Another week has passed, and it is time yet again to analyze how this week has gone in the NBA. Once again, the NBA didn’t fail to disappoint, as there were many surprises throughout the association. As before, we are going to take a look at six specific teams; one overachiever in each conference, one underachiever in each conference, and one team in each conference that is exactly where they should be.
EASTERN CONFERENCE: BOSTON CELTICS (9-2).
There is no stopping the Boston Celtics.
After losing their first two games of the season, the Celtics are on a nine game winning streak. After stepping up as the offensive leader during the first week of the season, guard Jaylen Brown has taken a backseat on scoring, yet still averaging 15.4 points per game up to this point. The new scoring leader for Boston is guard Kyrie Irving, as many fans would expect. Averaging 22.3 points per game and 5.7 assists per game, Irving is slowly transitioning to the team leader he was in Cleveland before the return of LeBron James.
Though Boston has had a wonderful display of offense lately, do not let it discount the superb defense that Boston is playing as of late. On top of the usual hustle plays seen by guard Marcus Smart, forward Jayson Tatum’s rookie campaign has been headlined by his use of length on defense, averaging 0.9 blocks per game. Along with that, Kyrie Irving has stepped up his defensive performance this season, averaging 2.2 steals per game.
Boston is on the up-and-up, and it should be no surprise if the Boston Celtics extend this winning streak into the double digits. Once again, the Cleveland Cavaliers should be very, very afraid.
WESTERN CONFERENCE: MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES (7-3)
After being considered the champions of the offseason by some, the Minnesota Timberwolves have proven that their players are able to work together as a squad. Karl Anthony Towns leads the way for Minnesota with 21.8 points per game and 10.9 rebounds per game, with Andrew Wiggins averaging 19.9 points per game. Jeff Teague has been a great distributor on offense, averaging 8.4 assists per game.
The pride of Minnesota’s success comes in defense. This should come as no surprise given that they are in possession of one of the most defensive-minded coaches in the NBA in Tom Thibodeau. Jeff Teague, Jimmy Butler and Karl Anthony Towns all make great contributions on defense, most notably Towns, who averages two blocks a game.
The biggest improvement Minnesota has made from last season was an increase in depth, all with the sole addition of Jamal Crawford. His ability to spark the offense coming off the bench has proven fruitful for the Timberwolves, and the team is on track to have their best season since their 2003-04 season, where Minnesota made a trip to the Western Conference Finals. To see the implications this season could have for the Timberwolves, check out this feature on the team:
Minnesota Timberwolves Feature #0: The History.
EASTERN CONFERENCE: MILWAUKEE BUCKS (4-6)
After a good start, the Milwaukee Bucks have cooled down severely. The Bucks were riding a hot streak early on, carried by the explosion of forward Giannis Antetokounmpo. Don’t get it twisted, Antetokounmpo has still been hot, most recently scoring 40 points against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. However, the Bucks have been struggling to muster up any other success on either side of the floor.
Their only other tool that has been effective on offense is guard Khris Middleton, who has averaged 19.1 points per game. With Milwaukee’s early success, it’s easy to forget how young this team is, and as of late the team’s youth and inexperience in late game situations has shown.
Despite their inexperience, the Bucks should develop as the season progresses, especially after the acquisition of guard Eric Bledsoe to ease the load on Antetokounmpo. Their current 11 spot in the Eastern Conference standings shouldn’t hold for long.
WESTERN CONFERENCE: OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (4-6)
Thus far, it has been a very underwhelming start for a team that was hyped up as the killer of the defending champion Warriors. After dropping three straight, most notably in a loss to the now 2-8 Sacramento Kings, one thing has become increasingly obvious: the wear and tear on forward Carmelo Anthony has begun to show. Shooting 4-17 from the field against Sacramento, Anthony has slowly deteriorated from the superstar he was in New York and Denver.
There are still growing pains in trying to find a balance in the roster for Oklahoma City. Guard Russell Westbrook, forward Paul George and Carmelo Anthony all average 20.1 points per game, but the bench has been underperforming, virtually erasing the production by the new ‘Big 3’.
It isn’t time to give up on this project yet. The Thunder have plenty of time to figure themselves out. Once they do, there is close to nothing any team not named the Golden State Warriors can do to stop them.
Right Where They Should Be
EASTERN CONFERENCE: PHILADELPHIA 76ERS (6-4)
The 76ers have been the laughing stock of the league the past three seasons. However, while other teams were laughing, the 76ers have been slowly building a solid, young core. The process is finally paying off, as seen with the performance of center Joel Embiid, who has averaged 20.5 points per game and 10.1 rebounds per game. Embiid has been dominant at his position, and is slowly cementing himself as a top five center in the league.
After an injury kept forward Ben Simmons out for what would have been his rookie year, he has burst onto scene this season, and hasn’t missed a beat. Simmons is averaging 17.8 points, 10.1 rebounds, and eight assists this season, and if he keeps up this level of play, he’ll be a shoo-in for rookie of the year.
Though Philadelphia most likely will not keep their third place position in the Eastern Conference standings, a playoff appearance from them seems imminent this season.
WESTERN CONFERENCE: SAN ANTONIO SPURS (7-4)
After landing in the underachiever section last week, the Spurs have stepped up their game, and are once again looking like the fixture in the Western Conference playoff picture that they are. Forward LaMarcus Aldridge has been a huge help, leading the offense with 22.6 points per game. In the absence of star forward Kawhi Leonard, Rudy Gay has stepped up to fill the void, averaging 13.5 points per game and 1.2 steals per game.
The biggest factor in San Antonio’s resurgence is defense. They are looking like themselves again, and it is across the board. The Spurs have four players averaging at least a block per game, and four players also averaging a steal per game.
The Spurs are notorious for being one of the most consistent franchises in the NBA, and it is no different this season. Expect San Antonio to hold their spot in the standings for the rest of the season.
After yet another great week of NBA basketball, it should be expected to start seeing some true trends in the next couple of weeks, and a couple of true contenders should begin to emerge.