Early-Season NBA Success Stories That Will Crash and Burn
Even in the NBA, all good things must come to an end. That's unfortunate for these early-season success stories, who probably wish that they'd never heard that proverb.
These three players and two teams have gotten off to surprising starts during the 2012-13 season, but their success will prove to be short-lived. A few of them will continue to play well, but not relative to the performances they're putting up at the moment.
Easy schedules have created some of these illusions. Massive upticks in efficiency that will ultimately be unsustainable have created others.
Regardless, each of these five NBA stories is eventually going to come back down to earth.
Note: All stats and records are current through Dec. 4, 2012.
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O.J. Mayo has enjoyed an absolutely sensational start to his first season in a Dallas Mavericks uniform, but there are too many things working against him for the success story to just keep humming along.
First, there's his history in the NBA. The former USC Trojan played fantastically during his rookie and sophomore seasons with the Memphis Grizzlies, although he didn't necessarily improve much in his second year.
However, he lost his stroke during the next two seasons and found himself stuck on the Grizzlies bench by the end of his tenure in Memphis. Dragging down the chemistry of the team and missing shots seemed to be his primary jobs during 2011-12.
Now, he's suddenly lighting it up. And therein lies the second problem.
Mayo is shooting a ridiculously unsustainable 52.7 percent from behind the three-point arc after knocking down 36.4 percent of his attempts each of the last two years. That's a leap in efficiency that just isn't supposed to happen, especially when coupled with a dramatic uptick in attempts.
The shooting guard has attempted 5.5 triples per game, making 2.9 of them per contest. A large portion of his offense comes from this area the court, which spells trouble when his three-point shooting regresses to the mean he's established for himself throughout his NBA career.
Finally, there's the inevitable return of Dirk Nowitzki, which means that Mayo will be taking a backseat in the offense and thriving as the secondary option instead of the primary one. The German power forward is going to dominate the ball on this Mavericks squad, and that takes away from Mayo's touches.
Expect Mayo to average around 18 points and three assists per game when the 2012-13 season draws to a close, but also anticipate a decline in shooting efficiency. He'll still look like a great player, just not an All-Star.
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During the 2011-12 season, the Charlotte Bobcats won only seven of their 66 games, setting an all-time record for regular-season futility. Subsequently, not much was expected of the NBA cellar-dwellers, even after the offseason additions of Ben Gordon, Ramon Sessions, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Jeffery Taylor.
It took the Bobcats all of one game to find their claws, beating the Indiana Pacers 90-89 in the first contest of the new season. Then, after 12 games, Charlotte had already managed to match its season total in wins at seven.
Four straight losses knocked the Bobcats down a peg, bringing their record from a promising 7-5 to a far less impressive 7-9, but the early portion of the season has still been an unmitigated success.
However, the small group that identifies themselves as fans of the Bobcats shouldn't get their hopes up too high yet, as the Bobcats are still going to find themselves near the bottom of the NBA standings by the end of the year. They've been the beneficiaries of an easy schedule thus far.
According to Basketball-Reference, only the Pacers have played an easier schedule than the Bobcats through 16 games, and the Sacramento Kings and Washington Wizards are the only teams with a less impressive margin of victory—or, in the Bobcats' case, a margin of defeat.
The Bobcats' seven victories have come against teams with a combined win-loss record of 39-61 through Dec. 6.
That leaves the early-season success as a bit of a mirage. Charlotte is much better than it was last year, but Kemba Walker and company still have a long way to go before they'll stay in playoff contention for more than a month.
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James Harden has already experienced one heck of a roller coaster during the 2012-13 season. He was shockingly traded from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Houston Rockets, where he immediately became the featured player in a young and inexperienced offense.
There was no adjustment period necessary, as Harden shocked the world by averaging a jaw-dropping 41 points and seven assists per game over his first two appearances in red. And for good measure, he did so while shooting an obviously fluky 63.6 percent from the field.
Much to the surprise of absolutely no one, Harden hasn't been able to keep up that type of pace. Through 16 games, the bearded shooting guard is averaging 24.1 points, 4.1 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game while thoroughly outshining Jeremy Lin in the Rockets backcourt.
Harden will be able to dominate the ball less once the young supporting pieces Daryl Morey has accumulated start to gain experience. The recent string of good play from Patrick Patterson, for example, has been accompanied by a simultaneous drop in scoring average from Harden.
Additionally, opponents will continue to focus heavily on Harden and take him out of his comfort zone. That much attention can cause the lefty to play with inefficiency, rendering him more of a volume shooter than a stellar scorer.
He must start to play to his strengths more, taking fewer mid-range shots than he has in recent days. If he doesn't, the Rockets simply won't win too many games on a consistent basis.
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An 8-8 record to start the season leaves the Milwaukee Bucks in a three-way tie atop the Central Division standings, but don't expect to see this team ahead of either the Indiana Pacers or the Chicago Bulls when the regular season eventually draws to a close.
Much like the Charlotte Bobcats—though not to the same extent—the Bucks have benefited from an easy schedule to start the season. Their minus-0.75 strength of schedule, per Basketball-Reference, just barely edges out the Atlanta Hawks and leaves them in No. 23 on the strength-of-schedule leaderboard.
Brandon Jennings has been fantastic as the point guard, Monta Ellis has been good, but not great, as the 2-guard, and the frontcourt by committee has been largely successful across the board.
In fact, it's been so successful that it's not going to be sustainable.
Larry Sanders in particular is going to fall back down to earth. The young center has played tremendously well during the first 16 games of the 2012-13 season, averaging 8.1 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per contest with a team-high 18.7 PER.
That's a massive leap for a third-year player with a largely unimpressive resume. He's a great enough athlete that this could be a legitimate breakout, but his jump in field-goal percentage from 45.7 percent to 55.0 percent and his across-the-board improvement in his per-36-minute numbers strikes me as a bit fluky.
The combination of an uptick in the difficulty of the Bucks' opponents and a bit of a fall back to earth from Sanders and some other members of Milwaukee's unheralded frontcourt will cause this squad to safely fit into third place in the Central Division as the season progresses.
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Kevin Martin and the Oklahoma City Thunder are in the midst of a pretty wonderful honeymoon period, and while the relationship between the shooting guard and his new team is going to be a solid one throughout the season, it won't be this good.
In his first set of games since he was traded away from the Houston Rockets, the sharpshooter has enjoyed coming off the bench to the tune of 16.1 points per game while draining 46.2 percent of his shots from the field.
It's the way he's lit up the scoreboard from downtown that points to the inevitable regression to the mean. Martin has always been one of the league's premier shooters from three-point range, but he's never managed to top the 41.5 percent he shot from deep during the 2008-09 season with the Sacramento Kings.
Well, until the early portion of the 2012-13 campaign.
Martin has been absolutely scorching during the Thunder's 15-4 start to the season. He's ripped the ball through the net from deep to the tune of 47.7 percent from three, and he's still shooting above his career average of three-pointers attempted per game despite coming off the bench. You'd be foolish to think that this is a pace he can maintain for the rest of the 82-game schedule.
Eventually, he's going to start hitting shots with a little less frequency, although you'd be falling for the gambler's fallacy to assume that he'll be forced to endure some massive shooting slump.
Expect to see Martin hit under 40 percent of his triples from this point forward, which will likely drop his scoring average by a few points per game.