Every team has played at least one game through three days of the NBA season, so what better time to jump to way-too-early conclusions with the hottest takes for every roster? Here you go. (Don’t at me.)
I see you, Dennis. There are open All-Star roster spots with East teams starting these backcourts: Jerian Grant and Justin Holiday! Darren Collison and Victor Oladipo! Ramon Sessions and Courtney Lee! Elfrid Payton and Terrence Ross! You do you, Dennis. And there will be a lot of you, what with those D-League backups. Twenty-six shots is a ton for a guy who can’t really shoot, but when Marco Belinelli is your second option, there are a lot of shots to go around. And you did drop 28 points in the opener, so let’s pencil you in for an All-Star spot now and hope four years of previous evidence to the contrary and a potential suspension for that alleged hookah bar assault don’t derail your chances.
The Gordon Hayward injury sucks. There’s really no other way to spin a fractured leg and dislocated ankle to your best player five minutes into the season. We aren’t completely sure his season is done, but even if he does return six months from now, he won’t be 100 percent, and with that Boston’s title chances dipped to zero. Yes, playing time for Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum will be a silver lining, and yes, their odds of upsetting the Golden State Warriors was a fraction of a percent anyhow, but at least there was that. Now, a return to the Eastern Conference finals and another Cleveland Cavaliers beatdown is about the best you can hope for again, which isn’t much after a summer of excitement.
I’m sorry, Boston. And Gordon. This sucks.
This was the year they were finally supposed to emerge from the hole they’ve been living in for the past, well, since their existence, really. The last of the first-round picks they dealt to Boston is on its way to Cleveland, and with the additions of D’Angelo Russell and Allen Crabbe, they had a real shot to just be not bad this season, which is something for a team that’s been in a free-fall for a half-decade. Then, Lin broke his kneecap. It was just sad and a reminder of the injuries that derailed Brook Lopez repeatedly during his Brooklyn tenure. Adding insult to injury, there’s a real shot now that Brooklyn pick turns into No. 1 again. The Nets have suffered enough. Do the basketball gods have no mercy?
Hey, Dwight Howard began his Hornets career with a double-double! Maybe their coach can tap into something his previous coach could not, said every team that’s ever had Dwight Howard. Now is where we remind you Howard posted a double-double in his debut for the Magic, Lakers, Rockets and Hawks, too. He will average a double-double. That’s what he does. He will also transport your team to a bygone era. That’s also what he does. [Looks at advanced statistics.] Yup, the Hornets rank among the league’s handful of worst offensive ratings, with the tanking Bulls, Lakers, Knicks and Suns. Yikes.
Chicago Bulls. Good God.
We knew they’d be bad. But this bad? Bobby Portis punching Nikola Mirotic in the face, leading to an eight-game ban for one and a monthlong recovery timeline for the other, is a new level of bad. Maybe we should’ve expected nothing less from an organization that still happily employs the vice president who choked the team’s former head coach at the start of this decade. The vice president who signed Mirotic to a $27 million extension this summer. The vice president who hired the current coach that doesn’t seem to have control of the locker room. The Bulls aren’t even tanking. They’re submarining.
Cleveland Cavaliers. The Derrick Rose/Dwyane Wade backcourt isn’t going to work.
Granted, it’s one game, but that’s what we’re doing here. We’re leaping to conclusions, and after watching the two former All-Stars combine for 8-of-24 shooting in the home opener, there’s no way the Cavs are competing with the Warriors without a 100 percent healthy Isaiah Thomas. And good luck against John Wall and Bradley Beal or Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Those are mismatches of the highest order against a past-its-prime backcourt. Feel free to bring this up to Old Takes Exposed after LeBron James introduces Rose and Wade to the trainer that helped him recover a couple years ago.
Dallas Mavericks. Dennis Smith Jr., Rookie of the Year.
Exhibit A, his first professional basket:
Dennis Smith Jr. is the youngest player ever to have a points/assists double-double in his career debut. Previous youngest was Jason Kidd.
— Bobby Karalla (@bobbykaralla) October 19, 2017
Exhibit D: Because I said so.
Denver Nuggets. So much for that historic offense.
