Surprising NBA Teams in 2012-13

I got lazy with my power rankings for about a week and a half, not updating them at all. Today that changed, and I got the rankings up to date. Check them out here.

Which NBA teams have been surprising, one way or the other? Let’s take a look.

OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (my projection: #8, current rank: #2)

The Thunder have been playing as if James Harden never existed. Kevin Martin, a player I’m very familiar with as a Kings fan, has adapted to Oklahoma City very well – he’s been a great fit for the team, as his accurate shooting is exactly the kind of thing Oklahoma City likes in a player. What’s really helping the Thunder is how often they get to the free throw line – they have the highest ratio of free throws to field goal attempts in the NBA, including the Lakers with Dwight Howard getting hacked all the time. And the Thunder make the most of their free throw opportunities, as they have the highest free throw percentage in the league as well.

MIAMI HEAT (my projection: #1, current rank: #6)

I was hardly alone in picking the Heat to be the NBA’s best team this season. The Heat were very much a consensus favorite to take home another championship. I don’t want to say they’ve stumbled out of the gate, because that’s not really accurate, but they’re not quite as dominant as expected. The heart of their problem is on the defensive end – after ranking fourth in defensive rating a year ago, according to Basketball Reference, they’re 23rd this year. Whether it’s because of a lack of effort or because they need to get Joel Anthony more minutes, the Heat have to improve on the defensive end if they want to repeat as champions.

LOS ANGELES LAKERS (my projection: #2, current rank: #7)

There are three things happening here. The first is that the Lakers have by far the best point differential of every NBA team with a losing record. Despite being 9-12, the Lakers are, on average, winning by 3.1 points per game. The second is that they’ve been playing without Steve Nash, Steve Blake, and recently, Pau Gasol. The third is that they have a new head coach and a new system. Give the Lakers time, let them get healthy, and they’ll be one of the teams to beat at playoff time.

BROOKLYN NETS (my projection: #17, current rank: #11)

A number of Nets players have stepped up their games this year. One is center Brook Lopez, who missed virtually all of last season. Another is Andray Blatche, a player generally considered a raw talent, who has been a quality contributor so far. The Nets as a whole are playing very solid defense. It’s enough to make them one of the Eastern Conference’s better teams, but as I’ve said before, it will be very difficult for them to compete for championships with their current very expensive roster.

UTAH JAZZ (my projection: #22, current rank: #13)

The Jazz aren’t really a surprise, since I had them projected to do much worse than most. It helps that Al Jefferson has really matured as a player. He and Paul Millsap have formed a big-man combo that is really anchoring Utah. I think it’s safe to say I just whiffed on this one.

TORONTO RAPTORS (my projection: #16, current rank: #27)

Yikes. I thought the Raptors would be a respectable team after their acquisitions of Kyle Lowry and Landry Fields. Fields has been injured, so that isn’t helpful, but really, the Raptors’ problem is that they can’t stop anybody. They need a defensive stalwart at the center position like a fish needs water. Amir Johnson can’t stop everybody at once.

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Let Me Get This Straight

Gregg Popovich told Duncan, Ginobili, Parker, and Green to go home and rest instead of traveling to Miami. David Stern, angry and embarrassed by the Spurs fielding their “B” team in a nationally televised game, has decided they should be punished for this decision.

Obviously Pop’s motivation was that he doesn’t think playing his stars 82 games in the regular season is a good idea. He wants them healthy and rested for the postseason. This is not a new thing – the Spurs rested key players in a number of games last year as well.

Meanwhile, a handful of NBA teams blatantly tank at the end of each season in hopes of a higher draft pick.

If Stern is so outraged about the Spurs decision to send their starters home for a day, why isn’t he irritated when some of the worse teams in the league tank for weeks or months at a time?

And here’s the kicker – with a starting lineup of Boris Diaw, Tiago Splitter, Matt Bonner, Nando de Colo, and Patty Mills, the Spurs almost won in Miami anyway! The Heat barely scraped out a 105-100 win after trailing in the final minute.

If David Stern wants to apologize to NBA fans for a sub-par product, what he should apologize for are the dozens of games in March and April every year contested between teams who both want to lose.