As we enter the second week of play in a very young NBA season, all of us have seen much tighter officiating. The league has adopted a much stricter behavior policy and now dishes out technical fouls on a whim. Just five days in, there have been a record 54 technical fouls called, and some of the most notorious names in the game, including Rasheed Wallace and Carmelo Anthony, have been shown the gate by the men in the stripes. Wallace will surely set a new record for technical fouls in a season, and it will be interesting to see how the new rule changes impact the games physicality.
One of the stories to watch for this year is the youth movement that is taking over the league. The draft class of ’03, led by ‘Melo, LeBron and Wade has come into its own in the last year and title hopes will weigh heavy on the young shoulders of its big three. They are transforming from young, talented kids into mature leaders of their respective teams right in front of our eyes.
However, lost in the hype over these three talents lie several other future All-Stars from the ’03 draft. Chris Bosh is a 20 and 10 guy every night, David West is an emerging star with the New Orleans Hornets and Kirk Hinrich is the point man on an up-and-coming Chicago Bulls squad. As we watch stars like Gary Payton and ‘Zo fade out, it is nice to know that there is a fresh crew of standouts to take the NBA to the next level.
While each team has played only a handful of games, here are my observations from the first week of the season.
First of all, Allen Iverson is still ridiculous. The man was drafted when I was in the sixth grade, yet he continues to get better, continues to score 32-plus points a game and, for the first time in five years, has a decent enough supporting cast to get the job done. Kyle Korver and explosive swing-man Andre Iguodala are improving, and in a talent-depleted Atlantic Division the 76ers might surprise a few people.
While the 76ers are the early surprise of the Eastern Conference, the Los Angeles Lakers have had a very impressive showing thus far in the west, standing atop the Pacific Division at 3-1. Kobe will be Kobe (so you can pretty much write him in 30-plus a game) and Lamar Odom appears to be ready to step into the number two role this season, averaging 23 points per game thus far. Andrew Bynum, Ronny Turiaf and Luke Walton are serviceable players. The Lakers’ success this year might hinge on their ability to play under the pressure of their LA crowd. In the end, the Lakers aren’t good enough to take the division crown from Phoenix, but I think they have a decent chance at finding the playoffs as a seven or eight seed.
The surprise team to watch this season out west comes from Salt Lake City. The Utah Jazz have been on a tear this year, starting the season 4-0 by beating the likes of the Pistons and the Suns. With five players averaging 10 or more points, the Jazz look to be a very deep team that could sneak up on the rest of the Western Conference. Carlos Boozer leads the league in rebounds per game with 15 and Mehmet Okur looks like he has the capability to provide 18 and 10 a night. The Jazz looked like the best team in the NBA this week and it will be exciting to see if this group of relatively young players can provide this type of constant production over the long haul.