3 Big Surprises of the 2012 NBA Season So Far

(Sam Sharpe / US PRESSWIRE)

The 2012-2013 NBA campaign is about 20% completed, and there are some things that haven’t been changing. The Thunder and the Heat are two of some of the best teams in the NBA, Washington is one of the worst.

Throughout these unsurprising events and results, there have been some surprising things that have happened. Let’s see three big surprises of this year so far.

The Charlotte Bobcats

While another historically bad season was unlikely, no one thought that the Bobcats were actually a legitimate team. The general consensus coming in to the season was that the Bobcats would be towards the basement of the NBA this year.

Boy, were they wrong.

As of today, the Bobcats are 6-5 and 3rd place in the Southeast Division in the Eastern Conference. If the playoffs started today, they’d be the 7th seed in the playoffs, facing the New York Knicks in the first round of the playoffs.

Kemba Walker has carried the team this year, along with unlikely heroes such as Byron Mullens (yes, BYRON MULLENS) stepping up to the plate and playing very well.

The Toronto Raptors

The Raptors weren’t supposed to be a great team, but they were a legitimate pick for the 7th or 8th seed in the playoffs.

It hasn’t gone as planned. Following a loss to the Pistons tonight, Toronto’s 3-10, second-to-last in the Eastern Conference. DeMar DeRozan has played well, but the rest of the team has underperformed and Kyle Lowry hasn’t played very well.

The Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies were supposed to get better and maybe make it farther in the playoffs this year.

What no one expected was a 9-2 team that has crushed pretty much every team they have played. At this point, the Grizzlies look like the best team in the NBA.

Led by Zach Randolph (16.7 PPG, 13.8 RPG), the team’s only losses are to the Clippers and the Nuggets and they’re tied with the 10-3 San Antonio Spurs for first place in the Western Conference.

What are the biggest surprises to you guys?

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Ten NBA Thanksgiving Trends

The NBA season is not even a month old, yet a bunch of important things already happened. The Lakers have used three coaches. The Thunder broke up their core. The Clippers, Grizzlies, and Knicks have put their names into the contender basket. Andrew Bynum hurt himself bowling. We’ve had a 3-overtime game and one night with four overtime games. The Wizards have won a ga… no that hasn’t happened quite yet. But it almost did!

Anyway, even though it would be dumb to make any conclusions about anything meaningful 10-12 games in, we’re far enough into the season to ask questions about things that have stood out or changed from our expectations. So I decided, on this wonderful Thanksgiving day, to take a look at ten notable nuggets from the beginning of the year.

1. Milwaukee’s Turbo Offense

The secret to Milwaukee’s high-scoring offense is that it’s not actually great at all. But the team, which in the not-too-distant past played at a snail’s pace, suddenly leads the league in pace by over a possession per game. Milwaukee averages over 101 points per game (good for 6th in the league) but is just 16th in offensive efficiency. It makes sense to run faster, with lightning quick guards Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis leading the way. But no one knew just how quickly Milwaukee would move up and down the court, especially since Scott Skiles has the (rightfully earned) reputation of a defensive coach.

Also, Milwaukee’s off to a decent 6-4 start despite not getting anything from their starting frontcourt in most games. Ersan Ilyasova may have picked up Andris Biedrins Syndrome during the summer, as he somehow lost his jumper and all his confidence over the summer. His starting job may be in jeopardy, especially if John Henson plays anywhere near as well as he did against Miami. If that happens, look for even a quicker pace going forward.

2. New York’s Turnover Turnaround

The Knicks finished last season with the most turnovers per game of any NBA team. Linsanity had something to do with that, but not everything. So now that the Knicks have committed the fewest turnovers per game so far this season, you have to wonder whether this will hold up.

The answer: not likely, but they should remain among the best in the league in protecting the ball. They currently average 10.7 per game, which would be an NBA record. But with an offense predicated on iso-Melo and a bunch of shooters who (mostly) know their roles, the team will certainly be hard to turn over. Jason Kidd rarely makes bad decisions, Melo rarely passes (kidding – despite his low assist numbers, all indications are that he has passed effectively), and none of the players are turnover fiends.

