Thursday, November 28, 2013
Thanksgiving is a time of year to reflect on what matters most to us in life and what we are most thankful for. As all 30 NBA teams got Thanksgiving day off, I thought it would be fun to acknowledge at least one thing that each NBA team can be thankful for at this time of year. It may be hard for some teams to feel grateful for something at this time of year, but you can rest assured that there is something that your team can be thankful for! So rejoice in hearing the good news for your team!
Atlanta Hawks: The Atlanta Hawks still have a ways to go before they can be considered a contending team, but one thing we know for certain is that Josh Smith was not going to lead them to a title. The Hawks should be thankful that Josh Smith is no longer their headache and that he is now a member of the Pistons. They should also be thankful to have a more quality guy like Paul Millsap in their organization to take his place.
Boston Celtics: The Boston Celtics are entering full re-building mode, with the days of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen over. Only Radian Rondo is left from the era as Doc Rivers has bolted for the City of Angels to coach the Clippers. While it may seem like the Celtics don't have anything to be thankful for, they actually do have some things to be thankful for. One of those things being that the 2014 NBA draft is stacked and the other being that have a quality franchise player to build around in Rajon Rondo. A lot of teams in the NBA would love to have an elite point guard like Rajon Rondo to build around. The fact that the Celtics have that puts them well ahead of a lot of teams.
Brooklyn Nets: The Nets' season so far has been an utter and complete disaster. Jason Kidd is spilling soda pop on the court to call pseudo-timeouts, Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Jason Terry, and Andrei Kirilenko have all been injured, and Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce look like the aging stars that they are. But if there is anything that the Nets can be thankful for, it is that the Knicks stink as much as they do, and also, the entire Eastern Conference has been awful. That means they still have plenty of time to get healthy, figure out their team, make the playoffs, and maybe make some noise.
Charlotte Bobcats: This one is pretty obvious. The Charlotte Bobcats can be thankful that next season, they will be known as the Charlotte Hornets. The return of "Buzz City" will make NBA basketball in Charlotte exciting again and also something that Charlotte fans can get behind.
Chicago Bulls: For the Chicago Bulls, it's hard to think of what they have to be thankful for after Derrick Rose goes down again (this time he tore the meniscus in his other knee). But if there is anything they can be thankful for it is that Derrick Rose can still be a major part of their future and that his torn meniscus can regain full strength with proper rehab. They can also be thankful for the fact that Derrick Rose has already made a full recovery in the past. Hopefully next Thanksgiving, the Bulls can be thankful for a healthy Derrick Rose on his way back to MVP form.
Cleveland Cavaliers: The Cleveland Cavaliers have enough to be thankful for to mask the obviously horrible start by #1 overall draft pick Anthony Bennett. One of the main things they can be thankful for is the fact that the 76ers gave up on Andrew Bynum and didn't make any effort to re-sign him in the summer. Bynum still may eventually shape up to be a quality center for them to accompany Kyrie Irving, and it wouldn't have happened had the 76ers invested in Andrew Bynum past last season. Also, the Cavaliers can be thankful for the fact that they have Kyrie Irving, who may one day become the best point guard in the NBA.
Dallas Mavericks: What the Mavericks have to be thankful for is the fact that every team in the NBA overlooked Monta Ellis in free agency. Ellis has been a great fit in Dallas and has given them the perfect offensive punch that they have needed. I'm not saying the Mavericks are contenders with Ellis, but they'll be in the mix all season long for a playoff spot (which in the Western Conference might be all that you need) as a result of picking up Monta Ellis.
Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets should be grateful for finding Brian Shaw to replace George Karl as head coach. I've never been really high on George Karl as a head coach, primarily because I think he underachieved as a coach of the Seattle Supersonics in the 90s, only reaching the NBA Finals once while having Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp to work with. But, with that being said, Karl is still a quality coach, and letting him go would have been a big mistake had they not been fortunate enough to find a quality replacement in Brian Shaw.
Detroit Pistons: The Pistons in free agency went from being a bottom feeder of a bad Eastern Conference to being a potential playoff team through picking up Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith. Both those guys along with Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe ought to lead the Pistons to the playoffs this season, which for the Pistons is a huge step in the right direction.
