The Milwaukee Bucks were a popular preseason title pick after trading for Damian Lillard, largely on account of the strength of the two-man game with Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo. That chemistry has not yet developed, and the Bucks are not playing well enough on offense (11th) to make up for their massive step back defensively (27th). This group likely needs time to gain chemistry, but the early season returns have been concerning.
James Harden is yet to make his debut for the LA Clippers; they may come as early as Monday night against the New York Knicks. In the meantime, the Clippers have had a strong start to the season, buoyed by the health of their two stars. The Clippers are top-5 in both offense (5th) and defense (4th) and are second in effective field-goal percentage. Their metrics are somewhat thrown off by a 40-point win over the Spurs, but at the same time, that Spurs team has looked good against everyone other than the Clippers. How Harden scrambles everything up will be a key storyline to watch over the next couple of weeks.
Joel Embiid looks like he’s having fun playing basketball, something you couldn’t always say last season even in the midst of an MVP season. The cloud of James Harden has been blown off of this team, and in his absence, Tyrese Maxey is stepping up in a major way. Those predicting a Most Improved campaign and an All-Star berth look prophetic at this point.
The question for Philadelphia is what the next step is. Do they trade for another star during the season? Do they make a smaller move to upgrade the depth around their two stars? Or do they stand pat and wait for the summer to take a big swing?