Here is how things look in the NBA to start off 2010.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers – (38-11) – After beating the Lakers in Los Angeles on Christmas day vaulted them into the two spot last month, another win over the Lakers at the Q put them in the top spot for January. LeBron James has been incredible, as always. He’s scoring at a good clip, getting to the rim when he feels the pace of the game is going against the Cavs, and hitting shots at a better rate than ever, shooting 50% from the field and 35% from three. In January, James has averaged 31 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. Last month, James engaged in a head-to-head battle with Dwyane Wade, stopping D-Wade on two straight possessions at the end of the game to secure the win. James also put together one of the best clutch performances ever, scoring 18 points in the final five minutes only to be outdone by Sundiata Gaines. Daniel Gibson has stepped up in the place of Mo Williams, who is out with a shoulder injury, knocking down three’s, but he has had some issues running the offense at times. January was also the best month of the season for Shaquille O’Neal, as he averaged 14 points a game and had two 22-point games.
2. Los Angeles Lakers – (37-11) – The Lakers didn’t have a bad month. They were 11-5, with all of their losses coming on the road. There were some good wins, blowing out Dallas by 35, beating the Rockets in a tough game, and taking down Orlando despite a poor game from Kobe Bryant. Really their only blemishes were games in Cleveland and Toronto, where Pau Gasol missed free throws late against the Cavs and committed a bad foul with 1.4 seconds left against the Raptors. Bryant has had on off month, still battling with his broken finger while picking up a couple of new injuries (back spasms, tweaked knee, bum ankle) along the way. Kobe averaged just 23 points a game on 42% for the month. The bench has finally started to improve for the Lakers as Phil Jackson shortened his rotation to exclude guys like Josh Powell and Adam Morrison from games that aren’t blowouts. Jordan Farmar has improved his game in this recent stretch, raising his scoring averages and all of his shooting percentages. Shannon Brown has been just as good lately, scoring nine a game while shooting 50% from the field.
3. Denver Nuggets – (32-15) – The Nuggets had an excellent month, going 12-3, with all three losses coming with Carmelo Anthony out with several nagging injuries to his knees and ankles. Chauncey Billups picked up his game and scored 24 points a game on 48% shooting from the field and from three. This late surge led many to believe that he should be an all-star but he has struggled for the year, shooting just 43% from the field. Still, his play was vital to Denver’s nine game winning streak. There has been a little bit of controversy with J.R. Smith. After a Denver win, Smith was seen sulking on the bench because he only got 12 minutes of playing time, which ironically cost him playing time for the next few games. The team denied reports that they were going to trade Smith, and he has had some big minute games of late.
4. Orlando Magic – (32-16) – Overall the Magic didn’t play very well this month. They were 8-8 and had a four game losing streak to some below average teams. However, their two latest victories over Boston and Atlanta, look pretty good on the resume. Dwight Howard had seven excellent games in January and then had some pretty off ones too. It was kind of odd to see Howard go off for 31 points, 19 rebounds and three blocks against the Hawks but then see that he only had nine points against the Timberwolves. Howard ended up averaging 18 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks for the month but once he can string together those huge games without having them randomly the Magic will be unstoppable.
5. Atlanta Hawks – (30-16) – Atlanta did exactly what they wanted to do in January. In order to establish themselves as real contenders, they needed to beat the Celtics and Magic in at least two of their five match-ups. Though they lost to Orlando twice, they beat Boston three times, giving them a 4-0 record against the Celtics. Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford have been excellent together. Both guys are scoring the ball well, Crawford has been getting to the lane and hitting big shots and Johnson continues to put up 20 points, five assists and five rebounds for the season. And I know Al Horford has been good this season and he is one of the top five centers in the Eastern Conference, but Josh Smith was the better choice for an all-star spot. Smooth is averaging 15 points, 10 boards and two blocks in 2010.
6. Dallas Mavericks – (30-17) – Dallas was in my top five for a while, but they lost to the Lakers twice (one at home, one on the road) and have lost two in the row to Phoenix and Portland. Nonetheless, they did beat the Celtics in Boston and took care of the teams in games they were suppose to win. Dirk Nowitzki continues to play at an MVP level. He’s scoring 25 a game, hitting shots from everywhere on the court and shooting nearly 90% from the free throw line, all as a seven footer. With Dirk doing that and solid contributions from Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and Josh Howard, this team has many offensive options. They could have one more if rookie Rodrigue Beaubois got more PT.
