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Real or Not? Surprising Trends Through Opening Week

The first full week of the regular season has played out, and there have been several surprises across the league. Chad Smith takes a look at some of the trends and breaks down which ones are sustainable, and which ones won’t last as the season progresses.

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A full week of basketball has transpired in the 2021-22 NBA season and there have been numerous storylines playing out every single night. There were undefeated teams and winless teams. Some players have come out of the gates firing, while others have struggled to get into the flow of things.

Obviously, this small sample size tends to be deceiving when trying to find trends or trying to gauge the outlook for teams. The schedule plays a large part in this as well. One prime example of each of those can be found with the Minnesota Timberwolves, who were the top-ranked defensive team heading into Tuesday night’s games. They have faced the Rockets and Pelicans twice, with all three games on their home court.

Looking around the league, there are some things that appear to be the real deal. The key is to figure out what is sustainable and what is not. Water always finds its level, and this league is no different.

Chicago’s Hot Start – REAL

One week after the Chicago Sky captured the WNBA title, the Bulls are off to their best start in 25 years. Their revamped roster and change of playing style have been fun to watch. Although they haven’t exactly faced any title contenders in their first four games, they have been taking care of their business.

The schedule is about to get much tougher, with games against the Knicks, Jazz, Celtics, 76ers, Nets, Mavericks, Warriors, Clippers, and Lakers. Their defensive rating of 93.7 (4th best) is sure to drop substantially, but the concern should be with their 17th ranked offense. That is their bread and butter and will be needed to cover up some of their defensive woes, although they have looked solid in that area so far.

Chicago has outscored their opponents by 21 points per 100 possessions in DeMar DeRozan’s 36 minutes with Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic off the floor. They boast one of the most potent starting lineups in the league but will need to work on their depth as their role players get healthy. They won’t have a top-three seed in the East after 82 games, but the Bulls will definitely be a serious playoff team.

Lakers Chemistry Issues – NOT REAL

It was a rough start for the Lakers, who went winless during the preseason and dropped their first two regular-season games. Their schedule is nearly the opposite of what the Bulls have, which provides plenty of optimism for Los Angeles. Their next five games are against the Thunder (twice), the Rockets (twice), and the Cavaliers. Four of those five are at Staples Center, and will surely allow the team to build their chemistry.

Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook combined to shoot 3-20 from three-point range, but the duo shined bright on Tuesday night with LeBron James out of the lineup. The Lakers have struggled to score in the paint, which is somewhat concerning. The addition of Westbrook has allowed James to be more of a shooter this season, and he is thriving in that area. Their defensive rating is in the bottom three but that should improve as the season moves along.

Most teams with multiple superstars struggle out of the gate in their first season together. This particular group is unique because many of them (Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley) have returned after their championship season together. Still, there are plenty of new faces that are trying to find their fit. They also have several guys that remain out with injuries, so the key for the Lakers is to remain patient. Things will be just fine in Laker-land when the New Year rolls around.

Miles Bridges’ Sensational Start – REAL

The Hornets have been all sorts of fun ever since LaMelo Ball arrived last season. They are off to an impressive 3-1 start this year with an incredible comeback against the Pacers and a 16-point victory in Brooklyn. While Ball provides most of the highlight plays, many of them feature Bridges on the receiving end. In case you haven’t been watching, he does a lot more than just finishing lobs at the rim.

Bridges finished last season strong when he entered the starting lineup. He has scored at least 25 points in each of Charlotte’s last three games, through a variety of dunks, step-back threes, and one-on-one drives to the basket. The 23-year old is also hitting the glass (8.5 rebounds per game) and getting to the free-throw line (15-16) more this season. He is getting it done defensively as well, averaging 2.3 steals per game.

This Charlotte team is much more than just one or two guys. They are deep at every position, and they are also still very young. The room for growth is enormous and James Borrego doesn’t get the credit that he deserves for developing this core group. Bridges might be on center stage right now, but there are several players on this roster that will have their turn in the spotlight.

James Harden Struggles – NOT REAL

Brooklyn has been considered the favorite for the championship since the final buzzer sounded last season. Their roster is oozing with talent, but things haven’t quite worked out the way they had planned. With Kyrie Irving unable to play due to his vaccination status, the Nets have not been able to unleash their three-headed monster that only saw the court eight times last year in the regular season.

The real issue for the Nets is the mediocre play of Harden, who is struggling to adjust to the new rules for this season. Without the countless foul calls and ref baiting, his offensive game has suffered. He is shooting a dismal 36 percent from the floor and 32 percent from downtown. Most notably, he has not attempted more than four free throws in a game this season. He has turned the ball over 19 times and has not resembled the player most people have come to recognize.

The good news for the league is that the new rules have cut down on the non-basketball plays, and the games are going much quicker and have a better rhythm. The good news for Brooklyn is that their schedule gets much easier after tonight’s showdown with the Heat. Kevin Durant is playing like an MVP candidate right now. If Harden can adjust and simply get back to playing at an All-Star level, the Nets will be just fine.

Top Rookie Chris Duarte – REAL

This special rookie class was supposedly all about the top picks. Somebody forgot to tell Duarte, who has been arguably the best rookie in this first week of the season. Through the first three games, the talented guard led all rookies in scoring at 20.3 points per game while shooting 46 percent from three-point range. He has been sensational, and exactly what the Pacers need right now.

With TJ Warren and Caris LeVert still out with injuries, Rick Carlisle had no hesitation with putting Duarte in the starting lineup. The 24-year old has the poise and the confidence to stay even-keeled. His first game was an eye-opener for many that had never seen him play. He finished with 27 points that night and was Indiana’s leading scorer in their overtime victory over the Heat.

The Pacers might not have a superstar on their roster, but they have an amazing collection of talent on their roster, headlined by Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon, and Myles Turner. When LeVert and Warren return, Duarte will likely slide to the bench but he will still play a pivotal role for this team going forward. The Pacers have landed a real talent in Duarte, who is well on his way to becoming a household name.

Chad is a Basketball Insiders contributor based in Indianapolis.

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