The 2015-2016 NBA season is 10 days old, and as always, things have unfolded a little surprisingly. Sure, there are things that we all predicted happening, like the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers looking awesome, and the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers being horrendous crimes against the aesthetics of basketball. But there is also some craziness unfolding. The Toronto Raptors are undefeated, and look like they have a defense! The Houston Rockets look absolutely terrible! Blake Griffin for MVP!
The Eastern Conference pyramid looks a little different than we all expected through five games. Honestly, we have no idea at this point which teams are and aren't for real, except for a select few like the Cavs and Sixers. Trends this early in the season are heavily influenced by schedule, statistical noise, familiarity, and conditioning. These results really mean nothing yet, and we can skew every team's results in multiple directions, except for the Los Angeles Lakers, who just lost by 50 and are an unforgivable tire fire. So, working with that theme, let's explain away every Eastern Conference team's successes and failures as reasons they are definitely fine or definitely headed for Lakers-esque disaster.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers (4-1)
Why Everything is Fine: Have you watched the Cavs this year? Outside of a 97-95 loss to the Chicago Bulls on opening night, the Cavs have looked pretty comfortable running up strong offensive performances against everyone they've played since. Kevin Love looks much more well-integrated into the offense this year, Richard Jefferson looks like Kyle Korver, and the offense is running insanely well with Mo Williams on the floor. Their defense is still stingy while flying around Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson, and the easiest part of the schedule is coming up before they even get Kyrie Irving back.
Why Things Could Go Full Lakers: Kyrie's out, J.R.'s hurt, LeBron's back might become a huge problem, and the team's center combo is a guy coming off a meniscal surgery being backed up by a guy coming off an Achilles rupture. The early results don't matter if this team is ravaged by injuries in January.*
*-Continue ignoring this because injuries are largely a luck thing and the Cavs should regress to the mean
2. Toronto Raptors (5-0)
Why Everything is Fine: Last night's 103-98 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder was the signature win of the season for the Raptors, who appear to be rolling once again against a fairly weak early schedule. The Raptors' three-point shooting and defense were two very, very unstable areas for them last year, and they're shooting 39 percent from outside and have a 95.0 defensive rating so far. Jonas Valanciunas and Demar DeRozan have been great, and their bench has been solid outside of whatever voodoo hex continues to plague Terrence Ross. It's like every major issue for Toronto from last year has been solved, in addition to all of their strengths staying the same.
Why Things Could Go Full Lakers: Remember how the Raptors looked awesome until their season fell apart when the schedule got harder? Yeah, here's how they end November:
I'm sure everything will go way better this year, Raptors fans!
3. Atlanta Hawks (5-1)
Why Everything is Fine: Ball movement is the Hawks' best friend, and their offense has been firing on all cylinders on that front. A 1.65 assist-to-turnover ratio is good, and as long as the Hawks have Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, and Al Horford, they're going to be tough to stop consistently on offense due to the multitude of options they present. After getting blown up by the Detroit Pistons on opening night, Atlanta hasn't lost, including a solid 98-92 win over the Miami Heat. Also, Kent Bazemore? Shooting 57.9 percent from three on three attempts per game and averaging 10 points per game? This is a thing, apparently?
Why Things Could Go Full Lakers: Outside of the Heat win, the Hawks' other wins came against the Hornets twice, the Knicks, and the Nets. Kyle Korver is shooting 25 percent from three, and Dennis Schroder looks very Reggie Jackson-esque with his reckless play combining poorly with a pseudo-trade demand before the season. The Hawks are winning, but there's nothing too impressive about it so far, and Korver and Schroder's play is concerning, especially because both were miserable when they got steamrolled by the Cavs in the playoffs last year.
4. Miami Heat (2-2)
Why Everything is Fine: The Heat's record has been skewed by their tough schedule, as their losses came against the Cavs and Hawks and they just destroyed the Rockets at home on Sunday. Dwyane Wade looks fantastic again, and Hassan Whiteside is still throwing up 25-and-15's, which is impressive and a sign he may actually be for real. Tyler Johnson's also continuing to look real, to the point that he's potentially made Mario Chalmers expendable, and Justise Winslow is looking very good so far. It appears that the Heat may be healthy AND have a decent bench this year, which is very scary.
Why Things Could Go Full Lakers: What's up with Chris Bosh? He's shooting 37.7 percent from the field, scoring just 13.7 points per game, and the Heat's offense is 10.6 points per 100 possessions worse with Bosh on the floor. He still looks okay defensively, but Bosh appears way too eager to step out for threes, and they're lacking a consistent third scorer behind Wade and Goran Dragic, outside of Whiteside lobs and cuts. The Heat look decent so far, but Bosh's struggles are somewhat worrisome for this team that doesn't shoot that well.
5. Washington Wizards (3-1)
Why Everything is Fine: Wednesday night's comeback win over the San Antonio Spurs was pretty awesome, as Bradley Beal led a late charge to knock off the Spurs at full strength. Beal and Otto Porter look like they've made huge leaps, and John Wall looks the same as last year, which creates a pretty imposing perimeter unit. The Wizards are a team with strong and smart shooting so far, enough that they can run at a good defense down the stretch and pick up a big win with offense AND defense. What a world.
Why Things Could Go Full Lakers: WITTMAN WITTMAN WITTMAN WITTMAN WITTMAN WITTMAN
6. New York Knicks (2-3)
Why Everything is Fine: Sure, we make jokes about the Knicks beating the Wizards, but that's more too poke at the Wizards than to say the Knicks are bad. So far New York has beaten Milwaukee and Washington, and lost three competitive games to the Cavs, Spurs, and Hawks. The best thing is that the Knicks are doing this without Arron Afflalo, and are looking decent with Kristaps Porzingis and Jerian Grant playing big minutes and looking good while doing so. Even if the record doesn't end up matching the play, "everything is fine" just means competitive games, Melo being healthy, and Zingis being a thing, and all those things are happening so far.
