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Around the NBA: Nets and Grizzlies Struggles, Rookie Watch, and More.

About 10% through the season, it's time to take a look around the league and see what's what.

Maddie Meyer

Let's start with the Disappointing Teams of November:

Brooklyn Nets: Lost hideously in Sacramento last night, 107-86, to drop their record to 2-5 on the season. I'm not exactly sure why more people didn't see this coming; maybe not this bad (and they aren't this bad), but that roster is not put together well, and if you are seriously contemplating a championship run, why install a head coach with absolutely no bench experience?

First, they're old. They are relying on several players born in the 70s. Age always wins. Second, they are trying to play 11 or 12 guys a night. Depth is good, but that kind of depth is better in theory then in practice.  If you cycle through that many guys a night, inevitably some of them will be playing poorly enough to hurt you.  Brook Lopez, who has been by far their best player, is not averaging 30 minutes a night. That's a problem. Third, what is the bread and butter of this team? It's good to have balance, but again, too much of a good thing.

They will probably get better. Deron Williams seems to get off to poor starts, then plays better in the 2nd half. Kevin Garnett might be at the end, but probably isn't this bad. Presumably someone will convince Jason Kidd to tighten up the rotation a bit. Still, this isn't anywhere near a championship quality team.

Memphis Grizzlies: 3-5 on the year following a poor home loss to the Raptors in which the Raps shot 8-15 from three and took 39 free throws. What sticks out like a sore thumb is that the Grizzlies, long known for their defense, are currently 25th in the league in defensive rating.  Wha? Part of it, like Brooklyn, is they are getting old. Tony Allen, still useful, is also 32 and not the wing devouring monster he was. Tayshaun Prince is an old 33. Mike Miller is 5th on the team in minutes. Z-Bo is on the downward slope.  These guys just aren't as capable as they once were of hounding teams for 48 minutes.

It's early, and I still think Memphis is a pretty good team. One of the things about the start of the season is it makes everything seem bigger then it is. A 3-5 stretch in January and you probably just barely notice that Memphis is in a bit of a slump.  At the beginning of the year, that's all there is.  However, it does appear that this iteration of the Grizzlies has had their peak, and unfortunately, both Z-Bo and Prince, two guys you would love to replace with younger players, are under contract for a combined $24M next season.

Pleasant Surprises:

Portland Trailblazers: I decided to go with the winner of last night's epic Suns-Blazers tilt as my Western Conference Pleasant Surprise.  Three things about the 6-2 Blazers:

1. They are only outscoring their opponents by 3.5 ppg., which isn't enough to sustain a .750 winning percentage. 
2. Their 3rd rated offense is happening on the back of a probably unsustainable 42% on three pointers .
3. Nonetheless, they're pretty good. They have improved their bench from last season, with players like Dorell Wright and Thomas Robinson succeeding in the roles given to them.

While the Blazers are not the 2nd best team in the West, they could hang around this year.  Eventually their inability to draw free throws and their reliance on three pointers and offensive rebounds for their offense will hurt them some, but they look good enough at the top half of the roster that, barring injury, they should compete.

Philadelphia 76ers: The East is bereft. Indiana (8-0), Miami (5-3) and Philly (5-4) are the only teams above .500 in the conference as of this writing.

The Sixers have lost 4 of their last 6 after a 3-0 start, and are still my Pleasant Surprise, in part because there isn't anyone else, and in part because the expectation was that this would be the worst team in the NBA, and there was even some talk about whether they would set futility records. IIRC, Vegas had their over/under at 16 wins.

And here they sit, over .500 9 games in after an overtime win against the struggling Rockets. They are getting outscored on the season, and are probably due to start losing in bunches soon, but it's been a bright and enjoyable start that includes wins over the Heat, the Bulls, and aforementioned Rockets.  Their rookie Michael Carter-Williams, who missed last night with an injury, has been driving the bus, and though he has predictably slowed down after a hot shooting start is still doing enough things to impress, especially this early in his career.  Spencer Hawes (!) is scoring at career high rates thanks to a new found ability to make threes in volume, and Evan Turner has found his game early, aggressively seeking out scoring opportunities and going to the rim with much more frequency, leading to a better shooting percentage and more free throws.

Rookie Watch:

There are 15 rookies who have played a minimum of 80 minutes. Only seven of this year's lottery picks have managed that relatively low bar, as injuries (Noel, Len, Porter, Burke, McCollum) have taken their toll on an already dubious draft class.

Of the 15 guys who have played, Michael Carter-Williams, Steven Adams (Thunder) and Nate Wolters (Bucks) have been real positive contributors to their teams. Wolters has been starting in Milwaukee, and doing good things despite poor shooting, which is one of his strengths. Adams is getting more and more run and is what we thought he would be: a strong, energetic inside player who makes very few mistakes and converts the opportunities he gets. Carter-Williams has helped push Philly to their surprising start, and looks much more at home on an NBA court then I expected at this stage.

Also worth mentioning is Victor Oladipo from the Magic, who, despite coming off the bench, is 2nd among rookies in minutes to Carter-Williams. Oladipo's numbers are not good, as he's struggled with shooting and turnovers, but he is also being asked to carry a very heavy load and has shown enough skills to be optimistic about his future despite the numbers.

Bullet points? Bullet points:

  • The two teams widely expected to compete for the worst record in the NBA this year, the Sixers and the Suns, are a combined 10-7.
  • It's bizarre to me that anyone is surprised by the mess that is the Knicks. I get that they were pretty good last year, but the roster coming into this season was pretty obviously impossible.
  • Anthony Davis is doing serious business in New Orleans, and I'm sincerely hoping he can stay healthy. Unfortunately the rest of that team, particularly the expensive perimeter guys they acquired, are not playing well and the team is 3-6.
  • The 8-0 Pacers are outscoring their opponents by 10 a game and are doing it defensively. They run you off the arc, stifle you inside, and do it all without fouling. Paul George is an early season MVP candidate, Lance Stevenson has apparently taken another step forward, and C.J. Watson and Luis Scola have been good additions to what was a weak bench.
  • The Jazz were the last team to get a win this season, finally beating the Pelicans last night after eight losses to start the year. It's not been good in Utah, where Ty Corbin presides over the worst offense and 2nd worst defense in the league. Most disappointing is that their young guys, particularly Derrick Favors and Alec Burks, who have served apprenticeships over the last couple of seasons, have failed to step forward this year.
That's it for now. This has been Around the League.