7. Boston Celtics – (29-16) – Tough week and a half to close out the year for the Celtics. Loss to Dallas, loss to Atlanta, loss to Orlando and then Kobe’d by Los Angeles yesterday. Kevin Garnett missed a good portion of January so there is something for them to fall back on, but they should be playing better. They played their hearts out against the Lakers today, but age seems to be catching up with the big three. Ray Allen can’t hit a three, KG is hurt, and Paul Pierce can’t get his own shot without a push off. Now the Celtics are built around Rajon Rondo, who is now a top five point guard in the NBA, and Kendrick Perkins, one of the best defensive players in the league (though he couldn’t stop Andrew Bynum).
8. Utah Jazz – (28-18) – Deron Williams has been banged up for the past month, but he is still putting up great numbers. 17 points a game on 52% shooting from the field for January including some big games against Miami, Portland and Denver. The Jazz are getting solid contributions from both of their power forwards. Carlos Boozer is averaging 19 points and 11 rebounds for the season on 54% shooting and has stepped up when they needed him to against tougher opponents. Reserve Paul Millsap has come on of late, getting 13 points (56% shooting) and seven rebounds a game. With Boozer out, Millsap put up 32 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists against the Kings the other night.
9. Portland Trail Blazers - (28-21) – Portland is playing their hearts out. No Greg Oden, no Joel Pryzbilla, no Travis Outlaw, and, of late, no Brandon Roy, and somehow this team still manages to get it done. Andre Miller, who had 52 points last night against Dallas, has assumed the duty of primary scorer most often, but LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Fernandez have had pretty good games. Like I mentioned in yesterday’s Attacking the Boards, Nicolas Batum is a great defender. Portland might have the best trio of defenders at the small forward position with Batum, Martell Webster and Outlaw.
10. San Antonio Spurs – (27-19) – If San Antonio starts giving George Hill more playing time, they will be a better team down the stretch. DeJuan Blair has been a man so far this season, averaging 15 points and 16 rebounds per 40 minutes. If he were to get starters minutes, he could contend for the rebounding title. Tim Duncan is putting up 20 and eight for the season.
11. New Orleans Hornets – (26-21) – After a rocky beginning, New Orleans has turned their season around and made themselves a playoff team if the season ended today. Chris Paul is having a monster season despite injuries. Paul is averaging 20 points, 11 dimes, and two steals while shooting 50% from the field and a career high 42% from three. Now that Devin Brown is gone, rookie Marcus Thornton has gotten himself more PT. In his four starts since the trade, Thornton has averaged 18 points a game on 47% shooting. The Emeka Okafor deal has been a good one so far, as Emeka is averaging 11 points, 10 boards and a couple of blocks and played some great defense.
12. Memphis Grizzlies – (25-21) – The Grizzlies are one of the hottest teams in the league, winning seven of their last 10 games. Zach Randolph is still tearing it up and was recognized as an all-star earlier in the week. He’s getting 21 and 12 a game while his post buddy, Marc Gasol, is also averaging 15 points, 10 rebounds and a pair of blocks. O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay continue to provide the Grizzlies with two excellent offensive options from the wing and even point guard Mike Conley has improved his game of late. And despite a lack of consistent playing, rookie center Hasheem Thabeet is the top rookie shot blocker in the league.
13. Houston Rockets – (25-22) – Funny that Memphis and Houston are tied for last in their division even though they are four games over .500. Just goes to show how good the West is. Some people have started to call Aaron Brooks an elite point guard in this league, with elite meaning top eight or 10. I’m not sure if I am at that point with him yet because I am not sure how good of a distributor he is (just five assists a game), but he can absolutely fill it up when he is on. Carl Landry is still going at it off the bench, averaging 16 points, five boards and a block.
14. Oklahoma City Thunder – (26-21) – The Thunder hit a rough patch of late, dropping three straight to the Grizzlies, the Cavaliers and the Bulls. Still, they have an excellent young group, have been pretty healthy all year and Kevin Durant is just amazing. Durant averaged 31 points on 50% shooting from the field and 52% shooting from three, eight rebounds, a block and a steal in the month of January. Russell Wesbtrook also had a pretty good month, putting up 15 points, eight assists and five boards a game and got his field goal % on the year back up above 40%. The Thunder have an 11-4 record when Russ gets eight or more assists. I’m expecting more of the same from Durant and this club as a whole.