Why Things Could Go Full Lakers: That part above where it says "New York Knicks." They invented what the Lakers look like.
7. Charlotte Hornets (1-3)
Why Everything is Fine: I love the Hornets' apparent offensive philosophy change, even if the win column hasn't been full so far. Instead of just dictating everything through Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson, Charlotte's spreading things around, jacking a ton of threes, and have Jeremy Lin doing all the things Brian Roberts can't as a backup point guard.* They've played a tough schedule so far, just blew the Bulls up real good, and are third in the league in offensive rating. I'm buying like, three shares in Hornets stock.
Why Things Could Go Full Lakers: Al Jefferson looks like he's slipping, MKG's out, Kemba is Kemba, and their defense is at 102 points/100 possessions, somewhat concerning for a squad who's probably on borrowed money offensively and doesn't really have consistent shooting outside of Marvin Williams and Nic Batum. They're definitely not doomed, per se, but they're the first team so far that is just showing shining, blinking motel lights that display "REGRESSION" in all caps.
*-Please don't fire me, David
8. Detroit Pistons (3-1)
Why Things are Fine: DID Y'ALL SEE THAT HAWKS GAME DETROIT'S PLAYING SVG BALL AND KENTAVIOUS CALDWELL-POPE IS AN ALL-STAR AND GIVE ANDRE DRUMMOND A MAX CONTRACT.
Why Things Could Go Full Lakers: /Looks at Pacers loss /Looks at Reggie Jackson /Looks at Ersan Ilyasova's numbers
Ever had a "Heart says yes, brain says no" decision to make? That's buying in to the Pistons this season. They're 3-1, have a 22-point win, and have a net rating of 0.5. That doesn't make a damn bit of sense.
9. Chicago Bulls (3-2)
Why Everything is Fine: They beat the Cavs! They have an offense, maybe! Don't look at the defense so far! Championship!
Why Things Could Go Full Lakers: This is the flabbiest 3-2 possible. They beat a Cavs team that was totally not together at all, the Nets, and the Magic, and their losses are to the Pistons and to the Hornets by three touchdowns. This team has serious problems on the defensive end, and Derrick Rose looks horrendous and also has trade rumors swirling which is always a good sign.
Are things probably fine? Yes. Would it be hilarious to watch Bulls fans take the slow toilet bowl swirl to early -00's levels of terrible? Yes, and that's why this is the world I choose to live in right now.
10. Orlando Magic (1-4)
Why Everything is Fine: They're 1-4, sure, but considering schedule, they haven't exactly looked bad just yet. They did beat the husk of whatever the February New Orleans Pelicans will be, and they haven't lost by more than five to a list that includes the Thunder, Rockets, Wizards, and Bulls. This team's definitely taken the Scott Skiles Bump defensively, and they're getting positive production from Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon on both ends. Things lighten up for them considerably as we head through November, so it's very reasonable to expect that this team could be in playoff contention around the new year.
Why Things Could Go Full Lakers: They've also gotten the Scott Skiles Dead Cat Bounce offensively, Jason Smith has already played crunch-time minutes over Gordon, and this record of close losses is rather concerning even if it's coming against good teams. Also, Scott Skiles is their coach. Things could go nuclear at any minute.
11. Boston Celtics (1-3)
Why Everything is Fine: /Scans Celtics Blog
Yeah, it's basically just chalked up to Brad Stevens
Why Things Could Go Full Lakers: Suns fans have to be watching this team after their season last year and just cackling. The lesson, as always, is to never be the team who grossly exceeds expectations when they should tank. If I had to choose between being the Cavs in 2014 versus being the Suns in 2014 or the Celtics in 2015, I'm taking the Cavs going for broke and winning 33 games in a heartbeat because then when you start 1-3 and get handled by real playoff teams it isn't a surprise.
12. Indiana Pacers (2-3)
Why Everything is Fine: Whatever happened in the first three games appears to have maybe corrected itself, with a strong win over the Pistons and close win over the Celtics on the resume. Paul George will probably break out of his shooting slump, and they have a few solid shooters on the team, which should help create space for a very young group of bigs to make plays. And if the offense comes around, the defense should be pretty fine, meaning this team can easily be competitive.
Why Things Could Go Full Lakers: Absolutely no one besides George Hill and C.J. Miles is hitting threes right now, and they got outscored 315-278 in the first three games. There's problems here, even if some of them are statistical blips.
13. Milwaukee Bucks (2-3)
Why Everything is Fine: Copy/Paste from the Pacers, except their offense has looked tenable, replace Paul George with Jabari Parker, and their defense is what needs to stabilize.
Why Things Could Go Full Lakers: They've only beaten the teams below them here and got blown up like the Kingdome by the Knicks and Raptors. Michael Carter-Williams, certified Worst Point Guard in the League may not just be a joke title. And with their December schedule, which features two long road trips, both sides of matchups with the Warriors and Clippers, and a Raptors matchup, this season might be dead January 1st even if they start righting the ship.
14. Philadelphia 76ers (0-4)
Why Everything is Fine: #TRUSTTHEPROCESS
Why Things Could Go Full Lakers: The process is looking mighty Chris Grant-y, from this totally unbiased point of view.
15. Brooklyn Nets (0-5)
Why Everything is Fine: no
Why Things Could Go Full Lakers: This team plays the Lakers Friday. I'll see y'all on the other side of the time rift that game opens in the universe.