Around the NBA: Celtics surging, Cavaliers slumping

By Brandon Apter, Sports Talk Philly editor

Seems like just yesterday, it was NBA Opening Week, but it's already week four of the season and there has been no shortage of story-lines. The Celtics lost one of their key players, but they haven't shown it. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder are off to slow starts. Lonzo Ball is not living up to the No. 2 overall status just yet. Ben Simmons is above and beyond what most thought.

As we inch closer to the one month mark of the NBA season, here's a look at some of this year's biggest surprises and disappointments.

No Hayward, No Problem for Celtics

Less than five minutes into their first game of the season, the Boston Celtics lost big free agent acquisition Gordan Hayward to a gruesome leg injury. While many believed the Celtics would have a tough time winning games, that hasn't been the case. Actually, Boston is currently the best team in the NBA at 8-2, winners of seven in a row, including victories against the Spurs, Thunder, Magic and Bucks. Kyrie Irving is doing his thing, averaging 21 points, 5.6 assists and 2.4 steals per game, but the Celtics are getting big contributions from second-year forward Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum. Brown is second on the Celtics in scoring, averaging just under 16 points per game. He's shooting a strong 46.7 percent from the floor and 42.6 percent from beyond the arc. Brown's 6.6 boards per game are second on the team. Meanwhile, rookie Jayson Tatum is averaging a respectable 13.6 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.0 assists through 10 games, shooting an impressive 49.4 percent from the floor and an even better 51.5 percent from three-point range. 

Cavaliers, NBA's oldest team, off to slow start

The Clevelend Cavaliers are the NBA's oldest team at an average age of 30.1 and through the first three weeks of the season, they are showing it. The Cavs look slow and they look unable to win consistently, despite having LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Kevin Love along with guys they picked up like Jae Crowder via trade and Derrick Rose via free agency. The Cavs are currently 4-6 and they just lost to the Atlanta Hawks, who came in to Sunday losers of eight in a row. 

"No energy. The effort was pretty bad," James said of the early deficit. "You turn the corner but you can't fix it in one game. We just have to try and figure it out."

The Cavs found themselves down as many as 16 early. Cleveland's rough stretch has included losses to the Nets, Knicks, Hawks and Pelicans.  

Pistons have won five of six, sit at 7-3

The Philadelphia 76ers came into Detroit on October 24 and beat the Pistons 97-86. Since then, Detroit has five of their last six and they are currently the second best team in the Eastern Conference and tied with the Timberwolves and Warriors for the second best record in the NBA. The Pistons have been led by Tobias Harris, who is averaging 19.7 points per game, shooting 47.9 percent from the floor and 45.9 percent from beyond the arc. Offseason addition Avery Bradley is averaging a solid 16.3 points per game, also shooting a respectable 44.4 percent from the floor and over 42 percent from beyond.

The Pistons are coming off of a 108-99 win against the Kings, a game dominated by Andre Drummond, who finished with 16 points and 19 rebounds. He's ranked second in the NBA is rebounds per game (14.7), behind only DeAndre Jordan (15.1).

Lonzo Ball's struggles continue, Kyle Kuzma emerging as stronger rookie

The first overall pick from this year, Markelle Fultz, is out indefinitely with shoulder issues, so the focus of this year's rookie class is even more on Lonzo Ball than it already has been, thanks in large part to his overzealous, over-involved father. The Lakers are sitting at .500, but Ball has not really been a large contributor to any of those five wins, with the exception of one. Overall this season, Ball is averaging 8.8 points, 6.9 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game, but he's shooting an abysmal 29.9 percent from the floor and 23.4 percent from three-point range. Over his last three games, Lonzo has made just six of his 30 shot attempts. To Ball's credit though, he's done a good job spreading the ball around, tallying 16 assists over his last two games. That being said, his PER is falling short to a guy like TJ McConnell. 

Meanwhile, the Lakers' other first rounder from 2017, Kyle Kuzma, has been very good and is excelling more consistently since being added to the starting lineup. Kuzma is averaging 15.4 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, shooting 56.3 percent from the floor, which is tops among rookies. The Lakers have won three of four and head to Boston on Wednesday for a match-up with the Eastern Conference's top team. Brook Lopez has averaging 27.3 points over their last three games.

Antetokounmpo, Porzingis leading NBA in scoring

Yes, you read this correctly. I expected this to be a list topped by James Harden, Stephen Curry and LeBron James, but no. Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo and New York's Kristaps Porzingis lead the NBA is scoring early on in the season. 

The "Greek Freak" is ranked first, averaging 31 points per game to go along with 9.9 rebounds. The Bucks have lost four of their last five, but Giannis is still filling the stat sheet, averaging 26.4 points, 9.2 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.6 blocks. If that's not impressive enough for you, he's shooting 58.3 percent from the floor, making a case early on for MVP.

Meanwhile, Kristaps Porzingis is now the face of the Knicks after a trade sent Carmelo Anthony to Oklahoma City. He's averaging 30.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game. His ability to run the court on the break is something he's always been good at and the video below shows how explosive he is on both ends of the court.

The Knicks have won four of their last five, with Porzingis averaging 33.2 points on 53 percent shooting from the floor and 45 percent from beyond the arc.

Mavericks, Kings only teams with just one win, Hawks & Bulls with two

While there are some surprises at the top of each conference's standings (Pistons, Timberwolves), the bottom of the standings in the west are homes to the Mavericks and Kings, who are a combined 2-18 through the first three weeks of play. While many believed the Kings would have a lot of growing pains, it's tough to imagine anyone thinking the Mavericks would be this bad. The Kings have the second-worst scoring average in the NBA (93.9 ppg). Rookie De'Aaron Fox leads the Kings in scoring (12.7) and assists (5.0) while veteran Zach Randolph ranks second on the team with 12 points per game. Dallas is the worst team in the NBA at 1-10 and are the second-worst team in field-goal percentage (.420), ahead of just the Bulls. The Mavs have some nice pieces in Dennis Smith Jr., Harrison Barnes and Nerlens Noel in addition to Dirk, but they haven't clicked this season at all. Barnes is their only starter shooting over 40 percent.

Meanwhile, the Eastern Conference has a pair of two-win teams in the Hawks and Bulls. Atlanta just nabbed their first win against Cleveland while the Bulls hold the NBA's worst average in scoring with 91.9 points per game and field-goal percentage (39.4). Rookie Laurie Markkanen has been a lone bright spot for Chicago, as the seventh overall pick from this year's draft is averaging 16.3 points and nine rebounds, shooting 43.1 percent from the floor. The Hawks are riddled with injury and are no longer the team with guys like Jeff Teague, Al Horford, Kyle Korver and Paul Millsap. Point guard Dennis Schroder leads the team in points (22.5) and assists (6.6).

Ben Simmons clear early favorite for ROY

Philadelphia 76ers rookie Ben Simmons has been the best rookie this season, and it hasn't really even been close. The former LSU product already has two triple-doubles. Only two players have more than one triple-double this season, Simmons and 2016-17 NBA MVP, Russell Westbrook. Simmons is the second player ever to tally two triple-doubles in his first nine career games, joining Hall of Famer Oscar Robinson.

Simmons leads all rookie in scoring (18.0), rebounds (9.8), assists (8.2), triple-doubles (2) and double-doubles (6). He also ranks third among first-year players in field-goal percentage (.516). While many knew about Simmons' elite court vision heading into the season, he has shown less hesitancy to shoot the jumper while also knowing when he needs to take over games late. His play is a large reason as to why the Sixers have won four in a row. Simmons has simply looked like a veteran out there and he continues to get better each game he plays.

Go to top button