Everybody – including me – had high expectations of Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Bradley Beal and the Phoenix Suns. All the pomp and circumstance of the latter part of last season and all of this summer in Phoenix all but laid the wreath of championship at Mat Ishbia’s office door and Phoenix’s first-ever title.
But the Denver Nuggets have mile-high expectations of themselves … to not get caught up in all of Phoenix’s hullabaloo, or at least let it stay within the confines of the State of Arizona … and do what they need to do to keep the Larry O’Brien trophy at the base of the Rocky Mountains.
By the way, Nikola Jokic has scored 227 points (2nd in the NBA), grabbed 103 rebounds (1st in the NBA, and dished 67 assists, third place only to Trae Young’s 73 and Tyrese Haliburton’s 70.
Boston started off hot, and there was also talk of a 2021 Phoenix-Milwaukee rematch, that is until Jrue Holiday got traded right back to the Eastern Conference and into the laps of the Bucks’ biggest challenge in the East.
And the ghost of James Harden did what he always does in the playoffs – disappeared – and the 76ers have won five of their first six to keep themselves, maybe even thrust themselves into the thick of the Eastern Conference conversation behind the coaching genius that is Nick Nurse.
In all of this, one cannot overlook how well the Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors, Indiana Pacers, Oklahoma City Thunder, and LeBron James (at age 38) are playing. And how Harden will affect the Los Angeles Clippers’ high hopes – and Tyronn Lue’s blood pressure.
Here’s where we are two weeks into the season and two weeks into my prognostications:
|BOS||.833||The Boston Celtics were the best team in the NBA, undefeated until they visited the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night and saw their run end at five games. Jayson Tatum is averaging 30.5 ppg (5th in the NBA), 8.8 rebounds, and 3.2 assists. Jaylen Brown is second at 23.2 ppg, 6.2 rebounds, and 2.8 assists. Rounding out Boston’s top three is newcomer Kristaps Porzingis at 19.5 ppg, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.3 assists. Kudos to Taum for the 10,000.|
|PHI||.833||The departure of James Harden seems to have lifted the burden off of the shoulders of the Philadelphia 76ers, and it shows in their play, winners of five straight games, the longest current win streak in the league. Joel Embiid is finally who everyone expected him to be, leading the team with 32.5 ppg (tied for 1st in the NBA), 11 rebounds, and 6.2 assists. Tyrese Maxey has come uncorked with 25.5 ppg, 4.5 rebounds, and 7.3 assists. The always serviceable Tobias Harris is averaging 19.7 ppg, 6.0 rebounds, and 2.7 assists.|
|MIL||.667||The assimilation of Damian Lillard has been a mixed bag thus far, but all new players take time to learn the system, and this is a winning system, despite the new car smell of head coach Adrian Griffin. Giannis Antetokuonmpo leads the Milwaukee Bucks with 26.0 ppg, 9.0 rebounds, and 3.2 assists. Lillard overcame his six point debacle and is averaging 22.7 ppg, 4.8 rebounds, and 5.0 assists. Bobby Portis rounds out the top three for the Bucks with 10.5 ppg, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.5 assists. Khris Middleton has struggled mightily through five of the Bucks’ first six games.|
|ATL||.571||Surprising to see the Atlanta Hawks above .500 – even if it is only one game above, though maybe new head coach Quin Snyder is having a positive effect. He’s gotten better production out of Dejounte Murray, who leads the Hawks with 22.6 ppg, 4.7 rebounds, and 6.1 assists. Not far behind is Trae Young at 21.7 ppg, 2.9 rebounds, and 10.4 assists (2nd in the NBA). It’s a neck-and-neck battle between DeAndre Hunter (14.6 ppg, 4.4 rebounds, 1.3 assists) and Jalen Johnson (14.3 ppg, 8.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists) for being third option, but Johnson has been a more exciting prospect.|
|IND||.571||Honestly, there hasn’t been a more pleasant surprise in the NBA in these first two weeks than the Indiana Pacers. Not only have they helped head coach Rick Carlisle get his 900th career win but we’ve also seen much rumored player Myles Turner stick around and have over 500 career games with the Pacers.Tyrese Haliburton has led the charge with 24.0 ppg, 3.7 rebounds, and 11.7 assists (1st in the NBA). Turner is averaging 16.4 ppg, 8.9 rebounds, and 1.7 assists. Buddy Hield is even back in the limelight with 13.4 ppg, 3.6 rebounds, and 3.4 assists.|
