Just think, if the NBA season ended after one week we'd have to give Michael Carter-Williams the Rookie of the Year and MVP, crown the Sixers as champs, send LeBron James off a sinking Miami ship to Cleveland, brace for the firing of Doc Rivers, hold last rites for the Celtics and await the blowing up of the Knicks by owner James Dolan.
As it is, only a few of the above (hello, Celtics, Knicks!) will have the ring of truth as the season moves on. But we can extract some information in the early returns that allows us to separate the genuine from the suspicious.
Here's our real/fake meter from the first week:
Michael Carter-Williams is a solid NBA player.
REAL. Certain things about rookies you can spot right away that tell you about their chances. Confidence? Feel for the game? Take-charge attitude? Results? They've all been evident with MCW, who chopped down LeBron James and Derrick Rose, winners of the last four MVP awards. MCW was NBA-ready from the opening tip. Was it just a coincidence that his first game was also the retirement ceremony for Allen Iverson? What a way to pass the point guard baton to a rook averaging 20 points, five rebounds, 7.8 assists and three steals in his first four games.
The Bulls are a lottery team.
FAKE. There are solid reasons that explain why the Bulls haven't taken off yet. Derrick Rose (28 percent shooting) clearly isn't himself after missing an entire season and Joakim Noah is easing back to normalcy after missing much of the preseason. Give these guys another month and expect to see the Bulls rise in the standings. Rose and Noah don't concern me as much as Luol Deng. With Rose struggling, Deng hasn't assumed a bigger load and his marksmanship is awful, just .083 percent on three-pointers and 40 percent overall.
The Knicks will continue to struggle all season.
REAL. Their early skid, which includes losing at home to the Bobcats, can be partly blamed on J.R. Smith's drug suspension to start the season. When he returns, Carmelo Anthony won't need to labor as much, especially in the fourth quarter. And yet, the Knicks are lacking the spark that helped them to a quick start last season. Tyson Chandler once again appears prone to injuries, while Andrea Bargnani (two rebounds per game) is too soft to supply what the Knicks need most: defense and rebounding. The good news: Iman Shumpert looks explosive again while Metta World Peace is rejuvenated back in his hometown.
Everything is sunny in Phoenix.
FAKE. The first four games under Jeff Hornacek produced respectable results; Phoenix beat three so-so teams while putting up a fight in the loss to Oklahoma City. And Hornacek has them playing spirited defense at times. But the Suns, built for a tanking, are too guard-oriented and rely too much on perimeter shooting for the good times to last much longer. Their big guys, the Morris Brothers and Channing Frye, aren't your usual power forwards. By giving away Marcin Gortat, Phoenix lacks a natural big man, and we haven't seen much of first-round pick Alex Len yet.
Andre Iguodala is the best off-season pickup in the NBA.
REAL. Sure, most of the damage he's done was restricted to the win over Philly, his old team. But Iggy has helped in other areas (an 11-assist game against the Clippers) while allowing his young teammates to continue growing. Essentially, he hasn't gotten in the way of progress in Golden State. We'll see what happens when Harrison Barnes returns and how much of Iggy's presence will mean to Barnes' minutes at small forward. For now, Iguodala appears a good fit for the up-tempo Warriors who are slowing learning that defense will determine how far they go in the West.
Mike Miller will stay upright long enough to help the Grizzlies in the playoffs.
FAKE. Miller is getting 25 minutes a game and now has the responsibility of improving the Grizzlies' poor perimeter shooting game. And so far, so good. But it's a long season and Miller hasn't demonstrated an ability to survive the 82-game obstacle course without some physical mishap. Also, the Grizzlies should intensify the grooming of Quincy Pondexter, the guy whose contract they extended. Pondexter (38 percent on threes) is young and sturdy and likely to be their best shooter standing when April rolls around.
The Nuggets, losers of their first five games, will follow a very long off-season with a long season.
