We’re just under two weeks into the 2022-23 NBA season and there have already been a handful of upsets, from the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers starting 1-4 to the Los Angeles Lakers’ winless start.
Our Panel of NBA Reporters — Rick Bucher, Melissa Rohlin and Yaron Weitzman – evaluates what they’ve seen in the past week and what we can expect next.
1. What is the lakers to do with Russell Westbrook unless they find him a bargain soon?
Books: Get him off the bench and make him the leader of the second unit. More importantly, make it clear to everyone: Russ isn’t the reason we’re losing. One could argue that Patrick Beverley contributes less than Russ. LeBron is a much bigger turnover machine than Russ and has a far poorer assist-to-turnover ratio (1.6 to Westbrook’s 2.5).
LeBron James makes cryptic Instagram post after Lakers 0-4 start
Shannon Sharpe Responds to LeBron’s Cryptic Post
Rohlin: How could there be a trade soon? He couldn’t be any worse offensively these days considering he’s shooting 28.9% from field and 0.83% (!!!) from beyond the arc, well below his career average of 43.8% from field and 30. 4% from beyond the 3 point line.
For now, the Lakers just have to be patient and hope he increases his market value. Eventually, the law of averages should kick in and he’ll start taking a few shots. This is the only chance they have to take him down. Until then, the Lakers need to keep encouraging him to play good defense (which was his only bright spot), bench him during the crunch time of tight games, and hope he comes out of his crunch soon.
Books: The only reason anyone would take Russ is because of his expiring contract and whatever the Lakers are willing to give up. The Lakers shouldn’t be giving up picks, they should be making trades to get more, including sort of, sort of, one for this year’s draft. So it’s time to think about trading Anthony Davis.
Weitzman: What should the Lakers do with Russ? They shouldn’t have traded him in at all then they shouldn’t have acted like bringing him back this year was a viable option and that everything was cool. Step 1: Get him off the bench! Have him run to some second units when LeBron lifts off the ground. If he has a problem with that, do the “we agreed to break up” things. It’s not that it hurts its commercial value; it can’t be any lower, and anyone who trades for him will do so for the expiring contract and selection, not because he’s interested in adding Russell Westbrook to his team.
2. Which team is most likely to sustain their hot start?
Rohlin: I’ll go here with Memphis. Yes Morant plays MVP basketball. He currently has the second most points (35.3) in the league, behind only Giannis Antetokounmpo (36 points). The grizzlies are young, deep and hungry. Let’s not forget that the Grizzlies were 20-5 without Morant last season. Now that he’s playing at this level – along with his rowdy teammate – the Grizzlies could really rise to the top of the league.
Books: It all depends on what we call a hot start. The Raptors started with a tough five-game schedule — Cavs, Nets, Heat twice in Miami and Sixers — came out with a 3-2 record and the two losses went to the brink. I’d say that’s a hot start and I don’t think it’s a mirage.
Weitzman: I was going to say the Blazers until Dame got injured, although they could still be my answer given how bouncy, athletic and dynamic the retooled squad looks. But let’s see what happens in the next two weeks. So I say the 3-1 New Orleans Pelicans instead.
The offense, which ranks second in the league for efficiency, is legit. You know Zion and Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum, but this team is strong too (Trey Murphy is a real sniper) and Jonas Valanciunas is a beast on the boards. Right now they’re 16th in defense. If they can move up a few spots and get closer to 10th place, I think this is a team that could be in contention for a place in the conference finals.
3. Which team is more likely to break out of their early-season slump: the Lakers, Nets, or Sixers?
Rohlin: It’s unreal that the Lakers are 0-4 and both the Nets and 76ers are 1-4. It’s just bad for the league. I bet the first team to turn things around will be the Nets. They are last in the league in defensive rating (120.2). If it clicks for them that they need to put a lot more effort that side of the court, things should turn around for them regardless of Ben Simmons pulling out of his crunch.
