Sean McElroy is a contributor for SB Nation Boston and works at 98.5 The Sports Hub. He has covered professional & college sports over the last decade.
After a lockout and two short weeks of training camp, the NBA just passed its first month of the season. Here are some interesting observations and thoughts.
Let's start with the hometown Boston Celtics. The green, more than other teams, seem to have suffered from the shortened training camp. There have been numerous injuries, including three players in their starting unit (Paul Pierce, Jermaine O'Neal and Rajon Rondo), which added to their slow start. The team has been anemic on the boards, ranking 29th in the league.
Another cause for concern is their scoring, which is down seven points from last year (89 PPG). There are many theories as to why the offense is stagnating, including only having one true playmaker in Pierce, the age of the Big Three and lack of size.
Where have you gone Kendrick Perkins? We miss those nasty elbows and dirty screens. The team desperately needs another big physical center that can set screens on the offensive end to help other players get open to create baskets.
As much as Danny Ainge was scrutinized for not making a big pickup during the offseason, he did make the bench one of the strongest it has been in years and added much-needed depth. Every single player on there has contributed except for JaJaun Johnson, who needs to eat a few more Twinkies before Hostess goes out of business to add bulk.
According to Hoopsstats.com, the bench is the number one overall defensive unit in the NBA when they are in the game. Those players have also aided the injured starting rotation. It can be argued, even with the Chris Paul trade to the Clippers, Ainge may have pulled off one of the best offseason trades when he reeled in Brandon Bass in the Big Baby deal. Bass is averaging 12 points and six rebounds off the bench and might be a starter next year when salaries come flying off faster than an F16.
If there is any consolation for the Celtics, it is that six of their losses were to playoff teams. The team will have three months to get things together if they want to compete for one final championship. The green have a favorable February schedule with nine home games. Let's be frank - even if they do turn it around, the Celtics are highly unlikely to beat Chicago and Miami in a seven game series unless Derrick Rose or Lebron James go down with injuries for those teams, respectively. If not, then Ainge may be forced to blow up the team and take the best deal possible for any of the aging three, as well as Rondo.
MVP: Kobe Bryant, Lakers - Yes I am going to take a lot of heat in Boston for this one, but the fact remains he might be playing his best basketball ever. Just look at the 33-year-old's stats. He is leading the league in scoring at 30.2 points per game. According to NBA.com/stats, Bryant's Player Utilization (an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he is on the floor) is 42.1 percent; he accounts for 39 percent of the Lakers' points and 30 percent of their assists. For comparison, Miami's James and Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant, the second and third leading scorers in the league, have Player Utilization percentages of 36.8 and 34.6, respectively. In clutch time (defined by NBA.com/Stats as the last five minutes of games when the score margin is within five points), Bryant's Player Utilization rises to 48.3 percent and he accounts for 33 percent of his team's points and 39 percent of its assists.
This is remarkable for a guy that has already played 50,000 minutes in the NBA. What makes this more amazing is that Kobe is doing all of this with two torn ligaments in his wrist. Kevin Garnett, in retrospect, has only played in 44,500 minutes.
Most Surprising Impact Players: Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves- Rocking Ricky, the Spanish point guard who stayed overseas for a few years after being the Wolves' fifth pick a few years ago, finally made the trek across the Atlantic Ocean and has opened many eyes. What makes Rubio so impressive is that he ranks in the top four in the NBA in both assists (8.9) and steals (2.3) to go along with almost twelve points per game. It helps to play with a stud, like forward Kevin Love, but he has proven his critics wrong after a down year in 2010 for Barcelona FC. No wonder the Wolves wanted to save their max rookie contract instead of giving it to Love. If Rubio keeps this up, he might be that guy to cash the big payday and take the Wolves back to the playoffs. Maybe David Kahn isn't such an idiot after all?
Most Disappointing Team - New York Knicks - Last year much was made of the acquisitions of both Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, but the team has been under .500 since they acquired them and quickly regressed on both ends ofthe court. In order to address this, they acquired center Tyson Chandler to solidify the front line as a free agent after they amnestied Chauncey Billups to free up cap space. Even with those moves, the Knicks are an awful defensive team ranking, 25th or lower in every category. Not even Bill Russell or Maurice Cheeks could help this unit.
New York's biggest problem is that it does not have a smooth and fluid offense. Last year they averaged 107 points per game compared to 97 this year. The issue is that Carmelo is a ball stopper, slowing down the offensive. He wants the ball in his hands at all times. Amare has had trouble adapting to this, as well as other members of the Knicks. Don't you think owner Charles Dolan is regretting his decision to sign Stoudemire last year to a free agent deal considering he has been rumored to be trade bait for Dwight Howard?
Furthermore, the team had lost nine out of ten going into the last day of January. My niece has a better success ratio in the game of Memory against me than the Knicks had in winning during that period, and she is only 5!
Most Entertaining Play of Month: Blake Griffin throwing down an "Oh Me, Oh My" dunk over Kendick Perkins.
Finally, the Washington Wizards have the worst record in the NBA and fired their head coach. You know it is real bad for a team when their mascot gets out dunked by a fan in the crowd and on his phone!