The 2010-'11 season was supposed to be a year to remember. The implications and the story lines were prominent in just about every city from Miami's big three on the East Coast to the Los Angeles Lakers run at a three-peat on the West Coast. When the season actually started, the watchful eyes of the NBA's faithful all focused on Miami where they struggled to get off the ground as they started off winning only 9 of their first 17 games.
When they began to win, the attention then shifted towards Los Angeles where both teams received national attention. In Clippers town, rookie Blake Griffin was putting on a show every night with his high-flying acrobatics and top-ten worthy alley-oops while also making the Clippers a team that was actually fun to watch. The Lakers on the other hand struggled at the end of December as the team was under scrutiny from inside and outside of the organization.
While the Lakers struggled for two weeks and the Heat won for nearly a month straight, the San Antonio Spurs were flying under the radar as the best statistical team in the NBA at 34-6. They won 23 of their first 26 games, as the ageless wonders Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan lead the team to another future championship run. The big three in San Antonio was outshining every trio from Miami to Boston to Chicago.
Now that we're halfway through the season, we can gauge just how well these teams have done in the first half of the year and just how well they will possibly play in the second half. While anything can happen on any given night, it has become clear just how many teams are most likely going to contend for the title a few months from now. As we look to San Antonio, Boston, Miami, the Los Angeles Lakers, and a few other teams contending, we also look to Minnesota, the Clippers, and Golden State and just how well they will play in the future.
The first half of the NBA has been a good preview of what is to possibly come in the next few months. We also need to learn to appreciate while we can until the possibility of a lockout next season. For now though, the first half has without a doubt entertained us as we look to see just how well each NBA team has performed thus far. From South Beach success to trouble in Cleveland, each team has had something worth noting and worth mentioning.
26-14, 2nd in the Southeast Division, fourth in the Eastern Conference
Points per game: Joe Johnson at 18.8
Rebounds per game: Al Horford at 9.7
Assists per game: Joe Johnson at 5.4
Maybe those $120 million aren't going to waste after all. Despite averaging three points less than last season, Joe Johnson has managed to lead the Atlanta Hawks to a quality 26-14 record and only 3.5 games out of the Southeast Division lead. The Hawks are also only four games behind Boston for the overall lead in the Eastern Conference. Atlanta has yet to lose in January as they currently ride a five game win streak.
The Hawks aren't always the team that stands out amongst the better teams of the league, but they are flying under the radar this season as they can attribute their performances on the road for their hot start. At 13-9 away from the friendly confines, Atlanta has one of the best records on the road as it greatly helps them remain in contention for a surprising possible top three seed.
Each player has leveled out to their usual game as Jamal Crawford comes off the bench to score nearly 17 points a night, Josh Smith is still one of the leading shot blockers at two per game, and Al Horford continues to learn how to play the power forward position. Earlier in the season, the Hawks decided to experiment with the starting lineup by moving Horford down to the four spot and placing Jason Collins in at center.
Needless to say, it is working out very well. Even with the plethora of injuries to Johnson, Crawford, and Marvin Williams, Atlanta has been able to weather the storm and is now on the right track to becoming a formidable opponent in the Eastern Conference as well as a possible post season threat to teams such as Orlando, Miami, or Boston. With everyone healthy, the Hawks can now look towards the future and prove that they gave $120 million to the right person.
29-9, first in the Atlantic Division, first in the Eastern Conference.
Points per game: Paul Pierce at 19.2
Rebounds per game: Kevin Garnett at 9.5
Assists per game: Rajon Rondo at 13.4
Even with all the off season moves being made to help improve the likes of the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat, the Boston Celtics have consistently remained the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. With two wins over the second place Heat, the Celtics hold a regular season advantage over their new conference rivals, but now have some strong competition for the number one seed that evaded them last season.
However, it might come as a problem later on this season if this team can't remain healthy. Only halfway through the season and Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, Shaquille O'Neal, Delonte West, and Jermaine O'Neal have all suffered an injury that has kept them out for a significant amount of time. The Celtics were able to thrive without Rondo in the lineup, but the loss of Garnett has hurt as they are now 6-4 in their past 10 games.
Losing the heart and soul of the team hurts, but with his arrival back within the week, it should allow the Celtics to be right on track. With Rondo playing at an MVP pace, Paul Pierce shooting at a 51% clip and Ray Allen hitting an absurd 47% from beyond the arc, the Celtics are as dangerous as ever as they attempt to prove that the road to the finals in the East still runs through Boston. It has been clear that they are the best team in the East, but their health will decide just how well the season and post season goes for Boston.
15-21, fourth in Southeast Division, eighth in Eastern Conference.
Points per game: Stephen Jackson at 18.7
Rebounds per game: Gerald Wallace at 8.1
Assists per game: D.J. Augustin at 6.3
Just when we thought the Charlotte Bobcats were about to become another member of the Eastern Conference cellar dwellers, they reel off a few consecutive wins and actually find themselves in the midst of a playoff race for the eighth and final spot. Even with Gerald Wallace sitting out a weeks worth of basketball, the 'Cats have still managed to make themselves relevant in a conference that is basically in a five team race to the top.
