We are about five games into the regular season. In other terms, NBA teams are six percent through their 82 game Sisyphus-ian challenge of making the playoffs only to meet their demise against the Golden State Warriors. It also means it’s way too early to reach any conclusions. That isn’t going to stop me from firing off some hot takes, especially when nobody is really going to hold me accountable for them right? Well if you do @ me later on this season, I’m grading my takes on a scale of 1 to 10 for how much I actually believe in the take. 1 represents a complete lack of conviction while a 10 means I would be willing to wager my meager life savings on it. Everything else in between is just a hedge one way or another.
Takes are broken into three different categories; “Cold Fish”, “Mild Tamale”, and “Extra Spicy”. “Cold Fish” takes are one’s that may have been mild/hot takes before the season began but can be taken extremely seriously now that we have some sample size of results to analyze. “Mild Tamale” takes are tasty enough to be the flavor of the month but aren’t going to blow your socks off. Now the “Extra Spicy” takes may require a glass of water.
- Giannis wins MVP: The hipster’s pick for MVP going into this season along with Kawhi Leonard, he has come out of the gates averaging 36/11/5/2/1 on over 60 percent from the field. Inspector Gadget with longest limbs on this flat earth is looking like MJ in the paint and playing with even more fire and swagger. Separating himself from other candidates for the award already, he has to be considered an early favorite for the award especially if the Bucks continue to have success. When he learns how to shoot, it will be all over. There is nothing really left to say about the Giannis experience, just make sure you catch him when he visits your city. 8/10
- Sixers miss the playoffs: This is the first season of The Process where this young team actually has to deal with expectations. Upon reviewing their early season schedule, I voiced my concern over the adversity they would have to face immediately out of the gate, so their 1-4 record isn’t exactly a shocker. The problem is how they have gotten to 1-4. After one epic blowout without Embiid, one epic choke in the fourth quarter, and two tough nailbiter losses, it’s become clear that they will be taking their lumps trying to figure out how to win games on the fly. Coach Brett Brown needs to figure out the rotations ASAP. Perhaps find a better option to guard James Harden than Jerryd Bayless? Dario Saric will need to remember how to play basketball again. Embiid will need to play more than 65 games. The whole organization will need to figure out what the heck is going on with Fultz’s shoulder and jump shot. It’s looking like they need too many things to go right, and the only thing that has gone right so far is Ben Simmons, who is proving he is the real deal and selling a lot of jerseys. At least TJ McConnell still plays like Isiah Thomas. 7/10
- Thunder miss out on home-court advantage in the playoffs: Some may feel like this is a hotter take than it really is. There was only 1 home-court playoff spot available in the West this season. The Warriors, Spurs, and Rockets are locked in for 3 spots, which leaves 12 teams playing musical chairs for the last seat. Are the Thunder the best team remaining on talent? Probably. Were they always going to need some time to figure things out and mesh? Definitely. The Thunder have yet to beat a western conference team with their only wins coming against eastern conference bottom feeders. Losses to the Jazz and Timberwolves were frustrating and concerning, as neither of those teams has played well in their other games. Eventually if you want to end top-4 in your conference you have to start dominating in-conference games and it doesn’t seem like that will happen for the Thunder anytime soon. 6/10
- Magic finish the season above .500: Two weeks ago, this would have been the hottest take on the list. But we didn’t know Nic Vucevic could make six 3’s in a game. Now he looks like best center in the conference not named Embiid. How about beating the Cavs without Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon? How about Gordon going off for 40+ while exhibiting expanded range and smoother shooting form? What’s next, Mario Hezonja finally breaking out? Their wins over the Cavs, Heat, and Nets all look legit, with their only loss a tight contest in Brooklyn. Am I convinced they will stay above .500? Nope. Do I think it can happen? Yes. Their complementary players have exceeded all expectations and will need to continue to do so. Jonathan Simmons is a huge addition, and if DJ Augustin continues to play with swagger all it takes is for Coach Vogel to unlock Isaac’s supernatural defensive potential and this Magic squad will give panic attacks to anyone. 6/10
- Grizzlies make the playoffs: After losing Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, and Vince Carter over the summer many wondered what was actually left of Grit ‘N Grind. Their 4-1 record is a testament to how great Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are. As long as those two stay healthy the Grizzlies will be a tough out for any team they face. The emergence of other players is what gives them an edge very few outside of the most optimistic of Memphis fans could have ever predicted. Beating the Warriors, Rockets, and Pelicans speaks for itself. The loss to the Mavericks was puzzling but quickly avenged 24 hours later. James Ennis has emerged as a key piece to the puzzle, while Mario Chalmers and Tyreke Evans are doing an impressive job resurrecting their careers. Imagine if Chandler Parsons stays healthy and begins to contribute? Then you know it was all meant to be. 5/10
