With the NBA roughly two weeks into the new season, it’s just enough of a sample size to start making some observations about the play we’re seeing so far. However, 6 or 7 games for each team is also enough to warrant a disclaimer that all the statistics I cite in this article are from a very small sample size and can change quickly. With that said, we can only go off the information we have, and here are a few things I’ve noticed so far this season:
Denver’s Struggles Defensively
Denver “arrived” in the minds of many fans last year, finally making a deep enough playoff push to warrant respect beyond the regular season from many in the NBA community. However, they’ve struggled out of the gate, particularly defensively.
The Nuggets are currently dead last in defensive rating at 116.2, just below the Warriors, Timberwolves, and Bulls. Yikes. Denver’s defense wasn’t great last year, and losing Jerami Grant, Mason Plumlee, and Torrey Craig only made those problems worse. The void is filled by Michael Porter Jr., Fernando Campazzo, and no true rim protector behind Nikola Jokic (who isn’t much of a defensive force to begin with), so it’s easy to see why Denver might not be powerhouse on that end of the court.
This clip at the end of the half against Sacramento is a microcosm of Denver’s issues so far this year. Marvin Bagley comes up for what looks like a screen for De’Aaron Fox, but really just clears out to the wing. Gary Harris, presumably thinking his man is setting a screen, either attempts to “blitz” the screen or switch. Regardless, Monte Morris stays with Fox, as there’s no reason to leave him.
This leaves Bagley unguarded for a moment, and Morris shifts into no man’s land. Michael Porter Jr. (kind of) decides to pick up Bagley, opting to leave Harrison Barnes wide open in the corner. Barnes makes the shot, and the Nuggets are all left staring at each other wondering what just happened.
It’s hard to believe Denver’s defense can become truly good with this roster. With that said, there is some reason to believe it can improve.
According to Cleaning the Glass, the Nuggets are currently 28th in effective field goal percentage (eFG%) allowed. However, their expected eFG% (based on shot location) allowed ranks 2nd. Opponents are shooting almost 50% on corner threes against them, and 42.3% on all threes. Denver’s defense may not be all that great, but they’ve also appeared to run into some hot shooting that should regress over time.
Atlanta Looks Legitimate
The Hawks were supposed to take a step forward with a much-improved roster, and they have. Offensively, they have been a juggernaut thus far, with an offensive rating of 118.2, good for 2nd in the league behind the Clippers.
Moreover, as we see in the playoffs, the game slows down and the ability to execute in the half-court becomes crucial. This is where Atlanta has thrived. Through 6 games, they are leading the NBA in points per 100 half-court possessions, and are almost two full points ahead of the Lakers, who are in second.
One more stat: The Four Factors of Basketball Success, created by Dean Oliver, includes shooting (eFG%), turnovers (TOV%), Rebounding (Rebound %), and free throws (FT rate). Per Cleaning the Glass, Atlanta ranks in the top 6 in three of those four categories.
Trae Young is now surrounded by more talent offensively. De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish appear to have taken big steps forward. There are still concerns with turnovers and their defense, but Atlanta’s offense looks to be one of the league’s best.
Get ready for more blowouts
If you’ve been watching the NBA this year and thought that there’s been more blowouts than usual, you’d be right. The Nets beat the Warriors by 26 opening night. The Hawks at one point lead the Bulls by 40. The Mavericks were leading the Clippers by 50. At halftime. I can keep going.
This chart, courtesy of The Athletic’s Seth Partnow, highlights the increase in the amount of time a team has had a big lead during a game:
The eye test matches up with the numbers. We’re seeing more blowouts. The question is why?
Many have assumed that the lack of a crowd to help support a team that’s down makes it more likely the losing team doesn’t close the gap. Another theory is a decreased amount of travel, however, if that were true, I don’t think we’d see the impact of that this early.
Whatever the reason may be, I’m inclined to believe we will see more of it. It’s something the NBA should keep an eye on, as this could absolutely affect ratings in the future if many fans believe games will just be a blowout anyways.
With all of that said, please remember these are very small sample sizes. But it’s still fun to react to them anyways.