|ORL||.571||The team I picked to finish dead last in the Eastern Conference is one of three teams to be a game over .500 after the first two weeks of the season. The Orlando Magic are led by Franz Wagner’s 18.7 ppg, 5.6 rebounds, and 3.3 assist. Last year’s Rookie of the Year, Paolo Banchero, is close behind at 18.1 ppg, 6.0 rebounds, and 5.6 assists. Let’s not forget Cole Anthony, who’s hitting for 15.9 ppg, 4.4 rebounds, and 2.9 assists. Head coach Jamahl Mosely has to be pleased with his team’s start.|
|CLE||.429||A below .500 start is not how head coach J.B. Bickerstaff envisioned the 2023-24 season kicking off, especially with rumors of Donovan Mitchell having a wandering eye toward New York already. Sadly, the Cleveland Cavaliers have been better on the road (2-1) than at home (1-3). Mitchell is certainly doing his part at 32.5 ppg (tied for 1st in the NBA), 4.8 rebounds, and 5.7 assists. But everyone else is a distant second and third on the team. Darius Garland is better than the 17.7 ppg, 1.7 rebounds, and 6.0 assists he’s putting forth. And Caris LeVert is averaging 16.5 ppg, 4.3 rebounds, and 4.3 assists. The team needs better production out of Evan Mobley (14.9 ppg) and Jarrett Allen (11.0 ppg) – otherwise that’s a wasted height advantage. Max Strus (13.7 ppg and only .295 from three) hasn’t been the player we saw in last year’s playoffs for the Miami Heat.|
|BKN||.429||While it’s actually been kind of heartwarming to finally see Ben Simmons back in action, the story for the Brooklyn Nets has been my leading candidate for Most Improved, Cam Thomas. Thomas leads the Nets with a 28.7 ppg average, 4.0 rebounds, and 2.7 assists. Mikal Bridges has been a Steady Eddie with 21.9 ppg, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.9 assists. New addition Lonnie Walker IV has come from the Los Angeles Lakers and given a 15.5 ppg, 2.8 rebound, and 2.3 assist spark off the bench as Cam Johnson has only played one game this season. Johnson is expected to miss tonight’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers as well due to the calf injury. Simmons may only be averaging 6.5 ppg, but he is getting 10.8 rebounds and 6.7 dimes. Welcome back, Ben, for however long it may be. Wishing the best.|
|NYK||.429||After last season’s deeper-than-expected run in the playoffs, the first two weeks of 2023-24 have been nothing short of anticlimactic. Jalen Brunson continues to do what he was brought to New York to do, leading the Knicks with 22.1 ppg, 3.9 rebounds, and 4.6 assists. R.J. Barrett is right on Brunson’s heels averaging 22.0 ppg, 3.6 rebounds, and 2.8 assists. Julius Randle still doesn’t seem to have maximized his talent and potential, but is averaging 15.6 ppg, 10.4 rebounds, and 4.9 assists.|
|MIA||.429||I’ve never really ever been to get excited about the Miami Heat – not even with Viagra, even though they’ve won their last two games. I feel they’ve really missed their window and may be the only one who thought Damian Lillard wasn’t going to be the answer there regardless. For better or worse, this has been Jimmy Butler’s team, but it’s the kid who had his bags packed all summer who’s out here proving his worth. Tyler Herro leads the Heat with 25.5 ppg, 5.6 rebounds, and 5.0 assists, and shooting .410 from three. Bam Adebayo is averaging 21.5 ppg, 9.0 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. Butler is third at 19.0 ppg, 6.7 rebounds, and 3.7 assists.|
|TOR||.429||I’m not sure what’s been harder to figure out – how to pronounce head coach Darko Rajakovic’s name or this team’s identity without Fred VanVleet. (Just kidding, I know how to pronounce his name). In the aftermath of free agency, these Toronto Raptors are a far cry from the team that won the championship in 2019 with the now-departed VanVleet, Kawhi Leonard, and former head coach Nick Nurse. Scottie Barnes is making it his team, leading thus far with 22.6 ppg, 9.9 rebounds, and 5.9 assists. Dennis Schroder, the darling of the FIBA Championships this summer, adds 16.9 ppg, 2.9 rebounds, and 8.9 assists (tied for 4th in the NBA with Luka Doncic) after coming over from his second stint with the Los Angeles Lakers. O.G. Anunoby is third on the team with 16.2 ppg, 4.2 rebounds, and 1.7 assists, but may end up back with Nurse in Philadelphia before all is said and done.|
