While the 2019-20 NBA season is still young, it is clear that the parity in the league is going to be good this year. Twenty of the NBA’s 30 teams have records between 4-7 and 8-3, and no team has been absolutely dominant or completely inept so far in terms of net rating.
Even so, certain teams have had hot and cold stretches in the first few weeks of the season. Let’s check in with three teams playing well and three others struggling over the past seven days.
NBA Week 3 Improvers
Houston Rockets (9-3, No. 2 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 0-4)
Breaking: James Harden is very good. After a rough shooting start to the season, The Beard is now averaging 42 points per game over his last six contests. Not coincidentally, the Rockets are 6-0 in those games.
Maybe the next-biggest key factor in the Rockets’ success recently is their ability to defend the three-point line (and probably a bit of luck). Opponents are shooting just 52-of-201 (25.9 percent) from downtown in their six-game winning streak.
Houston is getting bitten with the injury bug, though, so we’ll see if Harden can keep up this high-volume, elite production with less help than normal and if the Rockets’ opponents will keep misfiring from three-point range.
Phoenix Suns (7-4, No. 5 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 2-1)
The Suns went 2-1 this week, which isn’t amazing on paper, but their loss was against the West’s No. 1 seed, the Los Angeles Lakers. Their two wins over the Hawks and Nets were by 16 and 26 points, respectively.
This inclusion is also more about the impressiveness of the Suns sustaining their success, rather than just one good week. Phoenix is getting career-best play from Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre and Aron Baynes, three veteran starters who have all been extremely key to the Suns’ success. As a matter of fact, pretty much everyone in the rotation has exceeded expectations.
I’m warming up more to the idea of the Suns as a playoff team. However, it will be a challenge to maintain good injury luck, especially since center DeAndre Ayton is out for about one more month. Phoenix is also utilizing a lot of great offensive sets to get good looks, but their talent level isn’t as high as a lot of other teams. We will see if opposing defenses find a way to adjust.
Memphis Grizzlies (5-7, No. 9 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 3-1)
The Grizzlies started the week with a 16-point home loss against the Dallas Mavericks. But they followed up that performance with three close wins in a row, two of which came on the road. That’s a huge step for one of the NBA’s youngest teams that features many first- and second-year players in the rotation, including young cornerstones Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson and Brandon Clarke.
Memphis still ranks among the NBA’s lowest teams in net rating. However, they made a slight move upward last season and the ability to win in crunch time is a big development for such a young team. The Grizzlies are also playing well as a team, passing for at least 31 assists in four of their last six games.
NBA Week 3 Disappointments
San Antonio Spurs (5-7, No. 10 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 0-4)
The Spurs are the perfect example of what we are looking for in the fallers section of this weekly article. San Antonio entered the week 5-3 with some flaws, but with reasons for optimism.
Now, though, after four consecutive losses in the past week and a league-worst 121.4 points per 100 possessions allowed in that stretch, the Spurs are on life support. Supposed stars DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge continue to forsake the three-point line, and both guys have put forth very little defensive effort. Head coach Gregg Popovich is also playing Bryn Forbes, Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli big minutes. All four are undersized perimeter players who have always been ineffective defensive players.
The Spurs have been loyal to veteran players in the past, sometimes to a fault, but it might be time to change the rotation or make a trade or two to let their young players explore their potential.
Brooklyn Nets (4-7, No. 11 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 0-3)
The Nets rank last in the NBA in net rating over the last week. Granted, they played three road games against some of the league’s hottest teams (Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets), but it is still concerning, especially since they had double-digit leads to start the second half against both the Jazz and Nuggets.
Brooklyn is very dependent on superstar point guard Kyrie Irving’s offense, but he has averaged only 19.7 points per game in his last three contests on a true-shooting percentage of 43.3. The Nets just don’t have enough dependable sources of offense without him, and their defensive versatility is also lacking.
Unfortunately for the Nets, third-leading scorer Caris LeVert is now out four to six weeks with a thumb injury.
Detroit Pistons (4-9, No. 13 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 0-3)
On a positive note, star forward Blake Griffin is back from a knee injury. On a negative note, though, Griffin is still finding his rhythm again and the Pistons continue to rack up the losses as he does so.
The Pistons just can’t shake their turnover issues. Detroit is among the NBA’s leaders in turnovers per game (16.9) despite playing one of the league’s slower paces. That is hurting a defensive team that has a strong rim protector in Andre Drummond but just doesn’t have the athletes to get back in transition when they commit a turnover. On the other side, Detroit also doesn’t have great athletes to push the ball and score in transition.
Detroit’s roster is, unfortunately, more built to win now than later, with how many veterans are on the roster making a sizable amount of money. The Pistons are a team that will likely make one or more trades throughout the rest of the season.