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Even with a sample size of exactly one game, there are meaningful takeaways. Here’s what we learned about the Bucks, Nets, Lakers and Warriors on Opening Night.
The Bucks are still a nightmare defensive matchup for the Nets
I want to be clear that the Brooklyn Nets are absolutely a title contender and the absence of Kyrie Irving, even if it extends for the entire season, doesn’t rule them out of anything. But on Opening Night we saw again how playing without Irving takes away a major advantage against the Bucks in particular.
The Bucks have three exceptional defenders — Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday — but they aren’t necessarily at their best putting those three on an opponent’s three primary scoring threats. If Holiday and Middleton can handle the opponent’s primary perimeter creators it allows Giannis to roam and create chaos off the ball as a rim-protector and in the passing lanes.
When Irving is on the floor, Holiday would likely have to slide down to him with Middleton on James Harden and Giannis on Kevin Durant, or the Bucks would have to choose to put a lesser defender on one of that trio. Without Irving, Middleton takes Durant, Holiday takes Harden and Giannis is free to roam.
In last year’s postseason series, the Nets were outscored by 9.0 points per 100 possessions when Durant and Harden were on the floor without Irving. We saw the same pattern on Opening Night with the Nets getting outscored by an astronomical 16 points on the 15 possessions Durant and Harden were both on, with Giannis, Holiday and Middleton on the floor together on the side. The Nets certainly have counters and as their skilled veterans like LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin and Patty Mills get more and more comfortable with their new teammates they will find more ways to exert pressure. But for all their talent, without Irving, the Nets don’t have a way to force the Bucks to make serious defensive adjustments.
Should the Lakers be worried about their depth?
Again, you don’t want to get too worried about a single game but after an aggressive offseason of roster tweaking the Lakers looked severely lacking in depth in their Opening Night loss to the Warriors. LeBron James and Anthony Davis were fantastic, combining for 67 points, 22 rebounds and 7 assists on just 59 shots from the field. Stephen Curry put up a triple-double but needed 21 shots to get his 21 points, finishing 5-of-21 from the field and 2-of-8 from beyond the arc.
And the Lakers still lost by 121-114.
Russell Westbrook‘s struggle was obvious and will get some attention this morning — 8 points on 13 shots, 0-of-4 from beyond the arc, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 turnovers. But the bigger problem was everyone else.
The Lakers rounded out their rotation this summer with additions like Kent Bazemore, Carmelo Anthony, DeAndre Jordan, Rajon Rondo and Malik Monk. That group combined to produce 28 points on 10-of-25 from the field and 7-of-19 from beyond the arc. No one in that group looked consistently comfortable creating anything for themselves and they struggled to hit many of the open looks LeBron, Davis and Westbrook produced for them.
Meanwhile, the Warriors got 35 points from Jordan Poole and Damion Lee, two young players they developed in their past two lean seasons, and another 32 from offseason additions Andre Iguodala, Nemanja Bjelica and Otto Porter Jr. Bjelica, in particular, looked like a game-changer with his combination of size and shooting touch, finishing with 15 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists, shooting 6-of-7 from beyond the arc.
The Lakers depth will look better when Trevor Ariza, Kendrick Nunn, Wayne Ellington and Talen Horton-Tucker are back and healthy. But it’s clear that the Lakers’ depth is more reliant on their stars to create opportunities for them to contribute meaningfully, while the Warriors are a bit more prepared to weather an off night from their stars with supplementary creation.
Ben Simmons: From bad to worse
At the risk of beating a dead horse, there’s no way the Ben Simmons works out as a success for anyone. The 76ers are losing leverage and in danger of losing their season. Simmons is actively eroding the trade market for himself with apathy and ennui, costing himself a hefty chunk of change in the process. And if you thought yesterday’s mid-practice dismissal and suspension was the low point, buckle up. This isn’t close to over.
What I’m looking for in the first real slate of NBA action:
Speaking of depth, the Bucks got an enormous lift from their second unit with players like Jordan Nwora and Pat Connaughton stepping up. Maybe they didn’t actually take a step back by letting P.J. Tucker leave?
Anthony Davis didn’t start at center as he had implied he would during the preseason. But he was still an absolute monster against the Warriors’ frontline, something that bodes well for the Lakers’ long-term goals this season.
From Owen Phillips, another fascinating visualization this time looking at how much of each team’s roster was acquired by draft, trade or free-agent signing.