Monday, December 15, 2008

Around the League -- Early Fruity Storylines

As we approach the 1/3 mark of the season, I thought it would be nice to take a look around the leauge and see early surprises and storylines. In the process, I'll compare actual storylines of the season to what I talked about in the season previews for each team during the preseason.

Fired Coaches
So far this season, as of this writing, 6 of the 30 teams have made coaching changes. None of the firings were huge surprises on their own, but as a group to see 20% of teams change coaches within the first 20 or so games of the season is a bit of a shocker. I get the feeling that we'll see all of these guys, except for P.J. Carlesimo and Randy Wittman, in other NBA head coaching positions in the near future. Carlesimo, though -- I thought his head coaching career was over before the Sonics hired him last year, so who knows.

Fantastic Rookie Guards
The rookie class as a whole has been very impressive, with an assortment of strong centers (beginning with Oden and Marc Gasol, but also Brook Lopez), forwards (particularly Jason Thompson, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and Marreese Speights, but also Kevin Love recently), and athletically intriguing question marks (Javale McGee and Anthony Randolph!), but the sheer number of strong rookie guard performances has been impressive.

Point Guards: Derrick Rose was supposed to be good as the first overall pick, but I'm not sure anyone expected him to be this good this quickly. He's averaging an efficient 18 points (54.2% True Shooting Percentage) and 6 assists along with some pretty decent defense for a rookie at a very tough position. At 4 rebounds per game, he's not quite Jason Kidd but overall I can see why the comparisons were drawn. Meanwhile, there have been a number of solid point guards behind Rose. Mario Chalmers has started every game for the Heat and has made a name for himself as a solid defender, averaging 2 steals per game in just 30 minutes. George Hill of the Spurs has provided some much needed scoring and shot-creation early on as Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker worked back to full health, and is a big part (along with Roger Mason, Jr.) of why the Spurs didn't fall apart when their star guards were injured. His ability to get to the rim regularly without turning the ball over often helped what otherwise might have become a stagnant Spurs offense. D.J. Augustin, meanwhile, has been coming on strong of late, and is shooting 43.8% from the three point line while scoring 13.5 points and 4.4 assists in just 29.5 minutes per game. Russell Westbrook has played well since becoming a starter, and has excelled defensively, keeping opposing point guards out of the paint while being among the league leaders in steals per game and having an overall positive effect on the defensive end. He also leads all point guards in offensive rebounds per game despite playing just 28 minutes per game, and that sort of athleticism leads me to believe that he might be able to improve his ability to finish at the rim, so if he can improve his jump shot, he will be a solid contributor for the Thunder for years (maybe those Rajon Rondo comparisons were apt).

Shooting Guards: Both O.J. Mayo and Rudy Fernandez should be in the running with Derrick Rose for rookie of the year, and behind them Eric Gordon has had some good games. Meanwhile, undrafted rookie Bobby Brown has been consistently productive in providing offense off the bench, while fellow undrafted rookie Anthony Morrow has been quite the scorer when he has had the chance to play.

Rajon Rondo
In the preseason, I mentioned Rajon Rondo and Tony Allen as players to pay attention to. Allen is having a decent year, averaging career highs in steals and blocks per 36 minutes, but Rondo has improved yet again over his performance last year, to the point that he can legimately be considered for all-star status this year. His shooting percentage is up to 51.4% and he's averaging over 7 assists in just 31 minutes per game, while currently placing 3rd in the league in steals per game.

Devin Harris
Devin Harris is, so far, the best point guard in the Eastern Conference. Did anyone expect that?

Cleveland Cavaliers Offense
In the preseason, I singled out Cleveland's offense and begged for Lebron James to be offered opportunities to work more off the ball. Well, that's exactly what they did and now, surprisingly, Cleveland has the best offense in the league. This is largely due to the ever-brilliant James having the best season of a remarkable career, but give credit also to the supporting cast, who have really picked up the slack in terms of efficiency, beginning with Zydrunas Ilgauskas, but also notably including Mo Williams, Delonte West, and Anderson Varejao.

Mike Bibby's Rejuvenation
The Hawks have played, I think, a bit better than expected so far this year. Joe Johnson has been very good, as expected, and Josh Smith has been strong defensively as usual. But Mike Bibby is having perhaps his best year of his career, as a 30-year old. He's shooting a career high 43.7% from three-point range, and overall a career high 55.4% effective field goal percentage. It'll be interesting to see if he can keep this pace up for the whole year.

Joel Anthony
In the preseason, I mentioned that the question marks for Miami would be at point guard and center. As mentioned above, Mario Chalmers has done an admirable job filling the point guard spot. Meanwhile, Joel Anthony has taken over Alonzo Mourning's role as shot-blocker extraordinaire, coming in third in the league so far in percentage of oppoenent's shots blocked.

