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NBA Exit Survey, Week 1: 10 Days Later

The biggest takeaways, wild overreactions, favorite plays, and more after a week-plus of the 2017-18 season

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Markelle Fultz, and Karl-Anthony Towns Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Who's the MVP (through 10 days)?

Jason Concepcion: Giannis Antetokounmpo. He’s averaging 35 points, 10.6 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 2.4 steals, and 1.0 blocks. Yes, it’s a small sample size. Who cares? He’s shooting 62.4 percent from the field. Remember how the conventional wisdom was he needs a 3-point shot to take his game to an MVP level? Forget that. He’s shooting 62.4 percent from the floor, and he’s 33 percent from 3 on only nine attempts. Turns out when you go 94 feet in two-and-a-half steps, a working 3-pointer isn’t that crucial. I honestly hope Giannis never gets one now because what he’s doing is so scary.

Kevin O’Connor: Antetokounmpo. Is there even another answer at this point? Antetokounmpo is averaging 35 points, 10.6 rebounds, and 5.6 assists, while playing competitive defense. He's scored at least 30 points in four of five games, and he’s done it with relative ease. No one can stop him despite the fact he still doesn't have a knockdown outside jumper. If Antetokounmpo isn’t the 10-Day MVP, he’s at least second or third in the conversation.

Chris Ryan: Giannis. He is following the LeBron blueprint of adding a different element to his game every season. Last year, he became point-Mothra, then he hit the gym and turned himself into the Athenian Mailman. What I want to know is will Giannis be a Russ or a Steph? Will he be a superheroic performer on an average team or will he be the best player on one of the league’s best teams?

Paolo Uggetti: LeBron James. Another season has arrived, and LeBron, like the sun rising in the East and setting in the West, remains the most important player in the league. I went into this season thinking this could be a great year for a rogue MVP like Giannis, John Wall, or Blake Griffin, but LeBron might actually have to pull off a Herculean, MVP-like season for the Cavs to win the East again. So far, he’s on track, averaging 27.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 9.0 assists and shooting 61.1 percent from the field. You can have your Smoothie King; I’ll stick with the real one.

John Gonzalez: Giannis. (But also Patrick Beverley.)

Justin Verrier: LeBron. For all the hype over Giannis’s flashy numbers, James is damn near averaging a triple-double again and shooting better than ever before from virtually every zone on the court, including his two usual weak spots: from 3 (45 percent) and at the free throw line (76 percent, up from last season’s ugly 67.4 mark). Somehow, even that undersells his impact. How many players in league history could adequately fill every role on the court? LeBron is his own All-NBA team.

What's the biggest takeaway from the first 10 days of this NBA season?

O’Connor: Teams are averaging an estimated 99.6 possessions per game, which is the NBA’s highest pace since the 1988-89 season, according to Basketball-Reference. Turnovers are up. Offensive rebounding is down. Teams are playing fast, and I’m having a lot of fun watching basketball as a result. Hopefully this continues throughout the season.

Verrier: The Spurs will be the only thing to survive the apocalypse. Survivors will have extra limbs and only drink Surge, and Pop will still be running Horns to perfection with a bunch of mole people.

Concepcion: Unicorns are taking the leap. We just talked about Giannis. Now let’s talk about my big, beautiful Latvian son, Kristaps Porzingis. My 7-foot-3 son is putting up 25.3 points and 7.3 rebounds a game. And because the Knicks point guard rotation is French rookie Frank Ntilikina, washed career backup Ramon Sessions, washed career backup coming off of injury Jarrett Jack, and Ron Baker, KP is creating most of those looks for himself. The Knicks have yet to win a game and my son is shooting fireballs. Seeing as how this is the last season before the tanking reforms kick in, that’s the ideal outcome for the next 79 games.

Ryan: Doc Rivers can coach. The Clippers have had the benefit of playing the Suns and Lakers in the first week of the season, but you can only beat the living tar out of the bad teams in front of you. Whether it was due to Chris Paul’s force of personality or Rivers’s (alleged) deep commitment to golf, the title-winning head coach dropped out of the conversation as one of the league’s best play-callers. Crushing an Earl Watson–coached team does not make Doc Garry Kasparov, but Rivers has shown some flashes of his old self, reconfiguring his team around a deeper bench and a fully operational Blake Griffin.

Gonzalez: DO NOT take Eric Bledsoe to the hair salon.

Uggetti: There are few unwatchable teams. Whether a team is playing for high stakes (Cavs), has new parts (Thunder), or has its own cult hero (Lakers), NBA basketball has been a blast to watch so far. Like the NFL, almost any team can win on a given night. I don’t know if I’d go as far as to call it parity, or even say this will continue the whole season, but the first 10 days of the season have been more than I could have asked for.

Which team are you most concerned about?

Gonzalez: [Opens wallet. Looks at Pennsylvania driver’s license with Philadelphia address]

Is this a trick question?

