All the talk over the past few weeks has been pretty monotonous.
Clippers or Lakers? Bucks or Sixers? I agree it’s exciting. Frankly, the Golden State Warriors not looking like a certain championship-winners is as refreshing as a paddle pool in summer.
But as we reach the end of the first week of the regular season in the NBA, most teams have had a couple of games to iron out the pre-season jitters and determine their regular rosters. So a few teams have emerged under the radar in recent weeks and will be worth keeping an eye on as the season progresses.
Miami Heat (4 wins – 1 loss)
When Jimmy Butler exercised his free agency to go to Miami, a lot of Sixers fans (*cough* definitely not me *cough*) were left very confused. Butler wants a ring and Miami doesn’t seem like the place to go. To Butler’s credit, he may have had us fooled.
The Heat have shown a surprising amount of grit throughout their opening week despite missing Butler and having to rely on their young stars. With away wins over conference rivals in Milwaukee and Atlanta, Miami have entered discussions to be a legitimate finals contender in the East this season.
Let’s talk players. Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro have come out of the gates as two of the most valuable rookies this season.
Nunn has been gifted the position of starting point guard over 33-year-old mainstay Goran Dragic and has immediately delivered. He’s averaging 22 points a game – first among rookies this season.
Herro, meanwhile, is averaging 16 points and six boards a game as a replacement for Butler, and will presumably become a part of the bench rotation as the season goes on.
As with everything else, it’s early days, but to have a team contending without their star player is pretty remarkable. Keep an eye on the Heat as they continue to play exciting basketball.
Charlotte Hornets (2 wins – 3 losses)
With the departure of Kemba Walker to the Celtics in the offseason, things have looked pretty grim for the Hornets over the summer. A team without many notable players, don’t expect the Hornets to be playing deep into May. But they do have a chance to sneak in for a seventh or eighth spot in the playoffs if they keep playing good basketball.
Starting point guard Terry Rozier had a shaky start but has slowly come into his own scoring 22 points, alongside six assists and three steals in the Hornets’ win over the Kings. Scary Terry has clearly felt the pressure from an even scarier Devonte Graham who has been averaging 16 points and eight assists a game on his position as first guard off the bench.
PJ Washington (avg. 15 points and seven rebounds) and Cody Zeller (avg. 15 points and 13 rebounds) are both doing some solid work in the paint.
Nothing is certain and I’d still predict a losing record for Charlotte, but they have provided a little bit of flare that could be handy later in the season.
San Antonio Spurs (3 wins – 1 loss)
With a few close wins to start out the season against the Wizards, Knicks and Trailblazers, the Spurs find themselves at the top end of the Western Conference.
Coach Gregg Popovich has coached the Spurs to 22 straight playoff series – an absolutely remarkable achievement – but will have to pull out something big to get through this season with a winning record.
The usual suspects seem to be doing the heavy lifting in San Antonio with DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge responsible for most of the scoring. But the bench provides some great replacement scoring with Rudy Gay, Derrick White and Patty Mills. Pop has always loved getting the most out of his bench and this season will be no different.
We’re going to find out very quickly if the Spurs are the real deal. Their match-ups next week include the Lakers and Celtics. If Popovich wants to continue the legacies of Duncan, Ginobili, Parker, and (dare I say it) Leonard, they’re going to have to knuckle down in this difficult Western Conference.