REAL. They're not off to a blazing start in Denver, which means basketball hasn't been the same since Andre Miller dropped the game-winning layup to even the playoff series with the Warriors last spring. What followed was a fallout: losing to the Warriors, watching their GM leave and then firing the coach. Their season hinges on getting more production from JaVale McGee and another consistent source of offense besides Ty Lawson, whose job is supposedly to pass the ball, not shoot. In addition to spotty offense, the Nuggets allowed Portland to score 113 points and the Suns 98.
The Celtics will figure it out in time.
FAKE. Lousy defense (next to last in the league), poor rebounding, inconsistent point guard play -- it's all been mostly bad for Boston. Which comes as no surprise. The Celtics are hoping for better days in the near future, as in next season. This season appears a wash. Rajon Rondo is still on the mend and if he comes back to a team that's as bad as this, the Celtics should seriously see what they can get at the trade deadline. Or maybe something for Gerald Wallace, before he strangles someone.
Blake Griffin didn't learn anything over the summer.
REAL. He still struggles often in the half-court and didn't fix that ugly hitch in his jumper (and at this point, probably never will). The Clippers are doing OK because Chris Paul is averaging 26.5 points and 13.3 assists. Griffin is obviously a solid power forward and this team's second-best player by far. But we haven't seen much evolution in his game that will make him a dangerous weapon in the post-season, when the court shrinks. There's time.
Dwight Howard looks like a more polished offensive player.
FAKE. After a summer of being tutored by Hakeem Olajuwon and Kevin McHale on the finer points of post play, we haven't seen much evidence from Howard that he can create his own shot a variety of ways. Perhaps at this stage of his career, he is what he is. His strengths are defense and rebounding and he's giving that to the Rockets. In a pinch, though, Houston is likely to go with James Harden and maybe even Chandler Parsons when a big basket is needed.
The Bobcats gave good money on a player who won't significantly help them, Al Jefferson.
REAL. Let's be fair to Big Al; a creaky ankle has limited him since preseason and he really hasn't gotten started, playing just 53 minutes this season. But Jefferson most likely left his best years in Minnesota and Utah. While the Bobcats are awfully thin up front, the bulk of the minutes and the ball need to find rookie Cody Zeller, so he can get a dose of confidence right away. The Bobcats don't want Zeller being a fourth option, setting picks for a living. They drafted him to be a star.
Kevin Durant will lead the league in scoring.
FAKE. Well, not because he doesn't have the skills to do that. But Durant won't get the title for a very good and refreshing reason: Russell Westbrook is back and so is his burst. Lots of folks have knocked Westbrook for taking more shots than Durant, but OKC needs Westbrook to get at least as many touches because the Thunder still haven't found a solid No. 3 scorer to replace Harden. Serge Ibaka is more of an opportunity scorer; OKC doesn't run many plays for him. Watching Westbrook return quicker from knee surgery than most projections and then soaring to the rim was a welcome sight not only for OKC, but the NBA.
Josh Smith is already the best weapon on the Pistons.
REAL. Well, sure, that's like calling yourself the tallest man at a short man's convention. Still, Smith looks like a smart signing by Joe Dumars. He's helping the Pistons without getting in the way of Greg Monroe or Andre Drummond. Maybe this won't last the duration of Smith's contract. Maybe it won't last the duration of the season. But right now, at 16 points and seven rebounds, Smith looks like money well spent.
The Bucks blew it by giving a big contract to Larry Sanders.
FAKE. He's already complaining about his role in Larry Drew's system and leaving the locker room quickly after games. Sanders is averaging only 17 minutes and getting pulled in the fourth quarter for Zaza Pachulia. But it's probably because Drew is sending the young player a message: Just because you got the big contract doesn't mean you no longer need to earn your minutes. The faster Sanders figures it out, the better for him and the Bucks. If his bank account doesn't care that he's pulling down less than four rebounds a game and sitting the bench in crunch time, his pride will.