Wednesday, July 17, 2024

NBA opening night takeaways: Victor Wembanyama upstaged by fellow rookie; Scoot Henderson lays a debut dud

Although the NBA technically opened its 2023-24 campaign with a doubleheader on Tuesday, the league’s 12-game slate a night later got the season underway for most of the league. 

Victor Wembanyama’s debut was the headliner Wednesday night, but there was plenty of action to go around including a masterful performance by Shai Gilegous-Alexander in Chicago, a rocky start for Trae Young and the Hawks, a dud debut for Scoot Henderson and the highly anticipated return of Zion Williamson, who gave us a rim-rocking sequence of dunks on consecutive possessions in New Orleans’ win over Memphis. 

Here are the major takeaways from the night.

Wemby upstaged by fellow rookie

You’re not going to hear that sentence very often this season, but it was true on opening night as Dallas rookie and No. 12 overall draft pick Dereck Lively II, who was absolutely awesome, posted 16 points and 10 boards against Victor Wembanyama’s 15 points and five rebounds as Dallas closed out San Antonio late. 

Lively was literally historically good:

Here’s the head to head:

Here’s Lively rolling with Luka Doncic for the slam:

Here he is with a monster put-back dunk:

Wembanyama, meanwhile, was in foul trouble most of the second half. With six minutes remaining, he had tallied just six points and five fouls. But he showed out late, carding nine impressive points over the game’s final stretch, starting with this pull-up 3-pointer as soon as he got back in the game:

And this face-up jumper looked positive Tim Duncan-esque:

Scoot off to slow start

Scoot Henderson’s NBA debut was a dud. He went scoreless in the first half, and he finished with just nine points on 5-of-11 shooting. Until late in the game he had just two points. His final five shots and seven points were in garbage time. 

SGA in early MVP form

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander put on a clinic in OKC’s win over Chicago on Wednesday, posting 31 points and 10 assists against just one turnover. You watch: He’s going to be in the MVP conversation all season.

SGA’s offensive bag is full of nasty moves, but his ability to instantly decelerate from full speed is at the top the list. Given SGA’s threat to get all the way to the rim as arguably the best driver in the league, this is impossible to defend when he just hits the brakes:

And his step-back 3s are flat-out filthy. 

Zion’s thunderous sequence

Zion didn’t play especially well in New Orleans’ win over Memphis (he was really forcing his way to the rim early on without any finesse to be found, and was running into a wall), but he still wound up with 23 points on 9-of-17 shooting including these two monster dunks on consecutive possessions. 

Strus gets loose for Cavs

The Cavaliers aimed to fill their shooting hole at the small-forward spot by signing Max Strus this summer, and early returns look great. Strus hit seven 3-pointers (a Cavs debut record) en route to 27 points as the Cavs edged the Nets, 114-113, in their opener. 

Porzingis makes Celtics history

With 30 points in a season-opening win over the Knicks on Wednesday, Kristaps Porzingis now owns the Boston Celtics‘ franchise record for the highest-scoring output in a team debut, per ESPN Stats

Porzingis, who also became the first player in Celtics history to make five 3-pointers and record four blocks in his team debut, was splendid on both ends of the floor. 

Even beyond his four blocked shots, his rim protection was a big factor all night (the Knicks were 3 for 18 in the paint in the first quarter), and he scored from every area of the court. 

He rolled to the rim. He got to the free-throw line 10 times, making nine. He popped for jumpers, hitting the aforementioned five 3-pointers, including this bomb in a tie game with a minute and a half to play. 

Trae Young lays an egg

We obviously can’t read too much into one game, but the Hawks still look like a team swimming upstream. They lost to the Hornets in their opener, and Trae Young was terrible, finishing 4 of 19 from the floor and 1 for 9 from 3, and even the one make was a meaningless prayer once the game was all but over. 

Young still put up 23 points by getting to the free-throw line 15 times, but he couldn’t get anything going. He still looks pretty useless off ball and he’s definitely still useless defensively. It didn’t help matters that Young’s backcourt mate, Dejounte Murray, was 3 for 14 for 11 points. 

Contrary to his reputation, Young has been a below-average 3-point shooter throughout his career. He’s an elite playmaker with a lethal floater and he gets into the paint almost at will, but the shooting is not close to what it’s cracked up to be. So far, that’s still holding true. 

Setting the Pace

The Indiana Pacers hung 143 points in their win over the Wizards, which goes down as the most points scored in a season opener, by any team, since 1990, per ESPN Stats, and the fifth-most all-time. 

Newcomer Bruce Brown knocked down a career-high six 3-pointers en route to a team-high 24 points, and Tyrese Haliburton picked up right where he left off last season, when he was the only player in the league to average double-digit points and assists on 40% 3-point shooting, with 20 points and 11 assists. 

Timberwolves build a brick house

Minnesota took a tough opening-night L against the Raptors with Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns jacking up a total of 52 shots, which they converted at just a 30% clip. 

If you’re looking for a silver lining, it was the first time that Towns, Edwards and Rudy Gobert all recorded double-doubles in the same game, but Minnesota’s 34% shooting clip as a team was its lowest number in the last five years. 

Cam Thomas was cooking

Thomas scored 36 points in Brooklyn’s narrow loss to the Cavaliers — the highest season-opener total by a bench player in NBA history. Thomas is a rollercoaster. He’s never seen a shot he doesn’t like. But he gets it going from time to time, and Wednesday was one of those nights. Buddy was cooking. 

Harrison Barnes loves openers

Two years ago, Barnes scored 36 points in Sacramento’s season-opening win over the Blazers, which wound up being his season high. On Wednesday, Barnes put up 33 in the Kings’ season-opening win against Utah, which could very well end up being his season-high again this year. 

Barnes has crested the 30-point mark just 22 times over 11 NBA seasons. Do the math, and that’s two per year on average. It doesn’t happen often.  

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