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100 early season observations

Dec 31, 2011, 10:08 AM EDT

Miami Heat James smiles after making a basket against Charlotte Bobcats during their NBA game in Charlotte Reuters

We lost basketball this year. Precious, sweet basketball. And even though most of the lockout happened in the offseason, those days were still slogs through disappointment and frustration. So to mourn those days and celebrate the first week of professional basketball this season, here are 100 observations on the early season.

1. Lob City’s a work in progress like all teams thrust together are, but there are also career developments that have to happen with Griffin and Jordan’s defense.

2. The Bulls are going to be really great when they win, which is most of the time, and really ugly when they lose.

3. The Heat are just going to be really great even when they’re losing. Sorry, it’s true.

4. The Cavaliers are a lot better than we thought they’d be. They’re going to lose a metric ton of games when the rush of early season wears off, but they’ve got a foundation there to build on.

5. Boston has problems that go beyond Pierce, on both ends.

6. But Boston also has some things going for it, especially the play of Brandon Bass.

7. James Harden has not locked up the 6th Man of the Year by any stretch of the imagination, it’s been three games for crying out loud. But he definitely looks like the strongest candidate early on.

8. The Blazers are much better than I expected. They’re not getting bullied inside and they’re doing the bullying on the perimeter. It’s a strong combination of players.

9. The Lakers will be winning, but they’ll be winning ugly. Mike Brown is getting the most out of a weak roster outside of the Big 3, but that means playing some ugly basketball the Staples faithful might not enjoy.

10. Vinny Del Negro has some done some bizarre things early on. Running pick and rolls with Blake Griffin as ball-handler and putting Griffin on Joakim Noah are only a few examples. It’s a learning process for him as well and I’ve never been as down on Del Negro as others, but some of it is just perplexing.

11. Tristan Thompson is going to be better than most of us thought. Lots to learn, though.

12. Enes Kanter is going to be worse than most of us thought, at least for a while. Lots of rebounds, though.

13. LeBron James‘ post game has improved maybe just enough for him to not rely on it but to make a significant difference.

14. Wade, at least early on, is the tip of the spear for Miami’s offense, which is what makes James’ scoring totals so outrageous.

15. The Kobe Bryant you’ve seen is what you’re going to get. Nights of sheer brilliance and a lot of of inefficient scoring nights where he handles the load.

16. That said, Bynum could make all the difference. If he can get to the arena with all the traffic tickets he gets.

17. The Pacers have a really good team that can play consistently, score, and defend, and may still wind up a five seed.

18. Ho-hum, another year where the Hawks keep winning games and no one stops to notice how well they’re playing.

19. Ho-hum, another year where the Hawks play really well for long stretches and still don’t make an impact in the playoffs.

20. If the Wizards had any sense of poise whatsoever, the Nets would be the worst team in the league in just about every category right now.

21. Deron, big market Brooklyn, owner that wants to win, I get it. But if Howard looks at this roster and says “I can win with those guys this year” he’s out of his mind. Unless he wants an early summer vacation, no way he should go to Brooklyn.

22. Chris Bosh is more aggressive than I’ve ever seen him, even in Toronto.

23. Speaking of which, early on, the Raptors aren’t bad. Competitive, playing hard, rebounding, and some balance. Long way to go, but I like what Casey is doing there.

24. Memphis will figure it out eventually, but this team is going to have to find the gear it had from February on last year and that’s really difficult. Missing Arthur hurts.

25. The Sixers, despite a loss to Utah, are one of the most impressive teams I’ve seen. There’s something to be said for experience together.

26. Flip Saunders, here’s some ice for that hot seat.

27. Andrew Bogut doesn’t look healthy, but he doesn’t look injured, you know?

28. John Wall has to play better.

29. Taj Gibson does an unbelievable amount for the Bulls off the bench.

30. Phoenix has looked really bad at both ends. Maybe they’ll get it together, but the lack of offense is a huge concern. That’s what they’ve got. If they don’t have that, they’re in trouble.