15. Phoenix Suns – (28-21) -Phoenix probably had the worst month of all of the contenders, going 7-9, and losing seven of their last 10. They’ve dropped nine spots since December. Steve Nash is still having a great shooting season, but his turnovers are starting to climb as he is up to four a game now. Amare Stoudemire has been rumored to go to almost every team in basketball over the past couple of weeks, which has effected his play according to him. If it did, it didn’t show through the boxscore. He averaged 21 points and eight boards in January. If they do end up trading him, I hope he goes to the 17th team on this list.
16. Charlotte Bobcats – (23-22) – This is the first Eastern Conference team since Boston at seven. Charlotte has risen a few spots in my mind since December. Gerald Wallace has emerged as one of the best defensive players in the league, leading the league’s best defensive team by playing great man-to-man D, blocking shots on help side and making smart decisions. That being said, he is also a great offensive player and probably the NBA’s best rebounder that doesn’t play in the post. Stephen Jackson has also started playing within the flow of the offense, making Charlotte a better team on the offensive end while using his length to add more defense to a great club.
17. Chicago Bulls – (23-22) – Chicago went 10-5 in January lead by some absolutely superb play from Derrick Rose. Rose averaged 23 points a game in January and really showed some improvements with his jumpshot. The 21-year old continues to get better. Rookie Taj Gibson continues to give the Bulls some terrific effort and hustle. He’s averaging eight points, seven rebounds and a block as the starting power forward and has shown some nice range with a sideline jumper. Joakim Noah is one of the most underrated players in the league. He’s getting 11 points, 12 boards and a couple of blocks a game. He might be the best defensive center in the league soon because of his will power to play defense and get after it every play.
18. Toronto Raptors – (26-22) – Toronto is looking pretty good. With Jose Calderon back, he and Jarrett Jack, the offense looks good in the hands of the guards and Chris Bosh continues to dominate games. Of their five losses in January, three of them came to Boston and Cleveland and they even picked up a close win against the Lakers thanks to a late Pau Gasol foul. Bosh, who was named all-star, averaged 25 points, 11 assists and a block in January. He never scored less than 17 points, shot 53% from the field, and even had a career high 44 points against the Bucks. Jack has been very good. I mean, he has been one of the best point guards in the league over the past month and probably nobody knows it. He’s averaged 13 a game, shot 52% from the field and 48% from the three, and gotten to the basket extremely well. Love his game.
19. Miami Heat – (24-23) – The Heat had a mediocre month despite Dwyane Wade‘s best shooting stretch of the season. Wade averaged 29 a game on 52% shooting, which was dramatically better than his 43% shooting number from November and December. Wade has still had some issues turning the ball over. When Flash turns it over five or more times, the Heat are 1-4. Michael Beasley also had a good shooting month, but hurt his knee in a game against Toronto. The Heat will need him to return soon if they want to hold off the Bucks for the eighth seed.
20. Los Angeles Clippers – (20-27) – All looked good for the Clippers. Chris Kaman was playing at an all-star level, Baron Davis was starting to get it together and Eric Gordon was continuing to improve. But then Blake Griffin‘s rehabilitation was deemed a failure and he was shut down for the season. I am pretty sure this team is cursed.
21. Milwaukee Bucks – (20-25) – Brandon Jennings is a real bad funk. After starting off scorching hot, Jennings shot 32% in January. Andrew Bogut has made up for him, though, scoring 17 points a game with 11 rebounds and three blocks. He really is turning into one of the best post players in the league. I’m impressed by him and feel that he, Jennings and a dynamic wing scorer, which would be Michael Redd if he could stay healthy, could make up a playoff team in the East. Lets say Redd does the Bucks and a favor and declines his $18.3 million player option this off-season, with Kurt Thomas‘ $3.8 million coming off the books, how does a run at Joe Johnson sound? A quiet super star like Johnson could do no better than Milwaukee if he wants to continue to play under the radar.