Books: I’m going to go Sixers, although I’d like to answer: none. I’m giving the Sixers a chance because, at least talented, they have what they need to compete. The Lakers have no shooting, athleticism, or depth; The nets have no size or edge protection, or apparently a fair amount of “wool”.
Weitzman: I go with Sixers, but more standard here. The Lakers stink and are cooked. The Nets have structural issues as they lack size or defenders and Ben Simmons doesn’t look like the answer there.
At least the Sixers can fix some of their problems just by making an effort, especially in transitional defense. Want a ridiculous statistic, courtesy of Cleaning the Glass? They currently give up 9.3 transition points per 100 possessions every game, which is the most in the league. But it’s not just the best in the league — the difference between them and the second-worst transition defense (the Blazers, who are yielding 6.8 points per 100 possessions) is the same as between the Blazers and 20th-ranked Utah Jazz.
The good news for the Sixers is that this should be an easy cleanup. The bad news is that there’s no reason a team with championship expectations should walk out of the gate with such a glaring problem.
4. Who can derail Christian Holz‘Sixth Man of the Year Campaign?
Rohlin: Jordan Poole. The 23-year-old has just agreed to a four-year, $140 million contract extension with Golden State. He’s expected to play elite basketball and I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a breakout season.
Books: Jason Kidd by putting him on the starting lineup. The production of wood per minute is wild at the moment. If he keeps this up, I won’t see anyone hitting him. If he slacks off, Poole will certainly be in the hunt; I’d say he already had a breakout season last year, but the silly thing is, he still has room to grow — especially if he decides a defensive stance shouldn’t be avoided at all costs — and he certainly could get past Wood. Two more to keep an eye on: Malcolm Brogdon and Cam Reddish. All reddish needs are more minutes; Of course, there is no guarantee Thibs will give them.
Weitzman: The answer is Christian Holz. He’s been great, but he’s never been a good defender and we’re already seeing some of those problems in Dallas; According to Cleaning the Glass, the team sheds 2.2 more points per 100 (excluding garbage time) possessions when playing than when sitting. They outsource opponents by almost 28 points per 100 possessions in his minutes because he was so dynamic on offense, but the defensive side of things should be kept in mind as the season progresses, especially given the value we get from Jason Kidd know sets on this side of the ball.
5. What are you most looking forward to in this weekend’s games?
Rohlin: I look forward to seeing what happens with New Orleans vs Phoenix on Friday. Both teams are 3-1 and have chips on their shoulders. Devin Booker has been on a tear lately, averaging 32.5 points and leading his team to a 29-point win over Golden State on Tuesday. Pelican superstar Zion Williamson (rear hip and lower back contusion) is listed as a doubt for Friday but if he plays it should be a game to circle on the calendar.
Books: Cavs-Celtics on Friday – Lack of size is clearly a weak point for the Cs without Robert Williams. Is Evan Mobley ready to tip the scales? Anyone can take Saturday off because apparently the planner did.
Sunday, Pelicans-Clippers and Knicks-Cavs. Are the clips in we-only-stand-for-good-teams mode, or were the consecutive losses to the Thunder an indicator that they’re not the juggernaut everyone thinks they are? And don’t look now, but the Knicks could actually – dare I say it – be worth watching this season. They are 3-1 but their wins are over Detroit, Orlando and Charlotte. Let’s see what happens when they play a true playoff caliber team (I lost them to the Bucks on Friday night).
Weitzman: Whether the Sixers can turn things around begins Friday with the second leg of their two-game streak against the Raptors. How the 3:1 (!) New York Knicks against the Milwaukee Bucks look like, their first tough duel of the season (this game is also Friday night).
Ric Bucher is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Magazine and The Washington Post and has authored two books, Rebound, about NBA forward Brian Grant’s battle with early-onset Parkinson’s disease, and Yao: A Life In Two Worlds. He also has a daily podcast, On The Ball with Ric Bucher. Follow him on Twitter @Ric Bucher.
Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She has previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.
Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He is the author of “Refueling to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Boldest Trial in Professional Sports History.”.” Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.
Get more from the National Basketball Association Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more