Basketball World Turned on Its Head

The young NBA season is witnessing some strange changes; some teams are doing better than last year, while others are doing worse. Is this the sign of a monumental shift in the NBA? Or is it merely a early-season anomaly that will correct itself eventually? Time will tell, but until then I will look at some of the teams who have changed their fortunes. The first group will be three teams who all competed in their respective conference championships last year. If the playoffs started today, those three would not make it. The second group will be three teams who didn’t make the playoffs last year, but are currently atop their divisions.

Phoenix, 2-5: This one is a real head scratcher. Steve Nash’s numbers are not down, and they have Amare back. This team has made the last two Western conference finals, and currently finds itself at the bottom of its division.

Dallas, 2-4: Following the best season in franchise history, making the NBA Finals, Dallas is hurting, literally. Their second-best player, Josh Howard, has missed three out of their six games. Howard is not only a good offensive player, but he is also one of their best defensive threats. This could be part of the explanation for why their opponents are scoring ten more points per game, 103.7, than they did last season, 93.1.

Detroit, 3-4: After losing Ben Wallace, Detroit figured to lose a step. While 3-4 is not a terrible record, it is a lot worse than last season when people were talking about them breaking the Bulls record for team wins in a season. Losing Wallace has hurt their defense; opponents now score 96.4 points per game compared to 84.3 ppg the year they won the title. Along with losing part of their defense, Billups, Prince, and Rasheed are all scoring less than last year.

Atlanta, 4-2: The story of this team has been Joe Johnson, scoring 28.8 points per game, 5th in the NBA and up from 20.2 last year. Combine that with Zaza Pachulia scoring more too, 17.2 ppg up from 11.7 last season. Zaza is shooting well too, at a .556 field goal percentage. Combine that with better team defense, with opponents scoring seven less points than last year, and Atlanta has been the surprise of the NBA so far.

Portland, 4-3: Zach Randolph is finally having the year everyone’s been waiting for him to have, averaging 27.3 ppg along with 10.3 rebounds. Getting rid of all the other “problem” players on the team besides him, and not playing Darius Miles seems to be working. Jarret Jack has also seized the starting role, scoring 13.3 ppg at a, very impressive for a guard, .591 fg%, and averaging 6.6 assists. Nate McMillan is doing some impressive things with a young, but quite talented, Portland team.

Utah, 6-1: Having Boozer and Kirilenko healthy, and having Deron Williams entering his second year, the Jazz were expected to improve. But to have the best record in the NBA? That’s a surprise. Boozer is having a monster year, with 21.9 ppg while placing 3rd in the NBA in rebounding at 12.3 a game. Williams is much improved too, scoring 17 points and averaging 8.7 assists a game. The team is scoring a lot more, 104.7 ppg this year, up from 92.4 last season.

Going forward, I expect the three disappointing teams all to make the playoffs and do well. Atlanta and Portland will be continue to be better than last year, but will return to the lottery. Finally Utah will make the playoffs, but not finish with the best record in the league.