Winners and Losers from NBA's First Month

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistNovember 29, 2012

Winners and Losers from NBA's First Month

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    The first month of the 2012-13 NBA season has provided a small sample size with which we can begin to evaluate players and teams.

    While it will be difficult to get a complete reading on each team's standing before the new year, we have seen some young players explode onto the scene as well has some hyped super-teams falter in the early going.

    There will always be constants like the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder, but here we present to you a list of winners and losers in the NBA after one month of play.

    Note: All stats used in this article are accurate as of Thursday, November 29.

Winner: Anderson Varejao

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    So the Cleveland Cavaliers aren't exactly thriving without Kyrie Irving. Not only is that expected, but it's understandable. Irving has been the glue holding the Cavs together over the last 12 months, although it appears he now has a capable sidekick in the frontcourt.

    Center Anderson Varejao has been dynamite throughout the first month of the season, posting averages of 14.5 points and 14.9 rebounds per game.

    Varejao currently leads the league in rebounds, and what's most impressive is that he's pulling down 5.8 rebounds per game on the offensive glass.

    Varejao's offensive numbers have continued to balloon with Irving out, and according to NBA.com, the Cavs big man is converting on 59 percent of his looks from the restricted area and a similar 54 percent from mid-range.

Loser: Ty Lawson

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    What on earth has happened to Denver Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson? With Andre Iguodala in tow, it was assumed Lawson would flourish, but his slow start to the season has been concerning.

    Perhaps there's been a lack of motivation, as Lawson inked a four-year, $48 million deal just before the season started, but that's a weak excuse at best.

    Lawson proved last year he can be one of the league's most dynamic point guards, using his quickness and agility to attack the rim while possessing the ability to stretch the floor and knock down big shots.

    Unfortunately for the Nuggets, Lawson's numbers have plummeted through the season's first month. Converting on just 41 percent of his field-goal attempts, Lawson's shooting numbers are down eight percentage points from last season.

    With limited success on the offensive end of the floor, Lawson is averaging just 13.3 points per game and he continues to shoot at a surprisingly poor 24 percent from three-point range.

    According to NBA.com, Lawson is converting on just 13 percent of his three-point shots from the corners, and is only slightly more successful from above the break (29 percent).

Winner: Charlotte Bobcats

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    Remember when the Charlotte Bobcats were the NBA's punching bag and a hilarious internet meme? That was cute. The Bobcats may not be making the playoffs this season, but they've shown considerable improvement from one year ago.

    Rookie head coach Michael Dunlap has the 'Cats playing some inspired ball that's been sparked by the play of Kemba Walker, Byron Mullens, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Ramon Sessions.

    Think about this: The Bobcats totaled just seven wins all of last season. In 14 games this season, they have matched that total.

    According to Basketball-Reference.com, the Bobcats are playing at the seventh-fastest pace in the entire NBA, meaning they secure the seventh-most possessions of any team in the league.

    The Bobcats have been a fun watch over the league's first month and they will only continue to improve once they get forward Gerald Henderson back from injury.

Loser: Los Angeles Lakers

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    When you fire your head coach after a 1-4 start it shows that you're not just pressing the panic button, you're slamming it with a clenched fist.

    The Los Angeles Lakers have not fared much better since hiring Mike D'Antoni as Mike Brown's replacement, and losing seems to be getting to some of the Lakers vets.

    According to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN Los Angeles, forward Pau Gasol is none too happy with D'Antoni's offensive approach thus far:

    "All my looks are jump shots," he said. "I would like to see something closer to the basket and not just rolling, especially when Dwight is there. But we'll see. We'll figure it out. We're just starting, pretty much."

    Gasol has a valid point and it raises another question: Was Mike D'Antoni really the right hire given the Lakers' overall team age and D'Antoni's propensity to play an up-tempo style of offense?

    While things are likely to turn up once Steve Nash returns from a leg injury, the Lakers have struggled to find continuity on either end of the floor.

    A record of 7-8 isn't going to cut it, and D'Antoni knows it. Expect brighter days ahead for the Lakers.