We could also talk about the shooting and rebounding, but that’s a topic for another day. The reversal in turnovers would be unprecedented, so that’s something that deserves watching.

3. Portland’s Horses

The Blazers bench is, well, something horrid. So Terry Stotts hasn’t used it much at all, setting an alarming rate for his starters’ minutes in a year in which wins likely won’t mean much for the team down the road.

Portland’s front four (LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews, and Damian Lillard) are each averaging 37+ minutes per game, which puts all four in the top 16 in the league in minutes per game. Only Meyers Leonard has played every game among non-starters, with Stotts’ rotation changing seemingly every night while he looks for a decent combination. With the starters carrying the load, the Blazers have started a decent-enough 5-6, but they can’t keep up the minutes for the whole year I imagine.

4. Jrue Holiday’s Possession Dominance

Jrue Holiday might not even be in the top 10 in usage rate, but it sure seems like it. The Sixers, who are off to a somewhat surprising 7-5 start without Andrew Bynum, have given Holiday almost all play-making responsibility. He has responded by putting 8.6 assists per game, while also leading the league in turnovers and playing over 38 minutes per game. Holiday, who never had anything resembling this much usage, has responded rather well. The turnovers are concerning though – even if he’s gotten better recently. The Sixers’ season might not be a waste if Holiday performs at a near all-star level.

5. Charlotte’s Offensive Competence

I’m not saying the Bobcats have a good offense – they rank just 21st in efficiency. But if they can maintain this offensive pace, they’ll exceed pretty much all expectations. Most, if not all, NBA observers expected the Bobcats offense to only be marginally better than it was last year. But Kemba Walker has completely transformed his game, and Byron Mullens now shoots threes, and MKG hasn’t been bad.

6. Chicago’s Shooting Struggles

This just in: Chicago misses pretty much everyone it dumped this summer. More than anything, it misses C.J. Watson and Kyle Korver, who actually knew how to shoot the ball and did so regularly. The Bulls average only 12.5 threes attempted per game, which is by far the worst in the league. They also rank 29th in 3FG%, which does not bode well for their prospects. While Derrick Rose will create space upon his eventual return, he might not have anyone to pass it to. Hinrich has been awful. Deng still has a wrist problem, and with his minute load he may disintegrate into dust particles by mid-season. Belinelli is nothing if not consistently meh. And Rip Hamilton might be moved for cap reasons at some point during the season despite maybe being the team’s foremost perimeter threat.

In other words: Chicago’s problems won’t be magically solved when Rose returns, especially if he returns at less than 100%. If Hamilton is dealt, that’s another blow.

7. Josh Smith’s Contract Year Letdown

I had HIGH hopes for Smith this year, given his free agent status. So of course, he comes into the season and becomes more Josh Smith-y, with more long jumpers and anemic play. I expected him to stop some of that play, partly because he’ll get paid more and partly because the Hawks suddenly were flush with shooters surrounding him and Horford. He has been nothing short of massively disappointing.

Of course, Smith has time to turn it around. But maybe he will just never understand that his long-range shooting kills his team. Maybe he doesn’t realize how good he and his team would become if he just resisted taking even half of the shots he currently takes.

8. O.J. Mayo’s Contract Year Redux

Mayo moved to Dallas on what most believed was a below-market deal over the summer. So far, he’s proving most people right. Though Mayo is shooting a fluky 52% on nearly 6 threes per game, he finally is showing the scoring potential that had NBA-types salivating when he came out of high school. Still: if he can maintain an above-average three point conversion rate – and I don’t see why not – he’ll get way more than $4 million on the open market.

9. Denver’s Dominant Rebounding

The Nuggets lead the league in rebounding differential (+8.5 per game), mainly because they are absolutely gunning for offensive rebounds. Kenneth Faried averages 5.5 offensive boards per game alone, which leads the NBA. JaVale McGee and Kosta Koufos combined for nearly 6 from the center position. And they need it too, because their shooting has been so, so bad. You figure Danilo Gallinari and Ty Lawson won’t shoot in the low 20s in three point percentage for the whole season, but if they do, the Nuggets will get a lot of those misses.

