With just over two weeks of NBA play over in the 2018-19 season, we are still at a point where teams are finding their identities. Even so, we can start to see where squads are trending.
Most teams have performed somewhat within the realm of reasonable expectations for them. A few teams in the past week have drastically changed their trajectory compared to their first few games of the season, though. As we do every week, let’s highlight a few of the biggest positive changes and a few of the biggest negative changes.
NBA Week 2 Risers
Sacramento Kings (6-3, No. 6 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 4-0)
If you asked 10 random NBA fans to name the Western Conference’s worst team heading into this season, all 10 would probably name the Sacramento Kings. They have a young, inexperienced roster with no star and some positional logjams. It was hard to see how they would be good.
But Sacramento is playing really tough by utilizing an insanely fast pace of play and causing a ton of turnovers to utilize its youth and athleticism. No player is averaging 20 points per game on the roster, but Buddy Hield, De’Aaron Fox, Willie Cauley-Stein and Nemanja Bjelica are all putting up at least 15.6 points per game with a 57.3 true shooting percentage.
It’s highly doubtful that Sacramento’s success shooting the ball so accurately from behind the three-point line and in the midrange will sustain. The Kings have also played a pretty easy schedule. However, they might not be as bad as we all thought.
Memphis Grizzlies (5-2, No. 5 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 3-0)
The Grizzlies are using a very different winning formula than the Kings. Memphis is a team heavy on veterans and the squad is playing at a very slow pace (at least relative to the rest of the NBA). The team is using its know-how to avoid turnovers, play sound defense and not foul too much.
Memphis has a balanced attack led by the timeless duo of Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. However, veterans Garrett Temple and Shelvin Mack, along with rookie big man Jaren Jackson Jr., are playing big roles with efficient contributions to support their stars.
Not only did the Grizzlies go 3-0 last week, but all three victories came by at least 10 points. One of those was a road victory over the Utah Jazz, the team’s second such victory this season. Memphis is already almost one-quarter of the way to last year’s win total for the entire season (22).
Portland Trail Blazers (6-2, No. 3 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 3-1)
The Blazers’ 6-2 record is really good. What I’m more impressed by is their number of quality victories. They have already beaten five teams expected to be above-average squads this year (Lakers, Spurs, Pacers, Rockets, Pelicans). They aren’t just eking out victories over them, either, since all five of those victories have come by at least nine points.
Portland continues to get steady improvement from superstar point guard Damian Lillard. Lillard is averaging an efficient 29.1 points per game and bends the opposing defense with his versatile offensive skill set. Starting center Jusuf Nurkic has improved his offensive efficiency, and two bench players seen as somewhat lost causes (Zach Collins and Nik Stauskas) have been major sparks.
The Trail Blazers’ roster in the main rotation hasn’t changed much since last year. It could be continuity that is one of the biggest reasons for the team’s success thus far.
NBA Week 2 Fallers
Washington Wizards (1-7, No. 15 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 0-4)
The wheels have fallen off in the nation’s capital. The Wizards may have one of the league’s best perimeter combinations on paper in John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter, but they haven’t defended or rebounded well in this early season. Even their one win against the Trail Blazers came in overtime by just one point.
Free agent acquisition Dwight Howard was supposed to make an impact, but the first game of his return on Friday against the Thunder was not encouraging. Howard had an efficient 20 points in 23 minutes, but he had only three rebounds and the Wizards allowed 134 points.
The lack of chemistry is just so obvious with the Wizards. Don’t be surprised if the franchise starts calling teams around the league about potential trades in the coming days and weeks.
New Orleans Pelicans (4-4, No. 9 in the Western Conference Past week record: 1-4)
This placement may be a little bit harsh for the Pelicans. Even though they are on a four-game losing streak, the games came in a tight six-game window with many quality opponents. Also superstar Anthony Davis didn’t play in three of those games with an elbow injury.
Even so, it’s still a bit concerning for the Pelicans that Davis is already missing time. He has had a lot of bumps and bruises throughout his career and New Orleans has always struggled to play without him.
New Orleans’ defense has slipped big time in its last four games. Opponents have averaged 14.8 made threes and 30.3 free-throw attempts per game in that stretch. Do the Pelicans have enough solid defenders on the roster outside of Davis and Jrue Holiday?
Atlanta Hawks (2-6, No. 12 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 0-4)
The Hawks’ 2-2 start inspired some hope that they could be at least somewhat competitive this season. Now, they are 2-6 with the NBA’s fourth-worst point differential despite playing one of the easiest schedules in the league.
Rookie point guard Trae Young is learning that it’s not easy to stay consistent in the NBA. Young has had two excellent games where he averaged 29.5 points, 7.5 assists and just 2 turnovers per game on a shooting slash of 61.1/50/75. In his other six contests, though, he has put up just 14.8 points, 6.8 assists and 4.2 turnovers per game on a shooting slash of 35.4/23.3/75. He is still learning and could become an excellent player down the line, but the Hawks can’t expect to win a lot of games this season with him leading the charge.
In many ways, Young has personified Atlanta’s playing style early this season. The Hawks are trigger-happy from three-point range, they love to play at an insanely fast pace and they turn the ball over quite a bit. Many players are also lacking either the size, athleticism or experience to defend well at this stage in their careers.