|CHI||.375||I can’t be the only one who’s disappointed in the Chicago Bulls – .500 at home and .250 on the road with all the talent they have on paper. Zach LaVine’s 22.5 ppg, 4.4 rebounds, and 2.5 assists is nice, but just makes him trade bait in the next three months, especially if the Bulls continue to underwhelm and underachieve. DeMar DeRozan may also be on people’s short list as he’s averaging 21.4 ppg, 3.3 rebounds, and 4.3 assists. Nikola Vucevic comes in third at 15.1 ppg, 11.3 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. Beyond that, there’s really no one. RIP Chicago – we hardly knew you.|
|CHA||.333||Charlotte is right where I expected them to be, much to the chagrin of head coach Steve Clifford in his second stint as this team’s skipper. For a team that has six players averaging double digits two weeks in, that can only mean there’s no semblance of leadership or organization – you can’t treat an NBA team like a playground basketball unit. Terry Rozier – not LaMelo Ball – is leading the Hornets at 22.0 ppg, 4.0 rebounds, and 5.0 assists. P.J. Washington is averaging 18.5 ppg, 5.0 rebounds, and 2.0 assists. And the oft-forgotten Gordon Hayward seems to have been resurrected at 17.3 ppg, 5.7 rebounds, and 5.3 assists. Ball is fourth on the team at 17.2 ppg despite having played in all six games – a feat in itself, given his injury history. Mark Williams is kicking in 14.7 ppg and Brandon Miller is contributing 13.2 ppg. Get it together, Charlotte – do better.|
|DET||.250||I got to watch Cade Cunningham for a full game the other night as he dropped 21 points in a loss to the visiting Golden State Warriors. Due to injuries, I hadn’t had that chance since he played at Oklahoma State. New head coach Monty Williams – who I respect immensely – has a bevy of talent in Detroit, it’s just putting it all together. Cunningham leads the Pistons at 22.9 ppg, 3.1 rebounds, and 7.1 assists. Alec Burks has boomeranged back nicely, coming off the bench for 15.0 point, 3.0 rebound, and 3.3 assists averages. Jalen Duren is hitting for 14.3 ppg, 11.5 rebounds, and 2.7 assists. Be patient with these kids – they’ll come around.|
|WAS||.167||You come to expect disappointment when you speak of the Washington Wizards, but I didn’t expect them to throw the money they did at Kyle Kuzma after losing Bradley Beal, and be the sole proprietors of the Eastern Conference basement. Kuzma leads the team with 23.7 ppg, 6.5 rebounds, and 3.2 assists – but is it leading if you’re losing? Newcomer Jordan Poole is averaging 18.5 ppg, 1.8 rebounds, and 3.7 assists. And Deni Avdija is contributing 13.7 ppg, 5.7 rebounds, and 3.3 assists.|
|DEN||.875||At 7-1, the reigning champs are the best team in the NBA (only because they’ve played two more games than the Boston Celtics, calm down Jared Zero). But the bug has bitten Jamal Murray again – this time, the hammy. Nikola Jokic is averaging a near triple-double with 28.4 ppg, 12.9 rebounds (3rd in the NBA), and 8.4 assists. Murray was a dozen behind at 16.3 ppg, 2.6 rebounds, and 7.4 dimes. Finally, finally Michael Porter, Jr. is coming into his own at 15.9 ppg, 8.0 rebounds, and 2.0 assists. The repeat is theirs to lose.|
|DAL||.857||Ever the underachievers, the Dallas Mavericks seem to be getting along and proving that maybe Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving can and will coexist. OMG, did I just say that out loud? Doncic is leading with 31.6 ppg (3rd in the NBA) on .493 shooting, while shooting .413 from beyond the arc. Irving, meanwhile, 20.0 ppg. 3.8 rebounds, and 7.8 assists through five of Dallas’ seven games. Tim Hardaway, Jr. has re-established himself with 18.1 ppg, 4.1 rebounds, and 1.4 assists. They keep this up and they may even have us believing that Jason Kidd can coach.|
|GSW||.750||You didn’t think the Splash Brothers were going to evaporate did you, just because they got rid of the Poole? They’re back, they’re bad, they’re black, I’m mad … (but enough about the Lethal Weapon 5 movie coming out where Danny Glover really is too old for this shit – Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson aren’t, at least not yet). Curry is ageless with his 30.9 ppg (4th in the NBA) average, adding 4.8 rebounds, and 4.3 assists to his ever-dangerous repertoire. Thompson – in a contract year – is bringing 16.6 ppg, 3.3 rebounds, and 2.1 assists. Jonathan Kuminga is third on the team with 12.7 ppg, 2.9 rebounds, and 0.6 assists. The Warriors will be fine, and always in the thick of the championship hunt.|
