The first night of the 2016-17 NBA season came with plenty of big names, but not a lot of suspense.
The TNT games were awful, as the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the New York Knicks by 29 (117-88), and the San Antonio Spurs drubbed the Golden State Warriors by the same amount (129-100). The Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz played a thriller, but ultimately ended up as a nine-point game in favor of the Blazers (113-104).
Most rational people would tell you not to overreact to one game, or in the NBA’s case, the first 15-20 games as teams settle in with a rotation and get into regular-season shape.
But that isn’t fun.
Overreacting is all the rage in sports groups on Facebook and threads on Twitter, so let’s just put it all here in one article.
Let’s get nuclear.
The Knicks aren’t a playoff team
Let’s just go ahead and put this to bed now, shall we?
This was Derrick Rose’s official Knicks debut, and his first game since being cleared in his civil case. This was Joakim Noah’s official debut, and the only thing he hates more than LeBron James may be the city of Cleveland itself.
Carmelo Anthony typically licks his chops when LeBron’s team is on the schedule. Kristaps Porzingis had a chance to kick off his Year 2 campaign in dominant fashion. Heck, Brandon Jennings had a chance to start his Sixth Man of the Year campaign.
And they lost by 29? This is a super team?
Super teams don’t get mollywopped by 29, especially when they have the seasonal expectations and as much emotional incentive as the Knicks did last night.
Also: being a “super team” implies that the team is really, really good…where the heck was the bench?
On a unit sporting Jennings, Kyle O’Quinn and his glorious beard, and the next Marc Gasol, Justin Holiday — Jrue’s (way) less talented brother and a throw-in as part of the Rose trade — was the guy that gave New York its biggest spark, coming during the second quarter?
Another year, another hype train, and another disappointment.
Maybe next year, New York. Probably not, though.
This is the year LeBron James will average a triple-double
Virtually everyone expects the Warriors to run over the league (more on that later) thanks to the addition of former MVP Kevin Durant. Picking anyone other than the Warriors to win the title, barring injury woes, is basically seen as a form of trolling.
This is not only disrespectful because the Super Warriors just blew a 3-1 lead in the Finals last year, it also takes the pressure off the player who’s dealt with the most of it in NBA history: LeBron James.
LeBron has been in a title-or-bust situation for nearly a decade now. For the first time, probably in his life, this may be the year he’s able to actually play care-free basketball without a mountain of expectation wearing him down.
He’s the best player in the world, and obviously he wants to win, but almost nobody outside of the Ohio area actually expects him to win. This is the year for him to stat-pad and add to his resume in another way.
Why do you think he was in mid-fourth quarter during a blowout just to grab two rebounds?
He knows that if he can’t win a title, further adding to his case as the greatest player ever, becoming the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double — and doing that on the best team in the East — would be a nice consolation prize.
We’ve long said that LeBron could lead the league in scoring if he “wanted’ to; with his court vision and size, the same could be said for averaging a triple-double. It’s not like he has to conserve energy for a chance at a title or anything. The Warriors have already been crowned, anyway.
Trade Gordon Hayward…like, now
Hayward is viewed as a top-six small forward in the NBA and Utah’s best offensive player — if not their best player overall. He may be a top-six talent at his position, but Utah can certainly live without him. Especially this year.
With Hayward on the mend, the Jazz still got a combined 55 points from their starting wings. Rodney Hood (26 points, 3-7 from three) looked like a stud, while Joe Johnson (29 points on 12-16 shooting) turned back the clock and carried Utah’s offense for stretches.
Hood, Hayward and Derrick Favors (also out last night) are all due for extensions soon. Hood is obviously ready for more reps on offense and is younger than Hayward. Favors is younger and is arguably the better two-way player of the two.
Flip Hayward to Boston and grab some picks.
Damian Lillard might be the best PG in the NBA
Lillard is certainly the best rapper in the NBA. Beyond that, he showcased his all-around excellence with 39 points, nine rebounds and six assists:
He ripped Utah’s vaunted defense to shreds, especially in the fourth quarter (16 points in the quarter). He got buckets from deep and mid-range despite George Hill trying to shadow him, and got buckets in the paint despite Defensive Player of the Year candidate Rudy Gobert roaming around.
He’s been consistently overlooked over the last three seasons, but that’ll end this year. Angry Dame has the chops to give us one of the best offensive seasons we’ve ever seen, with an album to match.
Pau Gasol and Tony Parker should be coming off the bench
Kawhi Leonard was the story, dropping a career-high 35 points to go along with five rebounds and five steals. His star teammate LaMarcus Aldridge added 26 points and 14 rebounds, floating jumpers over undersized Golden State defenders all night.
What I want to focus on is the older-than-dirt duo of Tony Parker (nine points and four rebounds) and Pau Gasol (two points and four rebounds). I don’t want to be disrespectful because they’re two of the greatest international players ever and sure-fire Hall of Famers, but, man, they just can’t move.
Parker nor Gasol can defend in space, and with Leonard and Aldridge taking up the bulk of the shots, their offensive potential is a bit capped. Despite the blowout win, Parker and Gasol were -12 and -13, respectively, while Patty Mills (11 points, five assists, four steals) and Dewayne Dedmon (two points, eight rebounds, two blocks) were +35 and +29, respectively.
Starting Mills over Parker makes sense because he’s a deadlier three-point threat (with volume), and he can play off either Aldridge when he posts up, or Leonard when he gets into the lane.
Replacing Gasol with Dedmon would give the Spurs a better defensive presence. Gasol and Aldridge need to be hidden as much as possible defensively, which is why starting them together spells trouble for San Antonio’s defense.
The Warriors are the 2012-13 Lakers all over again
A whole lot of talent. A whole lot of questionable shots. A whole lot of bad defense.
That’s what we saw from the star-studded but ultimately underachieving Lakers four seasons ago, and that’s certainly what we saw from the Warriors last night.
Klay Thompson could never get going. Stephen Curry’s numbers didn’t match his impact.
Draymond Green filled the stat sheet but got torched by Aldridge. Kevin Durant got his, but lost his matchup to Leonard.
Steve Kerr looked ready to spontaneously combust watching the action unfold.
Again: super teams don’t get mollywopped by 29, especially with the seasonal expectations and emotional incentive the Warriors had last night.
They looked #LightYearsBehind.