NBA Power Rankings: The 50 Biggest Storylines in the 2010-11 NBA Season Thus Far
Before the NBA season began, I brought you the 100 biggest questions heading into the season, largely starring LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant and a few friends.
Now, with a quarter of the season having already passed us by, it’s time to check in on the state of the NBA once again.
Let’s see: Before the season started, the Heat were potentially staring at a 70-win season, the Lakers wouldn’t face any true opposition in the West in their quest towards a three-peat and Greg Oden was still projected to play basketball this season.
Since then, we’ve only seen the re-emergence of Chris Paul, proof that you never count out the San Antonio Spurs as long as Tim Duncan’s still around, a suddenly spry Big Shamrock in Boston, a brutal start for the Super Friends and a few Blake Griffin dunks that we’ll be talking about for years.
So, without further adieu, here are the 50 biggest storylines that are worth remembering from this young NBA season.
On a more personal note: This marks my 200th article for Bleacher Report, and it wouldn't have been possible without everyone who's clicked on, read, and commented on all my previous work. So, long story short, thanks to you guys for making B/R what it is today -- a place where sports fans can congregate and debate the hottest sports topics of the day.
50. The Sacramento Kings Look Totally Disjointed
While the Clippers started off as the early season favorites for worst team in the league honors, the Kings have snatched that baton right from Blake Griffin’s bear paw and haven’t looked back.
The Kings have gone 1-9 in their past 10 games and only mustered two wins throughout all of November.
Not helping the Kings’ recovery is the fact that their star guard Tyreke Evans has been battling a case of plantar fasciitis over the past few weeks.
Plantar fasciitis is one of those injuries that doesn’t go away unless you rest, rest and rest some more. So, if Evans must miss an extended period of time with the injury, the Kings may be jockeying for the No. 1 draft pick already.
49. The New Jersey Nets Aren't Really Any Better, Despite Prokhorov
Coming into the summer of 2010, the Nets had become one of the chic turnaround picks for this season.
They had just landed the No. 3 pick in the NBA draft and picked Derrick Favors, who drew comparisons to Amar’e Stoudemire and Dwight Howard. Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov took over the team, hiring Avery Johnson as coach and proclaiming the Nets would be NBA champions in five years.
Then the clock struck July 1, LeBron James took his talents to South Beach and the Nets struck out on making any major acquisitions. The piece-meal additions of Jordan Farmar, Travis Outlaw and Anthony Morrow didn’t change the team’s overall outlook, just filled in a few holes in the roster.
While the Nets remain active in the Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes, their current 6-17 record makes this team appear entirely too similar to last year’s underachieving 12-70 team.
48. Eric Bledsoe Emerges as a Capable Baron Davis Replacement
When Baron Davis showed up out of shape to training camp in late September, Clippers fans likely had a sinking, “not again!” feeling in the pits of their stomachs. Then Eric Bledsoe came along.
After Davis started the first three games of the season, his sore left knee began acting up, opening the door for Eric Bledsoe to step into the starting lineup. Twenty games later, Bledsoe hasn’t yet given up his new job as starting PG for the Clippers.
Davis obviously has the experience advantage over the rookie Bledsoe, but Bledsoe’s youth likely gives him the edge in Coach Vinny Del Negro’s books. ‘
With young stars-in-the-making in Eric Gordon and Blake Griffin, having Bledsoe develop into a long-term franchise PG would accelerate the Clippers’ rebuilding process that much more.
47. Reality Sinks In for the Cleveland Cavaliers
After starting the season a very respectable 5-5 in their first 10 games, many Cleveland faithful were wondering if maybe they really didn’t need that LeBron James character after all.
They struggled through the rest of November with a 2-5 record, but at least managed to stay competitive in most of their contests.
Then the Miami Heat came to town. After laying down to King James and his Super Friends to the tune of a 30-point blowout, the Cavaliers haven’t been able to pick themselves up off the mat yet.
Starting with the Celtics, the game before the Heat meltdown, Cleveland has now lost eight straight games. Worse yet, the Cavs have endured four blowouts of at least 20 points in that span, and only one of the eight losses has been by single digits.
Maybe they did need that LeBron James character after all.
46. Gilbert Arenas' Future With the Washington Wizards
You know how Sad Keanu became an internet meme this past year? If Gilbert Arenas keeps it up with his serious shtick, Sad Gilbert won’t be far behind.
After his 50-game suspension last year for a gun incident involving his teammate, Javaris Crittenton, Arenas put his “Agent Zero” persona to rest and has recommitted himself to taking his job seriously.
As quoted by Yahoo! Sports, Arenas recently said, “I know my time here [in Washington] is over...I’m a different player. Then [before the gun incident] I was an assassin. Now I’m just a guy trying to play the game the right way.”
That’s exactly what the Wizards want to hear if they’re hoping to eventually find a trade partner for Arenas.
Magic GM Otis Smith reportedly had interest in Arenas at one point, but no team would dream of trading for his four-year, $80 million deal without being sure he’s in the right mentality these days.
45. The Memphis Grizzlies Bench O.J. Mayo
After making a name for himself as Memphis’ starting shooting guard the past two seasons, O.J. Mayo, the No. 4 pick from the 2008 draft, has found himself relegated to bench duty this season.
Mayo, who shot 45.1 percent from the field last year, has barely buried more than 40 percent of his shots this season. He’s averaging career-lows across the board in scoring, field goal attempts, rebounds, assists and minutes per game.
