Early in the season, there have been plenty of surprises so far in the NBA. The Pistons and Magic are near the top of the standings. The Warriors have already lost three times. LeBron James and the Cavaliers have stumbled out of the gate. The Knicks are watchable. Here's an early season NBA stock index on the teams you should buy or sell on.
Down: Regular season motivation for the Golden State Warriors
During a 127-108 blowout win in Denver on Saturday, sideline reporters on the Warriors broadcast reported that Steve Kerr was creating games within games for his team, challenging them to not allow a three-pointer to the Nuggets in the third quarter while the game was already decided. Early in the season, Kerr has been searching for ways to keep the Warriors engaged while resting them mentally for the inevitable championship run. The Warriors are 8-3, but they've already lost twice at home, and have looked disinterested, needing several fourth quarter comebacks to avoid having more worrisome win-loss record to date. The Warriors know they're better than everyone else in the league, and can turn it on when they want to, and don't need to play a perfect 48 minutes to win on most nights (some nights, just a three-minute stretch of quality basketball is enough). They're still the title favorite, but boredom will be a serious problem for the Warriors throughout the regular season.
Up: LeBron James in his 15th season
LeBron turns 33 in December. Last Friday, he scored 57 points against the Washington Wizards to help the Cavaliers snap a four-game win streak, becoming the second oldest player in league history to score 57+ in a game (the oldest player would be Kobe Bryant, who score 60 points on 50 shots in his final game). This comes after LeBron admitted earlier this week that he had the worst training camp of his career thanks to an ankle injury that sidelined him for most of preseason, and said he was out of shape after putting up 29 points, 16 rebounds and nine assists on opening night. It's remarkable what the best player in the game is doing in his 15th season in the league, and the Cavs are going to need a career year out of LeBron, because …
Down: The rest of the Cavaliers roster
As we covered last week, the Cavaliers have the oldest roster in the league and their defensive struggles will continue given the way this team has been constructed. Take LeBron off this roster, would this Cavs team even make the playoffs in the East? We've seen what happens twice already in LeBron's career when the roster talent deteriorates. He's relocated for a better chance at winning. LeBron's business partner Maverick Carter said this week LeBron's lone priority as a free agent this summer will be winning. The 2017-18 Cavs are 5-6. They aren't exactly inspiring confidence that LeBron will decide to stick around.
Up: Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins
No one is talking about the Pelicans in the West, but everyone should be paying attention to what Davis and Cousins are doing as a frontcourt duo. Davis is averaging 27.4 points, 12.7 rebounds and 2.1 blocks. Cousins is averaging 28.6 points, 13.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists (all career highs) with close to two steals and two blocks and making 2.4 threes per game. Those are MVP-type numbers, but New Orleans is just 6-5, and they have no one else on the roster to compliment their two best players. Cousins is a free agent at the end of the season, so enjoy the Davis-Cousins pairing while you can, and lament the fact that the Pelicans have failed to put adequate talent around two franchise big men.
Down: Injuries around the league
Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury less than a quarter into the opening night. Jeremy Lin ruptured his patellar tendon in Brooklyn's first game and is out for the year. Chris Paul has sat out since suffering a knee injury on opening night with his new team in Houston and remains weeks away from returning. Kawhi Leonard has not played this season with a quad injury. And that's not to mention season-ending injuries for Brandon Knight and Dante Exum.
Up: Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown
The Celtics are on a roll, and Kyrie Irving looks comfortable running the two-man game with Al Horford. Boston's success this season will likely depend on two teeangers, 19-year-old rookie Tatum and 21-year-old Brown, who has looked assertive on offense and has scored double-digits in eight of his first 11 games. Brown is averaging 15.4 points and Tatum is averaging 14.3 points per game. In Hayward's absence, the Celtics had to adjust their expectations. With both of their most promising young prospects flourishing so far, we might have to recalibrate those expectations in Boston again this season. The future looks bright, as does the present.
