NBA Opening Week: LeBron James' Lakers Debut and More First Impressions

LeBron James made his Lakers debut, Markelle Fultz hit a three-pointer and Carmelo Anthony tries to adjust to life in Houston. The Crossover offers first week impressions from the opening slate of the NBA season.
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What’s that? You’re ready for another piece of content that attempts to wrap its arms around the opening week of games in the NBA? It’s time for some FIRST IMPRESSIONS, a flimsy hook that allows me to hop around the league and point out some things that caught my eye/seemed like a big deal on Twitter. Let’s do this. Actually, wait, before we go on this journey, make sure you pick up a copy of SI’s NBA Preview issue. All three covers! Now we can begin.


An Early Fix for the Lakers

The Lakers’ experience was every bit the roller coaster many expected it to be on night one. LeBron was great. The team struggled without him. Lance Stephenson briefly hijacked the offense. Michael Beasley played center for two minutes. There’s too much to sort through here to make any definitive conclusions after one game, but let’s start with something obvious: Start Josh Hart!

You probably saw a bunch of basketbloggers already tweet about this Thursday night, but Hart brings more to the table than Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. More importantly, the Lakers need to commit to finding out which of their young core work around LeBron, and which players are expendable. In that same sense, Lonzo Ball needs to play more too. Ball only played 19 minutes, while Rajon Rondo started and played 32. Rondo and KCP are almost definitely leaving L.A. after this season, which has little chance of finishing with a championship. Let the youngsters grow around LeBron. At the very least, you may be able to package a couple of them in a bigger deal down the road.

One more quick thing to keep an eye on: Small vs. Big. Javale McGee was only a minus-1 against Portland. The Lakers’ small lineups never quite kicked into gear because of shooting issues. I’ve been McGee’s harshest critic; I really don’t think the Lakers’ center rotation can hold up, but Javale wasn’t a full-blown disaster in Game 1. (The Lakers’ starters, by the way, had an 87.2 offensive rating in 15 minutes together.)

The Markelle Fultz Three Was a Good Thing!

I’m not sure if anyone of consequence actually took issue with Sixers fans cheering Markelle Fultz for hitting a pull-up three late in Philly’s win over the Bulls, but I hope Fultz continues to gain the confidence to let it rip from outside. In the first quarter of the same game, the ball swung to a wide-open Fultz in the left corner, and instead of launching, he ever so briefly paused, and ultimately dribbled into traffic. It’s obvious to see that Fultz is still thinking at times when he should be playing instinctually. If the fans cheering him after a seemingly inconsequential three helps him take more open threes in the future, that’s a great thing. (Maybe it will make no difference at all, I don’t know, I’m an optimist.) I really want Fultz to succeed, because the Sixers would be even more fun with another star. He’ll experience growing pains, but I hope he plays with no fear.

One more bit: Joel Embiid’s conditioning looks nice early in the season. I thought some of the criticism in the playoffs was unfair considering he was returning from injury. I feel good about my Embiid for Defensive Player of the Year pick. He’s been attacking both switches and attempts at the rim with aplomb.

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The Carmelo Anthony Two-Point Shot Watch

Carmelo Anthony has no reason to take a single midrange two-pointer this season. He shot three of them in Houston’s first game, and to add insult to injury, all three of them were of the pull-up variety. Anthony should really be only shooting threes. He was 0-for-4 on catch-and-shoot threes in Houston’s first game, but he has the touch to thrive in that role, and it was a facet of his game he excelled in before last season. If Melo has really dropped off a cliff, then he shouldn’t be shooting at all, let alone taking any long 2s. But if he still feels confident in his stroke, then he needs to trust the offense and plant himself behind the three-point line. No more pump fakes into shots from just inside the arc. Stay at home and let it fly.


Maybe the Magic will actually stop adding big men like I’ve kindly asked them too after the way Bamba played in his NBA debut. I’ll forgive you if you didn’t watch Heat vs. Magic on Wednesday night. In 25 minutes, Bamba hit 75% of his shots en route to 13 points, he drilled a three, and he blocked two shots. In the 20 minutes Bamba and Aaron Gordon played together against Miami, the Magic outscored the Heat by 22 points. That’s a promising start, and a lineup that could maybe, one day, finally help cure Orlando’s spacing issues.


Josh Richardson is the Heat’s Closer

Richardson’s name was a hot topic during the Heat’s trade talks with the Timberwolves. Through two games, he’s been Miami’s go-to guy on offense. Both of the Heat’s first two games came down to the final possessions. In both, Erik Spoelstra called Richardson’s number multiple times for the go-ahead bucket, eschewing Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic in the process. (Wade did get the final shot in a back-and-forth against Washington.) Expect a heavy load offensively for Richardson this season.

The Bucks are So Much More Pleasing To Watch

Milwaukee found itself in a thriller Wednesday night against the Hornets, and the Mike Budenholzer-effect on the Bucks was in full force. Giannis Antetokounmpo finally had some space! Starting Brook Lopez gives Milwaukee a much-needed dose of shooting. In the game’s deciding moments, Budenholzer played Giannis at center, surrounded by Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon, Khris Middleton, and Ersan Ilyasova. It was remarkable. Giannis could hold the ball at the top of the key, and no defenders were in the paint because they had to stick with shooters. Or one of Milwaukee’s guards could initiate a spread pick-and-roll, with marksmen in the corners and a devastating dive to the rim from Antetokounmpo. This is how the Bucks should have always been playing. I have high hopes for their offense—which finished tenth last year—this season.

Keep an Eye on Zach Collins vs. Jusuf Nurkic

Extremely one game caveat alert, but, Collins looked a little more suited to the modern game than Jurkic did during the Blazers’ win over the Lakers. Collins doesn’t need to be as involved offensively as Nurkic, and he’s a bit more versatile on defense. Maybe the second-year Collins ends up playing just as much if not more than Nurk this season.

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The Pelicans Need A Little Help

New Orleans was incredible in its win over Houston on Wednesday. One significant note, however: Alvin Gentry essentially played a seven-and-a-half man rotation. Every starter notched at least 30 minutes. Julius Randle played 24 high-impact minutes off the bench, while Darius Miller and Solomon Hill combined for 32. The rest of the bench only saw action in garbage time, and this game was largely a blowout. I’m curious to see how sustainable this is. One injury could really hurt this team. Anthony Davis seems primed for an absolute monster year. Ideally, the Pelicans will keep tinkering with the roster to add some depth in the coming months.

Random Stuff

- Don’t try to dunk on Jarrett Allen!

- I thought the Nuggets showed some growth by not allowing themselves to get Boban’d against the Clippers in back-to-back season. They closed out a nice road win despite a poor shooting night. That’s what contenders do.

- Nick Nurse is going to have a lot of fun playing with lineups in Toronto in his first year at the helm. Pascal Siakam and Jonas Valanciunas looked like his two best bigs in the Raptors’ first game.