Charlotte has also made one of the larger moves in the NBA this season as coach Larry Brown resigned after two productive seasons with the team. The Bobcats hired former Cleveland Cavaliers coach Paul Silas the same day and since then, Charlotte has actually begun to play offense and now appears to have a new identity going into every game. Stephen Jackson and his teammates go into games relying more on their offense to win some games, rather than just depending on the defense.
Expectations were low coming into the season for Charlotte after an abysmal off season and they have since recovered from a 9-19 start to begin the 2010-'11 campaign. With a new coach at the helm, the Bobcats just might be in the midst of a turnaround as they attempt to gain some ground and distance for the eighth spot.
25-13, first in Central Division, third in Eastern Conference.
Points per game: Derrick Rose at 24.1
Rebounds per game: Joakim Noah at 11.7
Assists per game: Derrick Rose at 8.1
Losing Carlos Boozer? That's fine. How about no more Joakim Noah for awhile too? We got Kurt Thomas. You're playing Brian Scalabrine? You can't go wrong at 1.2 points per game in six minutes per night. You can't go wrong much these days when you're a member of the Chicago Bulls and when Derrick Rose is heading up the MVP race and leading the Bulls to an astounding 25-13 start despite not playing at full strength once this season.
In only his third year in the league, Rose is leading a Bulls team to a potential number one seed and a Central Division crown for the first time since Michael Jordan's last season playing in Chicago. At 24 points and eight assists per game, Rose is easily making a name for himself as an MVP candidate and could potentially win it due in part to the circumstances he has been under early in the season. With Boozer and Noah both succumbing to injuries, Rose was forced to pick up the pieces for most of the way.
Aside from Rose and his ability to be amazing at any given moment, the Bulls main off-season pick-up in Carlos Boozer has since recovered from an injury that kept him out the first month of the season. Carlos is currently averaging 21 points and 10 rebounds in his first season with Chicago and appears to have no recollection of playing with Deron Williams and the Jazz considering just how well he has played with his new point guard.
8-30, fifth in Central Division, fifteenth in Eastern Conference
Points per game: Antawn Jamison at 16.1
Rebounds per game: Anderson Varejao at 9.7
Assists per game: Mo Williams at 7.2
If this doesn't prove how valuable LeBron James was to the Cleveland Cavaliers then nothing will. Considering the Cavs lost by 55 to the Los Angeles Lakers earlier this week, it became painfully obvious that not only LeBron was the glue holding the team together, but that this year should have been a rebuilding period rather than a 'let's prove LeBron wrong period'. By losing 30 of their first 38 games, Dan Gilbert's promise of a championship might not come as soon as the Cleveland faithful had hoped for.
The talent is just no longer there for a Cavs team that has currently dropped eleven straight and 21 of its past 22 games. Even with former All-Star's Antawn Jamison and Mo Williams leading the way, the Cavs just appear to be lost as they lose in some of the worst ways to teams that they were decimating only a season ago. It makes it even sadder that their 55-point loss wasn't even their worst defeat of the season.
No, their worst defeat came on December 2nd back home when they took on the Miami Heat. With a raucous crowd and the return of LeBron James, it was time for the Cavs to show that they did not need their former king to win games. Instead, it was LeBron proving that he didn't need Cleveland by putting on a show for the sold out Quicken Loans crowd. With 38 points in 30 minutes, James had ended the game by halftime as the arena went silent for the final 24 minutes of action.
26-11, second in Southwest Division, third in Western Conference.
Points per game: Dirk Nowitzki at 24.1
Rebounds per game: Tyson Chandler at 9.3
Assists per game: Jason Kidd at 8.6
It was smooth sailing through calm seas for the Dallas Mavericks in December. They had won their first 12 games of the month, including winning a back-to-back against Miami and Orlando, and were challenging the San Antonio Spurs for the number one seed and attempting to make a run for yet another title. However, a fateful December 27th night and January 1st night would put the hopes of a championship on the back burner yet again.
The Mavs had lost their rock in Dirk Nowitzki to an injury that was only supposed to keep him out a few weeks, but then saw the loss of their star swingman in Caron Butler succumb to an injury that is reportedly supposed to keep him out for the rest of the season and possibly beyond. Since losing Butler, Dallas has dropped three of its past five games that includes a 13 point loss to Indiana and consecutive home losses to Oklahoma City and Orlando.
With Dirk coming back soon, the Mavericks will make their usual regular season push, but it will be awfully difficult for them to compete for a title without Butler. The trade deadline however could put an end to that with word of the Mavs possibly trying to bring in Andre Iguodala or Stephen Jackson to fill the void left by Caron. Time is running out for the likes of Dirk and Jason Kidd and a title will need to be won now if the franchise wants one in the near future.
22-16, third in Northwest Division, seventh in Western Conference.
Points per game: Carmelo Anthony at 23.8
Rebounds per game: Carmelo Anthony at 8.2
Assists per game: Chauncey Billups at 5.2
Carmelo Anthony may not be on this Denver Nuggets team in a few days, but for now the Nuggets will enjoy their 22-16 record because it might be the last time they have a successful season for awhile if they don't acquire the right players. With word of Derrick Favors and Devin Harris joining the team, the Nuggets may be in the middle of a rebuilding process with the loss of 'Melo and the acquisition of a few young talents.
