The Association: Shifting Expectations

Here’s my first real NBA post of the season for you guys.  I hope my weekly NBA power rankings article will be much more consistent than my failed attempt at the NFL power rankings (R.I.P.).  This week’s power rankings will take a closer look at five teams who may need to adjust their preseason expectations, for better or worse.

Starting Fast

Detroit C Andre Drummond (Photo Courtesy of Paul Sancya/AP Photo)
Detroit C Andre Drummond (Photo Courtesy of Paul Sancya/AP Photo)

1. Golden State Warriors

2. Cleveland Cavaliers

3. San Antonio Spurs

4. Utah Jazz

5. Detroit Pistons

6. Miami Heat

It’s not shocking to anybody to see the Warriors, Cavs and Spurs atop the list to start the season, but the Jazz, Pistons and Heat were all teams that people believed would improve.  Very few knew they would improve this much and this quickly though.  Today we are going to focus on the Pistons and how they have gotten off to their best start in a decade.

Everything begins and ends with Andre Drummond for this team right now, as it should.  Drummond entered last night’s game against the Warriors averaging 20 points and 20 rebounds.  That is pretty incredible even in a mere six game sample size.  Marcus Morris add some perimeter scoring around Drummond, with Reggie Jackson looking like the creator that this team needed at point guard.  KCP is evolving on the offensive end, and for the first time in a long time this team looks like a playoff team, a welcome sight for the Motor City.

Many Happy Returns

Feb 25, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett (21) pounds his chest before a game against the Washington Wizards at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 25, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett (21) pounds his chest before a game against the Washington Wizards at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

7. Atlanta Hawks

8. Oklahoma City Thunder

9. Los Angeles Clippers

10. Toronto Raptors

11. Minnesota Timberwolves

12. Chicago Bulls

The title of this segment was specifically aimed at the return to form of the Oklahoma City Thunder with Kevin Durant back to his old ways and KG’s return to Minnesota, a team that Levi and I covered in our podcast on Monday.  The Wolves have, much like Detroit, vastly exceeded expectations so far this season, and are already a quarter of the way to eclipsing last season’s win total.

Better health, veteran leadership and the progression of young players are the key contributors to the early season improvement in some order.  Health is a pretty fickle attribute and Minnesota has been as unlucky as anybody over the last year, but they are currently healthy and for their sake we will hope that stays.  The re-acquisition of Kevin Garnett was a morale and veteran leadership move for the front office more so than it was a basketball move.  It has paid off so far though.  KG, Tayshaun Prince, and Dr. Andre Miller, Ph. D. have really taken the young guys like Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns under their wing and facilitated their progression from talented NBA players to good NBA players.  That’s a process that is on-going, but as they continue to take that step look for Minnesota’s win frequency to increase as well.

One Way or the Other

Credit Gif to Grantland.com (R.I.P. We Miss You Greatly)
Credit Gif to Grantland.com (R.I.P. We Miss You Greatly)

13. Boston Celtics

14. Portland Trail Blazers

15. Phoenix Suns

16. Dallas Mavericks

17. New York Knicks

18. Charlotte Hornets

The teams in the middle of this list could end up in vastly different places as early as next week’s rankings.  Boston is probably the only team on this list that was widely expected to make the playoffs, and they still look like a playoff team.  Phoenix was expected to push for the eight seed, with Dallas and Portland likely just outside looking in, but currently all three look worthy of putting in the conversation.  New York was expected to be a laughingstock for a second straight year, while Charlotte is an oddball team with poor perimeter shooting and their best defender on the shelf.  “Stuck in the Middle” seemed too cliche to use as a title here, but it would have been appropriate.

Let’s take a quick look at the Knicks though.  Admittedly, I’ve watched very little of the Knicks this season, and a big part of that has to do with my belief that they would be hard to watch again.  Carmelo Anthony’s renaissance tour is off to a little bit of a sluggish start.  He is averaging 21 and 7 right now, but only shooting 37% from the field.  Missing the majority of last season made many of us forget how gifted he is at scoring the basketball and I expect the percentages to improve as he gets back in the swing of things.  Kristaps “The Zinger” Porzingis has also been surprisingly good for the majority that believed he was a huge mistake at number four overall.  This team is much better than they were last year, and even though they probably still aren’t a playoff contender may not be as hard to watch as most of us, myself included, believed initially.

Slackers

Houston SG James Harden (Photo Courtesy of Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports)
Houston SG James Harden (Photo Courtesy of Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports)

19. Indiana Pacers

20. Orlando Magic

21. Milwaukee Bucks

22. Houston Rockets

23. Washington Wizards

24. Denver Nuggets

With the exception of Denver and Orlando, every team in this group was either expected to make the playoffs or at least be in the conversation.  At this point, all of them are going to have to work their way back to that.  Washington and Houston have been very disappointing so far, and Indiana and Milwaukee seem to be having some fit problems after some major roster changes in the offseason.  Houston is the best of the five though, and most deserving of our focus currently.

Houston picked up a big win over the Clippers last night (not reflected in standings yet) and that might just be the boost they needed to get back on track.  Harden has scored 40+ in two straight games now and finally seems to be getting his shooting touch back as he has made over half of his field goal attempts in both of those games.  He is absolutely the catalyst for this team, especially the offense, and its ceiling is directly correlated to his performance.  That doesn’t mean the other guys aren’t important though.  Dwight Howard is resting early and if that means he will be healthy and ready to wreak havoc defensively in the playoffs then that will be ok for Rockets fans.  Ty Lawson is also still trying to find his place in a new system, but he is a good point guard and should be able to work the kinks off well before April.

Starting From the Bottom

Tyreke Evans (Photo Courtesy of Nola.com/The Times-Picayune)
Tyreke Evans (Photo Courtesy of Nola.com/The Times-Picayune)

25. Los Angeles Lakers

26. Sacramento Kings

27. Memphis Grizzlies

28. New Orleans Pelicans

29. Brooklyn Nets

30. Philadelphia 76ers

New Orleans and Memphis are the only surprises here, but it’s also fair to say that they are major one’s too.  Levi and I covered Nola in our podcast last week and neither of us were all that worried about their slow start at the time, but not the panic meter is steadily creeping upwards.  At the beginning of the season, I predicted an MVP for Anthony Davis and 50 wins for the Pelicans.  They are going to have to go like 50-25 from here on out to do that, and I’m not sure that’s going to be doable in the West.  Some of their issues can be attributed to injuries.  Tyreke Evans is a very underrated loss as he is one of their best slashers and most versatile perimeter defender.  He should be back in November or December sometime so that should help.  Jrue Holiday’s minutes are still being heavily monitored, but when healthy he is still a solid two-way point guard, so hopefully the panic button won’t prematurely ramp up his minutes.  It would definitely be disappointing to see him miss extended time yet again.

That’s going to wrap up week one of the Association.  I hope you’ve enjoyed it.  Check back next Tuesday for the next edition.

 

 

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