10. Three Point Shooting Everywhere

This just in: NBA teams are shooting more and more threes as time goes along. So far this season, teams are averaging 19.3 threes attempted per game, a full attempt more than last year. Granted, the lockout may have depressed three point attempts as it did shooting numbers on the whole. New York and Houston lead the way with 27.7 and 26.7 attempts per game, respectively. Last year’s leader, Orlando, is actually one of the worst in the league in attempts this year (with a new coach and no Howard or SVG, that’s to be expected). Most teams are slowly but surely realizing the value of strong shooting to offense as a whole, and this year seems to have a ton of shooting. Ones that are desperate for shooting may have to pay up for the like of J.J. Redick, as it’s suddenly a hot commodity.

Clippers get big win over Heat

Final Score: 107-100
Player of the Game: Blake Griffin
Turning point of the game: Chris Paul’s DEEP 3 towards the end of the Third Quarter

The Clippers came out prepared and ready in their game against a Miami team who in my opinion does not match up very well against this Clippers team. The game stayed close up to half time with the Heat staying in the game largely because of Lebron James and their 3 point shooting. The game continued to stay close through the 3rd quarter but there was a point towards the end of the 3rd and the beginning of the 4th where the Clippers took the lead and the Heat never caught up. The final score is closer than the game was as once the Clippers took control they held it.

I’ve always said the Heat’s biggest weaknesses are great PG’s (but really who doesn’t have that weakness?), strong big men, and 3 definitely 3 point shooting. The Clippers have all 3 of these things and they used them all to their advantage. Many people like to say PG defense doesn’t matter but the way Chris Paul was making entry passes and penetrating I’m pretty sure the Heat wouldn’t have minded Chalmers being a better defender. Paul wasn’t the reason the Clippers won though. Blake Griffin killed the Heat. Shooting 8-16 (with few midrange jumpers!!!), Blake was the one who ran the offense the majority of the game. Why the Heat didn’t move Bosh or Lebron over to defend Blake is beyond me but Shane Battier had no chance against the much stronger, more athletic, and faster Blake Griffin. Blake Griffin ran the offense from the post most of the game with Chris Paul giving him the ball almost immediately into possessions.

“ALL BLAKE GRIFFIN DOES IS DUNK”-Somebody who didn’t watch this game.
Blake Griffin’s footwork and technique down below were superb. He used his speed to get around Battier and once the help showed up Griffin would do a pump fake or two and use his feet to get around the defenders for layups. He did this multiple times throughout the game. When the Heat tried to double Griffin he would pass right out of it to begin a swing play of passes, or he would roll around it and look for the open man himself. Griffin finished with 6 assists.

Despite Blake’s performance the Heat managed to keep it close most of the game. The game started to become all Clippers after Chris Paul hit a deep 3 and then hit another 3 the very next possession. The Heat’s biggest weakness is the 3 point shot and once they started falling for the Clippers it was pretty much over for the Heat. Clippers get a big win and anybody who questioned them is probably thinking a little differently now.

The Royce White Saga Continues

A little over a month ago, I wrote a quick bit about why teams were smart to pass up on drafting Royce White. But I also noted, along with many others, that I wanted Royce to succeed. However, that hasn’t happened yet. In fact, the Rockets, with no playing time available for him or fellow rookie Donatas Motiejunas, planned to send both to the D-League (along with guard Scott Machado). Royce, apparently, hasn’t reacted well. From the Houston Chronicle’s Jonathan Feigen:

With the Rockets planning to send White along with fellow rookies Scott Machado and Donatas Motiejunas to the NBA Development League, White skipped Monday’s game and Tuesday’s practice amid signs that he has not practiced for days.