|MIN||.667||Maybe the biggest surprise of the first two weeks is the Minnesota Timberwolves, who made the biggest trade a summer ago, but didn’t look much better than a clusterf*** on their best days all last season. Now that people have realized it’s Anthony Edwards’ team and not Karl-Anthony Towns’ then that may be why progress is being made in the Twin Cities. Edwards’ stats are leaps and bounds ahead of his teammates, as he is averaging 28.2 ppg, 6.7 rebounds, and 4.8 assists to lead the pack. Towns is contributing 16.7 ppg, 9.2 rebounds, and 2.7 assists. Off the bench, Naz Reid is adding 15.7 pg, 4.5 rebounds, and 1.0 assist. Good thing they traded away half of their team for Rudy Gobert, who’s only kicking in a dozen a night – points and rebounds (5th in the NBA at 12.3).|
|NOP||.571||First and foremost, offer up your thoughts and prayers to C.J. McCollum, who has once again suffered a collapsed right lung. He went through this previously in 2021 as a member of the Portland Trailblazers. Zion Williamson has come back strong to lead the New Orleans Pelicans with 21.8 ppg, 7.0 rebounds, and 4.7 assists. But McCollum has been right there with him, at 21.7 ppg, 4.8 rebounds, and 5.7 assists. Let’s not forget about the quiet cool of Brandon Ingram, who’s also above 20 at 20.8 ppg, 5.8 rebounds, and 4.3 assists – all three players a huge reason the Pelicans are sitting pretty if the playoffs started today, despite dropping their last two contests.|
|OKC||.571||The best players – unanimously – in the FIBA Championships this past summer was the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. His team-leading 25.7 ppg, 7. Rebounds, and 6.5 assists are a huge reason the Thunder continue to make noise in a football city with no “star” power. Jalen Williams and Chet Holmgren are both averaging 17.0 ppg for this squad with Holmgren grabbing 8.0 rebounds and dishing 2.7 assists, while Williams has 4.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists going two weeks into the young season.|
|LAC||.500||I liked this team’s chances to make a run at Denver and Phoenix in the West … until they landed James Harden. You throw ghosting into the equation with load management and I’ll just say that Russell Westbrook can’t win a championship by himself when his teammates are vanishing like the fog between L.A. and Catalina Island or playing 48-60 of 82 games. Currently, Paul George leads the team with 25.7 ppg average, 5.2 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. Kawhi Leonard is hitting for 22.2 ppg, 6.0 rebounds, and 4.3 assists. Harden only has one game under his waistband, but is averaging 17.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 6.0 assists.|
|HOU||.500||This team will go about as far as Dillon Brooks’ ability to keep his mouth shut and let his play do the talking. Jalen Green and Alperen Sengun lead the team with respective 18.2 ppg averages; Sengun is averaging 8.5 rebounds and 7.0 assists, while Green is grabbing 3.8 rebounds and dishing 2.5 dimes. Newcomer Fred VanVleet is contributing 16.7 ppg, 3.7 rebounds, and 8.2 assists. Brooks isn’t far behind at 16.3 ppg, 4.7 rebounds, and 2.2 dimes.|
|SAS||.429||Everybody has handed the Rookie of the Year award to Victor Wembanyama already, but pay attention to Chet Holmgren of Oklahoma City. But the 7’4” youngster’s off to a good start and the San Antonio Spurs fed off their fans’ energy the first couple of games. They have lost two straight in their last two. Wembanyama is tied with Devin Vassell to lead the team with 19.4 ppg averages. Wemby has 8.4 rebounds and 1.7 assists, while Vassell has 3.4 rebounds and 2.2 assists. Keldon Johnson brings up third with 16.9 ppg, 5.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists.|
|LAL||.429||LeBron James is magnificent at his age, in his 21st NBA season, the man is on a mission. He’s always on a mission, isn’t he? In a year that was supposed to be Anthony Davis’ year (aren’t they all?), James leads the Los Angeles Lakers with 25.3 ppg, 8.4 rebounds, and 5.9 assists. Davis isn’t far behind at 23.9 ppg, 12.0 rebounds, and 3.3 assists. And though everyone always talks about him being traded, D’Angelo Russell is averaging 17.3 ppg, 3.3 rebounds, and 6.4 assists. If the other Lakers ever get it together to the degree that James has, watch out.|
