A week into the NBAs regular season, its become clear that certain assumptions made before the campaign starting are off the mark, at least in the easy going. For example, as the Bulls learned Tuesday night in outlasting the previously-undefeated Magic at the United Center, Orlandodespite a roster blending young, under-the-radar talented and veteran role players not regarded as primary optionswont be the leagues worst team.
Another observation that can be gleaned from watching the Bulls is the fact that Joakim Noah could make his debut All-Star appearance, as alluded to Wednesday by the Chicago Sun-Times. Even with the league removing the center designation from the ballot, Noahs all-around play and improved scoringprovided he remains consistent with that aspect of his gamecant be ignored and being that hes both a fan favorite and a player opposing coaches respect, it wouldnt be a surprise to see him in Houston come February, assuming he stays healthy and the Bulls are, at minimum, in playoff position.
Speaking of the Bulls postseason prospects, early as it may be, they got a boost when the news hit that Indianas go-to scorer, Danny Granger, will miss three months with ongoing knee issues. In the wake of Derrick Roses own injury, the Pacers were anointed the successor to throne in the Central Division, but the supposed up-and-coming squad has flawsincluding a retooled and possibly less effective bench and while power forward David West appears to be back to his pre-ACL form, no certified alpha dogeven aside from Grangers woes.
Elsewhere in the division: Clevelands promising young backcourt of surprise fourth overall draft pick Dion Waiters and last seasons Rookie of the Year, Kyrie Irving, is exciting, but the Cavaliers dont yet have a roster to be taken seriously; Detroit has looked awful early on, though the young core of severely underrated big man Greg Monroe, second-year point guard Brandon Knight and raw, but talented center Andre Drummond is something for the Pistons to build upon; Milwaukees scoring-oriented backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis has better chemistry after an abbreviated season together and while the Bucks could challenge for a bottom playoff seed, they dont appear to be a team that upper-echelon opponents should truly fear.
As far as the rest of the East: Toronto, now anchored by the perennially-underrated Kyle Lowry, looks to be improved; New York got off to a fast start, sparked by defense and Carmelo Anthony dominating with Amar'e Stoudemire on the shelf; Boston continues to integrate its new pieces and is a work in progress, but has contender potential; and Miami, with Ray Allen fitting in seamlessly as an early Sixth Man of the Year candidate and Rashard Lewis showing that he still has something less in the tank, appears to be even better, now that they have the air of a champion, a defined style of play and improved three-point shooting.
Around the league, the incessant chatter about the Lakers ups and downsmostly the latter, with their exhibition struggles bleeding into the regular season, further compounded by Steve Nashs early-season injuryhas muffled some of the other storylines across the NBA. Out West, the Spurs have started quick and look poised to again be a juggernaut, the Clippers appear to be one of the leagues most talented teams and although the Nuggets have had early struggles, lack outside shooting and don't have a true go-to scorer, their athleticism and depth is scary. However, the most buzz has been generated by the blockbuster James Harden trade, a move that has changed the narrative surrounding the Thunder and elevated the Rockets back to relevancy.
Oklahoma City, the Bulls' opponent Thursday night, were declared winners of the deal by many observers--the structure of the current CBA forced the organization's hand, is the consensus--and because they received a 20 point-per-game scorer in Kevin Martin, there's no reason to for anybody to immediately hop off the bandwagon, though increased scrutiny will be paid to the likes of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Meanwhile, acquiring Harden energized Houston, thought before the season began to be one of the league's worst teams on paper, as well as easing the pressure off free-agent signees Jeremy Lin and former Bulls backup center Omer Asik, as Harden's scoring--he scored 37 in his debut, followed up by a career-high 45, propelling him into being the NBA's top scorer on the young season--and playmaking have some thinking the Rockets could sneak into a bottom playoff spot in a Western Conference that suddenly appears much more wide-open with the Lakers' early struggles, Dirk Nowitzki being on the shelf for Dallas and expected postseason contender Minnesota hamstrung by injuries to young stars Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio.