I thought it might be fun to go back and check in on my 10 preseason storylines in the NBA as the season is just about a third of the way over and a clear pecking order has been established in both conferences. I've also got some thoughts on some other happenings around the league. But before I go any further, let me preface by saying that these notes are scratched together from little more than box scores, Sportscenter highlights and ESPN.com columns and chats. I'm embarrassed at how little of actual game action I've seen from the Association so far this year. Of the Big 3 teams, I've seen the Cavs a few times, the Celtics once or twice, and the Lakers once. I should be writing this column on supply chain management or vertical integration, given that's what my days are consumed with. Anyway, on we go...
1. Can LeBron make 'the Leap'?
Ummm....YES. Ok, so his per game averages are down, but have you looked at the Cavs record? Cleveland is 20-4 with an undefeated mark of 13-0 at home. They have been absolutely massacring teams, and James minutes are at a ridiculously low 35 per game. His points, rebounds and assists per 40 minutes are all actually up, a true indicator of how valuable he has been. With Mo Williams on the roster, they are a totally different team. As if things couldn't get any better for Cleveland, they have Wally Sczerbiak's Expiring Contract to play around with at the trade deadline if necessary.
2. Do the Celtics have the motivation?
Let's just say I missed the boat on this one. They are off to the best start in NBA history. Yeah, I think we can safely assume they are motivated. If David Stern just canceled the rest of the Eastern Conference season and declared a Cavs-Celtics conference finals right now, would anyone even complain. Even the folks in Atlanta, Orlando and Detroit have to recognize how vastly inferior their teams are to those two.
3. Are the Lakers the team to beat?
Yes. At least out West. They have separated themselves from the pack as of today. Kobe is scoring less, Odom accepted (for now) the demotion to 6th man, and their role players (Farmar, Ariza, Vujacic) have been playing well. I stand by my prediction that the Lakers will not make it to the Finals though.
4. Dwyane Wade is back!
Hey, for as wrong as I was about the Celtics, I was right about this one. Although anyone who watched the Olympics could see that Wade was about to have a monster season, as long as he stayed healthy. He's leading the league in scoring, 2nd in steals, and 9th in assists. I'd say that's pretty good. Which leads us to...
5. The Surprise teams of 2008?
I'm batting .666 for this one. Wade has the Heat at .500 and in the playoff chase at the moment with a sorry cast of characters around him. Meanwhile, Mike Dantoni has the Knicks at 11-14 and at least in the hunt for a playoff spot in the East. At the very least, they play a fun style of basketball that has rejuvenated the Knicks. Although the trade of Zach Randolph has also led to my least favorite development of the season - the Lebron '10 Watch. Can we just enjoy what he is doing right now instead of trying to read the tea leaves of what he will decide in two years. ANYTHING that is floated out there by ESPN reporters or whoever else is pure speculation and rumor. Enough already.
As for my last sleeper team, the T-Wolves, they've already fired the coach and currently are 4-20 ahead of only the woeful Thunder. And it appears they have totally botched their last however many drafts:
-Rashad McCants - 10 points a game on 35% shooting. Ugh.
- Randy Foye - 13 points a game on 38% shooting, 25% from 3. Ugh
- Corey Brewer - 6 points a game on 41% shooting. Ugh. You've got to be able to shoot in the NBA. And Corey Brewer never could shoot.
- Kevin Love - 8 points a game on 40% shooting. 40% for a big man is like 30% for a guard. Not good.
6. The Young Guns
Greg Oden is putting up Erick Dampier numbers. Actually more like Joel Pryzbilla numbers, but we'll give him a little while before we make any decisions. The one guy who I am starting to have my doubts about...Kevin Durant. What does that guy do to make his team any better? I picked a bad time to write negatively about him, since he has just gone off for 41 and 28 the past two nights. But he's 6'9 and pulling down 5 boards a game. That's hard to do. I'm just a little worried that he may be entering Shareef Abdur-Rahim territory soon. I know the Thunder are bad, but no NBA team should ever be 2-20.
