This Week in the NBA: Welcome Back to the Show
It’s been a long, long time coming since Kawhi Leonard’s Toronto Raptors walked into Oracle Arena for Game 6 of the NBA Finals and left with their first championship. Along the way, our collective basketball fiending was partially aided by a crazy frenzy transactions including, but not limited to Jimmy Butler to Miami, noted Sixers boogeyman Al Horford to Philadelphia, Russell Westbrook being traded to the Rockets, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant going to the non-Knicks New York team, Anthony Davis finally being traded to the Lakers, and the Clippers acquiring BOTH Paul George and reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard.
Whew. I get tired just thinking about and reliving it. With all the craziness from the offseason, the league seemed to hit a full reset on itself after five years of Warriors dominance. After years of scrambling for Big 3s and 4s, we now find ourself looking at a league full of dynamic duos and anywhere between four (Clippers, Lakers, Sixers, Bucks) and six championship contenders (depending on how you feel about the Rockets and Nuggets). Needless to say, this season is the most hotly anticipated in a while.
That’s where I come in. Every day, there will be big performances, absurd plays and insane games, a good bunch of which you’ll most likely miss. I got you covered. Every week, I’ll round up the best moments and stats of the week for your reading pleasure and get you all caught up on the week’s action. This first edition is dropping on a Wednesday, but the usual day it drops will be Monday, so this will contain action solely from Monday til Sunday. Without further ado, let’s get into the action…
Best Player In The World Watch
The league’s best player once again resides in Los Angeles, calling the Staples Center his home. He’s a multi-time champion and Finals MVP winner, a truly imposing figure on both ends of the floor any time he steps on the floor. A guy, where no matter the situation, you can put the ball in his hands and he’ll get you a bucket. Of course, I’m talking about none other than Kawhi Leonard.
Full disclosure: as a Bron stan since my introduction into basketball consciousness, this truly hurt to type. But as life goes on, everyone gets surpassed eventually. There’s nothing wrong with being the 2nd best player in the world!
Also: I’m just going to be very presumptuous and say that the Lakers and Clippers will meet in the WCF. The King will have his opportunity to reclaim his #1 spot then.
Everyone who knows just a sliver of basketball knows that Kawhi is a pure killer on all three levels of floor when it comes to getting buckets, like this one. (As a Sixers fan, I become way too familiar with this fact in last season’s playoffs.)
But the scariest part of Kawhi’s start to the season is his much improved playmaking, a section of his game that had clearly been his biggest weakness. Through his first three games of the season, Kawhi averaged 8 assists per game, which would be his highest per game in his career by far (3.3 assists per game is his career high, set last year). Obviously we’re dealing with a very small sample size, but if Kawhi can keep up this level of playmaking throughout the season, he’ll become a player without any real discernible weakness. Here are two of my favorite dimes the Fun Guy dished during the first week of the year.
The Kids Are Hooping
Initially, I was going to use this segment to touch on every young player who showed out during the first week of the season. Very quickly, that endeavor got way out of hand because it seems like every single young dude in the league is playing quality basketball right now.
So, to keep some order in the segment, I’ve set three (3) ground rules. First, only three players can be highlighted in this segment per week. Second, no player can appear in this segment two weeks in a row, so all the young guns can get some shine eventually. Third, my age limit for “young” players is 24 years ago. It just felt like the perfect threshold before players officially cross into veteran status. With the rules set, first up is…
Trae Young. After averaging a smooth 25/5/9 after the All Star break, Young’s second year encore became greatly anticipated by many. So far, he hasn’t disappointed in the slightest. He’s come out of the gate launching, making shots like
And this. Need I say more?
Trae Young averaged 39/7/9 and 2 steals on 59% from the field and 55% from 3 through the first week of the season.
Next up, Karl-Anthony Towns. Despite being one of the best and versatile scorers in the league since his 2nd year in the league, Towns had to sit through being grossly mishandled by dinosaur Tom Thibodeau, getting stuck in the post and occasionally being outshot by the likes of Andrew Wiggins and even Gorgui Dieng.
Heading into this season, Ryan Saunders made it clear that he wanted Towns, one of the most accurate 3 point shooting 7-footers ever, to shoot more threes from everywhere on the floor and showcase his passing ability more. So far, mission accomplished for Saunders.
Tom Thibodeau probably would’ve had a stroke if Towns brought the ball up the court AND shot a 3 immediately. But this is what happens when you don’t handicap your own players. Jarrett Allen takes way too many steps backward, cash.
This play is so fascinating because usually you see this play design for guards and wings. Steph and Klay frequently ran this play for the Warriors during the past 5 years. Here though, the T-Wolves run it for their absurdly talented big man and he cashes out.
Along with the high scoring and volume three point shooting, Towns has also shown off the ability to make the correct read and thread the needle for assists. Fantastic start for the 23 year old big man.
Karl-Anthony Towns has averaged 32/13/5/3/2 (points/rebounds/assists/blocks/steals) on 53% from the field and 52% from three through the first week of the season.
The last spot in this week’s young player spotlight is one Luka Doncic, the reigning Rookie of the Year. Any superlative that I could say about the Slovenian star you’ve definitely read somewhere else so I’m not even gonna bother here. He’s a media darling, and rightfully so. He’s damn good. And through week 1 of the season, he’s gotten even better than he was during his stellar rookie season.
Lacking the pure athleticism to just blow by opponents and explode towards the rim, Doncic has to get his work the crafty way. That’s perfectly fine for the boy wonder because his bag is very, very deep. Anyway you want it, you can get it. Expect more fireworks out of Dallas all year long.
