Scoring is way up, the Lakers are winless and the standings look unpredictable.
Our NBA experts answer the big questions after the first week of basketball.
1. What's your biggest takeaway from the first week of games?
Jackie MacMullan, ESPN: Draymond Green is right. Defense is on life support at the moment in the NBA, partly because of a flurry of calls that allow no breathing room for the defender. Also, as Spurs coach Gregg Popovich explained before Monday night's game against the Lakers, teams have the ability to roll out lineups with five 3-point shooters on the floor. That's difficult to defend with conventional strategies. People love scoring, and it's coming in bunches.
Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN: Somebody find Alex English and Doug Moe, because NBA teams are scoring like they're the early-'80s Denver Nuggets. Whether it's the 14-second reset of the shot clock on offensive rebounds or the more stringent fouling rule implemented to encourage free movement, teams are routinely scoring in the 120s and even 130s, and that's before most players have truly discovered their rhythm. Buckle up.
Chris Herring, FiveThirtyEight: That we can't merely look at the box score and assume that a team had a pitiful defensive performance if it surrendered 114 points in a game anymore. Teams are cranking up the pace to start the season, which usually begins a bit slower as players work themselves into better shape. The crackdown on freedom of movement also seems to have made an enormous difference, making it tougher for defensive players to stop someone coming around a screen or cutting toward the basket.
Tim MacMahon, ESPN: As Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said, "The NBA has never been more exciting to watch." Scores have exploded as teams are firing up more 3-pointers than ever and playing at a fast-forward pace. Entering Monday night, more than two-thirds of the league averaged more possessions than the 2017-18 Pelicans, last season's fastest-paced team. It will be interesting to see if that keeps up when the legs aren't so fresh as the season progresses.
Kevin Pelton, ESPN: It has to be the exaggerated scoring figures I wrote about Monday. One thing I didn't touch on there is how the increase in terms of both pace and efficiency affects how we understand the game. The old statistical markers, like a team scoring 25 points in a quarter or a player scoring 20 in a game, just don't apply the same way now that league averages are so much higher.
2. What has been the biggest surprise so far?
MacMahon: The Nuggets are a defensive juggernaut!? Nikola Jokic's 3-0 team is the only one to hold its opponent to double digits in every game, and that includes the Warriors on a night when the Nuggets were wrapping up a back-to-back. Sure, it's a small sample size, but a healthy Paul Millsap certainly helps. Denver is allowing a super-stingy 83.2 points per 100 possessions when Millsap is on the floor, as compared to 104.9 when he sits.
Arnovitz: They've only been at it for two games, but the Pelicans look indomitable, with Nikola Mirotic looking like the frontcourt running mate Anthony Davis has been looking for his entire career. To complement Davis, the Pels have a platoon of players who are marginally to considerably above average, play defense with discipline and know how to sustain the pace and get to the spots that empower the high-octane offense. This should be a lot of fun.
Pelton: The way the Nuggets are winning with the league's best defensive rating. Yes, Denver's gotten some fortunate breaks, as opponents have shot just 27.1 percent on 3s. However, Second Spectrum data shows the Nuggets are limiting opponents to the ninth-hardest shots in terms of shot quality (qSQ), up from 17th a year ago. Denver is 3-0 while ranking 20th in offensive rating, and not even Nuggets believers saw that coming before the season.
MacMullan: I was bullish on the Nuggets, but if you told me they would be the only team left standing that has held opponents under 100 points in every game -- OK, OK, it's only three outings, but still! -- I would not have plopped my money down on Nikola Jokic and the boys. It was spectacular being in Denver on Sunday night to witness the Nuggets shoot 13 percent in the opening quarter, then still somehow manage to beat Golden State on a night when Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant were a combined 17-for-42.
Herring: Denver ranking No. 1 in defensive efficiency, by far, after piecing together an offseason that I thought might leave the Nuggets with the worst defense in basketball. If they can even sniff the top 10 on defense this season, they'll be a massive threat out West.
3. What has been the biggest disappointment?
Arnovitz: The Boston Celtics will be fine, but since the big opening-night win over Philadelphia, they've been groping in the dark for the right combinations. The offense looks a little gummy, which is unusual, but sometimes reintroducing ball-dominant players into a system predicated on fluid movement can be a test. It will come together in Boston -- there's too much talent -- but the early results haven't been pretty.
MacMullan: The easy answer is the anemic start of the Celtics. Inject coach Brad Stevens with truth serum and he would likely admit he knew Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving would need time to regain their footing after a year of surgically repaired limbs. But did he foresee Irving shooting 34 percent from the floor and 14.3 percent from 3 through the first four games? I didn't. No matter. Kyrie will settle in and so will Boston. But all those young'uns falling over each other for playing time better remember the Celtics' true identity: getting stops.
Herring: It requires additional context, of course, but I'd go with the Thunder starting 0-3 to begin the season in losses by eight, 16 and 11 points, with the most recent defeat being at home -- against the lowly Sacramento Kings. Yes, Russell Westbrook was playing in just one of those three contests. But for all the athleticism the Thunder present -- Hamidou Diallo and Nerlens Noel give them even more weapons -- they somehow still lack consistent perimeter shooting. And with their defense unable to get late-game stops against the Kings, they should be counting down the days until they get Andre Roberson back.
