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Saturday, January 22, 2022

The good (and bad) of the NBA thus far

An early season check-up on the NBA’s best and worst teams so far

By GABRIEL CARABALLO — sports@theaggie.org

 

The 2021-2022 NBA season tipped off over a month ago and for many of the teams around the league, the start of their season couldn’t have been better — or worse. Like every NBA season, no one knows what’ll happen and this year has seen an immense change in the balance of power among the teams in the league.

Starting with some of the best teams this early in the season — the Golden State Warriors, Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards — have all had their fair share of early success amid new changes. Three teams that did not make the playoffs a year prior, take up three out of five spots in the leagues’ standings. While other teams like the Boston Celtics and the Atlanta Hawks, who previously held playoff spots, struggle to start the season.

The Warriors, who have missed the playoffs these past two seasons, have catapulted themselves to the number one team in the league record-wise. This offseason, the Warriors made free agent signings to their rotation with Otto Porter Jr., Nemanja Bjelica, Gary Payton II and returning 2015 Finals MVP Andre Iguodala. Payton II and Andre Iguodala add pressure to other teams due to their high level defense. Payton IIII is averaging 1.4 steals and is constantly in the faces of opposing guards like a fly on manure, while Iguodala holds it down on the block with 3.5 rebounds and stingy defense in only 20 minutes a night.

These two signings undoubtedly helped the Warriors obtain the best defense in the league with a rating of 98.9 — also a defense anchored by one of the best defensive players in recent NBA history, Draymond Green. Otto Porter Jr. and Nemanja Bjelica add bigger bodies on offense and defense. Both of them average over six points a game accompanied by four rebounds but are key contributors off the ball as well. Jordan Poole, their current starting shooting guard, has reached new levels as a player and is an early candidate for Sixth Man of the Year. With a current record of 12-2, their players continue to play the Warriors’ beautiful brand of selfless basketball. Not to mention, this record was achieved without their all-star guard, Klay Thompson. Who has recently been cleared for full practice and could return sometime around Christmas.

Another team that has surprisingly launched themselves into a top spot are the Chicago Bulls. This team had arguably the best off-season signings around the league. First trading for two former all-stars in Demar DeRozan from the San Antonio Spurs this offseason and Nikola Vucevic from the Orlando Magic during last season’s trade deadline. Then, the Bulls signed guards Lonzo Ball from the New Orleans Pelicans and Alex Caruso from the Los Angeles Lakers. All four of these players, alongside all-star Zach Lavine, have contributed to both their offensive and defensive production. The Bulls are top 10 in both offensive and defensive ratings, with an offensive rating of 109 and a defensive rating of 103.7. Their overall record reflects these achievements by being 10-5 as the fifth best team in the league.

However the most unexpected team, the Washington Wizards, take up the third spot in the leagues’ standings. Their off-season additions included guard Spencer Dinwiddie from the Brooklyn Nets, Kyle Kuzma and former sixth man of the year Montrezl Harrell from the Lakers, whom they acquired in a trade that sent Russell Westbrook to Los Angeles. Dinwiddie and Kuzma add much needed offensive production as both players average double digit points, Kuzma is the rebounding leader on the team with 8.8 and Dinwiddie leads the team in assists with 5.7. Harrell puts up 17.8 points off the bench and anchors the defense with a block a game accompanied by 8.5 rebounds as well as much needed energy. The Wizards are fourth in defensive ratings, with a rating of 102.8, and are already basking in the rewards of their off-season grind and steadily coming back to relevancy after a rough couple of seasons.

Some teams that were relevant last year are not so relevant this season. The historic Boston Celtics are unfortunately one of those teams. This off-season only saw one notable signing, which was point guard Dennis Schrӧder. This one signing has not had that much of an impact on the team’s chemistry. With an offensive rating of 104.6, leaving the Celtics 23 in offensive ratings, there’s something missing from the offense that was there in previous years. With a record of 10-8 to start the season some questions have arised. Can Jayson Tatum and Jalen Brown’s similar style of play co-exist on the same team? Did the Celtics waste their off-season by not signing another notable player? Only time will tell whether or not they can regain some lost chemistry and make it into this year’s playoffs, but with the East stronger than other years it will be tough.

Lastly, a team that went to the Eastern Conference Finals in last year’s playoffs, the Atlanta Hawks, are one of the league’s best up and coming teams. Led by their star point guard Trae Young, they have started the season in an underwhelming fashion. Even though multiple players on their team average double digit points and hold the fifth spot in offensive rating with 110.2, their defense is abysmal, with a meager rating of 110.9, landing them 28th in defense. In the NBA, like in most sports, defense wins games. The Hawks, sticking with the core that brought them to the Eastern Conference Finals last year, didn’t see any notable player additions during the off-season. This could contribute to the team lacking in defensive production. Can the Hawks gain some momentum, hopefully earning them a playoff spot in the end? Their defense will be a key contributor if that is the case, so it remains to be seen.

A quick update on the favorites to win this year’s NBA title: according to Vegas Insider, the Brooklyn Nets have the best odds at +260. Even the NBA has them tied for first with 3/1 odds. Both Vegas and the NBA have the Warriors and the Bucks top five in odds. The Warriors being second in Vegas with +600 and fourth in the NBA’s odds with 10/1. The Bucks are third in odds reported by both the NBA and Vegas. These three teams are most likely going to compete for this year’s title, in a playoff spectacle like never before.

The 2021-2022 NBA season has given us a shift in the balance of power like no other. With teams like the Warriors, Bulls and Wizards, who previously missed the playoffs in back to back years, are making names for themselves early in the season. While playoff teams like the Celtics and Hawks experience struggles that could affect the direction of their teams drastically throughout the season. This just goes to show how dynamic the game of basketball truly is.

 

Written by: Gabriel Caraballo — sports@theaggie.org

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