As for other rookies, Derrick Rose is a star. OJ Mayo is really good, which I had a hunch about. He's already averaging 20 ppg, which is incredible for a rookie. Some guys just don't fit into the college mentality, and Mayo was one of them. Eric Gordon has been solid for the Clippers, and CDR hasn't really played because of injury for the Nets. But the one guy I did want to mention was Marreese Speights of the Sixers. I absolutely love the guy. I don't know why Mo Cheeks didn't play him more. In the two games before he was fired, Cheeks put him in for two minutes and 7 minutes. That's inexcuable. More to come about the Sixers...
7. The last stand for the West vets?
This one was for Tim Duncan, Steve Nash and Dirk. Duncan has done an incredible job of keeping the Spurs afloat while both Manu and Tony heal. The fact that they are 15-8 with Duncan and the likes of Matt Bonner, George Hill, Roger Mason and Ime Udoka starting games is the reason why Duncan will go down as one of the all-time greats. Let's put it this way, I would not want to face a healthy Spurs team in the playoffs.
Nash is averaging 15 and 8, down from his numbers last year of 17-11. And let's face it, this is not the Suns team that we knew from two years ago. Shaq is so old he can't even play on back to backs. Amare is back but apparently unhappy (not shocking to anyone who read 7 Seconds or Less). Raja Bell and Boris Diaw are gone, and Grant Hill is just not that good any more. Translation - I was wrong. The last stand for these guys has already happened. They are now just first round roadkill.
Finally - Dirk has upped his scoring and rebounding, but the Mavs are on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. It should be an incredible battle for the last playoff spot - with 9 contenders for the 8 spots. Dallas, Phoenix and Portland look to battle it out all year. I see the Mavs losing out.
8. Chris Paul and Deron Williams?
If this was a fight, it would already have been declared a TKO. Although to be fair, Williams has been hurt. Chris Paul is averaging 20 ppg, 12 apg, 5 rpg and 3 spg. And his team is in first in the Southwest. Awesome.
9. The East?
A quick look at the Eastern Conference standings shows that only 6 teams are currently above .500. Besides the Cavs and Celtics, it is appropriate to again bring up the label of Leastern Conference. The Raptors are underachieving, the Pistons are playing the Lebron '10 game with their Iverson trade, Magic are frisky but let's be serious. When Atlanta has the 4th best record, you know it's weak.
Although that Cavs-Celts conference final is going to be epic.
10. Philly and Charlotte?
I've heard rumors that there is an NBA team in Charlotte, but so far haven't been able to confirm. I've taken the mindset that millions in the Carolinas have. If ever there was a franchise that needed a new city...
As for the Sixers: Here's what I wrote in the preseason:
"I'm a little nervous. EVERYBODY has identified them as the team ready to make the leap. I'm not so sure. First, Andre Miller had a rejuvenation last year at the age of 32. Is he really going to be able to repeat that performance again this year? Color me hopeful but skeptical. Second, everyone is just assuming that Elton Brand is going to be a star. But he's coming off basically a season of not playing. And, does he fit into how the Sixers play."
The Mo Cheeks firing was not really a shock. You don't spend over 100 million on Elton Brand and Andre Iguodala and then just watch as the season slowly slips away. Something had to change, and unfortunately, it's always the coach. But I place a ton of blame at the feet of Ed Stefanski, the GM. Elton Brand simply doesn't fit this Sixers roster. When they were winning last year, they were outrunning everyone in the league. Andre Iguodala thrives in that system - he can't shoot, which is what he's asked to do now in the half court sets. Meanwhile, you have Dalembert AND Brand just clogging the lane so that Andre Miller and Lou Williams have become much more ineffective. I really don't know what the solution is. Maybe Brand will keep improving and the Sixers can adjust. One thing that has to happen is Speights start getting more and more of Dalembert's minutes. Dalembert's points have been cut in half and he must have the worst hands in the league. In the East, a 10-14 record means you're right in the thick of things as far as the playoffs. But let's be serious - all of the preseason talk about the Sixers being a contender is out the window. They'll be lucky to make the playoffs, and if they do will get humiliated by either the Cavs or Celtics.
I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that Troy Murphy is currently 4th in the league in rebounding, and Rob Kurz got called back up to the Warriors and dropped 20 the other night in his first career start. Unfortunately, Chris Quinn lost the starting battle to Mario Chalmers, but is still shooting 45% on 3's and 95% ft's. Go Irish!