Maybe we were wrong to think a team that scored a league-best 113.3 points per 100 possessions after inserting Nikola Jokic into the starting lineup for the final four months of last season could replicate that production over the course of a full season. And maybe we should have been skeptical about the Nuggets carrying Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay as their only point guards. Because 96 points and a loss to a team they will be battling for a playoff spot with ain’t going to cut it. Or maybe this is just one game against a Utah Jazz unit that expects to own one of the league’s best defenses. But still.
Detroit Pistons. The Andre Drummond/Reggie Jackson is a net positive.
Drummond and Jackson played 19 minutes together and outscored the Hornets by seven. This is a tandem that was outscored by 8.3 points per 100 possessions last season, so consider this a step in the right direction. Maybe that’s a result of adding Avery Bradley’s silent assassin-ry to both sides of the basketball. Maybe it’s a mirage. But it’s baby steps, so enjoy it while it lasts, Detroit. Maybe it will.
Golden State Warriors. They are absolutely beatable.
The Warriors are not going 82-0. We know this much. We also know Draymond Green is invaluable, and while MRI results on his strained left knee came back negative, his injury against Houston is a reminder of Golden State’s remarkable health over the past three seasons. At some point, the burden of playing 100-plus games year after year will prove tiresome. Then again, as long as we’re basing our evaluation off one game, we must also recognize Nick Young is the Warriors’ most efficient scorer.
Houston Rockets. Chris Paul is washed.
The nine-time All-Star scored four points and the Rockets were trampled in his 33 minutes on the floor against the Warriors. They played at a furious pace, and he couldn’t keep up, watching crunch time from the bench. Afterwards, Houston coach Mike D’Antoni cited a sore left knee as reason for Paul’s inactivity, as if that’s a relief in Game 1 of the season. He sat out the next night, all of which raises immediate questions about the five-year max extension he’ll be seeking at age 33 next summer.
Indiana Pacers. They’re fast and possibly fun.
Granted, it was against the Nets, but the Pacers played to the tune of a league-leading 117 possessions per 48 minutes and proved highly efficient in the process, scoring on pace with the Warriors through at least one game and finishing with 140 points on opening night. They may be starless sans Paul George, but they put eight players in double figures, including the 1-2 young big-man combination of Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, who combined for 37 points on 75 percent shooting and 21 rebounds. Speaking of sleeper East All-Star picks, how about Turner’s 21-14-2 line with four blocks?
Los Angeles Clippers. Patrick Beverley will eat your children.
Do not speak well of your kids, because Beverley will take it as a personal affront, bully them into submission and call them “weak a** motherf***ers” afterwards. Just ask LaVar and Lonzo Ball, the latter of whom scored one basket and seemed genuinely rattled in his NBA debut opposite Beverley. As long as we’re here for the hot takes, Milos Teodosic is the best rookie point guard in L.A., and Blake Griffin (29 points, 12 rebounds) is an MVP candidate. One more thing: DeAndre Jordan pledged $100 to Hurricane Harvey relief in his hometown of Houston for every rebound this season, and then began his year with 24 boards — a rate that would push his donation to $196,800 by season’s end.
Los Angeles Lakers. The Lonzo Ball show isn’t ready for air.
So much for the hype. LaVar Ball promised his son could compete with Stephen Curry and prime Michael Jordan, a combo of Magic Johnson and Jesus Christ, and all we got was a 19-year-old project. We should remind you Curry scored 14 points in his NBA debut, and Jordan netted 16. Couple Lonzo’s three points on Thursday night with 3-of-15 shooting from last year’s No. 2 overall pick, Brandon Ingram, and this isn’t exactly the most promising roster to sell LeBron in free agency next year.
Memphis Grizzlies. Chandler Parsons is no Tony Allen.
Can you believe it? Here you were thinking Parsons and Allen were so similar, from their off-court persona to their on-court contributions. It turns out they’re not, and Memphis let both of them know, cheering Allen in his return to FedExForum and showering boos on Parsons moments later. That led Parsons, known for his tact, to describe Grizzlies fans as “tasteless.” So, all seems to be going well as Memphis moves on from the Allen and Zach Randolph era. RIP Grit ‘n’ Grind. Long live Vim ‘n’ Vigor.
Miami Heat. They’re OK.
