Posted by Andrew Shi
Good Teams Doing Poorly:
The Nets were supposed to be riding their all-star lineup to a top-three slot in the Eastern Conference, but they're currently languishing at 14th. The Wizards, who were expected to be a potential eight seed or a fringe playoff team reside in the position below. Detroit, who had a blockbuster offseason acquiring Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings, the Knicks and Cleveland are all on the outside of the playoffs too. On the other side of the country, Memphis is the equivalent of the Net's and the Nuggets have exceeded expectations of how bad they would be after a demoralizing and much criticized offseason. However, despite these disappointments, it's way, way too early to hit the panic button, at least for several of these teams. The Nets, Wizards, Pistons and Cavaliers will need time to develop chemistry with players injured last season or recently added. Memphis too, need not worry yet. The Knicks just lost Tyson Chandler, the cornerstone of their defense and as far as playoffs go they're still favored.
Bad Teams doing well
On the flipside, several teams are exceeding expectations including the Suns, Celtics and the 76ers. Eric Bledsoe and the crew of young bloods are proving themselves tenacious despite the front office's every effort to tank the season. The Celtics, too, are showing that even without Rondo they're capable of competing, although their offense is still one of the worst in the NBA, and that will quickly catch up with them especially now that they don't have the marquee defense they could brag about last season. The 76ers and the rise of Michael Carter-Williams has been one of the more exciting stories so far, but while Carter-Williams may very well be NBA rookie of the year, the 76ers can be still be expected to end the year in a bottom four seed. All of these team's victories can be largely attributed not so much to their phenomenal basketball, but rather to the deficiencies of the teams they played, something that will soon be shed as the season progresses and the rust wears off.
The Pacers can win it all
The Pacers haven't lost yet and Danny Granger still hasn't returned. Their defense is top in the NBA and their offense has improved from last year, thanks to a beefed up bench. While still not the favorite to win it all, analysts should countenance that maybe they should be. Once Danny Granger returns they're going to have an even deadlier bench. Or, even, a healthy and prolific Granger could fetch much on the market.
Dwight Howard and James Harden are the deadly duo they were expected to be. Howard and Omar Asik are not, though. By the trade deadline in February Asik will be gone, and the Rockets will be better for that alone (although Asik off the bench would give the Rockets the best backup center in the league, bar a healthy Bynum, which probably won't happen). Asik will be coveted by many teams and will give the Rockets the power forward they need. Once that is achieved, the Rockets will be the top four team that they should be. Not to mention, Jeremy Lin is finally playing at the level he was originally paid for, and the bench is putting up solid stats as well.
Monta Ellis and the Mavericks.
Perhaps a new scene was what Ellis needed, as his game has drastically improved since his move to Dallas. His shot selection has become more thoughtful and his stats are showing the results. He's shooting less but making more of his shots and is almost at 50 percent for FG%. His 3FG% still has much to be desired but is up five points from last year. It wasn't originally clear how to judge the Maverick's offseason, but they're hanging steady at eighth in the conference. With Dirk Nowitzki playing the full season the Mavericks may very well return to the playoffs, although likely at a low seed and far from contender level.
Other story lines to watch out for as the season progresses:
What will new Raptors GM Masai Ujiri decide to do with his team? He's known for big moves and some are expected from him as his team is good but not nearly good enough to compete as a contender.
Along similar lines, the question around Danny Ainge is whether he will keep the Celtics as is or deal players as soon as the opportunity arises. I'd put my money on the latter.
And are the San Antonio Spurs still a top team in the West? The Heat may be able to beat them but they clearly won't lose to age.