For the NBA's slow-starting players and teams, the season thus far must look like a bad dream.
The NBA season has long since started. But a few players and teams didn't get the memo.
The 82-game NBA campaign is a long grind. Things can and do turn around awfully quickly sometimes. And sometimes, what starts out bad ends up worse.
But everybody loves a great comeback.
Herein you'll find five players and five teams who have struggled to start the season, but whom the smart money says are about to play up to their potential.
Did I get it right? Or do my picks' slow starts portend a doomed season?
Note: Stats are accurate as of 11/26/2012.
It's been 11 months since Golden State Warriors center Andrew Bogut injured his ankle. An April surgery and a missed preseason later, Bogut struggled through his four games with the Warriors, averaging just six points and 3.8 rebounds per game.
Bogut played only 12 games last year and has played a full season only once in his career. So why should Warriors fans be optimistic about his December 1 comeback?
First of all, Bogut has been receiving Regenokine injections to assist in his recovery and diminish the inflammation in the ankle. These injections are similar to the treatment Kobe Bryant received on his right knee before the 2012 season. Bryant credits his physical rejuvenation ever since to these treatments.
After the rough start to the season, Bogut said this about knowing when he'd be ready to return:
Practicing three, four, five days consecutively at an intense pace to the point of where it would be in a game and see if it holds up. And if it’s consistent, then you do it again, you do it again, you do it again until we have a consistency every morning where it’s not taking a step backwards. So when that happens, that will be the sign that I’m ready to be out there and be ready to contribute.
I have to think that he experienced these exact results, else he would not be risking another return.
If that's the case, and he's renewed, Bogut will join an up-and-coming team with a fine backcourt, joining David Lee and Harrison Barnes in the frontcourt and courting a new fanbase.
My guess here is he's going to go from injured to impressive and just might make the Warriors a serious contender in the West.
Watching Jeremy Lin, you'll notice things to be excited about: looking to pass instead of shoot, improved defense, decreased turnovers.
Unless it's to say that Lin's about to turn things around.
Hitting a higher percentage of his shots feels great for Lin's fanbase.
What Lin has already improved is what he's best at: being a team leader and distributing the ball. So when the shots start falling—and I believe it will be when, not if—Lin's season may just turn into a great one.
James Harden in the backcourt hasn't taken the defensive intensity off Lin; continuing to find the open man is the best way to do it.
It's ironic that his new team is named the Nets because Joe Johnson has been finding anything but net.
The Brooklyn Nets shooting guard is shooting a mere 40 percent from the floor. He's been missing open spot-up jumpers, and it's very unlike Johnson.
Which is why he's already starting to pull out of his slump.
Johnson struggled again in a 3-of-12 effort against the Knicks, but watching him these past few games, you can feel things starting to shift.
And Johnson feels it too, telling Newsday: "It's coming, man. You just kind of get in a rhythm and feel like every time you catch the ball, you're in the right spot. Tonight (the victory against Portland) was one of those nights."
It's easy to say, but Johnson is a proven scorer in this league. His shot will start falling, and when it does, the Nets will be even more formidable than they are now.
So why is he the subject of trade rumor after trade rumor?
Because virtually every team in the NBA would love to have him. His athleticism and defensive ability combined with what always seems to be yet-untapped potential are tantalizing for general managers and coaches alike.
And as for his slow start efficiency-wise, don't forget that Smith is making up for the absence of Joe Johnson this year. And he still needs to focus more on shot selection and doing damage in the post.
Horford has upped his scoring this year, which takes some of the pressure off Smith (although Horford's struggles at the line are another story entirely). But all that is merely content.
In the eyes of this writer, Josh Smith is quite simply one of the NBA's premier talents, and based on talent alone, his stats and efficiency will continue to climb.
The Milwaukee Bucks are a team on the rise with a backcourt that can be truly magical to watch.
Less enjoyable to witness are the struggles of power forward Ersan Ilyasova.
Ilyasova had a career year last year, on the basis of which the Bucks signed him to a hefty five-year deal. So far, the 2012-13 campaign has been the antithesis of 2011-12 for Ilyasova—31 percent from the floor, 22.7 from three-point range, 42.9 from the line. And perhaps most disturbing for a power forward is his 4.82 rebounds per game versus 8.8 per game last season.