Rockets acting coach Kelvin Sampson said he did not know why White did not attend Tuesday’s practice and did not speak with him on Monday when Motiejunas and Machado were told of the plans to send them to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

Meanwhile, White refuted that the Rockets had no knowledge about his absence, via a statement he released (and via David Aldridge, who published highlights of it on his twitter account). White says the Rockets know exactly what’s going on, and they aren’t being helpful or forthcoming:

As you already know, White suffers from an anxiety disorder which prevents him from flying to most games. But his anxiety issues may also arise for other reasons. For instance, while not confirmed, anxiety troubles and straightening out his travel accommodations led to White missing much of training camp. Again: this is the “baggage” that comes with drafting a high risk/high reward player like White. What will happen is not simple.

But the real question is: why is Royce White going to the media for this? While Feigen speculated (and teammates confirmed) that Royce had been missing practices, they only offered supportive comments and advice. They noted what Houston media had suspected for a few days, but resisted throwing a teammate whose condition they likely have little understanding of under the bus. Again: what is the problem that prompted Royce to send out a statement defying his team?

The only person who denied knowing what had been going on with White was interim head coach Kelvin Sampson. Sampson, replacing Kevin McHale for the time being (who currently is attending to a serious family matter), mentioned he wasn’t sure what was going on with White. When reporters asked Daryl Morey, he issued a statement essentially saying they had no comment on his missing practice but are committed to White. White apparently disagrees with this notion. But why? Did the Rockets renege on their deal? Have they insulted him by sending him down to the D-League? By keeping the matter private, did they somehow offend him? Who knows. I certainly don’t, and I’m in no position to pass judgment.

No matter his rationale, Royce White’s approach to his NBA career so far won’t endear him to many. Much of that approach is out of his control. But today’s statement wasn’t. It was pointed at the Houston organization. It blamed them for not providing him a chance to have a successful start to his career, even though they’ve allowed him to miss practices and training camp without much fanfare and have made an agreement to arrange for alternative travel arrangements. White obviously needs concessions for his condition, but the Rockets have openly made efforts to assist him. The Rockets also drafted him and signed him to a multi-million dollar deal. From the outside, they have been nothing but supportive.

Moreover, White’s timing couldn’t have been worse. His team’s coach is on indefinite leave, as he spends time in Minnesota with his daughter who, according to Ernie Johnson, became very ill over the weekend. It comes as he receives a D-League demotion, with his teammates gladly accepting the changes. It comes when a fellow talented rookie who plays his position in Terrence Jones struggled to get more than a minute or two of playing time. But Jones played during all of training camp and hasn’t missed many practices, if any at all.

Everything here, then, makes me re-consider my position that Houston, despite the geographical challenges, was a nice place for him. The rapid roster change, the coaching situation, and the limited playing time certainly work against him. But I have to wonder whether there’s a team out there where does fit at this point, because so far the Royce White era in Houston has been a disaster.

Mike D’Antoni Hired as Lakers Head Coach

In the middle of the night for the majority of the country, news hit the twitterverse that the Los Angeles Lakers have chosen former Suns/Knicks head coach Mike D’Antoni to succeed Mike Brown. Brown was fired after an 0-4 start with a team that has championship aspirations. Rumors during the week were that Phil Jackson would retake his post with the franchise, but it seems as though he was asking for too much money, control, freedom, pretty much too much everything.

Questions have already been raised as to if the reunion between D’Antoni and Nash can jumpstart the Lakers offense into championship form. When they were together on the Suns, they ran one of the most potent offenses in the game and reached the Western Conference Finals.

This new team has much more talent than the Suns of old, and if they click, the Lakers will be very dangerous. Defense will be a question, but Dwight Howard as an anchor will be a huge relief for Mike D’Antoni.

Well, That Was Quick – Lakers Fire Mike Brown

Credit: Examiner.com

Following one middling year, five regular season games, and countless death threats, Mike Brown has been fired by the Los Angeles Lakers, according to reports originating from Sam Amick of USA Today.

According to other sources, Bernie Bickerstaff will serve as coach for tonight’s game.

