Entering this NBA season, the entire world realized that the league would be in for more than its fair share of surprises, both positive and negative. The condensed schedule has led to a slew of injuries and a number of unpredictable games, namely the Washington Wizards picking up their second win and handing the Oklahoma City Thunder their third loss. Thus far, it has been a tremendously interesting first month.
“Jazz Resurrection” – One of the most surprising teams of the year, the Utah Jazz, have followed last season’s surprise Deron Williams trade (and subsequent implosion) with a shocking amount of success this year. As this is written, they are 9-4, with no bad losses, and wins over the Grizzlies, Sixers, Nuggets and Clippers. The team has been the model of balance thus far, with only three players averaging double figures in points on the season, but 11 players averaging 12 or more minutes. Coming into the season, a team with Devin Harris playing a bulk of minutes wouldn’t be expected to storm its way into the playoffs, but Tyrone Corbin has the Jazz playing balanced team ball, and there’s no reason to believe why this deep team couldn’t win its way into the playoffs.
“Yeast in the East” – The Philadelphia Sixers are on the rise. At 10-4, the Sixers are healthy, well-coached and ready to make some noise this season. Coming off a surprise playoff appearance last year, this looks like a team that knows how to play together and has a goal in mind. Lou Williams is leading the team in scoring off the bench, Spencer Hawes is playing better than he has in his entire career and Iguodala is still one of the NBA’s premier defenders. A concern for this team is the lack of a dominating point man, as Jrue Holliday is leading the team with 4.4 assists, but if they are able to play solid defense and continue moving the ball well, this may not be a problem. They may not be ready to challenge the Bulls or the Heat, but they are playing like they believe they can, which is half the battle.
“Least in the East” – Add Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert and an injured Baron Davis to Amar’e, D’Antoni and Carmelo, and what do you get? A sub- .500 team, apparently. The team with the most hyped off-season additions outside of the L.A. Clippers has been infinitely disappointing to the New York faithful. Boasting a 7-10 record and sitting in eighth place in the East, the Knicks’ only truly impressive win this season has come against the also poor-playing Boston Celtics. Moreover, home losses against Phoenix, Charlotte and Toronto have brought many in the media to call for a coaching change.
The strangest thing about the Knicks, however, has to be the fact that they are 16th in points allowed, but 18th in points for. The Knicks were supposed to up their defense, but not at the cost of their offense. Amar’e has been sluggish, and Carmelo – in my opinion, the most overrated player in the NBA – has been unable to pull them out of their poor start. Baron Davis is expected to return to the game soon and has been heralded by Knicks fanatics as the one who will change the Knicks’ fortunes, but let’s be honest: this is a player who was traded with the pick that would be Kyrie Irving for Mo Williams, last season. While optimism is a good thing, Baron Davis could potentially just sap Shumpert’s minutes and be his old, disappointing self. Either way, it’s a surprise that the Knicks are this much of a mess. It’s probably a blessing that the folks at Madison Square Garden have decided to black out their games for Time Warner, Knicks fans.
“Wolves Howl” – Ricky Ruuuuuubio! The Spanish shooter has been simply spectacular. The combination of his electric ball movement, Rick Adelman’s coaching and Kevin Love’s stellar gameplay game in and game out has rejuvenated the once aimless Minnesota Timberwolves franchise. For the first time since the Kevin Garnett/Wally Sczerbiak era, the Timberwolves look primed to make the playoffs. Although they stand at 7-10, they have been in every game this season and have a positive point average differential on the year. Another team that can be classified as deep, they have played some of the most exciting basketball in the league and have yet to get much out of Derrick Williams, the number two overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft. Ricky Rubio looks to be in a two-man race with Kyrie Irving for Rookie of the Year, and has the Timberwolves looking like a force to be reckoned with come playoff time.
Honorable mentions for this list include Boston, Indiana and the Clippers, but frankly these teams seemed primed to perform this way this season. The NBA season has been frantic and exciting so far, and will most likely continue in this way.
Contact Zander Frost at [email protected]