Biggest Surprises and Disappointments of the NBA's First Half
With the NBA All-Star Game coming up this weekend, the midway point of this exciting yet sloppy season of basketball is rapidly approaching.
We've seen some teams come out of the gate and make a name for themselves, blowing everyone out of the water in the process, while others have fallen flat on their faces and struggled to recover unless they've found a 6'3" Taiwanese-American guard from Harvard to help their team out.
Then there are players out there who have played out of their shoes to either keep teams in contention or rocket them to the top of the league, even as old bones populate their roster.
One of the exciting things about the NBA from year to year is how unpredictable the league is on an individual level while still being pretty predictable on a wide-scale level before the season starts.
For the fans, that leaves plenty of storylines and plenty of fun and exciting games to watch throughout the season.
So, before I start to ramble on anymore and the midpoint passes us up before you all get a chance to read this, here I have for you the five most disappointing and surprising storylines of the season thus far.
Early on in the season, the Portland Trail Blazers were looking like a team with tons of potential for the coming year and were looking like a team with the potential to do some damage in the playoffs. They had a legitimate All-Star, some old big men who were holding up well and just a deep team in general.
Then, the season wore on and the Blazers began to fall apart.
The Blazers are still a good team, and there's still a pretty good chance that they make the playoffs, but they don't look to be that same dangerous team that they were at the beginning of the year.
At the beginning of the season, Jamal Crawford looked like he would take Brandon Roy's place pretty well, playing more minutes when his game is working and fewer when it's not. That worked for a while, but he ended up going back to his old, chucking self and is now shooting an ugly 39 percent.
Then there's Raymond Felton, who looks to be a far cry away from where he was when he was improving his stock in New York, as he's shooting poorly and turning the ball over way too much.
I'm extremely disappointed that Andrea Bargnani ended up getting injured. I was finally ready to start liking the guy, but he went down with a calf injury.
In his 13 games this season, the Raptors had gone 6-7, since then, the Raptors are a measly 3-16, so I think it's safe to say that he's made a difference.
Bargs was averaging the most points of his career with 23.5, he was putting up the best rebounding numbers of his career, and while six boards a game is still low for a guy his size, it's definitely better than the five he grabbed a game last year.
Hopefully he can come back and play like he did early, because he seems like a nice guy to like, and I'm ready to like the Raptors again.
John Wall's Wizards
For the most part, we were all aware that the Washington Wizards weren't going to be a good team this year, but the fact that they've been as bad as they are while being such an embarrassing team is rather stunning.
They've improved on their 2-15 start at this point, going 5-10 since that horrific start, but the way they've played has just been hard to watch.
First of all, JaVale McGee is on pace for one of the most collectively bone-headed seasons of all time. Already this year, McGee has thrown himself an alley-oop on a breakaway with his team down by a dozen, he's run back on defense while his team still had the ball and his mom has gone off about how her boy is the future of the NBA.
Beyond that, John Wall is hitting a sophomore slump as the team he has around him is keeping him from refining his point guard skills, although he's still scoring well.
What pretty much sums up the Wizards year so far happened after the team's first game of the season when Andray Blatche complained about his role in the offense. That's right, after playing just 39 minutes this season, Blatche decided that he was tired of playing on the perimeter.
Tony Parker Stepping Up
With Tim Duncan visibly aging, the San Antonio Spurs were on the hunt for a new leader. Little did they know that one of their own would step up so convincingly that he would be hurled into the MVP conversation.
What Tony Parker has done for the Spurs goes beyond statistics. Normally he shares some guard roles with Manu Ginobili, who was sidelined from his normal swivel-and-bop routine for the second time Saturday as he'll now be out for another two weeks.
Against rational thought, Tony Parker is averaging the most assists of his career at just a shade under eight and the second-most points of any season he's played with 19.5. One would think that he would excel in one area or the other, not both.
However, the role that Parker has taken on as the team's leader is more valuable than any number he has put onto a stat sheet.
For all intents and purposes, the Spurs are undefeated in the month of February (save for a loss last night when they were without Parker, Duncan, Ginobili and Tiago Splitter) and every time they have a big game, Parker steps up. His most impressive performances of the year remain his 42-point, nine-assist game in a win over the Thunder, 37 points and eight assists against Philly and his 30 point, 10 assist night against the Clippers.
The Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics have been the streakiest team in the NBA so far this year and you can run through their season pretty quickly in numbers. They started off with three losses, followed by four wins and then six losses in the next seven games. Then came streaks of nine wins in 10 games and six losses in seven games.
In a nutshell, that is the Boston Celtics season.
What's worse for the Celtics, they've done this all while being relatively healthy from the standpoint of a team employing four starters who are at least 33 years old at this point.
Sure Jermaine O'Neal is out now with a tweaked wrist and Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen have all missed games, but they haven't been out for a chunk of games. Hell, Rajon Rondo has missed the most games with nicks here and there and his recent suspension.
