Dwyane Wade Making Himself at Home in Chicago and Thursday NBA TakeawaysOctober 28, 2016
It took Dwyane Wade all of one game with the Chicago Bulls to knock down more than half as many three-pointers (four) as he drilled throughout his entire swan song with the Miami Heat (seven). Not bad for someone who still has 38 attempts to go before he matches his 2015-16 total.
And as CBS Sports NBA points out, he's already ahead of the pace set on opening night by last year's reigning champion from downtown:
Wade's marksmanship may have been the most impressive part of his Bulls debut, which came in a 105-99 victory over a Boston Celtics squad commonly predicted to finish near the top of the Eastern Conference. But it was only one part of a fairly complete line—22 points, six rebounds and five assists on 7-of-18 shooting from the field and a 4-of-6 showing from long range.
He made a game-sealing block. He knocked down the dagger three you can see below, complete with a throat-slashing gesture that may well earn a fine from the NBA. He constantly attacked the basket during the second half, drawing whistles and finishing tough plays as he basically spat in the face of Father Time.
It was everything the Bulls could've hoped for, and then some. Maybe the only negative was a play at the end of the first quarter when he rushed a buzzer-beating alley-oop attempt and couldn't get the rock to fall.
Best of all, Wade looked like he fit.
He deferred to Jimmy Butler and Rajon Rondo, taking a secondary—or tertiary—role when necessary. He slashed at appropriate times and looked fully engaged within the defensive schemes. He even clicked with new teammates—Cristiano Felicio, for example—on dimes that require perfect timing:
But Wade wasn't the only standout on the Chicago roster, even if it's his homecoming performance that stands out above all else.
Butler also made four of his six tries from downtown en route to a team-high 24 points. Rondo got caught chasing assists a few times and struggled immensely with his shot, but he still recorded six rebounds, nine dimes and two steals while playing terrific defense against Boston's veritable stable of capable backcourt threats. Even Michael Carter-Williams looked comfortable while playing important minutes down the stretch.
Remember the near-universal concerns going into the season? We'll allow Nylon Calculus' Justin Willard to sum them up:
The criticism for the Bulls all pivots on one point: the team’s four core perimeter players are all poor three-point shooters in an NBA landscape where the three-pointer is king. While it’s true that their lack of outside shooting is concerning, we don’t even have to frame this in a 21st century, analytics way. Let’s put it simply: it makes no basketball sense to mesh these three players together.
And now, a rebuttal.
The Bulls took 25 shots from beyond the arc and knocked down 11 of them—good for a 44 percent clip that leaves last year's leaguewide average of 35.4 percent in the dust. And that number is dragged down by an unlikely candidate: Nikola Mirotic, one of the few rostered players with a solid history from downtown, went just 1-of-6 on his shots from Curry Wade range.
"For some guys who can't shoot, I think we did pretty well tonight," Butler said after the game, per the team's official Twitter feed.
This performance alone won't dispel all the critics. Likewise, we can't yet say with certainty that Wade is a strong fit in the Windy City, even if we have no reason to believe otherwise after this standout showing.
But the Bulls couldn't have drawn up a better start.
They didn't just beat a presumptive contender in the East. They did so while flipping the poor-shooting narrative on its head.
Dwight Howard Bringing a New Element to Atlanta
Things were going smoothly even before the Atlanta Hawks jetted ahead during their season-opening contest against the Washington Wizards. The final score of 114-99 was the ultimate highlight, but it was nearly matched by the litany of positives, including a gargantuan fourth-quarter run.
Paul Millsap, who asserted himself as (arguably) a top-10 player in 2015-16, continued to put up big numbers, finishing with a team-high 28 points to go along with seven rebounds and six assists. Dennis Schroder (14 points on 6-of-12 shooting) had an up-and-down performance but looked strong as a scorer when he settled down.
Off the bench, Mike Muscala (nine points, four rebounds, one assist, two steals and three blocks) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (21 points on 8-of-13 shooting) had standout showings.
Even Thabo Sefolosha exploded, with this reverse slam serving as the crown jewel of his 13 points, seven rebounds, five assists and five steals for the second unit:
But the night still belonged to Dwight Howard.
Making his debut in an Atlanta uniform and playing in front of his hometown crowd, Howard thrived on the glass. At first, it seemed as if he was going to grab at least 30 boards, and he finished with 19 in spite of a slowing pace during the second half. According to ESPN Stats & Info, no player has ever recorded more rebounds in a Hawks debut:
If Atlanta fans need a moment to pinch themselves, now is when they should take it. Breathe deeply. Check for flying pigs. Do whatever you need to do.
This really happened.
