We’re now a month into the 2023-24 NBA season and the Minnesota Timberwolves are still the surprise packet to be the #1 seed in the West. Meanwhile, the Houston Rockets are on an upward trajectory thanks to a much-improved defence.
Timberwolves Clicking Early
The Minnesota Timberwolves are 9-3 and the #1 seed in the Western Conference.
Just like we all expected…
Following too many false starts and early crows from the Timberwolves social media department, it’s all finally starting to click on the court.
It didn’t take long for the majority of the NBA community to put a line through Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert as a trio. Awful last year, it looked as though the trade for Gobert could go down as an absolute howler. But it’s all different with a summer spent together.
Their +6.1 net rating ranks 5th in the NBA. While the offence is middling to be 16th, the Timberwolves are making their mark on the defensive end to allow the opposition to score only 106.9 points per 100 possessions.
The improvement of Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns as a unit on the offensive end has a lot to do with the overall improvement of the Timberwolves. The pair played with a 106.2 offensive rating last season. To start the 2023-24 NBA season, they’ve bumped the offensive rating up to 115.6.
Anthony Edwards has also taken a leap. He’s one of the game’s up-and-coming personalities off the court and is averaging 26 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 1.3 steals per game on it. He’s aggressive and capable of doing it all on his own. Still, with the game on the line against the Golden State Warriors earlier in the week, he found Mike Conley in the corner with a superb pass to seal it. It’s early days and he will need a narrative boost to make up for the lack of individual numbers, but his $26 to win Most Valuable Player deserves a look.
They’ve done all of this with Towns shooting 23.5% from beyond the arc in his first six games, too. But as you’d expect from one of the best and most efficient scorers in the NBA, he has bounced back to shoot 59.4% from the field and 48% from three in his last six games.
9 AST (0 TOV)
And a game winner. https://t.co/h74PThYWZi
— StatMuse (@statmuse) November 19, 2023
It’s early days and we’ve seen the Timberwolves play through purple patches before. This feels different, though. Edwards, Towns and Gobert are clicking well. Jaden McDaniels and Mike Conley are excellent complimentary pieces. They’ve beaten the Warriors twice already this season and picked up wins over the Celtics and Nuggets.
Minnesota’s $26 to win the championship says everything about their longer-term prospects this season. Despite their hot start, it’s unlikely to translate into a banner at this stage. Still, the Timberwolves are finally on the right track. At the very least, they’re must-watch TV and Edwards is a superstar in the making. If Gobert and Towns can continue to support him on both sides of the ball, this group could cause a few problems come playoff time.
Rockets On The Rise
The Houston Rockets won a combined 59 games in the three seasons leading up to this one.
Comfortably and consistently one of the worst teams in the NBA since losing in the Western Conference semi-finals in 2019-20, it’s been a long road to relevance for the Rockets. They aren’t there yet, but they’re further down the path than many anticipated at this point to be 6-4 to start the season.
There was always optimism for Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun and Jabari Smith Jr’s careers. They’re exciting young prospects and the future of the franchise. However, the somewhat maligned additions of Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks have proven to be a masterstroke.
VanVleet is averaging 17.4 points and a career-high 8.1 assists per game. Meanwhile, Brooks is having the expected impact in defence while shooting 50% from beyond the arc on 3.2 attempts per game. More importantly, they’re allowing the youngsters to get theirs, and helping them get it.
Green: 19.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 40.1% FG, 37.3% 3P
Sengun: 19.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1 steal, 58% FG
Smith Jr: 12 points, 7 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 46.7% FG, 35.4% 3P
But like the Timberwolves, it’s in defence that the Rockets have improved most.
The Houston Rockets:
5 game winning streak
6th in the NBA in NetRtg
6th in the NBA in 3PT%
8th in the NBA in DefRtg pic.twitter.com/HWb9KFXkcA
— NBACentral (@TheDunkCentral) November 11, 2023
They finished the last three seasons ranked 27th, 30th and 29th in points allowed. This year, they’re allowing only 105.8 points per game to rank 2nd in the league. Opposing teams are making only 38.4 field goals per game (1st) and shooting only 32.8% from beyond the arc (2nd). As impressive as the numbers are, it’s the effort and intensity in defence that you can only see with the eye test that suggests they could excel on this side of the ball all season.
Defence wins championships. That isn’t happening for this group this season at $201. But Houston’s $3 to make the playoffs is worth a look. They’re young, hungry and versatile. If they can remain healthy and fall on the right side of some luck throughout the year, sneaking into the playoffs on the back of their defence isn’t out of the question for the Rockets.
A Rookie Week For Chet Holmgren
He’s on the second line of betting to win Rookie of the Year at $3.60, but it’s not all easy for Chet Holmgren. As expected even for the best young players in the NBA, it’s an up-and-down experience early on in a career.
Just this week Holmgren played out a shocker and a game-winner for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
In the second instalment – the first in the regular season – of the career-long grudge match with Victor Wembanyama, Holmgren finished up with only seven points on 30% shooting. But like all great rookies, he soon backed up the stinker with a memorable performance.
With 1.6 seconds left on the clock and with his team needing him most, Holmgren produced the goods.
CHET HOLMGREN. 🔥🔥🔥
— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) November 19, 2023
He finished the overtime win with 36 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. It’s the best game of his NBA career to date. Overall, he leads all rookies this season in estimated plus-minus.
Still, Wembanyama is the overwhelming favourite to win ROY.
Still Keeping An Eye On The Clippers
We’re still keeping an eye on the chaos in Los Angeles.
Unsurprisingly, the ending of their losing streak coincided with Russell Westbrook coming off the bench.
He didn’t light the world on fire as the Clippers beat the Houston Rockets. Westbrook says he wants the first unit to establish some continuity and is willing to play off the bench to let that happen. He finished up with only eight points on 2-9 shooting with three rebounds and two assists in the first effort. Nonetheless, his $10 to win Sixth Man of the Year is all of a sudden interesting.
Russell Westbrook off the bench:
The only player over the last 40 seasons to average 15/5/5 off the bench. https://t.co/syncrCyZGj
— StatMuse (@statmuse) November 17, 2023
If Westbrook embraces the role and brings the energy as the first-choice off the bench, he can post some numbers that rival the current $3.90 favourite, Immanuel Quickley.
Early NBA Season Betting Trends
A big week for favourites against the spread has levelled things out but Underdogs are still the early play covering at 52.5% through the first month of the season.
Covering at 60% at this point last week, the gift of home underdogs has regressed to normality to now sit at 52.7%.
Meanwhile, Overs are still cashing in. Non-overtime games have finished Over the points total at 52.6%.
TOP 6 NBA CHAMPIONSHIP ODDS
|TEAM||CURRENT PRICE||LAST WEEK’S PRICE|
|Golden State Warriors||$15||$15|