To hell with the experts: First impressions of the NBA season

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“The 76ers might not win ten games. Phoenix is also pretty gross.”

I wrote those words with the smug certainty that a person could accurately predict the future by glancing at a roster of players and accepting the dangerous certainty of “conventional wisdom.” Well, the Philadelphia 76ers have played eight games and won four of them, so they are on pace for a 41-41 season, a far cry from me dismissing them as a team in danger of winning ten (!) games.

Phoenix, who I described as “pretty gross” currently has a 5-2 record and sits atop the Pacific Division. Yes, both of these teams are probably due for a nice regression to the mean or perhaps even a free fall. For the moment let’s just enjoy the players on the floor bucking our scripts and channeling that credo of self-determinism summed up best in Lawrence of Arabia: “Nothing is written.”

At the end of the week we’ll assess the state of the league with proper power rankings, but for now, some quick observations about the season:

The Indiana Pacers are obviously not satisfied with Eastern Conference Runner-Up status. They’ve been on an unstoppable rampage. Paul George’s handle has improved, Lance Stephenson of all people just notched a triple-double, and big men Roy Hibbert and David West remain dirty work savants. Many teams peak early, but it doesn’t look like a hot start to me. It looks like an arrival. To borrow a phrase from Preston “Bodie” Broadus, the Pacers are going to be a problem.

Eric Bledsoe is an early Most Improved Player candidate. It’s unclear if he can harness his particular brand of havoc for an entire season, but he’s added some danger to a surprisingly tough Phoenix team.

The Golden State Warriors are expecting a lot more out of Harrison Barnes than he may be capable of providing. Barnes, a second year forward that management is very high on, might just not be that great.

How's that trade working out for the Wizards? Check the record.
How’s that trade working out for the Wizards? Check the record.

The Washington Wizards haven’t started the season the way they wanted, dropping some very winnable games. The defense has suffered some with the Emeka Oakafor/Marcin Gortat swap. The Wizards frontline of the near future isn’t a nightmare guarding the paint, but they don’t have to be. It’s quite early in the season, but Washington needs to get back to the glory days of the latter half of last season. On the bright side, Bradley Beal appears to have emerged from an early seasons slump.

The Nets Experiment already shows signs of painful reality. Kevin Garnett is simply too old to be a difference maker on either end of the court and their other top guys are banged up or make for on-court redundancies. My original prediction was a bumpy start and then a slow rise to decency but never looking like a true contender. This bumpy start has me even less enthusiastic about their prospects.

The big man rotation of the Detroit Pistons, Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, and Andre Drummond, has real and troubling spacing issues that are exacerbated by the Pistons lack of deadeye shooters on the perimeter. This we knew was a risk before the season even began, but seeing it in action is painful for stretches. Mo Cheeks is going to have to whip up staggered lineups to make this platoon workable for long stretches.

Another expected elite team, The Chicago Bulls, have also looked quite bad for stretches. They have a coach that would scare a fire and brimstone Baptist preacher, an entrenched defensive system, and superstar role players that know their roles. They are kind of like a more intense and less polished Eastern Conference Spurs but with a possible game changer point-guard in Derrick Rose. He needs to shake off the rust of injury and expectations, and they’ll be fine.

My Rookie of the Year Pick, Dennis Schroeder, has been invisible on the national scene, likely wiped away by the crowning of Michael Carter-Williams, who had the best three game start (in large part due to the unlikeliness of it) to an NBA career that most of us will probably ever see.

For all these downtrodden teams playing above expectations, at least we have the Utah Jazz, an unqualified success at sheer awfulness on the basketball court. With a coterie of exciting youngsters with expanded responsibility, you’d think the games would at least be fun, but Tyrone Corbin has insisted on starting over-the-hill vets like Jamaal Tinsley and Richard Jefferson. Well played, Corbin.

And what about the Knicks? They’ve lived up to all of my wildest dreams. Watching the Knicks is like getting dumped on Christmas.