Golden State Warriors: The Golden State Warriors have a lot to be thankful for. They signed Andre Iguodala in the off season, they have great fans, and a chance to make a deep playoff run, etc. But if there is one thing that the Warriors should be most thankful for, it is that they have a quality front office and a quality ownership that has a vision for the franchise. The Warriors lacked this kind of vision in the previous ownership, but now that they have these new guys at the helm, the Warriors can be sure to contend for many championships in the future.
Houston Rockets: If there is anything the Rockets can be thankful for, it is landing Dwight Howard in the summer. I know things didn't work out for Dwight in Los Angeles and Orlando, but he still is the premiere franchise center in the NBA. Landing Dwight Howard may have dramatically changed the course of this franchise.
Indiana Pacers: The Pacers should be grateful for signing Paul George to a max extension in the offseason, and locking him up as their key franchise player to build a championship caliber team around.
Los Angeles Clippers: This team needed a better coach than Vinny Del Negro, and they got one in Doc Rivers. They should be thankful for landing Doc Rivers as their head coach, which hopefully will take their already talented roster to new heights.
Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers should be thankful that Kobe Bryant will play basketball again. I didn't agree with the fat contract extension that they just gave Kobe Bryant, but they should be grateful that they got a couple more season to see if he can bring them a title. I don't think he will, but if they didn't have him, they'd be back to page one (which thankfully for the Lakers isn't as bad as it is for other team).
Memphis Grizzlies: After Marc Gasol went down with a knee injury, thoughts of a torn ACL had to cross the minds all Grizzlies fans. The Grizzlies should be thankful it's just a sprain and that he'll only be out for a couple of weeks.
Miami Heat: The Miami Heat have many things to be thankful for, but the main thing they have to be thankful for is that they have the best basketball player on the planet in LeBron James. So long as they have him, they'll be the toughest team to stop in the NBA.
Milwaukee Bucks: They're playing terrible, but they should be thankful that the 2014 NBA Draft is stacked and that they have good odds at getting a quality franchise player to build around in the draft. Plus, they should be grateful that they no longer have Brandon Jennings, and instead have a quality point guard in Nate Wolters who fell to them late in the draft. Bucks fans, feel grateful! There is reason to rejoice in the future of the Bucks!
Minnesota Timberwolves: The Timberwolves should be grateful to have the best big man in the game in Kevin Love. He's playing like a hall of fame big man, and so long as they have him, they'll be a force in the Western Conference. They should also be grateful to have picked up Kevin Martin in free agency.
New Orleans Pelicans: The Pelicans should be grateful for having Anthony Davis pan out. Sometimes #1 picks don't become franchise changing players, but thankfully for them, they have a franchise changing player in Anthony Davis to build around for years to come.
New York Knicks: The Knicks should be grateful that the Nets suck as well. If the Nets were really good and the Knicks were horrible, the New York media would be ripping into them like piranhas ripping into dead gorilla floating down the amazon.
Oklahoma City Thunder: The Thunder obviously have one thing to be grateful for among all the things they can be grateful for, which is that Russell Westbrook returned earlier than expected and that he is looking healthy. As a result, they'll be able to get a high seed in the Western Conference and make a deep run into the playoffs.
Orlando Magic: The dust has cleared from the Dwight Howard trade that sent Howard to the Lakers, Andrew Bynum to the 76ers, and Nikola Vucevic to the Magic. The Magic ironically won that trade, which is what they should be feeling grateful for. At the end of the day, the Magic look like the smart ones in that trade. Plus, they got a promising rookie in Victor Oladipo who can be a key piece for them to build around in the future.
Philadelphia 76ers: The 76ers should be grateful that Michael Carter-Williams may end up being the steal of the draft. The NBA is point guard driven, and they likely have already found their franchise point guard to build around in MCW.
Phoenix Suns: The Suns should be grateful to have hired Jeff Hornacek as head coach. Hornacek has this young, inexperienced Suns team playing way better than they were expected to, which is largely due to his credit. Expect Hornacek to be the head coach of this team for a long long time.
Portland Trail Blazers: They are 13-3, Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge are a legit one-two punch, and they are holding their own in a tough Western Conference. Plus, Greg Oden is gone. The Trail Blazers have a lot to be thankful for in addition to having an easy schedule to start the season.
Sacramento Kings: The Kings (and more importantly their fans) should be thankful that their team is staying in Sacramento.
San Antonio Spurs: I could say that the Spurs should be grateful for Tony Parker, Tim Ducan, Gregg Popovich, etc. But that would be too obvious. What Spurs fans should be thankful for is that no team in the West leapfrogged them in terms of being favored to win the West over the Summer. The Warriors and Rockets improved their teams, but I still gotta put the Spurs ahead of both teams right now.