The pressure of the big-money deal he inked this offseason may be the cause of Ilyasova's woes on the court this year.
About his troubles, Ilyasova says: "It's hard to explain. Sometimes those things happen. You just try to fight through it and find a way, just help my teammates any way I can."
This one's easy.
Even without Derrick Rose, this team has stayed afloat. They're playing enough defense and rebounding the ball well enough to be in the conversation for an Eastern Conference playoff spot despite a heartbreaker of a loss tonight against Milwaukee.
The thing is, however, that Rose still has every chance of playing this season. Rose started cutting again almost two weeks ago. And despite management's stated plans to be cautious with Rose's health, Rose himself is getting a pep talk about his return from none other than Adrian Peterson, who suffered the same injury, rehabbed faster than expected and is having a fantastic season even by Peterson's standards.
If Rose does indeed come back healthy late this season, this is a team that can and will do some serious damage in the playoffs.
The Denver Nuggets have struggled this season in offensive efficiency. The shots of their newly-minted star, Andre Iguodala, have not be falling.
But all that's starting to change.
Iguodala went off for 29 against Golden State and 23 against a struggling New Orleans team. He had just 10 points tonight, before an ejection, in a loss to the Jazz. But in all three games, Iguodala sported a shooting percentage above 55. He's starting to be what Denver was certain he'd be when they traded for him.
Bear in mind as well that eight of the Nuggets' first 11 games were on the road. Perhaps it's no coincidence that the team won both of the home games following that road streak. Also, of their seven losses, two have been to the Heat and one has been to the Spurs. So the disappointing start was a little misleading.
Outside shooting has still been a challenge—their starters are a combined 21.8 percent from long range—but it's just a matter of time until this exciting roster and coach George Karl conspire to emerge as a Western Conference force.
Call me a homer, but this looks like a condensed version of last year's Detroit Pistons season that began with an awful 4-20 record but played .500 ball the rest of the way.
This year, a brutal road-heavy start against some of the NBA's top teams left the Pistons 0-8. But, lo and behold, since then, they're 4-3.
The Pistons roster is substantially better with clueless Charlie Villanueva relegated to a backup role, veteran Corey Maggette replacing disappointing Ben Gordon and rookie draft pick Andre Drummond providing energy and defense.
The schedule has eased up for this team. They cannot afford losses to teams they should beat—they have two already to the lowly Orlando Magic—but I believe this team is more accurately represented by 4-3 than they were by 0-8.
If Drummond continues to impress, they'll squeak into the playoffs.
The struggles of this team have been dissected ad infinitum. Now, Steve Nash's injury was obviously a massive setback for the team. But besides Nash's absence, the team was a tale of two cities: home and anywhere else.
The Lakers at home: strong offense, sturdy defense and a 6-3 record.
The Lakers on the road prior to Saturday's Dallas Mavericks matchup: offensive rating of 101.3, defensive rating of 112.5 and, not surprisingly, given those statistics, an 0-4 record.
But against the Mavericks, the Lakers played as if they were in the Staples Center, scoring their first road win in a 26-point blowout. L.A. shot 55 percent from three-point range, held the Mavericks to 37-percent shooting from the field and owned the boards 61-39.
This in the second game of a back-to-back and the Lakers' fourth game in the last five days.
All the Lakers had to do was play on the road like they were at home. They did just that on Saturday. There's every reason to believe the team that most thought the Lakers would be is coming into its own.
And after reams of gloomy reports about Nash's health, sources now say the point-guard extraordinaire is finally improving.
Things are looking shiny in Tinseltown once again.
This may look like an odd choice, especially given that the Trail Blazers dropped a road game to the Detroit Pistons tonight. And LaMarcus Aldridge is nursing a sore back, though he dropped 32 on the Pistons.
But here's my take on it: This is a team with serious firepower in its starting lineup, with all five starters scoring in double digits. Damian Lillard, though he got schooled by an improving Brandon Knight, is a very real Rookie of the Year candidate.
The Blazers don't play good defense. And they have little bench support, so the starters might get burned out.
However, they've managed their salary cap well. If Portland can get in position for the playoffs, don't be surprised to see general manager Neil Olshey pull off a trade that could energize this team.