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.
1) Luka who? Trae Young blows up with 35 points, 11 assists. Fun bit of trivia courtesy Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated: Since 2000, name the two rookies who have put up at least 35 points and 10 assists in a game. Answer: Stephen Curry and LeBron James.
Now, add Atlanta’s Trae Young to the list. He dropped 35 points and 11 assists on the Cavaliers to get the Hawks a win (and Lloyd Pierce his first W as an NBA coach).
After a “meh” game against the Knicks to open the season then a solid one against the Grizzlies, Young lit up the Cavaliers (and torched their rookie point guard Colin Sexton). Young has shown an impressive catch-and-shoot touch already, but Sunday night he showed off what a threat he can be using the pick-and-roll. Young used his impressive handles to create space for his shot, or to get into the lane and then create for others. More than just scoring, he’s showing an ability to command the game, which is impressive for a one-and-done rookie.
It’s early, and Young is going to have a lot more ups and downs his rookie season, but this was a promising outing. Young and the Hawks have a soft opening to the season on the schedule and it will give him a chance to gain some confidence early.
Next up is the rookie showdown with Dallas and one Luka Doncic (the guy he will forever be linked to because of the draft night trade, fair or not). They won’t be matched up on one another, and it’s too early to draw genuine comparisons, but it’s worth watching.
2) Russell Westbrook is back, put up a near triple-double, and even that couldn’t get the Thunder a win. Everyone tuned into this game expecting one thing: Iman Shumpert to go off and score 26 points and leading the Kings to a win. Am I right?
Westbrook, in his first game back since having surgery to clean up his knee in the offseason, scored 32 points, and 12 rebounds and eight assists, and shot 13-of-23 overall — a very Westbrook night. While there were a few moments of rust, he looked like vintage Westbrook.
OKC still lost, at home, to the Kings, 131-120.
The Thunder are off to a 0-3 start and there are two key reasons why. One is that they cannot knock down threes — they were 9-of-39 against the Kings (23.1 percent) and on the season are shooting 23.9 percent from deep (worst in the NBA). They are taking more threes than a season ago (36.3 a game, top 10 in attempts in the league) but the shots just aren’t falling. The Thunder were not a prolific three-point shooting team last season, but they hit 35.4 percent and their shooting should improve this season.
The second, and larger, issue is their defense has been average, and at times awful. They struggled to slow the Kings, who put up 34 points in three of the four quarters, and on the season the Thunder are allowing 110.5 points per 100 possessions, which is middle of the pack in the league (for a team expected to be top 10 like last season). They really miss Andre Roberson on that end of the floor, and he’s likely not back until December.
It’s far too early to say either of those stats are trends — the Thunder should have one of the better defenses in the league by the end of the season — but they are off to a slow start, and it’s costing them wins, which in the deep West is not ideal.
On the other side of the ball — the Kings have looked solid this young season. The kids are alright. They played Utah tight in the season opener, fell to the Pelicans and now have beaten the Thunder. De’Aaron Fox is averaging 20.3 points and 7.7 assists per game, Willie Cauley-Stein is playing for that contract averaging 18.7 points and 7 rebounds a game, Buddy Hield is knocking down shots, Marvin Bagley is finding his way, and Shumpert went off against the Thunder. The young core in Sacramento is taking a step forward this season, and it’s something to watch.
3) NBA could have, should have come down harder on Brandon Ingram, Rajon Rondo. By now we’ve all read the stories and watched the video out of Saturday night’s fight at the Laker game. Now, we’ve seen the suspensions come down: Four games for Ingram, three for Rondo, and two for Chris Paul.
Adam Silver has been lighter on punishment of players for these incidents than his predecessor David Stern, and that continued here. Ingram’s four games — costing him $158,817 in salary — is the longest the league has handed out for fighting since 2012 (Metta World Peace), but if the league wanted to send a message that throwing punches is verboten, they needed to come in with a heavier hand. Especially considering we are not out of the first week of the season.
The biggest surprise to me was Rondo — spitting in another player’s face is unacceptable. The league needed to do more. (And don’t try to sell me the mouthguard/unintentional line, that’s just spin, Rondo meant to do it). The only suspension that felt right was CP3, and I’m with D’Antoni in that I don’t know what else anyone expected him to do.
The Lakers get hit harder by this — while we get to see more Lonzo Ball they don’t have the depth to replace Rondo and Ingram easily, and their games are harder (Spurs, improving Suns, then the hot Nuggets).
Physical fights with actual punches are rare in the NBA, but when they happen I’m not sold this was near enough of a deterrent. We’ll see if this situation was a one-off or if we see more of these incidents.