Toronto Raptors: In order to have a successful NBA franchise, the first thing a team needs is quality management. The Raptors hired last season's Executive of the Year Award winner Masai Ujiri to be their new GM. Somehow the Nuggets let him go, which means that the Raptors should be sending thank you cards to the Nuggets' front office very soon. For the Raptors, they should definitely be thankful to have Masai Ujiri as their general manager.
Utah Jazz: The Utah Jazz are awful this season, but they should be thankful to have quality young players to build around for the future and also an absolutely stacked draft in 2014. They are in prime position to land either Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins in the draft, which could greatly change their franchise for the better.
Washington Wizards: The Wizards should be thankful that so far, John Wall is living up to his max contract and is looking like an elite franchise point guard.
---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Here are my updated Power Rankings as of Tuesday, November 19th, 2013. It should be noted that I rank the teams based on three factors: (1) Who is playing the best right now; (2) Who I think is best overall; and (3) Who I think has the most potential to be good.
1. Indiana Pacers (9-1): They got thumped pretty badly by the Bulls over the weekend, but luckily the hangover from that shouldn't last long at all. With games against the Knicks, Celtics, and 76ers coming up, the Pacers should be able to quickly continue on with their winning ways. The biggest concern they should probably have is the sprained right foot of Lance Stephenson. Reports say his status for Wednesday is up in the air. They'll definitely not want to have him out for long.
2. San Antonio Spurs (9-1): The machine that is known as the San Antonio Spurs continues to run smoothly in the early stages of this new NBA season. Their biggest win of the season so far is their 2 point win over the Warriors on November 8th. They sent the Warriors a firm message that the road to the NBA Finals will likely have to go through the Alamo.
3. Golden State Warriors (8-3): Not only does Andre Iguodala have the ability to play lock down defense; he also has the ability to close games. That win over the Thunder on Thursday was the Warriors way of saying "We're here and we aren't going anywhere." This team seems to not really have a flaw. They defend, they shoot, and they play unselfishly. Stephen Curry is the best scoring point guard in the NBA, Klay Thompson is the next Reggie Miller, etc. These guys are the real deal.
4. Miami Heat (7-3): With the lack of talk about the Heat right now, one would guess they were off to a 5-5 start or something like that. But no, they are off to a very nice 7-3 start, and nobody seems to be noticing, which is of course rather frightening.
5. Portland Trail Blazers (9-2): This team has won 7 straight games, but the teams they have beaten have not been all that impressive: Kings (twice), Pistons at home (by 6 points), Suns at home (by 1 point), Celtics, Raptors, and the dysfunctional Nets. I don't want to take anything away from this team, especially since the point guard/power forward combo of Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge is a legit 1-2 punch. But I guess we will have to see more from this team over the coming week to see if they can continue their success against better teams. Upcoming games against the Bulls, Warriors, Pacers, and Thunder will give us a better sense of how good the Trail Blazers actually are.
6. Oklahoma City Thunder (7-3): In case you were wondering if they will be missing Kevin Martin and James Harden, the answer is they probably will, but it doesn't mean that they won't be in the mix to win the Western Conference come April. What does help is that Jeremy Lamb is starting to come into his own slowly but steadily.
7. Chicago Bulls (6-3): Their thumping of the Pacers this past weekend was sort of their way of saying "We're still here, don't forget about us." I picked this team to win the division before the season started, and while I don't want to take anything away from the Pacers, let us not forget how good these Bulls were when Derrick Rose was playing at his MVP level. These guys are showing that they will be a factor come playoff time.
8. Minnesota Timberwolves (7-4): Kevin Love is averaging 26.8 points per game and 13.6 rebounds. Love is putting up hall of fame type numbers right now, which is why this team is frightening. He's the best big man in the game right now, and so long as he plays this well, this team is a sleeper to maybe come out of the West. You best believe in these Timberwolves. They're the real deal.
9. Los Angeles Clippers (7-4): A close loss to the Heat, wins over the Timberwolves, Thunder, and Rockets shows that this team is going to be in the mix come playoff time, but the only reason one can say they'll actually compete for a championship is because Chris Paul is the best point guard in the game right now.
10. Houston Rockets (7-4): Still too early to tell for sure whether or not they are a contender or a pretender. They seem to perfectly be straddling the line somewhere in between.
