NBA: 3 surprising storylines from the first month of the NBA season

Taking a closer look at three of the biggest, and most surprising, storylines of the 2019-20 NBA season thus far

The most exciting part of any new NBA season is the unpredictability of it. Every summer we convince ourselves that we have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen, but we find out pretty quickly that we don’t really know much of anything.

As someone who puts their opinions and predictions on the internet to be audited by the world, you hope to be right more than you’re wrong. But that being said, sometimes being wrong leads to some fun storylines that you didn’t see coming.

So in the spirit of being wrong, here are a few of the most surprising stories taking place through the first month of action.

Andrew Wiggins is…good?

For most players, by the time they enter their sixth season, we know who they are as a player. Through his first five seasons, Andrew Wiggins has always been a super athletic, high potential player, who is arguably more frustrating to watch than anyone because of his inefficient shot selection and inability to reach his perceived potential. That might be a thing of the past.

Wiggins has played 12 games and is averaging career bests in points, assists, rebounds, blocks, turnovers, and several other advanced metrics. 11 games obviously aren’t enough to form a solid opinion as we’ve seen a lot of players who can put together small samples where they look good, especially early in the season.

This is different though because I don’t think Wiggins is significantly better, but he is playing much smarter. Better vs. smarter is really a distinction without a difference when both lead to Wiggins being a more productive player, but the fact that he’s playing smarter makes me more confident that this is sustainable and not just a blip on the radar of his career.

The proof is in the shot selection. Per Basketball Reference, Wiggins is shooting nearly 80 percent of his shots from either 0-10 feet or from behind the 3-point line which is a career-high and roughly 30 percent more than his career averages. Really what this means is that he’s not taking near as many mid-range jumpers as he has throughout the first five years of his career.

I know there are still some people out there who refuse to discount the mid-range jumper because they watched Larry Bird shoot them in 1986 and it worked for him. But the analytics aren’t really debatable and Wiggins’ first month is showing how big of a difference something as simple as shot selection can make.

Minnesota Timberwolves‘ head coach, Ryan Saunders, deserves a lot of credit for this new version of Andrew Wiggins. Saunders has empowered him to play to his strengths and it’s unlocked a more confident and efficient version of the former Kansas standout than we’ve ever seen.

If it was just an increase in field goal percentage then it might be fluky, but a smarter and more confident version of Wiggins is something that appears to have staying power if he can commit to this style of play for the long haul.

Los Angeles Lakers or the 1985 Chicago Bears?

Yeah, comparing the 2019-20 Los Angeles Lakers to a football team from 35 years ago doesn’t make any sense, but the point is they’ve been incredible on the defensive end so far this year. I have four sources that prove this: ESPN’s Hollinger rankings, NBA.com player stats, and the other two are my eyeballs which have been very impressed by what they’ve seen so far.

Per ESPN’s Hollinger rankings, the Lakers are first in the NBA in defensive rating and have the best rating since the 2015-16 Spurs so it’s been a pretty great start on that end. Per NBA.com they also have six players who rank in the top 65 for defensive win shares: LeBron James (13th), Anthony Davis (15th), Avery Bradley (38th), Danny Green (55th), Alex Caruso (56th), and Kyle Kuzma (65th).

Those stats are great and look nice on paper, but what my two eyeballs see is perhaps more significant. The identity of a team is established by the team’s leaders, and the two superstars on this team have set the standard on the defensive end.

Anthony Davis is one of the best defensive big men in the league. For my money, he’s the best defensive big man this side of Rudy Gobert. He looks just as comfortable guarding players out on the perimeter as he does in the paint, and his elite shot-blocking (current league leader in blocks) allows him to clean up any mistakes from the rest of the team. He’s special, but we knew that already.

LeBron James, on the other hand, has been on the receiving end of some (deserved) criticism for his lack of defensive effort over the past few seasons. But he is locked in on defense right now in a way that I don’t think I’ve seen from him since his 2015-16 return to Cleveland when he led them to a championship. He’s no longer the guy who’s going to want to guard the other team’s best player all night and it’s possible that he won’t keep this same effort for all 82 games. But this is a nice reminder that even in year 17, he can still flip that switch and be an elite two-way player when he wants to.

It’s not a perfect group and I think their main flaw is that they could have issues with an elite scoring guard like James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, etc. That being said, Avery Bradley, Danny Green, and Alex Caruso have been outstanding and might be up for the challenge. Time will tell.

The very unlucky Gordon Hayward

In his first game as a Boston Celtic two years ago, Gordon Hayward suffered a gruesome injury that left his ankle more turned around than Regan MacNeil’s head in “The Exorcist.”  Since then, he’s gone through a daunting recovery and struggled so much at times last year that it was fair to wonder if we’d ever see the old Gordon Hayward again.

I was expecting a slightly improved version of Hayward this year, but what he did over the course of his first eight games was unbelievable and one of the most pleasant surprises of the young season. His movement and confidence on the court looked like the Hayward of old and his efficiency numbers were as good, if not better than his best years in Utah.

Of course, as soon as Hayward gets back to playing like the All-Star that we remember, he proves that time is just a flat circle repeating itself over and over by breaking his hand against the Spurs. The good news is that this injury is only expected to take six weeks to recover from and didn’t leave any bones dangling backward off of their respective joints. Gotta look at the bright side, right?

Eight games is a tiny sample size so I’m not ready to say Hayward is back like Backstreet (bad joke today, but if this was 1997 that would have been a sick reference), but what he showed over the first couple weeks of the season is more than enough to get excited if you’re a Celtics fan.