The NBA is finally back, and it’s off to a peculiar start. Cleveland and Golden State have come out the gates looking sluggish. The Orlando Magic and the Chris Paul-less Los Angeles Clippers have the best records in their respective conferences. How much of this will last? Let’s look at the biggest surprises and disappointments through the first week of the season.
Surprise — Orlando Magic
It was fair to believe Orlando would improve on their 29-win campaign from a season ago. With that said, not many could have expected the torrid pace at which they’re currently performing. The 6-2 Magic sit atop the Eastern Conference. They’re undefeated at home — with wins over Miami, Brooklyn and San Antonio.
Orlando has been a tough team to peg over the past few years. They’ve haven’t had a shortage of talent, but wonky roster construction has inhibited their progress as a ballclub. After finishing dead-last in points per game last year, the Magic have done a complete 180. They currently lead the conference with 114.9 PPG. Galvanizing this offensive surge is the Magic’s pair of talented big men: Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic.
Orlando finally realized that Gordon is best deployed in the front court as a stretch four. He’s stepped up considerably on the offensive end — putting up 20.7 PPG while absurdly knocking down 58-percent of his three point attempts (on a respectable 4.3 attempts per game). Vucevic has always been a capable scorer. He recently showcased a plethora of moves in a 41-point performance against the Nets. Don’t forget about Evan Fournier either — who is leading the team with 22.0 PPG with highly-efficient averages of .547/.558/.960.
Disappointment — Denver Nuggets
Losing to the Knicks will likely get you on this list. The Paul Millsap-Nikola Jokic pairing hasn’t been as blissful as originally anticipated. Denver’s prized offseason acquisition is shooting just 42.6-percent through seven games, and hasn’t fully assimilated to the offense just yet. Jamal Murray still looks like a rookie that hasn’t found his outside shot. With the Grizzlies and Jazz outpacing expectations, the Nuggets can’t afford to keep playing poorly if they want to sneak into the Western Conference postseason.
Surprise — Detroit Pistons
Stan Van Gundy’s team may have the most impressive wins of any team thus far. Home wins over Charlotte and Minnesota are nothing to write home about. However, they also came out with victories on the road on a back-to-back over two of the Western Conference’s best in the Clippers and Warriors. Everything has been clicking for them thus far. Tobias Harris, Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond are each playing as efficiently as ever. Avery Bradley has been an upgrade over Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The bench mob led by Ish Smith, Langston Galloway and Anthony Tolliver has also been better than anybody could have expected.
Disappointment — Minnesota Timberwolves
Growing pains were anticipated when this team was brought together. Jeff Teague was always going to be an awkward fit alongside Jimmy Butler, and the bench was shallow. They’ve been passable offensively, but have been disastrous on the other end. Opponents are shooting as if Tom Thibodeau’s team isn’t even on the court. Minnesota ranks last in opponent’s field goal percentage through seven games (50.8-percent). Allowing 130 points to Indiana and 122 to Detroit can’t instill a whole lot of confidence in the Minnesota fan base.
Surprise — Indiana Pacers
In the spirit of Halloween, Victor Oladipo decided to dress up as Paul George — even going as far as matching his stats and production. The former Hoosier is having the greatest start to his career — averaging 23.8 PPG, 4.1 RPG, and 3.5 APG on 48.5-percent shooting. Oladipo has unquestionably been the main cog with Myles Turner out injured. The two things helping him immensely this year are his three-point consistency (50-percent) and a career-high pace at getting to the free throw line (6.1 attempts per game).
Teammate Domantas Sabonis has also benefited from the change of scenery. The 2016 lottery pick has already accrued three perfect shooting nights from the field (min. 7 attempts).
Disappointment — Cleveland Cavaliers
Is it time to panic yet in Cleveland? LeBron-led teams have proven time and time again that regular season slumps should not cause a huge overreaction. Though, the recent poor play from this year’s team feels different. A three-game losing streak to likely lottery teams (Nets, Pelicans, Knicks) is uncharacteristic even by regular season Cavs standards. The Kevin Love at center experiment was quickly scrapped. They also aren’t much better defensively when he slides to his natural position at the four.
Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade are banged up (shocking, I know), and haven’t been great together. Getting Isaiah Thomas back is obviously crucial. However, the question persists: Will they have enough time to get him in the groove? Boston had bounced back from early losses, and Washington, Toronto and Milwaukee will all be in the fold. Is Cleveland good enough to win two playoff series on the road in the East? Probably, but it certainly doesn’t look like as sure of a thing as it did a few weeks ago.
Sources: Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports, Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports, Raj Mehta/USA TODAY Sports, Jesse Johnson/USA TODAY Sports, David Richard/USA TODAY Sports, David Richard/USA TODAY Sports