1. What has surprised you so far this season?
Kenzo Fukuda: I’m not surprised the Celtics are the best team in the league. They have one of the deepest rosters, great shooting, great defense and two young stars in the making. What I am surprised about is the fact that Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown (Cal alumnus!) are scoring at a historic rate. The duo is averaging a combined 56.8 points per game this season, which is on pace to be the third-highest-scoring pair of all time. Tatum and Brown are essentially what the Clippers envisioned in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George — two big wings that can shoot, dunk and defend at All-NBA levels. The only difference is they’re like 8 years younger and can actually stay healthy!
Benjamin Coleman: The New Orleans Pelicans, who were a below-average squad last season, are currently leading the Western conference. They’ve exceeded expectations thanks to superstar performances from Zion Williamson and a strong supporting cast around him. The Pelicans have arrived, and I can’t wait to see where they go from here.
Jane Kenny: I am quite surprised by the Golden State Warriors’ road record. Few could have anticipated that the NBA’s reigning champion would go 2-13 outside of the Chase Center, including a frustrating five-game losing streak on the road. A lack of urgency, lackluster defensive efforts and insufficient bench contributions defined these struggles for the Warriors; nonetheless, it was unexpected for a team that has thrived in all thirty arenas these past few years. Steph Curry rose to hoist his squad out of its slump, but now his sidelining shoulder injury could sink the Warriors to a potential 14-19 record — something that other teams in the western conference will undoubtedly exploit in the next two-thirds of the season to come.
2. What storylines are flying under the radar right now?
KF: We all need to be monitoring what’s happening in Atlanta. The middling 14-15 Hawks had enough problems before tensions flared between star point guard Trae Young and head coach Nate McMillan. It’s yet another incident between Young and his coach, as Young was largely responsible for the firing of previous head coach Lloyd Pierce. And Dejounte Murray has not solved the Hawks’ main issue of heliocentrically relying on Young to generate offense. Adding another playmaking guard was supposed to ease the burden on Young and diversify the offense, but Young’s usage rate is nearly identical to last season. Two years removed from the Eastern Conference finals and this team looks on the brink of collapse if they can’t right the ship.
BC: I want to give a shout out to Bennedict Mathurin and the Indiana Pacers. Earlier this year, I watched Mathurin lead the Arizona Wildcats to a Pac-12 championship and knew he was a star in the making. But even I couldn’t predict how great his rookie season has been. The Canadian is a serious scorer who — along with fellow Canadian rookie Andrew Nembhard — has the Pacers in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race. Mathurin is my pick for rookie of the year and makes the future bright in Indiana.
JK: It will soon get its deserved attention and coverage, but I think this NBA trade season will be season-altering. Could the Heat bring in another piece to push them over the hump? Will the Bulls blow it all up? Will Bradley Beal depart from the Wizards? The East as we know it could soon completely change — something to keep an eye on.
3. Which team or player has been the most disappointing thus far?
KF: I didn’t expect the Rudy Gobert trade to put the Timberwolves into title contention, but I expected, at the very least, a solid regular season — good for 45 wins. This team has zero leadership. Karl Anthony-Towns is an uninspiring, passive-aggressive leader, Anthony Edwards is too young and brash, D’Angelo Russell is trying his best to be some kind of glue and nobody respects Gobert. You’d think adding the Stifle Tower would make the T-Wolves a defensive stonewall, but they actually got worse, dropping from 13th last season to 20th this season in defensive rating. They need to figure this out quickly, because they traded half their team and entire future for a guy who’s made them statistically worse.
BC: There are a few possible answers here, but the clearest answer has to be the defending champion Golden State Warriors, who are currently sitting 10th in the Western Conference and hold a below .500 record. The biggest culprit for this has been a dreadful road record — the Dubs are a shocking 2-13 away from the Chase Center. I have confidence that Golden State will figure things out, but the team will need to turn things around soon.
JK: Since no one really knows why the Timberwolves can’t rebound to save their life, or why the Hawks can’t seem to piece together an effective defensive rotation, let’s talk about something else. The Miami Heat, a leader in the Eastern Conference just a season ago, are now in the eighth spot with a 14-15 record. Returning a large portion of last year’s roster, this is a disappointing start. Even with solid pieces in Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro and Kyle Lowry, the Heat have struggled to elevate offensively — met with inconsistency in dribble penetration and finishing in the lane. Hope is not lost, but this is a team that will need to step it up to face dominant defenses in the east.
4. Quick! Who’s the MVP right now?
KF: Giannis Antetokounmpo is unguardable and should get the newly named Michael Jordan MVP award.
BC: I think it should go to Giannis Antetokounmpo, the leader of a Milwaukee Bucks team that I have picked to win the championship this year. The Greek Freak is the best player in basketball and deserves a third MVP.
JK: Jayson Tatum. Boston has been rolling, and Tatum has been leading the way. In a bid for redemption from the 2022 NBA Finals, the Celtics’ small forward is averaging 30.2 points per game — showcasing consistency while elevating his team to a higher level.