I've got to think that Celtics fans out there are just waiting to see the ESPN bottom line crawl across the bottom of the screen informing them that Kevin Garnett is out for a month with knee troubles or Paul Pierce is down for three weeks with a bruised elbow.
It seems like something has to happen with these guys or it wouldn't be an NBA season.
Hot Starts from Indy and Philly
I counted each of these teams as half a surprise because we figured they would be good teams, but we really didn't think they would have been this good. As of right now, Philly is standing at 20-13 and Indy at 20-12 and are placed fourth and fifth in the Eastern Conference, respectively.
The Philadelphia 76ers had the most impressive start by any team in the league, getting out to a 10-3 start early and just playing games a level above their opponents. Since then, they have played well enough to remain one of the four best teams in the Eastern Conference.
At one point they were leading the league in both scoring and defense, and while they are still the best defensive team in the NBA, allowing just 87.4 points per game, their offense has fallen off as of late. Beyond that, Philly has the highest-scoring bench in the league which can play defense well and they score like crazy.
The Indiana Pacers, meanwhile, have had some major growing pains lately after a 4-6 stretch, but are still sitting pretty in the East.
Indy is a well-balanced team which does all the right things and still has the room to add a piece rather easily before the playoffs start with all the cap room they have.
These two teams could be very dangerous in the playoffs if someone decides to take them as lightly as they were taken last season.
Two Western Bench Players
For the Los Angeles Lakers, the biggest hope for them to play well this season was for Kobe Bryant to do his usual Kobe act and for their bigs to play well with him. Beyond that, however, the bench play hinged on Metta World Peace.
A few hundred miles away, the Dallas Mavericks were hoping that the trio of Jason Terry, Delonte West and Lamar Odom would give them the bench they would need to keep their old guys healthy and the level of play up when the second unit is on the floor. Two of those three guys have played well.
World Peace has fallen into an offensive pit this season, scoring fewer than five points a game, shooting just 33 percent and stealing the ball less than once a game to go along with 1.8 assists and 2.6 rebounds per game. In every one of those categories, Mr. Metta is putting up career lows.
The Lakers desperately need production off the bench, as they have the lowest-scoring pine-riders in the league, but World Peace just can't give it to them anymore.
Over in Dallas, Odom, who was given to the Mavericks for tickets to see Fergie and a slice of pizza, isn't faring any better.
He has been barely half the man he was last year, averaging fewer than eight points, not quite grabbing five boards per game and shooting a measly 36 percent. Like World Peace, those are all career lows, and by quite a bit.
I'd like to say I think these guys can turn it around, but neither have shown anything that would make me think that, so for now these guys are stuck as disappointments coming off the bench.
Rookie Guards Stepping Up
Obviously, the deepest position from last year's draft class was at the point guard spot. However, we could have hardly realized in July how much of an impact the young rookie point guards would be having at this point in the season.
Already, Kyrie Irving has become the best healthy player the Cleveland Cavaliers have, winning them another game late against the Detroit Pistons last night. Irving is the clear favorite to win the Rookie of the Year Award, although he's not a lock at this point.
Beyond Irving is Ricky Rubio, who, I think we can all agree, has been worth the wait after he was drafted all the way back in 2009. Rubio is leading all rookies in assists (by a hefty margin) and "wow factor," which has turned the Timberwolves into an exciting team to watch.
After those two we've seen Brandon Knight start to come into his own in Detroit, Kemba Walker work out the kinks in Charlotte, MarShon Brooks and Norris Cole have had big games for New Jersey and Miami, respectively, and guys like Iman Shumpert and Isaiah Thomas have shown tons of potential in New York and Sacramento.
The New York Knicks
Before Jeremy Lin came to New York and completely revitalized the Knicks, they were easily the biggest disappointment in the league. Even at this point, they're still not at the level where everyone thought they would be.
With Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire being joined by Tyson Chandler, the Knicks looked to try to break into the top four in the Eastern Conference, and then the season started. They ran out to an 8-15 start and everything was looking glum for the Knicks before running off seven of the next nine.
The problem has been that Carmelo Anthony was basically their point guard until Lin set the world on fire, which led to a slow offense, low assist numbers and poor ball movement.
However, if their good play continues, they could end up being the surprise of the second half.
Isn't it crazy that the biggest surprise and disappointment can come from the New York Knicks? However, in the case of Jeremy Lin, there can't be that much shock, can there?
Lin came off the bench against the Nets a little over two weeks ago and put up 25 points to lead the Knicks to their first win of February. The next game he started against the Jazz and led the Knicks to six more wins before he finally lost as the team's starter.
As a starter, Lin has averaged nearly 25 points a game and just over nine assists, along with six turnovers. But really, who cares about that at this point?
The real story came when he put up 38 points against the Lakers, when he hit the game-winning free throw against the Timberwolves and, of course, when he sank the game-winning three with ice running through his veins against the Raptors.
All the talk now is about whether he will be able to continue on like this with Carmelo back or whether he'll continue to play this well into next season.
To that speculation I say, who cares? Enjoy him for what he is now and worry about the future when it comes.
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