The NBA has been pretty competitive so far this season. Not many teams have been dominant and everything has been mostly predictable. That being said, you'll always witness surprises and disappointments especially early on.
So far this season, we've seen a few teams that have stepped up and are in the upper echelon of the standings so far in their respective conferences. There has also been players that have made a bigger impact while other players have struggled for the most part this season.
I'll break down the surprises and disappointments, along with bringing up the alternatives on how the surprises still have concerns and how the disappointments have concerns. It will vary with ten things that most people didn't see coming while making predictions in October.
New York Basketball Is Truly Back
It has been a long thirteen years, but the New York Knicks should finally break the ugly streak of not winning a playoff series. Many people including myself were skeptical about the Knicks bringing in older talent and how it would work with a team nowhere near title contenders.
That has changed in an instant with older players like Jason Kidd and Rasheed Wallace being rejuvenated. They have both played at a high level along with several players. Carmelo Anthony has played at an MVP level and is slowly shredding his reputation of being a "selfish coach killer".
The biggest two reasons for the Knicks success comes down to main positions, which are center and point guard. Tyson Chandler may be considered overpaid, but he's single handily made the Knicks better than average and knows his limits. Raymond Felton has been a great signing and has really carried the scoring load when Anthony has struggled.
With Chandler's rebounding and dominance in the pain and Felton's playmaking ability, the Knicks have really turned it up a notch and has them as the top seed in the East right now. They still don't have Amarie Stoudemire or Iman Shumpert back yet and those are two dynamic players that could make the Knicks even more lethal.
Cause For Concern
The Knicks still have some issues that makes me skeptical if they can actually be championship contenders.I'm going to keep a close eye on how the older players on the Knicks continue to play when the season is in April and May. It will be interesting to see how much mileage they have considering the Knicks are the oldest team in the league.
The other cause for concern is how Amarie Stoudemire is going to fit. Stoudemire is a player that commands the ball and tends to phase out of the game if he isn't scoring. Mike Woodson needs to get him with the game plan and needs to make sure that he isn't a cancer to a team that has a really good nucleus right now.
No Showtime In Los Angeles
The biggest disappointment in the NBA has to be the Los Angeles Lakers so far. At first when I was watching the Lakers struggles, I felt that it was similar to the first year that Miami formed their dynamic trio. Instead the Lakers continued to under perform and their flaws were exposed.
Despite making several splashes in the off season, the Lakers still failed to address their problem of outside shooting. They don't have a true three point shooter that can benefit with playing for a player that commands double teams like Dwight Howard and a point guard like Steve Nash. The lack of good outside shooters has really made teams game plan to block the paint.
The biggest issue with Los Angeles has to be Pau Gasol. Gasol hasn't been the same since 2010 and has really struggled to fit in with the Lakers system. It still shocks me that he's still on the team because he's been constantly criticized about his production. I've always liked Gasol and feel that he needs a change of scenery.
It also doesn't help when your major piece to a championship caliber team hasn't played up to expectations. Dwight Howard has put up solid numbers, but he's had games where he becomes an afterthought or hurting the team with his lackluster free throw shooting. For someone that has played on an elite level like Howard, he has been a disappointment so far.
Reason For Hope
The Lakers are currently on a three game winning streak and far too talented to continue to play this poorly. With Steve Nash starting to get healthy, you'll see the Lakers hit their full stride. The chemistry between D'Antoni and Nash was fantastic back when they were together in Phoenix.
Nash is still a difference maker and he makes the offense far less predictable when he's in the lineup. With Nash back, I'm expecting the Lakers to start picking it up and getting back in the playoff picture. They need time to gel and you'll start to see that as the weeks go on. They just may need to trade for an outside shooter or two, which shouldn't be a problem. Mitch Kupchak has never shied away from making a move within the season and it shouldn't surprise anyone if he makes one again.
Damian Lillard Making A Bigger Impact Than Expected
When Damian Lillard was drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers, some people were skeptical because he didn't play in a major conference and didn't have the "national popularity". Austin Rivers, Andre Drummond, and Harrison Barnes were bigger names and had analysts drooling over their potential. Instead Portland takes Lillard and he has out performed all three of those players by leaps and bounds.
Lillard has been a game changer and has given Portland an explosive point guard for the first time in quite some time. You may consider him their replacement for Brandon Roy since he's more of a playmaker than true point guard.
Regardless of who you compare him with or make judgements on his playing style, Lillard has shown the ability to be one of the most explosive point guards in the league. The best part about Lillard is his tendency to play his best against top competition. He's scored over 20 points in games against Los Angeles, San Antonio, and Oklahoma City along with shooting 46 percent in those games.
Its good that a rookie gets to play with an all star big man. Lillard has benefited from playing with LaMarcus Aldridge and they are starting to form a nice duo. With not many expectations placed on Portland, the vibe in Portland is just to see who is a keeper for the future. So far Lillard is more of a keeper, he's one of the main components to a rising franchise.
