1. Stephen Curry and the value of pace and space
Stephen Curry has by far been the most entertaining player of the opening week of the NBA. Through the first week he recorded a 28-point quarter, a 24-point quarter, a 21-point quarter, and 25 three pointers through his first five games—an NBA record. Curry and his “splash brother,” Klay Thompson, have led the Golden State Warriors to a pristine 6-0 record, all with Head Coach Steve Kerr away from the team recovering from multiple back surgeries.
Some have called the defending champions lucky because they faced an injury-riddled Cleveland Cavaliers in last year’s NBA Finals, but when you recognize how dominant they were in last year’s regular season as well, it’s difficult to dismiss this team’s greatness. If the start to this season is any indication, Golden State will be storming deep into the post-season.
2. All the huge personalities on and around the Sacramento Kings
Rajon Rondo, Demarcus Cousins, George Karl, Vlade Divac, Vivek Ranadive—these men possess egos big enough to fill a Wall Street firm. These very egos were too big during a summer league game, where Cousins and Karl disagreed to the point that they had to sit on opposite ends of the court. Hopefully Rondo, Karl, and Cousins can develop chemistry, but when you have an impulsive owner like Ranadive it makes the process much more difficult. The enigmatic point guard, the supremely sensitive cornerstone centre, the stubborn and opinionated head coach, the inexperienced general manager, and the controversial owner all combine to make the Kings one of the most entertaining franchises to watch.
3. Defensive calamity, offensive monotony: The Los Angeles Lakers
Lakers Nation has long used Kobe Bryant as a trump card to argue that the Lakers are better than everyone else—an argument now met with outright mockery. Fans, management, and even Bryant have gravitated away from talk of ‘chasing championships’ and ‘building dynasties’ to mentioning the ‘process’ and preaching patience. D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle are budding stars, but the Lakers still hurt their rebuilding process this past summer by missing out on marquee free agents. The allure of L.A. and the tradition of the franchise are not what they used to be, especially with an incompetent owner such as Jim Buss at the helm, and the recent history of high coach turnover. The apparently ‘defensive-minded’ Head Coach Byron Scott continues to confuse fans nightly while the Lakers have a consistently porous defence.
Scott stated that he prioritizes players with experience over promising young players, and that he doesn’t believe in analytics. The Lakers are in flux, and once Bryant retires, the team will lose what little winning identity and edge it has left. This will leave the difficult burden of developing a similar identity for the team in the young hands of Russell, Randle and Jordan Clarkson.
4. Is there an ‘alpha male’ between Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, and does it even matter?
Most of Kevin Durant’s 2014-2015 season was lost to a Jones fracture in his right foot; this season he is back with a vengeance while playing alongside superstar teammate Russell Westbrook. The duo have exploded out of the gates and currently are respectively the second and third leading scorers in the league, dominating the Orlando Magic at the start of the season.
There has been a ceaseless debate in NBA circles about who the true leader is on the Oklahoma City Thunder. The early results of this season suggest that Westbrook and Durant are not very concerned about making such as a distinction and genuinely love playing alongside each other.
As long as they keep up the chemistry, the Thunder will go very far this season on the backs of their two superstars.
5. The ever changing roles and responsibilities LeBron James imposes unto himself
The Cavaliers entered the 2015-2016 NBA season as odds-on favourites to win the championship. Owner Dan Gilbert and General Manager David Griffin, however, understand they cannot waste LeBron James’ second tenure in Cleveland. James is entrusted with unprecedented control of the Cleveland’s decision-making, both on and off the court. With injuries to Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert, James has the to pick up the slack while also facilitating a bigger role on offence for Kevin Love, who signed a five year deal with the Cavs this summer.
The early results are promising, as after their opening night loss to the Bulls, the Cavs have rolled onto a 4-1 start. James has realized that he must concede ball handling duties to Mo Williams and the other guards, make sure Kevin Love is consistently aggressive, and keep his big men Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson happy. He also has to play great defence and provide whatever combination of scoring, passing, and rebounding that the team needs on a given night. James is also integral to ensuring that the new Cavaliers embrace the team’s system, while adding to the team’s overall chemistry instead of taking away from it. His role ever-changing and evolving; his greatness is how consistently and seemingly effortlessly he has been able to do this throughout his illustrious career.
6. The constant progression of the San Antonio Spurs
Head Coach Gregg Popovich and the Spurs have been a model of consistent success for the past two decades despite an ongoing evolution of their offensive and defensive identities. This summer, they were able to to cash in on some of the ‘respect capital’ that they have generated around the league in order to sign the coveted LaMarcus Aldridge. As the big three of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Tim Duncan head into the twilight of their careers, more responsibility will shift onto the shoulders of Kawhi Leonard and Aldridge, with Danny Green also playing a vital role. Popovich made a promise to Aldridge that he would continue coaching the Spurs at least until the end of Aldridge’s contract, which is great news for the Spurs and the NBA as a whole. Through Popovich, San Antonio has been able to change their team identity from defensive juggernaut in the early 2000’s to an openly flowing offense that is the NBA’s gold standard. Their style of play helped revolutionize the modern game and helped bring the idea of pace and space to the forefront of the NBA; many other top teams, such as the Warriors, are emulating that standard. The Spurs will have an adjustment period as they incorporate Aldridge into their offence, but their adaptability is well-chronicled and thus the offence will be back at full force soon.