The NBA season is in full swing, and each team has at least nine games down on the schedule. But we must avoid letting the hot takes fly based on small sample sizes.
How do we know what’s real? Here are a few early-season trends that should continue (and some that won’t).
NBA POWER RANKINGS: Bucks, Warriors fight for top spot
Trends that will continue
MVP Stephen Curry is here to stay.
Remember those old days when we were afraid to change the channel because Curry could go off at any moment? Well, those days are officially back.
The past two seasons have been all Warriors, but not in the same thrilling way that they were before the arrival of Kevin Durant. When you have one of the most dominant scorers of all time, it makes sense to get him the ball. Curry was the one who had to make the most adjustments to his game, and though Durant is undoubtedly an All-NBA player, his presence took some of the fun away from watching Golden State.
But Curry is letting it fly like it’s 2016. He had a spectacular 51-point game in just three quarters against the Wizards. He is averaging 31.3 points, 6.1 assists and 5.4 rebounds while shooting 50.8 percent from 3-point range. There is no reason to believe he will slow down anytime soon.
DeMarcus Cousins’ eventual return will only create more open looks for Curry as he draws attention in the post. We should all assume that Curry’s crazy start will continue. Keep those eyes glued to the screen.
Kawhi Leonard is a top player again. Fear the Raptors.
Any questions about whether Leonard could get back to top-five status can be put to rest.
Through seven games, Leonard is averaging 26.1 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists while shooting 50.4 percent from the floor and 44.8 percent from beyond the arc. When healthy, he is clearly an upgrade over DeMar DeRozan.
But he isn’t doing it alone. Kyle Lowry is averaging 11.5 assists per game and seemingly hitting every shot he takes. He is in full control of the offense, and Toronto hasn’t lost a step when Leonard is out.
His numbers are ridiculous.
40% from three.
Leading the league in assists.
Close to a 4:1 ast/tov ratio. https://t.co/fMM4iQcONp
— Josh Eberley 🇨🇦 (@JoshEberley) November 5, 2018
With Philadelphia and Boston struggling to find consistency so far, the Raptors have emerged as the premier team in the East. After he essentially sat out the entire 2017-18 season, it was easy to forget just how good Leonard can be. He can take the Raptors to a new level.
Lonzo Ball can shoot now.
Laugh all you want, but Ball’s improved shooting stroke is paying off. His shot is never going to be traditional, but it is much tighter and more fluid than it was in his first year in the league. More importantly, he looks confident in his shot and is no longer hesitant to pull up from anywhere on the floor.
As a rookie, Ball showed great promise as a passer, rebounder and defender. But his abysmal shooting from beyond the arc (30.5 percent) made it easy to question his path to being a productive guard in the league. Ball has quieted the critics to start the season. He is shooting 46.2 percent from the field and 41.3 percent from 3-point range through 10 games.
Ball’s shooting can’t drop down to his rookie numbers if the Lakers plan to make a playoff run in LeBron James’ inaugural year in LA. It seems like he got the message loud and clear.
Trends that won’t continue
The Rockets are stumbling out of the gate.
Did the Rockets take a step back after winning 65 games last season? With an offseason full of questionable moves, it’s certainly possible.
Houston will always be known for its explosive offense, but a lot of the team’s success came because of an improvement on the defensive end. The Rockets finished seventh in defensive rating (105.6) in 2017-18. The departures of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute in free agency are already taking a toll. They have dropped to 19th in defensive rating (110.1) through the first nine games of the season.
It’s hard to deny that this Rockets team is a little bit lost. Carmelo Anthony has been a complete liability defensively, and Clint Capela can’t cover for all the mistakes on the perimeter.
However, part of the early struggles can be attributed to Chris Paul missing two games (suspension) and James Harden missing three games (hamstring injury). Houston is still extremely talented. Harden has returned and is closer to his MVP self. Anthony had his best game of the season on Friday night with 28 points in a win over the Nets.
The Rockets will bounce back from their early season woes. They’ve already rattled off three straight wins to climb out of the bottom of the Western Conference. But getting back to the team that was one game away from the NBA Finals seems unlikely.
The Celtics’ offense isn’t working.
There was always a chance that the Celtics would struggle with new pieces learning to fit together. The struggles of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward placed Boston’s offense at 27th in the NBA in offensive rating (103.5) ahead of only the Hawks, Suns and Magic.
Jayson Tatum has often operated as the No. 1 option, but he is also experiencing a slight sophomore slump. He is shooting just 34.9 percent from 3-point range. (He finished his rookie season at 43.4 percent.) Jaylen Brown is shooting below 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from deep. Al Horford’s numbers … well, you get the idea.
The Celtics are too talented to continue playing the way they have offensively. Irving finally broke out in back-to-back wins over Detroit and Milwaukee. Brad Stevens will iron out the team’s issues, and the Celtics will be competing for the top spot in the East in no time.
No need to overthink this. It’s just a bump in the road that leads to one of the top seeds in the East.
The Kings are … good?
Has Vlade Divac actually put together a decent team in Sacramento? The Kings organization has been the butt of jokes for years. Taking Marvin Bagley III in front of Luka Doncic was roundly criticized.
But if the playoffs started immediately, the Kings would be in the field after winning six of their first 10 contests and matching their best start to a season since 2002-03.
Head coach Dave Joerger has implemented a style of play that works for young guard De’Aaron Fox. He is averaging 18.6 points, 7.6 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game. The Kings are second in the league pace and fourth in scoring after finishing dead last in both categories last season, which certainly works with Fox’s strengths.
Still, it’s hard to fathom that the Kings will be able to keep up the pace and battle for a playoff spot. They currently have a better record than the Rockets, Jazz, Thunder, Timberwolves, Lakers and Pelicans. The Western Conference is simply too deep for the Kings to make a serious run at a playoff spot.
The league will eventually figure them out, but Kings fans should be pleased. Their future looks much less bleak than it did before the start of the season.