Panic Meter: Who is in big trouble?
Is it too early to start worrying? Our panel takes a look at the panic meter of five teams looking to rebound from ominous starts to the season.
1. Panic Meter: How worried should Knicks fans be, from 0 to 10?
Jim Cavan, KnickerBlogger: 9.9999. The situation couldn't be any more far-flung from last season's 6-0 start, with hot shooting and quick chemistry being usurped by deep droughts and deafening doubts. Losing Tyson Chandler could force the Knicks to get their rotational house in order, but it'll all be for naught if Woodson can't get Andrea Bargnani -- now the de facto starting center -- to commit at the other end.
Amin Elhassan, ESPN Insider: 6. Chandler is the linchpin to the Knicks' defense, and his impact can't be understated. He not only erases many of the mistakes of his less-defensively inclined teammates, but also serves as the point person for the team defensive schemes, guiding his teammates vocally like a middle linebacker in football. The "good" news is he should be back by the end of December, so no cause to hit the panic meter to the max.
Matt McHale, TrueHoop Network: 7. Amar'e Stoudemire is playing so poorly (3.5 PPG, 4 TO, PER -5.17) that Charles Barkley says he's lost his talent, and Chandler is going to miss four to six weeks. That's more than $35 million in dead salary until Chandler returns. Add in the fact that this team is well below average on offense (22nd in offensive efficiency) and can't hit 3s (29.9 percent), and it's clear there's not much positive going on in the Big Apple.
Darius Soriano, Forum Blue And Gold: 7. With Chandler hurt and the team still not playing to an identity that suits its personnel, expectations of a deep playoff run need to be lowered to hoping to get out of the first round.
David Walker, Roundball Mining Co.: 9. It's cliché to call any one player the "anchor" of a team's defense, but in Chandler's case, there really is no other way to describe him. The Knicks will try to muster anything they can out of Kenyon Martin and Bargnani, but the diminishing returns are almost sure to be catastrophic.
2. Panic Meter: How worried should Bulls fans be, from 0 to 10?
Cavan: 1. Philly's plucky blindsiding notwithstanding, three of the Bulls' first four opponents made it to the second round of last season's playoffs. If I'm the rusty Derrick Rose, I can't imagine a more bracing Brillo pad. Assuming everyone gets back to full health, there's nothing stopping Chicago from snagging a top spot.
Elhassan: 1. This should have been expected. Rose missed an entire year! To expect him to walk right in and look like he never left is far too idealistic. Even though he looks fine physically, he's still searching for his timing and adjusting to playing full-speed competitive NBA basketball. Likewise, his teammates are trying to figure out how to retain the offensive aggression they developed in Rose's absence while still allowing their best player to lead them.
McHale: 8. The Bulls are a bad team right now. They're 26th in offensive efficiency and 16th in defensive efficiency. They look out of sync in every area. And what's up with Rose? The adequate scoring (15.0 PPG), poor shooting (31.3 percent) and high turnover rate (5.3 per game) are somewhat understandable for a guy who missed a full season. But his PER is 3.10! He's not doing anything well, and neither are the Bulls.
Soriano: 5. Integrating Rose was always going to be a process that took time, and the Bulls are experiencing those pains now. That said, if Rose continues to struggle and the team can't find its stride through the first 25 games, this answer will be much different.
Walker: 3. Rose is rounding into form slowly, and Joakim Noah still is far from 100 percent, but this team's track record leaves little to worry about. The NBA season is long and Chicago can afford another week or so of stumbling without even so much as sacrificing a shot at 60 wins.
3. Panic Meter: How worried should Nuggets fans be, from 0 to 10?
Cavan: 6. The middling defense hasn't completely fallen off, but the offense has been a shell of last season's Showtime proxy. Chalk it up to what you will -- Andre Iguodala's departure, Danilo Gallinari's absence or rookie coach Brian Shaw's itchy rotational trigger finger -- the Nuggets are a hot mess. The good news: That first-round pick from the Knicks is looking mighty good.
Elhassan: 8. With Wilson Chandler out indefinitely and Gallinari out for what could end up being the entire season, Denver has to find a way to keep the ship afloat. In a hyper-competitive Western Conference, where as many as six teams are fighting for the final two playoff seeds, it will be tough to make up ground later if it falls too far behind.
