Week 1 of the 2019 NBA season is officially in the books, and it didn’t take long for certain preseason expectations to go up in smoke.
The Golden State Warriors opened the campaign with a pair of blowout losses that raised doubt about whether they’d even make the playoffs this season, while the Phoenix Suns have been surprisingly frisky in getting off to a 2-2 start.
It’s imperative not to overreact to such a small sample size, as there’s still plenty of season left. Players and teams can turn slow or sizzling starts into distant afterthoughts in a few weeks’ time.
THIS HAPPENS EVERY YEAR, PEOPLE.
However, we do have meaningful basketball to analyze for the first time in months. So while we’ll avoid jumping to drastic conclusions and burying/annointing teams only a few games into the season, it’s worth checking in on which teams and players are overachieving or underwhelming, and whether you should expect that to continue moving forward.
The Warriors are… bad?
After losing Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston this offseason and with Klay Thompson still recovering from a torn ACL, the Warriors were bound to take a step back this season. But opening the year with two blowout losses against the Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder caused Draymond Green to bluntly analyze the current state of his squad.
“The reality is we f–king suck right now,” he told reporters after the 120-92 loss to OKC. “… We just not that good right now. I don’t know what better way to frame that for you. I can try in Spanish, but I ain’t really that good at Spanish.”
Warriors head coach Steve Kerr delivered a similarly grim message after the season-opening 141-122 loss to the Clippers.
“This is not a one-off, this is the reality,” he said. “There’s going to be nights like this year. You’ve got to play through it, you’ve got to keep fighting and keep getting better. That’s the plan.”
The Warriors did bounce back Monday with a decisive 134-123 win over the New Orleans Pelicans, but the Pelicans were missing Zion Williamson, Jrue Holiday and Derrick Favors. Kerr shifted Green to the 5 against the undersized Pelicans, but he can’t keep going back to that break-glass-in-case-of-emergency tactic without wearing Green down.
However, Kerr might not have many better options for the time being. Kevon Looney hasn’t suited up since opening night because of a “neuropathic condition in his body, which has a direct correlation” to the right hamstring tightness that caused him to miss the past two games, according to Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Free-agent arrivial Willie Cauley-Stein has been scrimmaging in the G-League and sounds like he’s nearing a return to action, per the NBA’s official injury report. He was a multi-year starter in Sacramento prior to this, but he’ll surely have some more rust to knock off while other fitting into this in-flux roster.
Omari Spellman, Marquese Chriss and Eric Paschall are the Warriors’ only other frontcourt options otherwise, so Green may continue to log time the 5 for a bit. If anything, that further emphasizes how much less of a margin for error the Warriors have this season compared to years past.
The top-heavy Dubs aren’t as bad as they looked during their first two losses, but they also aren’t a playoff lock, especially if Looney is forced to miss significant time.
The Kings are in trouble
After unexpectedly churning out a 39-win campaign last season—their best in more than a decade!—the Sacramento Kings have come crashing back to earth this year.
Their season-opening 124-95 loss to the Phoenix Suns quickly erased the good vibes from 2018-19. To add injury to insult, Marvin Bagley III suffered a fractured thumb in the fourth quarter that is expected to sideline him for the next 4-6 weeks.
The Kings then sandwiched competitive losses against the Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets with another blowout loss to the Utah Jazz, making them one of only three teams that has yet to win a game this season. They also have the league’s worst net rating by far (minus-19.0), as both their defense (27th) and offense (29th) ranks among the bottom five to date.
Whereas the Kings finished with the third-fastest pace last season under former head coach Dave Joerger, they’re currently 25th under new head coach Luke Walton. If that’s an organizational shift rather than a small-sample-size anomaly, it bodes poorly for the Kings’ chances of maximizing lightning-quick point guard De’Aaron Fox.
Reserve big man Richaun Holmes gave Sacramento a much-needed spark against Denver on Monday night, finishing with 24 points on 10-of-14 shooting, 13 rebounds and two blocks in 30 minutes. With starting center Dewayne Dedmon off to a slow start this season, Walton may need to shuffle his rotation to prioritize pace.
And with Bagley likely sidelined for the next few weeks, the Kings will need to speed up their offense and get Buddy Hield going—he’s averaging only 14.3 points on 35.1 percent shooting—to get their season back on track.
The Suns are… good?
While the Warriors and Kings are both early-season disappointments, the Phoenix Suns are perhaps the most pleasant surprise from the first week of the 2019-20 campaign.
The Suns routed the Kings in their season opener, handed the Los Angeles Clippers their first loss and dropped a pair of games against the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz by only one game apiece. Even more remarkably, they’ve remained competitive without 2018 No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton, who is serving a 25-game suspension for violating the NBA’s anti-drug policy.
Ricky Rubio is shooting only 32.1 percent from the field, but he’s averaging a team-high 9.3 assists per game while providing the Suns with credible point guard play for the first time in years. Kelly Oubre Jr. is off to a sizzling start, averaging 20.5 points on 46.6 percent shooting and 6.3 rebounds to give Devin Booker a much-needed sidekick during Ayton’s suspension.
An upcoming six-game home slate against the Philadelphia 76ers, Miami Heat, Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Lakers, Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics will speak volumes about how seriously we should take this Suns team. If they can even go 3-3—the Trae Young-led Hawks aren’t pushovers!—it would seem to suggest that this hot start isn’t an early-season mirage.
As Seth Partnow of The Athletic noted, the Suns may be beneficiaries of some “Jedi defense,” since opponents have hit only 28.8 percent of their open three-pointers against them to date. (On a related note, Phoenix currently has the league’s sixth-best defensive rating.) If more of those open looks begin to fall, the Suns could fall back toward the middle of the pack defensively.
The Ayton suspension figures to eventually come back to bite the Suns, which could cause them to slip back toward the bottom of the Western Conference standings. Although they aren’t likely to chase a playoff spot this season, they do appear to be vastly improved compared to years past, which is a promising sign for a franchise that desperately needed to make progress.
With Blake Griffin sidelined by a hamstring injury to start the season, Andre Drummond has gotten his contract year off to a roaring start.
During the Detroit Pistons’ season-opening 119-110 win over the Indiana Pacers, Drummond went off for 32 points on 12-of-18 shooting, 23 rebounds, four blocks and three steals in a whopping 41 minutes. He followed that up with a 21-point, 12-rebound effort in 37 minutes the next night during a 17-point loss to the Atlanta Hawks, and he’s put up two more double-doubles in the Pistons’ ensuing two games.
Drummond’s inability to take advantage of a Joel Embiid-less Sixers team on Saturday—he finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds in 25 minutes before fouling out—was just about the only blemish on his first-week resume. Outside of that Sixers game, during which he shot 3-of-10 from the charity stripe, Drummond has knocked down 15 of his 19 freebies, which is an encouraging development for the notoriously poor free-throw shooter.
Rod Beard of the Detroit News asked Drummond “if #ContractYearDre was a thing” after the season-opening explosion, to which the big man replied, “You know it.” If he turns down his $28.8 million player option for the 2020-21 season to become a free agent next summer, he might be the top target not named Anthony Davis in a shallow market.
Drummond’s scoring totals figure to drop once Griffin returns, but the Pistons are extremely top-heavy. That should allow the big man to continue feasting all year ahead of what hopefully will be a lucrative summer in 2020.