Monday, November 18, 2013

NBA Early Season Trends

Kevin Love's hot start has the Wolves looking like playoff contenders. (flickr)
By Bennett Corcoran

With most teams about ten games into the NBA season, tendencies and team styles are beginning to emerge. However, as it is still very early, it can be difficult to determine which of these trends are worth buying into, and which will fade fast. Let’s take a look at a few noticeable observations from the first few games of the season, and attempt to conclude whether these trends will continue or end abruptly.

Quick Starts: Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns

One of the more obvious trends that has defined the NBA season so far is the surprisingly effective play of teams allegedly tanking for a better draft position like the Philadelphia 76ers and Phoenix Suns. However, the 76ers started off the season 5-4 before losing their next two games, beating notable competition including the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, and the Houston Rockets. Even with a 5-6 record now, the 76ers are currently slated to earn the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference and now sit atop the Atlantic Division (let’s take a moment to acknowledge how horrible the East looks so far…). Behind the strong performance of Michael Carter-Williams, the Sixers are certainly off to a quick start, much of which can be attributed to new coach Brett Brown’s up-tempo style of play - Philadelphia boasts the second highest pace in the league.

Phoenix is also doing particularly well, and this can be attributed to their top five ranking in defensive efficiency. The Suns have many young contributors that have already caught on to hot starts, such as Eric Bledsoe, Markieff Morris, Miles Plumlee, and P.J. Tucker, and look to be building a solid young foundation with their plethora of draft picks for this upcoming summer.

However, ultimately, both teams will revert back to expectations, and their production will decrease as the season continues. Philadelphia’s negative point differential (-6.5) is the third worst in the East, suggesting they will likely decline in the near future. The Suns just lost two heart-breakers in a row to Portland and Brooklyn, falling to ninth in the Western Conference standings. In such a crowded West with underachieving teams like Memphis expected to improve, it doesn’t look good for Phoenix either. Both teams will look to unload expiring contracts at the deadline such as Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes, and possibly Channing Frye if he can establish value after overcoming an unfortunate heart condition.

Meet Anthony Davis, Superstar

After he was limited to just 64 games last season because of several nagging injuries, the Brow has really elevated his game to start the season. With averages of 20.9 points, 11.0 rebounds and 3.6 blocks per game, Davis has established himself as an elite big man in the NBA, and potentially could rise to top ten in the league by the end of the season, if his defensive impact, rebounding, and scoring keeps the New Orleans Pelicans afloat. Although the Pelicans still have to sort through their guard rotation, Davis has been simply phenomenal, using his long arms to control the paint and limit the effectiveness of his opposition. He is currently third in the NBA in PER with 29.72, trailing only Kevin Love and LeBron James. According to NBA Stats, opponents are shooting just 31.4% at the rim when Davis is on the floor. His impact as a two-way player will surely earn him his first of many All-Star bids this year, and he will continue to improve as he gets stronger and refines his post game.

Are the Minnesota Timberwolves For Real?

Minnesota has burst onto the scene to start the NBA season, fueled by a potent offense featuring MVP candidate Kevin Love. Averaging 26.8 points, 13.6 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per contest, Love has carried the T-Wolves to an impressive 7-4 start while shooting 48% from the floor. In addition to Love and all of his contributions, Kevin Martin has reemerged as a lights-out scorer, Ricky Rubio is orchestrating the offense and limiting turnovers, and Corey Brewer has provided a defensive presence on the wing as well. Even more impressive than Minnesota’s ninth-ranked offense is their sixth-ranked defense. I initially questioned whether a pairing of Love and Nikola Pekovic would be able to control the paint, but they are certainly off to a nice start. While I do think their defense will regress and they will have to fight off the injury bug yet again, I do see their strong offense keeping them afloat and making the playoffs in a stacked Western Conference. If Kevin Love can keep up his current production, there’s a good chance the Wolves can snag the sixth or seventh seed.

Disappointing Teams: Brooklyn Nets, Washington Wizards, Cleveland Cavaliers
A star-studded team that grabbed headlines by trading for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce this summer, the Brooklyn Nets sit at just 3-6. Plenty of their rotation players are fighting minor injuries, and they haven’t been effective on either side of the ball. However, this is a completely different team that still needs to adjust to playing with each other and develop chemistry together. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce do typically start slow as we saw in Boston, and they will likely see a large increase in their production (particularly KG). The one bright spot so far is that Brook Lopez has been sensational, averaging 20.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks, while shooting an incredible 57.1% from the floor and posting a 27.60 PER, good for fourth in the league. When floor general Deron Williams gets past his nagging ankle injuries and returns to midseason form and their veterans begin to understand the system better, Brooklyn will emerge as a middle-of-the-pack playoff team, which won’t be too difficult given how many teams in the East are sub-.500.

The Cavs are no sure thing, as Kyrie Irving isn’t duplicating last year’s numbers, Andrew Bynum doesn’t look like he’ll ever return to his Lakers form, and reports of a heated players-only meeting don’t sound too encouraging. There is a major hole at the wing, as Alonzo Gee and Earl Clark have yet to take advantage of their respective minutes. Many believed Anthony Bennett could play the three, but showing up woefully out of shape and shooting 16.7% from the field in his first ten games didn’t do much to fill the void. Dion Waiters is also struggling with his shot, and there is a chance he could be moved if the team decides to go in another direction. With owner Dan Gilbert demanding a playoff appearance, I think the Cavs will likely make a desperation trade as the deadline approaches for a wing. For now, Irving and Tristian Thompson must anchor this young team as they attempt to make it back to the playoffs for the first time since The Decision.

The Wizards are also a candidate to make a desperation trade and are off to a slow start for the second year in a row. Last year, however, they struggled without point guard John Wall, who is perfectly healthy this time around yet the team is a frustrating 2-7. Trevor Ariza is already out, Nene will likely be out again at some point, and I’m not sure Al Harrington will be able to hold up a full season either. But Bradley Beal is starting to shoot very well, and the Gortat-Nene combination is playing well together. While I’m not as sold on the Cavs, I do think the Wizards will rebound and make the playoffs by the end of the season, even if it does take one or two minor moves to get them there.

No comments :