NBA Opening Night: Five Takeaways

by Spencer Suk

The 2014-15 NBA Season has officially tipped off, and it looks like we’re in for an extremely entertaining year of basketball.  Only three games have been played, but we got a glimpse into what all six teams look like in competitive action that actually counts.

Now I know it is dangerous to jump to conclusions so early in the season, but there were still a lot of telling signs in regards to teams’ identities and players’ roles and capabilities.  So whether you were able to catch the games or not, let’s review some intriguing developments from Tuesday:

1. The Dallas Mavericks Are For Real

The Dallas Mavericks were one of the busiest teams this past offseason, as they brought on players like Chandler Parsons, Tyson Chandler, Jameer Nelson, and Raymond Felton.  And though they lost a heartbreaker in San Antonio (the score was 101-100), the Mavs really look like they can do some damage in a stacked Western Conference thanks to their new additions.

Chandler Parsons had a terrible game, only scoring 5 points on 2-10 shooting including missing the game-winning three, but this is beside the point.  Parsons adds a little bit of everything to an already talented roster: he is more than capable of creating his own shot, but he’s also adept at taking players off the dribble and creating for teammates.  I would be extremely surprised if Parsons doesn’t find his niche within Rick Carlisle’s system, as his skill set should complement both Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki.

However, Tyson Chandler might actually prove to be Dallas’ most important addition.  After a disappointing season in New York plagued by nagging injuries, Chandler really looked to be on the decline.  But Chandler seems like he has gone through some Benjamin Button treatment this offseason; he looked spry on both ends and locked down the paint despite foul trouble.  Maybe he will slow down again after the season starts wearing on the players.  Maybe he is just excited to return to the Mavericks, the franchise he helped win its first championship in 2011.  Regardless, Chandler is a major upgrade from last year’s centers:

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None of Dallas’ centers earned coach Rick Carlisle’s trust last year, as evidenced by the fact that none of them earned more than 20 minutes per game.  Dalembert was a disappointment, Blair was too small (he’s more of a power forward, but was forced to play center for stretches), and Wright can be a liability on defense at times (though he’s a secret weapon on offense, nearly tying Dirk Nowitzki in Player Efficiency Rating last year (23.6 vs. 23.5)).  Both Dalembert and Blair are gone, but will not be missed; Chandler should be able to solidify Dallas’s defense, while Wright should continue to be a solid backup.

Lastly, the Mavs are using the NBA’s equivalent of a Running Back by Committee approach at the point guard position with Jameer Nelson, Devin Harris, and Raymond Felton.  Though Calderon will be missed, I think the trio will be able to step up and replace him.  Coach Carlisle will probably end up rolling with the hot hand in most games.

2. Houston’s Got a Problem Off the Bench

The Houston Rockets easily handled the Los Angeles Lakers in a game that seemed to be over during the first quarter.  However, there is still cause for concern in Houston.  While the starters looked sharp for the most part (especially Terrence Jones and Trevor Ariza, who was on fire from downtown), their second unit looked truly abysmal. 

Kevin McHale had some great options off the bench last year such as Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, but both are now starters elsewhere.  In their first game, the Rockets' primary subs were Tarik Black (24 minutes), an ancient Jason Terry (21 minutes), Kostas Papanikolaou (20 minutes), and Donatas Motiejunas (16 minutes).  Not until the game was completely out of hand did Isaiah Canaan (7 minutes) and Troy Daniels (9 minutes) get extended run. 

If you don’t recognize the majority of these names, you are not alone.  Black and Papanikolaou are rookies, Motiejunas and Canaan both averaged less than 15 minutes per game last year, and Troy Daniels was called up from the D-League near the end of the last season (though he did hit this enormous shot in the playoffs).  Terry is the only household name, but he is 37 years old and coming off a season ending knee injury.  The Rockets better pray they don’t suffer any major injuries within their starting lineup because they seem to have one of the shallowest rosters in the West.

3. Kobe Bryant Looks Good

The Lakers’ 2014-15 campaign is looking like a nightmare, and the big loss to the Rockets is the least of their worries: 7th overall pick Julius Randle broke his leg on a drive late in the fourth quarter blowout.

While there are numerous things to fret over for Lakers fans, they can take solace in the fact that Kobe Bryant looks like he’s back.  From a statistical standpoint, this was a game to forget for the Black Mamba: 19 points on 6 of 17 shooting to go along with just 3 rebounds and 2 assists.  However, he played just 29 minutes due to the score, and his jumper was bound to be a little rusty after playing in just 6 regular season games last season.  Plus, Kobe looked much healthier than he did last year when he seemingly rushed himself back from his Achilles tear.

Bryant is also adjusting his game to his aging body.  Instead of dominating the ball and taking his man off the dribble, Kobe is cutting and rolling off screens without the ball in order to put himself in a better position to score.  This should save Kobe’s legs, as he is catching the ball from 15-20 feet from the hoop rather than working from outside the 3-point arc.

Another thing that caught me off guard was that Bryant didn’t really force anything… for the most part.  In the first half, he didn’t take many bad shots and set his teammates up well while turning the ball over just once.  Kobe would have racked up more assists if his teammates didn’t blow some easy buckets around the rim.  Still, he had this beautiful dime to Wesley Johnson:

However, it seems as though Kobe may have to force the issue as he is surrounded by such little talent.  Regardless, Kobe looks like Kobe, and it seems as though he’ll prove his doubters wrong once again.

4. Tony Parker for Three

Tony Parker tied his career-high in three-pointers making all 4 of his attempts, which included the game-winning bucket with a minute to go.  It seems as though Parker has adapted one of the San Antonio Spurs’ staples of success: the corner three. 

This could be a flash in the pan considering Parker attempted 4 three-pointers just 3 times all of last year.  But don’t be surprised if he has actually been honing his three-point shot in the offseason.  This could be a deadly addition to Parker’s repertoire.

5. Big Birds Dominate

While you've probably already heard about Anthony Davis' 26 points, 17 rebounds, and 9 blocks, Omer Asik quietly dominated in his debut as a Pelican.  Asik put up 14 points, 17 rebounds, and 5 blocks to add to the Brow's freakish numbers.

Do the quick math... FOURTEEN BLOCKS! Omer Asik was brought in to allow Anthony Davis to settle into his true position, power forward.  This was much like when the Trail Blazers picked up Robin Lopez last year to save LaMarcus Aldridge from banging with bigger centers all day.  As a result, Aldridge had one of the finest seasons of his career.

Asik is a superb defender and surprisingly led the league in total rebounds in the 2012-13 season.  In other words, don't be surprised if Asik and Davis terrorize players coming into the paint all year long.

The only real question is what the Pelicans will do once super-sub Ryan Anderson regains full strength (he scored 22 points in just 22 minutes last night).  Will Asik's minutes take a dip or will the Pelicans continue to roll with the twin towers?