One NBA rule of thumb is that it takes about 25 games for a front office or coaching staff to properly evaluate its team.
That's enough of a sample size to know what you have, what you don't, and what that means going forward.
But in the lead-up to that, as we close out the first four weeks of the 2022-23 season, there are signs. Some of these may be statistical anomalies, but others can turn out to be clear indicators of what's to come. For instance, you might not have remembered that the Warriors began last season 11-1 ... but you probably knew that the Lakers, uh, did not.
Yet early returns can also be deceiving. The Boston Celtics made the NBA Finals last season, but didn't find their rhythm or form until January. The Washington Wizards, first, and Chicago Bulls, for longer stretches, sat atop the Eastern Conference standings at some point. Neither contended.
So to make sense of this season, before we get to that 25-game mark, here are several early assessments -- and an NBA scout's take on each of them along with a percentage representing how much he agrees with my observances.
The Utah Jazz are legit
Danny Ainge's plan, the thinking went, was to construct a team wholly capable of tanking. Pile up the Ls, collect some ping pong balls, and pray to the basketball heavens that Victor Wembanyama is the next 7-foot Frenchman to wind up in Salt Lake City.
Instead, Utah has jumped to a 10-6 record with wins over Denver, Memphis and both L.A. clubs. The Jazz has a top 10 offensive and defensive rating, a near-statistical requirement to make a championship run. And despite shipping out Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert for a bevy of future draft picks, Utah's roster is loaded with NBA pros with experience and upside.
Lauri Markkanen has been awesome, and Jordan Clarkson, Mike Conley, Kelly Olynyk and Collin Sexton offer real depth.
In a Western Conference with a fading Lakers team, a Clippers squad still waiting on Kawhi Leonard, and a Warriors team incapable of winning on the road, all fear the Jazz.
Scout's take: 65 percent
At this point, they're too deep into winning games. I think they will sell off some pieces, but we're far enough into it that they're right there.
Victor Wembanyama will dominate the NBA
Sure, this isn't technically an early NBA opinion, since the 18-year-old is in the LNB Pro A, but there's a reason the NBA is live streaming his games.
The 7-foot-4 super unicorn is a walking video game of shot-making, ball-handling, shot-blocking -- all of it. He's so good it's sometimes hard to believe what he's doing is real.
So calling him the next LeBron James isn't too much praise. It's not hyperbole. Wembanyama's arrival in the NBA will change the game, and with it the fortunes of whatever team is lucky enough to land him.
Scout's take: 72 percent
I think there's a high chance of that. He moves well, he's fluid and he has even more of a perimeter game than Chet Holmgren. But I'm always worried about guys of that size having lower body issues, particularly their feet. Guys over 7 feet are not made to move like that. My 72 percent is purely based on health. If he's healthy, he's a going to be a monster.
The Lakers are washed
They're finished. That's it. That's the assessment.
Doesn't matter that Anthony Davis is quietly playing outstanding basketball again. Or that Russell Westbrook has looked promising off the bench. Or that LeBron James, once back from injury, is still LeBron. Or that their next handful of games are largely against teams as bad as they are.
This is not a good basketball team. Their 3-10 record reflects who they are. They're not making the playoffs. They're not turning it around. The Lakers' season was cooked before the Thanksgiving turkey even hit the oven, before the stuffing was made and before the pumpkin pie was baked. (Apologies to Chick Hearn.)
Scout's take: 95 percent
Let's compare it to the Jazz. The Lakers are six games behind the Jazz. This is built around two guys being superheroes every night, and neither of them is capable of being a superhero every night. Russ [Westbrook] has been fine. Fine. But there's nothing else there. All this talk about what lineup they should have? With who? They don't have anybody.
The officiating is an honest-to-goodness scourge
And not just for the Sacramento Kings, who should be 8-4 right now instead of 7-6. Just ask Kevin Huerter.
