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First Week All-NBA Team: Five Biggest Standouts

Here are five players who have excelled at the start of the NBA season.

The first week-plus of the NBA season is in the books. Opening night tipped off on the 19th, most teams started their season in earnest on the 20th, and now 10 days later, the season is slowly but surely starting to take shape. So now seems like as appropriate a time as any to recognize what I’m calling the First Week All-NBA team. These are five players—two guards, two forwards, and one center—who’ve balled out at the start of the season. With the caveat that this is obviously way too early to draw any serious conclusions, they’re also five people who I believe will be interesting figures to keep an eye on from now through the spring. Here‘s who has earned this fake but honorable distinction…

(Note: All stats through October 28)

Center: Nikola Jokić

After playing every night during the overstuffed 2021 season, Nikola Jokić is already dealing with a knee injury that limited him to only 15 minutes in the Nuggets’ fourth game of the season. In the time he has been on the floor, however, Jokić has been incredible. The reigning MVP has picked up right where he left off last season, averaging 26.8 points, 13.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists a night to start the year. While his assists are currently down, Jokić’s scoring is right in line with his MVP campaign, and his rebounds are way up. There was some unfair conjecture last season that Jokić’s MVP was an anomaly, or that he won only because other players got hurt. So it’s been refreshing to see Jokić return to the floor this season every bit the destroyer he was in his last.

Jokić is a serious threat to repeat for the game’s top individual award. Denver’s success runs through the Joker. Per Cleaning the Glass, the Nuggets are currently a preposterous 47.1 points per 100 possessions better with Jokić on the floor. The burden he carries is massive, and for whatever reason, whether it's his nonchalant demeanor or lack of explosive highlights, Jokić does not always get the same respect as his contemporaries for how well he can carry a team. If Joker can maintain his current level of play, he will deserve MVP consideration by the end of the regular season.

Forward: Kevin Durant

The No. 1 player on SI’s Top 100 list is making us look smart. Durant is averaging 29.8 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists a night through the Nets’ first five games. KD is flirting with a 30-point scoring average for the first time since 2014, and his current 54.8% field-goal percentage would be the highest mark of his career. Curiously, Brooklyn is only 2–3 to start the season, with losses to the Bucks, Hornets, and Heat. It’s certainly not time for the Nets to panic, but it’s interesting how they’ve gone from overwhelmingly talented with three stars, to now Durant, a struggling James Harden, and an AWOL Kyrie Irving. How much pressure is going to be on KD during this Brooklyn season? Is he going to be forced into seemingly the exact situation he tried to avoid by teaming up with so many stars in the first place and have to put a team on his back? It still sometimes doesn’t feel real to see Durant play as well as he has since he returned from the Achilles injury he suffered in 2019. I’m sure the Nets don’t love how much is already being asked of KD this early in the season. It will be worth monitoring how Durant handles the rigors of this year, especially if Brooklyn hovers around .500 for an extended period of time. What will the Nets do if the rest of the team can’t catch up to his brilliance?

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Sacramento Kings forward Harrison Barnes celebrates with teammates after hitting the game winning three pointer at the buzzer against the Phoenix Suns.

Forward: Harrison Barnes

With apologies to Giannis Antetokounmpo, Miles Bridges and Anthony Davis (who is really a center, anyway), I can’t leave Harrison Barnes off this list, especially after his game-winning, buzzer-beating three against the Suns on Wednesday. Barnes is tied for seventh in scoring at 26.8 points per game, and he’s connecting on 4.3 threes a night right now—after never having averaged more than 2.5 a game in his career. Barnes feels like he’s been in the league forever now, but he won’t turn 30 until the end of May. Even if this week is just a blip, he’s clearly talented, and a 20-point scoring season seems perfectly feasible. So, will the Kings keep him?

Sacramento doesn’t make sense. The team has an enviable base of talent. De’Aaron Fox is an All-Star–caliber guard. Buddy Hield is an absolute sniper from three. Barnes is on the very high end of role players. And Davion Mitchell is already an exciting rookie. But what are the expectations for this team? The play-in? How come the Kings don’t feel as far along as say, the Grizzlies?

I have no clue if Barnes’s hot start means Sacramento looks at him as a serious building block, or if it means the front office may try to cash in on a trade at some point this season. (If the Kings are anything, it’s unpredictable.) Barnes is the type of player contenders covet, though it’s not clear how available he is despite his name being a trade machine favorite. (His contract also decreases in value, an asset fetishist’s dream.) On the right team, in a wide-open season, I think Barnes is absolutely the type of player who could impact someone’s playoff fortunes next summer. If that happens in Sacramento, that’s great. If that happens for a title hopeful … Barnes could end up being sneaky important this season.

Guard: Stephen Curry

Tied for the league lead in scoring entering Friday, Steph Curry has guided the Warriors to a 4–1 start to the season. Golden State seems to have a better mix on its roster entering 2021–22. After trying to bring James Wiseman along for much of last year, Steve Kerr has a more veteran-heavy rotation now, with Andre Iguodala, Nemanja Bjelica, and Otto Porter all offering solid minutes, in addition to improvement from Jordan Poole and Damion Lee. That the Warriors are thriving and not merely treading water while waiting for the return of Klay Thompson should terrify the rest of the league. The Steph, Dray and Klay trio lost only one playoff series when all three were healthy. And if the team is playing this well in Thompson’s absence, it won’t matter if it takes him a couple of months to fully settle into his role whenever he does finally start playing again. That’s why Curry’s dominance is so important. It’s not just his scoring, but how everything he does on the floor lifts the rest of his team. If Curry can keep the Dubs ahead of schedule before Thompson comes back, the Warriors’ championship calculus becomes a lot more simple.

Guard: Ja Morant

Morant has been so good to start this season, I’m genuinely wondering whether the Grizzlies need to adjust their timeline and start trying to figure out how to take the leap into title contention. Morant has been that good this season. He’s tied with Curry at 30.4 points a night for the league lead, and his three-point shot looks more lethal than it’s ever been in his life. (Morant is shooting 40.6% on 6.4 attempts a night from deep.) Even if Morant cools off slightly from three, if teams have to start respecting his outside shot, he becomes nearly impossible to guard. Morant’s athleticism is already a challenge for the game’s most accomplished defenders. If teams can’t get a head start on him by ducking under screens, Morant is going to start blowing up defensive gameplans.

Morant has looked like a top ...15 player so far this season? Top 10? We’ll come back to the caveat that only five games have been played. But what if? What if this is the real version of Morant, and the leap is happening right before our eyes? That means Memphis starts to get looked at in an entirely different light. Because when you have a player as great as Morant on your team, the feel-good seasons start to only feel good when they come with a deep playoff run.

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