Despite Anthony shooting 44% and Chauncey Billups hitting only 40% of his shots, the Nuggets have made a push over the past month and now find themselves in the middle of a playoff race that they may not finish. The team is about to take a huge hit with Anthony and Billups set to leave the team in the near future and the likes of Nene Hilario and Favors will not be able to lead this team to any sort of championship run.
It's only been two seasons since Denver made the Western Conference finals, but it appears that the Denver franchise is about to have lottery picks on the mind within a week. In the 2010-'11 season thus far, they have performed admirably under the circumstances and tenacity they have been put through since the beginning of the season. It's extremely difficult for a city to go through what the Nuggets faithful are going through right now, but there will hopefully be a light at the end of the tunnel for Denver at the end of the day.
12-26, fourth in Central Division, twelfth in Eastern Conference.
Points per game: Rodney Stuckey at 15.3
Rebounds per game: Greg Monroe at 5.7
Assists per game: Rodney Stuckey at 5.1
Expectations weren't exactly that high in Detroit, yet the Pistons still find themselves in the headlines. Not for winning or anything for that matter, but rather for the fact that they are most likely to be involved in the Carmelo Anthony trade that is set to involve 15 players. Among one of the Pistons set to go is Richard Hamilton who is only averaging 13 points per game on a near career low 41% shooting. He is also averaging a career low in minutes at only 25.
With Hamilton most likely to depart soon, the Pistons look towards their young talent in Rodney Stuckey, Greg Monroe, and Austin Daye to lead the team through adversity. Detroit still has most of their core from their early 2000's glory days with Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, and Ben Wallace on the team, but the rest of the lineup has failed to step up as Charlie Villaunueva and Ben Gordon shoot 44% off the bench.
The only positive to really come out of the season thus far has been their most recent draft pick in Monroe who is averaging five points and six rebounds per game. The stats aren't exactly there, but the Georgetown product has impressed with four consecutive double-doubles and an ability to score unlike their previous centers. It's going to take awhile for the Pistons to get back on track, however the young talent is there for Detroit to be in the post season race within a few years.
15-23, third in Pacific Division, twelfth in Western Conference.
Points per game: Monta Ellis at 25.6
Rebounds per game: David Lee at 9.6
Assists per game: Stephen Curry at 6
They're not exactly a contender quite yet, but the Golden State Warriors have been proving themselves as an extremely dangerous team that has players ready to erupt at any given moment. To think that Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry might not even be the most dangerous players on the floor at times, instead former Miami Heat player Dorell Wright has been surprising the NBA with his 42% shooting from beyond the arc and his knack for scoring overall.
Wright was seldom used in Miami and was let go over the off season where he would eventually find his niche with the run-and-gun Warriors. At a career high 16 points per game and only 25 years old, Dorell still has the potential to become an extremely important role player on a Warriors team that is hungry for a post season. Golden State hasn't made the post season since their miracle push as an eighth seed in the 2007-'08 season.
One of the Warriors largest summer acquisitions, David Lee, has been flying under the radar in the bay area as he puts up his usual quality numbers of 15 points and 10 rebounds per game. It has been quite the transition for Lee who went from being a number one option in New York to now a fourth option in Golden State. David still hasn't forgotten his place under the rim though as he continues to rebound at an impressive pace despite sharing time with another impressive rebounder in Andris Biedrins.
17-22, fifth in Southwest Division, tenth in Western Conference
Points per game: Kevin Martin at 23.2
Rebounds per game: Luis Scola at 8.3
Assists per game: Kyle Lowry at 6.7
Considering they started off the season losing six of their first seven games, a 17-22 mark is all the Houston Rockets could ask for. Considering that they also lost for Yao Ming for the remainder of the season and possibly for his career, the Rockets being five games under .500 is just about where you would expect the team to be. Not to mention, Aaron Brooks has also played only 15 games this season.
Life has been rough for the Rockets to say the least. They might have one of the highest scoring offenses in the league and witnessing Kevin Martin and Luis Scola have some of their better seasons, but the Rockets have just been through too much to have a quality first half of the season. They've lost their starting center and point guard Kyle Lowry has been tremendous filling in and are once again reduced to running an extremely small lineup on a game by game basis.
They have however seen impressive work from the likes of Chase Budinger, Courtney Lee, and Jordan Hill. Budinger has struggled from deep as of late, but does contain the ability to be a dangerous threat from beyond the arc. Lee and Hill each contain the explosive ability that has allowed the Rockets to thrive on the offensive end of the floor. The problem for these players however is that their defense has lacked, as has the rest of the teams.
16-20, second in Central Division, seventh in Eastern Conference
Points per game: Danny Granger at 20.9
Rebounds per game: Roy Hibbert at 8.1
Assists per game: Darren Collison at 4.6
Roy Hibbert's foul trouble may still be prominent, though a little improved, Danny Granger still may be taking nearly six three-pointers per contest, and not one player may be averaging over five assists per game, yet the Indiana Pacers can still consider themselves one of the more dangerous teams to play if not taken seriously.