O’Connor: The Timberwolves. Their defense is an utter joke. Jeff Teague still doesn’t care about it. Andrew Wiggins has been far too inconsistent. And what the hell is wrong with Karl-Anthony Towns? Tom Thibodeau is the head coach. They have hard-nosed veterans. Jimmy Butler is leading the charge. By giving Towns a less-demanding offensive role, the situation is perfect for him to elevate his defensive play. But, thus far, he’s been a sieve. He’s almost always out of position. He doesn’t contest shots. He still doesn’t defend with effort. For the second season in a row, the Wolves were the league’s preseason darling, and so far, they’re once again the season’s big disappointment.

Concepcion: The Bulls. They were going to be terrible before Bobby Portis caved in Nikola Mirotic’s face. Like, almost literally caved it in. So, yeah. Violence. It’s bad. Lauri Markkanen can score, though.

Ryan: The Nuggets. They have too many good players to play this poorly, and Jameer Nelson cannot possibly be this important to a team.

Verrier: Cleveland. The Cavs will probably still win the East, but LeBron, who’s second behind Giannis in minutes played, may have to forgo his usual midseason vacation to do so. Their biggest issues last season were, in order: not enough wings to match up with Golden State, a bottom-10 defense, and not enough ball handlers to spell James. Though they’re 3-2, the Cavs are shooting fewer 3s, rank in the bottom 10 on defense again, and already had to revert back to the bulky Kevin Love–Tristan Thompson starting frontcourt because Derrick Rose is hurt and their next best option is apparently José Calderón, a 36-year-old with a 3.9 PER.

Uggetti: The Wolves. Tom Thibodeau is somehow coaching a team with the league’s worst defense. I was down on the Wolves heading into this season, but they’ve shown few major strides from last season’s 31-51 finish. Wiggins is more aggressive and shooting better, and having Butler will surely help the offense. But had a bank shot buzzer-beater not gone in against the Thunder, they would be 1-4.

Which team are you most surprised by?

Ryan: The Magic! They’re 3-1 with the sixth-best point differential in the league, and that’s without having played the Suns (I see you, Clippers). (They have played the Nets twice, though.) Aaron Gordon is the Al Pacino of the Small Sample Size, with a 30.8 PER and a newfound long-distance shot, while Evan Fournier is single-handedly putting Elfrid Payton on the trade block. This team went from young and restless to old and competent. The latter probably has a lower ceiling than the former, but in the short term, the Magic look more stable than many of the teams that came into the season with greater expectations.

Uggetti: The Grizzlies are the new Spurs (who are also the new Spurs). They’re 4-1 with wins over the Warriors and the Rockets, and the long-standing combo of Mike Conley and Marc Gasol in the pick-and-roll is a symphony on repeat.

O’Connor: The Nuggets don’t seem to have found their identity. How long can they go without a steady ball handler in the backcourt? Emmanuel Mudiay and Will Barton are solid contributors, but not playmakers you can lean on. When is it time to start worrying about Jamal Murray? It’s only his second season and he’s just 20, but his greatest strength—shooting—hasn’t translated at all, and he’s certainly not a point guard. It’s great that Nikola Jokic is the new Marc Gasol on offense, but he’s the new Aaron Gray on defense. Paul Millsap is averaging 0.8 assists per game. What happened to running their offense through the frontcourt? They are rumblings that they’re interested in Eric Bledsoe, who would aid a lot of their issues. I hope they get him.

Verrier:

Gonzalez: This is a toss-up between the Magic and the Nets. You know which teams have not been good for a long time? The Magic and the Nets. You know which teams look kinda good? The Magic and the Nets. Nikola Vucevic and Gordon are hitting 3s for the Magic. D’Angelo Russell is being a good teammate and a better player for the Nets. And both teams teams have already beaten LeBron. Beyond that, they’re fun to watch. That is a really weird sentence to type.

Concepcion: “The Magic.” — Everyone

It’s the Magic. They’re 3-1, tied for best record in the East. Aaron Gordon is shooting 86 percent from 3—I say again, 86 PERCENT FROM 3. That’s seems high. That seems unsustainable. I’m pretty sure no one has ever shot 86 percent from 3 for a whole season while taking over three deep-ball attempts per game. Midrange specialist Nik Vucevic suddenly has a 3-pointer. So I would say that’s surprising.

Whose stock are you buying?

O’Connor: Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball. Fultz is off to the worst and weirdest start possible, but it’s far too soon to give up. Too many people are already labeling him the next Anthony Bennett. A lot of people are high on Lonzo, but plenty are overly worried about his shot. Chill. No rookie should be expected to turn a weakness into a strength right out of the gates. We knew in college that Lonzo had to improve his at-rim finishing and there were questions about his scoring off the dribble. (I wrote a long thing about it.) It’ll take some time—possibly years—for Lonzo to figure it out. But his strengths have already translated. Sign me up.

Verrier: D’Angelo Russell (and, as a result, Kenny Atkinson). I guess a 21-year-old former no. 2 overall pick who drew predraft comparisons to James Harden, idolizes Manu, and already dropped 40 points in a game in his career is a good player to buy low on. Maybe Russell needed a change of scenery after the Snapchat shenanigans. Or maybe a franchise that recently employed Rudy Tomjanovich and his son as high-ranking analytics officials isn’t an ideal incubator for young talent.