11. Dallas Mavericks (7-4): They've been a pleasant surprise thus far. Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki appear to have a good thing going. Also, rookie point guard Shane Larkin has made his season debut. Things are looking as good as they could have hoped for in Dallas.
12. Atlanta Hawks (6-4): With the way Paul Millsap is playing, the loss of Josh Smith suddenly doesn't seem to be that big of a deal.
13. Phoenix Suns (5-4): If you want a reason to believe that the Suns aren't a mirage in the desert, look no further than their 3 point loss in San Antonio. That ought to give Suns fans some optimism.
14. Memphis Grizzlies (6-5): They've lost pretty badly to all the teams they'd expect to have to go through in the playoffs: The Spurs, Warriors, and the Pacers (I know the Pacers are in the East) have had no issue beating the Grizzlies this season. Time to hit the panic button and question the Rudy Gay trade?
15. Charlotte Bobcats (5-6): This team may end up being half-decent with an Al Jefferson/Kemba Walker 1-2 punch. Decent means sneaking in the back door as an eighth seed in the playoffs, which for them would be tremendous progress.
16. Los Angeles Lakers (5-7): Kobe Bryant being cleared to resume all basketball related activities is obviously exciting news, but will it bring any significant success?
17. Philadelphia 76ers (5-7): Believe it or not, the 76ers currently are winning the Atlantic Division with a sub-.500 record. Not sure how long this will last, but Philly fans better enjoy this while it lasts.
18. Denver Nuggets (4-6): They got a tough stretch coming up: @Thunder, vs. Bulls, vs. Mavericks, @Mavericks, and @Timberwolves. It'll be interesting to see how they come out of that stretch.
19. New Orleans Pelicans (4-6): So far, this team seems to have been over-hyped, but Anthony Davis is so far living up to the hype. The dude is proving himself to be a quality franchise player.
20. Orlando Magic: They got back to back games coming up against the Heat. Kinda nice to get them mostly out of the way this early on in the season.
21. Cleveland Cavaliers (4-7): So far, picking Anthony Bennett #1 overall is looking pretty stupid. They didn't really need a power forward, and he isn't looking like a game changer. This one has bust written all over it.
22. Boston Celtics (4-7): You know, if the Knicks and Nets continue to go down the drain (which is possible), then maybe a Rajon Rondo return can spark a run to win the division? I'm half joking of course, but in all seriousness, Rondo's presence may elevate this team more than we thought. Brad Stevens is also looking like a good hire so far.
23. Toronto Raptors (4-7): Reports say that GM Masai Ujiri is looking to make a series of moves, but so far, nothing has happened yet.
24. Detroit Pistons (3-6): The last thing they need is Brandon Jennings to get any more of a happy trigger, and then Joe Dumars comes along as says he needs to be shooting more. Go figure.
25. New York Knicks (3-6): Rather than figuring out how to weather the storm without Tyson Chandler, the front office is instead trying to craft up laughable trades to get Iman Shumpert and Amar'e Stoudemire out of town for Rajon Rondo or some other super star.
26. Brooklyn Nets (3-7): The Nets should never have fired Avery Johnson, but now they are stuck with a rookie head coach in Jason Kidd who will have a hard time getting any respect as a head coach from players who have proven to be better players than him over the course of their careers.
27. Milwaukee Bucks (2-7): O.J. Mayo is basically having to carry this team on his back, but what is mildly encouraging is that rookie point guard Nate Wolters is showing signs of possibly being a key piece for them to build around in the future.
28. Sacramento Kings (2-7): We hear how talented DeMarcus Cousins is, how talented Marcus Thornton is, and yet somehow they don't win games.
29. Washington Wizards (2-7): Remember we used to talk about them as if they were going to be a playoff team? How stupid do we look now?
30. Utah Jazz: They need Trey Burke back and a time machine to spring forward to the day of the 2014 NBA Draft Lottery. Oh, they also will want a rabbit's foot for good luck.
---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter@nba_lord to get all the NBA news you need
Saturday, November 9, 2013
The NBA season is almost two weeks underway, which means I am due for my first power rankings of the season!!! I will rank each team based on three factors: (1) Who I think is playing the best right now; (2) Who I think is best overall; and (3) Who I think has the most potential to be good. Not all factors will be weighted evenly, but it should be noted that when I rank teams, all three of these factors get factored into the equation to determine who's #1, #2, etc.
