7 Biggest Things We've Learned During 2012-13 NBA Season
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The beauty of sports is that no season is a repeat.
New trends develop, and new lessons are learned each year. While teams may win consecutive titles, the road traveled is different.
Some of the early-season favorites are flopping, superstars are changing, and there have already been a number of coaching changes (Mike Brown, Avery Johnson, Scott Skiles).
As the NBA season closes in on its halfway mark, here are the seven biggest things we've learned.
All stats are updated through games prior to Jan. 17.
Even Superstars Must Play Defense
Kobe Bryant is making an effort as a better defensive player.
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Earlier in the season, it was apparent that Kobe Bryant wasn't going to waste his legs playing defense.
The nine-time All-Defensive first-team player (three-time second team) is having one of the best offensive seasons of his career.
The 34-year-old can step up defensively at any point, though, and he's beginning to do just that. Against the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday, Bryant worked on scoring guard Brandon Jennings.
USA Today's David Leon Moore had the following quote from Jennings:
I don't think I've ever seen anybody put that much pressure on a point guard full court for a whole game. It was probably the best defense somebody's ever played on me since I've been in the league - just constantly putting pressure on me, touching me, hitting me at all times in the game. He wouldn't let me just catch the ball easy, and I wasn't able to get the ball a lot, so it was pretty difficult.
It's one thing to go crazy and be active on the ball; most guys can do that. But it's another to play team defense.
Here is what coach Mike D'Antoni said of Bryant, via Los Angeles Times writer Eric Pincus: "Uh, he's good. I think sometimes he just, you know, uh ... yeah, he's good."
It's a higher level of defense to sit in help, be active on rotation, push the ball to the weak areas of the offense and make multiple-effort plays.
Bryant seems willing to place more focus in this area. If he can do so, it will greatly benefit a Lakers team that ranks 26th in the league in points allowed per game.
The Lakers are off to their worst start through 38 games since 1993-94. They'll need a boost defensively, not simply more points from Bryant, to turn it around.
Look at what Carmelo Anthony accomplished earlier this season when he chose to play better defense.
Depth Is Necessary
The Clippers have the best depth in the league.
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The Los Angeles Clippers are the best team in their city, and it's not just because of their starting five.
The depth of the Clippers, in addition to the MVP-caliber play of Chris Paul, is one of the biggest reasons for their success.
The Clippers ranked No. 26 in bench scoring last season at 26.5 points per game, according to Hoopshype.com. This season, the Clippers are second in the league at 41.9 points per game. Jamal Crawford is leading the bench with 16.6 points per game.
There are plenty of factors here. Some teams stack benches that rebound and play defense, and their roles are just as valuable. It's not just about bench scoring.
Depth is crucial in the valuable minutes of a game when starters rest, but it's also crucial when a starter goes down to injury.
The Brooklyn Nets are proof of a team who struggle due to their lack of depth. So too are the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Golden State Warriors have been successful not only because of the All-Star-caliber play of Stephen Curry and David Lee, but also because of the bench play of Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry.
One of this season's lessons is that you can't simply stack a starting lineup.
Trades Can Work for Both Teams
James Harden is working out for Houston, but Oklahoma City is just fine.
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It's more fun to declare a winner, but sometimes a trade really does work out for both teams.
It wasn't going to work for the Oklahoma City Thunder to give James Harden max-contract dollars, and they still have the best record in the league.
Kevin Martin is scoring 15.1 points per game on 44 percent shooting and a team-high 43 percent from three-point range. Martin is a Sixth Man of the Year candidate.
Oklahoma City also picked up Jeremy Lamb, two first-round picks and one second-round pick.
Meanwhile, the Houston Rockets are relevant again in the Western Conference. Though the team is in the bottom half of the playoff mix and has spiraled with a five-game losing streak, it's clear that Harden is the superstar they wanted.
Harden is averaging 26.3 points per game on 44.7 percent shooting. He's also averaging 5.3 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game.
Rookies Don't Always Run the Show
Damian Lillard is the favorite to win Rookie of the Year.
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The 2012 rookie class has been just average.
Damian Lillard is clearly the best rookie, and first overall pick Anthony Davis should be a star in this league.
Only two teams in the draft lottery have been successful through the first half and done so with an impact lottery pick: Portland and Golden State.
Lillard is averaging 18.1 points and 6.5 assists for Portland (20-19).
Harrison Barnes has started in all 37 games for the surprising Warriors (23-14). He is averaging 9.5 points and 4.4 rebounds as a factor for the team.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bradley Beal, Dion Waiters, Terrence Ross, Andre Drummond, Andrew Nicholson, Jared Sullinger and Alexey Shved, among others, have all been solid.
Thomas Robinson and Austin Rivers have been the biggest disappointments thus far.
It's Not Always About the Superstar
Derrick Rose is still working toward a comeback with the Chicago Bulls.
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How many people would have expected the Chicago Bulls to be where they are?
Chicago is a top-four team in the Eastern Conference near the midway point of the season without superstar Derrick Rose.
The Bulls have benefited from the higher level of play from Luol Deng and Joakim Noah. The backcourt duo of Nate Robinson and Kirk Hinrich has been enough to fill in for Rose so far.
The Indiana Pacers have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference without their top player, Danny Granger.
The Pacers are receiving plenty of help from forward Paul George, who is averaging 18.8 points, 10.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists in January.
The Denver Nuggets are rolling without a clear top-tier guy, and so are the Memphis Grizzlies.
Regular-Seasons Standings Don't Equal Playoff Success
Avery Johnson couldn't make it past the All-Star break.
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The Brooklyn Nets were never quite as good as the hype.
Still, firing a coach the month following his award as Coach of the Month is a lesson about the pressures of coaching in a bigger market like New York.
The Nets began the season at 11-4 before falling to .500 (14-14) near the end of December. Johnson was gone, and the job belonged to assistant P.J. Carlesimo.
Under Carlesimo, the Nets are now 9-2 and sit in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff pack in a virtual tie with Chicago, 3.5 games behind the Eastern Conference-leading Miami Heat.
But it's still fool's gold for a Brooklyn team that hasn't proven capable of beating a playoff-caliber team. The Nets are just 7-14 against teams above .500.
The Nets offer the early lesson that regular-season standings don't represent potential deep playoff runs.
A Title Rematch Is Likely
LeBron James and Kevin Durant have a good chance at facing each other in the NBA Finals.
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