Pelton: The Houston Rockets' defense. There were certainly reasons to be concerned, from the departures of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute to the retirement of defensive coordinator Jeff Bzdelik to the way the emphasis on freedom of movement targeted the way the Rockets grabbed and held off the ball last season. And so far, they've been even worse than feared, slipping from sixth in defensive rating last year to 23rd this season.
MacMahon: Is DNP-rest really necessary less than a week into a season? OK, I get Gordon Hayward not playing early back-to-backs after a difficult rehab from such a major injury. It's a bit harder to stomach for Kawhi Leonard, who the Spurs might say DNP-rested for the majority of last season. It's just laughable for Jimmy Butler, especially considering Tom Thibodeau's claim that it was mainly a coach's decision.
4. The Lakers ...
Herring: ... could really end up regretting their role in Saturday night's tussle with the Rockets. In a nutshell, a three-game suspension for Rajon Rondo and a four-game suspension for Brandon Ingram -- whom many see as the Lakers' second-best scorer -- could be incredibly damaging in the grand scheme of things if the Lakers aren't in comfortable position to make the playoffs. As we saw last season, when there was just a three-game separation between the No. 3 seed Blazers and the No. 9 Nuggets, every win is critical in that conference.
Pelton: ... are going to be fine. A slow start was to be expected given the difficulty integrating LeBron James into a new system (as we saw before with James in both Miami and Cleveland), even before suspensions for Brandon Ingram and Rajon Rondo. So while this is a flawed team and expectations were probably too high, my opinion of the Lakers hasn't changed appreciably based on their 0-3 start.
MacMullan: ... and LeBron James have brought the Staples Center to life again, even as they remain winless. The truly weird thing about the losing is not enough people seem bothered by this. They're all about "Summer of 2019 or bust!" I hope they realize that's not how LeBron rolls. He is a results-driven superstar; he needs to win, he expects to win and he's not talking about next year. I submit Monday night's tussle with the Spurs as proof: L.A. was headed for extinction until LeBron drilled a 28-foot missile to tie the game in the final seconds of regulation. It was great theater but not enough to log that first W.
Arnovitz: ... are a defensive train wreck. Scorers facing the Lakers over the past week have been treated to an all-you-can-eat buffet. Take Monday night, when LaMarcus Aldridge controlled the interior, DeMar DeRozan got to his preferred spots with ease and Rudy Gay shot over shorter defenders at will. The help defense is late, and jumpers go uncontested. The result is that the Lakers rank last in the league in opponent's quantified shot probability -- a stat that measures the likelihood of a shot going in while taking into account shot selection and the guy shooting the ball. More times than not, that likelihood is good.
MacMahon: ... are the league's toughest team to coach, by far. LeBron James is obviously worth the trouble, but ask David Blatt how difficult it can be to coach him as he adjusts to a new roster. Rajon Rondo is a basketball genius, and he has been known to butt heads with coaches if he doesn't see eye to eye with them. Brandon Ingram's brawl-starting antics were a reminder that young players can be frustratingly immature. And the roster is starved for size and shooting.
5. One preseason prediction do-over: What is it?
MacMullan: Did I really say Carmelo Anthony had finally found an optimal situation in which he could gracefully land and complete his career as a solid contributor on a championship-contending team? I wanted to believe that. I thought he was capable of swallowing hard and embracing this final chance. But when he started whining about his new role as a bench player as being "challenging mentally," he lost me. I should have known better.
Arnovitz: It's far too early to change course, but after appraising them as a certain lottery team, maybe the Clippers are a contender for the 7 or 8 spot in the West? There's something about having 12 honest-to-goodness decent NBA players on a roster that can make a team competitive night in and night out. If Danilo Gallinari can remain healthy, is it reasonable to believe this team will win 45 games, even in the West?
Herring: I had Markelle Fultz as the most improved player, which after one week of watching him and the Sixers seems off. Brett Brown's use of Fultz -- starting the game with him, then bringing him off the bench in second halves -- is somewhat odd. But the bigger issue is seemingly having Fultz share so much floor time with Ben Simmons when neither is good or all that comfortable at taking jumpers. Spacing is thrown off, as is Fultz's ability to get to the basket. I hope I'm wrong, though; Fultz picking it up and outplaying expectations would make the Sixers true contenders.
MacMahon: My prediction that Rajon Rondo's departure would cause the Pelicans to slip out of the West playoff picture isn't looking so smart. Elfrid Payton is off to a strong start as Rondo's replacement, averaging 10.5 points on 50 percent shooting and 9.0 assists as the Pelicans averaged an eye-popping 140 points per game in a pair of wins. And Anthony Davis looks every bit like the caliber of superstar who can carry a team to the playoffs, even in the loaded West.
Pelton: Picking the Pelicans to go under their total of 45.5 wins (I predicted 44). While the Pelicans won't possibly continue scoring at a rate 18 percent better than league average per possession, they appear to have picked up where they left off in the first round of the playoffs, despite the loss of Rajon Rondo.