In fact, they have already beaten Miami and the L.A. Lakers on the road, New Orleans, and Dallas halfway through the season. The Pacers have snuck their way into a post season spot and could remain there for good with the way they have been playing over the course of the season thus far. The absurd number of three-point shooters on this team allows them to pull off monumental upsets. Pretty much everyone on the team aside from Hibbert and Tyler Hansbrough shoot three-pointers.
Brandon Rush has stolen some of the spotlight early in the season as he posts a career high 12 points per game and impresses the organization with his individual defense against opposing shooting guards. The Pacers continue to bank on their young talent aside from Rush as they look towards Collison, Hibbert and Hansbrough to lead the team to a strong post season appearance.
13-24, fourth in Pacific Division, thirteenth in Western Conference.
Points per game: Eric Gordon at 23.6
Rebounds per game: Blake Griffin at 12.7
Assists per game: Baron Davis at 6.9
If not for a horrid start to the season, the Los Angeles Clippers might be one of the scarier teams to face in the post season. While their chances to make the playoffs are still slim, it's still a sight to see this team play for 48 minutes. Baron Davis may still be one of the more inept players to run the point, DeAndre Jordan still might not know how to make a basket from beyond five feet, and Chris Kaman may have only played in ten games thus far, yet the Clippers are worth watching for one big reason.
In one of the better rookie seasons in recent memory, the Clippers power forward Blake Griffin is currently averaging 22 points and 13 rebounds in his first season since sitting out the previous year due to a knee injury he suffered in his final preseason game. Griffin's dunks have been a sight to behold as he appears on NBA top ten's in just about every game he has played in thus far. His post play and his ability to get to the basket has made him one of the league's most lethal power forwards.
It's tough to believe, but there are actually 14 other players on the Clippers squad. In fact, third-year guard Eric Gordon is having a break-out season leading the team in points at nearly 24 a night. This season may be a lost cause, but I'd be extremely worried if I was a team in the Western Conference for however long Blake Griffin is there.
29-11, first in Pacific Division, second in Western Conference
Points per game: Kobe Bryant at 25.2
Rebounds per game: Pau Gasol at 10.9
Assists per game: Kobe Bryant at 4.6
It certainly didn't look like the team that has won the past two titles, but this Los Angeles Lakers since then has showed its resilience and its ability to perform under pressure. For a brief stretch at the end of December and beginning on January, the Lakers were the NBA's most scrutinized team as they dropped four of six games that includes three home losses by 15 or more points. Since their 19-point loss to Memphis however, Los Angeles has won six in a row.
Even with Ron Artest, Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson, and Lamar Odom voicing their displeasure of the team's performance over that two week stretch, the Lakers have recovered and are now once again back on track for another title run and a possible three-peat. Even with the criticism of Bryant not trusting his teammates, he still leads the team in assists at nearly five per game. Despite the scrutiny of Bryant, he is still averaging his usual career numbers at 25 points on 45% shooting.
While Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom continue to put up outstanding numbers, the highly anticipated return of Andrew Bynum has been a success thus far as he averages 11 points and seven rebounds in his first 16 games of the season. He has yet to hit over 20 points, but he has shown the potential to become the center of the future that the Lakers have been waiting five years for. If he can remain healthy, Bynum could be the x-factor of the post season.
18-21, fourth in Southwest Division, ninth in Western Conference.
Points per game: Rudy Gay at 21.1
Rebounds per game: Zach Randolph at 12.9
Assists per game: Mike Conley at 7
If not for the dismal play of O.J. Mayo, the Memphis Grizzlies could have a post season spot secured at the moment. Mayo was coming off of another impressive season where he averaged 18 points on 45% shooting but has greatly suffered this season as he currently averages 13 points on 41% from the field. He has deservedly lost his starting spot at shooting guard and is now at the center of trade rumors.
Aside from Mayo, the rest of the team has been impressive with Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph leading the way. Since signing a contract worth $80 million, Gay is averaging career highs in points at 21 and assists at three as he attempts to lead the team to their first postseason berth since the 2005-'06 season. The Grizzlies have yet to win a playoff game as they currently stand at 0-12 in their franchise history.
In his eleventh year in the league, Randolph is having a resurgence under the glass as he currently leads the team in rebounding at 13 per game with nearly five of them coming from the offensive side. If Randolph averages 20 points this season, it'd be the fourth consecutive year that he has done so. Gay and Randolph have formed one of the more underrated duo's of the league as they attempt to lead Memphis to the post season.
30-11, first in Southeast Division, second in Eastern Conference.
Points per game: LeBron James at 25.4
Rebounds per game: Chris Bosh at 8.3
Assists per game: LeBron James at 7.2
The 9-8 start certainly has become an afterthought. With the high expectations and speculations coming into the season, the Miami Heat were under an intense amount of pressure to begin the season. They came out and laid an egg in an opening night loss to Boston and then played .500 ball for the next few weeks. However, they would go on to lose only one game in December and win 21 of their next 22 games as they rocketed out to a 30-11 start.