- Pelicans need a major franchise overhaul and finally get it after missing the playoffs: This team has confounded me long before the DeMarcus Cousins acquisition. The trade itself actually made a lot of sense solely in terms of the talent they were bringing in for the talent or lack thereof that they were giving up. The problem is that none of my concerns in regard to their roster construction have been alleviated in their early season struggles. Tight wins over the Lakers and Kings don’t impress me. The reason they can’t beat their direct competition for the last spot in the playoffs is a lack of production from their wings. Swingmen playmakers relieve so much pressure for both the primary ball handler and the star bigs. Tony Allen and Dante Cunningham aren’t going to help with that, and neither would a healthy Solomon Hill. They literally finished their win against the Kings with Cousins and four point guards. So who takes responsibility for another wasted Anthony Davis season in New Orleans? He shoulders a portion of the blame, but eventually management and coaching will find themselves in the principal’s office. 9/10
- Bucks finish with the best record in the Eastern Conference: This take comes as a package with the Giannis MVP campaign. It also follows a very quick process-of-elimination game that I played with the other contenders for the top spot in the conference. The Cavaliers use the regular season much like other teams use the preseason as an opportunity to break a light sweat. The Celtics lost their best all-around player (Gordon Hayward) and will spend most of this season tinkering with lineups and adjusting for all their new players. The Wizards have the talent and roster continuity to make the leap this year, but they just lost to the Lakers. So if last year was the Russell Westbrook season and this year is going to be the Giannis Antetokounmpo season, when Jabari Parker returns this team just might have the talent and desire to win more games than any other team in their conference. By the way, am I the only one wondering if the Pistons regret trading away Greg Monroe instead of Andre Drummond? The loss at home to the Celtics is disheartening, but we can blame it on the replica floor. This is an extra spicy take, so it’s not supposed to be easy! 4/10
- Nets sneak into the playoffs: When Jeremy Lin went down with another heartbreaking injury the Nets season was supposed to follow suit down another rabbit hole of despair. Coach Atkinson clearly had other ideas and has taken full advantage of the abundance of roster depth that management acquired this summer. Imagine how much better that Pelicans squad would be with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, DeMarre Carroll, Trevor Booker, Allen Crabbe, Caris LeVert, and Sean Kilpatrick? Aside from having three hockey lines of wing depth, the Nets are playing with the fastest pace in the league and playing small effectively with a healthy RHJ being their not-so-secret swiss army knife. They are fun to watch and riding a wave of momentum after their win over the Cavs without Russell. Speaking of D’Angelo, his play is probably making the Lakers reconsider their trade this summer regardless of how good Lonzo becomes. This isn’t going to be smooth sailing all the way, but in a weakened conference who is going to say nyet to the Nets? 6/10
- Timberwolves miss the playoffs and Thibs’ head will roll: This is the worst defensive team in the NBA. They weren’t much better last year. They have Tom Thibodeau and Jimmy Butler, so what gives? Losing Rubio is no laughing matter. Lacking a bench is major cause for concern. Giving up 130 and 122 points to the Pacers and Pistons respectively is an absolute abomination. They are a one-possession win and a 40-foot banked buzzer-beater away from being 0-5. Honestly, there seems to be a disconnect between what this team could be and what it actually is and I have not seen anything that would leave me to believe that they will figure it out before they completely drop out of playoff contention. Speculation is futile, but maybe Thibs is better suited as a defensive coordinator than head coach? Maybe Andrew Wiggins can’t contribute in any facet of the game outside of getting buckets? Maybe Karl-Anthony Towns will never develop into a legitimate defensive presence in the paint? Maybe all these issues will be resolved by the All-Star break and make me look dumb, but right now there are way too many questions and no answers. The clock is ticking on quite possibly the hottest seat in the league right now and 2006 Kevin Garnett is NOT walking through that door. 8/10
If you made it this far, you deserve a couple complimentary bonus takes, so here they are: Kevin Durant will make an NBA All-Defensive team, because he has never done so before and that is a total joke. It’s time to flip the narrative on the smooth scoring supernova and reward him for his elite defensive production!
AND: *Whispers* The Clippers will go 82-0 only to be swept in the 1st rd by Memphis