One day into the NBA season, and we’ve already seen a number of the league’s best teams in action. There were five games over the course of 13 or so hours (for which my mom may never forgive me, or the NBA), and each one had at least one viable contender. Each game also showed us a lot about the teams in them, as I watched them. Without any statistics or numbers to back me up, here’s what I saw on the floor on Sunday:
From New York (106) — Boston (104):
- Boston’s going to have trouble with injuries. The team only really works with Pierce, Rondo, Allen and Garnett on the floor, and from Day One we can already tell that’s going to be tough to sustain. Without all four, something important is always missing from their offense.
- The Knicks need a point guard. Carmelo Anthony’s not able to be the pivot of an offense — he can be the scorer and the focal point, but he can’t run an offense. Neither can Toney Douglas, or anyone else on that roster.
- Tyson Chandler was a steal at any price for the Knicks. He’s tough, strong, and does all the dirty work Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo can’t do, or at least shouldn’t have to do. They’re instantly a tougher team with him on the floor.
- Rajon Rondo is as good a point guard as any in the league. I tweeted during the game that I couldn’t think of three guys I’d rather build a team around than Rondo, and I still can’t. Rondo does everything well, and is an elite passer and defender; he makes everyone around him better, and can play any role he’s needed to play. He’s young, he’s getting better where he’s been terrible (shooting), and he’s the leader of a team of guys older than he. That’s about all I can ask for.
From Miami (105) — Dallas (94):
- Lamar Odom might never have been good. He’s a tweener guy who isn’t tough enough to bang inside, not athletic enough to be a slasher, and not skilled enough to be a perimeter guy. Playing in the triangle with Kobe and Gasol in LA gave him a lot of garbage chances and easy looks, but he’s never shown the ability to be a number one or two option. If he’s your fourth or fifth best player, you’re in great shape, but the Mavericks need him to be more. I don’t see that happening, especially if he can’t keep himself from getting ejected in every single game this season.
- I wouldn’t want to root for a team that relies on Brendan Haywood as much as the Mavericks do. Without Tyson Chandler, Haywood is going to have to be the big, strong, tough presence in the middle — I’ve never seen any indication that he can be that. He’s big, and he looks pretty strong, but he doesn’t have the swagger or toughness that Chandler brought, and brought to the whole team.
- JJ Barea meant a lot more to the Mavericks than anyone realized. Delonte West is basically his replacement, and he’s fine, but the Mavericks will miss the fact that Barea could get his shot absolutely anytime he wanted to, and was completely fearless in the paint. West is a good perimeter shooter, better than Barea, but JJ’s skills are much more needed on this Mavericks team.
- If Lebron James is willing to never be the go-to scorer, the Heat will cruise to a championship. When he’s playing defense, crashing the boards, dishing, and scoring when it’s there, the Heat become absolutely unbeatable because Wade is a better go-to scorer. Lebron can pick up the slack when he needs to, and catch fire (as he did today), but he needs to be willing to run the team rather than hog the ball. The problem last year was that Wade and Lebron could never figure out who ran the show, and who’s job it was to put the ball in the hoop. Lebron needs to be Magic and let Wade be Michael, and if he does the Heat won’t lose much. At points they looked flawless, and they could look like that a lot this season.
- Everyone who saw and approved ABC’s “Jeff Van Grinch” graphic that ran for absolutely no reason should be fired. Immediately.
From Chicago (88) — LA Lakers (87):
- The Lakers are a two-man team. Fortunately, those two guys are phenomenal — if I told you Steve Blake took the third-highest number of shots on the team, you’d probably guess they lost by about 70 points — but they won’t be able to carry the Lakers for 66 games and through the playoffs. They’re still a good, playoff-worthy team that no one’s going to want to play against, but they have holes I’m not used to seeing from the Lakers.
- Devin Ebanks is the guy most likely to make me change my mind about the first point. He looks calm and collected, like a guy who knows his place and can succeed within it.
- When there are a few seconds left and the Lakers have the ball, I used to just assume the Lakers were going to win — it was like when you know you got a strike bowling, so you turn around and cup your ear listening for the pins to crash. That’s gone now. Kobe’s still Kobe, and he’s still dangerous, but it’s not the foregone conclusion it once was. I don’t even think he’d be the first guy on my list to hit one huge shot — a list Derrick Rose is creeping up.
From Oklahoma City (97) — Orlando (89):
- Kendrick Perkins looks AWESOME. The commentators said he’s down 31 pounds from last season, and that’s as good a sign as I’ve ever seen that he’s going to be able to weather this season. He’s still strong and tough, but he’s fit now — for a guy whose knees have derailed him time and time again, that’s crucial. (Also, it leads to fun debate about whether Perkins or Stan Van Gundy lost more weight. I’ve got )
- Smart teams will beat the Thunder. Oklahoma City can be baited into taking dumb, early shots, and that’s not their game — especially for the guards, and double especially for Westbrook. The team doesn’t seem able to not take what it’s given, even when it shouldn’t, and smart teams are going to take advantage of that. The Thunder had ups and downs with that strategy, but I’d rather see more consistency.
- Kevin Durant is the hardest player to guard in the NBA. There, I said it. He can get any shot, at any time; the referees had a spurt of not wanting him to get points, but even then he just kept pouring the ball in the basket. He’s too tall, too fast, too talented, and now even too strong to be stopped by anyone at any position.
- Dwight Howard might just have a post game. He made a lot of great low-post moves that I’m not used to seeing from him, and even though he didn’t always make the shots, he seems to have better footwork and a better idea of what he can do when he gets the ball near the hoop. If he can put all of the pieces together over the course of this season, he’ll be better than ever.
- James Harden ought to be the Thunder’s point guard. He’s much more adept running the team and facilitating than Westbrook, and his running the show lets Westbrook do what he does best — score a whole lot of points. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Harden running the point a lot as the season goes on.
From LA Clippers (105) — Golden State (86):
- Chris Paul’s every bit as good as we thought. Maybe even better.
- Someone’s going to win a championship with Stephen Curry as their point guard. He doesn’t play any defense (like, not ANY), and he was off tonight with his shot, but he can shoot the lights out, and he can run an offense pretty well. The Warriors actually look like a team that could make some noise this year, with David Lee, Monta Ellis and Curry leading the way. Yeah, they’re going to have to win every game 140-135, and yeah, that won’t work against the best teams out there, but I could see Golden State surprising a few people this year.
- Oh my goodness DeAndre Jordan. That man can block shots, and even though he can’t shoot a free throw to save his life his defensive presence is a nice addition to this Clippers team.
- The Clippers don’t have to be exciting to win, and that’s a great thing for this team. They played at every sort of tempo and pace last night, and made them all work. That’s what Chris Paul may be best at: controlling the game within the game, never needing to force anything in order to keep his team humming.
One day down, a whole bunch left. This might be a heck of a season.
(Photo via darkmatter / Flickr)