NBA Early Season: The Good, The Bad And The Jazz
With a month played in the NBA season, today on the blog Adam Digby takes a look at which teams have asserted their authority and which have failed to.
Just over a month of the new season has passed and the short break for Thanksgiving allows us an opportunity to assess what we have learned thus far. The league has already provided a plentiful amount of storylines, from the incredible early form of Chris Paul as he surpassed Magic Johnson’s double-double record, to Kobe Bryant’s blockbuster contract extension. Yet even those two narratives fade into the distance if we look at the biggest surprises delivered to us so far, as the tough NBA schedule begins to take its toll.
If Los Angeles can bask in the reflection of those two premier guards, another city will be far from happy at what it sees in the mirror. The early days of 2013-14 have not been kind to either side of New York, with both the Knicks and Nets among the very worst in the league at this early juncture. They have recorded just seven wins between them, and must look to quickly arrest their slide if they are to have any impact come Playoff time.
New York In A State
For Brooklyn, it truly is a case of an experiment gone wrong. Starting the season as low as 1.55 to win the Atlantic Division and 6.00 to top the Eastern Conference, they have drifted to 1.67 and 13.00 in those respective markets. Even those vastly improved odds are unlikely to yield rewards, as the expensive team assembled this summer collapses around rookie coach Jason Kidd. Always seen as a leader during his days on the court, the former point guard is struggling to form a cohesive unit from a roster which cost around $190 million in salary and luxury tax. He has been further hindered by injuries to Brook Lopez, Andrei Kirilenko and Jason Terry, while the worst fears over Deron Williams have become reality. The All Star guard’s weak ankles have once again kept him sidelined, unable to prevent the Nets struggles.
One interesting quirk to watch, is the team’s third quarter performances. They were outscored 34-15 by Detroit in that period last week, and are 0-10 this season when they have lost the third quarter. The Brooklyn crowd booed the team constantly throughout that loss to the Pistons, and it is difficult to see how they will improve upon their current record. For a team assembled to win a Championship by owner Mikhail Prokhorov, that is simply not good enough.
Meanwhile, things are not much better with the Knicks. Injuries have taken their toll there too, as the loss of Tyson Chandler has left Mike Woodson’s team exposed defensively. Without their centre, they have been embarrassing on that side of the ball, with various clips of Amar'e Stoudemire's poor attempts to stop opponents neatly summing up their collective approach. It has arguably been even worse offensively, as only five teams have averaged less than the Knicks 93.2 points per game.
More Rose Woe in Chicago
Despite the disaster of those two franchises, the Chicago Bulls are arguably facing an even worse opening to the new campaign. Things were so different this summer, the whole city buzzing at the thought of Derrick Rose’s return to action, and the possibility that they could finally win a title without Michael Jordan. The team assembled around the 2011 league MVP was almost perfectly constructed to help the hometown hero rise to the very summit, only to see another heartbreaking stumble. A trademark slash to the basket against Portland last week saw Rose come up limping, and he has since undergone season ending surgery to repair a torn medial meniscus in his right knee.
Now the rest of the roster looks bereft of ideas, lacking even the scoring impetus provided by Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson last season and facing an uphill battle to remain competitive. Luol Deng is now likely to assume the mantle of leading the team, as he already the best scorer (16.8 points a game), third best rebounder (7.5) and a good facilitator with 3.3 assists a game, while also being the best perimeter defender. Jimmy Butler should return from a minor foot injury to help him, while Carlos Boozer has been in inspired early form, helping the team to lead the league in rebounds (47 per game) and the NBA’s fourth best defence, allowing just 92.8 points per game. With the rest of the East in abysmal form, they could yet make an impact.
The Odds: With Rose's injuries issues, the Bull's have drifted from a season opening price of 1.85 to win the Central Division, to now listed at odds of 6.50 again with Ladbrokes.
If those three teams have been disappointing, the Indiana Pacers have been the team to watch in the East, starting the season by winning their opening nine games of the season on their way to a league best 14-1 record. Frank Vogel has harnessed the pain of that Game Seven loss to Miami in last season’s Conference Finals and used it to inspire his young team to even greater heights this year. Paul George is perhaps the most on-form player in the league right now, averaging 24.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.93 steals per game so far.
“That’s our motivation... we were special in the playoffs at home and we know, if we can give ourselves the opportunity to play Game Seven in our house, we can do some special things.” – Paul George
His inspired play is a major factor in that record, but the Pacers’ success once again starts with their dedication to defence, allowing a league low 87.4 points per game by holding opponents to an incredible field goal rate of just 39.2%. Roy Hibbert has again been a huge presence inside, leading the league in blocks (4.07 per game) and altering many shots he doesn’t touch simply by closing down opposing players. The contribution of Lance Stephenson - 13.2 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game also should not be overlooked, and in this form they look like the only realistic challenger to Miami in the East.
Looking atop the Western Conference standings, it is no surprise to see San Antonio once again riding high. Greg Popovich has his well oiled Spurs rolling on, but behind them are a Portland team few expected to challenge. As high as 41.00 to win the North West Division and 81.00 for the Western Conference crown, they have defied the odds to sit second, ahead of much more fancied teams such as Memphis, Houston and the LA Clippers. They have done so thanks to some remarkable outside shooting, with only Golden State and Miami able to better their collective 41.8% three point average and helping them to 103.9 points per game.
That total is good enough to be the seventh best offence in the league, and Portland also rank seventh in rebounds (44.8), ninth in assists (22.9) and tenth in overall points allowed (97.6). LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard have led the way, the former averaging 22.0 points and 9.9 rebounds as the latter adds 20.1 points and 6.1 assists. The Blazers last made it beyond the first round of the Playoffs in 2000 but they may well be worth your attention this year.
The Odds: The Blazers good start has seen their odds to win the Northwest Division trimmed from 41.00 pre-season to now odds of 11.00.
Lastly, the Utah Jazz have begun the season with a 2-14 record, improving on a 1-14 start with an overtime win earlier this week against Chicago. At this rate, the Jazz will win just 10 games for the season, a win/loss percentage that would place them with the third worst season record in NBA history. Bookmakers set their win total over/under at 25 for the season. That seems a long way off now.
The Odds: Forget it.
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