Game 1 Overreactions
What did we see, and will it translate long-term?
After watching most of the first games of the year, I’m ready to make some proclamations that will absolutely stand the test of time. Below are five overreactions to a one-game sample size.
Knicks-Celtics will be the game of the year
Ok, so maybe I’m a little too excited about this double-OT classic, but wow! This game started pretty ugly, actually, with a lot of forced shots and bad turnovers. There were several stretches I thought about embedding and playing with the Benny Hill music running in the background, but things took a turn for the better in the fourth quarter and OTs. Jaylen Brown (*looks around nervously, whispers* who just might have been the best player on the Celtics last year *pulls hood up, walks away*) hit a shot from the logo with seconds left:
Marcus Smart hit an icy buzzer-beater to tie in regulation. Then Brown, Julius Randle, and especially Evan Fournier (who hit a triumvirate of threes in less than a minute) had wild overtimes where it seemed like none of them could miss, and then, for a stretch, like none of them could make it again.
There was some truly horrible ball protection from the Knicks down the stretch (Kemba quietly had a poor game; something to watch), but they were saved by some blown layups/dunks by the Celtics. It wasn’t always perfect basketball, but it was a perfect basketball game.
Killian Hayes is broken
Detroit Pistons point guard Killian shot 0-6 from the field, and he hung his head after every missed attempt. He shot a wince-inducing 35% last year as a rookie and doesn’t look like he’s improved much.
The drive below was emblematic of his whole game. He lacks touch around the basket, and you can see him visibly deflate after the bad miss:
Hayes plays solid defense and makes the occasional slick pass. But until he improves his shotmaking, there’s no reason for him to be taking the ball away from #1 overall pick Cade Cunningham (who did not play due to injury).
The second-year player needs to rebuild his confidence; perhaps a stint in the G-League could help. His best play of the night was a three-pointer he made from the right corner… but it was called a traveling violation. Like always with Hayes, it was one step forward, three steps back.
Russ Westbrook’s fit looks as bad as feared
I am a mild optimist on the Westbrook/Lebron/AD fit. It’s not perfect, but I think that Westbrook will eventually settle into his role and learn how to play off Lebron and AD. However, Tuesday night’s performance suggests that it might take a little more time than expected.
Westbrook was 4-13 shooting, which isn’t that unusual. What IS unusual is how timid he looked. He clearly was uncomfortable balancing his normal instincts with deferring to Lebron and AD, which is understandable in game 1 of the regular season but is still jarring to see.
Russ was a game-worst minus-23 in +/- (meaning his team was outscored by 23 points while he was in the game) in 35 minutes on a night when his next-worst teammate was Malik Monk at minus-10. That’s tough to pull off. Steph Curry shot just 5-21, but he could still find many ways to help his team win, as evidenced by his game-high plus-21.
Russ has shown flashes of knowing how to play off-ball with timely cuts in Houston, and he even set an occasional screen last year in Washington. But for the Lakers, when he was off the ball, he just… sat there. This has to change, since he isn’t bringing much defensively, and the Lakers won’t want the ball out of Lebron’s hands too often. It’s up to Russ and the Lakers coaching staff to figure out how.
The Rockets are the worst team in the league
The Thunder might not have five legitimate NBA players, and the Magic are a travesty of roster construction, but this Rockets team looked significantly worse than either of them for most of the night. The two young cornerstone guards, Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green, combined to go 8-26 from the floor in a preview of what’s to come all season.
However, we know this team is not trying to win games so much as it’s trying to develop talent, and in that regard, there were some promising glimpses:
Alperen Sengun already shows excellent vision for a big man, and Christian Wood’s off-ball cut from the perimeter is perfectly timed. Note that this is not a defensive highlight video. I’m not sure the Rockets contested a single Timberwolves shot all game.
One other interesting question I’ll be monitoring going forward: has Jae’Sean Tate improved his handle?
If he has become better with the rock, it raises his ceiling substantially. Last year, his first, Tate was a low-maintenance, straight-line bulldozer on the floor primarily for energy and defense. He only had 21 minutes of playing time Wednesday, but if he has a little more off-the-bounce game in his bag, he deserves a longer look.
The Hawks will have a top-5 defense
Ok, so they were 18th in defensive rating last year, and return pretty much the exact same team. But they were 12th after coach Lloyd Pierce was fired and Nate McMillan took over, and they really put the clamps on a Dallas team that has been tremendous scoring the ball whenever superstar Luka Doncic plays.
De’Andre Hunter, John Collins (continuing to impress), Clint Capela, the rising Cam Reddish, Delon Wright, Gorgui Dieng… the Hawks have long, athletic players both starting and on the bench who can get after it defensively. Hunter in particular looked locked in guarding Doncic, who was just 1 for 9 when Hunter was guarding him (according to ESPN Stats & Info). Doncic is going to have nightmares about this block:
Similarly, I wouldn’t blame Dorian Finney-Smith if he never took a layup again after this Collins enveloping:
Blocks that are basically steals, where the ball is just taken away by the defensive player, are indubitably the best.
Overall, the 87 points the Mavs scored would’ve tied their lowest score from 2020-2021, which came in a game without Doncic. Dallas’ new coach, Jason Kidd, is off to an inauspicious start. It’s entirely possible we look back at this game later in the season and decide it was a blip, or that it was more about the Mavs’ diminished offense than about the Hawks’ improved defense. (One positive for the Mavs: Kristaps Porzingis looked a little more mobile and more involved than he did last year, an encouraging silver lining).
For now at least, it’s clear that the Hawks are coming into this campaign determined to silence the critics and prove last season’s success wasn’t a fluke. Whether they really can maintain a top-5 or top-10 defense while starting the Lilliputian Trae Young remains to be seen, but early signs are promising.
Thanks for reading! It has been an awesome start to the season, and there are already bunches of exciting stories to track and players to watch. If you enjoyed this, please like, share, subscribe, comment, etc, as I’ll be doing newsletters like this at least once a week in addition to more focused stories. Thanks again, and until next time, enjoy basketball!