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A Knick #2 in Defense? A Warrior #1 in Rebounding? NBA Surprises

We’re a couple weeks into the 2008-9 NBA season and while the early season can often be deceiving, there’s been ample time for some surprises and disappointments.

Biggest Surprise: Atlanta Hawks 5-0

Were the Hawks that solid a lock for the play-offs this year or did you have them as scrapping for the 8th seed? And that was before Josh Childress bolted for Europe. Surprise, surprise: the Hawks have the best record in the East at 5-0, which includes wins over New Orleans, Philadelphia, Toronto and Orlando. No feasting on cream puffs in Atlanta. How are they doing it? Joe Johnson is playing out of his mind, shooting .505 from the field and .440 from behind the free throw stripe to the tune of 25.2 points per game. All of those numbers being careers highs, were they to continue. Past that, Atlanta’s success is more of a team thing. They’re allowing the second fewest points in the league, and third worst opponent’s field goal percentage (both overall and 3-point %) The Hawks are number 6 in rebounding differential and number 8 in steals. Offensively, they’re basically middle of the pack. You don’t get numbers like that without a team effort, especially when you’re leading rebounder (Al Horford, in this case) is only averaging 8.8 per game. Is this just a hot streak and they’ll fall back to earth? Circle 11/12/08 on your calendar. That’s when the Hawks pay their first visit to Boston. Mind you, they gave the Celtics all they could handle in the play-offs. Past that, the Hawks don’t have a real tough schedule for the rest of November, especially relative to who they’ve already beaten. We’ll see what happens in December, but this surprise should have at least a couple more weeks of an eye-popping win percentage. Looks like Mike Woodson’s not on the hot seat just yet.

Runners Up:

  • Danny Grainger: 26.4 points/game. I guess somebody’s got to shoot, but he’s up 7 points/game and fourth in the league.
  • Nate Robinson: 2.83 steals/game. Yes, not only is a Knick second in the league in a defensive category, he’s doing it off the bench. There’s a new sheriff in town, so don’t say you weren’t warned.
  • Andris Biedrins: 14.1 rebounds/game. A Warriors center is leading the lead in rebounding. If you prefer, a Don Nelson center is leading the league in rebounding. The sound you just heard was your world-view tilting on its axis.

Biggest Disappointment: San Antonio Spurs: 1-4

The Spurs are supposed to win the title in odd numbered years. 2009 is an odd-numbered year. And they record could be worse: it took them overtime to beat lowly Minnesota. Want things to get worse? Tony Parker injured his ankle and will be sitting for a few weeks. No Brent Barry backing him up, either. Pick your poison, George Hill or Jacque Vaughn. Either way, there’s a lot of points on injured reserve right now. In the Western Conference, a bad start and half of your two-headed monster getting hurt can put a serious crimp on play-off aspirations.

Runners Up:

  • 76ers: 2-4. Elton Brand is supposed to help, not hurt.
  • Elton Brand: Brand is shooting .461. He’s usually over .500. Mind you, Thadeous Young is getting more shots, and you can’t score if you don’t have the ball, but did you think Brand would only be scoring 14.7/game? Lingering effects of the injury or just adjustments that need to get made?
  • Washington Bullets Wizards: 0-5. Maybe Brendan Haywood really isn’t getting enough respect. Tough Juice and Antawn Jamison were winning fine with Gilbert Arenas last year. Without Arenas _and_ Haywood… not so much.

And no, the Clippers don’t make the most disappointing list. They lost their competitive compass when Elton Brand left for Philly and you don’t replace the loss of an Elton Brand by giving ‘Lil Timmy Thomas and his inconsistent game more minutes.

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