NBA’s Stranger Things: Weird Early Season Trends

— October 31st 2017

Early season trends point towards a new king of the East and the no. 1 overall pick busting. Let’s get weird!

By: Daniel Bennett

Between the triumphant return of the NBA and Season 2 of Stranger Things, I’d say we’re sorted for entertainment for a good while. Since it’s Halloween, let’s enter The Upside Down and take a look at some of the stranger things that have taken place so far in the young NBA season.

Red Hot Orlando Magic

It’s a ridiculously small sample size, but if the season ended today, the Orlando Magic would finish with the third best record in the Eastern Conference. So how exactly has last year’s 29-win team got off to such a standout start to the season?

First and foremost, the play of Aaron Gordon has led the charge for the Eastern Conference leaders. A strong contender for Most Improved Player, Gordon is having a breakout year, averaging 22 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists. He’s putting up these numbers with an eye catching and probably impossible to maintain efficiency–shooting at a clip of 55.2 percent and 58.8 percent from behind the arc.

The whole team has been shooting the lights out from three, in fact. Again, it won’t hold up for the rest of the year, but the Magic are shooting an impressive 43.5 percent from three-point land. In addition to Gordon, Evan Fournier and Nikola Vucevic have made great contributions so far, and the trio were simply too hot for the Cavs to handle in their matchup, where Orlando emerged as victors with a 114-93 scoreline. The additions of Jonathan Simmons and rookie Jonathan Isaac has provided Orlando with solid two-way play off the bench, too. While you shouldn’t expect to see the Magic make a deep playoff run, they’re poised to make a significant improvement on what was a disappointing 2016-17 campaign.

Is King James’ reign coming to an end?

Speaking of disappointment, the Cleveland Cavaliers have started the season with a 3-4 record. For most teams, this wouldn’t be newsworthy. The Cavaliers aren’t most teams. After three straight NBA Finals appearances, there is an expectation of excellence from the 2016 NBA Champions. After losses to the Magic, Knicks and Nets, it appears this year’s Cleveland Cavaliers are even more ill-equipped to stop the Golden State Warriors than last season’s team that lost in five games.

While their bad start doesn’t spell doom and gloom for the rest of the season, there are inherent issues on the defensive end that can’t go ignored. The Cavs are currently allowing 109.8 points per 100 possession–third worst in the NBA.  

It might just be time for GM LeBron to fire up the trade machine and get some help again.

Bledsoe in the Barbershop

If you’re not happy with your job, you’d probably want to leave, right? Basketball players are no different, but I’m not sure I’d go down the same road as Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe when it comes to devising an exit plan.

Bledsoe took to Twitter to voice his displeasure.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to decipher this tweet. With the Suns set for another year at the basement of the Western Conference and Bledsoe quickly approaching 30, it’s clear that the franchise’s short-term interests and aspirations do not align with his.

His explanation for the tweet is probably the strangest thing about the whole situation. He claims to have been at the hair salon.

Whether you believe him or not, it can’t be long before Bledsoe is on his way out of Phoenix, and he is sure to shine on a playoff team.

The curious case of Markelle Fultz

In the second half of the NBA season, the hype surrounding the upcoming draft class prospects grows exponentially, and last season was no different. Thanks to LaVar Ball, we all knew about his son Lonzo, whether we wanted to or not. But another rookie point guard emerged as a consensus top three pick, and ended up going no. 1. Markelle Fultz came into the league being compared to MVP candidate James Harden due to his herky-jerky craftiness and smooth shooting off the dribble. Pretty confusing, then, that his jumpshot seems to be completely broken. Take a look:

It’s clear to see Fultz has altered his jumpshot–now shooting with a much lower release point. But why? There’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation going on with the explanation–we’re not sure what came first, the shot tweak or the injury.

Fultz claims he made the change to improve his game (something coach Brett Brown was not happy about). However, Fultz’s long-term trainer, Keith Williams, said Fultz tweaked his shooting because of his injury and the pain it’s causing–not vice versa (USA Today Sports). According to The Vertical’s Michael Lee, Bryan Colangelo has twice suggested that the change in shooting mechanics has contributed to his shoulder complications.

With Fultz now sidelined indefinitely due to the shoulder injury, this story has it’s not-so-happy ending, but something about this story just doesn’t add up. With conflicting accounts of events, and the 76ers’ tendency to sit their injured rookies at the earliest opportunity, this is sure to remain one of the stranger moments come the end of the season.

Bull Fighting in Chicago

This isn’t the first time–or the last time–that two teammates have come to blows. You probably know the now-famous story of how Michael Jordan punched Steve Kerr in the face. Decades on, with the Bulls far removed from their dominant past, two Chicago teammates went at it again.

Power forwards Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis took “fighting for the starting job” way too far, when Portis socked Mirotic in the face–causing multiple bone fractures

The Bulls released a statement last week confirming they are investigating the altercation.

“Chicago Bulls forwards Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic had a physical altercation during today’s practice,” the statement read.

“As a result of the incident, Mirotic suffered a concussion and maxillary fractures. Surgery is likely required. Mirotic is out indefinitely.”

The Bulls were bottom of Las Vegas’ projected win totals, set at a 21.5 over/under. Without their starting and backup power forwards, bettors who backed the under are set for a big win.  

As the season wears on, things should get a little less strange, as the overachieving high flyers will probably come back down to earth and the underachieving super teams are sure to get back on track. This early unpredictability is what makes the beginning of an NBA season so exciting–it always throws a few surprises at us.

All stats from Basketball Reference and correct as of 30th October 2017.

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