As we put the first 10% of the season in the books, here are 10 things to check out:
1. We need to talk about Nikola
Nikola Jokic has probably racked up more "likes" in this space than any other player. And so it is with a heavy heart that I note: Jokic does not look right, and the issues appear to go beyond his early-season, umm, conditioning.
His shots, free throws and assists are down. Jokic is recording only 8.8 post touches per 100 possessions, down from 12 last season, per Second Spectrum, and that's a problem considering he is a devastating scorer and passer on the block. Things are just ... weird.
Against Orlando on Saturday, Jokic did not even look to post up for the entire first half. The coaches must have gotten on him at halftime. On Denver's first possession of the third quarter, Jokic jacked a contested above-the-break triple as soon as he touched the ball. He did it again two possessions later. Those shots seemed like messages: Oh, you want me to shoot? How about this?
He is pouting more even by his mopey standards: waving his arms in frustration at inaccurate passes, and slapping opponents to stop play after what he considers bad calls.
We haven't even addressed defense. Jokic has never exactly been agile, but he makes up for it to some degree with canny positioning, quick meat-hook hands, and voracious rebounding. Awkward appearances aside, the Nuggets have always been stingier with Jokic on the floor.
They still are, per NBA.com. But Jokic is barely moving. He paws at bodies as they fly around him, like a toddler reaching for bubbles.
Jokic is contesting only 3.9 shots per game around the basket, per NBA.com, a remarkably low number for a starting center logging 30 minutes per game. Some players contesting at least that many close shots: Bruce Brown, James Harden, Lonzo Ball, Darius Garland, and Mason Plumlee -- Jokic's backup. (Jokic contested six such shots per game last season.)
It's easy to laugh this off -- oh, that Jokic! -- and assume all will be well by the postseason. It is a great sign that Denver is 5-2 despite unremarkable starts from everyone other than Will Barton. Their starting five has mauled opponents by 38 points in 98 minutes.
But winning a title is really hard. It takes full engagement from everyone on the roster. Franchise players set the tone. Fissures openly easily in the NBA.
The super-deep Nuggets will probably be fine. Jokic is still having a solid season. But this bears watching.
2. The arrhythmic greatness of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
There just aren't many humans this shifty:
A lot of players toggle between two gears: fast and slow, or (in the case of guys like Kyle Anderson) slow and a little less slow. Gilgeous-Alexander operates along almost the entire speedometer, and he's so limby, with such arrhythmic patterns, it sometimes looks as if different parts of his body are moving at different rates.
That's just filthy. Utter filth. That hesitation dribble followed by a one-handed lefty gather? Come on.
Gilgeous-Alexander is mostly deliberate, but he can explode in straight lines when he needs to -- and finish over and through bigger defenders.
His growth in Year 2 has been incredible. Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging 22 points and shooting 40% from deep. He has already canned six pull-up 3s after hitting just seven all of last season. He's a menace on defense, good for a steal and a block per game. His arms are everywhere.
He has functioned well on and off the ball in Oklahoma City's triple point guard lineup, with Chris Paul and Dennis Schroder; Oklahoma City is plus-28 in the 47 minutes those three have played together. Hopefully Gilgeous-Alexander gets more solo point duty later in the season.
Regardless, this guy looks like a future All-Star.
3. Luka Doncic, faking you out of your shoes