The inexplicable year-long shooting slump left Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins no choice but to bench the former USC star in favor of Kansas rookie Xavier Henry. (For what it’s worth, Mayo reportedly respects Hollins’ decision, saying “that’s our guy” about the coach.)
Until Mayo picks himself up out of his junior year slump, the 10-14 Grizzlies are likely to continue underachieving this season after barely missing out on the playoffs last year.
44. Mark Cuban Calls Mikhail Prokhorov a P---y
This past Thursday night, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban found himself in the headlines once again, as he called fellow Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov “a crude term considered an insult to one's manhood,” as ESPN reported in such a politically correct way.
It’s definitely not every day that you hear one NBA owner call another a p---y. Especially in public.
Cuban appeared bothered by the fact that Prokhorov doesn’t attend nearly as many games as he does. When he does attend games, Prokhorov sits in a suite, instead of the typical courtside seat Cuban prefers.
Cuban didn’t stop there. He also jabbed Prokhorov by saying: “Building a true professional team means having to spend money. We just haven't seen it [from Prokhorov]."
While Cuban’s team is cruising on a 12-game win streak and Prokhorov’s team appears headed in reverse, the Russian billionaire may have gotten the last laugh on this one. In a statement released by the Nets, Prokhorov responded: "I think Mark has it wrong. I don't like cats.”
43. Kevin Garnett's "Cancer Patient" Comments to Charlie Villanueva
Who ever expected an early-November Celtics/Pistons game to make headlines?
Well, once Charlie Villanueva took to Twitter after the loss and tweeted “KG called me a cancer patient,” the media firestorm was on.
Despite Garnett issuing a league statement saying that he was misunderstood and actually told Villanueva that he was a cancer to his team and the league, Charlie V. seemed to gain most of the public support on this one.
On the bright side, after the recent Nuggets/Celtics game, Garnett approached George Karl (who recently battled through throat cancer) to clear things up—a “classy gesture,” as Karl said.
42. Allen Iverson Takes His Talents to Turkey Without a Peep
How often can a surefire Hall-of-Famer not find a job in the NBA, then leave for a second career in Turkey without but a peep?
Somehow, Allen Iverson, who rarely did anything quietly throughout his career, managed exactly that.
Iverson couldn’t find anywhere in the NBA to take his talents and, thus, he signed a two-year, $4 million deal with Turkish team Bestikas. Beyond a few expressions of disbelief from Larry Brown, the NBA world barely seemed to notice Iverson’s departure.
Some reports have emerged suggesting his time in Turkey may be coming to an end sooner rather than later. However, Iverson went on Twitter to shoot down those rumors last week.
41. The Utah Jazz's 'Comeback Week'
Most NBA teams don’t like making a habit of falling behind by double-digit deficits. For one magical week in November, the Utah Jazz couldn’t get enough of it.
From Nov. 6 to Nov. 13, the Jazz mustered five straight double-digit comebacks—the last four on the road. It all started with an overtime comeback victory at home over the Los Angeles Clippers, where they overcame a 16-point deficit.
From there, the Jazz rose above a 22-point deficit in Miami, an 18-point hole against Orlando, an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter against Atlanta and, finally, a 16-point deficit to Charlotte.
The Oklahoma City Thunder ended up snapping the Jazz’s comeback streak by giving them a taste of their own medicine, but suffice it to say, the Jazz had one of the more memorable weeks in the NBA so far this season.
40. Roy Hibbert's Breakout Year and the Indiana Pacers Being...Good?
I’m honestly not sure which of these is the bigger story here, but there’s no question they’re interrelated.
Roy Hibbert, the third-year center out of Georgetown, went from averaging 7.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, 0.7 assists and 1.1 blocks in 14.4 minutes per game in his rookie season to his current averages of 14.8 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.9 blocks in 29.8 minutes per game.
Coach Jim O’Brien has the confidence in Hibbert’s passing ability to allow the Pacers’ offense to run through the big man this year, which has resulted in an 11-11 record for Indiana so far this season. (Hibbert credits his offseason work with Bill Walton for his improvement on the passing end.)
While Darren Collison hasn’t been the superstar PG they’d hoped for, the combination of Danny Granger and Hibbert have kept the Pacers right in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race.
And so long as Hibbert keeps up the MMA training that’s led to this sudden improvement, there’s no reason to believe the Pacers can’t stay relevant this season.
39. Evan Turner and Andre Iguodala Aren't Meshing in Philly
The Philadelphia 76ers’ worst nightmare appears to be coming true: Andre Iguodala and rookie Evan Turner aren’t meshing on the court.
Whether Iggy and Turner’s skillsets are too similar, or Turner’s simply not adjusted to the speed of the NBA game yet, Turner’s most successful games in a Sixers uniform came earlier this season while Iggy was sidelined by a strained Achilles’ tendon.
Now, since Iguodala’s returned, Turner’s been relegated to the bench, replaced in the starting lineup by the sharpshooting Jodie Meeks. (Admittedly, Meeks is a much more prototypical 2-guard than Turner.)
The on-court chemistry between Turner and Iguodala will be the biggest storyline for Sixers fans to watch as the season progresses. Traditionally speaking, teams don’t like it when their two franchise cornerstones can’t co-exist on the court.
