As 2013 rolls around, we find ourselves just about a third of the way through the 2012-13 NBA season and there has been a lot to like thus far.
The league's superstars are, for the most part, still performing up to expectations. The small-ball era has ushered in a more fan-friendly, high-octane brand of basketball and with the returns of Derrick Rose and Amar'e Stoudemire looming, there are plenty of compelling storylines to ring in the new year.
There has also been a lot to dislike, though, and a fair amount of action that has been outright ugly in 2012. Injuries have been a serious problem this season, a number of teams and players have not lived up to expectations and some clubs have been practically unwatchable as they've struggled early on.
To help usher in 2013 and the most important stretch of the NBA season, let's take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly from the 2012-13 season thus far.
All stats current through Dec. 31
No one quite knew what to expect out of Carmelo Anthony before the season. He looked great in the 2012 London Olympics, but lighting up the Nigerian national team is not the same as torching NBA defenses. However, he did thrive under Mike Woodson, and that was enough to give New York fans hope.
Thus far, he has looked better than anyone could have anticipated, averaging 28.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.9 assists while shooting 47.3 percent from the field and a blistering 43.4 percent from three-point range.
He has been scoring efficiently and from everywhere on the court, but what has been most impressive is his play in other facets of the game. Anthony's assist total is low, but he is moving the ball extremely well and not jacking up bad shots.
On the defensive end, he is playing better than ever before, moving well on the court and showing the benefits of some offseason weight loss.
Injury troubles have derailed his MVP campaign somewhat, but if he can keep up his play and lead the Knicks to a high playoff seed, it would not be surprising to see him earn some serious postseason accolades.
Just who exactly are these Boston Celtics? Are they the team that beat the Oklahoma City Thunder at home, or are they the team that can't seem to win a meaningful road game to save their lives?
With Ray Allen gone and the supporting cast revamped, many expected the Celtics to have some adjustment issues out of the gate, but the team has had serious consistency issues all season long and are sitting on an unimpressive 14-15 record.
Rajon Rondo has played quite well, averaging 13.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 11.6 assists, and Paul Pierce has been pouring in 19.9 points per night, but this team is having difficulty scoring and is getting absolutely hammered on the glass.
Boston's defense looks sensational at times, but horrendous at others when Kevin Garnett is on the bench and the team cannot keep opponents from getting into the paint.
Beyond just the Big Three, free-agent signings Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, Jeff Green and Brandon Bass have been spotty at best, forcing Doc Rivers to lean on his veteran starters more heavily.
The Celtics have the talent and the experience to turn around their 2012-13 season, but they have plenty of problems to fix along the way.
I can guarantee that no one thought Mike D'Antoni would be coaching the Los Angeles Lakers in 2012-13, but then again, no one expected this kind of coaching controversy for the historic franchise.
Mike Brown was canned after a 1-4 start to the season where Kobe Bryant looked fantastic but the team could not get stops when they needed to.
Bernie Bickerstaff took over on an interim basis and led the team to a 4-1 record, but he was expected to be nothing more than a stopgap for a big-name coach coming to L.A.
Phil Jackson's name was brought up, and people across the basketball world, including Jackson himself, were astounded when he was not chosen by the Lakers front office. The organization was skeptical about the team picking up Jackson's triangle offense midseason and felt D'Antoni was a better fit.
D'Antoni, who has gone 10-10 since taking the reins, has helped fix the team's offense somewhat, but has struggled to take care of their defensive woes. Steve Nash's return has allowed him to play a more uptempo offense, but L.A. is still extremely vulnerable in the transition game.
The reality, however, is that the issues with this team may not have anything to do with coaching and may simply be a personnel problem.
When Oklahoma City traded James Harden for Kevin Martin just before the season began, many thought that it would slow the momentum the Thunder built coming off their Finals loss to the Miami Heat. Harden was an integral part of the Thunder's attack, and he is a far better passer and ball-handler than Martin ever was.
However, Martin has thrived in the sixth-man role for OKC, averaging 15.6 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game while shooting 46.6 percent from the field and an absurd 46.7 percent from three-point territory. He has converted on the open looks defenses have given him while keying on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Durant and Westbrook have undoubtedly done their parts, posting phenomenal numbers and playing the best all-around basketball of their careers. Durant is averaging 28.5 points, 8.0 boards and 4.1 assists while shooting 51.6 percent from the floor overall.