Winner: Jrue Holiday

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    The Philadelphia 76ers have been a tough team to figure throughout the season's early stages. Without center Andrew Bynum, the Sixers have resorted to relying on their young guns, namely Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young.

    Holiday has responded in a big way to increased responsibilities, particularly on the offensive end of the floor.

    With the team firmly on his shoulders, Holiday has proven deserving of the four-year, $41 million deal he signed just before the league deadline.

    Averaging career highs in points (18.5) and assists (9.1), Holiday has been not only a scorer, but a dynamic facilitator who looks comfortable playing the role of a conventional point guard.

    Holiday is also shooting a career-best 45.5 percent from the field and 40.5 percent from beyond the arc, numbers that will need to hold steady if the Sixers want to have any shot to secure a decent playoff seed.

Loser: Andrew Bynum

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    Shortly after the 76ers acquired Andrew Bynum this summer, the team's front office was applauded for their masterful efforts to help turn the franchise around.

    It was expected that, if healthy, Bynum and the Sixers would compete for a top-five seed in the Eastern Conference and pull themselves out of the monotony of being a seventh or eighth seed in the playoffs year after year.

    Unfortunately, things changed in a hurry. Bynum was held out of training camp due to complications from to the Orthokine knee procedure he had done in Germany, and is out indefinitely due to a further aggravation suffered while bowling.

    It's no longer a question of when Bynum will suit up for Philadelphia, but if he ever will. If Bynum does end up missing the entire season, the Sixers will have mortgaged much of their future on a player with a very uncertain one.

    Bynum's contract expires after this season and the Sixers will need to make a tough decision: Offer him a new contract and accept the risks, or let another team deal with his gimpy knees.

    It's a shame that Bynum's first few months in Philadelphia have tarnished his image, because a pairing with up-and-comers Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner could have made the Sixers a real contender in the Eastern Conference.

Winner: New York Knicks

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    Other than the Memphis Grizzlies, no team has had a stronger start to the season than the New York Knicks.

    Carmelo Anthony is one of the league's early-season candidates for MVP, as he's shown a willingness to adapt to a role as the team's stretch 4, playing out of the post in addition to his normal spot on the perimeter.

    'Melo is converting on 45 percent of his three-point attempts (48 percent from the corners), and has posted an offensive rating of 115.1 (how many points he scores per 100 possessions).

    Another big win for the Knicks has been the recent news indicating injured forward Amar'e Stoudemire may be willing to accept a role coming off the bench upon his return.

    According to Ian Begley of ESPN.com, Stoudemire is committed to taking on whatever role the team has in mind:

    Amar'e Stoudemire would accept a role as the New York Knicks' sixth man if asked, two sources with knowledge of Stoudemire's thinking told ESPNNewYork.com.

    "All he cares about right now is helping the team and winning," said one source, who has been around Stoudemire regularly in recent weeks. "He'd be fine with coming off the bench if that's what they want."

    If Stoudemire does become the team's sixth man, the Knicks will finally have a solution to the chemistry problems that have plagued them the last year-and-a-half.

    With a record of 10-4, the Knicks appear to be putting the pieces to their complex puzzle together.

Loser: Indiana Pacers

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    The loss of Danny Granger apparently hurt the Indiana Pacers more than anyone thought it would. Without Granger, the Pacers have mustered (according to Basketball-Reference.com) an offensive rating of 97.8, which is the second-worst in the entire NBA.

    Although Granger's absence has been a detriment to the Pacers early this season, another reason for their failures has to do with Roy Hibbert's ghastly production.

    For a player who signed a contract paying him $58 million over four years, it would only be fair to expect Hibbert's production from last season to have held steady or improved marginally. 

    Instead, Hibbert's numbers have dropped off at an alarming rate, as he's mustered just 9.8 points and 8.4 rebounds per game on 38.8 percent shooting.

    Hibbert made a living scoring in the paint last season, shooting 52 percent in the key. This season, Hibbert has only managed to score on 24 percent of his looks from the paint, and is shooting under 50 percent from the restricted area.

    Ugly losses to Charlotte, Toronto and Milwaukee have hindered the Pacers' growth without Granger, and they will likely continue to struggle until Hibbert and teammate Paul George can find a comfortable rhythm.