38. Milwaukee Bucks: Don't 'Fear The Deer?'
Coming into the season, the Milwaukee Bucks were the chic sleeper pick in the East—a team that broke out late last season, earned the sixth seed in the East, and took the three-seed Atlanta Hawks to a hard-fought Game 7 in the first round in the playoffs.
After acquiring Corey Maggette (free throw machine) from the Golden State Warriors, re-signing Josh Salmons to a contract extension, and picking up Drew Gooden in free agency, the Bucks weren’t supposed to skip a beat this season.
Instead, the Bucks have gotten off to a baffling 9-13 start and it’s hard to find a player on the team that hasn’t regressed in some way. Milwaukee’s currently last in the league in PPG, scoring only 91.5 a game.
While there’s been recent reason for offensive optimism in Milwaukee, there’s still a long way to go until the rest of the NBA has reason to “Fear the Deer” again.
37. Shaquille O'Neal Looks 10 Years Younger in Boston
When the Celtics decided to sign Shaquille O’Neal to a two-year deal this summer, there were serious questions about how well O’Neal would mesh with the Celtics’ defensive identity, especially on the pick-and-roll.
I can’t imagine anyone expected to see a Shaq that looks years younger than the Cleveland and Phoenix versions of Shaq did.
Shaq appears to understand his body’s limitations this season, as he’s already missed seven games over the course of the season due to various ailments. That said, when he’s on the court, Shaq’s been one of the most efficient per-minute players in the NBA.
One look at Shaq’s three-week stretch between Nov. 13 and Dec. 3 (including a 25-11 effort against the New Jersey Nets) speaks to the huge boon he’s been for the C’s while they weather the storm of Kendrick Perkins continuing to rehab from his ACL tear back in June.
36. The Hornets' Hot Start...And Brutal Recent Stretch
How many of you expected the Hornets to start off the season 11-1 this year? Despite only having a 3-9 record since, as long as Chris Paul’s healthy and humming, the Hornets appear to be potential playoff contenders this season.
CP3 has wrestled the “best PG in the NBA” title away from Deron Williams once more—at least for now. He’s second in the league in assists per game (10.4), and leads the league in steals with 3.18 takeaways per game.
Paul’s dominance has led to easy looks for Emeka Okafor, who’s shooting over 55 percent from the field, and David West, who’s shooting 54 percent.
As we learn in physics, however, what comes up must eventually come down, and the same has held true for the Hornets recently. In a blowout loss against the Sixers on Sunday, the Hornets shot 14.8 percent from the field in the first half and could not buy a bucket.
If the Hornets can work out their recent offensive struggles, they've got a chance to sneak into the playoffs in the West this season.
35. Tony Parker's Love Scandal
When will these athletes learn? You don’t get better than that on an everyday basis!
Despite the very public cheating revelations, and the none-too-secret ensuing divorce, T.P. hasn’t missed a beat on the court. He’s guided the Spurs to the best record in the NBA, leading their new fastbreak-oriented offense to perfection.
Suffice it to say, Parker’s done everything in his power to live up to that 4-year, $50 million extension he signed early in the season, despite his ongoing divorce from Longoria.
For now, at least, it appears most of Parker's questionable decision-making occurs off the court.
34. Yao Ming Gets Injured for the 657,209th Time in His NBA Career
At this point, is this one surprising in the least?
After missing all of last season, Yao Ming finally made his return to the court on opening night against the Lakers, Oct. 26 of this year.
Seven games later, he injured himself again, straining a tendon in his left leg. He hasn’t played since.
Much like Greg Oden, the injury history for Yao is building up to the point where you start wondering if his body simply isn’t physically meant to endure the pounding of an 82-game season of NBA action.
Considering the Rockets had been limiting Yao to 24 minutes per game before his injury this season, what more can Houston do when Yao finally returns?
33. Greg Oden Manages To Re-Injure Himself...While Rehabbing From Last Injury
The same can be said for this one. Another year, another injury for Greg Oden.
After only playing in 82 of a possible 246 games in his first three NBA seasons, Oden’s now missing the entire 2010-11 season due to microfracture surgery on his left knee. According to CBSSports.com’s Ken Berger, this was unrelated to the left patella injury that knocked Oden out last season.
While Blazers president Larry Miller already said that he sees the team giving Oden his $8.8 million qualifying offer to retain his restricted free agent rights, it’s not out of the question that the Blazers change their mind privately. Especially with a new, likely more restrictive CBA being negotiated.
After all, if wallets get tighter with this new CBA, how can you justify spending nearly $9 million on a player that may see the court 25 percent of the time? At this point in his career, fair or not, that’s what Oden’s been.
32. Monta Ellis' Arrival As an Elite Scorer
Last year, Monta Ellis was the definition of a volume shooter—someone who could put up 25 PPG for your team, but he’d be doing it on 20-25 shots per game.
In this year’s season opener, Monta broke out a 46-point night on 24 shots. Jaws dropped nationwide.
He’s sixth in the NBA in scoring with 24.3 PPG currently, and with Stephen Curry indefinitely sidelined with an ankle injury, the Warriors will be relying on Monta for even more of the scoring load over the next couple weeks.
Unfortunately, his scoring efficiency has taken a huge hit over the past three games with Curry on the mend. If Ellis can’t find someone to help shoulder some of the offensive load (calling Mr. Lee? David Lee, anyone?), the Dubs could be staring at a long losing streak ahead.
31. Lamar Odom, the Model of Consistency for the L.A. Lakers
If there’s been one knock on Lamar Odom to this point in his career (besides his weird fixation with candy and that whole Khloe Kardashian marriage thing), it’s been his inconsistency.