#1. Indiana Pacers (6-0): The Pacers are playing the best basketball in the NBA right now, and their 6-0 record speaks for it as they are the only undefeated team in the NBA. Paul George is emerging into a superstar before our eyes scoring 20+ points in each of the Pacers' 6 games, and the supporting cast around him (Roy Hibbert, David West, Luis Scola, and George Hill) are all doing what they need to be doing.
#2. San Antonio Spurs (5-1): Father time doesn't really seem to be catching up with the Spurs too much since as Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili age, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, and Tiago Splitter get more experienced. The Spurs are off to a terrific start and haven't seemed to miss a beat from where they left off last season. I expect them to be dangerous, but if they keep at the pace they are going, they will find themselves back in the NBA Finals. Especially if Tony Parker keeps playing the way he is (19.3 points and 6.7 assists per game).
#3. Miami Heat (4-2): It's been a bit of an underwhelming start for the defending champions, but lets not act like there isn't a beast waiting to be unleashed with this team. They still have LeBron James, the best player in the NBA, and so far Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are playing on par with their usual all-star form. The one concern for this team has to be that Greg Oden hasn't seen the floor yet (in the regular season) and Michael Beasley has only played 4 minutes total. The additions of both guys were supposed to be big splashes, and so far neither guy is making much of an impact. Should this trend continue, this means that this Heat team is the same as last year's team only older, which certainly gives hope to the Pacers and other teams in the Eastern Conference.
#4. Golden State Warriors (4-2): So far, the addition of Andre Iguodala seems to be just what the doctor ordered for the Warriors. They now have a great perimeter defender to go along with their great perimeter shooters Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. One concern for this team is that Stephen Curry has already missed a game due to an ankle injury. Even though it's minor, that isn't a good sign for a team whose chief concern is keeping their star point guard healthy.
#5. Oklahoma City Thunder (4-1): The biggest concern I had for this team going into the season was the prospect of Russell Westbrook being out for 4-6 weeks. Well, he ended up only missing a couple of games, and so far, he looks like he's 100% healthy, playing like he did before the injury. In addition, the team is off to a great start, and won't at all be impacted in the standings as a result of Westbrook's injury. However, one general concern is how the team so much relies on Westbrook and Durant to score the basketball. They combine for 50 points a game, and after that, the scoring really drops off with Serge Ibaka being the third option averaging only 10 points per game. They need a better third scoring option to be a threat to win the whole title, but that's more of a concern at the macro-level rather than at the micro-level, which deals with these first five games. Through these five games, the Thunder have looked tough and poised to be a factor again come playoff time.
#6. Minnesota Timberwolves (4-2): I don't know if the Timberwolves will be this high in the rankings for long, but so far they deserve it. Kevin Love is playing hall of fame level basketball, averaging 27.2 points per game and 14.7 rebounds per game. Plus, Kevin Martin is looking like a solid pick up with his 23 points per game. This team has it all: a great post game with Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic; a great backcourt with Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin; and a solid supporting cast of role players like Corey Brewer, Derrick Williams, and J.J. Barea. This team has the pieces to not only make the playoffs, but eventually be a team that could win the Western Conference (just not this season).
#7. Houston Rockets (4-2): James Harden is playing like the best shooting guard in the NBA averaging 26.8 points per game, so he definitely is doing his part. However, if you remember in my Southwest Division preview, I said that in order for the Rockets to be contenders, Dwight Howard has to average 25+ points per game. So far, he's averaging an underwhelming 17 points per game. The rebounding and the defense is there, but the foul shooting and the lack of offensive versatility remain weaknesses in his game. So long as he's playing at the level he is, the Rockets will be competitive, but not a team that can come out of the West and reach the NBA Finals.
#8. Los Angeles Clippers (3-3): They've had a disappointing last couple of games on the road, losing against both the Magic and Heat in their Florida road trip. However, with games against the Rockets, Timberwolves, and Thunder coming up, they have a chance to leap frog all three teams by next week's rankings. Chris Paul is showing why he is the best point guard in basketball, averaging 22.5 points, 12.5 assists, and close to 3 steals per game. So long as they have him playing at an elite level, this team is going to be scary.
