Welcome to the first installment of Beyond the Arc's Full Court Press, where we will be giving a unique outlook on the 2009/2010 NBA Season. In this edition, you will read about the Celtics' quick start to the season, Carmelo's early MVP talk, the Spurs looking like the team we have all come to know, and much more.
It's roughly seven or eight games into the season for every team in the NBA, which leaves everyone watching in a curious position. There has been enough action so far to give everyone a map of what to expect for the rest of the season, but nothing is set in stone.
Two or three games at this point in the season could dramatically alter the way any team is viewed and any analysis of players or teams is speculation at best. Still, there are some interesting things transpiring in the early stages of the season that should be noted.
The San Antonio Spurs are off to a slow start once again, muddling their way to a 3-3 record to begin the season.
This is rather disconcerting for a team that many felt should be among the elite few competing for a title. However, they've done the same thing the past few seasons so it's become as routine as their midseason rodeo road trip or the fact that they're pretty much guaranteed 50-plus wins as long as Tim Duncan is around.
No one seems to be bothered by this because it's common knowledge that the Spurs always take the early part of the season to round into shape. They even did it last season with a rather pathetic roster (at least compared to this season).
Still, they have some issues that are fairly hard to ignore. Ginobili looks to be back to reasonable health (especially after his dismantling of the Raptors), but Parker and Duncan are not helping the cause by getting themselves banged up. They can't reach their full potential this season without Duncan and Parker, but that's a given. What team is going to do well without two of its three top players?
The holes that have plagued them in seasons past are still there. They're still a rather old and unathletic team. George Hill and DeJuan Blair give them some youth (and in Hill's case, athleticism), but neither of them are playing enough to totally offset those issues. It wouldn't be such a big deal if Richard Jefferson hadn't gotten off to a slow start (although the aforementioned Raptors game might have set him on the right path).
These are things to keep an eye on if the Spurs continue to stumble going into the one-third mark of the season, but like always, it's far too early to count out the San Antonio Spurs.
On the other side of the spectrum of championship contenders are the Boston Celtics, who are storming out of the gate just like they've done since acquiring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. It's not surprising that they're off to such a hot start because they've done so the last few seasons. What is surprising is how they're doing it.
The trend for fast starting teams is usually based around offense. The reason for this is that truly good offensive teams are able to take advantage of teams trying to find their footing in the opening weeks, which magnifies how good the team is offensively and exposes teams that haven't quite found their identity.
Normally, it takes good defensive teams a few weeks to round into shape because of how much time teams need to gel to really be effective. Not so with the Celtics, who have stormed out of the gate, not with a blistering offensive pace (although they haven't been bad) but by bludgeoning teams to death on the defensive end.
Their point differential this early in the season is a staggering 14 points per game, which is a good six points higher than the next closest team (the Miami Heat have a point differential of a little less than eight points per game). This kind of cohesion is typically not the norm this early in the season.
Speaking of teams that are among the tops in the league, the Phoenix Suns are arguably the most surprising of the one-loss teams thus far. (Well, Miami probably has a claim to this title to, but they haven't played any teams of note.)
Steve Nash has been the primary reason for this quick start, as reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated. Last season, there were whispers Nash may have been done as one of the top point guards after a relatively underwhelming '08-'09 season. But put the ball back in Nash's hands and speed up the tempo, and all of a sudden he's looking like the Nash of old (or rather the Nash of his MVP seasons).
He's already had two 20-assist games in the early season (and a 17-assist game to boot) and it's been great to see him control games late like an expert puppeteer again. It's far too early to start talking about potential MVPs, but Nash has inserted himself into the second best point guard spot with a vengeance.
As for the best point guard in the NBA, it's hard to imagine how Chris Paul was going to top last season. However, Chris Paul found a way to take things up a notch when it seemed that he was already playing at his top level.
It's easy to discount what Paul is doing this season because the Hornets are sputtering and look downright awful (at least for a team expected to make the playoffs), but what he's doing this season is something spectacular. Paul has two seasons of 20-plus points per game, 10-plus assists per game, and less than three turnovers per game, and he's poised to do it again this season.
This season he's decided to top himself by turning into an absolutely lethal shooter.
Again, it's early in the season, so shooting an astounding 63 percent from the field (and an out-of-this-world 68 percent from three) is probably not going to hold up for the entire season.
But when you look at it historically, he's already attempted the second most shots for a guard shooting over 60 percent (the only guard to shoot 60 percent for an entire season is the Blazers Dave Twardzik in '76-'77).
I don't doubt that this isn't the first time it's happened, but it still shouldn't be taken lightly considering he's also scoring 26 points per game at the same time. If the Hornets were a more competitive team, Paul's unbelievable start would be getting more recognition.
Even though we're only two weeks into the season, it didn't stop NBA.com from releasing their first MVP rankings. This is ridiculous, considering, as I pointed out earlier, a few games here or there could change the opinion of any team or player.
Case in point is the Denver Nuggets, who were being hailed as potential juggernauts at the start of the season but after two sluggish games have fallen back down to Earth. Their quick start pushed Carmelo Anthony into the No. 1 spot of the MVP rankings but since then that talk has quietly stopped.
This is unfortunate because it looks as though the light bulb has gone off for Anthony and he deserves some recognition.
In the grand tradition of Bernard King and Chris Mullin, Anthony has stepped up his game quite considerably.
He's become much deadlier on offense, no longer stopping ball movement, creating more shots for teammates, getting his butt on the block and to the line to get easy points, and he's not turning the ball over. While the early notions of MVP were quite laughable (not so much for his play but for the concept in general), his play has definitely been on another level.
It looks as though he's becoming the elite player that most everyone was convinced he'd become when he was drafted. (I should also give a shout out to Chris Bosh for doing the same thing, but I haven't seen the Raptors play yet this season and have absolutely no idea how he's getting to the line as often as he is.)
As I pointed out at the start, it's still early in the season, so any or all of these situations could change by the end of this week, but they are all storylines to keep an eye on as the season progresses. There are several others but we'll keep those under wraps, at least until Thanksgiving.
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