10 Overreactions After NBA's First 2 Days of Games
It is not possible to have double-digit overreactions just two days into the 2020-21 NBA regular season.
Everything here is subject to "It's been one game, chill" disclaimers. At the same time, nothing is meant to assume the usual hot-takery form. Each premature revelation attempts to straddle the line between ambitious and sensible.
Consider this more of an exercise in diligent hyperbole.
Belief meters will be attached to every overreaction. They aim to measure the faith I—and maybe you!—have in each spoonful of spice sustaining beyond the regular season's infancy.
Please stretch before proceeding. Knee jerks are tough on the hammies.
Brooklyn Should Not Trade for James Harden
Dismantling an alarmingly lackluster Golden State Warriors team on opening night is not license to claim, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the Brooklyn Nets don't need James Harden. Recent, um, headlines aside, he is still James bleeping Harden—championship contention in bodily form.
Overthinking superstar trade scenarios might be trendy. That doesn't make it wise. The chance to acquire Harden should be cut-and-dry for most teams, almost regardless of cost. As yours truly wrote on this very subject:
"This idea that Harden can't, or won't, change his ball-dominant style is without concrete grounds. He burns through more isolation possessions than entire teams because that's how Houston decided to play. There is a difference between being incapable of making adjustments and never being tasked with implementing them in the first place. ...
Depth can never supplant stardom. It can complement, it can augment, but it cannot mimic. The only substitute for superstardom is another superstar. And Harden is built to carry the Nets in ways the combination of Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert never will."
The calculus changes for the Nets if Kevin Durant looks like Kevin Durant following his recovery from a ruptured right Achilles tendon. So far, through two exhibition tilts and one regular-season appearance, he looks more like Kevin Durant than not like Kevin Durant.
That matters. Like, a lot. Superstars should be valued indiscriminately when your team doesn't already have one—or when it only has one. Brooklyn has two, both of whom are firmly in the top-15, maybe top-10, conversation if they're healthy.
Depth is just as important as stardom if Durant and Kyrie Irving aren't missing games left and right. Harden can uplift the Nets in the face of a worst-case scenario. Dinwiddie and LeVert are easier to integrate if the outlook is rosier, in large part because it's possible to bring one or both off the bench and more starkly stagger minutes.
Maybe this take ages poorly, extremely so, in due time. That's sort of the point: Brooklyn needs to give what's already in place time before unloading its asset clip (insofar as landing Harden is the team's choice and not fully dependent on rival offers falling flat).
Belief Meter: The force (of belief) is strong in this one.
Golden State's Offense Is Going to Be a Problem...For Golden State
On a scale of brain-numbingly boring to scintillatingly hot, this might fall closer to the former. Any offense with Stephen Curry has the blueprint for incandescence, but concerns on the Warriors roster stick out like Kawhi Leonard's hands in a high-fiving contest.
Even the most cursory glances at the depth chart reveal a glaring lack of proven shooters. After Steph, the most bankable outside threat is...Brad Wanamaker. Or Kent Bazemore. Or perhaps Damion Lee.
It most certainly isn't anyone from the projected starting five. That's an issue. Draymond Green's eventual debut will open up the floor with his vision and downhill artistry, but neither he nor James Wiseman stretches frontline defenders beyond the arc, and opposing teams will be just as content to leave Kelly Oubre Jr. and Andrew Wiggins all alone.
Golden State shot a combined 31.3 percent (10-of-32) on open and wide-open threes against Brooklyn. That efficiency won't hold. Steph shot 1-of-5 on wide-open triples himself. And again: One game is one game is one game. Wiseman looked pretty darn good for someone who hasn't played in roughly two eternities, and the Warriors should be frisky in transition all year.
Still, the outside shooting stands to be a season-long issue, without a potential answer already on the roster. This might be a team that needs to shake things up before the trade deadline, lest their ceiling be closer to play-in participant than outright postseason squad.
