Monday, November 5, 2012
Updated: November 6, 1:59 PM ET
Best and worst surprises so far
One week of the 2012-13 season is already in the books. Which teams and players have been the most surprising so far? ESPN Insider John Hollinger broke down his list of the top surprises in the East and the West. Now our 5-on-5 crew shares 25 more takes:
1. Which team is the most pleasant surprise in the East?
Devin Kharpertian, The Brooklyn Game: To their fans, it has to be the Orlando Magic, right? Even though winning their first two in stunning fashion gives them a late start on their push for the No. 1 overall pick in the draft this season, the fact they can win two games in a row with Glen Davis among the league leaders in usage rate is some kind of special.
Danny Nowell, Portland Roundball Society: New York. Carmelo Anthony and Mike Woodson seem unlikely candidates to prevent the melodrama, incompetence and paranoia that have become the Knicks' organizational calling cards from reaching the court. But after an opening as ferocious as we've seen from Anthony and a surprisingly tenacious team defense, the Knicks can say so far, so great.
Adry Torres, ESPN Deportes: New York Knicks. The veteran leadership of guys like Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, Rasheed Wallace and Kurt Thomas takes off some of the burden that falls on Melo. They also have three true point guards running the show, proving that letting Jeremy Lin go was the best free-agent move the Knicks have made in years.
Justin Verrier, ESPN.com: Orlando. Sure, the Knicks look mighty at 3-0, but that's what a $100 million payroll should get you. If only for a few days, the Magic, fresh off an offseason that ravaged their roster, are unbeaten and sport the league's third most efficient offense, all while opening games with the likes of E'Twaun Moore and DeQuan Jones, who have more capital letters in their names than career starts.
Jared Wade, 8 Points, 9 Seconds: The Knicks. With Amar'e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert sidelined, I expected a rough start. Instead New York has won all three of its games by an average margin of 19.3 points per game (Orlando is the only other team with a double-digit positive differential) while posting the second best offense and defense in the league. Melo looks as good as ever and is saying the right things about maturing as a leader now that he is surrounded by veterans he respects. It is only three games, but this looks like a team ready to outpace my expectations.
2. Which team is the most pleasant surprise in the West?
Kharpertian: In my brief moments glimpsing them, the San Antonio Spurs have been a marvel to watch -- so much has changed around their core three, and yet everything remains the same: the team turns role players and its system into stars. It doesn't hurt, either, that Tim Duncan inexplicably looks 25 again.
Nowell: Dallas. The morning after they waxed the surprisingly competitive Trail Blazers, this nod has to go to the Mavs. Though it trails San Antonio by a game in the loss column, Dallas actually leads the West in point differential so far, an enormous testament to Rick Carlisle's ability to get the most out of his Dirk-less squad.
Torres: Dallas Mavericks. Mark Cuban clearing up cap space and blowing up the team after winning a title two years ago, and Dirk Nowitzki being out for the first two months of the season, meant the Mavs were supposed to struggle out of the gate. But guys like Chris Kaman, Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo are playing with a chip on their shoulders.
Verrier: San Antonio. At this point, each new Spurs season seems like a new edition of Kyrie Irving's "Uncle Drew" shtick -- the old guys unassumingly roll up to the court and proceed to wow all the bros in attendance. They're off to an even better start than last season, having won all four of their games, three of which were against 2012 playoff teams. Unbelievable.
Wade: Dallas. Most wrote off the Mavs for dead when Dirk went down, advising them to start the tank parade now, collect a nice lottery pick and use their cap space next summer to set the team up for one last title push with the German. Or maybe they can just be that team nobody wants to face in the playoffs instead. They retooled on the fly, picking up a crew of quality castoffs, and it is starting to look like the franchise will continue its streak of never missing the playoffs in this millennium.
3. Which team is the most unpleasant surprise in the East?
Kharpertian: It's been only two games and they're the team I cover, but Brooklyn's rough go of the first two games has given me pause. We knew the Nets would struggle defensively, but their coverages have looked unacceptable, even within the system. A troubling start for a team that desires contention.
Nowell: I'll give this to Detroit, with apologies to a few more talented underachievers. I was hoping that some of the Pistons' pieces would begin to cohere and that Greg Monroe would start bending the league to his quiet will, but it appears they may be in for one of the most dispiriting campaigns in the league.