Odom has an incredibly diverse skillset, but never seemed to put it together for an extended period of time. That is, until this season.
After carving out a niche as one of Team USA’s veteran leaders in the world championships this summer, Odom carried over his strong performances right to the NBA.
With Andrew Bynum still sidelined by knee surgery he had in the offseason, Odom stepped into the Lakers’ starting lineup and the defending champs haven’t missed a beat. Odom’s shooting a career-high 57.7 percent from the field, and gives the Lakers yet another frontcourt weapon to utilize in their quest for a three-peat this season.
30. Joe Johnson Signs $120 Million Deal; Immediately Tanks
This summer, in the free agency class with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Amar’e Stoudemire, somehow Joe Johnson ended up inking the most lucrative deal of any NBA player.
The Hawks, stuck between a rock (losing their franchise superstar) and a hard place (overpaying for that superstar), chose the hard place by signing Johnson to a six-year contract worth somewhere around $120 million.
Thus far, Johnson’s rewarded his employers by shooting 40.9 percent from the field, 25.6 percent from three, and by needing surgery on his right elbow to “remove a loose body” in it. He’s going to be out for 4-6 weeks due to the surgery.
Just about everyone in their right mind questioned the wisdom of the Hawks handing a 28-year-old a six-year maximum contract when it happened. At this point, it’s pretty tough to say that Johnson’s contract wasn’t a huge mistake.
29. Erik Spoelstra on the Miami Heat's Hot Seat
As the Heat slogged through their first 17 games, managing only a 9-8 record, the Erik Spoelstra hot seat rumors ignited to a near boiling point.
Between the LBJ bump and a players-only meeting, it appeared to be not a matter of if, but when Pat Riley fired Spoelstra and usurped him as the coach. When rumblings of discord from LeBron James began leaking out, Spoelstra appeared to be a dead man walking.
Since then, Spoelstra’s only managed to guide the team to an eight-game win streak, re-emphasizing championship defense along the way.
With Spoelstra telling the team that he’ll only call plays when the team doesn’t muster stops on defense, he’s got everyone buying in on the defensive side of the ball. That’s a way to keep his name firmly out of hot seat rumors this season.
28. LeBron James 'Rise' Commercial...and the Ensuing Spoofs
In late October, Nike rolled out one of the more brilliant NBA commercials in recent memory with the debut LeBron James “Rise” advertisement.
In the commercial, LeBron rhetorically asks us, his audience, “What should I do?” (As if he really cares what we humble peons think.) Bron takes us through a host of situations, then seems to decide at the end that he truly doesn’t care about our opinion, and he’s just gonna do him.
For all of a day, the NBA community seemed to rally around the commercial, thinking LBJ might have taken the first step towards restoring his image. Then the spoofs started.
Take your pick: Cleveland’s response, South Park’s parody, Sports Illustrated’s Dan Patrick, an Ohio senator or the epic Michael Jordan version created by a fan. Whichever you choose, you probably hate LeBron a little more when you’re done with it.
27. Michael Beasley Isn't a Huge Bust After All
In order to pull off the most impressive free agent coup in NBA history this summer, the Miami Heat first had to slash and burn their entire roster to free up as much contract space as possible.
Michael Beasley got caught in the LeBron James crossfire, in other words. Two years after drafting Beasley with the No. 2 overall pick, the Heat sent him to the Minnesota Timberwolves for two second-round picks and cash considerations this summer.
Now that he’s free from the pressure of being D-Wade’s sidekick and one of the main offensive focal points for the T’Wolves, Beasley’s finally living up to the lofty expectations set for him.
With Kevin Love by his side to gobble up every offensive rebound off his missed shots, the Beasley-Love combo looks like a legitimate building block for the otherwise directionless Timberwolves.
26. Raymond Felton's Breakout Under Mike D'Antoni
One of the more underrated stories of the season here, IMO: Raymond Felton’s breakout year under Mike D’Antoni.
After emerging from Larry Brown’s grind-it-out halfcourt system this summer (Charlotte ranks 21st in John Hollinger’s “Pace” factor; New York currently ranks third), Felton’s now thriving in New York’s up-tempo offense.
And Felton’s learning exactly what made the Suns so deadly in the mid-2000s, thanks to the Knicks’ major free-agent acquisition. The Felton-Stoudemire pick-and-roll combo has already made the Knicks one of the most high-powered offenses in the league this year.
When a guy jumps from a 12-point, 5-assist per game average to an 18-point, 8-assist per game average in the course of one year, you’d think it’d warrant a little more attention.
25. Blake Griffin Impressing (and Dunking) for the L.A. Clippers
While John Wall had the Rookie of the Year hype for the first week of the season, it’s been all the Blake Griffin show ever since.
And with dunks like this, it’s not hard to see why. Timofey Mozgov still must have nightmares.
But don’t trick yourself into thinking Griffin’s all dunking flash and no substance. He’s currently averaging 20 PPG and 11.7 RPG, with 11 straight double-doubles (including a 44-15-7 night against the Knicks).
If Griffin’s doing this as a rookie, what’s next for the big man? One thing’s for sure: The NBA would be making the biggest mistake they’ve ever made if Griffin doesn’t have a guaranteed spot in the All-Star Weekend Dunk Contest.