J.J. Barea, Jason Terry, and Jason Kidd
I suggested in the preseason that Jason Terry would have a very good year. He has so far, but in unexpected ways. He's averaging a career high in points per game, as well as in field goal attempts as he has really taken to the sixth man role and is in the early running for sixth man of the year. J.J. Barea's ascent was unexpected, though. He's been a fan favorite and played well on offense, particularly since Josh Howard went down. And Jason Kidd, out of nowhere, has turned into a knockdown shooter, shooting 42% on his 3-point attempts (he's a career 34% shooter) and he's currently on pace to set a career high in effective field goal percentage. Also of note with the Mavericks has been Gerald Green's apparently finding a home, finally.

The Bucks' D
I expressed doubt in the preseason about whether Scott Skiles would be able to improve this defense, despite his reputation as a defensive coach. However, the Bucks have been, so far, the 13th best defense in the league this year, which is a HUGE improvement from their last place finish a year ago. Skiles deserves some credit here, but I doubt he'll get any consideration for Coach of the Year type honors even if the Bucks keep up this pace.

Mike Miller's disappearance
Mike Miller was a big part of the trade that sent O.J. Mayo to Memphis and brought Kevin Love to Minnesota, and it seemed at first like he'd provide a solid fit as an outside threat alongside Al Jefferson's inside game. At 28 years old, though, Miller is having his worst season of his career so far. His shooting percentages are down, but even more of a concern is that he's taking less shots -- his usage rate is down to 15%. In the games I've seen him play, he looks somewhat hesitant to create shots, but I wonder if a bigger part of the dropoff has to do with the fact that Al Jefferson isn't nearly as good of a passer out of the post as Pau Gasol.

Aaron Brooks
Last year the Rockets seemed to fall apart a bit without Rafer Alston in the lineup. Adding Ron Artest should have helped the offense some, but it hasn't. What has really helped is the emergence of Aaron Brooks as a legimitate backup point guard and sometimes starter.

Darius Miles
In a story that might only be interesting to me (and Portland Trailblazer fans), D-Miles has signed a 10-day contract with the Memphis Grizzlies.

Early Awards, etc.
It's too early to really say anything meaningful, but as recognition of those who have performed admirably in the early part of the season:

MVP: Lebron James (although Dwyane Wade should lead the "those who should receive more votes than they actually will" category -- his season is similar offensively to Kobe Bryant's 2005-2006 season).

Most Improved Player: Devin Harris (if it were still called "comeback player" then Nene would win this one in a landslide -- as it is I'm not sure he'd be eligible to win Most Improved).

Sixth Man: Jason Terry (a healthy Manu Ginobili will surely overtake him, but so far it's been Terry)

Most Defensively Improved Player: I realize this isn't a real award, but it was the only place I could squeeze in some acknowledgment of how much better Carmelo Anthony has looked on that side of the ball, both in terms of man-defense and rebounding.

Best Temporary Injury Replacement: Another fake award, but shouldn't it be real? To recognize the efforts of a bench player who is forced into starting due to injury -- this is quite different from being a sixth man. I'd vote here for Paul Millsap, who has been fantastic in taking over for Carlos Boozer early in the season.

Best Defensive Player: Ron Artest. Seriously -- watch a Rockets game, check out the numbers. The team is 14.6 points better per 100 possessions when he is on the court compared to off of it, and he's holding opposing small forwards to 39.3% effective field goal percentage and a 9.8 PER. Those number are a bit inexact, since he's not always guarding small forwards. But in any case, I think he's done a solid job -- hopefully the Rockets can hold things together while he and McGrady recover from injuries. I'd like to throw some consideration in for Andrew Bynum, though, who has done a remarkable job as an all-around defender, both positionally and in help situations. I don't think he'll get a ton of attention for this award, since he has impressive but not gaudy blocks per game numbers (1.9, but he's playing just 29 minutes per game), and the Lakers aren't known as a great defensive team despite being third in the league in defensive efficiency. But it's hard to find a consistently better defensive center.

1 comment:

  1. The match against the Thunders was just another match proven that as long as San Antonio’s Big 3 performs, Spurs win.

    It’s good to see them coming back to their usual self after a terrible start to the new season. First they had to deal with Manu’s injury, then Parker. But during the dark moments, they have found the wealth of talent in other players.

    Roger Mason stepped up big time to help Duncan. George Hill is another find of the season. On top of that, the resurgence of Matt Bonner has been devastating effect. All this makes me think if these guys were there against the Lakers last season, Spurs would have won the Western Conference.

    Next up, I believe they will face the Hornets. We all know what happened when both teams met during the playoffs last season. So what do you expect from the match this time?

    Please check out writing on the Spurs/Bucks match. Would appreciate your feedback as well.