#9. Dallas Mavericks (3-3): So far, the Monta Ellis experiment is working out really well. I just did an article on "Above The Rim Blog" about why I think the Mavericks are a perfect fit for him in case you want to hear more on my opinion on Ellis in Dallas. Collectively, the team is playing quite well. Monta Ellis is leading the team in scoring with 23.8 points per game, Dirk Nowitzki is right behind him averaging 18.5 points per game, and Shawn Marion, Vince Carter, Jae Crowder, and Jose Calderon are proving to be nice complementary pieces around Dirk and Monta. I still don't know if I see them as a playoff team, but so far they've looked like a playoff caliber team, which is why I have them ranked in the top ten.
#10. Philadelphia 76ers (4-2): I don't think anybody knows where to rank the Philadelphia 76ers in a power rankings list. Especially by my criteria which factors in how good a team is playing right now, how good I think a team can be, and how good I think a team is overall. Right now, I can't argue with the results, which for Philadelphia have been well beyond everyone's expectations. That being said, I also don't think the sample size is big enough to indicate where they truly stand among all NBA teams, and I still think at the end of the season, they will be one of the bottom barrel teams. What I will say that should give 76ers fans optimism, is that I do think that if Michael Carter-Williams continues to average over 18 points, 7 assists and nearly three steals per game, the 76ers could be a halfway decent team given that Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes are playing well.
#11. Chicago Bulls (2-3): The Bulls are still a work in progress with Derrick Rose continuing to find his groove. The Utah Jazz coming to town last night was just what the doctor ordered for this team. They needed a win, and they needed it to come without much pressure.
#12. Portland Trail Blazers (3-2): With Damian Lillard at point guard and LaMarcus Aldridge at power forward, the Trail Blazers have a great one-two punch that can do well in the pick and roll. Both guys are averaging nearly 24 points per game, and they also have Wesley Matthews chipping in 17 points per game. This trio of Matthews, Lillard, and Aldridge is looking as promising as I hoped it would, which means that we could see some playoff basketball up in Rip City come April.
#13. Phoenix Suns (4-2): Like Philadelphia, I didn't think the Suns would be good, and they've ended up being a big surprise. Props to Jeff Hornacek for the coaching job he's been doing thus far. One key statistical thing to note is that this team is incredibly balanced in their scoring. Eric Bledsoe is leading the way with 20 points, but four other guys (Markieff Morris, Miles Plumlee, Goran Dragic, and Gerald Green) are also scoring in the double digits as well, making that five players averaging double figures in scoring in total. If they continue to play balanced and play as a team, they will win games more than expected, though like the 76ers, I think the sample size thus far is still too small to get overly excited.
#14. New Orleans Pelicans (3-3): Anthony Davis is starting to look like a player worthy of being a number one pick. He can score, block shots, and rebound the basketball. He's a jack of all trades type of guy in the paint, which makes him VERY dangerous. I would like to see more out of Tyreke Evans though. 8.5 points off the bench isn't going to cut it when your role is to be your team's offensive spark plug off the bench. Given more time, I think that Tyreke may very well bump up his scoring average become more dynamic off the bench, but for right now whether or not he will remains to be seen.
#15. Charlotte Bobcats (3-3): They're 3-3 and Al Jefferson is still recovering from his ankle injury. When he comes back fully healthy, I think they may have what it takes to sneak through the back door as a playoff team. It isn't likely, but keep an eye on these Bobcats throughout they year. The trio of Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Al Jefferson really isn't that bad of a trio if you look at it on paper.
#16. Brooklyn Nets (2-3): Luckily for them, as they struggle, so do the Knicks, which means that the Knicks' struggles are the headlines of all the papers in New York, and not the Nets. The Nets are still a work in progress, and they should be able to iron out their problems. Their win over the Heat certainly is a confidence booster for this team, but it obviously wasn't an indicator that they wouldn't be off to a rough start. One major concern for them is the underwhelming performance of Deron Williams, who is averaging 9.6 points and 7 assists per game. He has to play better if they want to compete for a title. It should also be noted that Brook Lopez is playing really well, averaging 21 points and close to 6 rebounds a game. His steady play has definitely been a bright spot that they need to continue to build on.
#17. Los Angeles Lakers (3-4): Steve Blake's three point shot to beat the Rockets this week sorta says it all about this Lakers team without Kobe Bryant, which is that they've been surprising. Having players who fit his system has in someways vindicated Mike D'Antoni to a small extent, especially after watching Dwight Howard struggle to hit free throws down the stretch against his former team. That being said, the absence of Kobe Bryant is a problem and how he fits in once he gets back is also a problem. Don't be fooled into thinking that the Lakers will be a playoff team, but also there is reason for Lakers fans to be pleased with how the team has played given the low level of expectations and injuries that they've had to battle.
