On Sunday night, Knicks president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry made a surprise appearance in front of the New York media. The impromptu presser was unusual. The duo did not talk after landing the third pick in last year’s draft nor did they hold a press conference after missing out on Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in free agency, instead putting out a statement telling fans that “we continue to be upbeat and confident in our plans to rebuild the Knicks to compete for championships in the future, through both the draft and targeted free agents.”
But after a 21-point loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday the pair appeared. They told reporters that they still believe in head coach David Fizdale, but that they expect more consistent effort and production from the team they assembled. They said that owner James Dolan still believes in the plan. “But he’s as passionate as we are about this,” Mills said. “He would want us to have better results on the floor.”
Not even 24 hours later, reports surfaced that Mills had started “laying the internal groundwork for the eventual dismissal of coach David Fizdale.” With an under-performing roster and lineups that often look like they were assembled by merely spinning a wheel and seeing what five names were landed on first, Fizdale’s future in New York seems very much in jeopardy.
Will New York decide to make a mid-season change and bring in their fourth head coach since 2015?
With most teams hovering around the 10-game mark, that’s just one of the many questions to think about. Here are nine more to consider:
2. Will the Lakers’ offense be able to score enough?
Heading into their game Tuesday night against the Suns, LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the rest of the Lakers have already become one of the best defensive team’s in the league. On the perimeter, they are in third in three-point defense. By the rim, they are top-10 in defensive field goal percentage within six feet. As a whole, after 10 games in, they were first in defensive rating.
But Los Angeles has been a bottom-10 offense thus far, scoring only 105.5 points per 100 possessions. They shoot only 31.1% from three and have relied on their stars to create. The offense hasn’t been awful, but with a thin roster, a rash of injuries could see the Lakers slide down the Western Conference standings.
One year after missing the postseason, the Lakers already look like one of the best teams in the league, but if they need to score to keep pace with other top Western Conference foes like the Rockets, can they?
3. Will Zion Williamson still take home the Rookie of the Year award?
Following Ja Morant’s 23-point showing against the Rockets, the No. 2 pick in last year’s draft got a ringing endorsement from one of the NBA’s best players. “He’s a beast, man,” Harden said. “He is aggressive as a young guy, and in this league, some guys tend to be nervous, and he has no nerves at all.”
But Morant is not alone among rookies who have come into the league and shown flashes of stardom. R.J. Barrett has been a key playmaker for the Knicks. The Heat’s Kendrick Nunn was one of the biggest surprises of the first 10 days of the NBA season. Eric Paschall has given Golden State a much-needed boost without Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. P.J. Washington has helped Charlotte look better than many pundits expected.
Williamson had surgery on his right knee just prior to the season and was expected to miss six-to-eight weeks. Heading into the year, he seemed to be a shoe-in for Rookie of the Year, but it might be time to start wondering if someone else will take home that honor come June.
4. Can Malcolm Brogdon continue to play like one of the NBA’s best offensive players?
The Pacers paid a relatively steep price to acquire Malcolm Brogdon in a sign-and-trade this summer from the Bucks, but 10 games in, the Virginia Cavalier product has done more than just keep Indiana’s offense afloat. With Victor Oladipo still working his way back from his right knee injury, Brogdon has become one of the league’s best offensive players. He’s fifth in drives per game, behind names like Harden, Doncic and Young, helping to create shots not just for himself but his teammates. He’s also attacking in isolation more often, averaging more points per isolation possession than names like LeBron, Giannis and Kyrie.
As a team, the Pacers rely more on two-pointers than more than almost anyone else. So far that hasn’t been a problem, but the onus is now on Brogdon night in and night out to create like an All-Star.
5. Can Pascal Siakam keep up his MVP-level start?
As SI’s Chris Mannix reported in his column a few weeks back, when Pascal Siakam was coming out of New Mexico State, scouts viewed the future Raptor as a “limited offensive player” and “lacking playmaking skills.” But with Kawhi Leonard out of the picture, the NBA’s Most Improved Player of 2018-19 might actually be the NBA’s most improved player of this season.
Siakam has the ball in his hand much more this year, jacking up almost eight more shot attempts per game, upping his scoring average by almost 10 points to 26.3 points per game. He’s developed a more consistent isolation game, but has also continued to attack defenses in the half-court and in transition, as evidence by Toronto taking the most transition shots per game of any team in the league.
The defending champion Raptors have gotten off to a 7-3 start in large part because of the 27 pick in the 2016 NBA draft. It’s already clear Siakam is all but a lock for an Eastern Conference All-Star spot. If he keeps up his hot start, he’ll be in the MVP conversation as well.
