Buy or Sell: Early-season surprises
5-on-5 Roundtable: Which NBA teams' fast starts should hold up for the long haul?
Despite expectations to the contrary, the Nuggets, Timberwolves, 76ers, Raptors and Trail Blazers have all come out of the gates firing, and now each team finds itself on John Hollinger's list of sneaky good teams in 2011-12.
But can they keep it up? Our panel of five gives its take with a game of Buy or Sell.
1. Buy or Sell: Denver Nuggets (5-2)
Henry Abbott, ESPN.com: Buy. The Nuggets have had the toughest schedule in the league so far, and have emerged with the league's most efficient defense and scoring the most per game. Practically everyone who takes the court alongside Ty Lawson and Andre Miller this season is playing efficiently (Al Harrington, Chris Andersen, Nene, Danilo Gallinari). That's good point guard play.
Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: Buying for the regular season. This team is such a matchup problem for random nights in the NBA that it is almost impossible to game plan and adjust for in a fourth game in five nights or fifth back-to-back of the month. When it gets down to the slower pace of the playoff schedule, I think teams can adjust and make the Nuggets find that currently elusive end-of-the-game scorer. Until then, though, believe in this team as a regular-season force.
Danny Nowell, Magic Basketball: Buy. In a big way. Even so far this season, the book on Denver has been that it's perfectly built for this regular season with its depth, speed and youth. While that's true, I think the Nuggets are built for even more, because a developed Lawson may join Nene as the "star" power they're said to lack.
Jeremy Schmidt, Bucksetball: Sell. I appreciate the idea that an unusually deep bunch of very good players playing unselfishly can win a lot of games and work out really well. But there is a reason stars get commercials. Denver will make the playoffs and may even win a round, but this team can't be anything more than that without at least one star.
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: Sell. What makes this Nuggets team all that different than the one that was beaten in five games by the Thunder? Ty Lawson is better, Danilo Gallinari is a little better and
what else? Al Harrington is playing well, Arron Afflalo is terrific and Nene can be a stud some nights, but in terms of the Nuggets actually competing for the West? I'm not buying it.
2. Buy or Sell: Minnesota Timberwolves (2-4)
Henry Abbott, ESPN.com: Buy. Kevin Love isn't just one of the best players in the league, he's also showing signs of being a real leader. For stretches Love and Ricky Rubio are so mesmerizing you can forget talented scorers like Derrick Williams and Michael Beasley are even on the floor. This is the League Pass team of the year. Tune in and you'll see they're not doormats anymore.
Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: Buy. There is no way I can't buy this team. They are leagues improved from last season and a complete 180-degree turn in watchability. However, I would pump the brakes on thinking this is a playoff-capable team right now. They've played only one road game so far and that will show just how far along they are when they're away from the Target Center. Also, without even being prompted, buy all of the Rubio stock you can find.
Danny Nowell, Magic Basketball: Buy. I'm hesitant, because I don't underestimate the ability for the front office to ruin this party, but the Wolves finally have what they need: two stud building blocks, a great coach and youth around them. They won't wow this year, but if they can find some bona fide wing talent and a center, their future will be bright indeed.
Jeremy Schmidt, Bucksetball: Buy. This is a near .500 team. Every team that either misses the playoffs entirely this year or has an aging core should be envious of the Wolves right now. They have two burgeoning stars both under 24 and a host of other pieces around them that could be tantalizing enough to land them one more solid player.
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: Buy. It only took about four minutes of me watching the Ricky Rubios before I was totally bought in. The Wolves aren't going to make the playoffs or anything because they're stuck in that have-to-figure-out-how-to-win-close-games phase young teams go through. But that team will be a nightmare to play every night and will probably push to win 30 games.
3. Buy or Sell: Philadelphia 76ers (3-2)
Henry Abbott, ESPN.com: Sell. Doug Collins talked about playing 10 deep to combat the rigors of the long season. But so far only eight have played minutes that matter, even though the team has had blowouts and a light schedule. Only wins have been against Suns, Warriors and Hornets, and there aren't enough teams like that to keep this kind of winning going much longer.
Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: Buy. This is a good team. I don't think they're a good enough team to really upset anybody in the playoffs because it seems they still have a lack of consistent scoring. However, dealing with their athleticism on a nightly basis in a condensed schedule is going to be exhausting for opponents.
Danny Nowell, Magic Basketball: Sell. None of the wins so far are so high quality as to change the fact this is a team in limbo. Half rebuilding, half ready to win, the Sixers are composed of talented but mismatched pieces and led by a coach known for losing his players at around this time.
Jeremy Schmidt, Bucksetball: Sell. The Sixers are loaded with young talent and Jrue Holiday is young enough to emerge as a real star eventually. So they have a bright future. But this is still a Celtics season and my good sense tells me the Knicks will find a way to finish ahead of the Sixers, too. But next year, watch the Sixers.
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: Sell. Are the Sixers a playoff team? Definitely. Are they doing anything other than being fodder for either the Bulls or Heat? Most definitely not.
4. Buy or Sell: Toronto Raptors (3-3)
Henry Abbott, ESPN.com: Sell. Remember all those teams that didn't hire Dwane Casey? He's making them look foolish right now, having reinvigorated players like Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon. But they have already been losing to the good teams, and at some point DeMar DeRozan will presumably stop making 63 percent of his 3s.
Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: Sell. They can't keep playing the Cavs, can they? They look improved but I worry about what happens to them when the schedule gets tougher. This team could be dangerous in a year or two but they will definitely take a few bumps this season to knock them back down to earth.
Danny Nowell, Magic Basketball: Buy. The Raptors aren't a playoff team, or even a very pretty one, but Dwane Casey finally gave this team an identity and some defense. They're still paying actual currency to Amir Johnson and Linas Kleiza, but if Bargnani keeps getting buckets this year, they'll be more respectable and promising than they have been in years.
Jeremy Schmidt, Bucksetball: Sell. Two victories over the Cavaliers and one over the Knicks in disarray aren't all that impressive. The Raps are an average offensive team and an average defensive team right now, and while Dwane Casey is a great coach, it's probably going to take a talent overhaul for that defensive number not to plummet.
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: Sell. Dwane Casey's awesome motivational tactics aside (there's a 1,300-pound rock in their locker room!), the Raptors will come back to reality at some point. They aren't this good of a defensive team, and while DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani are a reason to believe a bit, there's just not enough depth and talent on the team to stay out of the high lottery.
5. Buy or Sell: Portland Trail Blazers (4-1)
Henry Abbott, ESPN.com: Sell. The team is in the pack among the West's better teams, but not ahead of it. All those long, active, handsy guys -- Gerald Wallace, Marcus Camby, LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews -- are doing a nice job hassling anyone who tries to drive into the paint, which led to quality wins over the Thunder and Nuggets. But that West-leading record includes two cupcake wins, and they're also tied for first in rest days to date.
Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: Buy. Injuries aside, this team is good even when two cornerstones are incapable of being healthy for their roster. This team has enough depth and talent to be a problem in the West. Unless someone else goes down with a major injury, the Blazers shouldn't have any problems challenging for a top 4 seed.
Danny Nowell, Magic Basketball: Buy. It amazes me that everybody isn't constantly talking about how good Nate McMillan is. For the billionth straight year, he's getting a ton out of a roster most had written off, and this time they're running like we always wished they would. With Aldridge playing like there's blood in the water, the Northwest is going to be a fight.
Jeremy Schmidt, Bucksetball: Buy. The Blazers are kind of like a top-heavy, older version of the Nuggets in terms of their depth. Mix a near star in LaMarcus Aldridge, tough defensive players that fit Nate McMillian's style and Jamal Crawford on a short deal and baby, you've got a stew.
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: Buy. Despite all the setbacks, Portland has things clicking. Jamal Crawford was a perfect pickup. LaMarcus Aldridge might be the best power forward in the West. Raymond Felton's pick-and-pop game with Aldridge is lethal. The Blazers defend, are running more and have half-court scoring options aplenty. Everyone wanted to hand the West to the Thunder, but the Blazers might have something to say about it.