The Nuggets got out to an early lead against the Utah Jazz on Friday, taking a 27-21 lead after the first quarter behind 10 points by Chauncey Billups. They were running their offense, they were hitting their shots, and they even managed to keep the Utah crowd quiet.
We’re not in Houston anymore.
James Harden in Philadelphia will not be chasing scoring titles and dominating the game in quite the same way. Instead, he’s been asked to be more of a facilitator — but not too much of one. Doc Rivers told the team at ESPN’s NBA Today he wants scoring to go with the facilitating. Just like one of the all-time greats.
“I think we’ve talked so much about him being a facilitator… I need him to be James Harden too. If I had to combine, I would say a scoring Magic Johnson, I don’t know, but that’s what I want him to be. I want him to be a James Harden, but in that, I want him to also be the facilitator of this basketball team too. So in a lot of ways, his role is growing bigger for our team, and I just want him to keep thinking, ‘Do both.'”
Just play like Magic, no pressure there. For his career, Magic averaged 19.5 points a game (with four over 20 PPG) with 11.2 assists.
Harden can get close enough to Rivers’ lofty goals to make Philly a real threat, so long as defenders still fear his first step and step back. Harden can get his shot and get to the line, and he’s long been a great passer who has averaged 10.5 assists a game over the past two seasons. Now it’s just a matter of finding the balance of when to set up Joel Embiid, when to turn the offense over to Tyrese Maxey, and when to get his own shot.
Philadelphia is a deep team poised to win a lot of regular season games — the Sixers being the top seed in the East is absolutely in play. The questions Harden — and, to a degree, Embiid — have to answer come in May, when the second round of the playoffs start and Harden has faded while Embiid has had poor injury luck. In a deep East with Milwaukee, Boston, and maybe Miami and Brooklyn in the contender mix, there is no margin for error.
A Magic-like Harden would be a big boost for the Sixers in that setting.
Later this season, health permitting, LeBron James will pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.
Kareem has said LeBron has earned it, but also has called out LeBron on COVID issues (something Abdul-Jabbar apologized for). Have the two legends started to build a relationship as LeBron marches toward the record? Not so much.
“No thoughts, no relationship.”
"No thoughts. And no relationship"
LeBron on chasing Kareem’s scoring record and if they have a relationship pic.twitter.com/yls2c1DJgF
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) October 4, 2022
This question was asked of LeBron days after Abdul-Jabbar slammed former LeBron teammate Kyrie Irving in a Substack newsletter, calling him a “comical buffoon” and saying he is a poor role model. Abdul-Jabbar has been a vocal proponent of getting the vaccine, Irving remains unvaccinated, and LeBron has posted on social media questioning the severity of the virus and the response. Plus, LeBron and Irving are friends, which could have sparked LeBron’s terse response (as could the fact he was ready to get out of the arena after a dull preseason game).
A week earlier at media day, LeBron had been kinder when discussing Abdul-Jabbar and chasing his record.
“And you know, obviously Kareem has had his differences, with some of my views and some of the things that I do. But listen, at the end of the day, to be able to be right in the same breath as a guy to wear the same [Lakers] uniform, a guy that was a staple of this franchise along with Magic and Big Game [James Worthy] over there for so many years, especially in the 80s, and a guy that does a lot off the floor as well,” LeBron said. “I think it’s just super duper dope for myself to be even in that conversation.”
Abdul-Jabbar has been more of a public persona in recent years, both around the game of basketball and discussing social justice issues through his writings. The NBA named its new social justice award after him. With that has come new relationships around the league.
One of those is not with LeBron. Will Abdul-Jabbar be in the building when LeBron does break the record?
We’ve got months for this relationship to evolve — if it does — before that big day.
Zion Williamson is back.
He certainly looked in better shape and flashed his insane explosiveness on his way to 13 points and four rebounds in 15 minutes Tuesday night against the Bulls, his first game after missing all of last season following foot surgery.
ALLOW Z TO REINTRODUCE HIMSELF. pic.twitter.com/QWH0SnOVSo
— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) October 5, 2022
There was some rust, and the Pelicans are wisely bringing him along slowly and not breaking out the entire playbook for a preseason game, but in the moments we saw Zion looked like he was all the way back.
And maybe we shouldn’t leave rookie Dyson Daniels off that list, he looked good in his first NBA preseason game.
📊 15 PTS | 5 REB | 3 STL | 2 BLK pic.twitter.com/bKr8LyYF7J
— NBA Australia (@NBA_AU) October 5, 2022
The Pelicans are one of the most intriguing teams this season, a team that made the playoffs last season with a push after McCollum arrived, and now they add the elite interior scoring and athleticism of Zion to Ingram’s outside shot and slashing, not to mention and a solid core of role players. This team has top six potential if it can get stops. But in a deep West, nothing will be easy.
The NBA league office hates tanking — the action, the word, the mere suggestion of it.
But there is going to be some serious tanking in the NBA this season, and anybody who watched the Victor Wembanyama vs. Scoot Henderson game Tuesday (also known as the G-league Ignite vs. Metropolitans 92 from France) knows exactly why.
What. A. Show.
Victor Wembanyama, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, showed why he is a true 7’4″ unicorn who can do seemingly anything. He finished the game with 37 points, hitting 7-of-11 from 3, with five blocks, showed off some handles and even brought the ball up court a couple of times.
Victor Wembanyama is a 🦄
— NBA (@NBA) October 5, 2022
This play sums him up well: at 7’4″ Wembanyama is the ball handler in a pick-and-roll, looks smooth, and when the defender goes under the pick casually drains a 3.
no. but seriously. what in the entire hell is Victor Wembanyama pic.twitter.com/0kflukjwz5
— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) October 5, 2022
Scoot Henderson, expected to go No.2 in the next draft, flashed his explosive athleticism to the tune of 28 points, nine assists, and five rebounds.
Scoot Henderson has BIG TIME GAME!
⚡️ 28 PTS | 5 REB | 9 AST pic.twitter.com/UZ0RiMznWs
— NBA (@NBA) October 5, 2022
Ja Morant was impressed.
these young bulls the goods .. they going at it early lol
— Ja Morant (@JaMorant) October 5, 2022
There was a lot for fans, scouts, and GMs to be impressed with.
For all his shooting an offensive game, Wembanyama was just as impressive on defense. His length and mobility forces players to change their driving angles to the rim. He also showed a fearlessness in going after the big block.
WEMBANYAMA BLOCKED SCOOT AT THE RIM 🚫 pic.twitter.com/6ZCViEpoNT
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 5, 2022
Henderson showed high-level athleticism and an ability to get to the rim at will, but he also set up teammates and an improving shot. Henderson is a dynamic athlete and a season playing against the men of the G League is only going to sharpen his skills.
Henderson made his case Tuesday to be the No.1 pick — scouts say he has the potential to be a franchise cornerstone point guard, a top-10 player in the league, and he looked it in this game. He showed no fear, even going at Wembanyama a few times.
However, Wembanyama will go No.1 because he just breaks the mold, there is nobody like him. Anywhere. He looks like a generational talent, even if there is some work to do to realize it. Wembanyama started to show that Tuesday night.
These two teams face off again on Thursday night in Henderson, Nevada.