The NBA season is just about a month old now and there are a lot of things we have learned. Plenty of teams have been better or worse than expected, some extremely so. We have also learned a lot about the highly touted draft class that just began their freshman college hoops season and of course has a massive impact on the NBA teams looking at tanking for draft position.
If you read Paul Johnson and I in our NBA Season Preview, there are some things we got right, but also some things where we were completely off the money too.
For example I was writing about how the East, at least towards the top, was going to start looking like the stronger conference. With four teams expected to be title contenders as well as a few on the rise, I thought the top 6 or so teams in the East would look stronger than those in the West. Instead, only two teams in the East even have a winning record to date. Obviously Miami are right there and Indiana, who were obviously a contender already, look like they might legitimately cause the Heat problems in the playoffs. But that’s literally it. Everyone else is either .500 such as Atlanta and Chicago, or has a losing record.
Speaking of Chicago, Derrick Rose started the season terribly and just as we were wondering if and when he would bounce back and be Derrick Rose again, he suffers a different injury to his other knee and is once again out for the season. This is probably the biggest single talking point of the season so far as a young player who won the MVP only three years ago could end up being a story of what might have been.
Can a player so reliant on speed, strength and athleticism ever fully return from back to back season ending knee injuries to both knees?
I think we all hope and pray he can, but at this point I think if he can just come back and be pretty good might be all we can hope for.
Also I would personally like to apologise to Derrick and Bulls fans as I believe the injury was partially my fault. You see, as mentioned in the Season Preview, I drafted him with my first round pick in fantasy basketball and I have now had an injury curse for years. Somehow, some way, this is partially my fault.
Another interesting development has been just how bad the New York teams have been. A lot of people were predicting the Knicks to regress from last year and once Tyson Chandler got hurt it became a near certainty, but very few expected the Nets to be this bad.
After an impressive victory over the Heat early in the season, it looked like the Nets were purpose built to handle the Heat in the playoffs. Instead, they are currently 4-11 and need to turn things around dramatically just to make the playoffs at all.
The biggest beneficiary of this is my Boston Celtics. The Celtics own the Nets’ first round pick and most expected it to not be worth all that much because it was expected to be a late pick. Instead the Nets could find themselves in the lottery and the Celtics could end up with two tickets in the equivalent of that rare $60 million Powerball lotto.
Amazingly, after trading Garnett and Pierce to the Nets so they could contend and the Celtics could blow it up and rebuild, the Celtics are actually two games ahead of the Nets in the standings and that’s without Rajon Rondo either.
On the flip side to the Nets sits the Portland Trail Blazers. Now this is a prediction I got right and one that PJ disagreed with me on. So SUCK IT PJ!
The Blazers have been incredible and are 13-3 at time of writing. They are young, deep and balanced. Whether or not they fade down the stretch remains to be seen, but they look like a serious problem in the West for years to come.
Another Western team doing better than expected is Dallas. The Mavs have done a great job rebuilding after the debacle of getting none of their desired free agents like Deron Williams or Dwight Howard. Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon have been fantastic alongside Dirk and it gives Dirk another legitimate chance to contend before his career winds up.
Not far from Dallas, the San Antonio Spurs just keep chugging along. Despite Tim Duncan declining this season finally, they still have a 13-2 record and once again the West goes through San Antonio.
One prediction I made that looked terrible a week ago but now doesn’t look so bad is that I predicted Washington to be good and therefore Randy Wittman to be a Coach of the Year candidate. Now I don’t think Wittman is actually a great coach, but if Washington were good, that alone would give him a shot. Instead the Wizards started terribly and Wittman was in danger of being sacked.
But now they have Nene back, John Wall just won player of the week and they are just under .500. Bradley Beal is hurt (another of my fantasy stars), but as long as he isn’t out too long, the Wizards should be ok. I think we did learn just how important Nene is to them and that is a risk given his injury history.
In terms of tanking, it has been a master class from the Utah Jazz. They have some talented young players but still start Richard Jefferson every game, have played Alec Burks out of position at point guard and are doing everything in their power to suck.
The Jazz along with the Bucks only have two wins each, but the Bucks have been riddled with injuries. The Jazz are right where they want to be and with the Suns and Sixers doing wayyyyyyyyyyyyy better than expected, the race to the bottom is Utah’s to lose for now.
And how about the Sixers and Suns?
The Suns actually have a winning record right now. Eric Bledsoe was fantastic before he got hurt, Miles Plumlee and the Morris twins have been great and Goran Dragic continues to be underrated.
The Sixers spent the first week of the season on fire, putting up ridiculous stat lines and making everyone freak out. Then Michael Carter-Williams (who I couldn’t have been more wrong on and PJ was totally right) got hurt and they slipped again, but still they are 6-10 and in the East that puts them right in the playoff hunt.
There’s still plenty of time to tank though.
But what are teams tanking for?
Well Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle and Jabari Parker have been ridiculous. They could walk onto most NBA rosters right now and are only going to improve. Add to that a whole bunch of other talented players in college and overseas and this draft is both top heavy and deep.
The team that gets pick three this year might have the best spot as they don’t have to decide between three amazing talents and just take the one that’s still there.
At this stage I don’t see anyone else cracking the top three, but there is a lot of time left and I’m already super excited for March Madness and then the NBA Draft.
PLEASE STOP WINNING GAMES BOSTON!