22. Sacramento Kings – (16-30) -The Kings are on a horrendous streak right now, losing 13 of their 15 games in January. Tyreke Evans hasn’t faded, so that’s not the reason the Kings are falling in the standings so quickly. Evans actually shot 45% from the field and averaged 20 points a game in January. You could point to the return of Kevin Martin as a reason Sacramento is struggling, but I don’t buy that yet. Martin is shooting just 38%, but I think he is still finding his range. He has had games of 33 and 31 points in his last two contests with a high efficiency. I’ll say it’s the decline in effectiveness from rookie gunner Omri Casspi, who shot just 32% from three after shooting near 50% from deep in the past two months.
23. New York Knicks – (18-29) – David Lee is an all-star in my mind. He wasn’t voted in as one by the fans or the coaches, but he is definitely an all-star. Lee is averaging 20 points and 12 rebounds on the year and he is doing so without a consistent second option on the team to distract opposing defenses from doubling up on him. And let’s forget the pace argument, shall we? New York is eighth in the league in pace and that isn’t THAT helpful for Lee. Watch him play and you will notice that his work on the glass and effective mid-range game have nothing to do with the kind of offense they run in New York. To be fair, Lee does struggle on defense, allowing his man to score 20 points a game on him.
24. Washington Wizards – (16-30) – Gilbert Arenas is done for the season. For a team with high hopes to begin the year, this is just an extra kick in the behind. Let me just say I am pulling for Antawn Jamison to go to a team like the Cavs and for Caron Butler to go to a team like the Rockets so they can get out of the pitiful position that they are in right now. Another player I would like to see find their way to a contender: Earl Boykins. The five-foot-five guard can still shoot and has the heart of a champion. Love how he is still fighting in the NBA at the age of 33.
25. Golden State Warriors – (13-33) – I really like Monta Ellis. He is super fun to watch, a great shooter when he is on, and is explosive off the dribble. However, he takes some terrible shots. I mean, these are 22-foot jumpers with 20 seconds left on the shot clocks kind of shots, which kills his percentages. I wonder how he would be in a controlled system that regulated his looks and took advantage of his quickness. Stephen Curry was pretty darn good when Ellis was out with an injury to his ankle. Curry as been much more effective than Ellis, scoring 19 a game on 48% shooting from the field and downtown in January.
26. Indiana Pacers – (16-32) – When Danny Granger gets it together from deep, the Pacers will be a better team. They won’t push for a playoff spot, but they will have a great scoring force on the perimeter, a great post player in Roy Hibbert and a four that can stretch the floor with Troy Murphy. That is, of course, unless they trade Murphy to the Cavs as the rumors have been suggesting for a while. I’m glad that the Pacers declined the Granger for Al Jefferson offer. Not because I don’t like Jefferson, but because I think Hibbert has the potential to be a good starting center in the league and that pairing him with Granger is better than Jefferson and no one really.
27. Detroit Pistons – (15-31) – The Pistons still have one of the ten best defenses in the league, allowing the ninth fewest points per game in the league. Their offense, however, has been putrid, averaging just two more points a game than the Nets. Consequently, they have the third worst field goal percentage in the NBA and are tied with the Nets for the worse three-point percentage. This can be blamed on all of their guards as Richard Hamilton, Ben Gordon, Will Bynum, and Rodney Stuckey, have all had terrible seasons shooting the ball.
28. Philadelphia 76ers – (16-31) – Alot of people in Philly are calling for the team to trade Andre Iguodala. I am too, but it’s for a whole different reason. I want Andre to play on a contender this year instead of being stuck on a 76ers team that can’t seem to find the right formula despite having a lot of talent. Iggy is the team’s leading scorer with an average of 17 points a game along with seven rebounds and six assists a contest. You can send him the Lakers way if you want to.
29. Minnesota Timberwolves – (11-38) – Kevin Love is making a case as top 25 player in the league. I mentioned the idea of it before, but seeing him on a game-by-game basis really gives you a good appreciation for all that he does. Love is third in the league in total rebounding rate behind Marcus Camby and Samuel Dalembert and he has played significantly less games than either of the two. Love is also taking more three’s this season and has put them it at an alright clip of 38%.
30. New Jersey Nets – (4-42) – John Wall‘s averages this season: 17 points (48% FG/38% 3PT/79% FT), seven assists, four rebounds, two steals, one block, and four turnovers. Is he still the clear cut choice? Evan Turner‘s averages this season: 18 points (55% FG/32% 3PT/ 72% FT), 10 rebounds, six assists, two steals, one block, four turnovers. It’s a tough decision.