31. New Orleans’ effort under Monty Williams is admirable, even if the performance isn’t sustainable, which, who knows?

32. All of these observations are based under a handful of games and only a small amount will seem valid in March.

33. Ricky Rubio: Worth the hype.

34. Rick Adelman: Worth the hire.

35. Michael Beasley: Worth neither of the two above.

36. Charlotte has the effort and has a lot of guys improving.

37. Diaw has been particularly impressive considering, you know, Diaw.

38. Kemba Walker and Jimmer both have a place in the league when I had reservations about both. The place may not be big, but it’s there.

39. Mark Jackson storming out of the gates is not something I expected.

40. The Warriors’ defense with that roster is yet another sign that defense in this league is as much systemic as personnel dependent.

41. Carmelo Anthony at point forward is a disaster.

42. And the worst part is it’s limited Amar’e Stoudemire’s role which hurts just about everything.

43. San Antonio looks like it’s gotten the defense back in its gameplan early on. That’s big.

44. Conditioning has been a lot better than most expected.

45. Defensive 3-seconds, not so much.

46. Shaun Livingston has impressed in limited minutes for Milwaukee. His first game was the best I’ve seen since before the injury.

47. The Kings are about what you’d expect. Fun to watch, losing every night.

48. Denver has been monstrous.

49. Al Harrington shooting better? Expected. Al Harrington defending better? Not expected.

50.  DeMar DeRozan has not started as well as I thought he might.

51. Ty Lawson is a speed demon and you should probably get a hand up on him.

52. Nene has struggled offensively. He’s making an impact defensively but the Nuggets need a pick and roll partner.

53. Danilo Gallinari needs to find his range, like, right now. Great aggressiveness, but missing the arc.

54. LeBron James won’t average a triple double. It’ll just feel like it.

55. Lawrence Frank has not gotten through to Detroit yet.

56. Which means Lawrence Frank has lost about 22 games in a row.

57. The Pistons’ refusal to play younger lineups is baffling.

58. The problem in OKC isn’t Russell Westbrook vs. Kevin Durant, there is no Russell Westbrook vs. Kevin Durant.

59. The problem is Russell Westbrook vs. being No.2. He’s not and will not be.

60. Gerald Henderson has shown a really impressive ability to find space in the flow of the offense. He’s not going to create off the dribble much outside of layups, but he spits around screens and catches and shoots really well.

61. Luol Deng looks just about as good as he did last season, if not better, which should terrify everyone.

62. DeJuan Blair is still not a good enough interior defender.

63. Tiago Splitter might be, though.

64. It’s not so much what David West is giving the Pacers as what he’s allowing them to do.

65. I’ve crowned Paul George Mega-Man. The guy came into the league with very few abilities and it seems like every game he defeats and gains the powers of his opponent. I’m expecting him to have a buzzsaw for an arm soon.

66. Gerald Wallace has been good at just about everything involved with playing basketball. Shooting, scoring, defense, steals, blocks, rebounds, you name it.

67. Ryan Anderson, Most Improved Player?

68. Turns out Stan Van Gundy can still coach a team up. Even one featuring Chris Duhon in a big role.

69. Luis Scola, pretty good.

70. Denver is 26th in points allowed per game, but 10th in defensive efficiency, which is points per 100 possessions. Stats are good, people!

71. Jason Kidd is shooting a lot of threes, which is not how the Mavericks offense should work, even if his clip is pretty good the last few years.

72. Kevin Love drawing fouls is just weird.

73. Kyle Lowry has been even better than last year, and that’s saying something.

74. Greg Stiemsma, block machine.

75. Marvin Williams is averaging 14 points per game and 20 per 36. My mind = blown. I don’t care if it’s three games.

76. The Hawks are first in offensive efficiency and second in defensive efficiency. Weak schedule, but still. Impressive for three games.