The Hawks as a whole were atrocious on the offensive glass in 2015-16, recording 42 fewer offensive rebounds than any other team. And that doesn't even begin to tell the full story. Nor does their No. 30 finish in offensive rebounding percentage, putrid as that may be.
According to NBA Math's era-adjusted offensive rebounding percentage, only the 2011-12 and '12-13 Boston Celtics have ever been worse at creating second-chance opportunities.
But that appears to be changing, as Howard grabbed seven of his 19 rebounds on the offensive end—all of which came during the first half and were highlighted by the one you can see above.
In the previous two seasons, only Al Horford (twice) and Millsap (three times) have matched or exceeded that total. In fact, last year's Hawks could only muster up a collective seven offensive boards during 56 of their 82 contests.
This new-look outfit is by no means a perfect team, but the offseason addition of the broad-shouldered center is quickly changing the style. And if the first game is any indication, the alterations are positive ones.
Kawhi Leonard, Superstar
It's still unusual to see the San Antonio Spurs offense devolve into isolation sets, with one player dribbling out the shot clock and then creating his own look before the buzzer sounds. But when it's Kawhi Leonard running the show, it's more of an evolution than an offense breaking down against defensive pressure.
Though it was DeMarcus Cousins who produced the night's premier individual line with 37 points, 16 rebounds, two assists and a steal, Leonard once again stole the show. The Spurs' 102-94 victory over the Sacramento Kings, which played spoiler on opening night at the immaculate Golden 1 Center, wouldn't have been possible without his expressionless excellence.
Need steals that help shift the game's momentum and propel San Antonio into the lead? Leonard will just use his oversized baseball mitts to poke away at the merest hint of an exposed orange sphere.
Need big buckets late in the game that come in the face of intense defensive pressure? Leonard will calmly rise and fire from anywhere on the court, no matter how tightly he's blanketed by a double- or triple-team.
Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News found the perfect adjective to describe him:
Traditional box score statistics may well sell his impact short. But they're special nonetheless. After all, he finished Thursday night with his second consecutive masterpiece to kick off the new season, and these performances somehow feel like they can be replicated time and time again:
|Kawhi Leonard's Game Log in 2016-17|
|Oct. 25 @ GSW||35||5||3||5||10-of-21 (47.6%)||15-of-15 (100%)|
|Oct. 27 @ SAC||30||3||5||5||11-of-21 (52.4%)||7-of-7 (100%)|
|Average||32.5||4||4||5||21-of-42 (50%)||22-of-22 (100%)|
At this point, you need to accept Leonard as an unabashed superstar, no matter how stingy your definition may be.
Clippers' Big 3 is Back
Last season, the Los Angeles Clippers outscored opponents by 13.5 points per 100 possessions when Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan were on the floor. But the year was marred by injuries and other absences, with Griffin missing far more time than anyone else for numerous reasons.
On Thursday night, they had a chance to exorcise some demons by returning to Rip City, which took away two members of the Big Three during the 2016 playoffs. The mission was successful, as LAC emerged with a 114-106 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers in a physical, testy and hard-fought battle.
Sure, the bench was solid—Jamal Crawford and Marreese Speights paced the second unit with 15 points apiece. J.J. Redick found a way to contribute even with his shots going awry, most notably stepping in front of Damian Lillard to take a rally-ending charge in the closing minute.
But unsurprisingly, it was Griffin, Paul and Jordan who stood out most.
Jordan never got going on the offensive end, but his rim protection forced Lillard and C.J. McCollum to work hard whenever they were driving toward the hoop. He also cleaned the glass with 12 boards, despite ceding some uncontested opportunities to Griffin.
As for Paul, he showed no signs of slowing down after hitting the unfortunately magical age of 31, which often sees point guards begin to decline dramatically. He was in complete control of the proceedings and finished with 27 points, five rebounds and five assists.
However, the Clippers have to be most excited about Griffin's contributions.
Even though he played well—while healthy—in 2015-16, it still felt as if he was the missing piece. The team coalesced in his absence and had to change its schemes upon his return. Starting fresh with him as an integral figure can only be a positive.
It certainly was against the Blazers, as Griffin provided his fair share of highlights. Take this chasedown rejection of Maurice Harkless as an example:
Or maybe this putback dunk, which came just a few minutes earlier:
When the final buzzer sounded, Griffin had recorded 27 points, 13 rebounds, two assists, three steals and a block. He was active on both ends, constantly seeking ways to insert himself in the action and leaving no doubt he was fully healthy and raring to get off to a good start in this all-important campaign.
If the Clippers flounder, this triumvirate could be torn apart in the offseason. But Thursday, they kicked off their season in style and showed no signs they'd let an ugly divorce take place.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @fromal09.
Unless otherwise indicated, all stats are from Basketball-Reference.com, NBA.com or NBA Math.