Biggest Surprises and Disappointments from NBA's Early Action

Matt FitzgeraldCorrespondent IIIDecember 13, 2012

Biggest Surprises and Disappointments from NBA's Early Action

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    There are so many high-profile stories and chaos from the early part of the NBA season that many teams have several surprises and disappointments embedded within. However, some of the storylines stand out, be it because they are downright shocking, bizarre or even inspiring.

    With so much basketball remaining in the (thankfully) full 82-game season, there is still plenty of time for wayward teams to get back on the wagon and the out-of-nowhere competitors to fall by the wayside.

    But for the present's sake, here is a breakdown of the most surprising developments the pro basketball scene has served up thus far in 2012-13.

New York Knicks Atop the Eastern Conference

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    The absence of All-Star forward Amar'e Stoudemire has created a chain reaction, suddenly sliding Knicks players into ideal roles. Unprecedented chemistry and fewer stars on the court has somehow translated to more consistency, as New York has jumped out to the lead in the East with a 16-5 record.

    It appears that Carmelo Anthony is finally taking over as the team's leader, averaging 27.7 points per game—second in the NBA—and shooting a scorching 45 percent from beyond the arc.

    Head coach Mike Woodson was retained after taking over on an interim basis in 2011-12, and it has paid huge dividends. The former Atlanta Hawks coach has improved the team's defense immensely, and has shuffled the lineup around Stoudemire's absence brilliantly.

    Point guard Raymond Felton is enjoying a redemptive season to date, after admittedly being out of shape during last year's stint with the Portland Trail Blazers in the lockout-shortened campaign. His ability to distribute and find the Knicks' perimeter shooters has helped New York continue to score at a high rate even without Stoudemire in the fold.

    Mentorship from veteran Jason Kidd is certainly helping, as the future Hall of Famer has played extremely efficient basketball and provided the Knicks with a proven veteran it had been lacking in recent times.

    Victories over Miami, at San Antonio and at Brooklyn show that this team is for real, and it will be interesting to see how Woodson handles Stoudemire's return—whenever it may be.

Andrew Bynum's Injury Situation

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    There's a reason star center Andrew Bynum is pictured in a Lakers uniform: He has yet to suit up with his new Philadelphia 76ers teammates.

    After an offseason blockbuster trade with Dwight Howard as the centerpiece landed the talented but mercurial Bynum in Philly, it was revealed that he had knee problems. Those problems have extended far beyond anyone's expectations.

    For a Sixers team that caught fire late last year and somehow ran all the way to Game 7 of the conference semifinals against Boston, Bynum was seen as the difference-maker that could allow the tough-minded bunch to take the next step.

    Head coach Doug Collins will have a big task working Bynum into the lineup once the 25-year-old finally is healthy enough to return to action. But this investment the Sixers made should eventually be worth it, given Bynum's rebounding ability, post skills and massive paint presence on the defensive end.

    Philadelphia is lacking in all of these areas right now. Once he does make his debut, the Sixers could easily be among the Eastern Conference's best.

    Until then, this has to be viewed as a disappointment at this point in the year.

Minnesota Timberwolves' Resilience

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    Kevin Love missed the early portion of the year due to injury, and electric PG Ricky Rubio has still yet to return to the hardwood after an ACL injury cut his rookie year short.

    Rick Adelman has made a tremendous effort in a deep Western Conference to keep the upstart Timberwolves in the playoff hunt. Nikola Pekovic, Derrick Williams, Andrei Kirilenko, Brandon Roy and Luke Ridnour rounded out the first starting five of the year.

    Roy, the former Trail Blazers star who came out of retirement, then had to stop playing due to his ailing knees, undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right one.

    As the unquestioned star of the team, Love came back to the lineup with Minnesota on a three-game slide. After two more losses, the Wolves have bounced back, winning five out of seven.

