The 2017-2018 NBA season has been a ton of fun to watch so far.
With the juggling of rosters in the offseason, it has been fascinating to see what has worked and what hasn’t. The Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets seem to be the top contenders in the Western Conference and the East has been led by the Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons while the Cleveland Cavaliers have struggled out of the gates. The Oklahoma City Thunder haven't seemed to figure out how to best utilize their new Big Three of Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony and have been one of the major disappointments so far.
There are multiple storylines brewing for each and every team in the league, which has kept everyone in the basketball community on their toes.
Per usual, certain teams and players have disappointed (like the Thunder) while others have excelled beyond expectations (like the Celtics without Gordon Hayward). This is indicative of every small-sampled start to a new season, but there are some eye-popping numbers available that will not only shock you, but might also reveal some trends about the sport as a whole as well.
Here are eight revealing numbers. (All statistics used below were found on NBA.com.)
Heading into Monday night’s slate of games, 29 players were averaging 20 or more points per game in the early season. Giannis Antetokounmpo (31.7), Kristaps Porzingis (30.4) and James Harden (30.2) ranked ahead of everyone else and all of the usual All-Stars were included with the exception of surprises like Victor Oladipo (23.4), Eric Gordon (22.9), D’Angelo Russell (20.9), Dennis Schroder (20.6) and Tobias Harris (20.1). Oddly enough, 31 players finished last season averaging 20 or more points per contest, so it will be interesting to see whether or not the number trends up or down for the high-scoring players this year.
As an indication of how much the league is shifting to a more perimeter-oriented offensive display, that’s the number of qualified players who were shooting over 45 percent from beyond the arc. Although it’s a small sample size, Aaron Gordon (55.3 percent), Nemanja Bjelica (53.3 percent), CJ McCollum (52.2 percent), Otto Porter Jr (51.1 percent) and Tobias Harris (50.6) were all shooting over 50 percent. That number obviously won't hold, but it's still impressive. Not only are players chucking up more threes than ever, but the efficiency shown so far has been amazing. Last year, Pau Gasol (53.8 percent) and Kyle Korver (45.1) were the only qualified players to shoot 45 percent or better.
Out of the top five NBA players in terms of minutes played per game, three came from the New Orleans Pelicans. DeMarcus Cousins (38.2), Anthony Davis (37.2) and Jrue Holiday (37.2) joined LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo. At 8-6, Alvin Gentry’s reliance on Cousins, Davis and Holiday has paid off so far, but given the long, arduous nature of the NBA’s regular-season, it might be wise for him to scale back their minutes as the year progresses, especially Davis, who has proven to be injury-prone.
Despite holding a 7-5 record going into Monday night’s game against the Utah Jazz, the Timberwolves actually held a negative plus/minus to start the year. The only other team to have a negative plus/minus out of the 16 was the 7-6 Milwaukee Bucks, who had a -0.8 mark. Although Minnesota won easily on Monday, there are clear concerns over whether they’re contenders or pretenders given their confusing start. They’ll look to erase that confusion moving forward, but this metric is usually an indicator of playoff success or failure.
The Houston Rockets are 11-3 and Mike D’Antoni’s offense is clicking on all cylinders. Houston has attempted 44.9 three-pointers per game to start the season, which ranked 11.8 ahead of the next-highest team (the Warriors) heading into Monday night. Eleven different teams took more than 30 but less than 33 three-pointers per game. Astonishingly, the Rockets averaged more three-point attempts than the Minnesota Timberwolves (22.8) and Sacramento Kings (21.8) combined. Eric Gordon and James Harden combined for 22.2 three-point attempts by themselves.
To add, a ridiculous 53.8 percent of Houston’s shot attempts came from beyond the arc. The Warriors were second in that regard with 38.8 of their field goal attempts coming from three. Therefore, the Rockets are completely unique on offense and it’s paid off so far.
That was the combined record of the top-five free throw shooting teams in the league (the Jazz, Warriors, Portland Trail Blazers, Cleveland Cavaliers and Atlanta Hawks) heading into Monday night’s games. All five shot over 80 percent to start the season heading into Monday. Meanwhile, the bottom five teams in that regard combined for a 30-33 record. Therefore, an important question must be asked: are team free throw percentages actually indicative of success? So far, it appears as if the answer is a resounding "no".
That was the number of points off turnovers that the Utah Jazz averaged per game, which led the NBA heading into Monday night. Last season, Utah ranked 25th in that regard which signals a couple things. First, coach Quinn Snyder has made transition basketball a major focus in the absence of last year's leading scorer Gordon Hayward. Second, the addition of Ricky Rubio at point guard and rookie Donovan Mitchell at shooting guard has made that strategy easier.
Although Utah is struggling to start the season, they are pushing the ball in transition more and will likely have to continue doing so since rim protector Rudy Gobert will be out for multiple weeks due to a recent injury. They’ll be looking to not only maintain their identify as a defensive-oriented group, but also will need to figure out how to score with high-percentage looks.
That is the NBA-best defensive rating of the Boston Celtics, who have the best record in the league at 12-2. Once overlooked on the defensive end, Kyrie Irving had held his weight for the Celtics, while center Al Horford has held down the middle. Versatile and athletic wing players like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have been useful to coach Brad Stevens and ball-hawking guard Marcus Smart has made up for the absence of elite defender Avery Bradley, who the team traded in the offseason. The Celtics have allowed opposing teams to shoot 42.8 percent, which ranks best in the NBA. The Cleveland Cavaliers, who played Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals last season, held an NBA-worst defensive rating of 111.1 heading into Monday.
For a league that has been somewhat predictable over the past few years, the 2017-2018 NBA season has featured a lot of uncertainty and parity, which only results in a better and more exciting product. We will see if the trends above continue throughout the year or if they are simply aberrations.