77. It’s been really good to see Anderson Varejao back on the floor.

78. I’m trying to think of something that the Jazz do well. I’ll be back in an hour.

79. Russell Westbrook has had an emotional rollercoaster of a first week.

80. Would the Celtics have been better if they’d worked out together this summer? Or is it just Pierce?

81. I miss Jeff Green. I know most of you don’t, but I do.

82. Ben Gordon is actually passing really well and running an offense. It’s like Soviet Russia. Ben Gordon should be point guard and Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey should be shooting guards.

83. Tyreke Evans hasn’t made the jump and that’s disappointing considering the injuries healing were supposed to help.

84. MOAR JEREBKO.

85. Imagine how good the Nuggets will be offensively when they find their range?

86. The Knicks slid back so severely after such a good first game. Says more about Boston than them.

87. The Bulls are 20th in defensive efficiency. Small sample sizes for the win!

88. Manu Ginobili got healthy, which is, you know, death to defenses.

89. At one point this week, Renaldo Balkman was guarding Kobe Bryant. That went about as well as you’d think.

90. Teams are not handling back to backs well early on. Good thing they’ve only got 30 more of them.

91. The Heat are a flying death machine.

92. Deron Williams doesn’t look right, whether it’s injury, fatigue, or disinterest.

93. And the Nets’ problems go so much further than Brook Lopez‘ absence.

94. Caron Butler has played better than most thought he would. Hasn’t been a difference maker but has played well.

95. Jeremy Pargo has been better than expected.

96. Defending LeBron James right now is exceptionally difficult. Even more so than usual.

97. Timofey Mozgov has actually played pretty smartly for as inexperienced as he is.

98. John Wall is really struggling at just about everything. He’s just not able to make the plays he should be able to.

99. Brandon Rush…?

100. And in conclusion, Iman Shumpert. Get better soon, rook.

  1. dgbk - Dec 31, 2011 at 10:36 AM

    lol @ 65….good article

  2. mjbulls45 - Dec 31, 2011 at 10:38 AM

    what about allen iverson, gilbert arenas, & company,

    and jr smith?

    & the rest of the missing faces this season

    • somekat - Dec 31, 2011 at 12:10 PM

      Being “missing”, by definition, would make it impossible to be on a list of “observations”

  3. EvanZ - Dec 31, 2011 at 11:32 AM

    Hollinger was high on Tristan Thompson. I’m sure he’ll point that out next June. And yeah, Brandon Rush. He’s like a totally different player in a good way. That trade is looking pretty good for GSW right now.

    • bparmalee - Dec 31, 2011 at 11:53 AM

      The Rush trade made no sense for my Pacers. We traded away our only real SG for a PF..which is the only position we have depth at. Grats to GSW for that one.

  4. bparmalee - Dec 31, 2011 at 11:51 AM

    Disagree on Kanter. He is physical and looks like he has a mean streak. The NBA needs more guys like that. How could you not be high on Kimba?? He gets his shot on anyone… now he just has to hit more of them.

  5. mjs2012 - Dec 31, 2011 at 12:43 PM

    Way to ignore the fact that the Bucks actually look like a quality, well rounded team.

  6. santolonius - Dec 31, 2011 at 1:00 PM

    “Ho-hum, another year where the Hawks keep winning games and no one stops to notice how well they’re playing.”

    then why don’t you stop and notice, pbt? are your fingers broken? you drive me crazy with your disdain for the lesser cities. as if the fans from those cities were made of radioactive material or something. the national basketball media need not ask why fifteen teams are told to ride on the back of the bus… it is you that are making them ride there!!!!!!!!!

    • craigw24 - Dec 31, 2011 at 1:15 PM

      I thought Atlanta was a major city. Perhaps it is just that they don’t support anything except football.