The chemistry issues have become a thing of the past now as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh have all learned how to co-exist and how to play off of each other rather than themselves. Each player came from an environment where they were the number one option and have since sacrificed statistics and the spotlight since joining the team. LeBron and Dwyane currently combine for nearly 50 points for game, while Chris leads the team in rebounding at eight per game.
The team has yet to play at full strength as their sixth and seventh men, Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem, suffered injuries early in the season. Miller has since returned but has struggled, and Haslem is set for a March comeback as the Heat attempt to look towards their depleted bench for some help to get the weight off of the big three. Either way, the big three have become one of the most electric and entertaining trio's in the NBA's history.
14-22, third in Central Division, tenth in Eastern Conference
Points per game: Brandon Jennings at 17.9
Rebounds per game: Andrew Bogut at 11.8
Assists per game: Brandon Jennings at 5.5
Fear the deer has become a thing of the past in Milwaukee. It was only a few months ago that the Milwaukee Bucks were the team that no one wanted to face as they finished the season strong enough to earn a sixth seed. However, injuries would take a toll and they would get bounced in the first round. Since then, Milwaukee has once again suffered a myriad of injuries to key players and they have limped to eight games below .500.
Not one player on the Bucks roster has played in every game and their core of Brandon Jennings, John Salmons, and Andrew Bogut has either struggled with injuries or their game in general. Second year guard Brandon Jennings is leading the team in scoring and assists at 18 points and six assists per game, but is in the middle of recovering from an injury that has kept him out since December 20th. Their leading rebounder in Bogut has also been forced to sit out eight games as he continues to try and find a spot on the team without getting hurt.
The bench has been completely depleted as Chris Douglas-Roberts, Carlos Delfino, Drew Gooden, and Earl Boykins have all had to deal with injuries for an extended amount of time. When healthy, this Bucks team can be dangerous, but unfortuanately for Milwaukee they aren't and they now have to deal with a possible lost season.
10-30, fifth in Northwest Division, fourteenth in Western Conference.
Points per game: Kevin Love at 21.5
Rebounds per game: Kevin Love at 15.7
Assists per game: Luke Ridnour at 5.8
Try not to let the 10-30 record fool you, the Minnesota Timberwolves are one of the more fun teams to watch. Considering they have the modern day Dennis Rodman on the team, as far as rebounding goes, the Wolves have been in the spotlight a few times this season thanks in part to the work that Kevin Love puts out on a nightly basis. With nearly two consecutive months of double-doubles, Love is making Minnesota a basketball team worth watching again.
Complete with a 31 point and 31 rebound game, Love has taken the NBA world by storm as he leads the league in rebounding by nearly three per game. His new counterpart in Michael Beasley has also been turning heads with Minnesota as he averages 21 points and six rebounds per contest while wiping away the bust stamp that he earned with the Miami Heat.
Aside from those two however, there hasn't been that much to look to aside from Wesley Johnson's nine points per game and Darko Milicic actually starting in games and receiving significant minutes. The team has the talent and potential to become a Western Conference threat, but there will need to be changes at the top of the organization if the Wolves ever want to improve.
10-28, fifth in Atlantic Division, fourteenth in Eastern Conference
Points per game: Brook Lopez at 18.2
Rebounds per game: Brook Lopez at 6
Assists per game: Devin Harris at 7
It certainly isn't the 12-70 team from last season, but it's just as bad, at least until Carmelo Anthony arrives. Even then, the Nets have dug themselves into way too far of a hole to make the post season this year. The situation in New Jersey is so abysmal that Anthony has absolutely refused to go there in the past and wants the organization to sell him on why he should join the Nets. With the team 18 games below .500, it's going to take a lot of 40/40 club visits for Jay-Z and Mikhal Prokohorov to convice Anthony to join the team.
Even though the Nets weren't able to grab any of the main stars in the summer, it still has come as a surprise to just how disappointing they have been in the first half of the year. Whether its Brook Lopez only averaging six rebounds per game or having Sasha Vujacic be the fourth leading scorer on the team, this Nets team isn't going anywhere unless they can convince Carmelo to join the team. It would mean the loss of this years draft pick in Derrick Favors, but it'll bring some sort of immediate success if they can bring Anthony in and surround him with some decent pieces.
Not one player has shined on this Nets team so far this year and it's extremely disappointing considering just how talented some of the pieces are. Lopez is a fantastic piece in the middle, Favors has talent out of the sky, and Anthony Morrow is an efficient three-point threat, yet the team just can't get it together to form a cohseive, well-rounded unit. Maybe when and if Anthony arrives, the Nets can find some sort of resurgence, but for now they are a team that looks lost.
23-16, third in Southwest Division, sixth in Western Conference
Points per game: David West at 18.5
Rebounds per game: Emeka Okafor at 10.1
Assists per game: Chris Paul at 9.8
The 23-16 start to the season is a good start for a team whose star player is also at the center of trade rumors. While the rumors have died down since the beginning of the season, so has the Hornets hot start. New Orleans started off the 2010-'11 campaign 11-1, winning their first eight games, but then lost four of their last five games in November and had a 7-9 December to level out as a team fighting for a playoff spot that doesn't have them facing the Spurs, Mavericks, or Lakers.