McHale: 9. With all due respect to Shaw and the departed Iguodala, George Karl was the most important person on the Nuggets last season. His particular brand of regular-season black magic (not to mention a rapid pace and highly efficient offense) coaxed 57 wins out of a roster that did not include a single high-level star. This team -- which is struggling to defend or score -- has high-lottery pick potential.
Soriano: 9. Shaw seems to want to play a style that his roster isn't capable of. This has him scrambling to find workable lineups while seeking out an identity that may not be achievable. This is not a good recipe for success.
Walker: 7. Only because expectations were tempered before the start of the season and Denver is still missing two of its top three players. That said, Shaw's curious early strategy to try and run the offense through the bigs in the post has gone predictably awry. The rest of the Nuggets' season hinges on his ability to adjust.
4. Panic Meter: How worried should Grizzlies fans be, from 0 to 10?
Cavan: 5. Playoff imminence aside, it's easy to wonder whether the West brass has passed the Grizzlies by. Their once ironclad D has suddenly turned porous, while getting buckets continues to be a Spielbergian adventure. If anyone's going to marshal Memphis out of the wilderness, it has to be Mike Conley, who -- minus his shooting from deep -- is playing some of his best ball yet.
Elhassan: 2. Part of Memphis' slow start can be chalked up to adjusting to a new coach, Dave Joerger, with a different philosophy, and part can be attributed to small sample-size theater: It's been only five games! The only reason this isn't a 1 is because continued struggles will erode at the confidence of a first-time head coach.
McHale: 6. It was fun watching the Grizzlies reinvent the twin towers concept. Seeing Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph dominate the paint each night was a throwback to those immortal McHale-Parish and Olajuwon-Sampson frontcourts of the 1980s. But this isn't the '80s, and there's no telling how long this formula can be sustained. It doesn't help that the Griz can't space the floor with their 3-point shooting (32.9 percent), and their elite defense has all but disappeared.
Soriano: 6. Randolph's slow start (11.2 PPG, 7.6 RPG) and a sluggish team performance that started the season is a concern, but this group still has the defensive talent and strong interior play to find its rhythm as the season progresses.
Walker: 5. This is tough, so I'll just split the difference. Teams finally seemed to have figured out that they don't have to register Tayshaun Prince's existence on offense anymore and, more worryingly, their lauded defense has been badly gashed thus far. Still, I have enough faith in the roster that they'll at least get the defense back on track.
5. Panic Meter: How worried should Lakers fans be, from 0 to 10?
Cavan: 0. Doesn't "panic" imply that you expected them to be good? Well, the Lakers aren't good. The question is whether they're bad enough to guarantee themselves a nice, shiny WigginsRandleExum. And that question likely hinges on how maniacal Kobe Bryant is about suiting up ASAP. Anyway, the answer is zero, because things will work out sooner rather than later for the Lakers. They always do.
Elhassan: 0. If you're a rational Laker fan, you knew there would be highs (beating the Clippers in the home opener, beating Dwight Howard and the Rockets on the road) and lows (getting demolished by the Warriors and Mavs). Even when Bryant returns, this team will still be fighting for a seventh or eighth seed with as many as five other teams. In the words of Denny Green, the Lakers are who we thought they were.
McHale: 5. The Lakers were going to struggle. Everybody knew that. What we did not know was that Steve Nash (7.6 PPG, 5.2 APG, 8.07 PER) would retire without telling anyone. Or that he would still be suffering nerve damage from a broken leg last year. We also didn't know that Pau Gasol (career-low 36.8 percent shooting) would seemingly be more comfortable shooting 3s (42.9 percent) than scoring in the paint. Call it the D'Antoni Effect.
Soriano: 5. It's really difficult to judge this team fully without Kobe. But even with the severe swings of play, they've already shown they have some potential diamonds in the rough who can grow into solid contributors over the course of the season. Combine that with lowered expectations, and there shouldn't be big concerns with where they are right now.
Walker: 1. If we factor out those whose delusions would skew the scale, I'd say Lakers fans should be holding steady at a 1 right now. Have you seen their roster? At 3-3 overall, I'd say they are sitting pretty.