Ryan: POINTING UP EMOJI.

Uggetti: Markkanen. Like Jon Snow’s repeated declaration that he had, in fact, seen the Night King with his own eyes, I am here to stake claim on Markkanen Mountain as a believer from the moment I watched him play at the Pac-12 tournament. It was so easy to hate on Markkanen on draft night, given he was the “prize” of the Jimmy Butler trade. But he’s already flashed the polished shooting that had everyone high on him to begin with. Markkanen has made 12 of his 30 3-point attempts, and he’s shooting 40 percent from the field. With a franchise looking to win exactly zero games, the Finnisher is just going to keep on shooting. Get on the bandwagon now.

Concepcion: De’Aaron Fox! Dragon Ball Z is the fastest player not named Russell Westbrook in the league. Almost single-handedly, Fox has made the Kings a fun team to watch.

Gonzalez: Lemme run this rookie’s numbers past you through his first five games: 33 minutes per game, 14.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.2 spg, 1.0 bpg, 47.9 FG%, 42.9 3p% (on 2.8 attempts per game), 86.4 FT% (on 4.4 attempts per game), 61.5 TS%. He was taken third in the draft. I refuse to write his name. He is really good. I hate everything.

Whose stock are you selling?

O’Connor: The Magic. They’re 3-1. They've beaten the Heat and Cavaliers. They’re outscoring teams by 10.8 points per 100 possessions. Gordon is a golden boy. Evan Fournier has scored at least 20 in three of four games. Vucevic is draining 3s. But it’s not gonna last. Orlando will be better than last season, and I love Gordon’s game, but there’s no better time to sell high. Good luck finding a buyer.

Verrier: Memphis. Try to name three Grizzlies starters. … Exactly. Marc Gasol and Mike Conley remain criminally underrated and are at the top of my list of NBA players to share a 6 p.m. dinner with, but depth was a concern before JaMychal Green went down with an ankle sprain. The continuity advantage will wear off with every game, and teams will realize that, yes, that is really Mario Chalmers playing 25 minutes a game.

Ryan: Tom Thibodeau. Why is a Thibs-coached team giving up 120-plus points to the Pacers and Pistons in one week? Why would anyone in their right mind want to have Unfiltered Cigarette Man screaming “ICE! ICE! ICE!” for every minute of every game? THEY ALREADY LIVE IN MINNESOTA. STOP SCREAMING “ICE.”

Concepcion: Malik Monk. He spent all summer and preseason talking about how he thought the Knicks were taking him and how he should be the featured player. He challenged Michael Jordan to a game of one-on-one. He just generally put on an air of cockiness. Now he’s averaging 13 points per-36 minutes on 30.6 percent shooting. Not good, my dude.

Gonzalez: [Opens wallet. Looks at Pennsylvania driver’s license with Philadelphia address]

Is this a trick question?

What was your favorite play of the week?

Concepcion: PELICANS ELEVATOR DOORRRRRRRSSSSSSSSS. WHAT?????????

O’Connor: Carmelo Anthony hitting a go-ahead 3 with 4.7 seconds remaining, then Andrew Wiggins going the length of the court and draining the winner.

Ryan: D’Angelo Russell out here nutmegging dudes like Neymar.

Gonzalez: RIP, Rudy

Verrier: I am pro-Lonzo, but the (presumably independent) decision that every NBA player should troll him whenever possible is the sort of Easter egg that will make most Lakers games must-sees, even when they’re getting blown out by 30 in January:

Uggetti: Few things are more humiliating in soccer than getting nutmegged. It’s not much different in basketball.

The way Russell’s hand guides the ball to the perfect spot is beautiful. More please.

If you were redrafting the 2017 draft, what would your top five be?

O’Connor: Putting aside team fit, my top-five rankings would see a little bit of a shake-up.

Rookie Rankings

Player Old Ranking New Ranking
Player Old Ranking New Ranking
Markelle Fultz 1 3
Jayson Tatum 2 1
Lonzo Ball 3 2
De'Aaron Fox 4 4
Jonathan Isaac 5 5
Josh Jackson 6 7
Dennis Smith 7 5

Fultz, Tatum, and Ball were my Tier 1 prospects in The Ringer’s 2017 NBA Draft Guide. So they all stay in the same tier, just with some slight shuffling. Smith gets bumped into the top five, but stays in the second tier. Hopefully Fultz doesn’t keep sliding.

Verrier: Ball, Fox, Fultz, Jackson, Smith Jr. Buried underneath all of the Carrie Mathison cork boards being constructed over Fultz’s injury (if we can call it that?) is the hard truth that both the Sixers and Celtics would be better off with Lonzo.

Gonzalez:

Ryan: Jordan Bell, Markkanen, Fox, Terrance Ferguson, and Malik Monk, for saying the NBA is boring.

Uggetti: Ball, Tatum, Fultz, Fox, Smith Jr. Philly’s regret is very real.

Concepcion:

1. Markelle Fultz
2. Markelle Fultz
3. Markelle Fultz
4. Markelle Fultz
5. Markelle Fultz.