c/o Matt Slocum

c/o Matt Slocum

With the young NBA season getting underway, here are some takeaways and storylines from the first 10 games.

The 76ers Are Succeeding in the Post-James-Harden Era

The James-Harden-centered drama surrounding the Philadelphia 76ers this offseason set lower preseason expectations than years past. With Harden being dealt to the Clippers on Halloween, the weight has been lifted off the 76ers’ roster, and they have not looked back. Philly is an Eastern Conference best 8-1 right now, as new head coach Nick Nurse has established a flourishing system in the City of Brotherly Love. 

The 76ers can attribute their success to many of their players, but it begins and ends with reigning MVP Joel Embiid, who continues to dominate both offensively and defensively. Fourth-year guard Tyrese Maxey has progressed into an elite second option, satisfying Philadelphia fans who have expected this transition to stardom for the last two seasons. Wing support provided by Tobias Harris and new additions Kelly Oubre Jr., Robert Covington, and Nic Batum add to the 76ers’ slew of multi-faceted weapons. Off the bench, defensive energy from Patrick Beverley and Paul Reed give the 76ers serious depth throughout their rotation. With statement wins over the Phoenix Suns and Boston Celtics, there seems to be a lot pointing in the right direction so far for the 76ers, and it will be interesting to see if this level of success continues later into the season. 

Young Teams Are Showing Promise in the East

In the Eastern Conference, a few rebuilding teams are making noise and generating buzz for their fans. While this always happens and typically these teams begin to fizzle out, here’s why the Indiana Pacers and Orlando Magic might compete for some playoff spots that no one saw coming.

The Pacers have been nothing but pure unbridled offense from the jump, as they started their season with a 143–120 win against the Washington Wizards. They kept their foot on the gas and as of now, have the number one offensive rating in the league and are scoring 126 points per game, a 10-point jump from last season. They are also first in the Eastern Conference in three-point percentage and field goal percentage, and they lead the NBA in assists. This has put the Pacers at the number four spot in the East, and with a win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Nov. 9, they proved that they can compete with the contending teams. 

The Magic have also proven themselves, but their success is more predicated on the defensive end, as they boast the second-best defense in the NBA thus far. On Nov. 11, the Magic took on the Bucks and showed why they are a serious team. Although Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo had a good night, the Magic’s defense held the Bucks to a mere 97 points, and with the help of nine steals and good pressure, they forced the Bucks into 19 turnovers. Orlando also beat the Bucks in offensive rebounding 15–5 which helped secure the 112–97 win. This win puts the team in a tie for fifth place in the East, and if they keep winning, soon they will have to be taken seriously.

Rookies Shine in First Appearances in the League

After three weeks of the NBA season, many rookies have already made their impact known across the league. Of course, first overall pick Victor Wembanyama dominates the headlines, as the San Antonio Spurs’ center leads all rookies with 19.7 points per game and 2.6 blocks per game. Last year’s second overall pick Chet Holmgren is also playing well, manning the middle for a young and talented Oklahoma City Thunder roster. This year’s second pick, Charlotte Hornets wing Brandon Miller, has been playing solid basketball, averaging almost 13 points per game alongside All-Star LaMelo Ball. Fifth pick Ausar Thompson has been everywhere for the Detroit Pistons, averaging a double-double in points and rebounds, along with nearly two blocks a game. 

Many players picked outside the top five of the draft have also shown their worth early on this season. Dereck Lively II (Dallas Mavericks), Marcus Sasser (Detroit Pistons), Jaime Jaquez Jr. (Miami Heat), and Jordan Hawkins (New Orleans Pelicans) have all been consistent contributors thus far on their new teams. All over the league, rookies are playing impactful minutes on winning squads, and it will be fun to continue watching which players thrive in their first year in the league. 

LA Clippers Can’t Buy a Win

Every year, fans of the Los Angeles Clippers start out with the same mantra: “Maybe, just maybe, it’s our year,” and with nine games gone in the regular season, it’s not looking good. LA made a big splash when they traded for Harden, creating an almost unprecedented Big Four with him alongside Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Russell Westbrook. With an average age of 33-years-old and 32 All-Star appearances between the members, experience is not the issue, but winning basketball games is. Since Harden debuted in LA, the Clippers are 0–4, dropping their overall record to 3–6, and Harden is averaging a meager 13 points, 5 boards, and 4 assists in these games. He has not proven himself to be the “system” (self-proclaimed) but rather the “systematic underachiever” that Philly knew they were giving up. As mentioned earlier, the 76ers have had nothing but sunshine and rainbows, as they are 6–0 without the weight of Harden on their minds, in what I can only imagine has been a therapeutic and cathartic two weeks for the organization.

We can use the Clippers’ most recent game as a microcosm of what has gone on. In this game, LA took on the Memphis Grizzlies, who came into the matchup with the worst record in the NBA at 1–8. Harden had a typical lackluster performance, seeming to not really care that much, with 11 points on 4/12 from the field and 1/7 from three, but his plus/minus is really where you can see the “system” in action. When Harden was not on the court, the Clippers played pretty great, outscoring Memphis 51–27. But when he checked in, the floor dropped out from under the Clips with Memphis outsourcing LA 78–50, giving Harden a ridiculous -28 for the game. Fittingly, Harden missed a potential game-tying three with 37 seconds to go in the fourth. I pray for the health of Clippers fans and hope they can hold out until Harden inevitably leaves sometime in the next 18 months.

Ethan Lee can be reached at ejlee@wesleyan.edu

Max Forstein can be reached at mforstein@wesleyan.edu