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Inside the NBA | First reactions to a young NBA season

Published: Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, November 7, 2012 08:11

hearden

MCT

James Harden has had an exquisite start with his new team, the Houston Rockets, after being traded by the Oklahoma City Thunder just before the season started.

 

It’s only a week into the new NBA season, yet there are already major storylines that grab our attention. Here are some knee-jerk reactions to some of the standouts in the early season.

Biggest surprise

This one has to go to the New York Knicks, especially Carmelo Anthony. Throughout the offseason, many pundits left the Knicks for dead, mainly citing Anthony’s leadership ability or lack thereof. But after a summer playing in London with the Olympic team, he returned with renewed focus and motivation. He also came back noticeably leaner, making for a more agile offensive weapon. Known for his strength and his incredible face-up game, Anthony’s newfound quickness adds another dimension to his already loaded arsenal of attacks.

Melo is leading by example this season, and the team has responded thus far. He has been more active in grabbing rebounds and creating havoc on the defensive end, a part of his game that has earned sharp criticism. His added hustle has led to the team winning the turnover margin in each game they played. The team has also shown the ability to play incredibly unselfish team ball, leading to wide open three point looks for knockdown shooters like Steve Novak and Jason Kidd. Their ability to get open shots off beyond the arc has led to a team  3-point shooting percentage of .453 and is the major reason for the Knicks’ 3-0 start.

Honorable mention: Dallas Mavericks, the Minnesota Timberwolves’ (without Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love) 22-point second-half comeback vs. the Nets

Biggest disappointment

Who but the Los Angeles Lakers? This one is a no-brainer. The Lakers made some of the biggest moves this offseason, trading for Dwight Howard, the best center in the league, and two-time MVP Steve Nash. More hype was building as the Lakers revealed the team would run the flashy Princeton Offense. The team seemed poised to return to the NBA Finals.

Fast forward two months and Lakers seem to have a better chance of landing in the draft lottery than the NBA finals. Before a win over the woeful Detroit Pistons, the Lakers were 0-3 and were outplayed in each of their games. The lack of on-court time for the starters has shown, as they clearly haven’t clicked on offense yet. 

But this lack of chemistry has also transferred to the defensive end as well, exemplified by the team allowing 92 points to Portland after three quarters. This should be unacceptable after acquiring Howard, a three-time recipient of the defensive player of the year award. This lack of chemistry also takes a hit as Nash would be ruled out over what the Lakers are calling “a minor fibula fracture.” No timetable has been set for his return, but every game he misses is valuable time missed for the whole starting unit.

Honorable mention: Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers at home

Best start for a player

James Harden was put under a huge spotlight after his surprise trade from Oklahoma City to the Houston Rockets. The fact that he was able to put up such big numbers with all eyes on him makes his start even more remarkable. Making a name for himself as the sixth-man getting starter’s minutes for the Thunder, many people wondered how he would handle being the leader of his own team at such a young age.

What we have seen are his skills on full force. In his first game as a Rocket, Harden dominated the game with 37 points and 12 assists. His next game was even better in terms of scoring the ball — 45 points while missing only 5 shots. His fluidity and silky smooth moves in the lane are things of beauty to watch, especially now that he’s bringing the ball down the court more often. It’s almost a guarantee that he will get to the line anytime he draws contact in the lane. His playmaking for others has also flourished with an increased role in ball handling. Harden’s hot start has led to the whole team playing well, and the Thunder will regret letting the Beard go.

Honorable mention: Carmelo Anthony, Glen Davis

Best start for a rookie

Did anyone think that Damian Lillard of the Portland Trailblazers would be this good to start the season? Many questioned using the sixth overall selection on Lillard, who played college ball at tiny Weber State. One thing scouts all agreed on was that Lillard can flat out score, but some wondered if he could keep up the production against quality opponents and players in the NBA.

So far the answer is a resounding yes. Besides a rough outing against the Mavericks, a very stingy defensive team, Lillard has scored at least 20 points in his first three games. He has shown that he can get in the lane as well as knock down the mid-range shot coming off of screens. But Lillard is also a willing passer, dishing out at least seven assists in those games. Showing the poise of Chris Paul when he first entered the league, Lillard is out to prove that this hot start and his high draft selection aren’t flukes.

Honorable mention: Anthony Davis, Jae Crowder

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