Torres: Detroit Pistons. Looking around it's too early to pick a disappointing team in the East but I will go with Detroit. They're only 0-3 but just a bad collection of players that don't resemble the guy coaching them on the floor. It might be time to part ways with guys like Tayshaun Prince, Charlie Villanueva and Rodney Stuckey.
Verrier: Philadelphia. The Sixers' won-loss record will most likely jump back over .500 soon, but the renewed optimism acquired this offseason has already been tarnished a bit by Andrew Bynum's leg troubles (which probably shouldn't be anywhere near a list of "surprises"). Instead of tuning in to see the start of something substantial, the main draw in Philly is the sideshow of Bynum's Doc Brown 'fro.
Wade: Indiana looks like refried garbage. Danny Granger is hurt and the Pacers are trying to work some new players into their system, but their 2-2 record is a facade. Only the Kings, Sixers and Wizards have produced less on offense, and Indiana is shooting 40.1 percent from the field through four games. Things will improve, but right now this doesn't look like the conference's best non-Boston hope to dethrone Miami.
4. Which team is the most unpleasant surprise in the West?
Kharpertian: Los Angeles Lakers. A 1-3 start just means there are 78 games left, and Steve Nash has played only 50 minutes. But a team with Dwight Howard at its helm is 26th in the league in defensive rating. That's simultaneously amazing and unconscionable.
Nowell: Oklahoma City. Denver has been worse, but I will take this opportunity to heap yet more on the Thunder. The Harden trade is throwing a smoke screen over the fact this team appears stagnant. On-court decision-making, stubbornly ineffective lineups, a lack of offensive imagination: this looks like the same young Thunder team, and it's getting old.
Torres: Los Angeles Lakers. This team caught everyone by surprise with preseason struggles, translating into three straight losses to open up the season -- the Lakers' worst start in 34 years. I won't buy the notion that they need time to jell. There was plenty of practice time heading into the opener. Just like last season, this Lakers team has looked disinterested, unfocused and now lost in Mike Brown's new offensive scheme, which doesn't let Steve Nash be Steve Nash.
Verrier: Denver. Things have been a bit unsightly these days at Staples Center, where the Clippers and Lakers are providing plenty of drive-time kindling, but neither is sporting a double-digit loss to the aforementioned wispy Magic. The Nuggets will probably be fine, but if Andre Iguodala can't fix this defense, a top-two seed out West seems like an even wilder fantasy than before.
Wade: Denver. I can't say I believed those clamoring that Denver could be a 2- or 3-seed out West, but nor did I foresee the Nuggets being winless after three games and losing by an average of more than 8 points per game. They may find their first win Tuesday night against Detroit, but with games against Houston, Miami, San Antonio and Memphis coming up -- not to mention six of their next nine on the road -- it could be an ungrateful Thanksgiving in Nuggetland.
5. Which player has been the biggest surprise so far?
Kharpertian: I don't care that he's played just 20 minutes in three games. Rasheed Wallace leads the league in PER. 'Nuff said.
Nowell: Kyle Lowry deserves to be getting marquee treatment for his play to start the season. It's no shock to learn that Lowry is as complete a package of rebounding, passing and defense as any point in the league, but his versatile production has been matched by shooting percentages that, if not sustainable, should still be putting his opponents on notice.
Torres: O.J. Mayo. Mayo struggled during his first two games but has found his offensive groove, putting up back-to-back 30-point games. I have always been a fan of Mayo and never understood why he was coming off the bench in Memphis. Cuban was looking to bring over some big names, he might have found one a lot of teams passed up on this summer.
Verrier: James Harden. As much as I want to pick current NBA PER leader Rasheed Wallace, it's hard to overlook the double-digit numbers that have spread like weeds on Harden's stats page. All the advanced metrics indicated that the 23-year-old 2-guard would shine as a featured scorer, but it's another thing to see it in practice. Hooray for Harden and hooray for math.
Wade: Sample-size All-Star Glen Davis. To be sure, there is no way this holds up, but the big man is scoring as well as anyone without the last name Harden, pounding the glass and even getting buckets for his 'mates. Enjoy it while it lasts, Baby. Because this is likely all downhill from here.