The 10 Biggest Surprises of 2013-14 NBA Season's First Week
The first week of the 2013-14 NBA season is behind us, which means it's time to analyze the small sample sizes we have at our disposal and react to a fascinating seven days of basketball.
And to say the unexpected reigned supreme in the Association's return would be a major understatement.
The Philadelphia 76ers and Phoenix Suns got off to roaring starts, while the Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets stumbled out of the gates, and that's just the tip of the iceberg.
It's early yet, but we can only hope the rest of the NBA season is as intriguing as Week 1 proved to be.
If Nothing Else, the Sixers Will Be Entertaining
No one saw that coming.
The Philadelphia 76ers are supposed to be the NBA's worst team, and for all we know, the standings may very well reflect that at the end of the season. But for now, it's safe to say Brett Brown's squad is among the league's most entertaining.
What makes this Sixers team fun to watch is that they are pushing the ball every chance they get—even off made baskets—and are playing at an insanely fast clip, racking up 105.4 possessions per 48 minutes.
Another number worth mentioning: Evan Turner is averaging 21.8 points through four games, a figure that feels sustainable given the Sixers' lack of off-the-dribble scorers. The former No. 2 overall pick could very well finish among the league's top 20 in points if he remains the Sixers' go-to option in the half court.
Miami Stumbles out of the Gate
Whether you want to label it a regression to the mean or just season-opening struggles, the Miami Heat stumbled out of the gate in a way few imagined.
A loss to the Brooklyn Nets on the road is one thing, but to blow a fourth-quarter lead to the inexperienced Philadelphia 76ers is a whole different story.
As ESPN's Tom Haberstroh noted, the Heat have started the season 0-2 in clutch games (defined as a five-point game or less within the final five minutes) after going 32-8 in such contests last year.
It's still far too early to panic, but if nothing else it's evident that the Heat are in for stiffer competition from top-flight Eastern Conference contenders in 2013-14.
Brooklyn Hasn't Looked Particularly Good, Either
Just like the Miami Heat, the Brooklyn Nets lost two games in the season's opening week.
And ironically enough, the one team Brooklyn beat was the Heat, as the Nets fell twice on the road to lesser competition in the Cleveland Cavaliers and Orlando Magic.
It's been a struggle for Jason Kidd's group on both ends of the floor in the early going, as Brooklyn ranks 23rd in offensive rating (98.7) and 24th in defensive rating (107.2) through three games, per Basketball-Reference.com.
What's even more concerning is that point guard Deron Williams has looked out of sorts thus far, shooting 36 percent from the field en route to an eight-point-per-game average.
One positive: Brooklyn's deep bench has allowed starters to see considerably more rest, as no one player is currently averaging more than 30 minutes per game.
Anthony Bennett Has Yet to Make a Shot
Entering the season, we knew it would take No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett some time to get acclimated to the pro game.
But for Bennett to not make a shot over his first four NBA games is borderline absurd.
Thus far, Bennett is a cool 0-of-15 from the field in 12.5 minutes of run a night and has scored a grand total of two points via the charity stripe. He's also 0-of-8 from beyond the arc.
It's also worth noting Bennett currently has a negative PER.
With Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao and Andrew Bynum all locked into larger roles than the rookie, it's evident Bennett's adjustment to the pro game is going to take considerable time.
Miles Plumlee and the Phoenix Suns Are Doing What?
Just like the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference, the Phoenix Suns quieted tanking speculation for a week out West thanks to an impressive 2-1 start to the 2013-14 season.
And aside from Eric Bledsoe, whose first-week heroics turned plenty of heads, Miles Plumlee has burst on to the scene for the Suns in an unexpected way.
Acquired over the summer with Gerald Green in the deal that shipped Luis Scola to the Indiana Pacers, Plumlee has been arguably the biggest individual surprise from a compelling first week of play.
Through three games, Plumlee is posting double-double averages (10.3 points and 11 rebounds) while adding 2.3 blocked shots a night.
Paul George Somehow Looks Better Than Expected
Paul George's emergence in 2012-13 as a true superstar was a revelation for the Indiana Pacers, and it appears as though he has no plans of slowing down.
Over the first week of the season, George gashed opponents for an average of 25.7 points on 48.1 percent shooting, including 43.5 percent from three-point land.
