Success is defined differently for each NBA franchise. From championship or bust in Cleveland to "trust the process" in Philadelphia, there is a wide variety of targets for Eastern Conference teams. Let's look back at the first handful of games and take a sneak peak into the upcoming week.
People (including myself) fell in love with Milwaukee in the off season and quickly pegged them into a playoff spot for upcoming season. After an 0-3 start, is it time to press the panic button? No, don't be that guy. Milwaukee righted one wrong on Monday night finally getting in the win column after beating the Brooklyn Nets and over the next week, they host the Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn and Boston Celtics while visiting the New York Knicks. Those are four winnable games. Shooting and spacing the floor was the issue heading into the season and after a week of play, it still is. There are ways around that and rest assure that Jason Kidd, one of highest bball IQ players ever, will find a way to put his team in a position to succeed. Defense was their calling card last year and although they have some things to figure out, it should be moving forward. Things are OK in Buck Town. When the Moose became a deer, he provided instant credibility to the Buck post game; Giannis Antetokounmpo is doing things on a nightly basis that only Giannis Antetokounmpo can do; Jabari Parker is finally cleared to return to action (although he'll be on a pitch count and no back to backs) and finally, did I mention Jason Kidd is their coach?
Too bad championships aren't won in November. If so, the Raptors would be legitimate contenders on an annual basis. What makes this quick start any different? To start, look at the play of newcomers DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph; Carroll was a coveted free agent signing while Joseph was an under the radar pick up. Carroll has picked up right where he left off in Atlanta providing the team with a defensive identity that did not exist in previous incarnations and is also spreading the floor with a solid three ball stroke. Kyle Lowry is the engine that makes the car go and when he rests, it's important for the backup to tread water and that's where the importance of Cory Joseph comes into play. Joseph sharpened his teeth with the San Antonio Spurs organization and has carried over that Spursian mindset to help ease Lowy's burden. You can't credit Joseph with Toronto's conscious decision to limit iso ball but it sure doesn't hurt. Toronto has also made an effort to crash to boards and its paying off as Jonas Valanciunas and Luis Scola have surprisingly meshed well. The early season success is all well-to-do but the Cincinnati Bengals of the NBA must prove it in the playoffs.
A lot was made of the Pacers turning to small ball but it seems it's not 100% small. Starting lineups have fluctuated depending on the opponent. Against Memphis, traditionally a big team, Jordan Hill was a starter. Playing smaller competition, CJ Miles got the call. It's great to have that flexibility but mix-matching starting units hinders building an identity. Chemistry or any comparable cliché is exactly what this team is missing. Monta Ellis, Jordan Hill and rookie Myles Turner are all logging minutes and all three are new to the team. We all know what happened to Paul George and he is on the comeback trail. George Hill, arguably their best player, played only 43 games last year. Those are five important pieces who basically have no idea how each other plays. Predictably, it's been a sloppy start.
Key games over the next week
Boston Celtics @ Indiana Pacers
The Celtics are very deep but very young. Isaiah Thomas carries most of the scoring load all while coming off the bench. Newcomer David Lee has been an early disappointment.
Washington Wizards @ Boston Celtics
Like Andre Drummond, Wizard shooting guard Bradley Beal has decided to table extension talk until the summer. Beal has been outstanding over the first week of play averaging over 25 points per game.
Toronto Raptors @ Miami Heat
Big man Hassan Whiteside has been a difference maker for the revitalized Heat. Whiteside tends to leave his feet on defense and Raptor center Jonas Valanciunas is the king of the pump fake making for an interesting matchup.
Boston Celtics @ Milwaukee Bucks
As noted earlier, Boston is very deep but has yet to establish a consistent rotation or pecking order. It's not necessarily a must this early into the season but typically, the sooner the better.
News and notes
New York Knick rookie Kristaps Porzingis showed flashes of greatness -- well, maybe just goodness -- in a loss to the Spurs. Zinger recorded his first double-double with 13 points and 14 rebounds. He left the game early when after a collision with Carmelo Anthony while battling for a rebound. By all accounts, he should be fine.
As much as we love Stanley Johnson (and we do) that doesn't mean Miami Heat rookie Justise Winslow is any lesser of a player, it doesn't have to be one or the other. Defensively, Winslow has already matched up with two elite scorers in James Harden and LeBron James, ultra quick point guard Ty Lawson, power forward Kevin Love and swingman Trevor Ariza. The kid can play and seems to enjoy defense which is refreshing to watch.
From top to bottom, competition in the Eastern Conference for the playoffs is as deep as its been in a long time. Its still the JV conference but that's not the point; there are eleven to twelve legit playoff contending teams and the Pistons need to bring it on a nightly basis. Besides Hinke's Process and whatever is going on in Brooklyn, the Pistons are in for a fight every every time they take the court. The hot start put the league on notice but the hard work hasn't even started yet. With such a young core, expect a roller coaster of play with some nights leading you to map out the championship parade down Woodward while other nights have you stuck in basketball bewilderment.
One non-negotiable trait of good teams is a consistency in effort. There are going to be nights when the shots aren't falling or the whistle isn't going our way; these are the nights I'm most interested in. Even if shots aren't falling against the Wizards or Celtics, these types of games can still be won on effort and relentlessness alone. Those teams and pretty much everyone in the East besides a healthy Cavs squad, are beatable, even on a Piston off night.
So far, that's exactly what their doing, competing even when things aren't going their way....that's a good sign.
Now, lets see it every night.