The NBA is rapidly approaching its end to the first quarter of the season, and this year has been a blast in every sense. Here are your biggest takeaways from the start of the 2019-2020 season.
Kendrick Nunn is not slowing down in race for ROY.
Coming into this season, the race for Rookie of the Year was expected to be between the NCAA’s big 3 of 2019 – Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, and RJ Barret. The Zion hype-train has been unfortunately delayed with the first overall pick sidelined for 6-8 weeks to start the season with a knee injury. Morant has exceeded expectations in every way, leading all rookies in scoring and passing at 18.5 PPG and 6.0 APG, respectively. He is emerging as the star of a struggling Grizzlies team, leading his team in the same categories, while shooting the lights out from 3 at 41%. Barrett, in a similar situation in the Eastern Conference, is currently posting an impressive stat line of 15.3, 5.7, and 3.5, with a Knicks organization that never seems to have an answer to their struggles. Kendrick Nunn, however, was a dark horse coming into preseason. He made his name known during the preseason finale against the rockets, dropping a stunning 40 points. He rode that wave into the regular season, currently averaging 17.6 PPG and 3.3 APG on 48.8% shooting. The undrafted Illinois/Oakland product has earned the respect of Jimmy Butler, Eric Spoelstra, and other Heat players, coaches, and executives. His 112 points through the first 5 games in a season is the most by a rookie since Kevin Durant in 2007, and the most ever by an undrafted rookie.
James Harden is slowly becoming one of the best scorers ever.
We were all just people living in James Harden’s world last year as we watched him put up 30+ points in 32 straight games, score 40+ points in 28 regular season games, drop 61 points twice in a season, and record a 50, 15, and 15 night, averaging 36.1 PPG. It was one of the greatest NBA seasons for a single player, statistics wise, in history. And we all thought he couldn’t get better, which was foolish. Through 16 games this season, Harden has averaged 38.3 PPG, with 30+ points in 12 games, and 40+ points in 7 games. Jalen Rose predicted Harden would score 90 points in a single game this season, which, given his previous scoring achievements, would not be inconceivable. James Harden is playing at MVP level right now and is cementing himself as one of the best pure scorers to ever step on the court.
The Eastern Conference is slept on.
Everyone mentions how ridiculous the Western Conference is with regards to competition and caliber of teams, but the Eastern Conference is shaping up to be way tougher than anyone expected during the offseason. The top 5 teams in the East all boast a 66% or better win percentage, a figure that applies to the West’s top 6 teams. At number 1, the Bucks are legitimate title contenders, and the reigning MVP has a shot to go back to back with so much talent around him. In second, the Miami Heat are Eastern Conference sleepers as nobody expected them to be performing as well as they currently are. Their team chemistry seems so natural. Led by Jimmy Butler, with major support from the likes of Goran Dragic, Bam Adebayo, Kendrick Nunn, and Tyler Herro, the Heat are surprising everyone thus far. The Celtics, as usual, are among the top seeds in the conference at number 3. It’s great to see Jaylen Brown (19 and 8) and Jayson Tatum (21 and 7) finally produce numbers that the Celtics were looking for. Gordon Hayward is looking more like his pre-injury self, and Kemba Walker is proving to be an effective replacement for Kyrie Irving. The defending champions are showing that they can in fact win without Kawhi Leonard, which I will touch more on later. A 10-4 record has earned them the fourth seed. The 76ers, who many thought would be the top team in the East, are almost underperforming. Nevertheless, they sit comfortably at 10-5 with so much talent, especially if Ben Simmons can get his jumper to start hitting. The road to the finals will be a battle in the East come mid-April.
2020 All-Star Weekend will host many first-timers.
The start to this season has been highlighted by the number of young stars unexpectedly putting up huge numbers. It’s no secret that the 2020 All-Star game will play host to many new faces. Luka Doncic and Trae Young, both in their sophomore seasons, are playing at an elite level and barring injury or something unexpected, should both be making an appearance in Chicago in February. The Most Improved Player, Pascal Siakam, should very well be an all-star, averaging 25 and 9, as should Brandon Ingram (25 PPG), who has been the Pelicans’ best player to this point. Donovan Mitchell, as the best player on an extremely talented Utah team, definitely deserves an all-star shot with 25 PPG. I would have quite a difficult time choosing the all-stars this season. Tracking this year’s selections will be super interesting.
The defending champs aren’t rolling over.
Possibly the biggest takeaway from the season (for me at least), has been the Toronto Raptors success, proving their haters wrong, showing that they can win without the finals MVP and that their desire to reach their second straight finals is not unwarranted. The Most Improved Player seems to have improved even more. Siakam’s +8 PPG, +2 RPG, and +1 APG have played a major part in the Raptors early success. With Kyle Lowry out for a hefty portion of this season, Fred Vanvleet has grown into a starting role and has built on his Finals performance. In the 8 games Lowry did play in, he averaged more points than he has for the past 2 seasons – a great sign – and has continued to personify the heart and soul of the team. OG Anunoby and Norman Powell have both shown growth in skill and maturity. Ibaka, who has also been limited by injury, has been quite impressive when he has played, averaging 14 PPG and blocking shots left and right. Boucher has been reliable off the bench, as have the rookies Terrence Davis and Matt Thomas, two guys who can explode from 3-point range. The Raptors lone dull spot has been Marc Gasol, who’s production has lacked. The team is already sitting pretty in fourth place. If Gasol can turn his game around, especially with Lowry and Ibaka back soon from injury, the Raptors have legitimate chances for a deep playoff run.
Luka Doncic is a superstar.
I lied earlier when I said the raptors success has been the season’s biggest takeaway, because the season’s biggest takeaway has been Luka Doncic. This kid has been incredible. 29.9 PPG, 10.4 RPB, 9.7 APG. He’s arguably posting the best numbers in the league right now. He’s carried the Dallas Mavericks to a 10-5 record and is keeping his team on pace with the Rockets, Clippers, and Jazz. He scores the ball in every way imaginable and is a visionary passer. He is so talented and is so fun to watch because of how he completely controls the game. The Suns and Kings are kicking themselves right now for passing on him in the 2018 draft, and I imagine the Hawks are wondering why they traded him away in the first place. Obviously it’s so early in the season, but right now Luka Doncic is putting up MVP numbers and is playing like a top 5 player in the world. The kid has, without a doubt, a multi-MVP career ahead of him.
Way-too-early award predictions.
Top 3 candidates for each award, as of right now, in no particular order.
Rookie of the Year – Ja Morant, Kendrick Nunn, RJ Barrett
6th Man of the Year – Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Spencer Dinwiddie
Most Improved Player – Brandon Ingram, Andrew Wiggins, Devonte Graham
Defensive Player of the Year – Anthony Davis, Rudy Gobert, Jimmy Butler
Most Valuable Player – James Harden, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo