Five Things That I Learned From Opening Night In The NBA
What The First Night of the 2012-13 NBA Season Taught Me
I have been waiting for the start of the NBA season since the final buzzer of the Finals sounded on June 21st. Thanks to a ton of NBA 2k13 and fantasy basketball preparation, I have been been able to survive until now. However, nothing can replace the joy that accompanies the tip-off of the NBA season and the return of Craig Sager's suits and Charles Barkley's "expert insight and analysis".
It has been a nerve-wracking four months that saw the league undergo a major shakeup, one which left nearly every team's roster looking like a remix of the previous year. A handful of stars have switched teams, bringing with them tons of question marks and high expectations. While there were only three games on opening night, these games offered plenty of intriguing story lines for casual and die-hard fans alike.
Will Kevin Garnett murder Ray Allen before tipoff, or will he turn Darko Milicic into his hitman?
Will the Los Angeles Lakers have enough shots to go around for all their stars?
Has Metta World Peace changed his name again?
Will LeBron James get seven different rings for his part in winning the championship last year?
Do the Washington Wizards still suck?
Will anyone actually watch a Cleveland Cavaliers versus Washington Wizards game?
While there was Darko-initiated assassinations or multiple rings given to LeBron, there was still plenty of excitement spread out among the first three games of the year. Here are the five things that I learned from the opening night of the 2012-13 NBA season...
5. The Cleveland Cavaliers May Have the Worst Bench in the League
The Cleveland Cavaliers won their first game of the season 94-84 over the Washington Wizards, despite their bench being outscored 46-23 by the Wizards. The Cavs have been touted by many to be a huge sleeper this season, and if Kyrie Irving’s first game of the year is any indication, that may be possible. However, if their bench rotation tonight is any indication, that may be impossible once again.
They played five players off the bench tonight: Donald Sloan, CJ Miles, Daniel Gibson, Luke Walton, and Tyler Zeller. While Miles and Gibson have both shown an ability to score throughout their career, neither seems to possess the mentality of a sixth man. Miles was given the first shot at that role tonight, and was unable to get into any type of rhythm, as he had more turnovers (3) than he did points (2). Gibson led the bench in scoring with 10, but didn’t do much to get his teammates involved while he was on the court. Then there is Zeller, who will likely be the biggest unknown off the bench for Cleveland this season. While he had an unremarkable debut, he did play the role that was asked of him, and finished with five points, two rebounds and a block in 15 minutes.
While those three players will most likely prove to be solid (if unimpressive) contributors this season, the most troubling aspect of the Cavs bench was the other two players to see the court tonight. Both Donald Sloan and Luke Walton played a quarter’s-worth of basketball and contributed about as much as you’d expect them to—very little. As a result of Walton seeing the floor, Omri Casspi caught his first DNP-CD of the season, a troubling sign for a player who was hoping to bounce back after a rough season last year. Just as troubling is the fact that Sloan received the share of backup point guard minutes while Jeremy Pargo was inactive for the game.
While neither option is going to automatically make-or-break the Cleveland bench, it is surprising that Sloan got the nod over the more offensively-gifted Pargo. Sloan has shown in the past that he is unable to knock down an open jumper, and I believed he was going to be one of the final cuts by the Cavs. He must have shown enough in preseason to make the team and the rotation however (at the expense of Pargo).
While it paid off in a win tonight, I think that if the Cavs are relying on Sloan and Walton for production every night, the Cavs bench will be in trouble. Both Pargo and Casspi are coming off less-than-stellar seasons, but both are still young and still possess heaps of potential. For shooters such as Casppi, confidence can play a big role in production, and if tonight is a sign of things to come, that confidence may be tough to come by this season.
For tonight though, I’ll let the Cavs enjoy their win and their 1-0 start, thanks in part to the strong play of Irving and Anderson Varejao. Speaking of Varejao…
4. Anderson Varejao is Still Alive and Efficient
After missing the last half of last season with a broken wrist, Anderson Varejao reminded everybody who had forgotten about him that he is just as energetic as ever. In the first game of the season Varejao almost recorded a triple-double, finishing with a line of 9 points, 23 rebounds, and 9 assists (three times more than Irving had).