24. Tim Duncan's Reduced Role for the San Antonio Spurs
While countless NBA experts predict the downfall of Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs on a yearly basis and get proven completely wrong; this year, the Spurs haters may have gotten it at least half-right.
Duncan’s averaging a career-low in points (13.6), minutes (28.8) and rebounds (9.0) per game this season for the Spurs, yet they’ve run out to the best record in the NBA thus far.
Duncan’s diminished role, as it turns out, may be a good thing after all. The 34-year-old with thousands of NBA miles on his legs would likely be worn down by starter’s minutes in the Spurs’ new up-tempo offense, first and foremost.
Instead, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich made the executive decision to preserve Duncan as much as possible for the playoffs, while allowing Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and the rest of the Spurs to run wild in the regular season.
So far, so good for the good ‘ol boys down in San Antonio.
23. Amar'e Stoudemire Can Still Pick-and-Roll Without Steve Nash
One of the great NBA mysteries about the Suns’ seven-second-or-less era was, “Did Steve Nash make Amar’e Stoudemire who he is?” That is, without Nash’s floor vision guiding his way, could STAT still thrive in the pick-and-roll game?
The answer, at least this year, appears to be a definitive yes. After being reunited with Mike D’Antoni in New York this summer, Stoudemire’s been making a case for player of the month these past few weeks, as the Knicks have reeled off their first seven-game win streak in 10 years.
More importantly, Stoudemire’s found a willing pick-and-roll partner in Raymond Felton, who’s also been experiencing a career resurgence under D’Antoni’s system this season. Felton’s averaging a career-high 8.4 assists per game and a career-high 3.9 assists per game at the rim this season.
With Amar’e playing like a true superstar for the Knicks, it appears that D’Antoni’s up-tempo system was the cure to his ails all along.
22. Boston Celtics Playing Like the Best Team in the East
After a summer of hearing talk about Miami potentially winning 72 games this season, the Boston Celtics managed to remain unfazed. After all, they were all of six minutes from stealing Game 7 away from the Lakers on their home court this past June.
Lo and behold, the Heat got off to a rough 9-8 start, while the Celtics haven’t missed a beat despite having Kendrick Perkins sidelined.
With Shaquille O’Neal looking 10 years younger, the Big Three continuing to co-exist and forgo their egos for the team concept, and Rajon Rondo turning the Big Three into the Big Four, the C’s look like the favorite in the East once more.
Miami may have LeBron and D-Wade, but no team in the East can compete with Boston’s size. Shaq, Jermaine O’Neal, Perkins, K.G., Glen Davis and Semih Erden give the C’s an indomitable advantage up front.
21. Tyson Chandler's Revival Making Dallas Mavericks Finals Contenders?
Last season, the Dallas Mavericks were one of the hottest post-All-Star teams in the NBA, and earned the West’s No. 2 seed for their troubles.
Then, in true Nowitzki-era Mavs fashion, they flamed out immediately to the seventh-seeded Spurs in the first round of the playoffs.
This year, the Mavs were owners of a 12-game win streak (before losing to the Bucks on Monday night), which has them trailing only the Spurs for the rights to the NBA’s best record. And that’s in no small part due to Tyson Chandler, who’s taken over the defensive identity of this team and become the team’s “spiritual” leader.
Mavs owner Mark Cuban recently said, "Where [Chandler] has been most impactful is in his ability to be vocal and energetic on the court. He talks the talk and walks the walk and guys respect and respond to him."
If Dallas keeps walking the defensive walk, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be considered one of the favorites to win the West, so long as Dirk Nowitzki keeps defying age and draining buckets.
20. Pau Gasol Being Early MVP for the L.A. Lakers
Kobe Bryant’s 2010-11 statistics: 33.3 MPG, 26.4 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 4.6 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.2 BPG, 24.8 PER
Pau Gasol’s 2010-11 statistics: 39.2 MPG, 19.8 PPG, 11.4 RPG, 4.3 APG, 0.6 SPG, 2.2 BPG, 23.9 PER
If anyone tells you that Kobe Bryant’s been more valuable to the Los Angeles Lakers than Pau Gasol so far this season, they’re lying to themselves. Or really hate Spaniards.
In each of the Lakers’ seven losses this season, Kobe Bryant has taken at least 20 shots. When Kobe takes less than 20 shots in a game, the Lakers are 10-0 this year. Think that’s a coincidence?
When Kobe’s shooting less, chances are, it’s a game that the Lakers haven’t forgotten about Gasol’s presence (as they’re known to occasionally do). And when the Lakers feed the ball to Gasol, great things tend to happen, as his season statistics suggest.
Granted, the Lakers may have ridden Gasol’s shoulders too much in the first month (with his 39+ minutes per game), as he’s recently been slowed by a strained hamstring.
But in a year where Andrew Bynum’s yet to see the court and Kobe’s been shooting the Lakers out of games, Gasol’s been the steadying force for the two-time defending champions.
19. The Battle for the Best PG in the NBA Today
After last year’s playoffs, chances are, a majority of NBA fans would have named Deron Williams as the best point guard in the league.
D-Will was fresh off a transcendent performance in the playoffs, while his main competition, Chris Paul, had missed half the season with injuries.
This season, we’ve got two new challengers to Paul and Williams’ best PG throne: Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose. The third-year guards have continued adding new pieces to their game, and while their offensive style of attack fundamentally differs, they’re both high-volume, high-efficiency scorers.