The Heat started 10-31 and finished 31-10 last season. The result was a 41-41 campaign that seemed just about right. They lost their season opener to the Orlando Magic, but they should be all right, and they should still compete for a playoff spot in the watered-down East. But that’s the thing. They’re just OK, and they will be that way for a while. They spent $187 million this summer on Dion Waiters, Kelly Olynyk, James Johnson and Josh Richardson for the next four years, and they owe their current core $119 million in 2019-20. So much for Pat Riley’s championship or bust mentality. The Heat are just OK.
Milwaukee Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo is your 2018 Most Valuable Player.
Did you see him against the Celtics? He scored 37 points, 16 of which came in the fourth quarter of a 108-100 victory that was a whole lot closer than that until he enforced his will. After earning Most Improved Player honors last season, he looked bigger, faster, stronger, all from a dude who was already 7 feet tall with a gait that could cover the length of the court in three steps. Brad Stevens declared Giannis a surefire MVP candidate immediately after the game, and after four straight years of wondering whether Antetokounmpo has another gear, I’m wondering if Kevin Durant might’ve been right when he said, “His ceiling is probably, he could probably end up being the best player ever.”
Minnesota Timberwolves. Maybe they aren’t a playoff team?
The Wolves were the sexiest pick to make the playoffs last season under new coach Tom Thibodeau, and they’re even sexier now that they’ve got Jimmy Butler to pair with Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. Those three combined for 56 points on 54 percent shooting in Game 1 against the Spurs without Kawhi Leonard, and Minnesota still didn’t manage 100 points on the night. Maybe it’s already time to consider whether a team that’s best bench player might be a 37-year-old Jamal Crawford isn’t deep enough to compete in a loaded Western Conference, at least not yet anyway.
New Orleans Pelicans. This isn’t going to work.
Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins combined for 61 points on 44 shots to go along with 28 rebounds and eight blocks, and the Pelicans still lost to the Grizzlies, 103-91. The rest of the roster shot a combined 12-of-35 (34 percent), E’Twaun Moore was the only other player in double figures, Jrue Holiday’s $128 million translated into four points on 11 shots, and the bench combined for eight points. Rajon Rondo won’t be back for a few more weeks, and the Pelicans could be out of the West hunt by then. Cousins can walk at the end of the season. At what point do they start shopping him?
New York Knicks. Kristaps Porzingis is a one-man show.
Porzingis dropped 31 and 12 on the Thunder and singlehandedly kept them in the game for the first 20 minutes before Oklahoma City’s All-Star trio washed over the Knicks in waves until everyone but the 7-foot-3 Latvian was underwater. The Knicks could be historically bad on defense, and they weren’t even that bad in OKC, but we learned from Game 1 that their offense isn’t far behind. The rest of the roster combined for 53 points on 39 percent shooting, and that seemed about right. There’s nowhere on the roster where you feel like things could get better, save for Willy Hernangomez, the First Team All-Rookie center who coach Jeff Hornacek bizarrely relegated to the bench until garbage time.
Oklahoma City Thunder. Russell Westbrook, still very good.
This is my hottest take. I know. The league’s 2017 MVP isn’t so bad, after all. After weeks of sports radio debates about whether Westbrook can coexist with All-Star teammates Paul George and Carmelo Anthony after a year in which he singularly dominated in a manner few have before him, the point guard proved once
and for all that he’s fully capable of playing facilitator and still submitting triple-doubles (21 points on 12 shots, 16 assists and 10 rebounds) — at least against the Knicks. The Thunder defense was solid, the offense is an untapped well of potential, and Westbrook is Westbrook. Scary.
Orlando Magic. Surprise.
I wrote the Magic off for this season, as I do every year, at midnight on July 1. And then they looked, I don’t know, frisky against the Heat. Everyone was good, not great, which is maybe an upgrade from everyone looking not great and not even good for the past five years. They withstood a monster stat line from Hassan Whiteside (26 points, 22 rebounds) with double-digit production from everyone in the starting lineup, where Aaron Gordon started at power forward and the rest of the roster seemed to fall into place. This is maybe a playoff team? Which says more about the East than it does the Magic.
Philadelphia Sixers. Joel Embiid > Ben Simmons > Markelle Fultz.
