Top 5 Week 1 Surprises
Well, every team has played at least one regular season game at this point, which means it’s perfectly fair to start talking seriously about the basketball side of basketball for the first time in six months. The lockout conversation is over, free agency is all but kaput, and trade rumors have slowed to a crawl for a few weeks while teams try to figure out what they’ve got before they make any drastic moves. That means all there is left to discuss is the actual game being played, and isn’t that the best part of hoops anyway?
Today’s Top Five looks at the some of the biggest surprises of the very young season so far. These are the things that have happened in the early games that caused double-takes by fans. There will be plenty more to come, but here are the most notable ones to have happened since Christmas:
#5 – Billups’ Shooting Spree – On the bright side, the L.A. Clippers are 1-0. Actually, there are a lot of “on the bright side” comments we could make about the L.A. Clippers, but on the not-so-bright side is the first game of Chauncey Billups’ career as a Clipper. He did pour in a respectable 21 points, but his 19 field-goal attempts, which led the team, can’t be something that continues if this organization is to see long-term success. To compare, Blake Griffin shot 18 times and Chris Paul shot it 12 times. You’d like to see more attempts from Griffin and Paul and fewer from Billups, but a win’s a win. Either way, 19 shots from Mr. Big Shot is still pretty surprising.
#4 – Kris Humphries’ Redemption – Call him an attention hog. Call him the most hated player in basketball. Just don’t call him worthless, because as his opening night performance (21 points and 16 rebounds) proved, this kid can still play some serious basketball. He was one of those guys many of us passed up in fantasy drafts just because we assumed all the bad press and personal issues would serve as too much of a distraction, but this was one of the top rebounders in the league last year. Should we really be surprised that he’s picking up right where he left off a year ago, especially with Brook Lopez out of the lineup?
#3 – Tyler Hansbrough’s Dominance – The Indiana Pacers were supposed to need a starting power forward, which is why they splurged for David West (who had a respectable first game in Indy in his own right, despite a 3-12 shooting night), but Tyler Hansbrough showed last season that he has the potential to put up big numbers as a starting four. He didn’t start, but he did manage 15 points and 13 rebounds in 32 minutes of action. Mix in that performance with two monster games against the Chicago Bulls in the preseason (24/13 and 19/11), and we could have the makings of a serious sleeper here. As long as he keeps getting the minutes, starter or not, Hansbrough could actually be the real deal.
#2 – Marcus Thornton’s Surprisingly Fair Paycheck – Let’s be honest, a lot of us mocked the $8 million-per-year contract the Sacramento Kings threw Marcus Thornton’s way two weeks ago, but in retrospect it wasn’t because Thornton was bad; it was more because the Kings already had a lot of talent at his position. Thornton might be better than Jimmer or Tyreke, though, as he dropped an efficient 27 points in an opening night win for the Kings. He scored a total of 42 points in two preseason games as well, meaning this sort of offensive output probably isn’t a fluke. This kid can score the ball, and by the end of the year we might be saying that $8 million a season isn’t enough.
#1 – Dallas’s Slow Start – This is not the way the defending champions hoped to start the season. Losing their first two games to Miami and Denver by a combined 33 points has not instilled much confidence in the NBA community that they’re set to repeat. Yes, it’s early, but the champs simply don’t look as good (nor do they look as spry) as younger teams in the conference like Denver, Oklahoma City, or even Golden State. They’re shooting under 40% from the field their first two games and barely 30% from three. It’s been disappointing early on, and unless they turn things around it could be a long (shortened) season for them.
David Lee’s Return – After signing that huge contract with the Golden State Warriors in the summer of 2010, David Lee had a quietly disappointing season last year. After back-to-back years in New York hauling in over 11 rebounds a game, Lee went under 10 rpg last season, and after that great 20.2 ppg year in 2009-2010, his average dropped almost four points in 2010-2011. He’s off to a great start this season, though, with games of 21/12 and 22/7 to kick things off. The team is 1-1, but considering their first two opponents were the Clippers and Bulls that’s pretty respectable. Lee has to be given some measure of credit for the solid start.
DeAndre Jordan’s Block Party – Eight swats by the recently re-signed Clippers center in the first game of the season. I told you L.A. had a lot of “on the bright sides.”
Rajon Rondo’s Offense – We knew Rondo could dish, and we knew he could play defense, but how about that 31-point outpouring the first game of this really important season for Boston? Yes, the Celtics lost, but it was without Paul Pierce and to a good Knicks team. His follow-up performance in Miami was pretty impressive, too. If Rondo can keep scoring the ball like this—and if Boston is going to keep themselves in the conversation regarding the East’s elite teams, he’ll probably have to—the Celtics might be better than many of us assumed.
What else has made you do a double-take early this season? Steph Curry’s stat line on a bum ankle? The Lakers’ 0-2 start? LeBron James’s ungodly stat line against the Mavericks? Ricky Rubio’s passing artistry? Share your own favorites from the first round of games in the comments section below, and let’s hope for what will almost certainly be another great year of NBA basketball. It’s great to be back, isn’t it?