Varejao had no trouble rebounding over the Nene-less Wizards, and his toughness proved just how soft Tristan Thompson was at the center position last season. While some Cavs fans have contemplated the possibility of trading Varejao this season, if the team really has any postseason aspirations, they may rest on the shoulders (and fluffy hair) of Varejao inside. Neither Zeller nor Tristan Thompson seems ready to man the center position, so unless the Cavs have another quality big man hiding in the locker room, a Varejao trade seems highly unlikely at this point in time.
Sorry for forgetting about you Andy.
3. The Washington Wizards Think They Can Shoot a Lot Better Than They Actually Do
One of the things that I like about John Wall is that though he isn’t a great shooter, he at least recognizes the fact that he isn’t a great shooter. With Wall out for the season opener, it seems as though the Wizards took the opportunity to take shots that they probably shouldn’t. Despite having eight less turnovers than the Cavs, and attempting 11 more shots as a result, the Wizards lost by 10. One of the main reasons for the loss was an ugly 8-of-32 showing from three-point range.
While Bradley Beal (34% from 3pt last season) and Trevor Ariza (33% from 3pt last season) both hit 2-of-4 from downtown, the rest of the team was just 4/24. Leading the barrage of bricks was Jordan Crawford at 0-6, who despite his career 28% three-point shooting, still attempts four a game for some reason. A.J. Price was 2-of-9 from deep, tying his career-high with those nine attempts. Surprisingly, the last time Price attempted nine three-pointers, he made just one of them (which makes you wonder whether or not he ever played NBA Jam, or if he understands the whole ‘heating up’ concept).
For a team that was third-last in the NBA last season in three-point percentage, I don’t think that more attempts is the right gameplan. Hopefully it doesn’t take until Wall’s return to get that through these guys’ heads.
2. Jeff Green Still Hasn’t Made a (Regular Season) Field Goal Since the 2010-11 Season
While I feel that it is a little unfair to criticize Jeff Green for a slow return after missing a whole season, he didn’t give many reasons to praise him. In the season-opener, Green shot 0-of-4 en route to three points and three rebounds in his season debut (23 minutes). While a slow start is to be expected from Green as he gets his legs back under him, his strong finish to preseason had many Boston Celtics fans excited for what he could do in the regular season.
They’ll have to wait another game for that.
After Jason Terry proclaimed that the Celtics had the deepest bench in the NBA, only Leandro Barbosa made a point of backing that comment up tonight. While Barbosa scored 16 points on 6-8 shooting, the rest of the bench scored just 13, while shooting 3-of-13 from the field. It was a tough first game for the Celtics, and it was obvious that they needed better production from a few key players, with Terry and Green at the top of that list.
1. Eddy Curry Keeps Finding Ways to Stay in the League
It is remarkable to me that Eddy Curry has found a way to stay in the league the past few seasons, and on good teams at that. After “earning” a championship ring with the Miami Heat last season, Curry got a shot for the San Antonio Spurs this offseason and played unimpressively. When the Spurs waived him, I was certain that was the last we’d heard of Curry (unless he found his way into a commercial for a new chain of all-you-can-eat-buffets).
I was wrong.
After Chris Kaman’s injury (somebody should investigate whether Curry was around at the time of the injury), Curry was signed by the Dallas Mavericks and active (in the least motion-oriented meaning of the word) for tonight’s game against the Lakers. He wasn’t just on the active roster though, he was called upon early and ended playing 17 minutes. While his seven point, four rebound effort isn't awe-inspiring, i'm sure that the Mavericks will take it with a smile (coincidentally this is how Curry receives all of his meals as well).
Whether or not Curry sticks on the roster has yet to be seen. If nothing else, Eddy Curry can tell his friends at the buffet that he has played for the Heat, the Spurs, and the Mavericks all in the past six months. This is a warning to all the centers around the league though: if Curry is around, beware of freak injuries which may be caused by Curry “accidentally” dropping a banana peel from a freshly eaten banana.