We are a month into the NBA year and the decisions of a long off-season are formulating for players and teams alike. We watched with open jaws as a former MVP jumped ship to join a super team, we sulked as a generation of legends walked away, we were weary as our favorite teams threw hundreds of millions at salivating players, and lastly we saw desperation from contenders getting that last gasp from their windows of opportunity.
These are the most interesting and surprising stories analysts, sports stations, or even scribes at Press Basketball could not predict.
Dwight Howard and the Atlanta Hawks (9-3)
Why are you lying? Absolutely everyone and their mother believed we’d seen the last of an active, competitive and (sometimes) dominant Dwight Howard. The man once considered the best big man in the league, had the BIGGEST drop off in performance after leaving the Orlando Magic back in 2012. He once boasted gaudy career high averages of 22 points, 14 rebounds and 3 blocks a game. He was called a teddy bear by former teammate Kobe Bryant, told he doesn’t possess the drive or killer instinct to win. After a nasty divorce from LA, many thought pairing him with Harden in Houston would have brought back the old Dwight. Yet his numbers dropped dramatically to near career lows of 13/11/1.6. To be fair, he was consistently injured the past four seasons which affected his performance and his mental state.
So a move back to his native Atlanta has served him and the team well to start. The Hawks are first in the Eastern conference through the first 11 games, owning a road victory over the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers. A large part of this has been through Howard’s resurgence. He looks more attentive, shows flashes of the Orlando Howard and the numbers have jumped back up to 14.8/12.3/2.5. The Hawks were in dire need of a rebounder and Dwight has filled that need admirably. Atlanta lost a lot when Jeff Teague was shipped to Indiana and Al Horford left to Boston. However, the core foundation remains with the likes of Dennis Schroder (16.1 pts & 6.2 ast), the always reliable workhorse Paul Millsap, plus Bazemore, Korver and a stream of options off the bench like Sefolosha and Hardaway Jr. Did anyone foresee this Hawks team leading the East elite? Stop your lying.
DeMar DeRozan – 33.3 PPG/ 5.0 RPG / 3.4 APG
After signing a $139 million-5 year deal, the Raptors guard faced scrutiny from onlookers who pondered whether they spent too much on the two time all-star. Some asked if they should have looked elsewhere. Sports Illustrated released their top 100 NBA Player rankings listing him at #46. DeMar responded with this tweet:
— DeMar DeRozan (@DeMar_DeRozan) September 16, 2016
From opening night, Deebo has silenced his critics with franchise numbers not seen since Vince Carter. He currently leads the NBA in scoring–a league that houses Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and LeBron James. He’s reeled off 30+ points in 10 of 12 games played so far,, a feat not done by any other player since Michael Jordan in 86-87. How has DeMar been doing this? He’s become a mid-range phenom, beating his man off the dribble and spotting up, using his body to drive to the net and force fouls.
The most impressive part is how efficient he’s been; DeRozan is taking more shots but he’s also has a career high .506 field goal percentage. He was named Eastern Conference Player of the week for only the second time his career, and is on pace for his first Player of the Month. His performance so far deserves the recognition he’s been craving. Had you told me DeRozan would be leading the league in points four months ago, I would have definitely hit you with a “Wait, WHAT?”
Los Angeles Clippers (11-2)
I like to compare the Clippers to a roller coaster at your nearest theme park. So many highs and lows. Last year, Blake Griffin found himself in trouble both on and off the court; while dealing with a thigh injury, Blake engaged in a fist fight with now relieved clippers equipment manager which resulted in a 4 game suspension and a banged up hand. Overall, he was limited to a career low 35 game campaign. In result, the Clippers were short handed (no pun intended) and ousted early in the 16’ playoffs.
Griffin began this season by acknowledging his mistakes in the Players Tribune and vowing for a better year.The Clippers now boast the best record in the NBA at 11-2. How? Blake is on a redemption tour and playing arguably the best basketball of his career. They aren’t just winning games, they are creaming quality playoff teams. The Clippers have a stretch where they defeated the Spurs by 24, Pistons by 32 and the Blazers by 31. They currently lead the league in point differential at 14.1+ points per game. They are tied for first in points allowed with 93.8 points and fourth in points against with 108.7 points per game. The team is playing with an intensity that has yet to be matched by their opposition.
You can see their mentality is different. They know the window on this core is closing. Griffin said it best, “We’ve adopted the philosophy of: F— it. Let’s just go out and play basketball”.
Los Angeles Lakers (7-6)
The days of Kobe wearing purple and gold are over. So, the Lakers are supposed to just fade to the bottom of the league, right? Probably face a few seasons of obscurity, right?
The young Lakers are one of the most fascinating teams to watch. They show up, compete, and will give your best team a run for their money. The Lake Show owns victories over the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, and aforementioned Hawks.
How have they been doing this? Ball movement. There is no alpha on this team anymore, no one to call for the ball or stop momentum in a half court offense. All of this is being orchestrated by first year head coach Luke Walton, whom under tutelage of Steve Kerr, brought that Warrior spacing and movement. This offense was stagnant with Kobe Bryant and Byron Scott, and this team can finally find its own identity and play to the strengths of each other. They aren’t going to win championships anytime soon, but they are heading in the right direction. Interestingly, there could be a different hero each night. Swaggy P, Jordan Clarkson, Lou Will and D’Angelo Russell have taken reign of the team for victories in close games. It’s refreshing to watch and hopefully they can keep it going.
Boston Celtics (6-6)
This is a disappointing kind of surprise, the Celtics were supposed to be an elite eastern conference team and have come out of the gate slow. They have had some injuries, but the defense has taken a big blow; Boston is currently in the bottom half of the league with a Defensive Rating of 109.1 (25th of 30) and 105.8 points allowed. The rebounding situation isn’t pretty either as they sit 22nd. Once Al Horford and Jae Crowder return, they should rise, but for now it’s an eye opener to see the Cs struggling.