The NBA is officially back and has concluded the first week of the 2018 season. LeBron has played his first two games in the Purple and Gold. Only 6 of the 30 teams remain undefeated, one of them not being the Golden State Monstars (I mean Warriors) and several projected top-tier teams have not lived up to expectations so far. A couple rookies have already shown why they were highly sought after in the previous draft and we have already had our first brawl (and consequential suspensions) of the young NBA season. Here’s what you may have missed:
Warriors Lose to Denver Nuggets
On Sunday night, the reigning NBA Champions from the Bay Area lost their first game of the season 100-98, courtesy of the Denver Nuggets. Steph Curry and Kevin Durant combined for 50 points but together shot only 6/20 from 3 (Curry 6/16, Durant 0/4) and Klay Thompson was 1/6 from deep for 15 points. Klay, in particular, has struggled mightily on the young season, only knocking down 2 threes in three games, only one more than Markelle Fultz. They only beat Utah earlier this week on a last second three from Jonas Jerebko and only beat the Russell Westbrook-less Thunder by 8 on opening night. The bench is much weaker than years past as Andre Iguodala continues his decline as the leader of the second unit. I hate to say it, but this slump won’t last long. Soon Curry, KD, and Klay will be back to their normal selves and the Warriors won’t be touched. Then DeMarcus Cousins will come back from injury and the world will explode.
Markelle Fultz Hits His First Three
In my opinion, second-year guard Markelle Fultz is already much improved from last season. Now in the starting lineup alongside Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Robert Covington, and Dario Saric, Fultz is showing flashes to prove why he was drafted number one overall in 2017. Against Chicago last Thursday, Fultz knocked down his first career three on a pull-up on the right wing. So far this season, he has shown reluctance shooting from behind the arc, but hopefully that jumper helps to build confidence so that he can continue to fire away. Besides for the three-ball, Fultz is getting into the paint and mid-range at will, and it is not hard to see that he could easily be averaging 15-or-so points per game if the shots were falling. Pair that with strong rebounding, a knack for playmaking (just under 5 assists per game), tough defense, and hustle plays, Fultz will be a fine contributor to the 76ers this season.
This Rookie Class Is As Good As Advertised
Through the first week of the NBA season, it has become easy to see why this 2018 draft class has been considered one of the best, if not THE best, since the heralded 2003 draft. Although the Hawks are only 1-2, Trae Young has been one of their lone bright spots. In three games, the Oklahoma product is averaging 23 points on 45.5/39.3/80.0 shooting and 8.3 assists. Yes, this is a very small sample size, but against an above-average defender in George Hill and rookie Collin Sexton on Sunday night, Young posted 35 points on 13/23 shooting and 6 threes, as well as 11 assists. After the first week of the season, Young is my Rookie of the Year.
Jaren Jackson Jr, the fourth overall selection by the Memphis Grizzlies, had a sensational second career game, putting up 24 points, 7 rebounds, 1 steal, and 2 blocks in just over 27 minutes in a win over Trae Young’s Hawks. Jackson has the luxury playing alongside proven stars such as Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, and will almost assuredly improve as the season progresses.
Luka Doncic rounds out my top-three rookies through the first week of the 2018 season. Through two games, the Slovenian wing is averaging 18 points, 7 rebounds, and 3.5 assists. His efficiency is not there yet, only slashing 40.6/28.6/54.5 in his first two games, but those numbers will undoubtedly improve. Nevertheless, in his second career game against Minnesota, Doncic dropped 26 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists in a 140-136 win. I fully expect players like Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III to enter the ROTY conversation before too long.
Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul, and Brandon Ingram Get Intimate
Brandon Ingram started this fight by acting all tough with his lanky 180 pound frame. Buddy, you shoved James Harden because he was toasting your ass all game long. Rajon Rondo then apparently spits in Chris Paul’s face and the two began to exchange haymakers. On Sunday, the NBA suspended all three of Brandon Ingram, Rajon Rondo, and Chris Paul for their actions: Ingram suspended 4 games, Rondo suspended 3 games, and CP3 suspended 2 games. This is always a fun sight to see in the NBA but Brandon Ingram, do your job and maybe you and your teammates wouldn’t be in this mess. Good luck LeBron.
Kawhi Leonard is BACK
After only playing in 9 games during the 2017-18 season and the entire offseason debacle with the Spurs, Kawhi Leonard has returned with a different team: the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors are currently 3-0, although Leonard sat during the second game of a back-to-back against the Wizards on Saturday. In the two games that The Klaw has played in, he scored 24 and 31, respectively, and is averaging 11.5 rebounds in those two contests. In those two games, he is also shouldering a large amount of minutes, playing 37 and 36 minutes.
Kyrie Irving… Not Back Quite Yet
Unlike Kawhi, Kyrie does not look like he is back quite yet. He is shooting a putrid 34% from the field and 14.3% from deep through his first three games since returning from a knee injury that sidelined him for the end of last season. Regardless, the Celtics are still 2-1, defeating both the 76ers and Knicks while losing to the Raptors. Credit the wins to Jayson Tatum, who is carrying the bulk of the team’s scoring until Irving gets his legs back under him. In three games to start the season, Tatum is scoring 21 PPG while reeling in 10.7 rebounds per game. Kyrie will, without a doubt, return to form sooner rather than later for this Celtics team and ultimately lead the team in scoring. There is absolutely no way he would force his way out of Cleveland and LeBron’s shadow to be stuck under a second-year player’s shadow.
Lakers and Thunder Still Winless
These two teams are both projected to be top seeds in the Western Conference come the end of the season. Luckily there is still plenty of time for these teams to figure themselves out. Without Westbrook in their first two games, the Thunder lost to both the Warriors and the Clippers. Then with Westbrook on Sunday night, the Thunder still lost to the Sacramento Kings, of all teams, 131-120. As Westbrook begins to get back in his flow, the Thunder will improve; I have no doubt about that. LeBron James and his Lakers dropped both games to the Trail Blazers and Rockets respectively. Now without both Brandon Ingram and Rajon Rondo for the next few games, they need to manufacture some wins against the Spurs and Suns before they fall too far behind. Then again, they have the greatest player of all time on their team. The Lakers will be fine.
Pictures Courtesy of:
USA Today(Nuggets v Warriors)
Boston Globe(Markelle Fultz)
LeBron Wire (Lakers v Rockets Brawl)
Herald Courier (Kawhi)
Sporting News (Westbrook)
University of South Carolina ’21