It’s a little early to draw any conclusions yet but here are a few interesting tidbits for the new season to watch:
-Philly Phlying: The Philadelphia 76ers are arguably the best team in the NBA on paper right now. After dismantling the Kings last night, Philly is 7-2 and outscoring foes by a ridiculous +16.0 points per game (Miami is second at +11.8 per game). Also defying the odds, the Sixers are scoring quite well (101.6 points per game) and allowing only 85.6 points per game (the lowest in NBA). The Sixers offensive has been efficient but the real key is that they have held opponents to a superb .391% from the field and .269% from three-point land going into the Kings game. Doug Collins usually has his teams playing strong defense but those numbers are so tough you have to think they aren’t really sustainable. Indeed, the schedule has been relatively easy so far and they are 1-2 against winning teams. It is also highly unlikely that Spencer Hawes can continue to shoot over 60%. Even so, this is a tough and well prepared team and blowing out even bad teams consistently is a good indicator for future success. Perhaps the lockout has positioned Philly to make a run by being disciplined and moderately talented. The Sixers aren’t better than the Bulls or the Heat but they have staked a strong claim for the Atlantic Division and the third seed pretty.
-Westphal Rightfully Falls: The firing of Paul Westphal was wholly deserved. I’m sure DeMarcus Cousins is a pain in the ass but devaluing an asset publicly is not a good idea, particularly where management isn’t on board. I understand the perspective that a coach wants to teach a young player how to behave properly and to stop the constant complaining. Maybe Phil Jackson or Pat Riley can pull something like this but Westphal didn’t have the leverage to unilaterally bench Cousins and make him look bad the way he did. I wonder why Westphal got tough, since he was so famously a players coach in both Phoenix and Seattle. I remember Westhpal not laying down the law when whacky stuff happened in his previous stops. You’ll recall the famous Vernon Maxwell-Gary Payton melee at practice in 2000 in Seattle that got so rowdy that the spillover injured teammates Horace Grant and Chuck Person. Neither Maxwell nor Payton were suspended, when they clearly should have. Rather, Westphal fined them and made the following public statement: “We’ve taken a lot steps to prove we’re a good team, and this is not the time to take steps backward. This is the time to band together.” Maybe, he should’ve told Cousins something similar this season.
-Early PER Numbers: LeBron James is off to another awesome start leading the NBA with a 36.9 PER (!). A bigger surprise is that Kyle Lowry is currently number two in PER in the NBA of anyone playing more than 30 minutes per game. It probably won’t last but the Houston has built an offense around him, which is helping his numbers, but maybe taking a toll defensively (Houston was last in defensive efficiency before the Kings were destroyed).
The class of 2012 is better than the class of 2011. Right now that’s about the best thing I can say about it. I’ll add that there are enough intriguing prospects out there that I expect an interesting enough class to develop by draft day. But I still see this as a slightly below-average class once all is said and done. As it stands now I see 1 player who stands out, Anthony Davis. After that there are 3 others in the next tier. Beyond those 4 I put the prospects in groups for now. The groups are listed in the order of the value typically assigned to such players.
Consider this a very rough draft of the ranking of the 2012 draft prospects. Because of this, I included more than the usual 60 prospects. As the season progresses and the real prospects separate themselves from the fast starters, I’ll refine the rankings to reflect as much. With that in mind, don’t take these too seriously. There remains a lot of basketball to be played and prospect analysis to be done.