The Cleveland Cavaliers are 3-5, including a current four-game losing streak. The Golden State Warriors have already lost two games at home. The Orlando Magic are 6-2, and the front-runners of the ‘way-too-early’ MVP race are Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kristaps Porzingis.
The NBA’s upside-down start is decent tinder for discussion, but not enough to cause any worry, or should it?
LET’S START IN CLEVELAND
LeBron James is the hottest Facebook topic in sports the past decade. He’s the ultimate debate – best player ever, overrated, polarizing – the list goes on. One thing about James is certain; he is the greatest collaborator of all time.
What most consider a weakness is his best strength. The ability to bring people together, in any field of work, is an asset – LeBron James does that like no one ever has. In the latter years of Kobe Bryant’s career the killer instinct that made him so great, made him hard to play with. Bryant was having a hard time luring free agents to Los Angeles, while LeBron is still luring marquee players to Cleveland, Ohio well into his 30s.
Every new mix of ingredients takes time. Ask any chef, the perfect mix needs multiple taste tests before being served. Although most of the Cavaliers roster is still intact, many forget that Kyrie Irving was a crucial part to the Cavs success. So, while many harp on new players like Jeff Green and Dwayne Wade, let’s not forget what Cleveland lost, too.
When Isaiah Thomas begins to play after coming back from injury, LeBron and company will need time again. But this Cleveland team will still win around 50 games, including a couple winning streaks, maybe even a double-digit winning streak to get those W-L numbers to an ‘acceptable’ record.
Nevertheless, there’s no debating LeBron is coasting until playoff time. If it wasn’t for Russell Westbrook’s insane season, James would have won another MVP trophy last year. He led the league in minutes played at 32 years old, his 14th season in the league.
Moral of the story: Cleveland’s 3-5 start means nothing.
WHAT TO TAKE SERIOUSLY, WHAT NOT TO
The same angle applies to the Warriors, and the reverse angle applies to the Magic. Golden State will probably win closer to 55 games this year, while the Magic are showing promise to make the playoffs in a top-heavy eastern conference – but that’s all they’ll do, make the playoffs.
Can’t discredit a good start. Aaron Gordon is playing well and Evan Fournier is averaging 22 points per game. But frankly, if Evan Fournier is your best player how good can you be? Sounds harsh, and I’m not saying Fournier can’t be the guy, but in the 2017-18 season his eight-game sample size puts him in the early running for Most Improved Player of the Year – nothing more.
Speaking of most improved, Antetokounmpo could be the first player to win MVP after winning Most Improved the year prior. His most impressive stat isn’t the points per game marker, it’s his field goal percentage – 60 percent.
Besides his numbers, what’s even more impressive is his style of play. Most insane athletes with the build like Giannis depend on their leaping ability, length and size. Despite being a primary perimeter player, his footwork around the basket is supreme.
His superhero body and ability combined with his mere mortal approach to attack the basket with ball fakes and pivots makes him deadly, and it’s backed up by his 60 percent shooting mark. Teams know he is probing to attack the rim from 12 feet and in – they still can’t stop him.
The ‘Greek Freak’ a MVP candidate – yes. Giannis will finish in the top five in MVP voting this year, without fail. Possibly top three.
He has a meek New York Knicks team hovering around .500, which is more than respectable. I’ll be short about Kristaps, and say only this.
Like Giannis, Porzingis is long and athletic, but with a much better jump shot (obviously). These two are setting the mold for what teams need to defend come playoff time. When Shaquille O’Neal was dominating, western conference teams were ‘bulking’ up their rosters to deal with him. Right now, east coast teams know they need a position and/or player-type to counteract LeBron. The west is riddled with point guards, why, because without a premier point guard to deflect the opponent’s point man, you’re toast.
Yes, LeBron is still king – but when he begins to dwindle – the east will begin to draft and put teams together that are prepared to take on players like Giannis and Porzingis. Because with the right front office, these are the players that will hold the gateway to the Easter Conference Finals and beyond.
Maybe, the upside-down start is a sign of what’s to come.
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Author: Tarek Fattal
Tarek Fattal has covered sports since 2015 for the Southern California News Group, which includes the Los Angeles Daily News. He directs the content for SoCal Prep Legends, which highlights the best of high school sports in Southern California. In addition to typical game coverage, Tarek creates multimedia features on sports figures and topics.