Luka Doncic is averaging 29/10/7/2 on 50% from the field, 31% from 3 through the first week of the season.
Here’s some Zion, mostly because I miss watching him play and he should be here right now. Come back soon, please.
Shouts to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Zach LaVine, RJ Barrett, Brandon Ingram, and Kendrick Nunn.
WTF Stat of the Week
Via @MZavagno11 on Twitter, “Opponents are shooting 83% at the rim against Golden State. That’s not a typo.”
The Warriors do have 3 All-Stars! Two All-NBA players! One MVP! However, due to injuries to Kevon Looney and Willie Cauley-Stein and just generally awful roster building, those 3 are basically the only NBA players on the roster right now. Hate to see it!
Let’s Check In On the MVP
Giannis Antetokounmpo (if you can’t spell this without googling you’re trash) won a heated race for the 2018–19 NBA MVP last season against James Harden. He was historically dominant, especially at the rim. He led the Bucks to the #1 seed and to an Eastern Conference Finals appearance. Let’s see how he’s doing.
(A visual representation of the 2018–19 MVP race.)
Yup. Still really good.
Giannis Antetokounmpo has averaged 30/15/10/2/2 on 61% from the field through the first week of the season.
50 Piece With A Biscuit
After a year of very publically loathing his situation, Kyrie Irving took his talents back home, signing with the Brooklyn Nets alongside his buddy Kevin Durant. On day 1, Kyrie put on a show for his home crowd, working the Timberwolves for a whopping 50 points (along with 8 rebounds, 7 assists, and no (0!) turnovers). Along the way, he provided the Wolves with a variety of buckets, served fresh and well done.
The Wolves really should’ve known that they were gonna get sauteed by Kyrie when he got this layup and then counted up each Timberwolf (??) he sauced immediately after.
There’s something about Kyrie Irving and this spot in the clutch. Since the 2016 Finals, it’s been his sweet spot. He even hit a game winner from the same spot later in the week against their state rival Knicks.
It’s like magic.
Ew. Between the legs 2x, behind the back, stepback, go ahead three? Ew.
This jokester pulled out a NBA Street move at the buzzer for a game winning attempt. Like, actually right out of NBA Street.
I’m choosing to believe he did this on purpose. And he almost hit it. What a homecoming for Kyrie Irving.
Side note: If you’re one of those nerds who agreed with the sentiment that this performance didn’t matter much because the Nets lost, please stop reading this right now. Why are you even here? We enjoy fun on this side, goodbye.
Pure Sixers Homerism of the Week
As a Sixers fan, I could talk about the Sixers all day long, every day of the year. I could give you 1000 words on everyone from Joel Embiid to Raul Neto to Norvel Pelle. I eat, breath, and sleep Sixers basketball. However, since my job here is to cover the whole NBA, I’m going to attempt to curb my desire to fill this whole article with Sixers content by blocking off one segment dedicating to my guys.
This week, this segment goes out to my rookie Matisse Thybulle. He was a dominant defensive player in college, averaging 2.5 steals per game and 1.4 blocks per game throughout his 4 years at Washington. His senior year, he averaged 3.5 steals per game and 2.3 blocks per game. However, a caveat was repeatedly thrown that he played in a zone defense primarily. How would he hold up in the NBA, where the main method of defense is man to man?
Pick pocketing Kemba Walker.
Making Kemba pass out of a jumper then swatting the floater.
Blowing up a hand off to Trae Young.
Stripping Bembry off of his knee, then hopping in the passing lane for a steal.
Going around a screen and jumping in front of Trae Young to steal the inbounds pass. Simply a menace defensively.
I’d say he’s holding up just fine.
- Deandre Ayton got suspended 25 games for violating the NBA’s Anti-Drug policy. I don’t have official numbers, but the NBA has to give out the least amount of suspensions for drugs. Be smarter.
- Speaking of the Suns, I have a question. Is Devin Booker Good At Basketball? Yes dude. Why this was a serious conversation in some sections of NBA Twitter this summer blows my mind. Here’s a clip of Book giving the media’s favorite snarler, Patrick Beverley, a bucket and fouling him out.
- In James Harden’s first two games of the season, he’s averaged 24/6/10 but he’s shooting an absolutely miserable 24% from the field and 12% from three on high volume. Those numbers just look fake. Obviously Harden hasn’t turned into the league’s worst player, question is, how long will it take him to get his shot sorted out?
- Also in Houston, Russ is playing some damn good basketball to start the season, which is always a great thing to see from a guy that’s struggled a bit with efficiency his past two seasons.
- Take everything I just said about Harden and apply it to Mike Conley, who’s shooting 24% from the floor and 18% from 3. Is there an anti-shooting bug going around?
- Jimmy Butler missed Miami’s first three games due to the birth of his daughter (congrats!) and went 2–1, including against last year’s #1 seeded Bucks. A good start for a team that has had their depth questioned.
- Pascal Siakam, the reigning Most Improved Player, has improved a ton again. After getting a bulk of his production from spot up threes (corner threes being his preferred method of buckets) and cuts. Through Toronto’s first three games, Siakam has shown the ability to create for himself off the dribble, both driving and shooting off the bounce with success. 29/11/4 for Siakam through 3 games.
- Undefeated for the week: 76ers, Hawks, Spurs, Timberwolves, Nuggets
- No wins for the week: Pacers, Knicks, Pelicans, Kings