That’s not even to mention Raymond Felton, who’s experienced a breakout year under Mike D’Antoni in New York, Tony Parker, who’s the king of San Antonio’s new fast break, or mainstays like Jason Kidd and Steve Nash.
Long story short, the battle for the best NBA point guard might be the most ferocious positional battle in the league this year.
18. LeBron James' First Return to Cleveland
On Dec. 2, NBA fans were treated to one of the most anticipated homecomings in sporting history: LeBron James’ first game back in Cleveland.
After publicly humiliating the city on national TV over the summer, 20,000 Cleveland fans would congregate inside of one building to express a city’s worth of exasperation. This was the NBA’s most must-see TV game of the season, in other words.
While the actual game itself didn’t live up to expectations—the Heat ended up blowing out the Cavs by 30 points—the Cleveland crowd did itself proud.
The crowd got major points because no one attempted anything massively stupid, which was no guarantee going into the night. The “Akron hates you,” “Side-kick” and “De-lon-te” chants really tipped the night in the favor of the Cleveland fans, no matter how lifeless their team happened to be on the court.
17. Is Russell Westbrook Better Than Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City?
Coming into the season, an Oklahoma City Thunder player was being mentioned as the preseason favorite for league MVP, as LeBron James’ talented teammates were sure to take away from his usually-ridiculous statistics.
Problem is, we all expected that Thunder player to be Team USA superstar Kevin Durant, not his less-heralded teammate, Russell Westbrook.
Anyone who’s owned Westbrook in fantasy basketball these past two years knew of the potential that was brewing down in OKC. He’s an explosive scorer in the mold of LeBron in that if he gets a full head of steam, you aren’t stopping him without fouling him.
Durant’s sure to break out of this early season mini-slump soon enough, but Westbrook’s proving that OKC isn’t just a one-man show anymore.
16. Kevin Love: The Best Rebounder in the NBA? Most Improved Player?
For the past few years, Kevin Love’s been mainly rotting on the bench of the Minnesota Timberwolves, which was always a baffling decision, given how bad the T’Wolves have been these past few years. (Why not give the young guy some burn earlier?)
As it turns out, when Love does average more than 30 minutes a game…well, Dwight Howard, your rebounding title officially has a challenger this year. Howard may rank second in the NBA in rebounds per game with 12.2, but he’s nowhere near Love’s league-leading 15.7 RPG.
Fun fact: Love has put up 20 points and 15 rebounds or more in each of his past six games. Howard has five 15+ rebound games this season. And as of now, Love’s leading the league in defensive rebounder percentage and total rebound percentage.
So, blame Orlando’s slow-paced offensive and Minnesota’s propensity to jack bad shots (leading to more rebounds) if you’d like. But, if you do, you’d be greatly underrating how special of a rebounder we’re seeing in Love this season.
15. John Wall Takes the League By Storm in the Season's First Week
John Wall’s NBA career could not have gotten off to a much more explosive start.
The rookie phenom dished out nine assists in an opening night loss to the Orlando Magic, then reeled off four double-doubles (with points and assists) in his first seven games.
That’s not even to mention the triple-double against Houston in his sixth career game; only four rookies in NBA history had dropped a triple-double in fewer games. Wall also managed to become the first NBA rookie since Oscar Robertson that dished out seven or more assists in his first seven career NBA games.
When you’re already entering the Oscar Robertson conversation, you’re living up to your No. 1 draft selection status. And the Great Wall of Washington, despite being hampered by injuries these past few weeks, has managed to take the league by storm with his performances this season.
14. Hakeem Olajuwon's Tutoring of Dwight Howard Pays Off
In early October, a YouTube video of Dwight Howard training under Hakeem Olajuwon began circulating in NBA circles. The caption might as well have been “If he’s this good in-season…we’re all screwed.”
Howard spent a few days receiving tutelage from The Dream (or as Howard calls him, “Master Splinter”) this summer, refining his post game skills and attempting to add more to his offensive arsenal. Olajuwon said he wanted to help make Howard “a more complete player.”
Well, Master Splinter…mission officially accomplished. Howard’s developed an unstoppable offensive repertoire of fadeaways, jumphooks and spin moves, all of which he hasn’t been shy about busting out this season.
Howard’s averaging a career-high 21.5 PPG so far this season and looks more like a legitimate MVP candidate than ever, largely thanks to Hakeem’s tutoring.
13. Brandon Roy and the Case of the Missing Meniscuses
Back in mid-November, NBA fans found out one of the biggest surprises in this early NBA season, much to the misfortune of the Portland Trail Blazers.
Shortly before Greg Oden had been declared out for the season (again), Blazers’ superstar Brandon Roy revealed a troubling nugget of news: He doesn’t have a meniscus remaining in either his left or right knees.
As The Oregonian’s Jason Quick reported, “The reason Roy's knee has been swelling up regularly, to the point where it has already been drained twice by Blazers' doctor Don Roberts this season, is because there is no cartilage to absorb the pounding associated with running and jumping.”
Not having a meniscus isn’t the type of thing you’re going to sleep off overnight. That’s an issue that will affect Roy throughout the rest of his career, as evidenced by the minutes cap the Blazers attempted to place on him.
Recently, Roy said that he’s “kind of done with the minutes thing,” so that’s a situation worth monitoring in the coming weeks. Regardless, with five years and over $80 million left on his contract, the missing meniscuses in Roy’s knees must be haunting Blazers fans these days.
