About three weeks have passed since the NBA started on Christmas Day and many teams are beginning to find their groove. The Bulls and Thunder jumped out of the gate and have lived up to their expectations, leading their respective conference because of their all-stars. The Wizards, Bobcats, Kings, and Hornets are who we thought they were – bottom of the barrel teams that have the talent but not the right pieces. I’m going to dive into some teams that have received attention for the moves they have made and their success on the court. I found there to be two praised teams that look to be deservers and two praised teams that look to be deceivers.
Philadelphia 76ers – Deservers
Doug Collins has created one of the most balanced teams in the league with 6 guys scoring in double figures (along with Elton Brand who just misses that group with his 9.8 ppg). What has this equality done for the Sixers? They currently sit at 10-3 and have the largest scoring margin in the league, putting up 15.2 more points than their opponents. Additionally, they play defense together – something that shouldn’t be overlooked – giving up only 85.8 points a game, which stands as 2nd in the league behind the Chicago Bulls.
Out of all these solid players, Spencer Hawes has impressed me the most. Even though his 10.4 ppg isn’t even his career high, his rebounds per game (8.8), assists per game (2.8), and blocks per game (1.7) easily stand as career highs. This is a quality man that truly loves to play the game. Any time Collins puts him on the court, he can count on #0 to give him 100% on both ends of the court. Players that can do more than put the ball in the basket serve vital roles in the NBA, and Hawes has shown just why he has emerged as one of the 76ers key contributors.
In regards to Andre Iguodala, I think his time with Philadelphia needs to come to a close. Even if a player puts up good numbers year after year, there has to be a point when management decides to move in another direction (look at what the Suns are now when they should have dealt Nash years ago). Multiple times, Iggy has been unable to lead this team deep into the playoffs, and with the insertion of so many fresh faces to the ballclub, including 6-7 sophomore Evan Turner, I believe a trade would be beneficial.
Even though their current team mentality drastically differs from the 2000-2001 NBA Finals team that allowed Allen Iverson to single-handedly take them as far as he possibly could with a little help from Dikembe Mutombo, they still look to be building a team that wins. Having a deep team will be especially vital during this shortened season, but Philly will need more than just depth. The 76ers still need to figure who their “guy” will be. Lou Williams and Jrue with-a-J Holiday have emerged as very dependable scorers; however, because of the lack of close games so far, neither of these men have had the opportunity to take a big shot for the team. Playing the Hawks on Friday and the Heat on Saturday, they might get their chance soon enough.
New York Knicks – Deceivers
From day one of the the Carmelo Anthony trade, I didn’t believe this team would be able to succeed. The combination of ‘Melo and Stoudemire – who both love to hold the ball, drain the shot clock, and put up their own shot – doesn’t mix well. Putting two 20+ ppg all-stars side by side doesn’t directly translate into a championship. There is so much more to it than that. Chemistry plays a part in every championship scenario, and coming together at just the right time unquestionably helps a team that makes a push for a title. Since the ‘Melo trade, New York has failed to have any sort of cohesiveness.
The Knicks better be hoping that Baron Davis comes back from his back surgery healthier than ever because they need something different at the point guard position. The Knicks four primary guards – Iman Shumpert, Landry Fields, Toney Douglas, and Mike Bibby – have combined to average 10.4 assists per game, barely topping what Steve Nash and Rajon Rondo average on their own. Carmelo Anthony leads the team in assists with 4.3 per game… that is a problem. The point guard’s primary role should be to distribute the ball to his teammates and get their games going. If ‘Melo getting assists because of double teams acts as the main source of passing, something is wrong. Maybe Davis can all of a sudden avoid being injury-prone, become a mature NBA player, and focus on passing instead of shooting, bringing the Knicks just what they need at the 1, but I’m skeptical for some reason….
Other than a January 11th win against the 76ers, New York has beaten five teams below .500 with a combined 15-51 record. They just can’t seem to get those quality wins, which hurts their reputability. Also, being scorched by the Bobcats 118-110 puts a bad mark early on for this squad.
When the Knicks picked up Tyson Chandler in free agency, many began jumping on the Knicks bandwagon since Chandler helped bring the Mavericks their first championship. The difference between last year and this year for Tyson pertains to the fact that Dallas had a coach that believed in defense and instilled a certain mentality in all his players. Chandler simply acted as the motor that helped drive the defense. If D’Antoni won’t put the keys in this ignition, how can Chandler even function as the defensive motor? The Knicks have moved up to 17th in the league in points given up per game (95.2), but they play such an offensive-focused style of basketball, their erratically play defensive and allow large bursts of points to be scored. One player can’t change how a team plays defense, and until all 15 Knicks buy into what Tyson Chandler is offering them, they might as well sell their season in the first round of the playoffs.
