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Did you enjoy those two months the NBA gave us to come up for air? Because after wrapping up the 2020 NBA Finals in October, the league is already back for the 2020-21 season, which tipped off Tuesday night with a doubleheader between the Brooklyn Nets and Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Lakers and LA Clippers.
Even in a slightly shorter, 72-game regular season, opening-night matchups usually don’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. With a truncated offseason and shortened training camp, that goes double for this unusual year.
However, because this is our first bit of meaningful NBA basketball in *checks calendar* two whole months, it was only natural for basketball fans to endlessly dissect each and every major storyline on opening night. Here’s a look at the five biggest overreactions, including which ones are legit and which ones can already be dismissed.
Brooklyn’s offense is going to be unstoppable
The Nets scored 125 points on 45.7 percent shooting Tuesday night. They went 15-for-35 from deep (42.9 percent), made 26 of their 32 free throws and boasted an offensive rating of 111.6 points per 100 possessions — a mark that would’ve ranked just outside the top 10 last season, and one that would’ve been much higher if not for how much of this game was garbage time.
While it’s a bit odd to see someone as talented as Caris LeVert coming off the bench, Brooklyn’s strategy of surrounding Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant (both of whom looked as healthy and unstoppable as ever) with shooters like Joe Harris and Spencer Dinwiddie is a deadly one. Throw in LeVert for a sixth man and all this team’s bench shooters and first-time head coach Steve Nash has a lot of firepower and high basketball I.Q. to work with. Sure, the Warriors’ defense was bad (and missing Draymond Green), but this Nets offense should be a top-10 unit this year.
The Warriors are not a playoff team
It was hard to tell how much of Tuesday night’s opening rout was the Nets being incredible and how much of it was the Warriors being horrendous. Stephen Curry (20 points on 7-of-21 shooting) struggled in his second game since October of last year, but he was hardly the Dubs’ biggest concern.
Kelly Oubre Jr. totaled 6 points on 3-of-14 shooting in a disastrous debut, and even with his wicked putback dunk over KD, he had as many turnovers as he did made baskets. Andrew Wiggins had the same problem as his train wreck counterpart on the wing, putting up 13 points on 4-of-16 shooting to go with 4 turnovers. This game was all but decided by halftime, and with Klay Thompson out for the year, it was hard to avoid the sense of deja vu from last year’s disastrous start to the season.
However, as much as the calvary isn’t coming in the form of the other Splash Brother, Draymond Green was out on Tuesday. Oubre is coming off a career year with the Phoenix Suns and is nowhere near that bad. Wiggins isn’t good, but he won’t be that bad every night either. Getting Green back should empower Eric Paschall in the second unit too, and Curry still has some rust to shake off. Golden State’s opener was very worrisome, but there are still 71 games to go. Don’t go writing this group out of the playoff picture just yet.
James Wiseman is going to run away with Rookie of the Year
James Wiseman will absolutely be in the Rookie of the Year conversation, especially if he continues to play good minutes on a playoff-caliber team, but run away with it? Let’s not get carried away by literally the only significant rookie performance we saw on opening night.
Finishing with 19 points, 6 rebounds and 2 steals on 7-of-13 shooting, Wiseman really was the Warriors’ second-best player on the floor. He knocked down a few perimeter jumpers, including his only 3-point attempt, and considering this was only his first game in 13 months, he’s only going to get better as he gets more comfortable.
However, LaMelo Ball is going to have plenty of opportunity to rack up big numbers and flashy plays with the Charlotte Hornets. Anthony Edwards should too with the Minnesota Timberwolves. And if, by some chance, the Warriors are bottom-feeders again, that may hurt Wiseman’s standing in this race. The No. 2 overall pick had an extremely encouraging debut, but let’s see how the other rookies look before we start getting too crazy here.
Paul George is ready to erase that Pandemic P nickname
When the Lakers closed the gap on that 39-19 first-quarter deficit, it was Paul George’s microwave scoring act in the third quarter that restored order for the Clippers. Finishing with a game-high 33 points and 6 rebounds on 13-of-18 shooting, PG played like a man who read and internalized every single slanderous “Pandemic P” tweet over the offseason.
But as good as it was to see George respond from that no-show during the Clippers’ second-round playoff collapse, we’ve seen PG do this before. In fact, before the Clippers’ meltdown, PG was considered one of the game’s elite two-way players — especially after a top-3 finish in MVP voting with the Oklahoma City Thunder the year prior.
As George noted in his postgame interview, coming back from two shoulder injuries is a difficult task. If he’s feeling 100 percent again, a revenge tour could be on the way. But we’ve seen George have great regular seasons before in LA, OKC and with the Indiana Pacers. We’ve also seen him disappear in the playoffs almost every time. We’re hopeful he can shed this cumbersome narrative, but until we see him step up like this in big playoff games, for a conference finals team, that “Pandemic P” nickname will continue to simmer on the back burner.
The Lakers aren’t the best team in LA this year
Lol. Stop it.
The Lakers have more reason to coast than anyone during the regular season since they just got done playing two months ago. They have new pieces to implement after upgrading their depth chart, and in a seven-game series, you’d be hard-pressed to feel confident picking against LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Maybe the Clippers wind up being better, but until we see it happen in a head-to-head playoff matchup, a season-opening result is meaningless.
For more on James Wiseman’s impressive rookie debut, our own Ian Levy has you covered.
The Atlanta Hawks made drastic moves in the offseason, but what should we expect from them next? Here are their five big questions for 2020-21.
The Ringer’s Dan Devine breaks down how the Kyrie and KD Nets were totally worth that wait.