Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Big performances highlight early-season NBA action

Often, the first few weeks of the NBA season are viewed as merely an extension of the pre-season–a time for players to gel as a team and for coaches to experiment with various lineups. While this is certainly true, each game on an NBA squad’s 82-game schedule is vital.

Since the 2010-11 season tipped off on Oct. 26, just three weeks ago, a number of players and teams have made an impression around the league, some positive, others negative. We’ve witnessed unexpected hot starts from some squads, while others have struggled out of the gate. With the majority of the league still searching for an identity, what better time for some 2010 early-season observations?

Biggest Surprise Team: New Orleans Hornets (8-1, first in Western Conference)


Did anyone expect New Orleans, coming off a 37-win campaign and a tumultuous offseason, to start the season on a torrid, eight-game winning streak? Rookie head coach Monty Williams has his Hornets winning with their defense, allowing the second-fewest points per game in the league. New Orleans’ hot start is even more impressive considering they are one of five teams in the Western Conference scoring fewer than 100 points per game.

Following an offseason flooded with trade rumors, Chris Paul has once again established himself as one of the premier point guards in the league, averaging 18 points and 10 assists per contest. Paul was rumored to have been disgruntled with his situation in New Orleans over the summer, and speculation ensued regarding his wish to be traded to the New York Knicks. However, following the hiring of Williams and acquisition of forward Trevor Ariza, Paul insisted New Orleans was where he wanted to be. Paul’s stellar play, coupled with consistent contributions from big men David West (16.8 points per game) and Emeka Okafor (career-best 69 percent from the field) have vaulted New Orleans into the conversation as the best team in the West.

Most Disappointing Team: Miami Heat (6-4, fifth in Eastern Conference)

In today’s NBA, a 6-4 start is considered a success for most teams, but not in South Beach. Not this year at least. What began in July with LeBron James’ decision to take his talents to Miami has culminated in a lackluster start for a team who many expected would challenge for the league’s single-season victory record of 72 wins. With four losses in its first ten games, the record is now the furthest thing from the minds of Miami’s players.

Following an embarrassing, turnover-marred opening night loss to Boston, it became immediately evident that Miami’s “Big Three” would not be able to waltz through the regular season unscathed. LeBron James (22 points per game, 9 assists, 6 rebounds) and Dwyane Wade (24 points per game) have consistently played well, however the third member of the All-Star trio, Chris Bosh, has yet to find his niche. Bosh’s 14.5 points per game are nearly ten points lower than his 2009-10 average. Perhaps even more concerning has been his inability to rebound at a high rate, one thing he was known for in Toronto. Although he’s only played ten games for Miami, his six boards per game average is even lower than that of his rookie season.

Defense has been the downfall thus far for Miami, as they trail only Chicago for the Eastern Conference points per game lead. The Heat’s enigmatic play has led to disputes over playing time, particularly from James, who felt he had been overplayed, leading to fatigue late in games.

Despite the disappointing start, no one in South Beach is panicking. Each of the team’s losses has come at the hands of playoff-caliber teams, and in the minds of fans, there is nowhere to go but up. As Wade, James and Bosh continue to bond as teammates, the Heat should be able to remedy their struggles and finish near the top of the Eastern Conference.

Best Early-Season Individual Performers

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

Coming off a decorated summer with Team USA in the FIBA World Championships, the “Durantuala” is off to arguably the best start of any player in the league. The international tournament’s Most Valuable Player’s 28.9 points per game are tops in the NBA. As the face of an up-and-coming franchise, Durant has accepted the role as a team leader and appears to have the Thunder on track for their second consecutive playoff appearance. Meanwhile, another young player is beginning to make a name for himself in Oklahoma City. Durant’s national team colleague, point guard Russell Westbrook, is off to an impressive start of his own. Westbrook’s all-around game (24.3 points per game, 7.8 assists per game, 2.3 steals per game) compliments Durant’s scoring prowess seamlessly, forming one of the most-feared duos in the NBA.

