How’s that working out for you ?… (underachievers)

So we’re 4 weeks in and I must say that I’m quite surprised at the standings thus far. I would never have picked:
– The Spurs for 13-1
– The Hornets for 11-3
– The Nets for 5-10 (almost half way to eclipsing last years win total already)
– The Cavs for 6-8
– GSW for 7-8

But there are teams I thought would be better…
A lot better…

There’s no better place to start than Atlanta.
If the change of coach after 53 wins wasn’t an indication that Georgia is a state that teaches creationism in schools, then the 2-7 “run” that they’re on now surely confirms that something isn’t right in ATL. And it’s not like no-one’s pointed this out: ESPN have run a story each day this week on ATL and “what’s wrong”… but only today did they indicate that it could have been the premature firing of Mike Woodson and the elevation of “the assistant” leading to some of the strange behaviour observed.
Here are a few cases in point:

Joe Johnson is playing point guard. I’m pretty sure front office didn’t decide to pay him 120 million to pass first, yet he is leading the team in assists whilst averaging a career high at 6.2 apg. He’s also doing this whilst jacking up the same number of shots per game as he did last season.
So if he’s feeding himself, and still jacking up 15+ shots, then what the juice is going on on offense????

Al Horford is playing like a demon. Well at least in fantasy he is… In real life he’s playing like a tool and showing elevated numbers from the Hawks terrible offensive structure resulting in him getting more rebounds, and more shots within 6 feet.  This explains the extraordinarily high FG% and career highs in PPG and RPG. 
So why is this bad? 
Well because he isn’t playing D, and is getting taken to the cleaners by opposition 5’s. 
Atlanta won 53 games last season on suffocating D with Horford and Smith combining for one for the most athletic and defensively frustrating front lines in the NBA.  Al Horford is paid to be an athletic, defensive big – not the teams go to guy on offense. That said, he is averaging a career low in minutes. And no he’s not in foul trouble. For an answer to that see “coaching change, inexplicable”.

Josh Smith is regressing to his former self. 
He’s taking 3’s again (attempting at least 1 per game), and settling for jump shots more than last year.  He was stupidly efficient last season whilst remaining inside the 15 foot line.  Since he’s wandered back out, he’s rebounding less, blocking less, stealing less, and scoring less on worse percentages. 
What gives? 
Coaching change.  Sure Smith was one of the loudest voices in critique of Woodson at seasons end, but he also respected Woodson and responded to what he was told. This season it looks like the loose cannon has returned with a vengeance.

Mike Bibby; Just get him out pure and simple. They NEED a decent PG if Johnson is to earn his 120 mill.

Jeff Teague: Oh wait they have one, they’re just choosing to play him as a SG…. What the?

J Crawford (the good one): Needs to be traded sooner rather than later. He has a history of destroying teams when he doesn’t get what he wants, and he wants an extension. He won’t get one, so they might as well trade him to somewhere he’s needed and get a decent backup PG/C in return.
I’m looking at Eric Maynor/DJ White or Ramon Sessions/Ryan Hollins or even Anthony Tolliver/Luke Ridnour. Either way he is an asset that is depreciating rapidly and they are a team with glaring needs.

The Coach: Does not have players attention, let alone their respect. He hinted last week that the players were going out clubbing ebfore/after games on road trips. I look around the league at successful coaches and see players like Ron Artest, Tony Parker, et al., all loving the nite life yet not daring to go out during business time. He’s also clearly taking the team down the wrong path, and is losing cred by the game. If I were the brass in ATL, I’d be sitting down JJ and JS and TELLING them that we’re hiring Mike Brown or someone with a half decent resume, whether they like him or not.

Anyway that’s Atlanta. Possibly the biggest surprise since most people had them as a lock for top 4 in the east. At present pace, they’ll be lucky to squirm into the playoffs.

Other teams listed have also promised much, and stumbled early on are…

Memphis looked like they were going to make the big step to playoff team this year. They’re still on the fringe – but look way out of synch compared to last season.

OKC promised to be the new challenger in the West. Yet early on, other than Serge Ibaka and Westbrook, they’ve underwhelmed and should really be at 8-6, not 10-4, after a couple of shaky wins against poor opposition. With a schedule only getting tougher on them, they need to decide whether they’re ready to shake the “boys” tag, and become men.
And this may mean trading Jeff Green, as much as that pains me to say.

3-kingsMiami simply underestimate the opposition league wide resulting in the entire league having a “Miami-chip” on their shoulder.
Every single night from now on, all 29 opposition teams will be bringing their A game for Miami for no other reason than Miami proclaiming themselves as a bench mark.

Dallas have a great record – but on the back of Jason Terry and Tyson Chandler, not Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd. The Caron Butler experiment is also going terribly, and Dallas need to honestly look at whether this is the supporting cast that can take them to the West Finals or not. Personally, unless they can snare Melo, I can’t see them advancing past the first round.

Houston are possibly the unluckiest team thus far – injuries and slim losing margins to top teams make their record look much worse than it actually is.
That said, this was supposed to be the season Houston challenged again, and they’re looking decidedly soft on the D end, meaning I doubt if they’ll improve to become a playoff team.

Sacramento are the same though I think Tyreke + Cousins combined attitudes = problems for Westphal right now.
Realistically, they are a future combo not worth messing with, but in the short term I think the growing pains are going to be longer than originally anticipated.
That and Sacto need to stop acquiring young talent, and actually trade some of their potential “stars”.  Guys like Casspi and Greene only have worth whilst they have potential, and in an overly crowded front court neither are getting the chance to shine.
I’m tipping Rip Hamilton and/or Tayshaun Prince to be in Sacto before the trade deadline.  Their combination of experience, and intangibles are what the Kings need around Evans/Cousins.

Blake-dunkAnd finally the Clippers – who stupidly went out and spent money for once, but spent it on crud.
Randy Foye?
Craig Smith?
Ryan Gomes?
Are we having a 2007 Timberwolves reunion or something?
The Clipps have to rebuild properly now. Trade Kaman, Foye and Smith/Gomes in a package and try and get back some young talent.  Jordan is worth developing into a defensive big in the mould of Camby (notice how he’s sucking without Camby as a role model, yet he was the league leader in blocks per 48 min when Camby was in town?).
Griffin is only going to get better, Gordon is a future Joe Johnson, Bledsoe needs minutes, Aminu is living up to the hype – so really they just need some solid vets and future complimentary talent.
Once again the likes of Hamilton, Prince, Randolph all come to mind.

That’s it for now, but I’ll be back sooner or later to impart more wisdom!