    The key has been the team's defense, which ranks fourth in the league after relatively poor showings in recent years. With the combination of Pekovic and Love on the inside and Kirilenko bothering 3s on the perimeter, the Wolves have allowed just 92.6 points per game.

    Also emerging into a promising player is rookie point guard Alexey Shved from Russia, who is averaging 10.5 points per game and giving the Wolves a spark on the offensive end typically reserved for Rubio.

    It's been a lot of mixing and matching for Adelman, but he should certainly warrant consideration in the early going for coach of the year with Minnesota sitting at 10-9 and seventh in the conference.

Washington Wizards: Nightmare Start

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    On paper, here are the Wizards' starters: newly acquired center Emeka Okafor, Nene at power forward, Trevor Ariza at small forward and a backcourt featuring top-three pick Bradley Beal and No.1 overall pick John Wall manning the point.

    So much for all the excitement of a big leap forward for hoops in the nation's capital, as Washington has done anything but capitalize on its infusion of talent. The Wiz started out 0-12.

    To be fair, the team is failing in large part because of injuries—particularly to Wall, who has yet to play a game this year.

    That said, Beal has been woeful as a pro thus far. For a player who was compared to Ray Allen and considered to have the best shooting stroke of anyone in the 2012 class, his numbers certainly don't indicate that.

    Beal is shooting just over 36 percent from the field thus far and is surrounded by a trigger-happy supporting cast that is stunting his development.

    Whenever Wall can get back onto the court, the better. According to a report by ESPN's Chris Broussard, he will have his knee reexamined on Friday.

    One of the most dynamic, talented young backcourts in the game will be formed once Wall returns, and more winning will presumably follow. However, this Wizards team has been nothing short of a disaster, and it's both surprising and disappointing.

2012 Draft Class: Stumbling out of the Gates

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    When No. 1 pick Anthony Davis has been on the court for the New Orleans Hornets, he has been exciting to watch. The problem is, he has had trouble getting there, playing in just eight of 21 games thus far.

    As far as the excitement factor for the rest of the 2012 class, it's been extremely underwhelming. The struggles of Wizards SG Bradley Beal have been covered, and worthy of praise is No. 2 overall pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's all-around stellar play.

    But other than the Kentucky one-and-done's, there is much left to be desired from the rest of the lottery.

    Some highly touted players are saddled on poor teams—Dion Waiters, Thomas Robinson, Terrence Ross and Austin Rivers—so let's start from the bottom.

    John Henson to the Milwaukee Bucks at No. 14: The former UNC standout has logged 11.4 minutes so far, including 10 total in his last four outings.

    How about Kendall Marshall, Henson's teammate, who went one spot before to the Phoenix Suns and was viewed as the eventual replacement to longtime star PG Steve Nash? Marshall has barely played at all, averaging 5.7 minutes a night and failing to crack the rotation as of yet.

    UConn's supremely athletic, sharp-shooting swingman Jeremy Lamb was selected by the Houston Rockets at No. 12. After being shipped to Oklahoma City in the James Harden trade, Lamb has been sent to the D-League.

    Meyers Leonard at No. 11 hasn't been a disaster for the Trail Blazers, but he hasn't been all that spectacular.

    Ironically, three of the most-questioned players in Leonard's teammate Damian Lillard, Pistons C Andre Drummond and Harrison Barnes of the Warriors are the best of the rest of this year's lottery.

    It's safe to say this class is off to a slow start.

Los Angeles Lakers: Surprisingly Disappointing

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    Where to start with all the red flags in LA? Rumors were swirling about a return by legendary coach Phil Jackson after Mike Brown was ousted within the first five games of the year.

    That never materialized, and in came Mike D'Antoni and his "Seven Seconds or Less" offense. The system hasn't sunk in yet, and the Lakers are straggling with a 9-13 record to this point.

