The NBA season resumed on July 30th. Restarting after a four-month long hiatus, there was uncertainty, uncertainty over fitness, uncertainty over the protocols in place and uncertainty over the standard of basketball we would see.
It has, thus far, been phenomenal. Games have been high standard. They have been intense, many have gone down to the final minutes.
The NBA’s ambitious Orlando has been a success to date.
Here are five things we have learned from the first few days of competitive basketball…
Embiid is ready
Few players face the same critique of their condition as Joel Embiid. A calf issue in the lead up to the first game, causing him to sit out scrimmages, only provoked such critique. Embiid followed up with a majestic performance against the Pacers in defeat – he registered the second 40-point, 20-rebound game of his NBA career.
The stat sheet wasn’t as gaudy in the Sixers’ Monday win over the San Antonio Spurs, but Embiid was every bit as impressive. Tobias Harris and Ben Simmons hit foul trouble. Embiid punished the Spurs’ big men on the block as they racked up fouls. Embiid got to the line, he passed well out of double teams and got several crucial fourth quarter buckets.
The post-season will be better for a fully healthy Embiid. The question marks remain, but so far he looks ready for the postseason.
With no Gary Harris, Will Barton or Jamal Murray, Mike Malone has been forced into some unorthodox lineups. Michael Porter Jr. has been starting, and he’s looked every bit the player who was the consensus number one pick coming out of high school.
Michael Porter Jr. dropped his career-high today
Future is bright for MPJ. 🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/DSqzQSzxzB
— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) August 3, 2020
A 4-for-11 game in the opener wasn’t spectacular. His 37-point performance in game two was. The Thunder had no answer for Porter. He beat people off the dribble, he took catch-and-shoot jumpers and pulled down 12 rebounds.
Defence has been the greatest criticism and Porter was passable on that end. Malone hasn’t been keen on starting the rookie throughout the year, but absences have pushed him into the starting five and he’s quickly become a key option for Denver.
Dion Waiters was no more than a wildcard when the Lakers picked him up. Following Avery Bradley’s decision to opt out and Rajon Rondo’s injury, Waiters has become a player that the Lakers need production from.
He has averaged over 20 minutes per game since the restart, scoring 10 per contest. The former Heat guard has become the main ball handler in the non-LeBron minutes, an area that has been a weakness for the Lakers all season long.
The unpredictability remains. There will be scepticism. For now, though, Waiters looks a more than helpful rotation player for one of the title favourites.
Earning their Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs, entering the bubble without LaMarcus Aldridge, appeared to be making up the numbers. The early knockings have proved quite the opposite, with the Spurs right in the mix for the play-in despite Monday’s loss to the Sixers.
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) August 4, 2020
San Antonio got the better of the Kings and Grizzlies in their first two seeding games. Their offence has been running hot. Gregg Popovich has been throwing out four-guard line-ups that have been hitting the three at a great rate. Rudy Gay has provided handy complimentary scoring off the bench.
They are no more than a first round exit, yet even that would be significant given the historic playoff streak and how unlikely a playoff berth seemed just a week ago.
Stop the Raps slander
The Toronto Raptors have gone 2-0 in their games with the Lakers and Heat. The Bucks, Celtics, Clippers and Sixers have all lost once already. At some stage, Toronto’s brilliance should be universally accepted, but they remain outside the title favourites.
Kyle Lowry torched the Lakers. Fred VanVleet had a career night to hold off Miami. The defence remains impenetrable – it’s versatile, it’s energetic, and it’s full of high-IQ players.
Nick Nurse was desperately unlucky to miss out on Coach of the Year. This Raptors team will be a serious challenge for anyone come playoff time.