Belief Meter: An irrational mix of confidence and...even more confidence.
Dennis Schroder Shouldn't Be Starting for the Lakers
Bleacher Report's Mo Dakhil dropped this scorchingly hot (read: mediumly sensible) take one day after the Los Angeles Lakers lost their season debut to the Los Angeles Clippers:
"Just finished rewatching the Lakers game from last night, and this might be a knee-jerk reaction to just one game, but I'm not sure [Dennis] Schroder should be starting for the Lakers. Not much need for a ball-handler with [LeBron James] and [Anthony Davis] in the first unit. It made it harder for everyone to start off the game, including him and [Marc] Gasol. I'm sure they will be fine in the long run with more time together, but they have a lot of guys who need touches in the first unit."
Starter designations are increasingly arbitrary. Finishing the game, along with overall playing time, is more important. Dakhil's analysis speaks to a potential issue either way.
Granted, the Lakers' starting five posted a 120.8 offensive rating, and all of the LeBron-Schroder-Gasol minutes came within that group. But Schroder and Gasol are most valuable in non-LeBron stints. Los Angeles' half-court offense cratered during those stretches last season, and starting all three makes it harder to stagger their minutes from the four-time MVP.
Case in point: Gasol and Schroder didn't log a single second of action together against the Clippers without LeBron on the floor. It may be just one game, and Schroder's solo minutes did not go well (minus-nine), but the Lakers need to put adequate emphasis on beefing up their LeBron-less stretches. Bringing Schroder off the bench gives them a better chance of juggling this dynamic.
Belief Meter: Moderately strong, though willing to give it more time.
RJ Barrett Has Arrived
RJ Barrett had himself a first half against the Indiana Pacers, going for 20 points on 8-of-8 shooting, including a 3-of-3 clip from beyond the arc. Much like the rest of the New York Knicks, he cooled off in the latter two frames (six points on 3-of-7 shooting), but the first two quarters remain enough to float optimism.
Just how much optimism remains to be seen. It is important these overreactions don't overreact relative to overreactions. We don't want to read so much into one half from Barrett. So, let's split the difference and just call him an All-NBA lock rather than the early leader for MVP.
It is more reasonable to believe that Barrett works his way onto the peripherals of the Most Improved Player discussion, or that he merely supplants Mitchell Robinson as the Knicks' top prospect (and player) by the end of the season. His offense has the look of someone in the process of turning a corner. He is extra incisive and decisive on his drives, more likely to reach the rim than bail out with long mid-rangers. If the attention he drew from Indiana when he got deep is any indication, he's going to tee up plenty of open threes for his teammates.
Tougher to buy into is Barrett's perfect showing from beyond the arc. Jump shooting is still far from his strength, and the Pacers paid him little attention when he didn't have the ball.
But drilling uncontested threes is far from a bad thing. It's more important that Barrett seemed totally willing to fire away. All three of his attempts included little hesitation, even as Indiana closed out, and one of his makes came off a single dribble from the weak side. If he can get to league average from three on moderate volume while continuing to incite bedlam on his attacks to the basket, his not-so-flattering rookie season will become but a footnote memory—a blip to which everyone pays little mind.
Belief Meter: Cautiously, nauseously, nail-bitingly optimistic.
Put Collin Sexton on Your Most Improved Player Ballot
Collin Sexton suffered from a lack of appreciation last season. Only five other players cleared 20 points per game and matched or exceeded his efficiency on twos (50.1 percent) and threes (38.0 percent) while attempting as many treys (255): Jaylen Brown, Brandon Ingram, Damian Lillard, Khris Middleton and Karl-Anthony Towns. His scoring impact was real.
Assessments of him still skewed toward critical, focusing mostly on his playmaking deficit. That's not entirely unfair. It is less just to view him through the lens of a point guard. He is not a floor general. He is a combo guard who tilts heavily toward the 2 side of the spectrum.
