NBA at the Quarter Pole - Part I
Now that the NBA season is a fourth of the way through, we're beginning to have a large enough sample size to see few trends.
But it's an awkward spot because, due to the long and grueling 82-game season, a quarter of the way through isn’t enough to be sure about everything.
To prove my point, let's take a look at what the standings looked like around this time last year. But first, let's get in the mood forthat glorious NBA month that was December 2013:
We'll zero in on Sun 8 Dec. It was such a magical point in the season:
- The Eastern Conference only had 3 teams above .500 and one of them was Atlanta at 11-10.
- The Pacers shot out to a blistering 18-2 record, with Miami trailing in second at a slightly more sane 15-5. These two eventually ended up as the Nos 1 and 2 seeds.
- However the eventual 3-seed, Toronto -- which finished 48-34 -- was an Eastern Conference pedestrian at 6-12. Granted they'd not yet traded away Rudy Gay, but it goes to show you how things can change.
- Sitting with the second best record in the NBA was the Portland Trailblazers, who raced to a 17-4 mark. They cooled off considerably in the second half but finished with a solid 54-28 record.
- Meanwhile, the Lakers had a winning record at 10-9; little did they know they’d only win 17 of their next 65 games.
- Memphis pulled the reverse, having a slow start for where they ended up, starting 9-10 and finishing 50-32.
- Elsewhere, form held more true, like the Spurs starting 15-4 and finishing 62-20 and the Rockets starting 14-7 and finishing at 54-28.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at the current top teams in the league and pick out the those that are for real and those that aren’t.
It only makes sense to start at the top, where the Golden State Warriors are an incredible 20-2 currently riding a 15-game win streak. It’s easy to look at that record and think Curry and Thompson have been shooting the ball well. That's only half-correct; Curry is at 40% -- which is actually a tad low for him -- making three treys per game, and Klay is at 43%, making 2.8 a game.
They've been winning with their defense. Basketball-Reference.com has them at 97.6 points allowed per 100 possessions, placing them first in the NBA by a wide 2.7-point margin.
Second place is also a surprise, where the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs are tied at 100.3 points per 100 possessions.
Of the top 16 teams in points per 100 possessions -- known as Defensive Rating on Basketball-Reference.com, only two of them aren’t currently in the playoffs; one of them, somehow, is the 76ers. It’s a pretty good predictor of how well teams are playing. However, as we’ve discussed, things can change.
Will the Warriors keep up this brisk pace? Of course not. They aren’t the 72-win Bulls. But they do seem to be really, really good as long as they stay healthy.
Andrew Bogut is a key cog defensively. He leads the league in defensive box plus-minus at 6.7, if you’re into those kinds of stats. To no one’s surprise, Stephen Curry leads the league in offensive box plus-minus at 8.0.
The Warriors stay in the bracket projection. They probably won’t end up with the 1-seed, but it’s obviously within their grasp if they can find a way to keep this going. At their worst, they'll be last year’s Portland, but I see the Warriors hanging on for the 2-seed -- behind the Spurs -- and at worst, the No 3.
Check back tomorrow to read Part 2, where I discuss Portland, Oklahoma City, and Milwaukee, as well as the skeletons in the lower part of the East!