Kevin Love is also a major positive for Cleveland. Love is the third member of Cleveland’s big three to average 20 or more points per game with 22 and, he is also averaging 9 rebounds and 1 assist per game as well.
In perhaps one of the least talked about opening night performances, Kevin Love scored 23 points and grabbed 12 rebounds against New York. Currently, Cleveland ranks 2nd in the league in points per game, 11th in assists per game and, 14th in rebounds per game. Tristan Thompson (9 rebounds per game), Channing Frye (10 points per game) and J.R Smith (9 points per game) are also all having great starts to the season.
Cleveland very well could remain atop the East until April which, poses the question, “Can anyone stop Cleveland?”. There may not be a simple answer now but, one thing is for sure and that is that with the way they are playing now, the Cleveland Cavaliers look like a serious threat to repeat as champions.
1. Growing pains in Golden State
Did anyone actually expect the Golden State Warriors to lose a game at all? How about, did anyone expect Golden State to lose not one but, two games in the first month of the season, including their opener? Yes, these statistics are all in fact, true.
The Warriors do however rank first in the league in points per game, assists per game and steals per game. The team itself is still trying to figure things out and during an 82 game season, the time for figuring things out is very limited.
One player the Warriors miss the most is Andrew Bogut. Steph Curry was indeed the best player in the NBA last season, however, Bogut may have been Golden State’s most important. Andrew Bogut was the glue which, held everything together. Not to say that for the Warriors everything's falling apart but, they are missing the passing and rebounding skills from the Australian big man and his all around interior presence. Too many, Bogut may not have seemed that important however, it is no evident more than ever just how important he was to the Warriors.
There will at some point during the season where Golden State goes on a lengthy winning streak, it is inevitable. The Warriors are still are a super team and right now, they are a super team figuring out how to properly place all the pieces together in their puzzle. Kevin Durant has come out of the gate red hot and although Steph Curry’s historic three-point streak came to an end, the reining, back to back Most Valuable Player has recovered nicely.
Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are also adjusting to somewhat new roles but have still performed well. With the emergence of Kevon Looney, the Warriors may also have themselves a new dual threat as well. With the season still young, there is plenty of time for the Golden State Warriors to become the dominant team everyone knows they will be. In their 7 wins on the year so far, the Warriors have shown tremendous flashes of just how scary they will be.
*Statistics as of November 11th, 2016.*