Sexton flashed serviceable playmaking by those standards during last year's closing kick. He threw more meaningful passes when getting into the lane and posted an assist rate of 18.7 after the All-Star break—perfectly fine for someone who shouldn't be saddled with initiating a lion's share of the offense.
Expectations should only rise for him after the Cleveland Cavaliers' win over the Charlotte Hornets. So many of his 27 points came within the flow of the offense—not always off the ball, but without hesitation. His five assists are indicative of actual growth. He is more concerned with what's happening around and behind him rather than just in front of him. Cleveland's shooters and cutters will benefit a great deal if it keeps up.
Will it keep up? One-game samples beg patience. But Sexton's start to this season was less novel and more like an extension of how he finished last.
Belief Meter: Wholeheartedly aboard the bandwagon.
Brandon Ingram Is a Point Forward
This doesn't read like an overreaction for someone who averaged 4.2 assists per game last season. It brings something along the lines of melted-ice-cream-level heat.
But the temperature of this take rises significantly when considering the implication: that Ingram has a floor general-like jump left in him. Few would have maintained he could get much better before the start of the season. The discourse tended to focus on whether his All-Star rise was sustainable or destined to abate.
Going for 24 points and 11 assists—ELEVEN—in the New Orleans Pelicans' win over the Toronto Raptors should alleviate any concerns that Ingram will somehow fade into Zion Williamson's shadow. The level of difficulty on his shot-making endures; two of his made threes even came off the dribble.
More noticeable is his decision-making working in both the half court and open floor. It seems like he's seeing the court better, and that said line of sight is developing more quickly.
From threading the needle near the baseline to a cutting Eric Bledsoe to letting Zion get behind the defense in transition and hitting him with the outlet to calling for a screen and then attacking the defense before it gets there and finding an open JJ Redick in the corner, Ingram is operating with all-time confidence and feel.
Bledsoe and Lonzo Ball, along with Kira Lewis Jr., may be New Orleans' point guards by title. Make no mistake, though: this is Ingram's offense.
Belief Meter: Roughly "Just finished one cocktail and am two sips into another"-level of confidence.
Jaylen Brown Will Finish Top 3 in Most Improved Player Voting
Let's take a moment to appreciate the granularity of this hedge. Declaring Jaylen Brown an All-Star isn't flashy enough—especially when, you know, there won't be an All-Star Game—and guaranteeing him an All-NBA spot is all kinds of wild when Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Paul George, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Jayson Tatum, Jimmy Butler, et al. all exist.
Looping him into the Most Improved Player debate is at least comparably ambitious to All-NBA aspirations. That award is usually reserved for less established guys, or for those on the cusp of megastardom.
Brown is trending, convincingly, toward the latter.
Scoring 33 points in the Boston Celtics' win over the Milwaukee Bucks (after a slow start) is certainly part of the optimism. His jumper looks good; he remains a lethal spot-up threat and may have spruced up his off-the-dribble in-between game.
Defense is, as ever, ingrained into this projection too. He continues to guard up, can break up plays even while backpedaling and is among the league's most opportunistic, furtive shot-blockers.
Mostly, though, this is a vote in favor of his playmaking. Gordon Hayward's departure and Kemba Walker's left knee injury have created a void Boston will fill by committee. Brown is part of the solution. He dropped four assists while appearing more self-aware on his power drives and, as his drop-off to Tristan Thompson in the first quarter proved, more capable of methodically breaking down set defenses.
Belief Meter: Predominantly irresolute but would like to see how Brown fares on offense once Kemba returns.
Break Up the Bulls
The Chicago Bulls tricked me ahead of last season. Their additions of Tomas Satoransky and Thaddeus Young were solid, and though their wing rotation never approached spectacular, a healthy Otto Porter Jr. would give them plenty of firepower at the 3.
I will not be burned again.
Injuries didn't help the Bulls' cause last year. Nor did head coach Jim Boylen.