Cause For Concern
The same rule applies to rookies about possibly burning out by the All-Star break and they go through phases of poor shooting. Lillard has gone through some poor shooting games relying on his jump shot too often. He can shoot but he's far from being truly a consistent jump shooter.
He has gone through the usual phases of turnovers that most rookie point guards go through. Lillard is too fast for his own good at times and can get sloppy when driving to the paint. As time goes on, he should learn how to play more relaxed and develop more ways to score.
Roy Hibbert Needs To Get More Aggressive
It was only last year that Roy Hibbert was an all-star. Even though he was lucky to even make it, it's a big achievement to make an all-star team. Hibbert was considered to be one of the next breakout stars and a major reason why the Indiana Pacers were going to continue to be a top seed in the East.
Instead Hibbert has floundered by averaging a notch below 10 points a game and only having 8 rebounds a game. With Danny Granger hurt for a significant amount of time, Hibbert was expected to produce even more. He's always lacked aggressiveness and that was evident against the Miami Heat in the playoffs last year.
After numerous reports saying that Roy was going to work on being better defensively and more aggressive offensively, he's only shown improvement defensively. Hibbert is averaging 3 blocks a game and has been Indiana's anchor defensively but they need him to be more efficient.
Hibbert is averaging 10 shots per game, which is a positive sign but he's not even shooting 40 percent. For a big man that is deplorable since Hibbert is usually taking most of his shots within the paint. It comes down to him using his fundamentals more and not throwing up shots. He's only attempting around two free throws a game, which is another problem. That stat needs to increase for him to fully develop into a top center.
Reason For Hope
Hibbert has always been talented and has shown flashes of dominating games especially last year. Indiana coach Frank Vogel has spoken publicly about Hibbert's struggles and has taken extensive time to work on his offensive game. What it comes down to using more fundamentals and being more aggressive.
For a big man, he needs to get to the free throw line more. When you are playing close to 30 minutes and relied upon to be a scorer at his height, only averaging 2 free throws a game is unacceptable. I'm sure he'll get more aggressive as the season because Indiana is really making a top priority to get Hibbert to evolve into a true all-star center.
The Golden State Warriors Are Healthy (Mostly) And Ready To Play
When you looked at the team on paper, you knew that Golden State Warriors could be a playoff contender. The team had loads of talent with Stephen Curry, David Lee, Andrew Bogut as players that have played at an all-star level. The issue was if the stars can stay healthy and if role players can step up.
Other than Andrew Bogut being injured again, everything has gone to plan. Stephen Curry has fully recovered from the knee problems and is averaging 20 points a game, while becoming more than just a scorer. His assists are up to six a game and has benefited from not playing with Monta Ellis anymore.
The other major positive story has been the role players stepping up. Klay Thompson is having a breakout season and Carl Landry could be in the six man of the year discussions. Thompson quietly put together a solid rookie season, but is now getting more attention for a Warriors team that is 17-9. Landry has always been solid and fits well with the Warriors fast paced offense.
Marc Jackson is always someone that I high hopes for being a coach and has done a great job with the Warriors so far this season. David Lee has been consistent as usual and continues to evolve his offensive game from just hustle points. It has been a team effort all year for the Warriors and that could easily make them a dark horse in the West when playoff season comes.
Cause For Concern
Golden State looks equipped for a playoff run with the depth of talent on the roster. They have been built really well but the lack of height is concerning. Andrew Bogut continues to be injury prone and I'm not sure if he should be relied on anymore.
Bogut can be a difference maker with his height and his presence down in the paint, but I just don't see him ever being the same player again. That leaves Golden State undersized and eventually they'll run into problems. I'm not sure what to do with Bogut, but I'd start looking into possible long term solutions at center so they won't be undersized in the future against top teams in the Western Conference.
Boston Celtics' Slow Start Is Different
It seems like every year that the Boston Celtics start the season slow, but their was a feeling they would start out fast. They were coming off the devastating seven game series lost to their arch rival to the Miami Heat. With the off-season additions, they seem equipped to go a full season of winning on a consistent basis.
It hasn't made much of a difference and Boston is going through their usual slow start. The big three has been relied on as usual, which has to disappoint Boston fans. Jason Terry has been a decent pick up and has produced like he usually does, but where is everyone else? Courtney Lee has been solid defensively but shooting 27% from the three point line has to disappoint Boston fans.
Boston is 13-12 right now, which has to be concerning because you would think they play with a chip on their shoulder. Instead it seems like they are going through just phases, which is the usual Boston Celtics regular season. With the East being better than ever, this could come back to haunt them. The East is getting much more talented and if Boston somehow manages not to get home court for at least one round, it will hurt.
