Looking at what’s real and fake early in the NBA season

The start of an NBA season is always a fascinating thing to watch unfold every year.

There’s always a bunch of crazy things happening in the first few weeks of a new NBA season, whether it’s a bench player suddenly popping off or a supposed Playoff contender falling short of expectations of them. NBA Twitter is then bombarded with crazy hot takes and overreactions from armchair analysts, small sample size be damned.

While some of these takes are downright ludicrous and insane, there’s a few of these trends in the early season that seem actually sustainable in the future. Let’s look at some of the current trends and see if there’s anything to support this trend moving forward.

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Golden State, losing their shine early on

Oh boy.

In Stephen Curry’s return to season play, the Warriors have stumbled out of the gate. Their 4-4 record is misleading, with their two wins being close wins over middling teams (DET, CHI) while being blown out in their three losses over Playoff teams (BRK, MIL, and POR).

The absences of Draymond Green and Klay Thompson are clearly being felt, but even with the return of Green, it’s hard to stay optimistic about the former champions. They’re ranked in the bottom of both Offensive and Defensive Rating, and the acquisitions of Kelly Oubre and Andrew Wiggins have being underwhelming, to say the least.

Oubre is shooting 16 percent from the three. Yes, SIXTEEN percent. He’s been unable to make any shot outside of the paint. Wiggins, meanwhile, has been his usual self: unengaged, looking disinterested on both sides of the ball. He seems unable to utilize his physical tools and settles too much on midrange shots, resulting in an atrocious 35.7% shooting inside the arc.

Unless both wings recover big time from this horrible start (or somehow get traded for more valuable pieces), it’s hard to see Curry, Green, and James Wiseman (who’s been a bright spot for this team) carrying Golden State back to the Playoffs.

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Dennis Schroder

The Lakers were already terrifying enough last year. After coasting through the regular season to the first seed, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the rest of the team found their groove at the right time and wreaked havoc on their opponents. They went 4-1 in nearly all of their Playoff series en route to a championship.

And instead of staying complacent, Rob Pelinka decided to retool, gathering significant upgrades during the offseason in Montrezl Harrell, Marc Gasol, and Sixth Man of the Year candidate Dennis Schroder. Schroder, in particular, has been stellar for the Lakers, averaging 16 points per game along with nearly four rebounds and five assists per game. He’s also doing all this on solid efficiency from the field (44/35/81).

There’s no reason to believe Dennis the Menace doesn’t continue this streak, too. His shooting splits are nearly identical from last season (47/38/84), and he’s bound to get easier looks with Gasol and Bron facilitating and the massive gravity of Bron and Davis sucking in defenders. Asking him to reach a plus-40% clip from three might be a bit too much, but his free-throw percentage and improvement from his OKC days indicate he can be a threat from deep.

Schroder has already shown that he can be an important cog for a playoff team. Now, he’s showing he will be one of the driving forces behind LA’s back-to-back aspirations.

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Hawks, soaring high

Luka who?

One of the surprise performers of the really early season are Trae Young and the Hawks, who have clawed their way to  4-4 record , with blowout wins against the Bulls and the Nets (!!!) while dropping a nailbiter to the same Nets team and the Cavs. Propelling them to this impressive standing are the young guns of Atlanta. Cam Reddish, RJ Hunter, John Collins, and Trae Young have been integral to their wins, perhaps indicating that they’re ready to compete in a bigger stage.

Except, they might not be quite there yet. For all the fireworks the baby Hawks create on offense (2nd rated so far, at 117 points per 100 possessions), they have a rather underwhelming defense. Hunter and Reddish have been solid defenders, and Okongwu’s debut will likely bolster their frontcourt. But when your team is posting a 111.1 Defensive Rating (good for 13th) against mostly lower-ranked offenses, it does not bode well for their playoff aspirations.

Are the Hawks good? Absolutely. I’m not just sold enough on them being top contenders in the East right now.

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Denver Nuggets

Talk about a rough start for the Denver Nuggets. They have gone 3-4 in the start of the NBA season, dropping games to the Clippers, Kings (twice!), and Suns. They got a win against Houston, who were without John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins and two wins against the Timberpups.

Despite losing four games, not all is lost for the Nuggets. Will Barton is having an atrocious shooting season, but he’s bound to regress back to his mean shooting splits. Surely he’s not going to shoot below 38% from the field for the entire season, considering that he averages 43% for his entire career. Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic have also been their normal selves, carrying the team despite their struggles. They still need to figure out how to plug holes in their defense (Barton and Michael Porter Jr. are an eyesore to watch on D, and Paul Millsap is getting older by the day), but those problems aren’t anything new.

Overall, all is not lost for this team. After all, this team overcame a 1-3 deficit to get to the Conference Finals. A 3-4 deficit over a 72-game season is nothing for them.

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Christian Wood

Every season, there’s always one player who suddenly bursts onto the scene and impresses everyone.

This season, that player was Christian Wood, who the Rockets signed this offseason in an effort to appease James Harden. So far, he’s done a magnificent job in convincing everyone that the Rockets can still be legit. He’s currently averaging a solid double-double of 23.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per game in 4 games for the Rockets, and has been a big reason why they’ve been competitive season.

Pundits may think that this performance is a fluke, that it’s not going to be sustainable in the next games. But in reality, both the eye test AND the numbers back up the fact that Wood can be productive. His per-36 numbers before his time in Houston match his current production.