Just over one week into the 2016-17 NBA season, here are 10 overreactions that could prove to be legitimate takeaways by the end of the year.
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Oct 28, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) reacts after defeating the Phoenix Suns 113-110 in overtime at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Eight days and 54 games into the 2016-17 NBA season, we’ve already seen plenty to be excited about. From monster opening night lines to exciting overtime finishes, there’s been no shortage of story lines, highlights and all-around entertainment for basketball fans to sink their teeth into.
It’s been months since we’ve been able to enjoy NBA action, and now that it’s back, it’s easy to cling to every result, every stat line and every performance as being indicative of what we can expect from the upcoming season.
In terms of opening week overreactions, it’d be easy to say the Golden State Warriors’ super-team isn’t going to work, that Anthony Davis is the league’s best player or that the Cleveland Cavaliers are going to cruise to another NBA title.
So early into the season though, it’s important to try and avoid overreactions. One injury, one trade, or one simple regression to the mean could send any opening week theory crashing to the ground.
That being said, the early NBA slate has been too much fun it’s been impossible to NOT notice some opening week trends. While most takeaways eight days into the season are simply overreactions, we gathered up 10 of the most prominent ones that may actually prove to be legitimate for your viewing pleasure.
Oct 30, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) brings the ball up the court during the first quarter against the Dallas Mavericks at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
10. James Harden Will Average A 30-10
When Houston Rockets head coach Mike D’Antonisaid he was hoping James Harden would double his assists from last season (a career-high 7.5 per game), most people laughed. When the Beard dropped a career-high 17 dimes in the season opener, those same people shat their pants.
Through his first four games of the season, Harden is obviously no longer averaging 15+ assists per game. He is, however, making his 32.3 points, 11.8 assists and 7.3 rebounds per game look sustainable, even if they’ve come with 5.0 turnovers per game attached.
Posting .488/.382/.809 shooting splits probably isn’t going to last for the Beard, but there’s no question Mike D’s offense is empowering Harden as the team’s lead point guard in a way we’ve never seen before.
Last season, Harden put up 29.0 points, 7.5 assists and 6.1 rebounds per game. In this new, up-tempo offense where he is somehow even moreof a focal point than last year, the Rockets might need him to post something outlandish like a 30-10-6 stat line to make the playoffs.
Oct 30, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph (50) drives against Washington Wizards forward Markieff Morris (5) at FedExForum. Memphis defeated Washington 112-103. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
9. Zach Randolph Will Win Sixth Man Of The Year
Four games is a tiny sample size to draw from, but based on what we’ve seen from Zach Randolph in his full-time bench role, this is one overreaction that could prove to be legitimate as the season wears on.
Unlike a few of the players ahead of him in each category, however, Z-Bo’s current numbers — 14.0 points and 7.3 rebounds per game — feel sustainable. His 40 percent shooting from deep may not last, but Randolph is definitely a guy who can check in for the Memphis Grizzlies and put up a near double-double in limited minutes.
The best part about all this? Randolph’s switch to bench duty — after briefly playing the role of sixth man last season — was highly publicized and praised. Z-Bo is a big enough name with the narrative staying power to stand out on the Sixth Man of the Year ballot — provided he can just stay healthy, that is.
Oct 26, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner (33) dunks against the Dallas Mavericks at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana defeats Dallas 130-121 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
8. Myles Turner Will Have The Best Non-KAT Sophomore Season
Myles Turner came back down to earth Tuesday night, finishing with a mundane nine-point, six-rebound, two-block stat line in a win over the Los Angeles Lakers. But if Turner’s 30-point, 16-rebound, 4-block masterpiece in the season opener was any indication, this second-year stud is ready to break out.
So far, Turner is posting 18.0 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game. The Indiana Pacers need big things from him this season, not only on the offensive end, but on the defensive end, where the team got notably weaker over the summer.
The days of Roy Hibbert and David West have been over for awhile now, but with George Hill and Ian Mahinmi out the door as well, the Pacers have gone all in on offense…leaving Turner and Paul George to shoulder the burden of being the team’s anchors on the defensive end.
Oct 28, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks center Andrew Bogut (6) looks down during the second half against the Houston Rockets at the American Airlines Center. The Rockets defeat the Mavericks 106-98. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
The Mavs have won an NBA championship and made the playoffs in seven of those eight seasons, and the only season they didn’t, Nowitzki missed 29 games. If the first week of the new season is to be believed, the 2016-17 campaign may put that formula to the test.
To be fair, Dallas has played quality teams in their 0-3 start, losing on the road to the Indiana Pacers in overtime before dropping a home-and-away set against the Houston Rockets — both of which were played without Nowitzki (illness).
Looking even further on the bright side, Harrison Barnes has played quite well despite an alarmingly bad preseason.
