We’re roughly 13 percent of the way through the NBA regular season, which is the perfect proportion to overreact to early season returns without being rightfully accused of small sample size theater.
Let’s play the role of a stressed-out medical intern (think J.D. from “Scrubs”) and check the pulses of players and teams that have found themselves in the headlines.
The Cleveland Cavaliers (status: playing dead)
The three-time defending Eastern Conference champions have brought about minor panic in Cleveland by losing to Orlando, Brooklyn, New York, Indiana and Atlanta through 11 games.
Those teams were all projected to be cellar dwellers in the conference, but at least three have been frisky and look prepared to challenge for a playoff berth. Meanwhile, the Cavs have a win over NBA-leading Boston, two wins over MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee and a win in Washington powered by a 57-spot from LeBron James.
The 5-6 record isn’t ideal, but the early returns are defensible. Cleveland doesn’t have Kyrie Irving and his replacement as scoring point guard isn’t playing. Let’s still pencil them in for 50 wins.
Kristaps Porzingis (status: jacked up on four cups of coffee)
‘Melo haters have rejoiced as the New York Knicks have surged to six wins in their last seven games, powered by “the Unicorn” himself. Porzingis is averaging 30.0 points per game on 51.2 percent shooting, with 7.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. Madison Square Garden is alive again and New York has gone from the Doncic race to the playoff race.
The Latvian big man has embraced the spotlight in the Big Apple, making plays at the rim on both ends of the floor while continuing to shoot well from 3-point distance. He’s looking like a lock for an All-Star spot and a real contender for an All-NBA spot as well.
The Oklahoma City Thunder (status: almost on life support)
Let’s check on ‘Melo now. After a 105-84 home win over his old team in the season opener, his new team has had a bumpy road. Oklahoma City is just 4-6 through its first 10 games, with their last time out a painful 94-86 loss in Sacramento where they blew a 17-point lead.
Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Anthony have not clicked yet. The Thunder have the 20th best offensive efficiency in the league so far, as the three stars have struggled from the field as they take turns playing ISO ball. Westbrook, who dominated the ball last season, is trying to learn how to share. George and Anthony are along for the ride.
You can’t lollygag in the Western Conference. The Thunder need to figure things out quickly.
Lonzo Ball (status: fluctuating heart rate)
Lakers fans are the kings of overreactions. On opening night, Ball was stifled by Patrick Beverley as the Clippers embarrassed their crosstown rivals, causing Lakers fans to lament the D’Angelo Russell trade as the rest of the league’s fans piled on. The next night, Ball dropped 29 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists and was back on track to be the greatest player of all time.
The young passer has been inconsistent. That game against the Suns, in full meltdown mode, remains his only double-double of the season, and he’s only reached double digits in scoring once since. The Lakers have been better than advertised, but some metrics have him as one of the worst rookies on both sides of the court.
Who is the real Ball? I don’t know, the Lakers don’t know and even Lonzo’s blustering father doesn’t know. It takes time for players like this to bloom. Ignore the peaks and the valleys.
The Phoenix Suns (status: making a miraculous recovery)
Back to those Suns. They were left for dead after a truly putrid 0-3 start in which they allowed 129 points per game while scoring just 98.
Then they fired overmatched head coach Earl Watson and roared to life, winning four of their next five games. Three straight losses followed, but the Eric Bledsoe distraction no longer hangs over their heads. TJ Warren looks like a legitimate second banana to Devin Booker, Alex Len and Dragan Bender have shown flashes and 27-year old rookie Mike James has provided solid point guard play.
The Suns will still be one of the dregs of the West, but maybe they won’t be a complete pushover.