Thursday, December 13, 2012
Updated: December 18, 10:01 AM ET
Best of 2012-13 season's first quarter
We've reached the end of the first quarter of the new season. Who has made the biggest impact thus far? Our team hands in their first-quarter reports.
1. Who's the best team of the first quarter of the season?
Henry Abbott, ESPN.com: The Spurs, because today is not the day to second-guess John Hollinger and his power rankings.
Danny Chau, Hardwood Paroxysm: Thunder. There aren't enough superlatives to convey how good OKC has been on offense, thanks to improved ball movement and the addition of Kevin Martin, who has significantly bolstered their numbers from behind the 3-point line. They have the best record in the league and the longest winning streak. I think there are a few clues as to why.
James Herbert, HoopSpeak: Oklahoma City Thunder. Who thought their offense would become this much more deadly with Kevin Martin taking James Harden's minutes? Martin has scored as efficiently as expected, and it has been a pleasure to watch Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook make up for the loss of Harden's playmaking.
Gregory Pietras, Queen City Hoops: Knicks. This is tough, since the difference between the top four or five teams is razor-thin. The Thunder have the best record, and the Spurs have a more impressive defense, but I'll give a very slight edge to the Knicks. New York has been unstoppable at home (9-0) and has logged quality wins over the Heat (twice) and San Antonio.
Nubyjas Wilborn, Hawks Hoop: Thunder. Whoever thought these boys were going to fall off without James Harden must have forgotten how amazingly brilliant of a player Kevin Durant is. Kevin Martin has filled in rather nicely, Russell Westbrook is balling out of control and Serge Ibaka is patrolling the paint with Navy SEAL-like intensity. This team seems to have learned from its loss to Miami and wants to win it all.
2. Who's the best player of the first quarter of the season?
Abbott: LeBron James. Yes, I realize this is getting boring. But he has the best PER, leads a very good team and is a candidate for DPOY.
Chau: Kevin Durant. He has handled James Harden's departure well -- really well. His responsibilities on the floor have increased a bit this season, but the fact that he is dangerously close to the illustrious 50-40-90 club shows his dedication to playing smart, efficient basketball even with his all-around game blossoming.
Herbert LeBron James is the best, though perhaps Durant has been more impressive. If Durant had missed two fewer free throws, he'd be in the 50/40/90 club, so we're at the point where it's a debate as to which of these two is the best offensive player in the league. Still, James' brilliant defense puts him ahead overall.
Pietras: LeBron. Best scorer? Durant or Kobe. Most improved superstar? Carmelo or Durant. But as boring as it is, it's hard to look at the big picture and not settle on LeBron. He's still a more efficient scorer than Anthony; he's still a better passer and rebounder than Durant; and his defense still gives him a clear advantage over Bryant.
Wilborn: Carmelo Anthony. He's averaging 27.7 points, 6.6 boards and 2.2 dimes a night. But more important, Anthony is making the Knicks a viable contender to the Heat in the Eastern Conference. Melo is showing that he deserves to be rated on the level of LeBron, Durant and Kobe Bryant. And to think people came into the season saying he was overrated.
3. Who's the best rookie of the first quarter of the season?
Abbott: Damian Lillard, but only because Anthony Davis has played only eight games. Also in the conversation: Andre Drummond and -- look him up! -- Brian Roberts.
Chau: Damian Lillard. The best thing you can say about a point guard is how in control he is on the court. Lillard has been in control from the onset. It's impossible to discuss Lillard's game without throwing out keywords such as poise and maturity. He looks the part of the next great NBA point guard, and he'll get there in time.
Herbert Damian Lillard. A relative unknown before his senior season at Weber State, it's easy to forget he's a rookie with how seamlessly he has stepped into his role, playing 38 minutes per game. Lillard is the rare poised rookie guard who impresses more with his decision-making than his talent, though he's certainly not lacking the latter.
Pietras: Damian Lillard. He leads all rookies in points, assists and minutes, and looks like a polished veteran running the pick-and-roll. He still needs to tighten up his defense, but that should hopefully improve with time. I expect Anthony Davis to eventually pull ahead as Rookie of the Year, but it should be a fun race.
Wilborn: Damian Lillard. This kid is amazing. He hasn't seen a shot or a nice dime he doesn't like. Eighteen points and six assists per game are major for any guard in the league, but for a rookie it's unheard of. Lillard will only have more chances to shine because he seems to be the only player who can create for the woeful Trail Blazers.
4. Who's the best newcomer of the first quarter of the season?
Abbott: Jason Kidd. The Knicks are suddenly a real professional outfit and Melo is playing team ball. It's unfair to give Kidd all the credit, but he has had this effect on teams before.
Chau: O.J. Mayo. Who knew the key to unlocking the best season of Mayo's career was a little time and faith? His success is in part due to Dirk Nowitzki's glaring absence from the court, but Mayo has maintained efficiency despite playing a larger role. I've been waiting for a drop-off, but maybe it's just not coming.
Herbert O.J. Mayo. With a fresh start and a starting job in Dallas, Mayo is averaging 20.9 points per game while shooting a ridiculous 52.5 percent from 3-point range. He's reaching the potential that made us just a slight bit disappointed in him while he was playing the sixth man role in Memphis.
Pietras: O.J. Mayo. Mayo has almost single-handedly kept Dallas afloat while Dirk Nowitzki recovers, averaging 20.9 points a game on 48.9 percent shooting. Unfortunately, it'll be difficult to sustain that pace -- he's shooting 52.5 percent from three, which will drop eventually. The Clippers' Jamal Crawford is a solid No. 2 choice, with his 17 points a game pacing the league's best bench.
Wilborn: Jamal Crawford. Last year was Crawford's worst season in field goal percentage since his rookie year and he struggled playing for a bad team. Now he's back to his sixth man of the year form he had in Atlanta. Crawford is dropping 17 points for one of the best teams in the league. The sky is the limit for success for Crawford and the Clippers.
5. What's the biggest takeaway from the first quarter of the season?
Abbott: A superstar shooting guard, a superstar center and an All-Star power forward are not always, evidently, enough to make a team good.
Chau: It'll take more than having some of the biggest names in basketball on the roster for the Lakers to return to being a playoff threat, let alone a championship threat. It'll take good health. It'll take effort. Sadly, none of these things have shown up for L.A. thus far.
Herbert Never doubt Chris Bosh. In September, he said that people were underestimating how good the New York Knicks would be. Most outside of New York laughed. Now that the Knicks have twice beaten Miami by 20 points and lead the East by two games, it's best to assume Bosh is never wrong about anything.
Pietras: How important chemistry is to team success. It's a lesson we've been taught repeatedly over the past few years. The revamped Heat started 2010-11 with an 8-7 record, and everyone freaked out. Last year's Knicks opened 8-15, but they look just fine now. Lakers fans are in panic mode, but every team needs time to make adjustments and marinate a little.
Wilborn: I was wrong about the Atlanta Hawks. I have covered this team since 2004 and was convinced that they would barely be a playoff team. I assumed trading Joe Johnson was waiving the white flag for the year. Josh Smith, Al Horford, Jeff Teague and crew didn't get that memo. The Hawks are a fun team to watch and are even better defensively than most thought possible.