12. Derrick Rose for League MVP?
Back in the league’s media days in September, Derrick Rose casually tossed in a comment about him potentially being league MVP this season.
Almost everyone scoffed then. After seeing Rose out-will Kobe on Friday night to push the Bulls over the Lakers, anyone still willing to doubt D-Rose?
Rose has always had the ability to finish around the basket, and he’s got the explosive first-step and breakneck speed that allow him to run a transition game to perfection. But this summer, Rose openly admitted that he’d been working diligently on developing a reliable long-range game.
Well, coming into the year, Rose had 32 three-pointers to his credit in his two years of NBA service. This year, he’s already shot 83 attempts from deep (more than he shot all of last season), and he’s sank 32 of those. In other words: mission accomplished.
At fourth in the NBA in scoring (25.3 PPG), why couldn’t Rose end up being a dark horse candidate for MVP if he maintains this pace?
11. Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs Can't Be Counted Out
What have we learned every single year, without fail? Never count out the San Antonio Spurs with Tim Duncan.
And yet, this was finally supposed to be the year where the vaunted Spurs dynasty crumbled like Rome. Father Time was due to visit Duncan and rob him of the skills that made him the best power forward in NBA history, leaving the Spurs flailing for answers.
Instead, Tony Parker’s seized the opportunity opened by Duncan’s diminished role, and the Spurs have been playing faster-paced than they have in years. Which, naturally, has resulted in a league-best 19-3 record to start the season.
The terrifying part for the rest of the NBA: Duncan really hasn’t had all that much to do with the Spurs’ explosive start, as Gregg Popovich is trying to save his big man for the playoffs. Just imagine what the Spurs will look like with Duncan playing 30-35 minutes/game in the postseason.
10. Will the Philadelphia 76ers Trade Andre Iguodala This Season?
Given the lack of on-court chemistry between Iguodala, the Sixers’ current franchise player, and Evan Turner, the No. 2 pick in the 2010 draft (the future franchise player), there’s reason to wonder how much longer Iguodala will be playing in Philadelphia.
The answer, as of now, appears to be a matter of months. The Ohio Morning Journal recently reported that the Sixers are openly shopping Iguodala behind closed doors.
At this point, the real question isn’t when will Iggy be traded…it’s how much will the Sixers be able to receive in return for their franchise player?
The Morning Journal report suggested that Iggy could be had for the Cavs’ trade exception from the LeBron James trade. However, Sixers fans have to be hoping that their team wouldn’t trade away their franchise player as a pure salary dump.
9. Remember Chris Paul? He's Baaaaack...
After only playing 45 games last season due to various ailments, watch out, NBA. Chris Paul is back and he isn't taking prisoners.
Coming into the season, CP3 had been relegated to “second-best PG in the NBA” status after Deron Williams’ transcendent performance in last year’s playoffs. But once the Hornets got off to an 11-1 start this season, the CP3 vs. D-Will debate livened up again.
CP3 hasn’t shouldered nearly as much of the scoring load for the Hornets this season, averaging a career-low 15.8 PPG this season. However, Paul’s second in the league with 10.4 assists per game, and he’s the only player in the NBA averaging over three steals a game.
Throw in his career-high 47.1 percent shooting from three-point range, and it’s clear why CP3 has emerged as one of the early favorites for league MVP this season.
8. Miami Heat: A Tale of Two Halves of the Season
Of all the stories that captivated the league in the first month of the season, none grabbed more headlines than the Miami Heat’s lethargic start to the season.
The 72-win predictions rapidly turned into a 9-8 reality, earning Heat coach Erik Spoelstra an instant trip to the hot seat. The infamous LBJ-Spoelstra bump happened, and the players called a players-only meeting after a particularly deflating loss in Dallas.
Ever since that players-only meeting, it’s been smooth sailing for the Heat. Owners of a seven-game win streak, the Heat already survived the most hostile environment they’ll face this season (Cleveland in LBJ’s first game back) and emerged victorious.
As LeBron told reporters after Friday night’s win over Golden State: "Me and D-Wade have figured it out," James said. "We just started going back to our games, what made us who we are in this league. It's resulted in us playing good basketball, offensively and defensively."
If LeBron’s right, the rest of the league should be very, very wary. Because the Heat beat the Jazz on the road last week, and after the game, Deron Williams sounded absolutely clueless as to how to stop Miami offensively.
Just like we all expected for the Heat in the first place.
7. Paul Millsap's Reggie Miller Night
Coming into the Jazz’s Nov. 9 matchup against the Miami Heat, Paul Millsap had only knocked down two of his 20 career three-point attempts.
Then, with his team down 22 to the Heat at one point in the second quarter, Millsap went into pure Reggie Miller mode.
Millsap drained the third, fourth and fifth three-pointers of his career in the final minute of the game, single-handedly bringing the Jazz back from a double-digit deficit. A last-second tip-in from Millsap tied up the game and brought it into overtime, which resulted in the Jazz escaping with a 116-109 OT win over Miami.
Millsap’s 46 points—including 11 in the final 28 seconds of the game—were a career-high. When a reporter asked Millsap’s coach, Jerry Sloan, if he had the green light to shoot, Sloan simply responded, “He does now.”
6. New York Knicks on First 8-Game Win Streak in 15 Years
After starting the season 3-8 and making Amar’e Stoudemire question his $100 million decision to move to New York this summer, the Knicks have quite simply been one of the hottest teams in the NBA.