Indiana Pacers – Deservers
Prior to the start of this season, these Pacers intrigued me the most out of any team in the NBA – even over Lob City. They quietly had one of the best offseasons, picking up George Hill and David West without losing any of their core players. Adding these two ex-Western Conference players created a squad similar to Philadelphia that has player after player with the ability to step up for the team on any given night. They have an eight or nine-man rotation and seven of those men score in double figures. They currently sit at 9-3, and in eight of those wins, the other team had a player that led the game in points. This could be viewed as a negative, but it actually shows how each Pacer disregards his stat-line and cares about one thing – winning, which is something Indiana hasn’t had much of the past few seasons.
Roy Hibbert has established himself as a legitimate center, averaging 13.9 ppg and 9.8 rpg – both career highs. This current league has a dearth of quality centers (the Bucks tossing so much money at Drew Gooden wouldn’t make sense otherwise…), so the Pacers thriving big man could be a huge advantage for their young squad. If he could develop a more consist blocking game, he would be the entire center package.
The Mavericks, Lakers, Bulls, and Thunder have shown that the starting shooting guard sometimes gets pushed to the side and isn’t a main priority. However, every position (obviously) plays a part in a team’s success, and George becoming a solid 2-guard will surely be beneficial for the Pacers in the long run. He has improved almost every possible statistic, most notably shooting 25.3% better from behind the line.
Even though Danny Granger having his worst season (15.3 ppg and 33.5% shooting) since his sophomore season should be worrisome for Pacer Nation, the development of Hibbert (finally) and George along with the arrival of Hill and West have overshadowed Granger’s bad start. If these struggles continue, they will eventually need to be brought to stage front and center because unlike the Sixers, the Pacers know their go to guy and Granger knows it, too. This would probably be one of the worst years for the one-time all-star to not live up to his three straight 20+ point seasons with all the talent on the Pacers. If he can get his act together, the Pacers grabbing the 3 or 4 seed does not seem out of the question with the Celtics struggling and the Magic inevitably parting ways with Dwight Howard.
Utah Jazz – Deceivers
Sitting at 8-4, the Jazz have a lot to be happy about. To put it simply, they’re winning. Before the season, not many expected this team to come anywhere close to winning 7 of 8 games. They don’t excel at any part of the game specifically, but play exceptional in all aspects of the game. Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap have carried this team so far, combining to average 34.3 points and 17.5 rebounds. Having two strong, conventional big men that play with their back to the basket helps the Jazz’s flow on the offensive side of the court. The play of Josh Howard and Gordon Hayward have surprised many as they have both become consistent role players for this squad. This new-look Utah Jazz team has a lot of promise.
Even with all of these positives to the start of their season, their record doesn’t reflect where they actually stand right now. Out of there eight wins, six of them came against not just below .500 teams but bad teams. They have only had to play 12 games thus far, the lowest amount in the league. The first two challenges for the Jazz both came against the Lakers on separate occasions, which turned out to be losses. If this pattern continues, they will fall into the category of mediocre – defeating the “bad” and being defeated by the “good.”
One of the big red warning signs about this Jazz team revolves around Ex-Maverick Devin Harris. Having a confident point guard to lead your team night in and night out has constantly been shown to be crucial for success. Right now, he is having his worst season since his rookie year in 2004-2005. This kind of drastic drop-off shouldn’t be happening at 28-years-old – an age still in an NBA player’s prime. He came into the league not passing the ball very much because of his lightning quick (and sometimes out of control) speed, but eventually worked his assists all the way up to 7.6 per game during his 2010-2011 season with the Nets. However, ever since he arrived in Utah, that number has dropped drastically. He currently sits at 4.8 apg, only .1 more than back-up point guard Earl Watson. This might be acceptable if he at least put up big scoring numbers (that is what the Thunder management keep telling themselves about Russell Westbrook… ), but with only 8.3 ppg and 35.7% shooting, I don’t see what Harris brings to the court. Unless this 7-year-veteran begins to become more of a distributor or at least bumps up his scoring to the 15 ppg range, this hot start to the season will eventually sizzle out.
Ignite the Site!