Opening night in the NBA brought about several storylines and narratives, but none was as dramatic or as shocking as the injury to the Boston Celtic’s Gordon Hayward. Not only was it one of the most horrific and gut-wrenching injuries caught on tape, but it also occurred 5 minutes into the 2018 NBA Season. It dashed the hopes of the Celtics fans to contend in the East. Fast forward a month later and the Celtics are now the best team in the NBA. After losing by three points to the Cavs on opening night and being bum-rushed by a Bucks team with a possessed Giannis, the C’s have won 15 straight games, including an impressive come-from-behind win against the defending champs, the Golden State Warriors.
Despite losing Hayward, the Celtics are a deceptively good team. The team’s focal point is, of course, Kyrie Irving, but their lineup includes a veteran center with Al Horford and a slew of athletic and long wings led by young guns Jason Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart. These young, tall, and athletic wings allow the Celtics to play incredible defense, with these kids being tall enough and athletic enough to defend multiple positions. This leads to better positioning, which leads to better rebounds, and easy fast break points. The Celts are also a deep team. Their roster spreads out incredibly well, even with Hayward out of the mix. No player on the roster plays more than 31 minutes per game, not even Irving. It’s a lineup that goes 9-10 players deep. Coach Brad Stevens has done an incredible job with this squad, and it has led to them being the best team in the NBA, at least this early in the season.
After opening night, the Celtics were on an upward trend after the loss. On the other end, the Cavs have been struggling. With a record o f 9-7, it’s a big disappointment for the people who thought that this was the best team Lebron has had since taking his talents to South Beach all those years ago. They won their first two games and then it was downhill from there. There was a lot of drama regarding the starting shooting guard spot between Dwyane Wade and JR Smith. D-Wade started at the beginning of the season but then gave up his spot after the losses. The change didn’t help as much with Smith struggling even after he returned as a starter. In truth, both shooting guards are playing below par. The 36-year old Wade is averaging just 8.9 points while Smith is even worse with just 8.1 points per game.
The result of this struggle has been pulling the emergency button and bailing out the team by running the offense through the best player on the planet in Lebron James. They have stopped the bleeding somewhat winning the past three games, but they were against sub-par teams. And it has come at a steep price. Lebron is now leading the league in minutes played with an average of 38.1 minutes per game. This load is way too much after only 16 games. Even if Lebron seems to be superhuman at times, he can’t keep playing like this for the next 65 games. It will hurt the Cavs in the long run, especially in the playoffs. If the Cavs continue with their losing ways, expect changes to come.
With all the juicy storylines coming out of the East, there is an underrated plot point ignored in the West. The looming question in Texas: Where in Tim Duncan’s name is Kawhi Leonard? The San Antonio Spurs are currently 4th in the Western Conference with a 10-6 record, and without a single game played by Leonard (Tony Parker has also been sidelined since the start of the season).They have been able to compete by riding last year’s free agent signing LaMarcus Aldrige who seems to have gone back to his Portland mode of being the go-to-guy (LA is averaging 22 ppg and 8.3 rpg). They also received a lot of contributions from this year’s free agent signing with Rudy Gay (12 ppg and 5 rpg on 22 min/game). And no one is really surprised that a Popovich team is doing well even without its franchise player. Coach Pop has been leading the Spurs to overachieve ever since the 2000’s.
But don’t be fooled by the early success of the Spurs. This San Antonio Team can only go as far as Kawhi can take them. We saw that with last year’s Western Conference Finals when they were swept by the Warriors. Ironically it was that series when we last saw the Klaw play. The controversial Zaza Pachulia play that injured his foot is still keeping Leonard on the sidelines. Coach Popovich says that Leonard will soon return to the lineup, which will be welcomed by everyone in San Antonio. Kawhi’s return will transform this Spurs team from a good team, to a great team.
It is still too early to talk MVP favorites at this point in the season (16 games) but if people were forced to make a vote, there is no doubt that the consensus favorite for the award would be Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak came out of the gate blazing with career best averages of 30.6 points, 10 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1.9 blocks with a blistering FG% of 57.8%.
The 5th year forward has always shown great potential, and this year looks like he’ll be living up to all of it. He is currently leading the up and coming Milwaukee team in points, rebounds, steals, and blocks. He also leads the team in field goal percentage, which is insane considering he is a perimeter player. But it’s more than just the numbers with Giannis. He has always been a great physical specimen, but this year he looks ripped and ready to rumble. He has also turned up his aggression to another level and seems to be relishing the idea of going full throttle with every game. He’s already posted two 40+ point games, and with the addition of Eric Bledsoe in the lineup, Giannis can relinquish ball handling duties at the point and focus on scoring and creating. It’s scary to think that the Greek Freak is only 23 years old and has time and opportunity to get even better.