Any lingering debate over the best player of the 2012 draft is probably over. Anthony Davis is playing like a MVP candidate, putting up frankly ludicrous numbers. He's averaging about 21 points, 11 rebounds, 2 steals, and almost 4 blocks a game while compiling more assists than turnovers and shooting 85% from the line. That is an almost unheard of combination of skills. Here is the entire list of players who have averaged more than 1.5 steals, 3 blocks, and shot better than 75% from the line.
A number of other sophomores are playing well to start the season. Damian Lillard is shooting better from 3 than 2, but is not turning the ball over and is shouldering much of the burden for one of the league's best offenses. Andre Drummond continues to be a destructive interior force. John Henson, another young big man, is scoring efficiently and blocking shots for Milwaukee. Jared Sullinger has played well against teams other than Minnesota, scoring efficiently and leading the Celtics in PER. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has been far more efficient this year, which is either a sample size fluke or an indication that he is settling into a useful offensive role.
A few other players who were projected by many to make leaps this year have yet to do so. Harrison Barnes, Bradley Beal, and Dion Waiters have produced similarly to their rookie years. Jones Valanciunas, fresh off his destruction of Summer League, has been merely solid thus far.
Jae Crowder and Orlando Johnson are both shooting very efficiently to begin the year. If that continues, each can be a very effective role player. Miles Plumlee has been a pleasant surprise in Phoenix, reminding NBA fans that a big man who can rebound and finish a pick and roll will always be able to find playing time. Terrence Jones is beginning to find playing time in Houston, and offers an intriguing mix of rebounding, defense, and offensive versatility.
It's important not to overreact to early happenings in the NBA season. Veteran teams know how to sleepwalk through months at a time, and during any random stretch of ten games, some mediocre teams will look like contenders, and some contenders will look very mediocre. With that disclaimer out of the way, here are seven trends that I will be keeping an eye on.
1.) The Spurs have an elite defense again. After transforming into an offensive juggernaut, the Spurs reversed a years long trend, and finished 3rd in Defensive Rating last year. This year, they are 1st behind an incredible defensive rebounding rate and a commitment to never fouling. The offense hasn't been great, but if the Spurs are playing defense like this in the spring, they will be the favorites in the Western Conference.
2.) The fourth best team in the Eastern Conference is...the Hawks? With both the Nets and Knicks scuffling, Atlanta has started 6-4 despite a banged up bench. Lou Williams and Gustavo Ayon both returned from injury this week, and the Hawks are finally at full strength. Paul Millsap and Al Horford have been predictably excellent and Jeff Teague is quietly making his own All-Star case, averaging 19 and 9 on 8 FTA.
3.) There are no easy wins in the West. Aside from the Jazz. This is due, in part, to Minnesota, Portland, and Phoenix all playing much better than expected, and even the Lakers, Kings, and Nuggets, the initial bottom of the West, have been competitive most nights. Given the age of many of the expected Eastern contenders, it is reasonable to assume that the West will continue to be the tougher conference for the foreseeable future.
4.) The Rockets are basically the same team that they were last year. Lots of threes, lots of free throws, one elite interior defender, and horrible perimeter defense. Houston, a top ten defense in 2013 when Omer Asik was on the court, has actually dropped from 16th to 20th in overall Defensive Rating. It's early, but I'm not sure Dwight Howard is much of an upgrade over the disgruntled Asik.
5.) The Bobcats have a defense! The offense is still a trainwreck in Charlotte, and will be at least until Al Jefferson gets healthy, but Charlotte is currently 9th in Defensive Rating. Recent draft picks Bismack Biyombo and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist appears to be working out on this side of the ball, and new coach Steve Clifford deserves some credit as well. Biyombo remains hopeless on offense, but is averaging nearly 12 rebounds and 2 blocks per 36 minutes while rarely fouling.
6.) The Bucks are a complete mess, and might not get fixed for a while. Half the roster is injured, including Larry Sanders and Ersan Ilyasova, probably their two best players. John Henson has been their best player but hasn't received consistent playing time. The wing rotation is a joke, with OJ Mayo, shooting 39% on two point field goals, as the lone "bright spot." The team should improve when Sanders and Ilyasova return, but that will push Henson further down the rotation without solving the mess on the wings. Despite a flurry of inexplicable free agent signings this summer, Milwaukee looks to be in the hunt for prime draft position, as almost everything has gone wrong.
7.) Mike Muscala is putting up numbers in the ACB. He has adjusted to the European game remarkably quickly, averaging about 16 and 9 on a 66% TS in 28 minutes a game. His efficiency and rebounding should translate to the NBA as well. His rights are held by the aforementioned Hawks.
Your musical birthday is Kirk Hammett. This thread is reasonably open. It is ajar.