NBA early (over)reactions: Shades of Wilt in Wembanyama, 76ers fleece Clippers in Harden trade, In-Season Tournament a goer

A week and a bit into the NBA season and there’s a bunch of storylines developing but none bigger, literally and figuratively, than Victor Wembanyama. 

Expectations were sky high for the French phenom heading into his rookie season and somehow he has managed to exceed them in the space of his first five forays onto an NBA arena for San Antonio. 

Not since LeBron James two decades ago has a newbie dominated the news cycle in this manner with such a wow factor in his on-court displays.

And there’s plenty of other talking points around the association – the latest James Harden trade, the struggles of Milwaukee, Miami and Memphis, Luka Doncic dragging Dallas to the top of the West and the long-awaited in-season tournament finally tipping off on Saturday.

Through the Australian lens, Ben Simmons showing signs of a career rebirth in Brooklyn was not expected but if he continues getting back on track, he could potentially return to the heights of where he was a few years back at his peak in Philadelphia before it all went pear-shaped.

Victor Wembanyama standing next to Kevin Durant is WILD ????

(h/t @WorldWideWob)

— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 3, 2023

NBA early (over)reactions

Wemby’s on a different level

The Wembanyama hype train is at full tilt already and such is the magnetic nature of his play that the Spurs have gone from the least watchable team in the past few seasons to League Pass darlings.

Wembanyama is averaging 20.6 points, eight rebounds and 2.2 blocks already but it’s the way he is operating in his own stratosphere which is befuddling other teams. 

At 224cm, he’s towering over huge NBA players who are not used to being bullied around. 

Poor old Drew Eubanks will be having nightmares for weeks, if not longer, after Wemby made the Suns centre, who is a muscly 208cm, look like a kid against his dad in the driveway at times in San Antonio’s second straight win over Phoenix. 

There’s an element to watching old Wilt Chamberlain highlights when you see how Wembanyama is unfazed by what his opponents are doing because he knows they can’t block his shot.

The refs aren’t giving him many calls either – once they realise what he’s capable of doing, they’ll start pinging defenders for more fouls as many of them are quickly realising that’s their best bet to stop him.

And on defence, he’s swatting away shots not just at the rim but outside the paint as well.

The Spurs are a surprising 3-2 out of the gates and if they let Wemby play the majority of the season they will not be in the top five lottery picks next year. 

Once they find a top-quality point guard to set him up on offence more, he will be close to unstoppable because the entry passes he can reel in are way too high for 99% of the NBA to get near.

Suns too skinny

Phoenix have not yet had their big three on court due to Bradley Beal’s back injury but even with Kevin Durant and Devin Booker, they have lost three out of five, including the twin defeats to the Spurs. 

Their lavish trades have left new coach Frank Vogel with a paltry support cast. 

Their top trio have a spotty injury history so the Suns could fail to rise in the West unless they can get all three healthy for pretty much the entire season. 

Freak Time duo will take time – but have Bucks got a coaching problem?

Milwaukee cut ties with their championship-winning coach Mike Budenholzer in the off-season, installing rookie Adrian Griffin. 

After acquiring Damian Lillard for Jrue Holiday, the defence that was the hallmark of their title win a couple of years ago has dropped off a cliff. 

Lillard is hitting shots and developing his combination with Giannis Antetokounmpo but it could be a similar situation to Boston last year where the star-studded team didn’t live up to its potential because they had a first-year coach learning on the run.

Mavericks, Pelicans spring surprise start

Luka Doncic is dominating for Dallas and despite going down to Denver in their In-Season Tournament opener on Saturday, the Mavericks are a much-improved team from last season’s hodgepodge. 

Doncic is averaging a near triple double at 33.8 points, 10.4 rebounds and 9.4 assists while Kyrie Irving is (so far) playing a supporting role well and rookie centre Dereck Lively is filling his role as an intimidating defensive presence.

The franchise’s decision to tank away any chance of making the play-in last season to keep their top-10 protected pick is paying off.

The Pelicans are the other surprise team at 4-1 nipping at the heels of the Nuggets and Warriors at the top of the West standings. 

Zion Williamson is on a mission to prove he can stay on the court and lead New Orleans into title contention and even though Brandon Ingram has missed time again, CJ McCollum is stepping up from outside.

Luka did Luka things (34 PTS, 10 REB, 8 AST) in the Mavs’ NBA In-Season Tournament opener ????

The @dallasmavs next NBA In-Season Tournament matchup is Friday, 11/10 vs. LAC on the NBA App ????

— NBA (@NBA) November 4, 2023

Panic stations at Miami and Memphis

Well, not really. Neither franchise ever shows signs of concern but their fans certainly are.

The Heat squeaked out a win over Detroit and lost four straight before edging past Washington. Hardly anything to write home about and while Tyler Herro is putting up points, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo need more star power helping them out if this team is going to do its usual trick of defying dire predictions. 

Memphis are hurting on the back of six straight losses with their franchise cornerstone Ja Morant 20 games away from returning from his suspension for flashing guns at nightclubs (plural, as in twice) and centre Steven Adams out for the season with a knee injury.

It could be too late to salvage their campaign for last year’s second seed in the West by the time Morant comes back.

Sixers won Harden trade by a mile 

Philadelphia have been scoring wins all round. They are 3-1, got rid of James Harden to the LA Clippers and received a decent haul of draft assets that they can flip into a quality player down the track.

They have the cap space to absorb a huge contract to pair someone with Joel Embiid and most improved player candidate Tyrese Maxey. 

The Clippers gonna Clip and with Harden, Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook and Paul George, they have four fading stars with reputations for constantly going missing either through injury or in crunch time. 

Friday’s average margin of victory was 4.9 points, the second smallest on a single night (minimum 7 games) in the last 10 seasons.

NBA In-Season Tournament brought the intensity ????

— NBA (@NBA) November 4, 2023

In-season tournament makes a splash 

The NBA’s going all out to make sure everyone notices when the In-Season Tournament matches are on with the colourful courts giving the group games a necessary point of difference as they’re absorbed into the 82-game schedule.

There was plenty to indicate that the teams were taking the matches seriously on Saturday for the opening round with the NBA spruiking that the combined 4.9 margin of victory was the closest for a seven-game slate in the past decade. 

It will be hard for casual fans to keep track of the separate group standings but the success of this inaugural event will be determined once it comes to the final matches to decide who makes the quarter-finals and how seriously the players and coaches treat the sudden-death fixtures. 

There’s little chance of this ever becoming like the FA Cup for English soccer – you can’t conjure up prestige and tradition out of thin air – but it’s well worth a try to see if it can liven up the monotony of the regular season.

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