Opening Week: The Great and the Grim
Bad Men, Bad Takes – Season 1
A week has officially come and gone since the NBA tipped of its 75th season, and there has been plenty of reasons for fans to cheer. From vintage performances delivered by old favourites, to emerging players taking the next step, opening week has had it all.
Below I take a look at which teams and players exceeded expectations in the first week of the season, as well as those who have failed to fire.
Tasked with the burden of having to elevate his own play in an attempt to cover the loss of Kawhi Leonard, George has been nothing short of exemplary to open the season for the Clippers. Los Angeles’ overall record of 1-2 doesn’t jump off the page, and serves as a reminder that sometimes what is on the paper doesn’t always tell the full story.
Sure, on paper, George has the numbers to claim he’s been one of the league’s top players to start the season. Averages of 28.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals with splits of 51/39/100, while likely to tail off somewhat as the season progresses, are phenomenal numbers, but it only tells part of the story.
Paul George has been stellar to start the season for the LA Clippers. Credit: Orange County Register
George is not only playing within himself offensively and doing so with great efficiency, he’s also continuing to step forward to guard the opposition’s best players on defensive possessions when it counts. He was happy to square up to Memphis’ Ja Morant down the stretch and was the reason the Clippers were able to close to within striking distance late, and also played stellar defence against the Blazers in the first half before spending much of the second resting due to the team racking up a blow-out win.
The Clippers knew they would rely heavily on their lone superstar this season, and thus far, George has answered their call with flying colours.
In all honestly, I could’ve put the Hornets or the Bulls in this space after both teams jumped out of the blocks, but despite Charlotte dropping their most recent game to Boston in overtime, I’m of the belief that their three wins are more impressive than the Bulls’ clean sheet through four games.
The team overcame a double-digit deficit in their season opener against the Pacers, which included an incredible 23-0 run over a six minute span in the third quarter. They were then challenged by an upstart Cavaliers squad before pulling away and claiming a nine-point victory. They faced a highly fancied Nets squad and recorded an impressive sixteen-point win on the back of a 32-17 last quarter and their lone blemish remains the aforementioned overtime loss to Boston on the second night of a back-to-back.
Mile Bridges, along with LaMelo Ball, have helped catapult the Hornets to a 3-1 record to open the season. Credit: TSN Canada
The win-loss record is impressive, but the development of guard LaMelo Ball and forward Miles Bridges would bring a smile to even the most optimistic of Hornets fans (see, Co-Host Rafe) and adds another dimension to what is arguably the most impressive start to the season of any team in the league.
As a result, not only is the team 3-1 and sitting pretty in the Eastern Conference, but Miles Bridges was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week with averages of 25 points, eight rebounds and two assists per outing with shooting splits of 52/35/94.
It would be easy to look at the standings and select the teams who remain winless in the association, such as the Detroit Pistons, however in my mind the Brooklyn Nets deserve their spot here. While their 2-2 record is far from horrible, I was…well…expecting more.
Their opening night loss to the Bucks I have written about previously, but I was left uninspired by a team many believed to be the favourite to win it all this season. I cited in our Week One Review podcast that I felt Kevin Durant has been ‘a little off’, and while in hindsight those concerns are a little overplayed, the Nets are not as polished as I had expected.
It’s clear that Head Coach Steve Nash planned an offense around the skill-set of his big three, but when Kyrie Irving was told by management to stay away from the team until he’s been vaccinated against Covid-19, Nash had to adjust on the fly.
Nets Head Coach Steve Nash says James Harden, pictured, has been treated unfairly as the poster boy for new rule changes introduced this season. Credit: New York Post.
James Harden is having to do much of the ball handling duties despite likely having been told he’ll be playing the shooting guard most of the season, with Kyrie and off-season acquisition Patty Mills to take on the majority of the playmaking duties. It’s delivered mixed results and Harden himself looks to be struggling as referees hone in on him as the poster boy for the new ‘unnatural shooting motion’ rules introduced for this season.
Wins against the Sixers and Wizards have them sitting at .500, but their loss to the Hornets was a game they shouldn’t have conceded despite Charlotte’s hot start to the year. I suspect Nash, Harden and the rest of the team will figure it out sooner rather than later, but a 2-2 start was underwhelming, even without Irving’s presence.
I don’t want to labour the point with the continuing Simmons/76ers saga, but a development in the last week has left me feeling sceptical.
Let me say this from the outset: I support anyone, athlete or otherwise, who chooses to prioritise their mental health.
The Simmons camp has come out and said he is dealing with mental health issues and wants to take time to get himself mentally, and physically, ready to get back on the court. I support Ben in that endeavour.
It seems awfully convenient that Simmons will now no longer be fined by the team for missing practices and games. That is to say, he is getting paid and not playing – what he wanted all along.
I can’t help but feel this is a convenient wrinkle for Simmons, who made his intentions not to join the team very clear during the off-season and training camp, in spite of the financial sanctions he knew he would suffer.
I also find it, let’s say, ironic, that an athlete of Simmons’ standing can cite mental health in this situation, considering much of the backlash he is copping from fans, the organisation and social media being self-inflicted as a direct result of his childish behaviour in the off-season.
Call me a sceptic, but I feel like citing mental health has given Ben Simmons exactly what he has wanted all long. Credit: NBA Sports ProBasketballTalk
I am not for one moment suggesting that Simmons is the only party at fault here, however. Joel Embiid, Doc Rivers and the rest of the 76ers organisation have handled his poorly from the moment they lost Game 7 to Atlanta and absolutely deserve part of the blame.
There have been signs that the team are rallying around Simmons in the last week, with public comments of support from Embiid and Tobias Harris, but again, the sceptic in me suggests this is an initiative from management to do whatever it takes to get Simmons back playing with the team…so he can be traded ASAP.
Scepticism aside, it’s probably as close to a win-win result as both parties are going to get.
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