Just like that, the ‘21-’22 NBA Season is almost a month old and each team has already played at least 10 games.
While the 82-game regular season is still far from finished, there is already enough of a sample size to make insightful inferences on each team’s performances so far.
Over the next few paragraphs, we take a closer look at some of the teams who have over- and underachieved through the first few weeks of the season and try to determine whether their recent form is indicative of who they really are or if a reversion to the mean is looming.
Golden State Warriors
Two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Stephen Curry has picked up from where he left off last season and is once again the frontrunner for the Maurice Podoloff Trophy. At the age of 33, he remains the driving force behind the Warriors and is the catalyst behind their league-best 11-1 start this year.
Curry is averaging 28.4 points, five three-pointers, 6.3 rebounds, 6.4 assists, and 1.6 steals per game and already has one 50-point game under his belt this year.
Beyond Curry, the impact of his fellow elder statesmen Draymond Green and Andre Igoudala, especially off the court, should not be overlooked even with their pedestrian statistical output. Much has been said about the winning culture in Golden State’s locker room and these two holdovers from their title teams are a major reason for that.
This environment is what has allowed Jordan Poole, Kevon Looney, Damion Lee, and Juan Toscano-Anderson to go from G-League players to confident contributors on the league’s best team. It has also empowered Andrew Wiggins into becoming a useful NBA player who impacts winning and facilitated the seamless onboarding of newly-acquired veterans Otto Porter Jr., Nemanja Bjelica, and Gary Payton II into their bench unit.
The caveat of their strong start is that eight of their 11 wins have come against teams that currently sport a below .500 record, but they deserve credit for not taking nights off and taking care of business. This is often easier said than done, especially for a team with as much championship experience as these Warriors.
The Wizards are one of the most fascinating teams of this season.
Bradley Beal is having his worst scoring season (23.3 points per game) since ‘17-’18 and is shooting a career-low 40.7% from the field, yet Washington finds themselves on top of the Eastern Conference standings with an 8-3 slate.
Coming off an ACL tear that he suffered last December while still with the Brooklyn Nets, Spencer Dinwiddie has slid into the starting point guard slot previously held by Russell Westbrook and is proving to be exactly what this franchise needs. Dinwiddie has not missed a beat despite the extended injury layoff and has become the catalyst of their offense while averaging 15.4 points, five rebounds, and 5.7 assists.
In addition, the players whom they acquired from the Los Angeles Lakers in last offseason’s Westbrook trade–Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope–have found renewed vigor with the Wizards. Kuzma has matured into a reliable supporting scorer and, more importantly, a tough defender with a knack for rebounding the ball.
Meanwhile, Harrell has rediscovered his touch and reestablished himself as one of the premier second unit scorers in the NBA. He is averaging 18.1 points and 9.3 rebounds, but what sets this season apart for him is that he is making a career-best 83.6% of his free throws which further amplifies his impact as a tireless interior scorer.
It is difficult to imagine Washington making a deep playoff run with how their roster is currently constituted and a second round appearance looks like a realistic best case scenario. However, the effort that this team puts in on both ends makes it difficult to count them out and these past few years have proven that anything is truly possible in this league so it will be interesting to find out if these Wizards have a trick or two up their sleeve.
Other notable overachievers: Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors, Dallas Mavericks
Last season, the Hawks made a Cinderella run to the Eastern Conference Finals that was eventually cut short by the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks. It was an inspiring postseason debut for Trae Young and this young Hawks team which led to increased expectations coming into this season.
Unfortunately, their playoff success may have done them more harm than good. Young recently commented that the regular season is “a lot more boring than the playoffs” and it is reflected by their paltry 4-9 record
The numbers of Young, John Collins, Clint Capela, and Bogdan Bogdanovic are all down from last season while Kevin Huerter, Cam Reddish, and DeAndre Hunter have struggled to find any semblance of consistency.
Atlanta’s depth may actually be hurting more than helping them as it is especially difficult for their players, particularly their wingmen, to gain a rhythm given the sparse and erratic playing time that they receive.
The Hawks still have 69 games to turnaround their season and they also got off to a rough start last season before current head coach Nate McMillan took over the team midway through the year.
They will first have to change their collective mindset on the importance of the early stages of the year though and it behooves them to remember that they cannot make the playoffs without a decent regular season.
Damian Lillard had a tough offseason that saw him persistently pelted by trade rumors as he valiantly played through an injury in Team USA’s gold medal campaign in the Tokyo Olympics.
To compound matters, his return to the Blazers has been just as unpleasant. Through the first 13 games of the season, he is shooting a career-low 38% from the field and 26.8% on three-pointers. He is averaging only 20 points per game which is his lowest since his debut season where he put up 19 a night on the way to winning the 2013 Rookie of the Year award. This was the only year of Lillard’s career that he put up less than 20 points per game.
All signs indicate that, in one way or another, Lillard will shoot himself out of this slump, but in the meantime, Portland has suffered. They have started the season with a 6-7 win-loss card that has them on the outside looking in of the Western Conference playoff picture.
CJ McCollum tried to carry the load early on, tallying at least 20 points in six of their first seven outings, although he has fallen back to Earth in their past three contests.
The Blazers need another consistent playmaker to divert attention and pressure from their high scoring backcourt. Norman Powell (17.5 points per game) is proving to be a reliable third option, but the ability to consistently create opportunities for himself or his teammates is not within his range of skills.
Jusuf Nurkic, who was once billed as the third star on this Portland team, is averaging just 11.5 points and 11.3 rebounds. It is becoming more apparent that this may already be the ceiling for the 27-year-old center and his random two-week stretches of brilliance through the years are more of a mirage than reality.
This team goes where Lillard goes, so his ability to break out of his slump is crucial. A disappointing season could lead to their front office finally trading their star guard so it might be now or never for this iteration of the Blazers.
Luckily, the play-in tournament now exists and all that they have to do is ensure that they finish at least tenth in the Western Conference which is not as difficult as it sounds when considering the high number of rebuilding teams on their side of the league this year.
Other notable the underachievers: Indiana Pacers, Boston Celtics, Charlotte Hornets