In addition, George has been getting to the line 7.3 times per game, which is more than twice as many times as he did last season (3.5).
With his offensive game still evolving, look for George to be firmly on MVP watch as the Indiana Pacers seek to stake their claim as the alpha dogs of the Eastern Conference.
Washington's Defense Has Been Horrendous
The Washington Wizards are 0-3, and if you're looking for reasons why, look no further than the team's defense.
After finishing fifth in defensive rating (103) and eighth in opponents' points per game (95.8) in 2012-13, the Wizards have looked positively uninspired on the defensive end to start the season.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, the Wizards rank 29th in both defensive rating (112.3) and opponents' points per game (108.3) through three games.
Randy Wittman's squad has not held an opponent under 100 points yet, having surrendered 113 and 109 to the Detroit Pistons and Philadelphia 76ers, respectively, and 103 against the Miami Heat.
And if you want to know how Wittman feels, check out his uncensored thoughts (NSFW language) on the state of the team's defense.
With the Wizards fully invested in capturing a playoff spot this season, their porous defense will need to be addressed in order for the team to achieve their postseason goals.
Russell Westbrook's Speedy Return
And then Sunday afternoon happened, when it was announced that the Oklahoma City Thunder point guard would play against the Phoenix Suns more than three weeks before his projected return date.
Against Phoenix, Westbrook started and saw 33 minutes of run, totaling 21 points, four rebounds, seven assists, one steal and four turnovers.
While Westbrook struggled to the tune of 31.3 percent shooting from the field (5-of-16), he got to the line 14 times, using his trademark burst and change of pace to blow by the Suns in transition and the half court.
Oklahoma City's offense stands to benefit immensely from Westbrook's return, so watch for the team's improved production and efficiency to be a major storyline in the week ahead.
Derrick Rose Hasn't Looked Sharp
After torching opponents during the preseason with a tantalizing combination of blinding speed, improved strength and an insane change of pace, Derrick Rose has opened the 2013-14 season flat.
Through three games, Rose has simply been unable to find his stroke and is shooting 28.8 percent from the floor (26.7 percent from three).
And don't think Rose isn't aware of his struggles, according to Sam Smith of Bulls.com:
“I would have to say the turnovers,” Rose offered about the night’s most disappointing element, though there were many. “The missed shots I can deal with. My rhythm is going to come, but turnovers, I had like two or three of them in a row, which we couldn’t afford at that time.
“I would have to say I’m not playing well right now,” agreed Rose, whose comeback from knee surgery after missing all last season has been one of the big stories in the NBA. “I would blame tonight on me: Turnovers, missed shots, missed communication on defense. I just can’t wait to get in my groove. I can’t hang my head, I can’t beat myself up. I know I’ve worked too hard for that, so it’s going to come.”
Will Rose's troubles scoring the ball persist for much longer? Probably not. He's currently averaging 14.3 points, a number that should creep into the low to mid-20s once he finds his footing.
However, the big concern, as Rose alluded to, is that he's not taking care of the ball. Thus far, Rose is averaging 4.3 assists and a ghastly 5.7 turnovers.
Remember, this is a guy who sat out of competitive basketball for more than a calendar year, so it's going to take some time for his body to get acclimated to the wear and tear of an 82-game season again.
Steve Nash Just Doesn't Seem to Have It Anymore
Speaking of the rigors of an 82-game season, it's starting to become clear that Steve Nash's aging body can't handle a physically demanding schedule.
Nash has already sat the second game of a back-to-back (Oct. 30 versus Golden State), and we're only one week into the season.
But, like Rose, Nash hasn't sugarcoated his struggles, per Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding:
Amazingly, Nash doesn’t have the confidence he can get it done anymore.
“The nerves in the broken leg, then the nerves in the back and hamstring (last season)…I’d never felt my nerves in my life. I feel them every day now,” Nash said late Friday night. “So my body’s different. I worked incredibly hard this summer and got myself back where I have a chance. I felt good tonight; I could’ve had a good game.
Nash has been limited to 24.3 minutes per game through three contests, and it feels like a near-mortal lock that Jordan Farmar will be the point guard who sees the most minutes for the Lakers this year.
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