However, Game 1 did nothing, zero, zilch, nada to assuage the doubt. Wendell Carter Jr. seems at once hesitant to shoot and pass. That feels like an awkward and detrimental combination. The offense at large—and I'll confess to watching approximately only half of this game—has a certain stickiness. They need a floor general to balance touches and encourage movement.
Under 56 percent of their made baskets came off assists—that would've ranked 26th last year—and they're heavily reliant on their perimeter weapons hitting off-the-dribble jumpers. That's fine when you have Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum or exactly one James Harden. The Bulls have Zach LaVine, Coby White and Lauri Markkanen. They didn't seem particularly inclined to push the pace off rebounds.
Chicago's defense did itself no favors. The Atlanta Hawks shot over 74 percent at the rim and dismantled the Bulls in transition. Chicago's closeouts on threes were uninspiring; the Bulls didn't put nearly enough pressure on players not named Trae Young.
Obligatory recurring disclaimer: This is one game. But the Bulls don't have the look or feel of a team that's going to sneak up on anyone. Keep White and Patrick Williams, and then shop the rest. It's time to start over over.
Belief Meter: I know it to be true in my heart and mind and soul.
Shake Milton Has Entered the Chat—for Sixth Man of the Year
"Shake [Milton] can be a starter or a sixth man," Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers said earlier this month, per Sixers Wire's Ky Carlin. "Shake is going to be a heck of a basketball player. He really is; you can just see it all over him. So with him and Furkan [Korkmaz], with that type of firepower that you can use off the bench, man, that's going to make us pretty good."
Rivers wasn't kidding.
Milton went kaboom in the Sixers' win over the Washington Wizards, finishing with 19 points, three assists and three steals, one of which came off absolutely filthy ball denial. It was a performance that feels eminently repeatable. Milton did his damage off set threes and by aggressively attacking the basket and putting down shots through contact and over length.
Opportunity should ensure his stock and volume don't waver. He is the surest thing coming off the Sixers bench and the only reliable playmaker. He has a real chance to firmly insert himself into the Sixth Man of the Year debate—unless Philly is compelled to move him inside the starting lineup.
Belief Meter: Ultra-confident except for the fact that Tobias Harris played so poorly the Sixers might soon downsize and start Milton in his place.
Phoenix Will Get a Top-4 Playoff Seed
Does it get any better for the Phoenix Suns than their 106-102 victory over the Dallas Mavericks?
Er, yes. That is what's so terrifying.
Devin Booker and Chris Paul simultaneously showed they have a long way to go as a duo and why pairing them together is so damn smart. They need to figure out how to juggle touches when they're sharing the floor—having Booker screen for CP3 down the stretch was a cool wrinkle—but they both still hit huge buckets in crunch time to help seal the victory. Phoenix can count on their chemistry improving, on better performances from each in general, and on the fact that they have too of the best mid-range threats in the league to generate something from nothing when it matters.
Potentially more intriguing than the Booker-Paul partnership, you know, existing: The Suns are deeper than advertised. They navigated some second-half minutes without either star extremely well, and their complementary players just make so much sense.
Mikal Bridges is on track to contend for Most Improved Player or All-Defense—or both. Hitting four threes, grabbing seven boards and defending Luka Doncic is his long-term outlook in a nutshell. Cam Johnson looks more confident and is moving well on defense, both of which are huge when his three ball isn't falling.
Deandre Ayton remains wildly impactful when he's not in foul trouble. He's better off making quick decisions, mostly as the roll man or on instantaneous baby jumpers in the post off the catch, but the Suns can live with some token fadeaways and face-ups if he's going to help them remain afloat during non-star stretches. Cam Payne's bubble performance may be closer to his normal than not, even if he's receiving run in much smaller bursts.
The West is brutal, and the Suns will invariably have to survive games without Paul amid a truncated schedule. But their first game of the season is nothing if not proof they're more than their two superstars—and real threats to battle for a top-four playoff seed.
Belief Meter: Unreasonably strong. Merry Christmas, Suns fans