The team has been impressive despite All-Star point guard Chris Paul averaging far below his usual MVP-caliber numbers. At 17 points and 10 assists per game, Paul is having his worst statistical season since his second year in the league. In fact, the team as a whole is struggling on the offensive side of the floor as they rank 26th in the league in scoring and 27th in field goal attempts.
Either way, there's no complaining for the Hornets and their quick start after an unsteady off season. David West has continued to hold his own, Emeka Okafor is looking like a more offensive oriented Tyson Chandler, and Marco Belinelli is hitting nearly two three-pointers per game on a 40% clip. For a team that could easily still be in single-digit wins, the Hornets still could have a deep post season run in them that will be enough to convince CP3 to stick around.
22-16, second in Atlantic Division, sixth in Eastern Conference.
Points per game: Amare Stoudemire at 26.1
Rebounds per game: Amare Stoudemire at 8.9
Assists per game: Raymond Felton at 8.9
This isn't your run of the mill, laughing stock of the NBA New York Knicks that you've become accustomed to over the past decade. There's no Isiah Thomas signing Jerome James to $30 million deals or Eddy Curry eating himself off of the rotation. Instead, we see a quality draft pick in Landry Fields surprising the Garden and Amare Stoudemire and Raymond Felton forming one of the more dangerous duos of the league.
Stoudemire has proved that he doesn't need Steve Nash to feed him as he is on an MVP pace with 26 points and nine rebounds while leading the Knicks to one of their best starts since Patrick Ewing was on the team. Amare has embraced Mike D'Antoni's coaching style once again as he plays some of the best basketball of his career. Even Raymond Felton has learned to thrive in the new system as well as he averages 18 points and nine assists with his new team.
The only problem for the Knicks however has been their lack of depth. Aside from Danillo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, and Landry Fields, the rest of the Knicks rotation is lacking in scoring and defense. Roger Mason has been injured for most of the season, Timofey Mozgov is known only for being dunked on by Blake Griffin, and Anthony Randolph has taken the role of benchwarmer and trade bait. A championship run will have to wait if the Knicks can somehow secure Carmelo Anthony or Chris Paul on their team.
25-14, third in Southeast Division, fifth in Eastern Conference
Points per game: Dwight Howard at 21.9
Rebounds per game: Dwight Howard at 13.4
Assists per game: Jameer Nelson at 6.7
The Orlando Magic are in unfamiliar territory in the Southeast Division now that they stand at third place in the division. They've won the past three division titles and had little competition from any team in their division with Atlanta and Miami putting up fights that would usually fall short. With a new and improved Miami and a surging Atlanta however, the Magic find themselves on the outside looking in when it comes to leading the division.
The Magic went through a tough stretch in mid-December as they pulled off a monumental trade that brought in Gilbert Arenas, Hedo Turkoglu, and Jason Richardson as they cut ties with Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis. So far, the trade has worked to near perfection as they've won nine of their past 11 games as the Magic see their new teammates begin to co-exist with Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson. The acquisition of Hedo Turkoglu is definitely a positive as they bring home a player that already knows the system.
While there are still some growing pains, Gilbert Arenas in particular, the Magic are still an extremely volatile team that still remains as one of the Eastern Conference elite. As Dwight continues to learn the ins and outs of an actual offensive game, he becomes more and more of a threat to any NBA team. The problem for the other 29 NBA teams being that they have no answer for an offensively elite Dwight Howard.
27-13, first in Northwest Division, fourth in Western Conference.
Points per game: Kevin Durant at 28.5
Rebounds per game: Serge Ibaka at 6.6
Assists per game: Russell Westbrook at 8.3
They didn't start off exactly how we envisioned by losing half of their first six games. Yet the Oklahoma City Thunder didn't miss a beat following a Nov. 7th loss to the Boston Celtics by going 24-10 in that stretch since the first two weeks of the season. You could attribute the stretch of winning to Kevin Durant and his near 29 points per game, but it wouldn't be fair to single out one individual on this team because it's Durant's teammates that have just as much a part of the Thunder's success.
In particular, third year guard Russell Westbrook is having the best season of his young career with 22 points, eight assists, and five rebounds per game. Over the course of the season thus far, Westbrook has made a name for himself as one of the most dangerous point guards in the league and is beginning to be mentioned with the best of them as an elite floor general. His 43% shooting and his four turnovers per game are glaring negatives, but you can't go wrong at anytime with having Westbrook as your starting point guard.
One of the most surprising players having a break-out season has been the Congo's own Serge Ibaka, who has become quite the scorer and defender. At 10 points and seven rebounds per game off the bench, Ibaka is beginning to develop a mid-range jump shot to go along with an already impressive post game. His shot-blocking skills have improved nearly tenfold as well as he is among the league leaders at two per game. Ibaka and nearly this entire team have all improved after their first round exit last season as they look to make a serious post season push.
15-23, third in Atlantic Division, ninth in Eastern Conference.
