Two weeks into the NBA season, things aren’t going exactly as expected: Houston and Oklahoma City have worse records than every Western Conference team except Phoenix. Klay Thompson is shooting 13.9 percent from the 3-point line. Brandon Ingram is the league enforcer. But not all aberrations are that bad, sad, and hilarious (respectively). Here are the league’s unexpected starts, a WTF viewing guide:
Steph Curry Is Shooting Lights-Out, Even for Him
Curry rewrote the rules of shot selection so long ago that his escapades from the 3-point line have been normalized. Where other talented shooters are often described with flat phrases like “proficient off the dribble” and “lethal in catch-and-shoot situations,” Curry makes the same preposterous shots so regularly that he’s created a vocabulary all his own. For example, there’s “pulling up between two defenders while falling to the floor,” which happens at least every other game:
Nobody has ever made 5 or more threes in 7 games in a row... until Steph. pic.twitter.com/ehet7ZmRfE— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) October 28, 2018
He has residency at the perimeter like Mariah Carey has residency in Vegas. It’s familiar. But it’s never been this familiar. Curry has made five or more 3s in each of Golden State’s seven games this season, which has never happened in the NBA. He’s averaging the most attempts (12.7 per game) in the league, but is also making an incredible 51.7 percent of them. The only player who compares to that efficiency on a similar amount of volume is Khris Middleton (an honorary WTF Watch member), who’s shooting 57.1 percent on seven 3-point attempts per game.
The Sacramento Kings Look Like an NBA Team
Ruling a rookie out after one season is unfair. Last season, De’Aaron Fox was inconsistent (strike one, but normal for a first-year player) as he dealt with an ever-rotating starting lineup (strike two) and was overshadowed by Ben Simmons, Jayson Tatum, and Donovan Mitchell (strike three, though I could’ve started with this one and it would’ve been enough).
But the second-year bounceback has treated Fox, and Sacramento, well. At 3–3, the Kings have a better record than the Rockets, Lakers, Wolves, and Thunder. Fox has been called the team’s “leader” by teammates and “our franchise guy” by coach Dave Joerger. (Many thought that title moved on to second overall pick Marvin Bagley III, who is having first-year problems of his own with fit.)
In two of the Kings’ wins, Fox matched up against Russell Westbrook and John Wall, guys who exemplify the type of style Fox may one day grow into. Sacramento is playing faster than all but two teams in the NBA, and Fox thrives when moving at a lightning-fast pace. There are still lineup questions, but Fox has found ideal complements (or as ideal as Sacramento can provide) in Buddy Hield and Nemanja Bjelica, whose 3-point skills give Fox freedom in the paint.
The half-empty glass says that the Kings still won’t come within a mile of the playoff bubble. The half-full glass says that despite that, Sacramento appears to have an actual cohesive lineup. Either way, the glass doesn’t have to be filled with straight liquor anymore. If only for October, Sac’s record is better than LeBron’s!
Caris LeVert Is the Guy
The only people who found excitement in the Nets before the season are the select few suckers for Kenny Atkinson’s pace-and-space style and those who believe that D’Angelo Russell will be a Most Improved Player candidate. The truly edgy among them argued that, actually, Spencer Dinwiddie was coming for Russell’s spot as the face of the franchise. And about six degrees removed from that, the fans so up to their waists in offbeat opinions that they belong on Takehunter predicted that Caris LeVert would be the star six games in. LeVert started in only 10 games in 2017–18 — he wasn’t supposed to be the story of Brooklyn’s season. Atkinson said otherwise for a month. “[LeVert’s] been fantastic, quite honestly,” the Nets coach said during training camp. “I’m going to call it like it is.”
Atkinson knows fringe players. He coaches a top-to-bottom roster of them. LeVert is now the Nets’ first option, leading them in points (21.3 per game), shots (15.5), trips to the line (4.5), and minutes (31.2). He is The Guy, perhaps the most unlikely Guy in the league until you see him repeatedly carve up a defense on his way to the basket. LeVert’s been the most impressive ball handler on the Nets this season, a skill escalated by his basketball IQ. If he keeps this up, maybe it’s not so out there to think Brooklyn could have the MIP.
Nerlens Noel Exists and Is Good, Remember?
The work Noel is putting in for Oklahoma City is overshadowed by the team’s lack of success as a whole. Noel entered the starting lineup for their first win on Sunday against the Suns because Steven Adams’s calf was tight before the game. It was his first start since last November and his most notable since 2016: 20 points, 15 rebounds, two assists, four steals, and a block.
Not much has broken right for Noel in the last couple seasons. OKC can relate. Adams is a staple in the starting lineup, but Noel has performed as one of the better backups in the league this season, earning his keep in rim running and defense. In the four games leading up to his start against Phoenix, Noel averaged 6.3 points (shooting 78.6 percent) and 5.3 rebounds in under 14 minutes per game. As Billy Donovan leans toward hyperathletic lineups — Jerami Grant has started at the 4 in OKC’s last two games — Noel will see his role only grow. In five games (and a couple in the preseason before that), he’s returned to relevancy. He also, hilariously, currently has the most win shares of any Thunder player.
Rudy Gobert Is Kicking Ass … on Offense
You’d think there has to be a caveat to Gobert’s offensive success. On Saturday against the Pelicans, for example, when he scored 25 points on 84.6 percent shooting, there was no Anthony Davis in the lineup to stave him off. But the night after, Gobert scored 23 points against two-time All-Defensive Team member DeAndre Jordan.
Last season, Quin Snyder waived his magic offensive wand over Ricky Rubio, who forced defenders to take his shot seriously for the first time in his career. The sample size is small, but Gobert is the player on the receiving end of that magic this season. He’s averaging 17.7 points per game, but more important than that is his 75 field goal percentage, which has risen even as his shot attempts have gone up. No one has ever shot that well through an entire NBA season, and Gobert won’t, either. (If he does, put a statue of Snyder outside every basketball gym in the state.) But Gobert does have a chance of sustaining the bump, simply because he’s almost exclusively leaning into the most accurate shot in basketball: the dunk.