As we continue to trek deeper into one of the weirdest seasons in NBA history, a handful of teams are slowly beginning to show us who they really are; whether it’s for better or worse. Some teams are starting to figure things out. Other teams are just completely melting down. Some teams are suddenly bringing the hot fire, while others are colder than a polar bears toenail (thanks, Andre 3000). Simply put, the roller coaster ride of a 66-game lockout shortened season sure is a lot of fun to watch. Anyway, let’s get right to it. The Guy brings you an NBA version of the stock market...three up, three down mothatruckas!
THREE UP: Denver Nuggets Right now, the Nuggets are the envy of every small-market team in the NBA. See, the theme of this league as of late has been “whiny superstars wanting out.” Carmelo Anthony set this trend by bitching his way out of Denver last February. Denver smartly shipped him out to a desperate New York team for nearly half their roster. The results have been impressive. Danilo Gallinari, in particular, has made his presence known out west as one of the premier scoring forwards in the conference. Denver received Raymond Felton in that trade too, and basically swapped him out for Andre Miller, who has made for a great backcourt compliment to Ty Lawson (the engine that drives this team). Meanwhile, Timofey Mozgov has been a serviceable center, while the Knicks first round pick in 2014 is still looming as well. But wait, Wilson Chandler, who was acquired in the Melo deal, is currently under contract overseas, along with JR Smith and Kenyon Martin. All three of those guys are free to return to states to ball sometime in March, and the Nuggets will have a great shot a resigning at least two of them. Even without the missing trio, Head Coach George Karl has to be happy with what his team has done so far. They went 12-4 in the month of January and currently lead the league in points per game. Karl, who loves to run the fast break, transition offense, has the perfect combination of players for his system. Best of all, they really don’t have a superstar; just a great group of promising young blue chippers and a handful of veteran role players. The Nuggets are the bizzaro-world team of the NBA in that regards…and it’s so awesome.
Atlanta Hawks Here’s another team that was scorching hot in January. After losing back-to-back tilts with Miami and Chicago earlier in the month, Atlanta has won 11 of its last 14; without Al Horford. Losing your best big men is never easy, but the Hawks have made a surprisingly smooth transition towards moving on without Horford, who is likely out until April. No matter the year, the Hawks always fly under the radar. Joe Johnson might be the most underrated superstar in the league, while Josh Smith never gets the credit he deserves for being among the NBA’s elite defenders. Marvin Williams, Zaza Pachulia, Kirk Hinrich? None of those guys are going to excite anyone. However, Jeff Teague is the guy who has given Atlanta the spark it has needed for nearly a half-decade. Here we have a franchise that has never had a great point guard. Mike Bibby was about as good as it ever got in the ATL. This is also the same franchise that passed on Chris Paul AND Deron Williams. Jeff Teague, a second year point guard out of Wake Forest, might be exactly what they needed. As he continues to emerge, so will the Hawks.
Minnesota Timberwolves The newest darlings of the NBA, the T’Wolves are one of the most entertaining young teams in the league. It’s no secret that the Western Conference is deep; this team is going to be hard pressed to make the playoffs. But you can’t argue that they aren’t one of the most marketable team in the league. Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio alone make this team worth watching. What intrigues me is the glut of talented swingmen that they boast. Derrick Williams, Michael Beasley, Anthony Randolph, and Wesley Johnson all have a ton of potential. Whether they live up to it remains to be seen, but the biggest problem for this group is the lack of playing time. I guarantee you one of those aforementioned names gets sent packing at the trade deadline. If that’s the case, and playing time opens up, any one of those guys can blossom with an increase in minutes. Regardless, this bunch is competitive, and at the very least, the T’Wolves are definitely worth watching live.
THREE DOWN: Orlando Magic A little over two weeks ago, The Guy had the Magic pegged to be a top three team in the East. Oh, how things have changed. After a five-game winning streak midway through the month, Orlando has lost six of its last eight. It’s been an atrocious stretch for this bunch, and as the losses pile up, Dwight Howard’s wish list gets longer. No, really; he added Chicago to his list of teams he would like to be traded to. Even if he stays, Orlando has nothing else to work with; shut him down like the Celts managed to do last week, and this team has no answer on offense. Head Coach Stan Van Gundy will be the first casualty in a matter of weeks, but if this team doesn’t emerge from its slumber in over the next few weeks, Howard could end up wearing another uniform come March.
New York Knicks God it must suck to be Knicks fan. Just as New York seemed like it was getting closer to relevance, huh. They look like complete shit right now. They’ve lost nine of their last ten. Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire can’t seem to coexist. They have no backcourt. It’s just a mess. The funny thing is they could still be a playoff team. The NBA: Where Terrible No. 8 Seeds In The Eastern Conference Happen. I love it.
New Orleans Hornets We knew it would be bad…but this bad? Two wins in their last 19 games. Two. They might be lucky to get two more all year. Their best player, Eric Gordon, is still out for another month with a sore knee. He already turned down a contract extension earlier in the week too, so who knows if he’ll be in the plans for the future. Most recently, Chris Kaman and the Hornets came to a “mutual agreement” that Kaman will not play for this team anymore until he is traded. That’s always good, you know, when your second best player decides he doesn’t want to play for you anymore…and you’re happy to accommodate him. Simply put, there is literally nothing to build around here; especially if Gordon is gone after this season. I honestly don’t know what make this team any better. Contraction? Yup, that might be the only solution here.