Setting the Pace
After two weeks of the NBA season, there’s just one undefeated team remaining. No it’s not the defending champs nor is it a team from out West. Instead, it’s the grind-it-out, defense-first Indiana Pacers.
Sitting at 8-0 they’re the only team in the Eastern Conference that doesn’t have at least three losses already. You know how stingy their defense is based off what we saw last year. As a team, they’re allowing just 84.5 PPG and are by far the most efficient defensive team according to John Hollinger’s team statistics.
But none of that matters in the long run unless Paul George continues to assert himself as a bonafide All-Star...scratch that. George is blossoming into a superstar before our very eyes.
At the moment, he’s tied with James Harden for third on the NBA’s scoring list, averaging 24.9 PPG. From year one to year two, he increased his scoring average by 4.3 PPG, shot nearly 10 percent better from three-point range and improved his free throw shooting immensely. From year two to year three, he increased his scoring output by 5.3 PPG grabbed two more rebounds a game (7.6 RPG) and became the focal point of Indiana’s offense after Danny Granger went down.
In year four, he’s knocking down 47.9 percent of his shots from the field, 40.4 percent from beyond the arc, and 84.6 percent from the free throw line. He’s scoring 7.5 PPG more than he did last season. He’s doing more at an incredibly efficient level.
Oh yea, Granger is set to return to practice this week. Move over Hoosiers, there’s a new king of basketball in Indiana.
Down for the Count
The New York Knicks won’t win many games without Carmelo Anthony scoring. He lead the NBA in that category last season en route to the playoffs. However, Tyson Chandler is quite probably the most important player on the Knicks’ roster.
On Friday, it was announced that he will miss four to six weeks due to a non-displaced fracture of his right fibula. Chandler, the 2011-2012 NBA Defensive Player of the Year, already had to make up for Anthony’s defensive shortcomings, along with pretty much every other starter outside of Iman Shumpert.
In the first game without the big man? A 120-89 loss at home to the San Antonio Spurs who shot 53.9 percent from the floor. The thing is, when Chandler is not on the floor they Knicks have to use Andrea Bargnani, one of the worst defensive centers in the NBA today. Here’s a detailed look at the issue by Bleacher Report.
Phoenix Suns on Fire
One of the biggest storylines so far is that three teams expected to tank have .500 records or better. I wrote about the Philadelphia 76ers (4-4) last week, but it’s time to take a look at the Suns.
Just before the season Phoenix traded away Marcin Gortat, probably their best player at the time. They traded away their point guard of the future in Kendall Marshall. Then they gave the reigns to a player who was a back-up for his first three seasons.
However, much like what happened when Aaron Rodgers got to sit behind an all-time great in Brett Favre, Eric Bledsoe was under the tutelage of Chris Paul with the L.A. Clippers. Now that he gets to run the show, he’s tearing up the league with his blazing fast speed.
Through seven game he’s lead the team to a 5-2 record by scoring 20.9 PPG, dishing out 7.3 APG, and pulling down 4.4 rebounds at just 6’1”. He might be the third fastest player in the league behind Ty Lawson and John Wall. Yet even while he was sitting on the bench, people who followed basketball closely knew he was a great talent and a starter just waiting for his chance.
One guy who’s been nearly as crucial to their hot start has been Markieff Morris, their first round pick who’s in his third season. He’s made a quantum leap from year two to three and is a front-runner if not the flat out favorite to win Most Improved Player of the Year.
Last year he scored 8.2 PPG in 22.5 MPG. He brought down 4.8 RPG and blocked less than a shot per contest. More worrisome for the Suns was that he was still shooting just barely better than 40 percent from the field. Not the kind of numbers you want to see from your power forward.
This year he’s scoring more than twice that (17.2 PPG). He’s hauling in 6.8 RPG, blocking 1.7 shots a game and connecting on an eye-popping 62.7 percent of his field goal attempts. He’s making the Suns look really smart and proving he was indeed worth a lottery pick.
Miami Heat Sluggish
You can imagine it’s probably hard to stay motivated for the Miami Heat. Especially in November after three straight trips to the NBA Finals. But a 4-3 start to the season? What gives?
Well first and foremost, the defense has been awful. Miami is giving up 100.9 PPG, 21st in the NBA. The Heat will be the first to tell you that and LeBron James has come out and said they need to pick it up. When you play a swarming style of defense that’s perimeter heavy -- they are last in the league in total rebounds per game -- you have to play with energy.
Now, it’s not that the team isn’t stocked with incredibly fit athletes, but through an 82 game season, playing defense comes down to the willingness to perform each and every game. We saw the Lakers struggle in their quest for a fourth consecutive banner. Michael Jordan was never in the position to push the Bulls through the marathon that is the professional basketball year. But if anyone can do it, it’s James.
James became one of five players in NBA History to score 10 or more points in 500 consecutive games. He’s been one of the most consistent performers ever. Though his numbers are slightly down this season -- James says he’s been dealing with a sore back for weeks -- he’s still the best player in the NBA and maybe it’s a good sign that he doesn’t lead the Heat in scoring, rebounding, assists, and steals like he did for much of last season.
The Boston Celtics are going streaking! They’ve won four straight and Jeff Green appears to be coming into his own as the go-to guy for Brad Stevens.
Throughout his career he's been a shooting guard and someone never shy to pull the trigger. The Celtics are definitely benefiting from someone with that mentality with even their best player, Green, can be a little gun-shy. Yet in his first three seasons, Crawford never had a decent assist-to-turnover ratio. In fact he never averaged more than even four assists per game.
With a 10-assist and zero turnover performance against the Orlando Magic on Monday night, Crawford bumped up his season averages up to 5.4 APG to just 1.3 turnovers, his lowest in that category yet. Plus, a player known to take some questionable shots is taking good looks and making more than half of them. No one is going to replace Rajon Rondo out there, but Avery Bradley is clearly not capable of running the point just yet and when he's running off the ball, he can be a very effective mid-range shooter himself.
Crawford's maturation is a big reason why Boston is sitting at 4-4 through eight games, atop the Atlantic Divison.