We’re only a few games into the 2018-19 NBA season, but there has never been more attention paid to the league. It seems that there’s newsworthy drama every single night, and a league whose popularity has been skyrocketing only seems to be getting more popular. For this reason, it doesn’t seem like it’s too soon to offer a few thoughts on the early returns. So let’s get to it!
LeBron’s New Lakers Need Time
It will be easy for people to pile on LeBron James and the Lakers as an experiment gone wrong. The team lost its first two games to Portland and Houston – both playoff teams the Lakers will ultimately need to be competitive with if this is to work – and the first home game devolved into a brawl in its final minutes. However, it’s worth remembering that all new teams take time to come together, and that James himself has experienced slow starts with new teams in the past – first in Miami in 2010 and then with the Cavaliers in 2014. This is a young talented group, and while it doesn’t look the part of a Finals contender, we should all be patient to see what kind of team it becomes.
The Top Seed Battles Could Be Enthralling
It stands to reason, at least by most NBA fans’ thinking, that the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics are bound for the top seeds in the West and East respectively. Furthermore, most would have plugged in the Houston Rockets and Toronto Raptors for the second seeds. At least in the early going though, there may be more competition than we thought for these spots. In the West, Golden State has already dropped a game, Houston has looked vastly inferior to what it was a season ago, and the Utah Jazz have been awfully impressive. The early eye test suggests a three-way slugfest between these teams. And in the East, the Raptors took their first matchup with the Celtics, and the Milwaukee Bucks look to have improved significantly under new head coach Mike Budenholzer. There, too, we could have a three-team race – to say nothing of the ultra-talented Philadelphia 76ers! There’s more than enough time for some of these teams to get some separation, but for now we appear to have some
exciting races on our hands.
The MVP Race Is Wide Open
The MVP race has become a bit more of a show in recent years. It seems to drive more commentary online and on podcasts, players appear to be more conscious of it than ever, and the NBA has made a postseason award show specifically to give out the honor. Additionally, with many betting sites providing additional “special” markets for sports (as opposed to just wins and losses and such), the MVP and other season awards are generating quite a bit of wagering buzz. And this year, on top of all this interest, the MVP appears to be something of a free-for-all. Anthony Davis and Giannis Antetokounmpo are both viewer as likely to compete for their first MVP awards; LeBron James, as always, is in the mix; the last two winners, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, are virtually guaranteed to put up monster stats, as are the two Warriors MVPs, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry; and Kawhi Leonard isn’t being counted out in his fir
st season in Toronto. That’s quite a group, and while the MVP is likely to come from those eight players, it’s anyone’s guess as to who’s leading.
The Rookie Class Looks Strong
This started to look like a fairly strong rookie class heading into the June NBA draft, and already several of the new rookies are acquitting themselves very well. Luka Doncic, despite some minor fitness concerns, is playing like the seasoned professional he is in Dallas, and looks the part of a franchise fixture for years to come. Trae Young, shaking off questions of whether his game could translate to the NBA, had a monster 35-point outing for the Hawks on Sunday night in just his third game. DeAndre Ayton is dealing with a minor ankle injury but looked in his first game every bit as good as the likes of Joel Embiid or Karl-Anthony Towns when they entered the league, and fellow big men Marvin Bagley and Jaren Jackson have played well also. Going by early results, this could in fact end up being a very strong class.
Young Stars Are Excelling Quickly
Just as the rookies are performing well, some of the recent rookies who have already established themselves as the next wave of NBA stars are picking up right where they left off, and in fact excelling. Jayson Tatum is the first who comes to mind. The 20-year-old has exploded out of the gate as the clear best player on a loaded roster, and he’s said himself that he feels more comfortable this year. Donovan Mitchell looks for Utah like he’s been a star for years, and continues to play almost like a young Dwyane Wade. Devin Booker, Joel Embiid, and Ben Simmons are playing like All-Stars, and several other young players – Josh Hart, Bam Adebayo, Dennis Smith Jr., Zach Collins, and more – all look like solid role players, if not more.