Points per game: Elton Brand at 15
Rebounds per game: Elton Brand at 8.7
Assists per game: Jrue Holiday at 6.7
They still might not be getting what they want from Elton Brand, but the Philadelphia 76ers getting 15 points and nine rebounds from their big man is just about all they can ask for from the oft-injured, 12-year veteran. He hasn't exactly led the team to any sort of success in his time there, but that might change this season as the Sixers begin to make a push for the final few spots in the Eastern Conference.
Philly doesn't exactly have the star power to make them an elite team, nor a contender, but they are a team that could have a substantially better record if they knew how to close out games. At 2-8 in games decided by five points, Philadelphia has had it's fair share of upsetting losses that they knew could have gone either way. They get their help from the likes of Jrue Holiday who is having a career season and Jodie Meeks who has become a household name overnight, but can't get it from some of their well-rounded veterans.
In particular, Andre Iguodala is having one of the worst seasons of his career. His defense remains staunt, but his production overall has completely dropped off this season. Only last year did he average 17 points per game, yet he is only netting 14 points this season on a career low 43% shooting. Iggy once again finds himself in the midst of trade rumors as the Sixers look to try whatever they can get from their underachieving star.
16-21, second in Pacific Division, eleventh in Western Conference.
Points per game: Vince Carter at 17.8
Rebounds per game: Channing Frye at 6.1
Assists per game: Steve Nash at 10.7
This isn't the Phoenix Suns team that only a few years ago was at the top of the conference and had 60 plus wins. Instead, this is a watered down Suns team with an older Steve Nash and Hakim Warrick taking the role of Amare Stoudemire. The talent and athleticism is there, but the ten points and four rebounds Warrick gives doesn't even come close to the production level that Amare had with the team.
Phoenix has started out slow at 16-21 and now find themselves a few games back from the final eighth spot in the Western Conference. While Nash has continued to find success, his three-point happy teammates aren't exactly the cream of the crop. It was at least a positive to trade away Hedo Turkoglu, but they departed with their former leading scorer in Jason Richardson and replaced him with Vince Carter.
They also got Mikael Pietrus and Marcin Gortat in the same trade, but the Suns have yet to see any type of production from either player. The team needs to make changes by finding Nash a suitable player to pass to instead of having him waste his final years on a team that might not even make the post season this year. Somehow, Channing Frye and Robin Lopez just isn't doing it for the two-time MVP and his struggling team.
20-19, fourth in Northwest Division, eighth in Western Conference.
Points per game: LaMarcus Aldridge at 20.4
Rebounds per game: LaMarcus Aldridge at 8.9
Assists per game: Andre Miller at 7.2
Coming into the season, the Portland Trail Blazers were supposed to be a dangerous team to face. With a veteran point guard, an elite shooting guard, a formidable post presence at power forward, and a talented young center, the Blazers were supposed to make a huge push for a possible Northwest Division crown while competing with the Western Conference's top teams. All of that would have worked out well if two of those four key players were actually still playing.
Even though LaMarcus Aldridge has been having one of the best seasons of his career at 20 points and nine rebounds per game, the Blazers also lost Brandon Roy for the season and possibly a lot longer. Roy needed knee surgery after attempting a comeback mid-way through the season. He didn't appear to be himself as he only hit 17 points on 40% shooting and lacked the dynamic play making that has made him into one of the NBA's top players.
Greg Oden was once again a casualty to injuries as he didn't even get out on the floor before doctors decided that he needed surgery once again. It's due to keep him out for the season and chances are that the Blazers are unlikely to take the risk of re-signing Oden this coming summer. The 7'1" giant still has yet to play more than 61 games in a season and could be taking his worn out legs to a different location next year. It's looking more and more like the reincarnation of Sam Bowie every passing game.
8-28, fifth in Pacific Division, fifteenth in Western Conference.
Points per game: Tyreke Evans at 17.2
Rebounds per game: DeMarcus Cousins at 7.7
Assists per game: Tyreke Evans at 5.4
Usually when you win Rookie of the Year the previous year, you would expect that player to become the leader of his team and bring them some sort of success. Unless that player is Tyreke Evans, then the drop off that he's experienced his sophomore season is going to make the Sacramento Kings look actually worse than they did last season. With only 17 points, on 39% shooting, five assists, and five rebounds, Evans has yet to build off of the success of last season.
The Kings are struggling because of it too. That and the fact that the team supremely lacks any sort of depth aside from sharpshooter Omri Casspi who hits 40% of his three-pointers. DeMarcus Cousins isn't pulling off any upsets to win Rookie of the Year and he can still use an attitude adjustment, but his 13 points and eight rebounds per game are something the Kings could look forward to. Considering Samuel Dalembert and Jason Thompson are the only other big men, it's highly beneficial that Cousins works out.
The rest of the team has been a complete mess. With word that the Kings might possibly be on the move in the near future, it isn't helping at all that the team is now 21 games under .500 and that their star in Tyreke Evans is struggling. Sacramento has had its moments, but it's going to take more than one half-court buzzer beater to keep the Kings in California and to actually start winning games without it having to come down to the buzzer
33-6, first in Southwest Division, first in Western Conference.
