The NBA’s first few weeks have been marked by lots of three-pointers, very fast-paced games and offenses generally having their way with defenses. That could be a good or bad thing, depending on your preferences.
One clearly positive thing from the early season is the competitive balance in the league. Seventeen of the 30 teams have a record between 7-4 and 4-6, which shows that squads are generally pretty evenly-matched.
Even so, certain teams made major moves either up or down in the standings last week. So let’s continue the weekly tradition of discussing our NBA news of the biggest risers and fallers of the last week.
Week 3 NBA Risers
Toronto Raptors (11-1, No. 1 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 3-0)
Meet the favorite with the US-legal betting companies to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals this season. The Raptors are an extremely well-rounded team with star power (Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry) and elite depth to support it. The squad is even 3-1 with Leonard resting on the sidelines, with all three of those wins coming on the road against teams expected to make the playoffs this season (Jazz, Lakers and Wizards).
There are a lot of great things to say about Toronto. Let’s focus specifically on the play of Lowry and two of the team’s big men, Serge Ibaka and Pascal Siakam.
Lowry is averaging an NBA-leading 11.3 assists per game despite a previous career high of 7.4. In his last three games, Ibaka is putting up 21.7 points and 9.7 rebounds in just 23.7 minutes per game with a shooting slash of 82.8/80/100. Siakam continues to progress as a supercharged role player who struggles with three-point shooting but contributes positively in essentially every other area.
Oklahoma City Thunder (7-4, No. 4 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 3-0)
The Thunder were 0-4 two weeks ago and appeared as an easy choice on the “fallers” portion of this article. The defense was inconsistent and the team was still finding consistency on offense.
Now, though, the Thunder are on a roll. No defense has allowed fewer points per 100 possessions in its last seven games than OKC’s stopping unit. In many ways, the team’s playing style contrasts with the way the NBA is heading. They play very hard and aggressive on defense while relying a lot on their offensive rebounding. They run a lot in transition, but they are a poor shooting team. Their three-point percentage of 29 ranks last in the NBA.
Oklahoma City has a very high ceiling once defensive stalwart Andre Roberson returns from his knee injury. His return could be as early as about four weeks from now.
Brooklyn Nets (6-6, No. 3 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 3-0)
You really can’t say enough positive things about how the Nets have made the best of a bad situation. Their ill-fated trade from 2013 cost them countless first-round draft picks, which forced the front office to get very creative in building its roster.
In the past few years, Brooklyn’s roster has suffered from having a bunch of average players and no good or great ones. The team may be solving that problem now, though.
Third-year wing Caris LeVert is breaking out to the tune of 20.3 points per game and has made two game-winning shots this year. D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie are above-average rotation guards. Joe Harris is one of the best three-point shooters in the game and Jarrett Allen is a long, intimidating presence around the basket.
Brooklyn’s roster isn’t good enough to make any significant postseason noise. However, the team is well-coached and balanced, so don’t be surprised if it grabs one of the East’s eight playoff spots this year.
Week 3 NBA Fallers
Minnesota Timberwolves (4-9, No. 13 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 0-4)
To be fair, the Timberwolves’ schedule has done them no favors. Minnesota has played eight of its 13 games on the road and hasn’t played any team with a record worse than 5-6 since the third game of the season.
A 0-8 road record and a minus-7.2 point differential (tied for fifth-worst in the NBA) are not good signs. The chemistry issues with this team have been very evident in their current five-game losing streak.
The Wolves have some good talents on the roster, but they don’t play together well. Star wing Jimmy Butler is still requesting a trade, young big man Karl-Anthony Towns hasn’t progressed in his development and 23-year-old Andrew Wiggins continues to underwhelm with his ongoing stagnation as a player.
It’s a shame that the team is dealing with so much turmoil, because former MVP Derrick Rose is finally starting to play like a legitimately good player again after several bad years. Right now, though, his efforts are being wasted.
Boston Celtics (7-5, No. 5 in the Eastern Conference Past week record: 1-3)
Remember, this article takes into account expectations for these teams. Boston is still 7-5, but it would’ve gone 0-4 last week if it weren’t for a massive second-half comeback and overtime win against the Phoenix Suns. The Suns are the worst team in the NBA right now.
The Celtics’ offense just isn’t clicking together. In my opinion, they have the most talented roster in the NBA outside of the Warriors, but it hasn’t worked yet. Boston is collapsing defenses and getting open shots, but not enough of them are going in. Also, the Celtics seem allergic to attacking the paint and are not getting enough offense at the rim or from free throws.
The shooting woes should eventually regress to the mean in a good way for Boston. However, the team (and head coach Brad Stevens) need to do a better job of making the team’s attack less reliant on outside shots. The Celtics certainly have the personnel to score well around the rim.
Cleveland Cavaliers (1-10, No. 15 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 0-3)
I don’t think anyone expected the Cavaliers to be this bad. Sure, Kevin Love’s injury and several other injuries take away some punch, but other teams are just plowing right through Cleveland. The Cavs have lost their last four games by a combined 62 points.
There isn’t really anything that the Cavs are doing well. They are one of the league’s best offensive rebounding teams, but they are inept enough on offense that they usually miss their opportunities to get second-chance points anyway.
Chemistry issues may also be plaguing the Cavs. This week, veterans on the team called out 19-year-old rookie point guard Collin Sexton for “not knowing how to play.” Sexton is obviously a raw prospect, but the Cavaliers are focused on the future. Even though he’ll take his lumps, there’s potential there that the team needs to explore.