The “Big Three” in Cleveland have a big three losses against one just one narrow win. The Sacramento Kings didn’t get the memo about returning to the lottery. The Los Angeles Lakers are finding out that winless and glamorous usually are mutually exclusive. The New York Knicks look like a different team from game to game.
Here are five things I’ve learned so far this season:
1. The Oklahoma City Thunder will benefit in the long run from all their injuries. Everyone is predicting doom and gloom for the Thunder because of the injuries to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, which have led to their 1-4 start. I see it in the exact opposite way.
I actually believe this is going to give GM Sam Presti, coach Scott Brooks and his staff a chance to further strengthen their bench and depth in preparation for a deep playoff run. The team should see this as an opportunity to get guys like Perry Jones – a supremely talented player who is growing game by game – Reggie Jackson and Andre Roberson valuable minutes. And when OKC gets all its guys back healthy, I believe the Thunder will absolutely contend again with an even stronger team because of the adversity they’re currently dealing with.
2. The Dallas Mavericks are way better than I thought they would be. I can’t really say I saw this coming when the Mavericks picked up Tyson Chandler and Chandler Parsons in the offseason. I knew they would be better than last season, but after watching all the pieces fit together and knowing that Rick Carlisle is one of the top coaches in the league, I now feel that Dallas will contend with San Antonio for the top spot in the Western Conference.
One other surprise about the Mavs is that once they moved Shane Larkin to the Knicks, I thought they could possibly struggle at the point guard position. But with the veteran Jameer Nelson starting, Devin Harris coming off the bench and with the recent signing of J.J. Barea, Dallas is suddenly the deepest team in the NBA at the position.
3. When healthy, no team is more complete than the Chicago Bulls. I picked the Chicago Bulls to win the NBA title, and even with the never-ending questions about Derrick Rose’s short- and long-term health (he obviously must play for them to win it all), they are the most complete team in the league with Jimmy Butler now healthy as well.
Unlike many contenders such as the Cavs, the Bulls already have forged an identity. Chicago is a tough-minded defensive team that now has more scoring and perimeter shooting with additions of rookies Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic. Add that to the best big-man rotation in the league with Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson and you have the most complete team in the NBA.
4. I don’t see how the Cleveland Cavaliers are the best team. Speaking of the Cavs, I know Las Vegas picked them as the odds-on favorites to win it all and they have the best player in the world in LeBron James and two studs in Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, but I just don’t see it.
In my humble opinion, I really believe the lack of a rim protector and overall size and depth in their frontcourt will be too much to overcome. I also have questions about some of the role players on the team – specifically Dion Waiters and his poor shot selection – and getting enough contributions from the other players.
I think David Blatt is an excellent coach, but as they say, “Heavy is the head that wears the crown.” I just think for any coach who has never coached in the NBA to come in and manage all the sky-high expectations and win it all in their first season is a very steep hill to climb.
I have always believed that championship teams are forged through a process, and I believe the Cavs have yet to go through that process. And there’s no shortcut to get you there, no matter who you sign or trade for.
5. The San Antonio Spurs are due to be dethroned. I’ve always felt that the game is more about the players than anything else. I believe that some new guys are going to emerge this season to help their teams go on a run at the right time.
Again, the Spurs have demonstrated that they have the right players who understand this process better than anyone else, and they are still the kings until someone new knocks them off. But I’m going to take a chance and bet on the field this year to keep the Spurs from repeating as champs.
Bobby Gonzalez is a former Division I head coach at Manhattan and Seton Hall. He has been writing columns for SheridanHoops since March.