|PHX||.429||Bradley Beal hasn’t played a game yet. Devin Booker has only played two. So far the most exciting part of the Phoenix Suns is Yuta Watanabe, right? Kevin Durant has poured in 209 points in seven games; behind him, only Eric Gordon has just above half that (107). In Booker’s two games, he’s leading the Suns’ stat sheets with 31.5 ppg, 7.5 rebounds, and 10.5 assists. Great numbers … when and if he plays. Durant is averaging 29.9 ppg on .521 shooting, 6.6 rebounds, and 4.0 assists. Gordon is third with 15.3 ppg, 2.4 rebounds, and 3.3 assists. They’re thinking about re-pairing Beal and John Wall? Let’s get Beal playing first.|
|POR||.429||We expected a crap season after losing Damian Lillard, but we really lost him a long time ago, right? I mean, he hadn’t played a full season 2014-15 … okay, he got in 80 games in 2018-19 and the wave “bye bye” to Oklahoma City’s Paul George made up for missing two games. But the Blazers are rebuilding and will likely finish dead last in the West, meaning this is Chauncey Billups’ season to prove he can coach. He’s got the veteran Jerami Grant leading the way thus far with 20.6 ppg, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.6 assists. Shaedon Sharpe is kicking in 20.1 ppg, 5.9 rebounds, and 2.9 assists. And Anfernee Simons is proving valuable off the bench with 18.0 ppg, 2.0 rebounds and 4.p assists. Scoot Henderson has played five of seven games, hitting for 8.8 ppg, 2.2 rebounds, and 4.6 assists … but his signature shoe looks nice.|
|SAC||.333||Probably the biggest disappointment in the West is the Sacramento Kings. After stretching the Golden State Warriors to seven nail-biting games that were competitively better than any other series in the playoffs – including the NBA Finals, Sacramento has lost three straight and fallen to next-to-last in the West. In what was arguably the most fruitful trade (Domantas Sabonis for Tyrese Haliburton-Buddy Hield + extra parts on both sides) for both clubs involved, the Kings flourished under first-year head coach Mike Brown. DeAaron Fox was a force to be reckoned with, as was Sabonis. So far, Fox is the man with his foot on the gas, averaging 31.3 ppg, 4.3 rebounds, and 6.0 assists. Sabonis is barely at half that, hitting for 15.8 ppg, 13.2 rebounds (2nd in the NBA), and 5.7 assists. Harrison Barnes adds 13.5 ppg, 2.3 rebounds, and 1.2 assists. Kevin Huerter has become almost non-existent. Things need to change or last season seems like a fluke, a one-off at best.|
|UTA||.250||Since Quin Snyder, Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, and Mike Conley all went their separate ways, expectations for the Utah Jazz have been as lofty as a bad fart in church. But they made some noise last season, playing better than expected and winning 37 games was considered a ‘win,’ though the fans on the Wasatch Front have seen and expected much better days. Lauri Markkanen had a breakout year in 2022-23 and leads the team thus far this season with 24.0 ppg, 8.8 rebounds, and 1.9 assists. John Collins is about as forgettable in Utah as he was in Atlanta, but is second on the team with 14.8 ppg, 8.5 rebounds, and 1.0 assist. Jordan Clarkson seems to be a shell of his former self, but contributes 13.3 ppg, 3.6 rebounds, and 5.0 assists. At least someone on this team can pass.|
|MEM||.143||The most obvious observation in the NBA – the Memphis Grizzlies miss Ja Morant and his firepower … er, intensity. While adding Derrick Rose for his experience and leadership was seemingly a good idea, there is no doubt that – for better or worse – Morant is this team’s heartbeat and its soul. With 18 games remaining of the 25-game suspension, it’s Desmond Bane leading the team with 26.6 ppg, 5.0 rebounds, and 4.0 assists. Jaren Jackson, Jr. is averaging 21.6 ppg, 7.6 rebounds, and 2.6 assists. Newcomer Marcus Smart is kicking in 14.0 ppg, 2.6 rebounds, and 5.4 assists. Rose has played four of the team’s seven games, started none, and has an 8.0 ppg average. 18 more games.|
Tracy Graven is the Senior NBA Analyst for BackSportsPage.com.
He has written the NBA, done NBA Radio, and appeared as a guest for the last 24 years for HoopsWorld, Swish Magazine, HoopsHype, the Coach Scott Fields Show, NBARadioShow.com, and is also tackling the NFL, NCAA, and will be pinch-hitting on some Major League Baseball coverage for BackSportsPage.
He’s spent 21 years in locker rooms in Orlando, Boise (CBA, G League), San Antonio, Phoenix, Denver, Oklahoma City, and Atlanta.
A corporate trainer by day, he currently resides in SEC Country near Knoxville, Tennessee.
Reach him on Twitter at @RealTMoneyMedia
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