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Good, Bad, and Ugly: NBA in Early November

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The NBA is now fully underway, and teams have played enough games to get a sense of their quality. Here are a few takeaways from the first two weeks of the season.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Washington Wizards Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA has had a spectacular start to the 2016-2017 season. The league only has a couple of truly bad teams, several players have come out of the gates absolutely on fire, and there are quite a few intriguing storylines. The product is terrific, helped by the fact that so far there haven’t been any significant injuries outside of Khris Middleton’s (fingers crossed). It’s such a nice contrast to the awfulness that is NFL football right now; the NBA could gain a lot of ground in popularity if this quality of play keeps up all year.

Good

James Harden: Of all the absurd stat-lines in the NBA right now, Harden’s is the craziest. He’s averaging 31.6 points, 12.7 assists, and 7.1 rebounds, all with a true shooting of 66.5%. That’s ridiculous. The decision by coach Mike D’Antoni to move Harden to point guard seems to have paid off in spades, as The Beard is now leading the lead in assists and running one of the best offenses in the NBA. No, he doesn’t play much defense (nor does his team), but at his level of usage on offense it’s hard to expect him to exert much energy on defense. If he keeps putting up stats like this all year, it will be hard to deny him the MVP award.

Cleveland Cavaliers: The defending champs were the last undefeated team in the NBA (losing last night to the Hawks), and are sitting high above the Eastern Conference at 6-1. LeBron James is averaging close to a triple double—though his scoring efficiency isn’t where it was half a decade ago, he remains perhaps the best playmaker in the league, and can take over games almost whenever he wants. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love seem to have finally worked out how to fit alongside LeBron: Love has increased his scoring load, and Kyrie is handing the reins of the offense entirely over to James. There are worries about the Cavs’ depth—especially at point guard, where Iman Shumpert is backing up Kyrie—but right now, it looks like no team in the Eastern Conference is near their orbit.

Bad

Washington Wizards: The Wizards were supposed to bounce back this year after a disappointing 2016 season. Sadly, this season has started off even worse for them than last year. The Wiz are 1-5, and have dropped several winnable games. John Wall has been spectacular, and Otto Porter seems to have taken another step forward, but the rest of their roster is struggling. Bradley Beal’s shot is off, and he needs to make open 3s to provide spacing for the rest of the team. Markieff Morris is trying to do too much, and it’s tanking his efficiency. Marcin Gortat has put up big stats, but his defense is slacking: age might be catching up to the 32 year old. The Wizards bench is just atrocious. To be fair, their big offseason acquisition, Ian Mahinmi, has been out all season with a knee injury, and he should improve the defense substantially. Beal regressing to his mean average from deep will help as well, but the Wizards need more than that to be a playoff team in the Eastern Conference.

Ugly

New Orleans Pelicans: The Pelicans are 0-7. They have that record despite an MVP level start to the season by Anthony Davis. New Orleans would almost certainly have won a few games if they were healthy, but they aren’t. Offseason acquisitions such as E’Twaun Moore and Solomon Hill have played solid defense, but neither are shot creators, and Hill in particular has struggled shooting the ball. Tim Frazier is a revelation at point guard, but he is still more of a quality backup than a starter, as are most of the Pelicans’ players. Stacked at rotation spots from 4-10, they have nobody to fill the top slots next to Davis, and are struggling immensely on offense as a result. Once they get healthy they should be a very solid team, but this start could doom them. If Jrue Holliday and Tyreke Evans don’t return soon, the Pelicans might be out of the playoff race by the end of November. It’s a sad turn for a franchise that looked on the upswing just a year and a half ago.

Rajon Rondo: The once All-NBA star point guard is averaging just 7.7 points and 6.7 assists per game, his worst numbers since his rookie season a decade ago. He doesn’t get to the free throw line, can’t make three pointers, and isn’t strong at finishing around the basket. One of the best defensive point guards in the NBA in his prime, Rondo is now one of the worst, a sieve who doesn’t even put forth effort on that end. Essentially, he’s a mediocre backup at best, his last remaining strengths being pure court vision and rebounding. Relying on him to be a starting point guard, much less a star, is one of the biggest mistakes of a Chicago Bulls offseason full of them.