Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! The Friday Five is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to basketball video games, the real NBA, or another area of interest to our community, either as a list of five items or in the form of a Top 5 countdown.
While there’s still much to discuss on the NBA Live and NBA 2K front, I wanted to talk about some real basketball in this edition of The Friday Five, as we’re just over a week into the 2016 NBA season. There are some interesting stories developing through the first four to six games of the new season, and as a result, a few questions spring to mind. Since a few of them relate back to the predictions I made before the season tipped off, I thought I’d throw them out there, and perhaps make a few more predictions.
Now, it should be acknowledged that it’s still early days, with teams having between 76 and 78 games left to play in the regular season. What happens in November doesn’t always matter come April, or indeed, June. All the same, it’s interesting to take a look at the early trends and noteworthy statistics, and wonder about what’s going to happen next. As such, here are five questions I’d like to put out there after the first week (and a bit) of the 2016 NBA season.
1. Will Kobe Bryant make it through the season?
This season, Kobe Bryant became the first player in NBA history to have suited up for the same team for 20 years. He’s also coming off some major injuries that have limited him to just 41 games over the past couple of seasons; those injuries, combined with his age and a lot of minutes over the course of his 20 year career, have clearly taken their toll. Kobe is shooting an abysmal 32.3% from the field so far, including 20.6% from downtown (with an average of 8.5 attempts). His assists are down, while the effort and spark just don’t seem to be there. At this point, I have to admit that I’m not only wondering about him making it through the year uninjured, but also whether he’d pull an Elgin Baylor and retire part of the way into the season. It’s highly unlikely, sure, but with his current struggles, perhaps not completely unthinkable.
The scary thing is, Kobe isn’t ruling out playing beyond this season, and former coach Phil Jackson has speculated that this won’t be his last year. Former teammate Derek Fisher would seem to agree, suggesting that he “[doesn’t] think the game of basketball deserves for [Kobe] not to play”. On that point, I’d have to respectfully disagree with Fisher. Kobe is one of the all-time greats, but by his own admission, he’s not playing well, and that doesn’t benefit the game of basketball, or the 0-4 Los Angeles Lakers. If he’s not going to hang it up, the Lakers’ brass needs to make the decision they should’ve made a couple of years ago, and bring the Kobe Era to an end. As I said in the Forum, I’m reminded of the Overseer’s speech at the end of the original Fallout: “You saved us, but you’ll kill us. I’m sorry. You’re a hero…and you have to leave.”
(Sorry, Fallout 4 is coming out next week, so it’s on my mind.)
2. Who will be the team to beat in the East?
Before the season began, a majority of NBA GMs picked the Cleveland Cavaliers to win it all, which would also make them the team to beat in the East. A few games into the season, I think that my prediction of the East being a bit better this year is going to come to fruition. Of course, the Cavs are the defending Eastern Conference champions, and despite the fact they’re still missing Kyrie Irving, a healthy LeBron James and Kevin Love are more than just holding down the fort, as they’ve run out to a 4-1 start. You could certainly still consider them the frontrunners to come out of the East, but it looks like they’ll have some competition.
The Toronto Raptors are the only undefeated team in the East, with a 5-0 start. They’ve been winning by an average of around ten points per game, also picking up a good win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Chicago Bulls have been a bit inconsistent, but they defeated the Cavs in the opener and if they remain healthy, they should be one of the East’s better teams. The Atlanta Hawks are 5-1, while the Washington Wizards are 3-1 and defeated the San Antonio Spurs in spectacular fashion. The Western Playoffs might still be more exciting top to bottom, and the East is still the weaker conference. However, it’s great to see the East looking a little stronger, and boasting some more exciting potential Playoff matchups than in years past.
3. What’s going on with Anthony Davis and the Pelicans?
Alright, I’m going to put my hand up here and admit that I’m the one who jinxed Anthony Davis. Well, it’s either me, or NBA 2K is developing a cover curse. Either way, the New Orleans Pelicans have lost their first four games by an average of fourteen points, and Davis has been a little off. It hasn’t been a complete struggle for The Brow of course, as he’s averaging three blocks per game, along with ten rebounds. However, despite a slight increase in minutes, his scoring is down from 24.3 to 20.8 points per game through the first four contests, and he’s shooting just 37.9% from the field. He’s also taking around three three-pointers per game, which he is knocking down at a 36.4% clip, but he’s not getting the job done inside the arc.
Having watched a couple of Pelicans games, it seems like Davis is trying to do too much. I’ve seen him handle the ball a lot, while seemingly trying to be a point forward. It’s not that he completely lacks the skills to do so, but it’s not the strongest aspect of his game. He’s currently averaging just 1.8 assists per game, along with three turnovers. I believe he needs to leave the playmaking duties to someone else, and spend a bit more time closer to the rim, even if he has been knocking down some threes. Alvin Gentry is trying some new things, but I don’t think the Pelicans have the right personnel to pull it off. It might be time for Plan B, sooner rather than later.
4. Is Stephen Curry set to have a season for the ages?
Last year’s Most Valuable Player may have been slightly overshadowed in the NBA Finals by sixth man and Finals MVP Andre Iguodala, but he was still a big reason why they took home the Larry O’Brien trophy, and he’s already in fine form this year. At the time of writing, he’s averaging a league leading 35.8 points per game on 57.4% shooting, including 51.9% from three point range and 94.6% from the free throw line. He’s averaging 5.8 assists, five rebounds, and 2.2 steals per game, while playing just 32 minutes per contest. Per 36, he’s putting up an astounding 40.3 points, along with 6.5 assists, 5.8 rebounds, and 2.5 steals per game.
His advanced stats are similarly spectacular, with an incredible Player Efficiency Rating of 47.1; before the game against the Clippers, his PER was 50.1. He has a true shooting percentage of 76.3%, and an Offensive Rating of 149. He’s cut his turnovers in half. Obviously, it’s all helping the Warriors rack up some impressive victories. Now, it’d be a tall order to maintain those numbers over the course of a full NBA season, and I expect them to drop off at least a little bit. Even so, we could see Curry continue to post some crazy numbers this year, perhaps setting a few records. Such a historically significant season might also help the Warriors make a little history of their own…
5. Will the Golden State Warriors top 70 wins?
A 5-0 start is kind of jumping the gun as far as predictions of 70 wins are concerned. Any team that wants to make a serious run at that mark needs to reach the All-Star break with a maximum of two or three losses, so the discussion doesn’t really get serious until February. A lot of teams with hot starts have been touted to break the record set by the Chicago Bulls in 1996, and some have certainly come close – including the Bulls themselves, going 69-13 in 1997 after a 12-0 start – but the record still stands. However, when you consider how the Warriors have opened the 2016 NBA season, it’s fair to wonder about their chances.
As noted above, Stephen Curry is off to an amazingly hot start this season. The Warriors have won all five of their games by an average of 20 points, including a 50 point win over the Memphis Grizzlies. When it looked as though the Los Angeles Clippers might hand them their first loss, they rallied and took control of the game with the poise you’d expect of defending NBA champions. I’ll stick with the prediction of them falling short, but it’ll be just short: 68 or 69 wins. As for the Clippers, they’d make a good opponent for the Western Conference Finals…for those of us who grew up watching the NBA in the 90s, who’d have thought we’d ever be wanting to see that matchup, with a trip to the NBA Finals on the line?
What are some of your thoughts on the 2016 NBA season, just over a week in? What are your answers to those five questions? Let me know in the comments below, and be sure to join in the discussion taking place in the NBA & Basketball section of the NLSC Forum! That’s all for this week, so thanks for checking in, have a great weekend, and please join me again next Friday for another Five.