Chicago Bulls' silver lining: Zach Lavine
The Chicago Bulls entered the 2018-19 season with one of the lowest projected win totals of the season,
and that should come as no surprise. A roster that lacks a real star and doesn't play defense is bound to
lose a lot of games in today's NBA.
But what also comes with the territory of a rebuilding team is the element of risk. Two summers ago
Chicago took a risk by trading Jimmy Butler to Minnesota for the 7th overall pick in the 2017 draft, Kris
Dunn, and Zach Lavine. This past summer they took a risk on matching Sacramento's four year, $78
million offer sheet to Lavine. Some considered it a risk because he was coming off a torn ACL last
season. Some considered it a risk because that's a hefty contract for a player who has notoriously
struggled on the defensive end. Regardless, Chicago pulled the trigger to the surprise of many, and very
early signs are suggesting the Bulls made the right decision.
Despite Chicago losing to Philadelphia and Detroit to open the year, Lavine is third in the league in
scoring with 31.5 points per game. It's not just his box score that has looked good to start the season
either, he's passing all of the eye tests too. More often than not, Lavine looks like the most athletic player
on the court. He has the ability to put the ball on the floor and get to whatever spot he wants using his
speed, length, and elite athleticism. He has an uncanny ability to finish around the rim to pair with
shooting range that extends well past the 3 point line.
If Lavine is able to continue his assertiveness as THE guy while Lauri Markkanen continues to heal from
a high-grade lateral sprain in his right elbow, then Bulls fans have a lot to be excited for with a young
core of Lavine, Markannen, and Wendell Carter Jr.
Washington Wizards silver lining: No Dwight Howard
Another NBA season brings another installment of “What the hell is going to happen in Washington this
season?” The Wizards have a knack of doing the opposite of what the consensus opinion around the
league is. John Wall is out for two months last season after undergoing knee surgery? Of course Washington
proceeds to play some of their best basketball of the 2017 season, goes 15-11, and keeps their playoff
hopes alive. Many are ready to see Washington take the next step and become a true contender in the east? Instead they've never made it out of the second round and were a disappointing 8 seed last season.
But if you ask fans or people associated with the organization, this season is going to be different.
Washington traded their starting center from last year, Marcin Gortat, for some back court depth in Austin
Rivers. They also signed polarizing center Dwight Howard to a two year, $11 million deal this summer.
The thought is Howard becomes not only a defensive and rebounding anchor, but a more athletic, mobile
big man that can run with the likes of John Wall and Bradley Beal.
A butt muscle injury has kept Howard out of Washington's first two games, and there's no clear timetable
when he'll return. The Wizards are obviously hoping it's sooner rather than later because after two games
they rank dead last in defensive rebounding percentage (59.5) and dead last in total rebounding
percentage (41.9). The return of Howard would not only bring the Wizards some much needed relief in
the paint, but a healthy squad eager to show everyone they're ready to take the next step.
Los Angles Lakers' silver lining: It's a marathon, not a sprint
The Lakers have been the most talked about team since Lebron James joined this summer, and will be the
most scrutinized team until their season is over. There will be inevitable over-analyzing and micromanaging from the outside this season. That might make it easy for many to lose perspective on what's really at stake this season.
It's safe to assume once LA didn't land another star this off-season, their road to an NBA Finals became
extremely difficult. That being said, this season is very valuable to the Lakers because of the development
that needs to happen.
In the eyes of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka, players like Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma,
and Josh Hart need to take their respective games to the next level for one of two reasons. Either to help
this Laker team compete for a title when a second star lands there, or improve their value within the
league, allowing Johnson and Pelinka to go get players who will.
The Lakers will have enough cap space next summer to sign any free agent they please because of
expiring one year contracts and the Luol Deng buyout. Pair that with Lebron signing a four year deal (last
year albeit a player option) and it shows you hes dedicated to help build something special in Los
Wins and losses are obviously important to a team who is expected, by many, to at least make the
playoffs. Just don't lose sight that this team is going to look dramatically different next season.
Cleveland Cavaliers' silver lining: Memories
Sorry Cavs fans but this slow start might be a sign of things to come for the foreseeable future. The
absence of Lebron is going to show how impressive his run of carrying last year's Cavs to the NBA Finals
Cleveland is now left with a borderline all star in Kevin Love and a whole lot of role players. The
absolute ceiling of this Cavs team seems to be a 7-8 seed and getting bounced in the first round. And
although they've only played three games, it seems to be an ambitious ceiling. It doesn't help that almost
all of the key players on the Cavaliers are under contract until after the 2019-2020 season.
A silver lining for the Cavs is of course first round pick Collin Sexton. While many are rightfully excited
about his potential, his development may take longer than some fans like. He's shown flashes of that
dynamic open floor game which made him a top ten pick in this years draft, but it's come in a limited role.
George Hill still starts for Cleveland, and Sexton is only averaging 22.8 minutes in three games. Another
point of concern is his -25.4 net rating and .5 assist/turnover ratio. While he's proven he can be an
offensive threat with the ball in his hands, it's yet to be seen how much better he can make players around
So while Cavs fans anxiously wait on the development of Sexton, you'll always have the Lebron
memories to help ease the growing pains.
Oklahoma City Thunder's silver lining: Too much talent
DISCLAIMER: I'm about to disregard all the points I make about the Thunder having a lot of issues that
need to be addressed.
I understand Russell Westbrook missed the first two games of the season because of an off-season knee
procedure, but the inconsistencies OKC have shown through the first week of the season extend past
Friday nights game against the Clippers featured an alarming lack of ball movement resulting in a mere
17 assists on 35.8 percent shooting from the field and 21 percent from three. When Westbrook returned
Sunday night it was an alarming performance on the other end of the court. OKC allowed 68 points in the
first half and 131 points total to the lowly Sacramento Kings. The Thunder played in spurts where there
was no intensity, followed by spurts where there was playoff like intensity.
The inconsistencies have resulted in OKC ranking 29th in net rating (-12.1) and dead last in offensive
rating (98.4). The Thunder also boast the worst 3 point shooting percentage in the league at 23.9. There's
obviously a lot Billy Donovan needs to sort through with his team, and with all that being said, their silver
lining is their roster.
The NBA is still heavily driven with star power, and the Thunder have two of the top 15 players in the
league. It might be a simplistic way to look past Oklahoma City's early problems, but with two of the best
players in the league, a solid supporting cast, and another year of continuity, it's too early to worry about
the Thunder not living up to expectations... at least in the regular season.
Jacob Ahlmann is a contributor at The Up&Under.