They have realized that Rajon Rondo has taken over the team, which is smart since he's most capable. The supporting cast just hasn't played up to expectations and that has hurt the team in general. This could be another case of overreacting about Boston, but it's alarming that they haven't come out this season hot considering they were one game away from the NBA finals.
Reason For Hope
Avery Bradley should be back from a major injury by early January. When Boston went on their hot streak, Bradley was a major part of that. Bradley usually guards the best swingman on the other team because of his versatility and being a defensive specialist. They miss him and that should give Boston more depth.
I'm sure Doc Rivers can't be happy with Boston right now and he'll shore things up. It wouldn't surprise me if you saw Boston trade for a center to add some height. Boston is a wise organization and they won't let a team that came so close to the NBA finals just flounder to a low seed in the East.
A Change Of Secondary Did O.J Mayo Wonders
While watching the first round of the playoffs, it was frustrating to watch the Memphis Grizzles. They had too many players that were similar. O.J Mayo was stuck in a limbo and really needed a change of scenery. It was clear that the six man role wasn't going to work and he needed a change of scenery. The Dallas Mavericks decided to give him a chance and it has worked wonders.
Mayo has always been a talented scorer that is so versatile with his athleticism and shooting. Now that he's starting and playing 35 minutes a game, Mayo has become more comfortable and has been productive. Mayo is averaging 20 points a game with a 48% shooting percentage from the field and 51% three point percentage, which is remarkable for a player that shoots a lot.
With Dirk Nowitzki returning in a few weeks, I'm interested to see how Mayo plays now that he's not the focal point of the opposing team to stop. Dallas has stayed afloat without Dirk and Mayo is the biggest reason for that with a team full of all stars from 2003.
Mayo has had some productive years but after being lost in the shuffle last year, he could be a prime candidate to be The Most Improved Player Of The Year. His scoring efficiency can't be disputed and he's making Mark Cuban like a genius for taking a chance on him.
Cause For Concern
I'm not really concerned for Mayo because he's always been a player that I know can be a star. He was just in a bad situation and needed a new team desperately. The addition of Nowitzki shouldn't be a problem for Mayo to adjust because that means less attention for defenses to key on him.
If there was a concern for Mayo, it would be to keep staying consistent and taking smart shots. One issue he had in the past few seasons is his attitude and he would lose focus. If he can continue to stay focused, Dallas has a possible all-star on their hand.
Deron Williams Isn't Playing Up To His Standards
Deron Williams is one of the most prolific point guards in the league. Regardless of the respective team's record, Williams put up huge numbers and never shows signs of quitting. With the recent additions to the new look team, you would expect this to be one of his finest seasons yet.
Instead the Brooklyn Nets have started out 13-12 and continue to struggle to gel. Other than coach Avery Johnson, this directly has to fall on Deron Williams. He's supposed to be the leader and he hasn't stepped up in pressure situations like he's used to. He's trying to get others involved but it seems very forced.
The issue with the combination of Williams and all-star guard Joe Johnson is they rely on the ball far too much. Johnson has never been much of a player that can move without the ball very much. That has led to an issue with the all-star guards and they have't used their talents to play off each other. It has been too much one on one play between both guys instead of finding openings with one another.
The stats are pretty alarming for Williams shooting just 39% from the field and 29% from the three point line. You would expect with the talent around him, Williams would have one of his most efficient seasons ever. Instead everything seems forced right now and it has hurt Williams' performance.
Reason For Hope
There is still no denying that Williams is a top five point guard in the league. We are still talking about a point guard that at one point averaged a double-double for four straight seasons. He's the real deal and should play better as time goes on.
Similar to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Nets are too talented to continue to struggle. You could see Williams take more control of the offense and start to take more command. He's too good of a player to keep sharing with a player like Jonhson, who's very good but he's not a franchise player like Williams. I'm sure Hawks fans laugh at the claim that Johnson is a franchise player because he's never shown that.
I'm sure that some of the surprises may stand out more than others along with the disappointments. When I made my pre season predictions, the Lakers were my pick to represent the Western conference in the NBA finals. The New York Knicks were the 5th seed and had them losing to the Miami Heat in the 2nd round.
Right now if I had to pick an MVP, it would have to be Carmelo Anthony. Anthony has really started playing at an elite level where he's doing more than just scoring. He's becoming an all around leader with his defensive intensity and rebounding.
When the NFL season is over, I'll write more about basketball. Right now with the NFL being at the most important time of the year and MMA having some major PPV's, it has been tough to write about NBA. I'm still always watching because I'm a huge fan but it takes time to muster up enough information.
Its one thing to rely on stats, but you need to visually watch it to give an opinion. When I see teams like the Brooklyn Nets or Boston Celtics struggle, it comes off witnessing how they are struggling in major prime time games along with statistics. Stats could be mis leading at times and you'll see that as time goes on this season.
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