The Knicks have 13 wins in their past 14 games, which is the most for the franchise since a 14-win-in-15-game streak from Dec. 27, 1994 to Jan. 26, 1995, according to Newsday’s Alan Hahn. Likewise, the Knicks are riding their first eight-game win streak since Dec. 27, 1994 to Jan. 13, 1995.
This, in no small part, is a result of Stoudemire; the Knicks’ win-streak not-so-coincidentally started with a string of 30-point performances from STAT. With his eighth straight 30-point game on Sunday against the Nuggets, Stoudemire set a franchise record for consecutive 30-point games.
As Hahn reported Sunday, Stoudemire and the Knicks finally have the Garden popping like it’s the mid-90s again. With dates against the Celtics on Wednesday and the Heat on Friday, this week will go a long way towards proving whether or not the Knicks are for real this season.
5. George Karl Becomes 7th Coach in NBA History To Win 1,000 Games
This past Friday night against the Toronto Raptors, Denver Nuggets coach George Karl became only the seventh coach in NBA history to win 1,000 games.
Karl, normally unconcerned with individual achievements, confessed that the 1,000-win plateau was special for him, largely because his family wanted him to reach it so badly.
After a battle with throat cancer caused him to miss last year’s playoffs and drop around 50 pounds, it’s not difficult to understand why. With his 1,000th W, Karl joined an elite coaching fraternity that includes Phil Jackson, Jerry Sloan and Larry Brown.
Amidst the turmoil the Nuggets are enduring with constant Carmelo Anthony rumors, for the team to rally around Karl’s 1,000th win proves just how much Karl inspires his team.
4. NBA's Takeover of the New Orleans Hornets
For the first time in NBA history, the league will be taking over a team in the coming weeks.
NBA commissioner David Stern announced in early December that the NBA would be taking control of the New Orleans Hornets after the franchise’s potential sale to Gary Chouset collapsed in recent weeks.
As Stern explained in the announcement, “I recommended to the NBA Board of Governors that the best way to assure stability and the adequate funding of the franchise would be for the league to step in, and complete the transaction and assume control.”
The NBA appointed New Orleans native Jac Sperling as the NBA’s administrator for the Hornets whose job it is to make the franchise more attractive to any potential local buyers.
Stern wants to keep the Hornets in New Orleans, as of now. However, if a local buyer doesn’t step up, there’s no guarantee that Chris Paul and Co. will be able to stay in New Orleans permanently.
3. Kevin Love Has NBA's First 30-30 Night in 28 Years
On Nov. 12 of this year, Kevin Love cemented his name right next to Moses Malone’s in the NBA history books.
Love posted the first 30-point, 30-rebound game in 28 years—since Malone did it for the 1982 76ers—in a 112-103 victory over the Knicks in mid-November.
"I just got a good mindset that every single one was mine," Love said after the game. "It seemed like no matter what anybody did I was going to go and get those rebounds. I don't know what to tell you."
Well, Love’s assault on the NBA’s history books may not end there. Love’s currently riding a six-game streak of at least 20 points and 15 rebounds a night, proving his 30-30 night wasn’t a complete fluke.
Likewise, if Love can maintain his total rebounding rate (he’s grabbing 24.4 percent of available rebounds when he’s on the court), he’d surpass the NBA’s all-time leader in total rebounding rate, Dennis Rodman, who finished at 23.4 percent.
No matter what, one thing’s become clear: Kevin Love’s 30-30 night was his way to announce his rebounding dominance to the rest of the NBA.
2. Carmelo Anthony Trade Rumors and Their Effect on the Denver Nuggets
Once the free agent summer of 2010 died down after The Decision, attention started turning towards Carmelo Anthony and the other big names in the class of 2011.
And Melo only intensified that attention by continuing to not sign the three-year, $65 million contract extension that the Nuggets still have on the table for him.
At 14-8 and 8-2 in their past 10 games, the Nuggets clearly aren’t letting the speculation affect them too much in the early goings of the season. And as Al Harrington proved on Friday, the Nuggets still have a high-volume shooter/scorer even if Melo leaves.
That said, CBSSports.com’s Ken Berger recently reported that the Nuggets have “all but decided” to trade Melo if he doesn’t sign that extension by the Feb. 24 trade deadline.
And with the breaking ESPN report Sunday that Melo won't sign a contract extension unless he's traded to the Knicks, we appear headed towards a New York-sized showdown in the next two months for the Denver front office.
1. NBA Lockout Rumors: Contraction? No More Age Limit in the NBA Draft?
With a new collective bargaining agreement being negotiated upon for next season, both the owners and the players’ union have been doing little but lobbing media grenades at each other thus far.
The week before the season tipped off, NBA commissioner David Stern conceded that contraction was a possibility in the league’s upcoming contract bargaining agreement negotiations. Stern and deputy NBA commissioner Adam Silver also confirmed that owners were looking to reduce player costs by $750-800 million in the new CBA.
The players fired back last week, saying that they want an end to the age restrictions placed on the NBA draft.
The players’ union is reportedly willing to discuss a reduction in league revenue guarantees for players; however, they’re also proposing changes to allow more flexibility in sign-and-trade deals.
Long story short? NBA players’ union chief Billy Hunter recently said there’s a 99 percent chance for a lockout, given how far apart the two sides are at this point.
Regardless of whether a lockout comes to fruition, one thing’s clear: The NBA, as we know it, will be getting a major makeover next year with this new CBA.