Points per game: Manu Ginobili at 19.1
Rebounds per game: Tim Duncan at 9.3
Assists per game: Tony Parker at 7
With all the talk of the Los Angeles Lakers contesting for a three-peat, the Oklahoma City Thunder's young squad contending, and the Dallas Mavericks contending yet again for another title, the San Antonio Spurs wondered why they weren't the talk of the Western Conference anymore. Considering they had won three titles in the past decade, they deserve some recognition and some championship talk this season. Rather than letting analysts talk about it first, the Spurs decided to do it on their own by rocketing out to their best start in franchise history.
26 games into the season and the Spurs had won 23 of them. How is a feat like this possible when Tim Duncan is averaging career lows in points and rebounds? It's because the Spurs are a team of balance, there is not one player carrying the load while the rest of the rotation is just there for the help. On the Spurs, there are five players averaging double-digit scoring and not one is averaging more than 20 points.
Each and every player has stepped up on this team. From Manu Ginobili's leadership to Matt Bonner's 50% shooting from beyond the arc, the Spurs are a well-oiled machine that is poised for another championship run. The only setback that this team could possibly face now is their age and the possibility of having one of the core veterans injured. For now though, it appears that the Spurs are the NBA's team to beat.
13-25, fourth in Atlantic Division, eleventh in Eastern Conference
Points per game: Andrea Bargnani at 21.7
Rebounds per game: Reggie Evans at 12.1
Assists per game: Jose Calderon at 7.9
Much like the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Toronto Raptors also lost their star to the Miami Heat. The only difference is that the Raptors are actually still putting up fights, have double-digit wins, and are actually still in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Not saying that it's impressive for a team to be contesting for an eighth spot if the Eastern Conference, but for a devastated Raptors squad it's all they could possibly ask for.
Taking over the role as main scorer has been 7' shooting guard Andrea Bargnani who is averaging a career high 22 points per game despite shooting a sub-par 35% from beyond the arc. His rebounding is still at a dismal six per game and to make matters worse, the Raptors lost their best rebounder in Reggie Evans to an injury that has kept him out for most of the season. Aside from Evans 12, Amir Johnson has taken the role of rebounding and only has six per game as well.
Another positive to the team this season has been the improvement of second-year guard DeMar DeRozan. He has improved in every statistical category by netting 15 points, three rebounds, and two assists per game as he gives the city of Toronto some sort of hope that they have another All-Star of the future in their hands. All they need to do now is make sure that he doesn't go the way of Chris Bosh or Vince Carter.
26-13, second in Northwest Division, fifth in Western Conference.
Points per game: Deron Williams at 21.9
Rebounds per game: Al Jefferson at 8.8
Assists per game: Deron Williams at 9.4
They might have started off the season by losing their first two games, but luckily for the Utah Jazz there are 80 more games to improve on. Even with no more Carlos Boozer, the Jazz have picked up right where they left off as they contest the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Northwest division title. It's really just another year for Utah as they see their usual regular season success, but the championship is the only goal in the mind of the likes of coach Jerry Sloan and Deron Williams.
Deron is playing possibly the best basketball of his career, while also out-performing just about every other point guard, as he hits a career high 22 points and dishes out nine assists per night. One of the more interesting stats is how Williams is getting to the free throw line and how he is taking two more attempts this year than he has in any year. It's obvious that Deron is making more of a conscious effort to score, while putting his passing as a second option.
Not that there is anything wrong with Deron scoring, it seems that players like Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap are still having career seasons. Jefferson is still adjusting to the Jazz system, but Millsap is having a breakout year as he averages a career high 18 points and eight rebounds in his fifth year in the league. Millsap and Jefferson form one of the more underrated and impressive front courts in the league as they look to help the Jazz make another championship run.
10-27, fifth in Southeast Division, thirteenth in Eastern Conference.
Points per game: Andray Blatche at 16.1
Rebounds per game: Andray Blatche at 8.2
Assists per game: John Wall at 8.9
What else is there to say besides 0-19 away from the Verizon Center? It's not a typo either, the Washington Wizards have seriously lost their first 19 games on the road. Considering they just lost by Minnesota by 12 on the road a few nights ago, it doesn't appear this streak is going to end barring an excellent game by the Wizards or an extremely bad game by the home team. Either way, the Wizards are in the middle of a rebuilding period that is focused around the talents of John Wall.
The Wizards pulled off a smart move by ridding themselves of Gilbert Arenas, they brought in Rashard Lewis which isn't that much of a step up, as they look to make the Wizards John Wall's team. If it wasn't for Blake Griffin tearing apart the NBA, John Wall would be an easy recipient for the Rookie of the Year award as he leads all rookies in assists. He suffered an injury that kept him out 12 games, but he has since returned to average a near double-double.
Wall has been taking up most of the spotlight however from Nick Young, who is having the best season of his young career. With no dominant scorer on the team, Young has taken advantage by hitting 16 points per game while hitting two three-pointers per game on an astounding 41% from beyond the arc. He capped off the season thus far with a 43 point performance in their loss against Minnesota. This team is one Andray Blatche move away from being a quality team.