Before the NBA season started the “expert analysts” predicted that the top three teams in the league would be the Heat, the Lakers and the Celtics. They were right on the Celtics and the Lakers but those two teams are perennial locks to be among the top teams. The Heat on the other hand were practically handed the O’Brien trophy for the next decade by the media after their summer haul of Chris Bosh and LeBron James to join Dwayne Wade. Bosh, James and Wade were supposed to become the most indestructible force to ever take a basketball court but the Heat have proven to be nothing more than a mediocre team through the first 17 games of the season. The Heat’s lack of size up front, stagnant offense, unproductive role players and the inability of the “big three” to create chemistry has led to the disappointing start. Miami’s terrible start has been one of the many surprises of the young season. Here’s a look at a few more surprises that no one could have predicted.
The New Orleans Hornets’ Hot Start
After a summer in which star point-guard Chris Paul expressed displeasure with the Hornets organization and reportedly requested a trade; no one would have expected an 8-0 start and a 12-4 record. The roster is essentially the same from last season expect for the additions of Marco Belinelli, Jarrett Jack and Trevor Ariza and the departures of Darren Collision and Peja Stojakovic. The return of Chris Paul from injury is the largest reason for the Hornets resurgence. Paul has been playing MVP level basketball; he’s making everyone else around him better while also taking games over at the right time. Paul’s play has been stellar but it’s New Orleans defense that is responsible for the torrid start. The Hornets rank number one in points allowed, and are in the top 10 in point differential. It’s no fluke that the Hornets are playing at a high level, they need to be discussed among the top teams in league, especially if they continue playing tough defense and they stay healthy.
The Spurs’ Resurgence
The old Spurs have found the fountain of youth and it has led them to a league best 14-2 record. 33-year-old Man Ginobli, 34-year-old Tim Duncan, 28-year-old Tony Parker and 30-year-old Richard Jefferson are taking advantage of their veteran experience to once again propel the Spurs to atop the Western conference. Ginobli is having a career year in his 9th season as a pro, as he is averaging 21.5 points per game while shooting the ball with great efficiency- 47% from the field, 40% on three pointers and 90% at the free throw line. Parker is also enjoying a nice season as he is averaging 18.7 points per game while also enjoying career highs in assists (7.3 per game) and steals (1.8 per game). The team officially belongs to Ginobli and Parker now as Duncan’s age and years in the league (this is his 15th season) have finally caught up to him. Duncan is still putting up solid stats and leading the Spurs on the defensive end but he is no longer the dominant player he has been throughout his career. San Antonio has been great on offense (3rd in points and 7th assists) and solid enough on defense (14th in points allowed) to be the top team in the league. If San Antonio’s old age doesn’t catch up to them, they will be the biggest challenge to the Lakers come Playoff time.
Blake Griffin’s Dunkfest
Ok, this one isn’t much of a surprise, especially if you watched Griffin in college at Oklahoma or during the preseason, but it has to be mentioned because Griffin has already put together one of the most impressive dunk highlight tapes ever. Just visit Youtube and watch the highlights of the Clippers vs. Knicks game from two weeks ago. In that game alone Griffin threw down three of the most impressive dunks someone will ever see. Many people have compared Griffin to a young Shawn Kemp, which is a good comparison considering both had freakish athletic abilities for their size. Griffin is a much better player overall than Kemp was as the same stage in his career. Even though the Clippers have been terrible, their games are worth watching just because Griffin can make a historically great dunk at any time. It seems like every night he has a highlight worthy play, too bad he plays on the Clippers. At least he gives them slight hope for improving in the future.
Kevin Love’s Rebounding Barrage
Kevin Love leading in the rebounding may not be a surprise to some but the majority of basketball of fans and analysts still vastly underrate him. Love’s name hardly comes up on Sportscenter, probably because he plays for the Timberwolves, yet he has started the season greatly. Love is averaging an impressive 14.9 rebounds per game to go along with 19 points per game, all in his third season as a pro. So far this season love has put together stat lines of 23 points- 24 rebounds, a historic 31-31 (Moses Malone was the last player to do it in 1986), 32-22 and 21-21 (the last two lines happened on consecutive games).
What’s impressive about Love’s rebounding prowess is his height, he is listed at 6-10 but he is no more than 6-8, just watch him on the basketball court next to the likes of Pau Gasol and Tim Duncan.
If you were coaching how to rebound, show tapes of Love – he uses his body perfectly to get into proper position every time and he is ferocious at going after the ball. It is time to start showing Love some respect; he’s the best rebounder in the NBA hands down.