Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. It’s good to have real basketball back — let’s get to it.
1) Kyrie who? Jayson Tatum is the star Boston was waiting for on opening night. So… anyone still want to argue Danny Ainge didn’t own the Sixers when he traded away the No. 1 pick to move back two spots and get Jayson Tatum?
Boston had stumbled its way through the preseason (to put it kindly) and the main issue then followed the team into the regular season: Adding Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back into the lineup was not going to be simple plug-and-play. Irving missed his first eight shots and ended the night 2-of-14 from the floor. Hayward was 4-of-12 and it’s clear he still lacks explosion on his first step. Those two will be fine, eventually, but there is a lot of work to do.
What the Celtics have is depth. And Jayson Tatum.
Tatum picked up right where he left off in last season’s playoffs dropping 23 points on 9-of-17 shooting, and showing off his improved handles. Just ask Joel Embiid.
Boston leaned on Tatum (28.6 percent usage rate, higher than he ever had playing with Irving last year) and the fact they were willing to go to him is a good sign. Not only will the Celtics need Tatum while Irving and Hayward settle back in, but if Boston really is going to be a threat to Golden State they will need him to be elite.
It wasn’t just Tatum that was working in Boston. Marcus Morris had 16 points off the bench, and Terry Rozier was fantastic with 11 points and a +22. Al Horford is not Boston’s best player but he is their most important — he played great defense in the paint with five blocks, scored nine points, and just did whatever needed to be done to get the win. He is the glue that makes the whole thing work.
Don’t read much into Game 1 of 82, but for Celtics fans this was the kind of win that can fuel very big dreams.
2) Can the Sixers just blame everything on the China trip? Off-the-record (and occasionally on it), every team that does the NBA’s annual preseason trip to China complains when they get back about how it throws them off for weeks into the regular season. The Warriors felt that way last season, but I’ve had that conversation with a lot of teams who have made that trip. NBA owners love the idea of going (and expanding their franchise brand in that massive market) until they do it once and see the impact on their team when the games matter.
It would be nice to blame the Sixers struggles opening night on that.. but their problems against the Celtics were bigger than frequent flier miles in the preseason.
It starts with Markelle Fultz — his jumper is simply not a threat, defenders are backing off of him because of it, and Fultz is not yet confident attacking into that space. What that leads to is a clogged halfcourt offense. This isn’t a new concern, a lot of people (myself included) wondered before the season how the Sixers starting lineup would work having Fultz, Ben Simmons (not a jump shooter) and Joel Embiid (he can hit threes but needs to be in the paint primarily) on the court together. We saw it a lot in the first half — it was tough to make post entry passes to Embiid because defenders backed off Simmons and Fultz and took away the pass, daring them to shoot.
Fultz, Embiid, and Simmons were on the court for 14.3 minutes in this game and during that time the Sixers shot 38.7 percent overall and 18.2 percent from three. To be fair, they were +1 as a team in those minutes, but the offense struggled. It’s just one game, but Fultz showed that while he has made strides in improving his jumper, he’s not yet back to where he was.
The Sixers need another shot creator off the dribble besides Simmons and the underrated T.J. McConnell. By the fourth quarter Tuesday it seemed Landry Shamet was getting minutes that could have gone to Fultz — and he should have. Shamet played well.
It’s a long season and what matters is where Fultz is come March and April, not October. That’s a long time from now, but he has a long way to go.
3) Dennis Schroder may be what Oklahoma City needs off the bench. Schroder, in his first game for the Thunder (after five seasons in Atlanta), was thrust into the starting lineup Tuesday night because Russell Westbrook isn’t yet cleared after having his knee scoped in the offseason. In that starting role, Schroder was up and down — defensively he was asked to track Stephen Curry at times and Steph dropped 32 on the night.
But offensively, once he is coming off the bench with the second unit, this may be a fantastic fit. Schroder finished with 21 points (on 19 shots) and had nine assists on opening night, showing his value as a shot creator.
Things were not perfect — he shot 4-of-12 from the midrange, which is both a low percentage and too many shots from there — but the potential is there. He was hitting spot-up looks and played defense at times.
Westbrook will be back soon (possibly even Friday against the Clippers in Los Angeles) and when he is Schroder goes to the bench. If he accepts that role and creates shots the same way with the second unit (and just shoots a little better, something that will come, he had a solid 51.5 true shooting percentage last year) he could be a Sixth Man of the Year candidate leading that unit.