As of this week, we're officially one month into the NBA season. This is important because it's the first time we can abandon the term "small sample size" from our basketball arguments. As of this week, I think we can officially say we're working with a "medium sample size." So let's celebrate the occasion and look around the NBA. Who's been impressive so far? Who's disappointed?
Here are some winners and losers from the first 30 days.
Bulls skeptics. If you talked to an NBA fan at any point between July and October, chances are, you made Bulls jokes. We all did. John Paxson and Gar Forman responded to a league full of three-point shooting and motion offenses by going all in with three high–usage guards who couldn't shoot threes. They even traded for Michael Carter-Williams in October, just to double down on everything.
It might have seemed like a fun aberration when the Bulls started hot, but it's been a month now. The Bulls just went out West and blew out the Jazz and Blazers on the road, played the Clippers close, and beat the suddenly frisky Lakers a day later. Chicago's 10–6, which is good for third in the East as of Tuesday. Maybe this is real? Maybe everyone is stupid? Both are distinct possibilities.
For now, I love the Bulls because they are living proof that regardless of how smart today's NBA community becomes, basketball will still find a way to baffle everyone. It happened in the Finals last year, and it's happening every time Dwyane Wade makes a contested 18-footer at 34 years old.
Wolves believers. This is what I had predicted for the Wolves before the season:
• Karl Towns was going to turn into a 25 and 12 monster who runs the offense from the high post, and anchors the defense on the other end.
• Tom Thibodeau would turn Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins into stars on the wing.
• Ricky Rubio is serviceable, and Kris Dunn would emerge as a starting-caliber guard midway through the year.
• Tom Thibodeau is a magical creature who produces top 10 defenses as a rule, and Minnesota would be no different.
• Aside from the young guys, veterans like Cole Aldrich and Brandon Rush would be sneaky helpful additions off the bench.
Alas, after beginning the year with one of the league's easiest schedules, the Wolves are now 5-12, including Monday night's loss to the Jazz. So here's where things stand:
• KAT has been a B+ instead of an A+ on offense, and he's spending too much time on the perimeter. The Wolves are also (somehow) struggling to protect the rim even though they start two centers.
• LaVine and Wiggins have been generally terrific, but not good enough to change things.
• Between Rubio's injuries and Kris Dunn looking completely overwhelmed, point guard is still a question mark.
• Tom Thibodeau's still a great coach, but the Wolves are routinely disemboweled in third quarters. This is probably our best evidence that they're an
extremely young team that doesn't quite know how to manage games yet.
• If your argument relies on Brandon Rush and Cole Aldrich, there's a good chance you've already lost.