dope. Sports: (NBA) Early Season Trends - The East
Patience; that is what my new year’s resolution was. Begin to display more patience. The ideal has been lauded as being a virtue by society at large, and my own family. So when the NBA season started, I gorged myself on every game that I could rest my eyes upon. And, as my father, brother, and I recovered from the visual feast, we sat back and picked our teeth with the requisite impending analysis. I even raced to my computer to immediately begin writing on what I had seen; the shots hurried, the defensive assignments missed, the lack of chemistry, etc. But as I looked at what I was seeing, I realized that I was looking at a product of new teams with no training camps, and (some) players that weren’t physically ready to participate in an NBA game due to the lockout and its sudden end (see the play of Dirk Nowitzki). Combine that with my newfound emphasis on patience, and you get this post. Almost a tenth of a way through the new season (that looks weird to type after about a week) I feel like I’ve waited long enough to see past what I will simply title “lockout rust” and into what I think will be possible trends and who will be contenders come June.
The Eastern Conference is better than the West. More top tier talent, and more teams closer to the overall goal of being complete (although no team is without at least one serious foundational issue on their way to building a championship). The Heat, Bulls, and Boston are all reprising their roles from last year as the top of the heap. All return substantially similar casts from the teams that showed well at the end of last year. The B-List of the conference starts with Atlanta, New York, and Orlando (in order of appearance on the list NBA rankings at the conclusion of the regular season).
Heat: Let’s start with the class of the East and of the NBA at large. While they’ve just lost their first game of the season, the Heat look to be in mid-season form (the winners of 11 out of 14 form). Keeping the same nucleus, plus adding Shane Battier and emerging spark Norris Cole and the team is constructed to be great. They still have the problem of a lack of an offense from the Center position, but LeBron and Wade’s concentration on getting baskets in the post area more than make up for that deficiency from the Juwan Howard/Joel Anthony hybrid that is the Heat Center. Their main problem has also regained its top tiered game; the zone defense still causes fits for the Heat. It made an absolute drubbing of the Celtics a respectable ending score, and it harassed them into its first loss vs the talented Hawks. Coach Erik Spoelstra was lauded for his implementation of West Virginia’s football spread offense. He had the right idea going with learning from colleges, just the wrong sport. The Heat need more than a general idea, they need a structured offense to execute vs teams that will undoubtedly employ a defense that takes away the Heat’s ability to dive to the cup as well as highlights their dearth of consistent perimeter shooting. They’ll get deeper and better at the point guard position as Mario Chalmers continues his steady play and Cole replaces what I think at one time was Mike Bibby. Add Battier for even more quality defense on the NBA’s best and (provided the team solves their glaring offensive issue) the team possesses all the requisite talent to win the championship.
Bulls: The Bulls addressed their main problem position of shooting guard in the offseason by getting Richard Hamilton. Hamilton wasn’t the top SG free agent (that award goes to Jamal Crawford), but he was the best person for their system; an effective scorer who doesn’t need to dominate the ball to score. They owned the League’s best record last year, and are back to their winning ways winning four of their first five games. Their lineup is sound, with talent at every position…so why don’t I believe in this team? This team still bears a striking resemblance to the LeBronnaires, a team clearly driven by one player. Except…that isn’t true. Chicago won 19 of the 27 times when Derrick Rose was not the leading scorer (on the five occasions when he shared the lead, the team was undefeated). But in the playoffs versus the League’s best teams, who do you trust on this team to be the consistent jab to go with the haymaker that is Rose? If Hamilton can stretch defenses a bit (for a great shooter, he is the owner of a pedestrian 34.6% 3pt field goal percentage), maybe the Bulls can finish this season stronger than their last playoff appearance ended.
Celtics: They are the Celtics. They’ve lost Big Baby (a player instrumental to their title run) but replaced him with an equally talented Baton Rouge product in Brandon Bass. The team is a year older, and it looks like this is officially the last year the window will be open (although that sentence is supplanting “This will be Cher’s final performance” as the most overused and inaccurate statement possible) on their title years. Fewer games in the regular season would seem to favor the older teams, but the compressed nature of the contests means that it’s going to be a sprint which may exhaust the formerly deep team. If the Celts can stay healthy (a huge “if” considering Paul Pierce already missed the first few games with a heel injury), the Celts are the dangerous, hungry team eager to move to the pantheon of Celtics great teams.
Hawks: Even with the loss of Crawford to free agency, I proposed the theory that the Hawks were the most talented team from top to bottom in the League. They have a borderline superstar (closer to the mortal side I grant you) in Joe Johnson, a vastly underrated post player in Al Horford, a defensive Wunderkind in Josh Smith, and depth with Tracy McGrady, Jannero Pagro, and Marvin Williams in terms of scoring. This team showed me a heart that wasn’t present when they were led by their former Coach Woodson and former player Bibby (I hate to harp on it, but he looks so bad on the court that I wonder what incriminating evidence he must have on NBA execs in order to keep getting jobs). New coach Larry Drew and point guard Jeff Teague have the team competing and organized. If the team can stay focused (Smith has already displayed his displeasure with his role) this always talented team could be a hindrance to anyone’s championship aspirations—especially for the Bulls who that match up fantastically with.
Knicks: Let me first say that I love that Madison Square Garden is once again housing a competitive professional basketball team. That said, fans have to relax with their criticism of a team that has started relatively slowly (2-3). New faces (Tyson Chandler and Iman Shumpert) plus an almost non-existent preseason and training camp equal growing pains. Their problem, like Miami last year, is that they need time to gel and figure it out. Unlike Miami, they will not have much time to do it (in addition to a reduced amount of games, there will be less practices). As long as they are in the playoffs (breathe Knick fans, they will be) they will be a problem that someone will have to solve. Still, having Carmelo initiate the offense as Coach Mike D’Antoni intimated seems like a recipe for stagnation, and an unhappy Amar’e. If they can get a cohesive offensive mindset and have EVERYONE commit to playing defense (not just Chandler) come playoff time they are capable of winning the title. See Knick fans, all you guys need for your team to do is play offense and defense well to win.
Author: Brenden Whitted. Follow Brenden on Twitter: @WBHUalum