Up: Ben Simmons
You can't talk about the rookie class without mentioning Simmons, who is already drawing comparisons in his own locker room to everyone from Magic Johnson to Tim Duncan in just his first year in the league after sitting out last season. Simmons notched another triple-double on Friday against Indiana, joining Oscar Robertson as the only rookies in league history to have two triple-doubles in their first nine games. The Rookie of the Year award is his to lose, and he's already looking like one of the best point forwards in the league.
Down: Markelle Fultz
It's not all sunny in Philadelphia. The Sixers announced last week that first overall pick Fultz would be out indefinitely with a shoulder injury. During the summer, Fultz changed his shooting motion and looked uncomfortable throughout preseason and the regular season, shooting 33.3 percent from the field and airballing free throws. There's plenty of speculation as to what's wrong with Fultz, including the possibility that it's more of a mental than physical thing. On Monday, he was spotted at practice shooting threes left-handed. Either way, it's been a strange and slow start to Fultz's NBA career.
Up: Kyle Kuzma
The 27th pick in the draft, Kuzma has followed up a remarkable preseason with a strong start to the season with the Lakers, and is averaging 15.4 points and 6.3 rebounds through his first 10 games. So far, he's the steal of the draft, and the Lakers have to be happy, since the 27th pick was considered a throw-in in the D'Angelo Russell trade to Brooklyn.
Down: Lonzo Ball
On the flip side, Ball has been up and down so far in his rookie season. He's averaging 8.8 points, 6.9 assists and 6.4 rebounds, but is shooting just 29.9 percent from the field and 23.4 percent from three. He's also lacked assertiveness against certain opponents, like when Patrick Beverley pushed him around on opening night. In a loss to Portland on Thursday, he became the first top-five pick to play 28 minutes and go scoreless since Dikembe Mutombo in 1992. On the bright side, the Lakers are going to let him play a lot and figure it out.
Up: Teams who traded their superstars away
The Jimmy Butler and Paul George trades were universally ridiculed, given the limited return the Bulls and Pacers received. Well, it turns out we should never react to trades right away. Lauri Markkanen, one of the players Chicago received in return for Butler, has looked capable and comfortable so far, averaging 16.3 points and 9.0 rebounds and drawing praise from LeBron. The Bulls are in for a long rebuild, but if Markkanen is for real, and Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine can eventually form the team's starting backcourt, it's the start of something. In Indiana, Victor Oladipo is hitting game winners and scoring nearly 25 points per game, looking like a 25-year-old ready to finally make the leap. Meanwhile, Domantas Sabonis is averaging a double-double. Maybe those trades weren't so one-sided after all.
Down: Minnesota's defense
The Timberwolves are winning games, but Tom Thibodeau's vaunted defensive reputation has yet to pay off in Minnesota, who, per NBA.com, are in the bottom-three in defensive efficiency so far. This is coming off a season when the young Wolves finished 26th in defensive efficiency. Minnesota is winning games, but this is something to keep an eye on.
Up: Blake Griffin
The Clippers feel like a happier bunch this year. Chris Paul is perhaps the best point guard of his era, but years of playoff failures weighed on this core group, and with a new roster around Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers feel fun again, and they're winning. With a larger role on offense, Griffin is reclaiming his spot among the best power forwards in the league. The scoring and rebounding has always been there (23.7 points and 8.4 rebounds this season), but Griffin is also shooting a career-high 42.2 percent from three and handing out 4.3 assists per game. The Clippers lost a franchise point guard this offseason, but giving $173 million to re-sign Griffin doesn't look like a terrible idea so far.
Down: Sacramento Kings
The Kings are off to a 2-8 start and while De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield and Skal Labissiere look like they can form the start of a young core in Sacramento, a lot of the veteran pick-ups this offseason have yet to pay off. George Hill is off to a slow start. Zach Randolph has not improved the team's front court. Vince Carter is barely playing. The kids are improving, but the Kings are staring at a 12th consecutive season out of the playoffs.
Up: Giannis Antetokounmpo
What more can be said about Antetokounmpo at this point? 31.0 points, 9.9 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and mind-bending highlights every time he steps on the floor (the latest-- the dunk on the Detroit Pistons seen below). Oh, and he won't turn 23 until December. It's still LeBron's league, but the future might belong to Giannis, and soon.