This is the order you had them in anyhow. Embiid dropped 18 and 13 in 27 minutes — almost twice the minutes limit Brett Brown proposed for the oft-injured center. Simmons submitted an impressive 18-10-5 line in his debut. And Fultz finished with 10 points on nine shots off the bench, missing both of his free throws. Despite all having about the same level of playing experience, they’re at different stages of their NBA careers — Embiid is a legit star if he can stay healthy in Year 4 (how?), Simmons is still raw in Year 2, and the rookie Fultz, well, we don’t know what he is yet. How’s that for a hot take?
Phoenix Suns. Holy hell.
These aren’t the Suns. This is the seventh level of hell. They lost by a record 48 points in their home opener and trailed by as many as 58 against a Portland Trail Blazers team without C.J. McCollum. Phoenix tanked harder than anyone at the end of last season, and they still didn’t submit as putrid a performance as they did the other night. T.J. Warren, the guy they just committed a four-year, $50 million contract extension to, finished a minus-42 in 28 minutes, and there are stunningly awful lines up and down the stat sheet. Mark my words: This will be the highlight of the Suns’ season:
Portland Trail Blazers. Spicy.
We wondered whether the Blazers would look like the tough playoff out they appeared to be with a healthy Jusuf Nurkic down the stretch last season, but we didn’t know Pat Connaughton would drop 24 points off the bench, rookie Caleb Swanigan would look rock-solid in his debut, and a starting lineup with Damian Lillard and Evan Turner in the mix would hold a real-live NBA team to 76 points in the opener. Add McCollum after his controversial one-game suspension, and the Blazers don’t just seem like a lock to make the playoffs through one game of the season, but a spicy threat in the West.
Sacramento Kings. Take them seriously.
One night after the Rockets knocked off the Warriors, the Kings nearly did the same to Houston, which means Sacramento is par with Golden State, right? Just about every young player on the roster came through with a solid contribution, including double-doubles from frontcourt combo Willie Cauley-Stein and Skal Labissiere. De’Aaron Fox looked the best of the rookie point guard contingent not named Dennis Smith. And the Kings didn’t even have the services of veteran enforcer Zach Randolph, who underwent oral surgery. Don’t take these Kings lightly, or they just might knock your teeth out.
San Antonio Spurs. Never doubt Gregg Popovich.
No Kawhi, no problem. The Spurs got 25 and 10 from the formerly disgruntled, recently well-compensated LaMarcus Aldridge, and they took care of a Wolves team looking for a grand opening. Second-year point guard Dejounte Murray looked like he didn’t want to relinquish his starting job to Tony Parker when the Frenchman returns, and Rudy Gay looked sharp in his first game back from an Achilles injury. I’m not sure why we ever question Pop’s mastery. (Tell me Kawhi is OK, though?)
Toronto Raptors. Every team should play the Bulls for their home opener.
The Raptors are the forgotten team in the East. They’re very good, and they have been for years. They ensured their core would stay together for the foreseeable future, and they added C.J. Miles, who dropped 22 points off the bench in his debut. But their season-opening blowout win went by the wayside. Maybe because we know them by now. There’s so much new about the NBA, and we don’t have to worry about the Raptors. They will be very good, but probably not good enough. Or maybe we didn’t pay much attention to their opener because they played the Bulls — the no good, horrible, very bad Bulls, and we knew what was going to happen. Find a way to stay excited about Toronto, people.
Utah Jazz. The league’s best defense.
The Jazz held the Nuggets under 100 points, and it might be a long time before another team can say the same. They have plus defenders up and down the roster, and if you do manage to penetrate their defense, Rudy Gobert’s freakishly long arms are waiting to alter your shot. They lost Hawyard (ugh), but they filled out the roster with capable of NBA players. They have a good team, a very good coach and a great defense. That seems like a playoff recipe. This isn’t really a hot take at all, actually.
Washington Wizards. Different season, same team.
The Wizards, like the Raptors, are running it back in hopes continuity carries the day in a conference that saw roster shakeup at the top. They’re relying on the development of Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr. to take another step, and both were solid in their debuts (24 points, 16 rebounds and five steals combined), but the Wiz will still go as far as John Wall and Bradley Beal will take them, and that was barely enough to beat the Sixers. This is a thin team, made thinner by the absence of Markieff Morris, and everything I’m writing right now could have been copied and pasted from a year ago.
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