After the shortest offseason in recent memory, the NBA resumed its season to the excitement of the fans. A highly anticipated start, the first week of action has not disappointed with game action from the new-look Nets led by Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant to impressive performaces by the top rookies right out of the gate. With that, here are three takeaways from the first week of NBA action in the 2020-21 season.
Rookies Are Exceeding Expectations
The 2020 NBA Draft class has had a multitude of uncertainties from the jump. Many analysts suggested that the “star potential” of players in this class was limited. The eventual top 3 picks (Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman, and LaMelo Ball) all had their doubters entering draft night. League executives expected the rookies to endure a rude awakening in their first few games of NBA play. A shortened offseason and rookie camp combined with no NBA Summer League meant that the opening night games were the first game action many rookies had seen since their season was abruptly ended in March. Despite the odds being stacked against them, the rookies have been up to the challenge thus far.
Regarding the previously mentioned first three picks, they have all been significant contributors in their respective teams’ first few regular-season games. Edwards has been an important contributor for the T-Wolves in their first few games. Offensively, he has come in with a lot of confidence and has demonstrated the ability to get a bucket in a variety of ways. His on-ball defense is steadily improving, and the consistent effort on both ends of the floor, a trait that was a red flag during his time at Georgia, has not been an issue.
Other Rookies Performing Well
Other top rookies have also stepped up to the challenge for their respective teams. Wiseman has started every game so far and appears to have developed a consistent perimeter shot during the offseason. Ball has continued to improve in Charlotte, with highlights ranging from no-look passes to an improved perimeter shot. Cavaliers rookie Issac Okoro has played the most minutes of any rookie so far and has contributed for Cleveland in crunch time with his stellar on-ball defense. Kings guard Tyrese Haliburton, considered one of the steals of the draft, has been excellent with solid playmaking and high IQ plays on the defensive end.
It is still very early in the season, and the rookies will likely have nights when they struggle to adapt to the NBA’s pace. However, given the circumstances that this season has brought, the rookies should be applauded for their performances right out of the gates.
The Nets Are Everything We Imagined Them to Be
The Brooklyn Nets completed one of the franchise-altering free agency periods in recent memory when they signed superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to long term deals. After a year where both stars spent most of the season recovering from various ailments, the two were finally ready to take the court together. They have not disappointed in the opening few games.
Irving and Durant lead the team in scoring, averaging 29.3 and 26.7 points per game, respectively. Irving has not missed a beat after battling injuries through last year. His rhythm creating out of the pick in roll is a thing of beauty, and he has started the year strong shooting wise, shooting 56% from 3 through 4 games. Durant appears to have recovered well from his Achilles injury and looks as explosive as ever. While these two stars have grabbed much of the media’s attention in these opening games, it is the players surrounding Irving and Durant that should excite Nets fans the most.
A Well-Rounded Team
The supporting cast of players that general manager Sean Marks has assembled around his two stars is nothing short of stellar. Joe Harris has lived up to the lucrative contract that he signed during the offseason with stellar shooting through the first few games. Caris LeVert has continued to show why he is one of the more underrated players in the league and will be in contention for 6th Man of the Year. His creativity and shot-making ability off the bench is an invaluable piece to this team’s success. Jarrett Allen has been a great rim protector off the bench, while Landry Shamet and Jeff Green have brought floor spacing and defense to what has become a very impressive second unit for the Nets. The Nets rank 1st in average three-point field goals made as well as defensive rating.
The team suffered a blow when it was announced that Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie would miss the remainder of the season due to a partially torn ACL. However, LeVert should be able to slot into the lineup and not miss a beat in Dinwiddie’s absence.
The stars have aligned for the Nets, and, barring any serious injuries, Durant and company should be overwhelming favorites to come out of the East.
The Shortened Season Leaves No Room for Error
Part of the agreement that the NBA Players Association made with the league to start the season as early as they did was to shorten the total games from 82 to 72. While it benefits the players with less travel and more recovery time, it also drastically increases the importance of each and every game.
Teams can no longer afford the luxury of a slow start. The media has been quick to defend the Golden State Warriors after their lackluster start to the season. People seem confident that players like Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre will be able to improve their play after historically bad starts to the season. While that may happen eventually, it will need to occur at an accelerated pace for the Warriors to have a chance at the playoffs in a loaded Western Conference.
Injuries Play a Huge Role
Injuries to star players also become more consequential for teams. The Celtics offense has struggled so far this season without point guard Kemba Walker. The Celtics expect Walker to return sometime in late January, but by that time, it may be too late. The Grizzlies suffered a huge blow when point guard Ja Morant suffered a Grade 2 sprain on his ankle during a game vs. the Nets. Morant is expected to miss three to five weeks, and Memphis will struggle to replace his shot-making ability and overall offensive impact.
Other teams have fallen victim to lapses in concentration as well early on in the season. The Milwaukee Bucks suffered a shocking 130-110 loss to the New York Knicks in just their 3rd game of the season. While it is only one game, and it will not affect their playoff chances, it may be a game the Bucks wish they had back when fighting for a higher seed in the conference towards the end of the season.