Westbrook has been equally strong, notching 21.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and a career-best 8.7 assists per game. He has looked increasingly comfortable as a facilitating point guard instead of primarily a scorer.
Add to that the improved play of Serge Ibaka and their solid team defense, and anything less than another run to the NBA Finals would be a disappointment for this club.
Dirk Nowitzki missed extensive time due to injury for the very first time in his career, and his Mavs stumbled out to a 12-15 start. They could not take care of the ball, and while they scored at a decent clip thanks to the tremendous play of O.J. Mayo, their defense has not been good enough to get the job done.
The Mavs have lost all four games since the superstar's return from knee surgery pretty decisively, with the exception of an overtime loss to Oklahoma City.
Despite his veteran status, this Dallas team is still clearly built around Dirk and has looked lost at times without their franchise player. They are not particularly strong on the glass and rank 28th in opponents' points per game at 103.1.
The team has seriously struggled at the point guard position, where Darren Collison began the year as a starter, was benched for Derek Fisher and then resumed the starting role upon Fisher's departure. Collison can score, but he is not a great playmaker and has not done a great job to encourage ball movement.
The Mavs have also had great difficulty winning on the road; they've earned just four victories away from the American Airlines Center.
In a brutal Western Conference, Dallas may have already fallen too far behind to right the ship.
The revamped Brooklyn Nets were expected to be an instant factor in the Eastern Conference, but the team has stumbled out to a 14-14 record that resulted in the firing of Avery Johnson.
One of the main factors in the Nets' disappointing start has been the poor shooting of star point guard Deron Williams. Williams signed a lucrative free-agent contract to be the team's franchise cornerstone, but has been connecting on just 39.9 percent of his shots from the field and a mere 30.0 percent of his three-pointers.
Williams is by no means an elite shooter, but he has always been renowned as a dual-threat point guard because of his ability to knock down shots to complement his passing ability. His inability to consistently convert on open looks has made Brooklyn an easier team to guard.
Williams famously voiced disapproval of the Nets' offensive system shortly before Coach Johnson was let go, saying that he thrived in Jerry Sloan's system with the Utah Jazz.
He has been playing more in isolation, and while he has the ability to create quality shots thanks to his sensational handle and off-the-dribble game, he is simply shooting without much confidence.
Unless Williams can regain the shooting touch he had with the Jazz, the Nets will never be a true title contender.
Often, older players are brought to teams just to provide leadership in the locker room. However, in 2012-13, these veterans have been making some huge contributions early in the season.
Jason Kidd signed with the New York Knicks to be a mentor to Jeremy Lin and play spot minutes as a reserve, but he was thrust into a starting role due to Lin's departure and Iman Shumpert's knee injury.
He has responded by playing sensational basketball on both ends of the floor, starting primarily at shooting guard and averaging 9.0 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists while knocking down 44.3 percent of his three-point attempts.
Kidd has been a coach out on the floor for the team and a huge reason why New York has had such early-season success.
Tim Duncan has had a phenomenal season, posting 17.7 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.5 blocks per game on 50.8 percent shooting from the field. Duncan is playing his best basketball in ages and San Antonio is succeeding as a result.
David West's resurgence has kept Indiana in the thick of the playoff hunt, and even Jerry Stackhouse has provided Brooklyn with some strong shooting from beyond the arc.
They may not sustain the high level of play for the whole campaign, but lots of so-called "over the hill" players have been absolutely huge for their squads early in the year.
The Miami Heat have been running teams out of the gym with their athleticism and using some very unique lineups, but their rebounding and overall team defense have been noticeably weaker since their championship run.
In a Dec. 18 home game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Miami was able to win despite being outrebounded 53-24. This is certainly a testament to their scoring ability, but it is certainly troubling for a team looking to make a deep playoff run.
The Heat's defense has also not been up to par. When they were at their best during the 2012 playoffs, they rotated extremely well, denied penetration and contested every outside shot. Miami's defense has not been atrocious, but the additions of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis has hurt the team's D slightly.
They currently rank 13th in the league in points allowed, giving up 98.2 per game. This is in part a product of their fast-paced style of play, but their inability to take over a game defensively as they did so often in 2011-12 could come back and hurt them in the postseason.
