It has been a little over one month since the tip-off of the regular and it has been very exciting. Since there were so many new coaches and stars in new places, you didn’t know what to expect. Now that we are one month in, there are many things that can be taken away and this article highlights 3 of the biggest conclusions one month in.
Lebron – AD – Vogel: The Right Fit
I am going to be completely honest about my initial prediction before the start of this season; this team is not at all how I envisioned it. I thought they would be good, but LeBron has shown he can play more than just one style of basketball which we haven’t seen since his Miami days. With Cleveland, the plan was to get shooters to surround James and let him drive and kick. Then when he came to the Lakers last year, I thought he was going to be able to play off the ball and be comfortable whether it was on spot-up situations or cutting but he struggled in this role. He started to demand the ball from the younger players and told everyone to stand around him and he would drive and kick the ball as he did in Cleveland without the same personnel though. Then heading into this season, It felt like everyone knew LeBron was determined to make this work after all the speculation of him not being “All in” last year. What I didn’t expect was the way they are succeeding. I had concerns that Davis was going to be used similar to Bosh and Love once I heard he was going to play the 4 position. Bosh and Love were both very complete offensive, but once they started playing with LeBron, their roles became strictly limited to being a stretch 4. The way that this team is playing though is very sustainable. They have become an “Old-School” type of team playing primarily through the post and playing an inside-out type of offense. LeBron is playing point guard and leading the NBA in assists, but he is not always on the ball. Now LeBron is showing the type of player he could have been last year with the Lakers, but whether it was just the fact he was not as engaged or didn’t trust the young players, he is now the MVP we all remembered. Frank Vogel may not have been their first choice as they were very close to getting Tyron Lue, but the Lakers couldn’t have found a better fit. Vogel is giving this team an identity that is translatable to succeeding in the playoffs. This team is first in the NBA in blocks per game and just disrupt teams around the rim with not only Anthony Davis, but all the other length on this team. Then many of the Lakers additions were not as highly touted as many predicted, but they understandably had to wait for the Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes to end. Despite this, they did a phenomenal job of envisioning the identity of this team and the pieces to put around Anthony Davis and LeBron James. There is not one player on this team that looks like he is out of place. From shooters Danny Green, Troy Daniels, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to guys that have helped build that defensive identity in Avery Bradley and Dwight Howard. Even players like Alex Caruso has been a fan favorite for his energy and love for the game. Then Rajon Rondo has not made a huge impact thus far as he started the year injured and is now coming back, but he is still one of the better facilitators in the NBA believe it or not. Expect Rondo to make more of an impact in the playoffs than the regular season as he is very experienced and plays up to the moment. The last player that is expected to be the 3rd star to this team is 3rd year forward Kyle Kuzma. Kuzma is comfortable playing inside and out and can score in bunches. The main reason why he makes the most sense compared to the other young players on the roster last year is that he has an “alpha” quality in him. He is always ready to score and will never lack confidence. That is the type of player LeBron plays well with and can put him in positions to succeed. Overall though, the Lakers are a legitimate title assuming they can stay healthy. The one player that has shown to be injury-prone throughout his career is Anthony Davis so that is the biggest concern for this team. On the floor though, they have been playing with great chemistry and the team is filled with a lot of smart players that are buying into their roles.
Andrew Wiggins is Finally Becoming the Scorer we Anticipated
The Timberwolves have been off to a sneaky start this year at a 10-8 record so far. Leading the way has been Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony-Towns. The former is the one many have been shocked by. Thus far, he has been playing the best year of his career. Wiggins is averaging a career high 25.3 PPG. Now this number is a little misleading as the Timberwolves shoot the 3rd most shots per game, but Wiggins is doing this efficiently. He is shooting a career high 46.8% from the court and still shooting the 2nd highest 3P% of his career at 35.4%. He has really stepped up this year becoming that elite perimeter scoring threat the Timberwolves have been waiting for. New coach Ryan Saunders is a lot more loose than previous head coach Tom Thibedeou. Saunders wants you to play hard and fast, which is exactly what Wiggins needs. Wiggins is one of the worst defenders in the NBA and when you’re being taken out of the game after every defensive error, it is hard to get in a rhythm offensively. Also, with the fast pace play, Wiggins isn’t thinking as much; he’s just playing. This does wonders for a player in a young player who everyone knows can score, but has had low self esteem most likely as many fans have already slapped the bust label on him. Wiggins is a great driver with the ball and can finish at the rim in a variety of ways. The 6th year forward has also been a big contributor when he needs to. Andrew Wiggins ranks 2nd in the NBA in Clutch points per game (Not counting D’Angelo Russell who’s only played in 2 clutch games) at 4.9 points per clutch game. The definition of clutch points is points scored within 5 minutes left in a game whether it is regulation or overtime and the game is within 5 or less points. This is a remarkable number especially since he is shooting 58.3% from the court and 44.4% from 3 in these situations. There is an argument to be made that he has been the most clutch player in the NBA as first in clutch points per contest is Kyrie Irving but has been way less efficient. Wiggins is one of the most improved players so far and it has shown. It is hard to build your team around a center in today’s NBA. This is largely due to the fact teams are will try to deny an entry post and once you do get it there, a double teams comes. Then when it does get passed to the perimeter, there is usually not much time left on the shot clock and can lead to wasted possessions. In the last 5 minutes of games you need a perimeter player who can create his own shot. You can’t waste opportunities down the stretch of a game and that percentage goes up if try and force feed it to your big man. Obviously Wiggins has a long way to go to become a true number 1 or 2 player on a great team, but he is showing positive signs that Timberwolves’ fans should be pleased with. However, it is still impossible to ignore the fact that he just isn’t a good defender. He probably should be better with his athleticism and 7’0 wingspan, but he lacks a lot of simple fundamental principles, IQ, and effort on that end of the floor. Obviously this would be frustrating for a coach to deal with, but Saunders is obviously closer to this generation at 33 years old and understands how to motivate them. With Wiggins, he has focused more on what he can do than what he can’t do which can be difficult, but it has proven to be effective. This is the most confident Andrew Wiggins has played and is on his way to proving many doubters wrong.
The Phoenix Suns are Here to Stay
The Suns were the laughing stock of the NBA as they had won less than 25 games in 4 straight years, but they had a plan this offseason. They wanted to not only build a team but build a culture. This impacted many of their offseason decisions by adding high character players and not always the most talented. They added shooting in a shooter’s league to surround DeAndre Ayton. They made many moves to help reestablish the identity of this team and it has worked. The Suns are 8-9 so far this year and have beaten quality opponents while dealing with injuries and suspensions to key players Aron Baynes, Ricky Rubio, and DeAndre Ayton. Despite all of this, the Suns would be in the playoffs if the season ended today. Monty Williams has been excellent at preparing his team for each opponent. They always have a game plan and stick to it. The Suns have built a culture of IQ and hard work. Another surprising bright spot to this team is Kelly Oubre Jr. He has been an impressive young forward who is averaging 17.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG, and 1.3 SPG, but he is going to be a good 2-way wing in this league for a long time. There have been many others that have stepped up on this team and the thing to know is that they have changed for the better and this is not a fluke. The Suns are no joke and despite being in a difficult Western Conference, they are a legit candidate to become a 7th or 8th seed and beat out more talented teams. They know who they are and that goes a long way.
Article written by Bradley Patten
If you would like to read more in depth analysis on the Suns, please my article where I provide in depth analysis on what makes the Suns a legit team this year
If you would like to read my scouting report on Kelly Oubre Jr. (https://bsscouting.com/2019/11/16/kelly-oubre-jr-scouting-report/)