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Four Potential Overreactions to the First Real Night of NBA Action

Luka is a king, Karl-Anthony Towns is a Curry, Markelle Fultz is back, and Mike Conley is washed. Which of these are just small-sample-size flukes, and which will stick throughout the 2019-20 season?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

For those of us prone to jumping to conclusions, the NBA season opener is fertile ground. Who’s to say that Marcus Morris won’t be the most prolific scorer the Knicks have seen since 2013-14 Melo? Morris dropped a game-high 26 points on Wednesday against the Spurs, more points than any Knick has averaged in six years.

Meanwhile, in Charlotte, not even 48 minutes had to pass for the Bulls fans to lose faith in their newish backcourt. By the half, Tomas Satoransky and Zach LaVine had scored two points. Together. As a unit. And in Miami, the Rookie of the Year race was decided with a single crossover from Tyler Herro:

Some would call these conclusions overreactions. Let the naysayers cry “small sample size.” But while much of what we saw on opening night will eventually be revealed as just a fluke, just as much could be the first signs of what’s in store for this season. Soon we’ll know which is which. Until then, here are four of the most dramatic player “overreactions” from the opening slate:

Luka Doncic Is a King*: Not an Overreaction!

If I was lost on a hike in the mountains and could call any NBA player to walk me through it, I’d be phoning Doncic. The Mavs sophomore is 20 going on 34, showing poise beyond his years and an elite sense of direction on the court. He isn’t just aware of his surroundings, he absorbs them, contouring his body to change how players move around him. These are not new revelations. Doncic’s calm demeanor and top-tier decision-making were why he dazzled as a rookie. Wednesday’s battle against Bradley Beal, though, served as a fun reminder.

Doncic blitzed 34 points in 34 minutes against the Wizards, flustering Beal so badly that the 26-year-old was ejected from the game after back-to-back technical foul calls for trash-talking late in the fourth quarter. Doncic, meanwhile, was unbothered, deceiving then dancing around defenders in isolation plays and making the perimeter his with a game-high four 3s.

*Doncic is not literally a King, or he’d be in Sacramento. It’s a sensitive topic for Kings fans.

Mike Conley’s Trade Was a Mistake: an Overreaction!

Conley could’ve stepped off the floor after his Utah debut, walked into the locker room, and whipped off his mask to reveal he was Ricky Rubio all along, and no one would have been surprised. It’s discouraging for the Jazz that their new point guard, who was supposed to replace the nonshooting Rubio, began his tenure with this stat line: 1-for-16 from the field, 0-for-6 from deep, five points, five assists, five fouls, two turnovers.

After the game, Conley said, “I was a little bit confused. … It was just in-and-out, in-and-out.” Being confused when your shot doesn’t go in is a reaction that only a quality shooter would have. Conley is not Rubio 2.0; Emmanuel Mudiay is not the better option; Donovan Mitchell won’t have to go it alone again. Despite the horrendous line, Conley posted a plus-1 in a tight game—the new-look Jazz won 100-95 over the new-look Thunder—because of his contributions elsewhere.

“Might have been too excited for the first game,” Conley said. “But if I’m a betting man, I probably won’t do that again.” It’s illegal for Conley to be a man who bets on his own stat line; however, I’m on his side with this one. Hopefully his excitement manifests into some buckets over the next 81 games.

Markelle Fultz Is Back: Not an Overreaction!

The Magic’s season opener against the Cavaliers was the first game Fultz has played in 11 months, and the 34th game of his career. His game log since being drafted first overall by Philadelphia in 2017 is a fairly clean slate of inactives and DNPs because of a longstanding mysterious shoulder injury. The bar for his return—for him being “back”—is low because there hasn’t been a moment Fultz ever seemed fully “here.” A handful of Cavs defenders now argue otherwise:

Fultz finished the 94-85 win with 12 points, six assists, two steals, and three turnovers in 23 minutes, and showed many times that he could run the floor. The performance might’ve birthed the most Fultz highlights from a single regular-season game ever, though again, it’s a low bar. Agility hasn’t been the concern with Fultz through the years, though; the concern’s been his ability to hoist the ball over his head, and there is still plenty to work on. He didn’t make a deep shot, going 0-for-3 there and 6-for-12 from the field overall. But seeing aggression replace his former hesitancy is a good indication that Fultz has turned a corner, and Orlando, the home of the washed-up point guard, is the perfect place for him to patiently bloom.

Karl-Anthony Towns Is a Curry: Slight Overreaction!

… but only because he’s got a far bigger build. KAT hit seven 3s against the Nets on Wednesday, notching 36 points and 14 rebounds to lead the heavy underdog Wolves past the Nets, 127-126, in a game where Kyrie Irving dropped 50 points. Towns’s sharpshooting has been one of the only steady things Minnesota has had the past couple of years, and that’s not just for lack of having anything else going for them on the perimeter, either.

Seven 3s is a career high, but it’s not a total surprise. Towns has been the Wolves’ surest shot behind the arc for some time now. In 2017-18, Towns topped everyone by hitting 3s at 42.1 percent, shooting better than all Wolves wings, and shooting more frequently than the team’s designated stretch 4, Nemanja Bjelica. Last season, which was unique, because the team had finally acquired outside shooters like Robert Covington and Dario Saric, KAT still made a team-best 40 percent of his 4.6 tries per game (of anyone who played at least 300 minutes). His steady hand doesn’t get enough recognition, but maybe this is the season that will change. Who needs a wing—or a Wiggins—anyway?