    • 1heatedtoombrayduh - Dec 31, 2011 at 1:27 PM

      He’s just telling the truth…no one outside of atl actually cares about the hawks…they do the same thing every year…have a good reg season and then disappear in the playoffs

      • santolonius - Dec 31, 2011 at 1:42 PM

        it’s hard enough for the teams that do not have a superstar to a) ever attract one or b) maintain their fan base when the national media treats those teams like they have the measles even when it’s a brand new season and the team is undefeated. bottom line though… and even if the writers on this website are not interested in the hawks, there are nba fans that come here who are from atlanta and would like to read a story about their team every now and then. also toronto, cleveland, indiana, denver, utah, sacramento, new orleans, memphis, houston.

      • moolah954 - Dec 31, 2011 at 2:29 PM

        they used to treat Miami the same way then they made moves to improve

  7. cadavalier - Dec 31, 2011 at 2:32 PM

    Appreciate the Cavs love … 3 comments out of 100! That’s – and I’m not being sarcastic – coming reasonably correct. Expect Kyrie to hit his rookie wall even earlier due to his lack of games played last year, so the losses will come and that will be okay. The team makes vastly more sense than it did last year. Now, they just have to get vastly more talented.

    • bparmalee - Dec 31, 2011 at 4:07 PM

      Watching these first few games Kyrie has played…. he doesnt look very explosive. Guys seem to cut him off pretty easy and his release point on his layups is really low considering his talent projections. As a Cavs fan are you seeing the same thing? To be upfront I am not a Cavs fan but he doesnt seem to have that next gear.

      • cadavalier - Dec 31, 2011 at 5:13 PM

        I think talking about that next gear with Kyrie is tough because he’s one of those players that looks like he’s playing really under control whether he’s going slow or all out. He’s not a grit-his-teeth and explode by you guy, but he managed to get to the rim on something like 5 of the last 6 possessions in regulation last night- so (even if he only converted one of them) he’s gotta be doing something right. And he’s probably not going to be leaping over anyone, but is able to get his shot off in a lot of different ways and has been great using the glass so far. Clearly, waaaay too early to tell – and he’s going to have stretches where he looks awful (as will all the Cavs, shockingly) – but I don’t mind a bit what I’ve seen so far. In fact, I’m more worried with him on the defensive end than the offensive, right now.

      • ljl2 - Dec 31, 2011 at 7:31 PM

        He’s getting to the rim when he wants to. It’s that most are used to point guards trying to score and he is trying to run an offense, if he draws attention and kicks, that is his job in this offense. He’s not meant to play a Rose or Wall style of constantly getting to the rim. If you watched the game last night, you would have seen he went to the rim whenever he wanted.

      • bparmalee - Jan 1, 2012 at 10:44 AM

        @ljl2-I watched the game and I guess my view of what he is doing differs. I do see him get into the paint and he has a very active dribble but I also see a lot of holes close on him. Most of the time when he releases a shot near the basket or on a layup his release point is well below the rim…sometimes even with the backboard. Thats stunning to me at his height. I’m not rooting against the guy but athletic ability does matter.. as seen in his missed layup to win the game in regulation for the Cavs.

  8. slimmcfavorite - Dec 31, 2011 at 3:33 PM

    Not one mention of Norris Cole? C’mon son!

  9. 1972wasalongtimeago - Dec 31, 2011 at 4:01 PM

    Why do you have to say sorry about the Heat being great? It SHOULD be celebrated.

  10. scorp16 - Dec 31, 2011 at 4:42 PM

    You forgot one

    Chuck Norris (Cole) ain ‘t too shabby. You realize he’s counted to infinity …. Twice

  11. 1historian - Jan 1, 2012 at 10:48 AM

    The Celtics are toast, They nmight make the playoffs but not much after that.

    The Heat had to go through last season. Now they’ve done it, from all accoun ts they seem to have learned from it, and IMO for the foreseeable future the Eastern Conference is going to be Bulls v. Heat. I’m afraid it’s going to be the Heat.

  12. raidmagic - Jan 1, 2012 at 12:44 PM

    As a Magic fan I am dumbfounded at Howard wanting to go to Jersey. I understand him wanting to leave and respect that I just don’t get the Jersey thing

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