Monta Ellis, Golden State Warriors

Golden State’s electrifying guard trails only the aforementioned Durant for the league scoring lead, averaging 26.8 points per game. The fifth-year pro’s 46 points on opening night marked the beginning of what is sure to be a special year for one of the league’s most dynamic scorers. Ellis has failed to record 20 points in a game just once in eleven chances thus far. His leadership, plus the swift development of Stephen Curry, has the Warriors off to a 7-4 start, their best in fifteen years.

Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves

I was tempted to list the “Timberpups” as my biggest surprise team, as their three wins in ten tries is far better than most anticipated. A big reason for those victories has been the play of forward Kevin Love. The UCLA alum has showed flashes of fellow Bruin Lew Alcindor, snatching 31 rebounds in a win over New York last Friday. But Love’s game extends beyond cleaning the glass. He is averaging a career-best 18 points per game to go along with his league-leading 14.6 boards per game. It may not be enough to get a young Minnesota team to the playoffs, but there is no doubt Love is poised for a breakout season.

Worst Early-Season Individual Performers

Chris Bosh, Miami Heat

I’ll spare the hearts of Heat fans and refrain from relisting the troubling details of Bosh’s 2010-11 campaign, but if he doesn’t return to his pre-Miami form relatively quickly, trouble could be on the horizon in South Beach. If the Heat plan on making a serious run at a title, which for some reason I feel they are, Bosh is going to need to step up and start contributing more on a nightly basis.

John Salmons, Milwaukee Bucks

Sure, he is coming off a knee injury and is still working to get back into prime shape, but right now Salmons is a far cry from the player who led Milwaukee to the playoffs last season. He is averaging seven fewer points per game, and shooting an atrocious 39% from the field (down from 47% last season). Despite the slow start, if his knee continues to heal, Salmons ought to return to midseason form and play a key role in the Bucks’ quest to return to the playoffs.

Rashard Lewis, Orlando Magic

Lewis is off to a slow start for the second consecutive season. Last year he posted his lowest points per game average in nine years, and this season appears to be shaping up much the same. Lewis is on pace to post his lowest field goal and three-point percentages since his rookie season twelve years ago. While he remains a dangerous three-point threat, Lewis appears to be entering the latter portion of his once-productive career.

Hedo Turkoglu, Phoenix Suns

Turkoglu is in the second year of the monster $53 million contract he received from Toronto last summer, and is, by all accounts, failing to live up to it. After a lackluster season with Raptors, he is scoring under ten points per game for the first time since his 2004-05 campaign. His field goal and three-point percentages have increased, but are offset by a dramatic decrease in terms of rebounding and assists. Turkoglu is averaging his fewest assists per game since his days as a Sacramento King early in his career.

Most Surprising Early-Season Performers

Paul Millsap, Utah Jazz

The Jazz’s decision to let Carlos Boozer head East to Chicago over the summer may have been due in part to the fact that they believed Millsap was ready to assume a more prominent role in the offense. I’d say they made the right decision. His 46-point outburst to sink the Heat in Miami last week served as a coming out party for one of the league’s best all-around forwards. The Louisiana Tech product led the nation in rebounding for three consecutive years, and his production is beginning to translate to the NBA. Millsap is averaging a shade under 22 points per game to go along with 9.3 rebounds. In the breakout game against Miami, he displayed his newfound three-point range, a skill that will only make him tougher to defend.

Michael Beasley, Minnesota Timberwolves

Despite his horrendous hairdos, Beasley has been a very pleasant surprise in Minnesota thus far. He’s averaging career bests in points and assists, and has shot surprisingly well from the field. Perhaps most surprising is Beasley’s three-point percentage, which has nearly doubled from last season. In the Timberwolves’ last two victories, Beasley has averaged 38.5 points on well over 50 percent shooting, hopefully a sign of good things to come in Minneapolis.

Pau Gasol, Los Angeles Lakers

In ten games, Gasol has recorded an impressive eight double-doubles and one triple-double this season. His 22.7 points per game are a career-high, to go along with 12 rebounds and 4.4 assists – both career bests. Many would not view Gasol’s performance as a surprise, considering he has established himself as one of the best centers in the game, but did anyone expect him to play this well? If he can remain consistent and take the pressure of off a certain No. 24, the Lakers have to be the favorite to win the NBA title for the third straight year.

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