Almost one month into the NBA season, let’s take a look at some of the most intriguing storylines in the Association thus far:
Surprise Teams: Sacramento Kings (8-5) & Milwaukee Bucks (7-7)
Before the year started, many people felt both Sacramento and Milwaukee didn’t have much of a shot at making the playoffs. However, after impressive starts, (8-5 and 7-7, respectively), both teams look to defy the odds and play at a high level deep into April.
Sacramento has benefitted greatly from the dominance of DeMarcus Cousins, the versatile scoring of Rudy Gay, and the all-around play of point guard Darren Collison. Much like Phoenix last year, the Kings are a fun, upstart group to watch in the West.
Jason Kidd’s Bucks are not too far behind on the surprising team scale. Before the season, rookie Jabari Parker stated that he wanted to win Rookie of the Year AND win half of his games. So far, so good. Parker, the early R.O.Y. favorite, and Giannis Antentokounmpo have steadied a balanced Milwaukee group looking to make a splash in the East.
Honorable Mention: Memphis Grizzlies (12-2)
Most Disappointing Teams: Los Angeles Clippers (7-5) & Charlotte Hornets (4-10)
Did we anoint the LA Clippers as a title contender a little too prematurely? Sure, they have had their issues in the past with perimeter defense and inconsistent wing play. But now, it seems that their two superstars, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, need more help to win ball games. Simply, LA needs to trade for veteran, wing depth so guys like Matt Barnes and JJ Redick won’t need to be relied upon in crunch time. After tough home losses to Sacramento and the depleted Chicago Bulls, the Clippers were finally exposed.
It’s fitting that the Clips travel to Charlotte to face MJ’s Hornets tonight, as both teams have struggled mightily. Lance Stephenson has taken a longer time than expected to mesh with Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker and their bench hasn’t been steady so far. If the Hornets can’t quickly turn it around, they are in big trouble come 2015.
Honorable Mention: Cleveland Cavaliers (5-7)
Our Sincerest Apologies To…
The Memphis Grizzlies (12-2) and Houston Rockets (10-3)
Before the season, we foolishly predicted the Grizzlies would miss the playoffs ENTIRELY and that Houston would finish in the 7th spot in the West. Yeah, about that…
Not only is Memphis a strong title contender, they boast the league’s best record (12-2) and are getting great balance all across the roster. Courtney Lee has been impressive at shooitng guard, Mike Conley remains as a top 10 point guard, and both Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are playing like All-Stars.
The Rockets, on the other hand, are getting it done despite a devastating offensive attack. Outisde of the crazy one-two pucnh of Dwight Howard and James Harden, they are playing well defensively and getting contributions from lesser-known players like Kostas Papanikolaou and Tarik Black.
Most Surprising Player: Jimmy Butler (CHI)
Jimmy G. Buckets (the “G” stands for Gets!) is showing out in his contract year. The do-it-all swingman from Marquette has improved his game each campaign and is even one of Chicago’s go-to guys down the stretch of games. As Clippers’ TV analyst Mike Smith put it, Butler when from being a defensive stopper to a “handful” in less than a year.
With incredible confidence and an improved all-around game (avg. 20.4 ppg, 6.2 rebs, and 3.5 dimes), Butler is looking like a strong candidate to make the All-Star team for the first time in his career.
Honorable Mention: Nikola Vucevic (ORL), avg. 19.4 points & 12.1 rebounds
Doggy Bag (News & Notes)…
-It’s very early but the 2014-15 rookie class is looking like a colossal disappointment as of right now. Only 3 rookies (Parker, Bojan Bogdanovic & Andrew Wiggins) average over 10 ppg and there has not yet been a “breakout performance” from anyone.
Maybe billing them as the best class since LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh in ’03 wasn’t fair but you have to wonder if this talented group will be underwhelming all year long.
Anthony Davis: MVP?
-Anthony Davis is playing out of his mind right now. Seriously, it’s ridiculous. The 21 year old dropped 43 & 14 against the Jazz on Saturday and is pacing the Pelicans to a nice 7-5 start. Along with guys like Memphis’s Marc Gasol (19.9 ppg & 8.1 rebs.) Golden State’s Klay Thompson & Stephen Curry, and Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, Davis is a front-runner to take home the MVP trophy this year.
Davis’s star status and other-wordly play definitely gives him the inside track over the other guys, so he is the favorite as of right now. Even if he doesn’t win in 2015, Davis has a chance to stake the claim as the league’s top player, yes even better than LeBron, before too long.
The New Sheriff(s) in Town:
Times are a-changing. Teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Lakers & New York Knicks are struggling to compete so far. OKC is waiting for injured stars Kevin Durant & Russell Westbrook to return, the Lakers are suffering through a nightmarish, Kobe Bryant shot-fest, and the Knicks haven’t recovered since Carmelo Anthony’s Sons of Anarchy cameo a few weeks ago.
But all that means is there are new, emerging teams looking to solidify their mark amongst the league’s elite squads. The Golden State Warriors, Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards and Memphis Grizzlies are all viable title contenders in 2015.
“You Think Cleveland’s Cool?”
-It’s already November and the Cleveland Cavaliers are already feeling the effects that lofty, possibly unrealistic, title expectations can have. With their most recent home loss to the Toronto Raptors (backup guard Lou Williams exploded for 36 points!), the team is searching for answers in almost every area.
LeBron James has already accepted the bulk of the blame with his poor play and decision-making in close games (last second turnover versus San Antonio last week) but the team seems to be suffering from lack of chemistry. Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, and Dion Waiters need to get on the same page sooner rather than later if Cleveland wants regain its relevancy by January.
Top D.O.G.S. & Alpha D.O.G.S.
With each edition of our NBA D.O.G. Pound, we’ll unveil a list of that includes both the top D.O.G.S. of the league (Player Power Rankings; top 12) along with the top contending teams (Alpha D.O.G.S.; top 15). The list is static and ever-changing, so we’ll adjust to the movers and shakers periodically.
Top D.O.G.S. (Player Power Rankings)
1. Anthony Davis
2. LeBron James
3. Marc Gasol
4. Stephen Curry
5. James Harden
6. DeMarcus Cousins
7. Kyle Lowry
8. LaMarcus Aldridge
9. John Wall
10. Chris Paul
11. Tony Parker
12. Jimmy Butler
Alpha D.O.G.S. (Team Power Rankings)
Just Missed: Cleveland Cavaliers (5-7), Atlanta Hawks (6-5), Denver Nuggets (6-7)
Agree or disagree? Hit us up in the comments or on Twitter @delayofgameblog!