Please note: This is the second part of Hoops Habit’s team-by-team breakdown of the early season so far. Here, we review each team in the Eastern Conference, which only has two teams currently above .500.
You know how the saying goes: Offense sells tickets, defense wins championships. The Pacers have the best record in the league at 14-1 and the top ranked defense, only giving up 86.5 PPG. This is a team led by rising star and MVP candidate Paul George and they’re a legitimate threat to the Miami Heat to win the conference. With Roy Hibbert and David West, the Pacers have the type of size that Miami usually struggles to defend against. Mark your calendars for Dec.10, the first match up this season between the teams.
The Heat started the season a bit sluggish, losing close games to both Philadelphia and Brooklyn but have since picked up their efforts. They’ve won eight straight games and LeBron James has them looking like they’re on cruise control. James is a frontrunner to capture his fifth MVP award, averaging 26.1 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 6.7 APG. Dwyane Wade‘s health will be monitored closely all season because it’s all about keeping the 31-year-old veteran healthy for the playoffs. A pleasant surprise off the bench has been Michael Beasley averaging 11.0 PPG, and his new role with a championship caliber team seems to have him focused on rejuvenating his young career.
With a fairly young roster, the Hawks have remained competitive in the Southeast division at 8-8. Al Horford leads them in points (17.1 PPG) and rebounds (8.1) but still plays out of position as a center next to Paul Millsap. With only one player on the roster above 6-foot-10, they’re one of the smallest teams in the league and their rebounding rankings (28th) support that. Outside of Kyrie Irving and John Wall, Jeff Teague may be the most impressive point guard in the conference, putting up 16.9 PPG and 8.4 APG.
The Raptors are first in the Atlantic division with a 6-8 losing record, which shows how bad the other teams in the division have played to start the season. DeMar DeRozan has looked like an All-Star at times averaging 21.6 and continues to improve his overall game. Rudy Gay may not be worth his massive contract, but he’s a solid no. 2 scorer (19.4 PPG) and gives the team a closer in the fourth quarter.
The devestating news of Derrick Rose missing the rest of the season put an end to a possible title run. They still rank third in points allowed and second in rebounding but will have to rely on Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Mike Dunleavy, and Jimmy Butler to make the playoffs. At 7-7, is it best for the Bulls to possibly trade one of their bigger contracts in Noah or Deng and land a young inexpensive player in return? Doing so would most likely land them a lottery pick to pair with Rose (hopefully) next season.
With all hope lost for Washington Redskins, D.C. fans can turn their attention to the Wizards. John Wall is starting to play like a franchise player, carrying the Wizards to three straight wins and averaging 19.5 PPG and 8.8 APG. His backcourt mate Bradley Beal is a candidate for Most Improved Player, and paired with Wall may be the best backcourt tandem in the league very soon. With Emeka Okafor, Marcin Gortat, Nene Hilario, and Kevin Seraphin manning the post, combined with Wall and Beal, the Wizards could finish as a middle of the pack team in the conference.
Michael Jordan has put together one of his best products on the court since taking over as owner of the franchise. The Bobcats are 7-9, currently the seventh seed. They struggle to score points (ranked 30th) but defensively hold teams to 92.4 PPG (ranked 4th). Free agent signee Al Jefferson has been a bit of disappointment in terms of his numbers (14.7 PPG, 7.3 RPG), along with Kemba Walker‘s decreased production compared to last season. How soon before Jordan laces up his sneakers and comes out of retirement? That, according to Jalen Rose of course. The Bobcats are a young team, so they will only get better.
You would think with a starting front court of Greg Monroe, Josh Smith and Andre Drummond the Pistons would be a top rebounding team in the Eastern Conference. That’s been far from the case, as they’re ranked 20th. Smith is better suited as a power forward but is playing outside because of Monroe. Drummond has improved, but not enough to the point where the team can count on him to score consistently in the paint without the help of his teammates. Rodney Stuckey is leading the team in scoring as the sixth man, averaging 16.6 PPG.
In coach Jacque Vaughn‘s second season, the Magic do not look like the worst team in the league. Part of that goes to Arron Afflalo‘s improvement on the offensive end, averaging over five points more than last year, and Nikola Vucevic‘s consistency on the interior. Victor Oladipo is a strong candidate for Rookie of the Year, averaging 13.1 PPG. The Magic will get even better once Tobias Harris comes back, as he’s only played in one game this season.
Without question, the 76ers have been the surprise team of the season and it started with an early win over Miami at home. They’re currently 6-10, good for second in the Atlantic division. Michael Carter-Williams (MCW), though he’s a rookie, is already making a strong case for the All-Star game. They’re ranked 8th in scoring, 4th in rebounding, but 30th in points allowed. Rookie head coach Brett Brown has to be applauded for getting all of the young players to buy into his philosophy.
Rajon Rondo‘s return is still unknown and it’s not a coincidence the Celtics are ranked dead last in assists per game. In his absence, Jeff Green has played admirably leading the team in scoring at 15.8 PPG. Rondo may have to change his play style from pass-first to scoring point guard in order to maximize the team’s potential. Surprisingly, the Celtics are 2-5 at home.
At 4-11, the Cavs are a mess. There’s no other way to put it. Kyrie Irving will make the All-Star team, but the team has failed miserably at trying to make the franchise an attractive option for LeBron James next summer. This was supposed to be a season in which they had a shot to compete for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Due to a dysfunctional locker room, Dion Waiters is the subject of trade rumors and it appears it is only a matter of time before the right deal is found. Andrew Bynum has found his way back onto the court after missing all of last year, but it’s just not the same Andrew Bynum we saw help the Lakers win back to back titles in 2009 and 2010.
This was not the start the Nets had in mind with close to a $182 million payroll. With a 4-11 start, things are so bad in Brooklyn right now that coach Jason Kidd has to pretend to spill a cup of soda on the court just to draw up a play for his team. Kidd has a great relationship with Deron Williams, but Williams has not been able to stay healthy so far, playing in only nine games. The Nets are near the bottom of the league in terms of assists and points allowed. The other staple of the team, Brook Lopez, has only played in eight. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce have been consistent, but the Nets are going to need much more out of Joe Johnson, especially if Williams is out.
New York Knicks
The Nets aren’t the only team struggling in New York, as the Knicks have a third-worst record of 3-11. Even Carmelo Anthony has no idea what is wrong with the team, stating that they just look lost. Andrea Bargnani has looked formidable in a Knicks uniform, but with Tyson Chandler out a few more weeks, Bargnani has slid over to center. Iman Shumpert is being targeted in trade discussions and could be on his way out of town. Mike Woodson‘s days as coach might be numbered as well.
The Bucks are basically taking a year off with many young players and few veterans and appear to be a lock for a top three pick in next summer’s draft. OJ Mayo is the team’s best player averaging 15.3 PPG. If there is a team that can be accused of tanking, it would be the Bucks, currently ranked 28th in scoring and 29th in rebounding.