#18. Orlando Magic (3-3): Nikola Vucevic is a beast in the paint and Victor Oladipo is quietly making his case for rookie of the year. This team has a bright future and also ironically are the big winners out of the Dwight Howard trade.
#19. Milwaukee Bucks (2-2): The team is playing half decently, and their $44M man Larry Sanders isn't doing much to contribute. His minutes have almost been sliced in half (17 minutes per game), and Zaza Pachulia is stepping in as the primary go-to guy in the paint for them. Pachulia is comfortable with head coach Larry Drew's system from their days in Atlanta, and Sanders seems to be frozen out of the rotation as a result. The Bucks' front office need to figure out what to do about this because they didn't give Sanders a huge extension to then have their head coach essentially not utilize him or let him grow. The challenge is figuring out how much of this season is about doing what is best to win games now and what is best for the team's long-term future. If they feel like Sanders is going to be a key part of their future and they think he has the potential to be a big time difference maker for them down the road, then they need to sit Drew down and demand he plays Sanders more. Otherwise their money really is going to waste.
#20. Detroit Pistons (2-3): Their start isn't too strong, but I still expect Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings, and Chauncey Billups to find their groove along with Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe in the paint. Too early to worry about this team, but not to late to place them in the bottom third of the NBA at the moment. Hopefully their ranking shoots up by next week.
#21. Atlanta Hawks (2-3): Paul Millsap and Al Horford are proving to be a quality front line, but will that be enough to get them to the playoffs?
#22. Memphis Grizzlies (2-3): Their first full year without Rudy Gay will truly answer the question about whether or not they made the right move in trading him.
#23. New York Knicks (2-3): They already can't defend with Tyson Chandler, and now he's out 4-6 weeks with a fractured leg. Things are not looking pretty for the Knicks right now, which is why Carmelo Anthony calling an urgent players-only meeting isn't a surprise.
#24. Washington Wizards (2-3): This team was supposed to be a team that could be in the mix for a playoff spot, and so far I'm not seeing it. I still like the Bradley Beal and John Wall backcourt duo, but Nene up front isn't looking like the answer to solve their paint problems (which is why they traded for Marcin Gortat). Perhaps Gortat will make things right for them inside, but it is too early to tell.
#25. Cleveland Cavaliers (2-4): The good news is that Andrew Bynum is able to play. The bad news is that his minutes are still limited and he so far isn't looking anything close to a finished product in terms of regaining full strength. Their playoff chances rest squarely on his shoulders since Kyrie Irving is doing all he can to lead this team, and it clearly just isn't enough. Also, they need more out of Anthony Bennett, the #1 overall pick in this year's draft. The selection raised some eyebrows on draft night, and so far all the skepticism around that selection seems to have some validity to it.
#26. Boston Celtics (2-4): It's going to be a long year in Boston, but the return of Rajon Rondo is definitely something for this team to get excited about.
#27. Toronto Raptors (2-4): This team is really unstable right now knowing that Masai Ujiri is planning on making some changes. The team is in good hands with Ujiri as GM, but he will no doubt shuffle the deck and make some trades by the deadline. This current instability seems to be taking its toll on the players. They don't know which of them is going to be out the door (including Rudy Gay) which will create a challenge for them to find some unity and cohesion.
#28. Denver Nuggets (1-4): I thought these guys were still able to be a playoff team without Andre Iguodala, but with the way he's making an impact on the Warriors, perhaps his absence in Denver is having a polar opposite effect on the Nuggets.
#29. Sacramento Kings (1-4): DeMarcus Cousins isn't a bad piece to have as your foundation for success, but he still has a ways to go in terms of being a "professional". Also, for the life of me I don't understand why Jimmer Fredette is still on this team. They won't trade him, they won't pick up his option, or give any good explanation for why they are essentially holding the young man hostage. Their mismanagement of Jimmer is a reflection on their organization as a whole. A quality organization would have traded him by now and also let him play so as to improve his trade value (which at the moment is as low as it could possibly be).
#30. Utah Jazz (0-6): The return of Trey Burke ought to make things better, and also give us a better sense of what this young Jazz team really has. Without him, they look flat out awful.
---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord