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NBA Opening Night Takeaways

The NBA kicked off it’s brand-new season with two great games with plenty of superstars and offensive firepower to make it entertaining. There were plenty of great moments and highlight plays, but you have to dig a little deeper than that. Three of these four teams are competing for an NBA title and the other team should be a high-level playoff team if they play up to par. There were plenty of things to notice that could be real factors for these teams down the line, so let’s get into some takeaways from the first games of the 2020-21 NBA season.

The Nets can clearly score, but can they defend?

Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The Nets started the night off with an offensive explosion, hitting shot after shot in a variety of plays. Isolation, pick and roll, drive and kick, you name it. They showed off their elite offensive versatility by being able to hit shots from everywhere on the court. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving provided elite isolation scoring as expected, but the scoring punch from Caris Levert off the bench really helped them as well. They’ve got two world-class offensive talents combined with a cluster of talented players around them. One of the more underrated parts of their night was their great ball movement. Yes, Irving and Durant still dominated the ball for the most part, but the ball moved extremely quickly around the perimeter in a quest to search for the best available shot. If the Nets can hit shots from all over the court like they did last night, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t walk out of the East. 

There’s no question about their ability on the offensive end of the floor, but can they defend? It’s extremely difficult to win a title without both a top 10 offense and defense. Last year, the Nets finished 9th in defensive rating as a team, but is that sustainable? At first glance, the answer appears to be no due to the lack of defensive personnel on the floor.Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Landry Shamet, and others are all noticeable minuses on the defensive end of the floor. However, they have rim protection with Jarrett Allen and DeAndre Jordan and switchable defenders like Durant, Levert, and Jeff Green. It’s not completely ludicrous to suggest that Brooklyn could be a top 10 defensive team for next season, but we need to see it to believe it first.

The Warriors might not necessarily be a playoff lock

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The Warriors, to put it simply, looked bad last night. They were horrible offensively, mediocre defensively, and looked completely out of sync. Now, overreacting to one game would be foolish, but there are some really concerning issues with this roster that could be factors for the entire season. Their first major issue is their spacing. Part of what makes Stephen Curry so effective on the offensive end is the gravity he has that allows his teammates to get open shots consistently. He’s surrounded, however, by four non-shooters with Kelly Oubre, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green, and James Wiseman. Oubre isn’t a bad shooter but he’s far from knockdown and he struggled to hit open shots last night. Same thing with Wiggins to an even greater extent.

Green hasn’t played yet this season, but he hasn’t been a reliable shooter in years, and  Wiseman’s jumper isn’t great either. Getting open shots means nothing if they can’t consistently knock them down, and that’s the question with their offensive game. Defensively, they looked slow to close out on shots from the perimeter and guys like Wiggins got burnt consistently on drives. Having Curry will certainly keep the Warriors in the hunt but they may not necessarily be the playoff lock that many thought they’d be.

James Wiseman is a work in progress but has immense potential

Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Wiseman put up 19 points, 6 rebounds, and shot 7/13 from the field in what only can be considered a success of a debut. He did a lot of good things that don’t show up on the stat sheet too with his off-ball screens, hard rolls to the basket, and just played hard the entire time he was on the court. 

However, there are a lot more problems with Wiseman’s game than the stat sheet will portray. Firstly, Wiseman has a lot of work to do defensively. One of the biggest concerns with Wiseman’s game is that he was a drop coverage big off the pick and roll and wasn’t quick enough on his feet to guard perimeter players. Teams are going to attack him off the pick and roll early because he simply can’t stop the guards from hitting perimeter shots. Around the basket, Wiseman was caught block chasing a ton and didn’t really protect the rim well.

Another issue was his shot selection. Offensive experimentation for young players is important, but some of the shots Wiseman took last night were misguided at best.The occasional open three pointer off a screen and pop is fine, but on opening night, he missed a horrible shot where he took a one-legged fadeaway like he was Dirk Nowitzki He also tried attacking the basket off the dribble and took a wild falling floater that was way off the mark. Thankfully he was hitting his long twos, but those still aren’t shots he should be taking. 

Wiseman’s debut was very good but let’s not act like he wasn’t 3/7 until he started racking up a ton of garbage time points late in the second half. Regardless, Wiseman has incredible potential. If he can continue to knockdown jumpers at the rate that he did last night and become a better pick and roll defender over time, he truly can become one of the best centers in the league. However, he’s got a lot of work to do before he can truly reach star potential.

The Clippers will be better than they were last year

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Last year, the Clippers were my pick out of the Western Conference to make and win the 2020 NBA Finals. That didn’t happen, as the Clippers lost in embarrassing fashion to the Nuggets in just the 2nd round while blowing a 3-1 series lead. This led to many great internet memes and naturally, the Clippers were the laughing stock of the league for multiple weeks after that.

However, this year’s team is much better than last year’s for a multitude of reasons. One of the big ones is that they finally addressed one of their biggest needs: rim protection. Serge Ibaka may not be the shot-blocking monster he was in Oklahoma City, but he’s still a high level defensive big who can stretch the floor and finish inside offensively. He won’t be an Anthony Davis “stopper” per say, but they finally have someone they can throw at Davis to at least slow him down (something they also lacked last year as well). Losing Montrezl Harrell may have been a blessing in disguise as well. He does provide great energy and bench scoring, but he lacks shooting ability and defense as a 6’8 big man. This made him a liability in last year’s playoffs but Ibaka can be a guy you can reliably play 35-40 minutes in a playoff game.

They also kept a lot of their bench depth. Yes, they did overpay for Marcus Morris but he’s still a solid player and Luke Kennard was a great addition too. After Nic Batum kept hitting rock bottom after rock bottom with Charlotte, he signed with the Clippers and got a starting nod. In my opinion, the Clippers have more reliable bench pieces than they had last year and if they can trade Lou Williams to get a more impactful defensive piece, they could be a legitimate threat to the Lakers. The Clippers have one of the most talented rosters in all of basketball and they finally seem to fit together. Don’t count out this team next season.

The Lakers are still the best team in basketball

Ashley Landis/AP

Overreacting to one game is ludicrous. The Clippers definitely outplayed the Lakers last year but does that make them the better team? Absolutely not. Last year, the Clippers bested the Lakers in the season opener and the Lakers went on to win the title. LeBron James had 22 points on 7/17, Anthony Davis had 18 points on 8/15, and Dennis Schroder went 5/15 from the field. And yet, the Clippers still only won by seven points. The Lakers won the championship and then went out of their way to make some incredible additions by acquiring via trade and Harrell via free agency. Those guys finished 1st and 2nd in the Sixth Man of the Year voting respectively. Harrell may not be super impactful come playoff time, but Schroder is a seriously good scorer who can create out of the pick and roll, hit spot up threes, and get buckets in the clutch. One game isn’t going to completely sway my opinion of this Lakers team. They’re the reigning NBA champions with an improved roster and two of the top five players in the league in James and Davis. There are still 71 games left to play in the regular season and for right now, the Lakers still sit as the best team in the NBA.

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