The NBA season is off and running and after a week the hot takes are already flowing. Are the Warriors vulnerable? Will the new-look Cavs find their rhythm? Is Houston better off without Chris Paul? Yes, those are all takes that have been floating around the Twitter-sphere and being discussed by talking heads. While it is surprising that the Warriors have already been knocked off twice given how invincible they looked in the postseason, and it is worth noting that the Cavs have looked clunky at times on offense, taking a three game sample size and treating it as gospel is dumb. The reason for the early struggles by favorites and teams incorporating new pieces probably has more to do with the shortened training camp than anything else.
Training camp is much more heavily discussed in football than basketball, but it still holds value. For most of these players, they have not played high-level, organized basketball since last spring. Training camp is the time when these players start jelling together and getting their rhythm again. With the season starting almost two weeks earlier than normal, this condensed the time teams had to get back in game shape. For teams like the Cavs, Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder who are adding multiple new pieces, practice time that was lost is more difficult to make up for.
Cleveland is adjusting to life without Kyrie Irving while simultaneously trying to fold in two talented, but awkward pieces in Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose. They will in all likelihood be completely fine in the dreadful Eastern Conference, but it will be a long process and they have yet to even get Isaiah Thomas back. OKC and Houston both have had a ton of roster turnover this summer and are hurt by the lack of time to mesh.
The Rockets are dealing with the loss of Chris Paul, who struggled in his time during the opener. Paul’s absence has forced Houston to go back to playing the way they did last year, and it has allowed James Harden to take control. While talking heads may contemplate if they are better without him, when Paul gets back in the lineup this team will undoubtedly get better given time to learn tendencies.
OKC has had to incorporate Carmelo Anthony on the fly, and it has been smooth offensively so far, but Billy Donovan is still trying to mix and match lineups to find the right balance of scoring and defensive ability.
There is absolutely nothing to worry about with the Golden State Warriors. They still have four potential All-NBA players and are going to win 60+ games by accident.
While the favorites have slipped a little to start the season, teams that stood pat have a chance to sneak early victories and potentially build a cushion during the beginning of the year. Teams like Milwaukee, Washington and Toronto in the East have an opportunity to snag wins during October and November that will distance themselves from Cleveland. While it is unlikely that those teams can hold Cleveland off indefinitely, it is possible that they can use the early part of the season to force the Cavs to battle hard during the latter portion of the regular season.
In the West, San Antonio is still plugging along despite missing Kawhi Leonard behind strong play from LaMarcus Aldridge. Seeding will be a bloodbath in the West and early season victories could make all the difference in April. Forever the forgotten team, San Antonio may mess around and finish ahead of preseason darlings OKC and Houston purely based on continuity.
Before you dive too deep into NBA reddit to figure out why preseason favorites are struggling, ask yourself this question: How many new pieces are they trying to fit in? Shortened training camp cannot explain everything, but teams who look clunky and awkward may have that too blame rather than personnel issues.