The first week-plus of the 2021-22 NBA season has been filled with all sorts of fun surprises to go along with the big performances from the stars everyone expected.
It's still early, and a lot of what happens now could be noise. But every year, there are storylines and trends that nobody (or at least, not most people) saw coming, and some of them stick.
Here's what has stood out through the season's first eight days.
James Harden's Struggles
Everyone knew there would be intense focus on Harden this season with the league introducing a new set of officiating rules designed to curb the exact sort of foul-hunting that's become his calling card. And as expected, that part of his game has taken a hit—he's averaging just three free-throw attempts per game through the Nets' first four games, fewer than he's ever averaged in his career, even going back to when he was a rookie in Oklahoma City.
What's surprising is how much this has affected the rest of his game—the assumption has been that the game's best players will quickly figure out how to adapt to rule changes. But Harden has struggled in other facets as well. He's shooting the worst he has in his entire career, both from the field (36.4 percent) and from three-point range (32.3 percent) on a similar number of attempts to last year.
With no Kyrie Irving, the Nets need the best version of Harden if they want to contend. That player has thus far not shown up.
The Bulls Are Back
Chicago certainly had one of the league's splashier offseasons, spending big on Lonzo Ball and DeMar DeRozan to complete a roster overhaul. But reactions were mixed over the summer as far as how these big names would fit together alongside Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic. There were a lot of questions about how they'd look defensively and how DeRozan would function as a non-three-point shooter playing next to Ball and LaVine.
Well, the Bulls are one of the league's three remaining unbeaten teams after squeaking out a win in Toronto on Monday. With the caveat that their other three wins came against Detroit (twice) and a Zion Williamson-less New Orleans team, the fit questions appear to be unfounded for now. Ball is an ideal backcourt complement to LaVine, and DeRozan has been able to find his offense just fine. And defensively, they've been great, allowing just 97.7 points per 100 possessions, tied for the fifth-best mark in the league. Fellow free-agent acquisition Alex Caruso has been huge in that regard.
The Bulls have an incredibly tough stretch of the schedule coming up over the next month. If they can get through it while remaining competitive, we'll know they're the real deal. But for now, this is easily the most excited Bulls fans have been in at least five years.