The news comes just days into a season filled so far with unmet expectations. The Lakers started the season 1-4, losing to four decent or better teams and only beating the lowly Pistons. The Lakers struggled with integrating the Princeton offense and appropriately working on both ends of the floor. He brought in Eddie Jordan, among others, to initiate the new offense. While the numbers worked out okay, the Lakers clearly struggled with the intricacies the Princeton has. And their defense suffered, which is to be expected when the entire camp is spent learning the new offense.

Of course, firing a coach after just 5 games makes little sense in general, especially since the coach could have been relieved over the summer if he wasn’t the preferred choice. Moreover, five games clearly isn’t enough to really gauge what Brown could have done with the team. Dwight Howard missed most of camp. Steve Nash has missed the last three games. But if the players called for it and ownership approved, I can’t help but agree with the decision. Brown has been seen mostly as a bad fit as Phil Jackson’s replacement.

At this point, the Lakers seem primed to go after a big name coach. Jerry Sloan, Mike D’Antoni, and Brian Shaw seem to be the most likely candidates, although Stan Van Gundy and Phil Jackson will inevitably be approached about interest in the job, though not necessarily from the Lakers.

Among these candidates, I personally believe D’Antoni to be the best candidate. He led legendary offenses in Phoenix with Nash at the helm, has a past with Kobe based on their Italian backgrounds, and generally has the approval of his non-Melo players. Moreover, in New York his team had a top-10 defense with the backbone of Tyson Chandler before his firing. Dwight Howard, when healthy, is the best defensive player in the league, even better than Chandler. Sloan’s terse demeanor will wear off poorly on Dwight and probably everyone else too, while Shaw most likely will be trapped in his contract in Indiana (coaches for pseudo-contending teams rarely get let go midseason).

No matter who is hired, it will be a sexy name. And there will be more drama, because it’s the Lakers, and a good amount of success, also because it’s the Lakers.

Fight the Death Threat

According to CBS Sports Mike Brown’s son has been receiving death threats over the Lakers poor start to the season. While this doesn’t shock me it still irritates me and somewhat sickens me. The internet is gonna internet and there is nothing we can do about it but I feel like this whole anonymous death threat thing has to be put to an end. There are always reports every year about a player who received death threats from fans through the mail or on twitter that and honestly it’s never going to change. As long as sports exists we’re going to have extremist morons who will ruin it for everybody. But we can fight this.

For those of you wondering what this has to do about basketball, it has everything to do with it. There is no sport where players are more visible than basketball. They don’t have padding and a helmet to hide themselves from fans. They are also closer to fans than any sport with fans sitting in court side seats. Basketball players are the most marketed and the most well known. They are the most visible and because of that are the easiest targets for this kind of idiotic behavior.

With the explosion of social networking, especially twitter, it is easier than ever to send someone a death threat and that’s a problem. Fans are some of the fakest tough guys you will ever see. They yell stuff from afar in their seats and know that no matter what they say the player can’t touch them. It’s even worse on the internet where a fan from miles away can threaten your life and face no consequences. There is really nothing better to describe the worst part of the internet than a guy sitting at home threatening someone’s life while he hides behind his computer screen. These people should be outed and publicly shamed. In my opinion I wouldn’t mind them spending a day in jail for it. 

I’m going to attempt to find some bloggers, athletes, celebrities, etc.. who have received death threats on the internet. I’m going to ask them to give me a quick summary on it and how they reacted. If you know of anyone who has can you tell me in the comments their twitter handle so I can contact them? Thanks, lets try and fight what is easily the dumbest part of the internet and put an end to it. 

Mehmet Okur Officially Retires

Mehmet Okur officially announced his retirement yesterday, because he unofficially retired last year in New Jersey!

But in all seriousness, here’s the news (via ESPN.com):

Former NBA big man Mehmet Okur announced his retirement from basketball on Wednesday at the age of 33.

Okur said he was retiring because injuries have kept him from contributing at a high level.

“A player of certain level should say goodbye to the sport he loves when his body doesn’t let him to be as he used to be,” Okur said Wednesday, his comments carried by the Anadolu Agency in Turkey.