Three games is a small sample size, but it appears Carlisle is working his magic yet again with a promising role player, as Barnes is averaging 20.0 points and 6.3 rebounds per game on .500/.455/1.000 shooting splits.
Harry B knocked down the game-tying three to send the Mavs’ season opener to OT, and followed that up with a career-high 31 points against Houston.
Unfortunately, none of that has stopped the Mavericks from joining the Phoenix Suns, BLANK (New Orleans Pelicans and Minnesota Timberwolves) as the only winless teams in the West. In such a competitive conference, this could be the year Carlisle runs out of playoff magic.
Oct 27, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Rajon Rondo (9) drives around a pick from guard Jimmy Butler (21) during the second half against the Boston Celtics at the United Center. Chicago won 105-99. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Even better, Fred Hoiberg‘s squad is not only leading the league in offensive rating (114.7 points per 100 possessions), but they’re also leading the league in three-point percentage (42.5 percent) and fifth in defensive rating (97.0). THIS is what the front office envisioned last year when it decided to move on from Tom Thibodeau.
Again, three games is a microscopic sample size, and there’s a good chance the Bulls’ season opener — in which they shot 11-for-25 from deep, including 4-for-6 from both Wade and Butler — was fueled by all the summer criticism and Wade’s homecoming more than anything else.
However, perhaps we shouldn’t have been so quick to doubt the influence of a seasoned champion like Wade, the continued growth of Butler and the simple addition by subtraction of trading away Derrick Rose. Chicago’s league-leading offense won’t last, but the Bulls’ playoff hopes just might.
Oct 29, 2016; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (middle) during the national anthem before a game against the New Orleans Pelicans at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
5. San Antonio Spurs Win It All
The San Antonio Spurs are one of only six teams in the NBA to rank in the top 10 for both offensive and defensive rating, joining the Bulls, Minnesota Timberwolves, Atlanta Hawks, Los Angeles Clippers and Toronto Raptors in that limited sample size.
Out of all of those teams, wouldn’t you expect the Spurs to be the most likely to sustain those top-10 marks for the entire year?
In the first season of the post-Tim Duncan era, Kawhi Leonard has seized the reins of the franchise in a vice grip with those baseball glove-sized hands of his. LaMarcus Aldridge is producing. The Juice Unit off the bench is back in full force, and Danny Green isn’t even back yet.
The Spurs missed out on the first 5-0 start of Gregg Popovich’s career by losing to the Utah Jazz Tuesday night, but this is an experienced, deep, well-balanced team that plays both ends of the floor. Tony Parker and Pau Gasol being minuses is concerning, but the Spurs have what it takes to challenge the Warriors and Cavaliers for the NBA crown.
We haven’t seen Kawhi Leonard dominate a playoff series yet, which seems odd to write about last year’s MVP runner-up and a former Finals MVP. But with the Claw poised for his best season yet and the Dubs still learning how to play together, the Spurs are once again in a great position to defy expectations and bring home the franchise’s first title without Duncan.
This is not a prediction that the Spurs will win it all. But as of right now, they look like the NBA’s best team, and they’ve proven time and time again this high level of play — even in a small sample size — is sustainable. That 29-point road victory over the mighty Warriors on opening night sent a message to the rest of the league: Don’t forget about the everlasting Spurs. We’re listening.
Nov 1, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) is fouled by Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) on an attempted dunk during the third quarter of a game at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
4. Anthony Davis Leads The League In Scoring
Poor Anthony Davis. In his first four games, just take a look at the absurd stat lines he’s posted:
That’s tied for the worst record in the NBA so far, but without any other quality players to look for on offense, the Brow has reminded people why it was reasonable to expect a bounce-back year after a somewhat underwhelming 2015-16 campaign.
So far, Russell Westbrook is leading the league in scoring at 38.7 points per game. But if not for Davis’ 18-point performance against the might Spurs, the Brow’s 37.0 points per game would be a league-best.
Westbrook’s scoring numbers should come down as his stat line skews more toward being a triple-double machine, which means Davis has as good a chance any anyone to lead the league in scoring.
His team has no other options, they need him to produce, and at age 23, Davis is starting to tap into his sky-high potential. He’ll have competition from Westbrook, Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, but I’d hedge my bets on the Brow in this category.
Nov 1, 2016; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard (2) reacts after a shot against the Utah Jazz during the first half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
3. Kawhi Leonard Wins MVP
It’s too early in the season to be making any definitive declarations about the MVP race.
Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant may not have found their groove in Golden State just yet and LeBron James is coasting in the scoring column despite averaging 20.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 9.5 assists per game.
Russell Westbrook and James Harden could be dark horse candidates as triple-double machines, while Anthony Davis’ superstar numbers can’t be overlooked either.
