11.19.2007

Where "really great basketball" happens!

The NBA marketing heads got it right, “amazing” really does happen in the L – or at least, it has so far this season. Seasons of recent memory barely register when taking into account what’s been happening so far in 2007. It seems that just about every team has players that we’re excited about watching, and several top ones that have talent that we’d easily pay good money to see. The rookies, from Durant to Belinelli, are fresh, exciting and fun to watch play. The stars are delivering like UPS, putting up crazy numbers. Scoring, in general, is up. Defense is solid. The games are fun again. Perhaps the only thing missing is a lot of last second shots. There were some, but more will come in due time.

The NBA, as it was in the early 80s and early 90s is in a state of bloom. While traditional powerhouses like San Antonio and Detroit continue to roll along like finely assembled Bentleys, new comers like the Orlando Magic and New Orleans Hornets are racing into prime position. It’s an exciting time to be a fan. Every night, there are individual match-ups and team rivalries that demand attention. Perhaps, it’s a good time to pony up for that NBA league pass. But, before we get ahead of ourselves, get too excited and start sounding like the aforementioned NBA marketing department let’s talk about what’s caught our attention during the young NBA season.

As the big time wins pile up, the Kobe trade talks simmer down

Understand that while we watch a lot of NBA basketball, the team that we follow the closest and watch the most is the Los Angeles Lakers, so we’ll start our trip around the NBA at Kobe’s house, Staples Center. Their mark of 6-3 and their current spot as the 8th best team in the Western Conference isn’t overly impressive, but the Lakers have probably been one of the top 3, or 4, most remarkable teams in the young season. Consider the teams they’ve played so far; Phoenix, Utah, New Orleans, Minnesota, Houston (twice), San Antonio, Detroit and Chicago. Take Chicago (2-7) and Minnesota (1-7) out of the equation, and the combined record of the Lakers’ remaining opponents is a whopping 50-24. And, all of those teams, barring serious injury or a miracle, will make the playoffs. That success is even more impressive when you consider that the roster’s average age at 23.8 (even with 33 year old Derek Fisher thrown in) is among the youngest in the league.

But while those numbers are well and good, does this Lakers team have the potential to make serious noise in the playoffs? Or, will it be a one and out yet again? The key to that answer is defense. In Kobe Bryant, LA has one of the most dominant scorers in the game, ever. So, offense shouldn’t be an issue. In fact, the Lakers are putting up 104 points per game this season, good for 5th highest in the league. Such was the case last year too, when they ranked 5th best in scoring, and the year before when they ranked 8th. The Lakers can score – Kobe and a team of trained monkeys could put up at least 100 points. The problem has been on the defensive end. While the Lakers are d-ing up now, can they keep up the intensity throughout the season and, most importantly, during the playoffs? If they can, and if they can also stay healthy, team Kobe has a legit shot at playing well into June. The key will be doing the little things on defense, pressuring the post passer, limiting penetration, being opportunistic with turnovers and just playing hard and smart on defense at all times. Good defense will keep Kobe in a Lakers uniform for a long time to come.

Smoke and mirrors behind Magic in Orlando

Another young team that has made its mark on the young season is the Orlando Magic. A record so far of 9-2 gives them a tie for the second best mark in the league with the New Orleans Hornets, along with a recent win against the best team, record wise, in the league, the new-look Boston Celtics. But, take a close look at the Magic roster and other than newly acquired Rashard Lewis and Dwight Howard, and possibly point guard Jameer Nelson, the collection of names isn’t very impressive.

The Magic put up 102.8 points a game and more importantly yield 95.6 points on the defensive end, for a solid differential of 7.2 points per game. The Magic also shoot a ton of threes and a ton of free-throws – they’re 3rd in the league in 3 point attempts and 4th in the league in free-throw attempts. The Denver Nuggets are the only other team with that distinction of being in the top 5 in those 2 categories.

But, those are the only places that the Magic truly excel. Everywhere else, their stats are either pretty mediocre or not quite top 10. So, while the 9-2 record is impressive, other than the win against Boston, every other team that the Magic have beat so far this season, including Washington, Minnesota, Toronto, New York, Seattle, Cleveland and New Jersey, has a record of .500 or lower. While Orlando may not be as good as their gaudy record indicates, the team – with Lewis on the wing and Howard in the post – is probably talented enough to win a lot of games in a weak Eastern Conference. But, their lack of depth and overall talent level from 3-12 could be exposed during the playoffs.

The big 3

This just in, Boston is good! Not sure if Garnett had a little pre-season chat with Tom Brady, but the Celtics so far has been basketball’s version of the New England Patriots. KG, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and the rest is killing people, no prisoners. The numbers bear it out. Boston has the stingiest defense in the league, giving up a paltry 89.4 points per game. They are matching the stellar defense by scoring 102.7 per game for a differential of 13.2 points – by far the highest in the league (the Hornets and the Nuggets are tied for second in differential at 9.1 points per game).

The bottom line is that this revived version of the Celtics is legit and has the talent to get to the NBA finals. Some might argue that their early season schedule has been weak, but there’s no denying the supernova-like presence of the 3 All-Stars. Yes, in a seven game series, given the type of suffocating defense they play, the Cs have the ability to beat teams like the Spurs, Suns, Mavericks, et al.

One man show

Team achievements aside, individual players are also stepping up and impressing so far this season.

Among the rookies, Kevin Durant has possibly wrapped up the rookie of the year trophy earlier than any 1st year player in recent memory (perhaps because of the absense of one Mr. Oden, or perhaps not). Consider this, Durant is averaging close to 20 points per game (19.7 to be exact) and his closest competitor in that category is Yi “I live in Milwaukee, my neighbor is a cow…no really, a real cow” Jianlian. The Chinese sensation is averaging 10.3 points per game – no other rookie this year is even in double figures. You think David Stern isn’t already preparing his intro speech for Durant’s ROY trophy presentation?

But the rookies really only add to an NBA roster that is so incredibly talented right now. Sure you’ve got all-time names like Kobe, LeBron, Duncan, Wade, Nash, Garnett and Nowitzki, but then there is a second tier with amazingly talented guys like T-Mac, Carmelo, D-Howe, Ming, Pierce, Arenas and Iverson and a third tier with Vince Carter, Kevin Martin, Redd, Ginobili, Butler, Rashard, Jesus Shuttlesworth, Chris Paul, Durant and Marion and a fourth tier with Al Jeff, Aldridge, Deng, Barbosa, Gasol, Gerald Wallace -- there’s just so many players in the NBA today that can play, and are fun to watch. We haven’t had this much talent, top to bottom, in the league for a long, long time.

In 2007-2008, NBA action is fantastic! Oh wait, wrong adjective. It’s amazing!

1 comment:

Juste said...

The celtics are definitely ripping sh*t up. The loss to the Magic was a abberation. KG will take the green to the promised land.