    Kobe Bryant is continuing to gut through various injuries and attempting to assert his will to keep the team relevant, leading the NBA in scoring. However, the Lakers are just 1-10 when Bryant scores more than 30 points after the recent loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

    Injuries to Pau Gasol and especially prized acquisition Steve Nash have really slowed LA's ability to develop chemistry. It was supposed to be a title run for the Lakers, but it looks like they'll do well just to sneak into the postseason after this kind of start.

    It isn't quite time to push the panic button yet—Nash's return to the D'Antoni offense he thrived in to the tune of two NBA MVP awards should help immensely.

    That said, this Lakers team has been very troubled to say the least, without any semblance of stability throughout their first 23 games.

Golden State Warriors: Stunning Turnaround

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    What in the world happened to the Golden State Warriors?

    Seemingly overnight—and without Andrew Bogut to help the cause on the defensive end—this team evolved into the ultimate shocking storyline of the Western Conference and maybe in the entire league to date.

    The subtraction of Monta Ellis from the backcourt has freed up Stephen Curry to play his natural position of point guard, and has taken away a lot of isolation sets that often stagnated the Warriors' offense.

    Not to mention, the Warriors had one of the smallest backcourts in the league with two point guards starting, which gave Golden State trouble on the defensive end.

    The selection of SF Harrison Barnes in the draft has actually been rewarded on both ends of the floor, and continued dominance in the post by double-double machine David Lee has complemented the typically outside-oriented Warriors offense nicely.

    Jackson has gotten the team to buy in, and his words of wisdom will likely help the talented Curry push his game to another level. For such a young, talented bunch, the sky seems to be the limit. Whether the Warriors will ascend to great heights this year remains to be seen, but they're off to an outstanding start at 15-7.

Atlanta Hawks

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    No Joe Johnson, no problem. The Hawks have seemingly improved as a whole without their star shooting guard, and a new-look roster has made way for Josh Smith to undertake a bigger leadership role.

    Center Al Horford has also returned from injury, which has helped the Hawks on both ends of the floor. The former national champion at the University of Florida is putting up All-Star numbers, with 16.6 points, 10.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game.

    Perhaps one of the most underrated point guards in the league, Jeff Teague always seems to make the right decision and is one of the better perimeter shooters at the position. His lateral quickness and knack for getting his hands into passing lanes has also translated to a team-high 1.85 steals per contest.

    With a slew of underrated guards in Teague, Lou Williams, Devin Harris, DeShawn Stevenson and Kyle Korver, Atlanta has found a way to get it done by playing stellar team basketball.

    Don't sleep on this team; there is something cooking here to suggest that this fresh, unconventional version of the Hawks absent any true superstars can band together and compete with the league's best come playoff time.

Oklahoma City's Dominance Sans James Harden

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    So, that whole James Harden trade to the Houston Rockets.

    Sure, it definitely exposed the fact that Houston would be completely done for if not for the arrival of its new stud 2-guard. But it also showed how good the Thunder still are despite how large of a role Harden played in their run to the NBA Finals last year.

    With an NBA-best record of 18-4 and a current nine-game winning streak, it appears as though Thunder GM Sam Presti has once again proven his genius.

    There was no way for Oklahoma City to be able to afford the lucrative contracts of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka while still giving Harden a max deal. Presti got Kevin Martin in return, and it has been a superb trade to say the least.

    Playing the same sixth-man role that Harden won the league-wide award for in 2011-12, Martin has provided a similar offensive spark off the bench in relief of defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha.

    Martin is shooting a scorching .475 from beyond the arc in averaging 15.9 points per game, while Ibaka has emerged as a more polished offensive threat, averaging 14 points—easily a career high.

    As Darnell Mayberry of points out, the Thunder are on pace to win a franchise-record 66 games—more than even any of the noteworthy Seattle SuperSonics teams ever won.

    It appears that the changing of the guard in basketball is beginning to officially take place, with Durant, Westbrook and OKC leading the way—and with Presti largely to thank, of course.