This is the worst officiating we've seen in the NBA in memory. The league's push and hope for parity is a good idea, and a product of the last collective bargaining agreement, but none of it matters if teams without superstars or outside of major markets have to beat their opponent -- and the referees' bias.
Scout's take: 0 percent
It's been bad, but it's not an actual problem. They've been pretty bad this year, but what are the fans going to do, boycott? ... Is Daryl Morey going to send some manifesto to the league again? No ... It's not an actual problem.
The Golden State Warriors are in trouble
They haven't won on the road yet, in seven attempts. (And this is a team that went 2-1 in Boston during the NBA Finals.) This season, Golden State's defense is one of the worst in the league, after having the league's best last season. Outside of Stephen Curry, the offense isn't much better.
Klay Thompson looks like a shell of himself, the young guns meant to step into the void have largely faltered and the ramifications of Draymond Green punching Jordan Poole surely linger.
They have Curry, so they can figure it out. But this is the heaviest lift their all-time great has had to attempt, and if his teammates don't improve soon even he may not be up to the task.
Scout's take: 40 percent
I don't think we've seen enough to say they're in real trouble yet, but what we've seen isn't particularly encouraging. Klay's been bad. His defense is never coming back. And those lineups have always been built on elite defense. Now [Andrew] Wiggins can do some of that. And Klay can't shoot the ball either, but I do expect him to start making more jumpers. Do they have enough around the guys while they're waiting for the young guys to develop? Right now the answer is no. But I'm more convinced the starting five is so good they can withstand some of that and then get to the playoffs where it matters less.
It's time for Philadelphia to move on from Doc Rivers
They have Joel Embiid, fresh off his historic game. They had a resurgent James Harden before his injury. Tyrese Maxey continues to impress. And president of basketball operations Daryl Morey added P.J. Tucker, Danuel House Jr., and Trevelin Queen in the offseason.
Yet the Sixers sit at 7-7 -- and they were 4-5 before Harden got hurt.
Embiid is a generational talent, and Maxey and Harden, when healthy, should form an offensive core capable of helping this team sit atop the Eastern Conference. The pieces are there. The consistency hasn't been.
Relying on Embiid to carry this team isn't a plan, and on too many nights -- especially during the team's last few playoff runs -- the Sixers more closely resemble a team that should be something special as opposed to one that has been special.
Morey didn't hire Rivers, and Rivers, other than one championship in Boston, has been a perennial underachiever. This is the same coach who has failed to succeed in the postseason with past Sixers teams. And, before that, with past Clippers teams. And so on.
Time to move on.
Scout's take: 100 percent
It just doesn't work. It isn't working. It's different now because James Harden is out, but at the beginning of the year it was James Harden ball without peak James Harden. Sometimes voices fail. This happens. And outside of Minnesota they look like the most miserable team in the league. The vibes are not good. And Doc just isn't very good.
The Hawks will make another deep playoff run
Two years ago, the Atlanta Hawks' run to the Easteron Conference finals seemed to signal an awkward trajectory for Trae Young and his teammates. They dispatched the Knicks, toppled the Sixers and battled the eventual-champion Bucks, and they looked poised for stellar years ahead.
Then came the 2021-22 season -- a disappointing campaign that was marked by inconsistent play and effort, and a regression on defense.
But the Hawks have rediscovered their groove, their consistency and, at sixth in the league defensive rating, their defense. Dejounte Murray's has been a huge addition, and a team flirting with the top of the Eastern Conference has all the pieces, depth and -- in Young -- starpower to be a legit playoff team.
Scout's take: 30 percent
I rooted for them the year they made the Eastern Conference finals, and watched them very closely, but I don't buy it. Trae is a fantastic offensive player, but there are ways that certain defenses -- especially when teams have time to game plan for him, like in the playoffs -- can make life very difficult for him. He doesn't have the handle or strength of skill around the rim that Steph has, so if you have some of those long wings who can bother him, they're going to have an advantage.