John Wall's knee injury was not expected to keep him out for much of the 2012-13 season, but he did not see the floor in 2012 and, as a result, the Washington Wizards offense has looked downright horrendous in his absence. Forced to start A.J. Price at point guard and use Jordan Crawford as their primary creator on offense, the Wizards have had some serious difficulties offensively.
The team ranks dead last in the league in points per game at 88.8 and is the only team averaging below 90 points. Crawford is their leading scorer at 16 points per game, but he is connecting on just 41.1 percent of his attempts and continues to demonstrate pretty terrible shot selection.
The team is shooting an anemic 40.6 percent from the field overall, good for 30th in the NBA.
Rookie Bradley Beal has had his moments, but he is hitting on just 35.3 percent of his attempts. Nene has been the only player to shoot the ball well, as he plays primarily out of the post, but defenses are keying in on him and limiting his attempts.
Wall's return should give the team some direction on the offensive end as they'll have their first option and star playmaker back in the fold, but this team does not move the ball well or take many high-percentage looks during the course of the game.
Until they get their offense sorted out, this will continue to be a season to forget for the Washington Wizards.
When was the last time the NBA's MVP race was this compelling?
LeBron James has been his usual dominant self on both ends of the court and is once again in the thick of the conversation, but there are a number of other worthy candidates making their case as well.
Kevin Durant has elevated his game to carry OKC, becoming a smarter passer and defender, a better rebounder and a more patient scorer. Carmelo Anthony, as we looked at earlier, has done the same and taken his game to new heights.
Chris Paul, despite not putting up absurd numbers, has been incredibly consistent for one of the league's best teams. His L.A. Clippers are rolling along and his facilitating, first-rate defense and leadership has been the reason Los Angeles is in the early title conversation.
To make things more interesting, several unexpected players have entered the conversation as well. Tim Duncan's resurgence has been sensational, and his dominance in the post on both ends of the floor has him earning MVP consideration for the first time in years.
James Harden has taken the Houston Rockets on his back, and they're winning games because of his phenomenal scoring ability and underrated rebounding and facilitating.
A frontrunner usually emerges in the new year, but this race has the potential to go right down to the wire.
Injuries have always been a part of the NBA season, but 2012-13 has been particularly unforgiving to many of the league's star players.
Andrew Bynum's knee troubles and inability to suit up for Philadelphia has been the main headline, but there have been plenty of injury stories this season.
Eric Gordon of the New Orleans Hornets missed all but one of his team's first 30 games, and though he looked strong in his return, durability issues remain a serious concern for him.
Kyrie Irving has missed 11 of Cleveland's 32 games due to several different ailments, and in his absence, the team struggled mightily to move the ball and create consistent offense. Irving also missed his share of time as a rookie, and this trend is becoming a bit troubling.
Even Anthony Davis, the 2012 first overall pick, battled a stress fracture that forced him to sit for 13 games. He has looked sensational when he has been on the court, but it has been disappointing to watch him sit on the bench in a suit.
Factoring in the continued absences of Derrick Rose and Amar'e Stoudemire, and there have certainly been a number of teams that have had to battle through the beginning of the season without their most recognizable players.
DeMarcus Cousins has caused his share of headaches since entering the league as the fifth overall draft pick back in 2010, but this season has been downright ridiculous. Cousins was suspended "indefinitely" for conduct detrimental to the team just befor Christmas, but he returned after just one game.
He has struggled with his decision-making, taken questionable shots and not put in the effort on both ends that he seems capable of. In just 2012 alone, he has been suspended four separate times, including once for hitting Dallas' O.J. Mayo in the groin.
ESPN's Marc Stein reports that the Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons would be interested in acquiring him, but there is no clear consensus on whether Sacramento will move him.
The problem, of course, is that Cousins remains one of the most talented big men in the NBA when he isn't delivering cheap shots and misbehaving.
He is extremely skilled and capable of both scoring inside and out. His rebounding is consistent and his passing ability is actually underrated. He struggles with turnovers and fouls, but there are few big men in the league with his skill set. In a win over Boston on Dec. 30, he posted his first career triple-double.
The Kings need to reach a decision on what to do for the future soon, because this kind of soap opera can only hurt a young team like Sacramento.