With one week of the 2016-17 NBA season in the books, we can say without an ounce of exaggeration that this might be the greatest year of basketball ever. The games are fantastic, the players are outstanding, and the highlights are never-ending.
One week might seem like too small of a sample size to glean any real insight into the league's 30 teams, and we understand that. On the other hand, a number of teams have already played 5 percent of their 82-game slates. Before you know it, we'll be to the quarter-mark of this year, and teams will be wondering what happened.
So before we let any more time slip away, here are the seven things we learned from the first seven days of this NBA season.
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The Bulls could be the biggest threat to the Cavs in the East
However, there's a huge caveat when it comes to Chicago's early-season success: None of this will be easy for the Bulls.
Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo and Jimmy Butler have fit together extraordinarily well so far this season, but you can see the concerted effort it takes to squeeze efficiency out of any Chicago offensive possession. The three Bulls stars have to be 100 percent focused at all times, cutting toward the rim in the blink of an eye when the defense sags or springing for an open look when least expected.
The 3-point shooting will regress; it must. But if Chicago can keep up this kind of intensity for the entire season, the Bulls could be on their way to a meeting with LeBron in the playoffs.
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The Warriors are in legitimate trouble this year
Call it an absurd overreaction if you want. Anyone watching these Warriors knows that Golden State couldn't stop a slug in transition to start the season. Golden State is giving up way too many easy baskets on fast breaks. Some of that will go away as the Warriors realize the urgency of the situation, sure. Defense isn't just effort, though. It's scheme and covering for one another and making sure that your parts all fit together.
Think about it: Golden State already takes a ton of 3s, and that trend is only going to be exacerbated with the presence of Kevin Durant. Long shots turn into long rebounds. If you don't have defensive chemistry built up from years of playing together, all of the sudden you're scrambling as your opponent takes off toward the other rim. Before you know it, you're yelling and pointing fingers at one another as the ball is going through your net.
The Warriors know that this is their fate, should they not correct course. Whether they can fix things this season remains to be seen.
LeBron James wants to reclaim the MVP award
To those of us assuming LeBron will cruise through this season, the King sent a major message in the first week: "I want my crown back from that little dude in Oakland."
His scoring numbers are down — through three games, LeBron is averaging just 21 points — but he's dishing a career-high 10 assists per game and ripping down (again, a career-high) 8.3 rebounds. At the very least, he made a statement in the first week of the season that might stick with MVP voters for the rest of the year. Unfortunately for the King ...
... but the MVP will be Kawhi Leonard or Russell Westbrook
Judging by the first week of the season, Westbrook will legitimately challenge Oscar Robertson's mark of averaging a triple-double for an entire season. The Oklahoma City Thunder point guard is averaging 38.7 (!!!) points, 12.3 rebounds and 11.7 assists to lead OKC to a 3-0 record to start 2016-17.
Seriously, let that line sink in. Okay, you good? Because the Spurs are 4-0 and looking like the toast of the NBA, thanks to Leonard. The Klaw looks to be making a huge leap as an offensive player, and he's still bringing his typical unparalleled defense against the opponent's top player each night. One of these two young men will win the MVP when this year is all said and done. Speaking of youth ...
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The young teams in the West aren't ready ...
The Wolves and Jazz were trendy playoff picks before the season started, but both young teams have disappointed in the first week of the season. Of course, some of that has to do with injuries, particularly for Utah — although Ricky Rubio's elbow injury will hurt Minnesota for the next few weeks, too. The upside: there's still plenty of time for these teams to get things turned around this season.
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... except for the Blazers
Perhaps it's unwise to lump Portland in with the other up-and-coming teams in the West, since the Blazers showed how good they can be last season. Yet Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum look primed to reach another level this year, and coach Terry Stotts remains one of the game's unheralded bench leaders. The Evan Turner signing might not pan out, and that's okay. Even without major contributions from their free-agent acquisiton, the Blazers are ready to fight for homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
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The Hawks are better without Al Horford
Horford is one of the game's best, most versatile big men. Unfortunately for the Hawks of recent vintage, Atlanta had another player who fit that same bill: Paul Millsap. The two made it work as best as they could, and that often worked out well for the Hawks.
Replacing Horford with Dwight Howard, though, has moved Atlanta to the next level as a Finals contender. All the Hawks need Howard to do is defend the rim and throw down massive dunks when he's open in the lane, and he is still very good at both of those things.
Is Howard a better player than Horford these days? Probably not, no. But the NBA is about fit, and Howard works better in Atlanta than Horford did.