Here is how strange the first month of the N.B.A. season has been: The Portland Trail Blazers, who have done O.K. offensively but poorly on defense, turned to Carmelo Anthony to solve their problems this week. They offered him a starting job right out of the gate, even though he is not known for defensive prowess and hasn’t played well in years.
There are scores of injured star players. Several teams that are usually in the playoff race have some of the worst records in the league. There is a player (James Harden) averaging nearly 40 — 40! — points a game, while shooting only 42.9 percent from the field and 34.6 percent from 3-point range. And speaking of unusual performances: Andrew Wiggins, in his sixth season, appears to be making the jump from disappointingly average to elite.
The strangeness of this season seems to be affecting viewership, with lackluster national television ratings so far. That is despite the largest field of championship contenders the N.B.A. has seen in decades. On paper, this parity should be interesting. Harden is putting together an offensive season that might be the greatest in more than 50 years. The Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks are outscoring opponents at a level unseen from any team last season.
Blame the standings. Blame the injuries to stars. Blame the most popular players’ being on the West Coast, making them less visible to much of the country (which is asleep when they play). Whatever the reason: The N.B.A. has some issues that aren’t going away.
But even a “meh” N.B.A. season has its share of showmanship and intriguing early trends. So I’m going to combine my love of theater with basketball to present to you a Broadway-themed version of takeaways for the first month of the season.
All figures are reflective of statistics going into Thursday’s games.
‘Defying Gravity’ (Wicked)
Before the season, it was unclear who the top-tier teams would be. After a month, two franchises are separating themselves from the rest of the pack: the Lakers and the Bucks, both of whom are outscoring teams by almost 10 points a game and have each won five games in a row.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee’s star, is somehow even better than he was last season, when he won the league’s Most Valuable Player Award. He’s averaging more points, rebounds, assists and steals while shooting better percentages. LeBron James, not to be outdone, is putting up some of the best numbers of his career with the Lakers, leading the league in assists per game (11.1) in his mid-30s. The last player to do that over an entire season was a 36-year-old Steve Nash in 201!-->!-->