But KD and Curry will probably take votes away from each other no matter how many games the Dubs win, and voter fatigue and too much rest could hold LeBron’s MVP candidacy back.
The Thunder, Rockets and Pelicans may not win enough to garner their superstars enough attention, and in a wide open MVP race, this award is up for grabs.
Based on what we’ve seen from Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs one week in, they might have the winning combination of monster individual stats, compelling narrative and the ever-important team success factor on their side for the Claw to bring home his first MVP Award.
Last year, Leonard finished second in the voting as the best player on a 67-win team, but he only averaged 21.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 1.0 blocks per game on. 506/.443/.874 shooting splits — terrific numbers, but ones that paled in comparison to what Curry, Kevin Durant and LeBron James put up.
Now, Leonard seems poised to take the next step and put any remaining “system player” silliness to rest. He’s averaging 28.4 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 3.0 steals per game on .511/.409/.956 shooting splits so far this season — all while doubling as the league’s most fearsome wing defender.
The 50-40-90 club feels like a pipe dream at this point, but the Spurs are currently 4-1 and could finish with the best record in the league. If Leonard keeps up his current production and the Spurs do what they do as far as racking up regular season wins, he’ll have the most well-rounded MVP case of anyone in a wide open year.
Oct 26, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) stands for the national anthem prior to action against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the first half at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
2. Joel Embiid Wins Rookie Of The Year — Handily
With Ben Simmons out indefinitely, Joel Embiid really only has to stay healthy to handily win this year’s Rookie of the Year Award. He’s been stellar, and he really doesn’t have much competition so far.
That’ll likely change as teams start trusting their rookies more and the tanking teams let their young guys get more burn, but Embiid’s 17.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game rank first, first and — yep, you guessed it! — first among all NBA rookies.
The next closest scorer is Jake Layman at 17.0 points per game, but he’s only played one game this season and as much fun as they were, those 17 points came in garbage time of a 23-point loss to the Warriors. After Layman is Philly’s own Dario Saric at 10.3 points per game.
The next closest rookie rebounder is Toronto’s Pascal Siakam (5.3 per game) and the next closest shot-blocker is San Antonio’s Davis Bertans (1.0 per game). Suffice it to say that Embiid has dominated the early ROY conversation, and he’ll probably continue to do so.
The scary thing is that he’s putting up those gargantuan numbers in only 20.9 minutes per game. With the Philadelphia 76ers limiting his playing time, he’ll hopefully be able to avoid injuries in his rookie season. I mean, this is a seven-footer shooting 40 percent from three as a rookie, people! Who doesn’t want to see him excel, even if it’s in limited action?
Kris Dunn could challenge for this spot with Ricky Rubio out, and Brandon Ingram‘s numbers should improve once he’s finally moved into the starting rotation later in the year, but as of right now, it looks like Embiid holds a sizable advantage in the Rookie of the Year category.
Oct 30, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) and Los Angeles Lakers forward Nick Young (0) react after a play during the third quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
1. Russell Westbrook Pulls An Oscar
This is probably the most contentious yet fun overreaction of the group, which is why we’re putting it at No. 1. The moment Kevin Durant left the Oklahoma City Thunder in free agency, all the focus shifted to what an enraged Russell Westbrook would do in 2016-17 as OKC’s sole superstar.
It may have started as a joke, but the more and more people talked about it, the more it seemed like Westbrook really could join Oscar Robertson as the only players in NBA history to average a triple-double for an entire season.
If anyone could do it, it’s 2016-17 Russell Westbrook, we reasoned. Three games into the new season, Russ hasn’t disappointed, averaging 38.7 points, 12.3 rebounds and 11.7 assists per game.
At this point, most people haven’t really noticed that he’s shooting 45.3 percent from the floor, a vastly improved 44.4 percent from three-point range, or that his team is currently 3-0. The shooting numbers will probably regress to the mean, as will OKC’s record when they play tougher teams than the Sixers, Suns and Lakers.
But Russ doesn’t have to put up a triple-double every night for him to wind up averaging one by season’s end. Games like his 51-point, 13-rebound, 10-assist performance against Phoenix show how quickly he can pad his overall numbers, especially for a guy who posted a triple-double in two of his first three games…and fell one assist shy of another one in the third.
Keeping up this torrid pace up for another 79 games is a daunting task, but OKC’s offense depends solely on Russ now. He averaged 23.5 points, 10.4 assists and 7.8 rebounds per game just last season, and even if the Thunder don’t win enough games to garner him legitimate MVP buzz, it’ll be hard to overlook the guy averaging a triple-double if he’s actually able to pull it off.
It’s a long shot, but there’s never been a player more poised to average a triple-double in NBA history than this year’s Russell Westbrook on this year’s Thunder team. For that, we’re going to hold onto hope as long as the box scores allow us to.