Most Valuable Player: LeBron James. James has been doing it all for the past month and led the Cavs to a victory over the Lakers. James is the league’s leading scorer, putting in over 30 points a game and piling up eight assists and seven rebounds as well. His defense down the stretch on Dwyane Wade also garners a lot of praise. With Kobe hurting all over the place, James has taken the lead in the MVP race for now. Runner-up: Kobe Bryant.
Defensive Player of the Year: Gerald Wallace is a top flight defensive player on the best defensive squad in the league. Wallace has 3.9 defensive win shares on the year, which is just .1 points off of Dwight Howard’s 4,0 defensive win shares. I am inclined to believe that perimeter defense is harder than post defense, especially when the post player does most of his worker by helping out instead of shutting down his man, which is why I give Wallace the edge over Superman. Wallace also has a defensive rating of 98.1, meaning Wallace only allows 98.1 points per 100 possessions on defense. Runner-up: I’ll still go with Thabo Sefolosha, who I chose as the winner last month, over Howard.
Rookie of the Year: Tyreke Evans is still the choice, but I really like what Stephen Curry did when he was in charge of the Warriors. I think he is a better shooter, better passer, but lacks the size to dominate a game by driving to the lane. That’s his only short coming in the debate between the two. I guess you could throw in the fact that the Warriors play at a fast pace, but I don’t think that effects Curry as much as it does Ellis. Runner-up: Stephen Curry.
Coach of the Year: Mike Woodson has turned the Hawks into the second best team in the East and they put up a couple of real good fights against Cleveland when they played. Runner-up: Rick Adelman of the Rockets.
Most Improved Player of the Year: I don’t like giving this award to players that were already good and have turned into superstars but Durant’s current run is too ridiculous to ignore. Durant is the most efficient scorer in the NBA, capable of scoring 45 points in a game on 21 shots, kind of like he did last night against Golden State. Durant is also much improved on the defensive end, which has had as much of an impact on the Thunder as his offense has. Runner-up: Josh Smith.
Sixth Man of the Year: Jamal Crawford is the difference maker for the Hawks. He comes in, hits big shots, gets to the lane and gives Joe Johnson a chance to play point guard because he is better at playing off the ball than Mike Bibby. Runner-up: Carl Landry of the Rockets.
First Team All-NBA
G: Chris Paul – I love this guy and I can’t put a two guard above him. He’s the emotional leader of the Hornets and is the best point guard of this generation.
G: Kobe Bryant – Though banged up, Kobe has continued to come through for the Lakers in the big moments.
F: Kevin Durant – He’s almost in Kobe-LeBron territory right now. Don’t forget he’s just 21-years old either.
F: LeBron James – While Kobe is hurt, he’s the best player in the game and does it all for the Cavaliers.
C: Dwight Howard – A physical specimen that has started to get into a groove of late. He’s the most dominant big man in the game when he gets the ball.
Second Team All-NBA
G: Brandon Roy – He’s been hurt of late, but he is still the third best shooting guard in basketball and one of the most complete players in the game.
G: Dwyane Wade – Flash is getting his stroke back, but he still doesn’t have a lot of talent around him.
F: Caremlo Anthony - Melo has also been hurt lately, costing him his spot as top scorer in the league to LeBron and Durant.
F: Dirk Nowitzki – Dirk is one of the most underrated players in the game, as crazy as it sounds. He’s clutch too.
C: David Lee – I’ve already talked about David Lee in this post, and with Chris Kaman hurt, Lee jumps up a team.
Third Team All-NBA
G: Deron Williams – Williams is a warrior, one of the best passers in the game and is always getting better with his range.
G: Joe Johnson – The consummate pro that loves playing under the radar.
F: Gerald Wallace – Like I’ve said before, an excellent defender, rebounder and scorer.
F: Chris Bosh – An excellent scorer, rebounder and leader for the Raps. I doubt he will stay in Toronto past this season, though.
C: Brook Lopez - Brook is averaging 19 and nine for a terrible Nets team.
G: Rajon Rondo
G: Thabo Sefolosha
F: Gerald Wallace
F: Josh Smith
C: Dwight Howard