Finally! The new season has started after an eventful trading season and the usual pre-season nonsense. It is still too early to draw any intelligent conclusions about the outcome in June, but it is never too soon to just reflect on what we have seen so far. And there have been both surprises and business as usual and a few ups and downs depending on what team your heart belongs to. Either way, here are my thoughts on the 2017-18 NBA season so far.
Teams Outperforming Expectations
Every year a number of different lists with ranking of the different NBA teams and predictions about who will make the playoffs and win the title are presented. It is safe to say that most guesses in the latter category ended up with the Warriors or the Cavaliers – seems like everyone anticipates a rematch in the finals also this year – but a few more teams mentioned were the Rockets after the Chris Paul trade and Boston with Gordon Hayward. A few teams followed, not necessarily prime candidates, but with the possibility to upset – Spurs (as always) and OKC enforced with Paul George to mention a few.
The Golden State Warriors are of course still up there, currently tied for the first seat of the Western Conference with Houston Rockets. No surprise there really.
But I think few would have predicted Boston to lead the Eastern Conference. That is, after the Gordon Hayward injury. Many had them pegged for first or second before the season began. Most anticipated they would fall back substantially after that gruesome first game. But here they are, 14 games into the season. At 12-2. Have I ever mentioned basketball is a team sport?
If Boston have surprised the basketball community, that is nothing compared to the Detroit Pistons, currently second in the east at 10-3. That is the best start for this once proud franchise since the 2005-06 season when they just played the finals two consecutive years, winning the championship in one of them. All predictions before the season had them basically in the same place as last year – a little under 50/50 and fighting for that last playoff spot. Will they be able to sustain it? We’ll have to wait and see, but the team chemistry is there and it has not been all easy games. They beat the then undefeated Clippers and the day after handed the Warriors one of their three losses so far this year.
An almost as big of a surprise in the early going is the Orlando Magic who had an excellent start of the season, right behind Boston and Detroit. The NBA blog table experts discussed this in this post and most of them guessed that while Detroit looks better than expected, Orlando was more of a temporary success that could no be sustained. At that point the Magic had a 5-2 record and the second place in the East. Since then they have fallen to the fifth place at 8-6.
Teams Under-performing Expectations
The most obvious team not playing up to expectations so far is of course the Cleveland Cavaliers. Despite being expected to revisit the finals at the end of the season they have played awful so far. As always you immediately hear grumblings about trading LeBron and role players need to step up. They started the season 4-6 and this was supposedly one of the easier stretches of the entire season. Most of the problem have been on the defensive end. But then again, we have all seen how they can quickly put in a different gear when they have to – that Cavaliers of the regular season are never the same as in the play offs. I guess we have not seen the last of LeBron James yet!
Oklahoma City Thunder hasn’t really been as good as expected either. Currently in 9:th place in the competitive West, but they were definitely expected to be top contenders along Houston and Golden State. The addition of Paul George to help unload some of the scoring burden of Westbrook should make them better than last year. So far we haven’t seen much improvement.
The L.A. Clippers are perhaps the biggest disappointment after Cleveland. Yes, they lost Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford and JJ Redick but should still be a lot better than 13:th. They still have a bunch of lethal players like Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
So now what?
Well, it is (thankfully) plenty of great basketball still to be played in the 2017-18 season. I expect most of the teams mentioned above will ultimately gravitate towards expectations. Cleveland will start to win. Orlando will start to lose. I think Boston will keep winning even without Hayward and I wouldn’t be surprised if the new look Pistons are for real (no, they won’t win it all, but should be able to make the playoffs with no too much of a struggle). All and all I think it eventually will stand between the Rockets and the Warriors in the West with the Spurs always in the mix and the Celtics and the Cavaliers in the East. So pretty much as everyone guessed before the season.