Okur actually had a very productive prime. After winning a championship as a key bench player for the 2004 Pistons, Okur made the move to Utah where he and Carlos Boozer provided one of the best offensive NBA frontcourts in the past 10 years (no – I’m not joking!). But neither could stop anybody, so the Boozer-Okur-Kirilenko-Williams Jazz teams could only go so far. I must admit: from afar, those were my favorite non-Sixers teams to watch. I loved the flex offense and the pick-your-poison type of matchups the Jazz presented.

Unfortunately, his retirement seemed inevitable after last year’s collapse in New Jersey. Okur spent the prior season injured for practically the entire season, and when he did play he looked like a shell of his former self. It only became worse after being traded to the Nets, where Okur, at 32, destroyed the Nets on both ends of the floor. Whatever lift he had on his jumper disappeared, and his already shaky defense turned into a trainwreck. In his last appearance against the Sixers, which I remember well, Okur looked almost broken – yet he had one of the best games of his season. Played 32 minutes, scored 11 on 13 shot attempts, including 3 threes – I’ll remember that game as the one that convinced me Deron Williams was just loafing last season and had plenty left in his proverbial tank. Granted, that’s generally a bad game, but that was Mehmet Okur last year.

But we’ll always have that inexplicable all-star game appearance, the 2004 title, and a whole bunch of other memories of Memo, and I’m glad he realized that he had little left to give on an NBA level. Long live Memo.

Week in Review

The first week of the NBA season has wrapped up, so let’s look through it.

  • One, James Harden (aka the Bearded One) is looking like every bit of a max player, living up to his contract by averaging 35/6/6 with ridiculous efficiency. Him, Jeremy Lin, and Omer Asik have given Houston hope for reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
  • Two, the Knicks look genuinely good. Led by Carmelo Anthony playing at power forward, a position in which  he excels greatly,  the Knicks have started the season 3-0. They’re first in the league in threes made, second in offensive rating, and second in defensive rating. Oh, and Carmelo actually looks like he is trying on defense this year.
  • The Lakers have begun the season by going 1-3, and although they have struggled to run the newly implemented Princeton offense, the defense looks to be an even bigger problem. Dwight’s rotations are snail-like slow, perhaps a side effect of his off season surgery and the reason for the Lakers ranking 26th in defensive rating.
  • Damian Lillard is as advertised. Averaging 19 and 8, and getting to the line about five times a game (where he shoots 94.7%) make him the early front-runner for rookie of the year.
  • Brandon Jennings leads the league in steals and assists per game, and is shooting efficiently for the first time in his career. He also had a game winning three at the buzzer to beat the Cavaliers.
  • Glen “Big Baby” Davis is tied for first in the league in usage percentage, and fourth in the league in points per game. Wait, what?

Western Conference Player of the Week: James Harden

Eastern Conference Player of the Week: Kyle Lowry

Rookie of the Week: Damian Lillard

The Sad Case Of The Detroit Pistons

The Detroit Pistons. 2004 NBA Champions. 2012 NBA laughing stock.

The Pistons came into the season looking like a team on the rise that had a small chance of making the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. They had a mediocre defense with an improving offense, and a star in Greg Monroe. This was looking, to Pistons fan, like the most exciting season since 2007.

The Pistons started the season off with a close loss to the Houston Rockets. It wasn’t too big of a downer, as James Harden dropped 37 points and the Pistons stuck with Houston until late in the 4th quarter.

But it just went downhill from there. The Pistons followed up that game with a disappointing loss to the new-look Phoenix Suns, followed by crushing 108-79 loss to the then-winless Los Angeles Lakers. After that game, the Pistons looked to rebound against the 0-3 Denver Nuggets, only to lose 109-97 in which six of Denver’s players racked up double-digit scoring.

Now 0-4, the Pistons are NOT where they wanted to be. They don’t want to repeat last season’s opening woes (started 4-21), but are already on their way to repeating that feat.

Detroit’s next game is against the 1-3 Sacramento Kings in Sacramento, hoping to notch their first win of the year.