6. Will Portland be the odd team out?
If you believe that the Suns, Mavericks and Timberwolves’ hot starts are going to extend beyond the month of November, then maybe the Portland Trail Blazers should be concerned.
Portland’s playing at a slightly faster pace this season, but its offense hasn’t produced as well as it did last year when it finished third overall in offensive rating. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum have continued to look like the stars that fans have expected them to be, but someone has got to fall out of the Western Conference playoffs.
Golden State seems like a lock to miss the postseason after losing Stephen Curry for at least the next three months, but barring injuries to both Anthony Davis and LeBron James, the Lakers seemed poised to reach their first postseason since 2012-13. Oklahoma City has looked better than many expected, but they too might fall out of the playoff picture as the season progresses.
Which brings us back to three of the surprise teams from the first three weeks of the NBA season. If you believe in all three then two others have to fall out of the postseason picture. Maybe it’s the San Antonio Spurs, but it might also be the 4-7 Portland Trail Blazers.
7. Can the Heat maintain their three-point dominance on both ends of the court?
Heading into the team's win over the Pistons on Tuesday night, the Heat’s lights-out three-point shooting had slipped ever-so-slightly in the last week to 38%, good enough for fourth in the league. But on defense, the Heat are holding teams to only 28% shooting from three, best in the NBA. Goran Dragic, Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro and Kelly Olynyk have been among the team’s best floor-spacers with Dragic in particular shooting 10% better this season from three than last year. Miami’s offense didn’t miss a beat when Jimmy Butler was absent at the start of the season and with Boston and Toronto looking increasingly like true conference contenders, Miami will need to keep up their perimeter production on both ends to stay towards the top of the East.
8. What does Andre Drummond’s stellar start mean for his future in Detroit?
Pistons center Andre Drummond is having a career year. He entered Tuesday night's game putting up career-highs in points (20.3) and rebounds (17.5) per game. His free throw percentage is by far the highest it’s ever been—nearly 70%, up from 59% last year. And he’s scoring the most put-back points of any player in the league, just to highlight a few categories.
Detroit owner Tom Gores has said repeatedly how he loves Drummond. “We know how dedicated we are to each other,” the owner said in early October. “I’ve said it many times: He’s very underrated in a lot of ways for what he does, and culturally he’s been so good for this team.”
But Drummond could potentially be a free agent this offseason and could demand one of the largest contracts in the entire league. Mix the owner’s comments with Drummond’s production with potential free agency with the team being only 4-7 heading into Tuesday’s game and it’s fair to wonder what the UConn center’s future holds.
9. How will Gordon Hayward’s hand injury impact the Celtics?
What makes the news of Gordon Hayward being out six weeks with a fractured hand so crushing for the Celtics is that the former Utah Jazz All-Star was starting to regain his All-Star-level form. Through Boston’s first 7 games, Hayward was averaging 20.3 points, 7.9 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game—a stat line that is very similar to the one he averaged during his best, and final, season with the Jazz.
After missing all but six minutes of the 2017-18 season and working his way back throughout the 2018-19 season, it was already clear that Hayward was going to play a key role for Boston this year. The team has been shooting almost 10% better from three with him on the court and is more than seven points better per 100 possessions with him on the floor than with him off of it. By comparison, last season, Boston was only just one point better per 100 possessions with him on the floor than off of it.
The Celtics enter Tuesday night with the best record in the Eastern Conference and still have one of the deepest wing rotations in the league. But the team has a clear void it will need filled and Hayward’s production might be tough to replace in the immediate future.
10. What offensive records will the Rockets set this year?
Since 2012-13, the Houston Rockets have led the NBA in three-point attempts every season except one. Year-after-year, it seems the team re-writes the NBA record book in all categories related to shooting and James Harden re-writes it in all categories related to scoring. Most recently, Harden set the record for highest scoring average through a team’s first 10 games in the last 50 years, averaging 37.3 points per contest.
But thus far, the Rockets are on pace to come up short of their 3-point totals from last season. They still lead the league in attempts and are actually taking more per game this season than last. But the team is shooting only 33.6% from deep through 10 games compared to 35.6% in 2018-19. Instead, the team is taking more two pointers than they did last season and they are scoring almost four fewer points per 100 possessions. What do the slight differences mean?
So far it hasn’t mattered as the Rockets are off to a 7-3 start—remember they were 4-6 through 10 games last year—but it’s also very possible that shooting a slightly worse percentage from three will add up in the win-loss column going forward.