After a week of hoops, we’re finally getting into the swing of things with the NBA season. Plenty of mysteries still need to be ironed out through the course of the season, but here are 10 things we have learned in the first week of the NBA (keep in mind all stats are prior to Wednesday’s slate of games).
10. Russell Westbrook Playing As Well As Everyone Unfairly Expected Him To
“With Kevin Durant gone Russ is going to play out of his mind! He’s gonna average 50 …” Blah, blah, blah. We all put unfair expectations on him. Oh, wait. Westbrook is actually tearing the league to shreds in wake of Durant’s departure. Though it’s only three games, Russ is averaging a league-leading (and absolutely absurd) 38.7 points, 12.3 rebounds and 11.7 assists.
Westbrook has only failed to triple-double in one game (by a single rebound) and scored 32+ in each outing (including 51 Friday vs. Phoenix). Is three games too few to crown someone the fantasy stud of the season? Oh, and his team is also 3-0.
9. PG James Harden Is Going To Work
Look just a peg below Westbrook’s fantasy God status and you’ll see Harden chomping at the bit to catch him. Switching Harden over to PG couldn’t be a better thing for the Rockets’ offense or Harden’s fantasy value (Houston’s defense is another story). The proof is in the pudding — 32.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 11.8 assists through four games.
Harden is not a SG, he’s a PG that’s even better at scoring when he has the ball in his hands. People forget OKC used Harden, not Westbrook, at PG in the clutch when facing Miami in the NBA Finals. This guy is a legit playmaker and Mike D’Antoni is using him the right way.
8. Holy Anthony Davis
It’s not just Russ and “The Beard” atop the fantasy world so far this season, we have a three-headed monster. “The Brow” was written off entering this season, primarily due to how often he’s been injured. Although an injury could still occur at any time, we’ve never seen AD playing ALL the way to his potential, as he seems to be through four games — 37.0 points, 13.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.5 steals and 3.0 blocks.
Those numbers are legit, too, not just from one breakout game. He’s scored 45+ twice and had a 35-point game. His lone dud came in limited minutes in a blowout loss to the Spurs. Despite all those big numbers I’m throwing at you, New Orleans is still 0-4 and has to figure out how to build around one of the best chips in the NBA … otherwise it’s going to lose him.
7. “Trust The Process” Might Actually Be Trustworthy
It’s truly remarkable how these Philly prospects come at us in waves. We’ve witnessed the growth of Jahil Okafor and Nerlens Noel, and now we get to see Dario Saric and Joel Embiid take the league by storm. And that doesn’t even include No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons (out until at least January), another top-five pick that Philly’s sure to land on its own this season, and the first-round pick the Lakers still owe the 76ers from the MCW trade. Embiid has looked like a cornerstone in the making … the first REAL sign of progress. For the first time in the “process,” I’m intrigued.
6. Kawhi Leonard Has Gone Next Level
After steadily improving over each year of his career into an elite NBA talent, many believed Kawhi reached his ceiling last season when it came to scoring (21.2 PPG), which was never really an issue because he’s such a complete player. If 21 points was his ceiling he’d still be accepted as one of the NBA’s best. The early numbers indicate those people are going to be wrong, as Leonard has bumped his average all the way up to 28.4 PPG though four games.
His 7+ point rise has come while playing only a minute less per game and attempting 2.5 more shots per game. All the while he’s still rebounding, distributing and locking down opposing wings as one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. He continues to evolve into more than anyone could’ve ever imagined.
5. Ricky Rubio Injury Will Propell Young Wolves
Ricky Rubio’s elbow sprain that cost him Tuesday’s game against the Grizz might be the best thing that could’ve happened to the Wolves. It forced them to start their young core of Dunn/LaVine/Wiggins/Dieng/Towns, and resulted in their first win. The fantasy impact will be a positive one, too, as Dunn posted 10 points, six rebounds, five assists and five steals in 29 minutes in his first career start.
LaVine looked more than comfortable playing SG alongside Dunn, dropping 31 points of his own in 29 minutes. We all know what KAT and Wiggins project to be, but this backcourt duo could be just as crucial to Minnesota’s success, and some lesser-known fantasy targets.
4. Avery Bradley Has Made Huge Strides On Offense
Bradley is already renowned as one of the best defenders in the NBA, but he’s come out on fire on the offensive end this season. Though three games, AB is averaging career-highs across the board — 21.3 points, 4.7 assists and a team-leading 8.7 rebounds (while playing 36.7 minutes, also a career-high).
Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford will get the headlines, but Bradley is arguably as important as any Celtic this season. He made mention in training camp to how hard he worked in the offseason to become an All-Star that’s equally feared on both ends of the court. We’re seeing that come to life.
3. “Tony Buckets” Has Arrived
Who? The leading scorer for the Suns, guys! T.J. Warren! I actually loved this kid when he came out of NC State as a sophomore and entered the 2014 NBA Draft, where he fell to the Suns in the back end of the lottery. After injuries derailed his first two seasons, Warren is looking more and more like the kid that led the ACC in scoring with 24.9 PPG. Four games into the season, Warren’s locked in as the Suns’ starting SF, and is dropping 21.3 PPG along with 6.0 RPG. His natural scoring ability is going to make him a special talent as long as he’s healthy.
2. Bulls Proving Everyone Wrong
In my season preview I had Chicago just missing out on the playoffs. I’m not crowning the Bulls with anything after three games, but I’ll admit this — so far I couldn’t have been more wrong about them. Sitting at 3-0 they’ve been burying their opponents, including impressive wins over the Celtics and Pacers. The reason? How about 42.5-percent shooting from downtown — where we all thought the Bulls would struggle most.
Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler and Doug McDermott are all shooting at least 50 percent from 3-point range thus far. The big question is not whether they’ll maintain it (that’s impossible), but whether they’ll be able to remain above average.
1. Warriors Clearly Still Adjusting
Despite a 3-1 record, Golden State is obviously still adjusting to its offseason moves. Not just bringing KD in, but more so the loss of everyone else. Damian Lillard said it himself after Portland dropped 104 on the Warriors in a losing effort — the Dubs defense just isn’t the same without Andrew Bogut.
They’ll get it together, and their elite offense will only improve, too. But for right now, targeting players going up against a Warriors defense that’s allowing just shy of 112 points per game isn’t a bad idea.
For questions or comments hit me up on Twitter @julianedlow
I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is jedlow) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above.