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Well, we’re just over two weeks into the NBA season and it feels like we’re starting to build a reasonable sample size. Though some strong starters will of course fall off as they do every year, for the most part, seven to eight games that matter for most of these teams is an informative amount, particularly in just a 72 game season. With that in mind, here’s who I’m buying and selling in the short and long term of this extremely unique NBA season.
Short Term: Los Angeles Clippers
Next string of games: at GSW, vs CHI, vs NOLA, at SAC, vs IND
After a tumultuous end to last season and this one beginning with a litany of questions and minimal changes, the Clippers have surprised a lot of people with how they’ve looked so far. Overall the team is 6-3 and in games featuring both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, they’re 5-1. Beyond just simple wins and losses though, the team looks different offensively despite few changes other than at head coach and in bringing in Serge Ibaka. Their offensive rating is fifth in the NBA which is impressive, particularly when you dive into the change in assists. They sit 11th in the league in assists per 100 possessions which won’t sound like much until you look at last season’s 20th. This subtle difference in moving the ball has led the team to shoot extremely well from deep thanks to a few easier looks a game simply from sharing the ball more. As the team becomes more and more comfortable it’s hard to imagine these looks won’t come more often with added reps and chemistry. Helping them in that cause is a ridiculously easy upcoming schedule. Though I don’t think they’ve done quite enough for their roster to pursue wins in the finals, in the next few weeks with the way they’re playing this team is a smart buy.
Long Term: Milwaukee Bucks
Similar to the Clippers, last season ended ugly for the Milwaukee Bucks however, the Bucks decided to make some major offseason moves to try and change their fortunes. By bringing in Jrue Holiday and revamping the bench, it was obvious this team would probably have some early season losses just simply from feeling each other out. Well, it seems as though just eight games in and they’ve found their stride. Don’t let their 5-3 record deceive you, the Bucks are once again first in net rating with a 13.2, almost four points higher than second place! This can be largely attributed to a league-best offence with a net rating of 120.8, which would’ve led last season’s leader, Dallas, by over four. Simply put, the Bucks are a sleeping giant right now, ready to go on a massive set of wins. The only real potential worry is the team is still working on some new defensive systems but even if that is to concern you, Giannis is only seeming to just now get going with four straight games of 25 plus points after a weird start. With Giannis in form and the offence absolutely dominating don’t be surprised if in a couple of weeks they’re for a third straight year the runaway leader for best record.
Short Term: New Orleans Pelicans
Next string of games: vs CHA, at DAL, at LAC, at LAL, at SAC, at UTA, at UTA
A quick disclaimer, I hated the Pelicans offseason. I thought the Steven Adams and Zion fit was weird and the fact they extended him without even seeing it on the court was bizarre. Also, I found Eric Bledsoe to be unnecessary on a team full of young guards. So far, Adams has been better than I expected and Bledsoe somehow worse. Though he’s shooting 38% from 3 now, the team is 1-3 when he shoots 33.3% or less which is about his career average (33.7%). Beyond Bledsoe, I find their 4-4 record to be misleading. The team is 0-3 when they face teams I see as lock playoff teams in Indiana, Phoenix and Miami and 4-1 against Toronto, San Antonio and Oklahoma City. Toronto is obviously spiralling right now, the Spurs hardly get anyone excited these days and many think the Thunder are tanking. So, when you put that into perspective for a team that’s about to go on a road trip where they face four playoff locks in five games, that’s going to be hard. The only “gimme games” are a Charlotte team playing good ball right now and a frisky Kings team on the road. Zion and Brandon Ingram have been great so far so at least there’s that for first-year head coach Stan Van Gundy but outside of them, I expect at the end of this road trip there won’t be much to write home about this team.
Long Term: Minnesota Timberwolves
I know we all feel horrible for Karl-Anthony Towns and the absolutely horrific year he and his family have had battling COVID-19 but it’s time to call a spade a spade and his team sucks. Since KAT got hurt in game two, the team is 0-5 and in a distant last place in net rating with a -12.1. To put in perspective how abysmal that is, the 10-72 2015-16 Sixers had a -10.4. With Towns still out week-to-week and D’Angelo Russell once again proving himself to not be a winning player as the best one on his team, I don’t really know how you say anything positive about the Wolves outside of Anthony Edwards looking pretty good. Otherwise, it appears the Wolves are in for another long season unless Towns can get back soon and quickly change the tide. However, with the evidence of his career, he just hasn’t been that type of guy yet and until he shows it, this team is a sell or stay away for a long, long time.