Early Season Surprises


You can already tell that this is going to be an outstanding NBA season. There are only three roadkill teams right now — Sacramento, Minnesota and Seattle — and everyone else has the talent and decent enough coaching (crazy huh?) to compete on any given night. But you could tell that yourself. There have been plenty of surprises and delights in this young season, here are my Top Ten:

10. Rashard Lewis
I was highly critical of the Magic’s free agent signing, and while I still think they are going to have trouble adding the piece that can make them more than a good team (It’s not going to be Hedo Turkoglu, who has nevertheless been good so far), I’ve got to give Lewis credit for not sitting on his pile of cash. He’s shooting a career-high .505 from the field and .500 from deep, along with a career-high 3.0 assists per game, and looks like he cares, too. Of course, it helps that Dwight Howard is slowly turning into Shaq 2.0, commanding double teams most every time down the court.

9. Rudy Gay
I have to admit, I took him in the seventh round of our fantasy draft expecting maybe 12 points per game with a 3, but mostly for steals and blocks. Little did I know that he had been developing some true scoring moves in the offseason and would be at 20.6 two and a half weeks in. When was the last time you remember one of those elite athlete-type prospects who was raw offensively really develop an offensive game in such a short amount of time?

8. The Refs
I have to hand it to the league for getting the striped shirts in line, so far. In pretty much every game I’ve watched I haven’t noticed the refs at all — and that’s the most you can ask. Only slip ups I’ve seen are when I’m nitpicking Blazer games or when I’ve seen one or two rookie refs trying to show they aren’t pushovers. The Donaghy scandal might be slipping away before our very eyes.

7. The Clippers
4-2 won’t last. But Maggette finally has what he wanted, a team to carry . . . right into the lottery. Still, Clippers fans need anything good they can get right now.

6. The Bulls
The bad surprise. They would have been perfectly fine without Kobe, but I have never seen trade rumors affect an entire team (minus Tyrus Thomas) like this. The Bulls have too many good players to keep on like this and Luol Deng needs to be the catalyst. You are a big-time option on offense, buddy, get used to it. If you aren’t playing well, the rumors will always get worse.

5. Yi Jianlian
China is 2-2 on their American lottery picks. Keep ’em comin boys, just don’t try any more of that big market bullsnap. I agree with plenty of people when I say Seattle might’ve been saved more by Yi than they will be by Durant had they gone Yi instead of Green.

4. J.A. Adande
Oh my god. A columnist that used common sense and no political bull? A columnist who writes well reported and logical stories like this one? Steven A Smith, meet your harbringer of doom. Adande is putting in some serious work for ESPN Hoops and is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers anywhere. We are all tired of Rick Reilly and those sob stories he keeps putting out, and most are growing tired of Simmons and his often poor analysis and flattening schtick (congrats on the kid though, Mr. S, looks like it might have reinvigorated you with what I’ve seen of your Hoops preview).

3. The New York Knicks
My bad, this isn’t a surprise at all, the Knicks still suck.

2. San Antonio
What? Yeah, I’m pleasantly surprised by them because I thought there might be a chance Pop would keep everyone mellow during the opening months, but they just keep chugging out W’s, giving at least some logical people reasons to keep them at the top of pointless weekly power rankings. How on earth a certain other team is at No. 1 right now, when the defending champs are 7-1, is beyond me.

1. The Portland Trail Blazers
Bet you didn’t see that one coming. But hey, the Blazers are 4-3, coming off four straight home wins, including victories over Dallas and Detroit, and all signs are pointing to the true reincarnation of Rip City. This could be a playoff team, but I strongly doubt they have a bottom-eight record, Roy and Aldridge just know how to come through when it all matters. Of course this all means my dream of Derrick Rose is out the window, but you know what, when I realized that, I also realized I didn’t care one bit. Screw the draft. It’s time.

And two things that are not surprising:

— Kevin Durant —
We told you he wasn’t going to be able to get to the hole or get open shots at will. We told you he didn’t make his teammates any better. We told you he’d be a little lost on both ends of the court in his first season, and still average around 20, and that is what he is doing. The kid is going to be good, but not MJ or even Kobe good. Right now I’m seeing his upside as a Melo type scorer with a different sort of potential post-up game. I can’t wait to see Bill Simmons biting his tongue on this one, especially once Oden comes back healthy (everything is going perfect for him by the way).

— The Celtics —
I’ve been telling Steve this off and on for the last couple weeks — all judgement on the Celtics needs to be postponed for at least a month or so. It was pretty easy to predict that this team would be hot out of the gates, just like the Pistons were when they got rid of Larry Brown and got to run a little on offense, or the 93-94 Houston Rockets that kicked things off with a 15-game winning streak after they added Clyde Drexler to the mix in the offseason. The Celtics’ weaknesses are that bench, and those come into play just before and after the all-star break, and in the playoffs. They will come back down to earth sometime soon, if only to get some more air to go back into orbit, but lets all wait until the honeymoon is over shall we?