NBA Review (12/02/15)

By Tom W. Brewer @Tom_W_Brewer
November's top five headlines in the NBA.

It's hard to believe, but the NBA season is now a month old. It's been a whirlwind. We've seen a team make history, a coach get fired, and Jason Kidd get suspended for acting foolish…and it's only December!

Here's a recap of the biggest NBA headlines through the first month of the season.

1. The Warriors' Undefeated Streak

There's no championship hangover in the Bay, as Golden State is off to a blistering 19-0 start. Here's the scary thing about the Warriors: They're better than they were last year. The champs lead the NBA in field goal percentage, three point percentage, points per game, and point differential. True to their nickname, the Golden State has declared war on the rest of the NBA and the Warriors are winning.

This historic run begins and ends with last year's MVP Steph Curry. The Chef leads the league in points per game and he's made over 40 more threes than anyone else in the game. More importantly, Curry gives us at least one jaw-dropper per night. Just watch what he does to poor Ronnie Price.

That clip is more than a highlight; it's a metaphor for what Curry and the Warriors have been doing to the competition in the first month of the season. If there's one knock on the Dubs, it's their strength of schedule, which sits at a subpar .485, good for 10th weakest. But hey, they can only beat the teams they play. Plus, let's not forget that their opponents are also professional basketball teams. Don't blame the Warriors if the rest of the NBA can't keep up.

2. Kobe Bryant's Farewell

The Black Mamba made it official, announcing via Derek Jeter's The Players' Tribune that this season is indeed his last. Good get for Jeets, by the way. The five-time champ cited bodily wear and tear as his reason for walking away from the game. No surprise, since this is Bryant's 20th season. Think about this, during his rookie season, Bryant could have watched Seinfeld and Friends on his off nights, but South Park wasn't on the tube yet. That's longevity.

Now that the farewell tour is official, the countdown is on until Kobe's Hall of Fame inauguration. In case you forgot, here's his resume: In addition to the five rings, Bryant's a 15-time All-NBA player, a 17-time All-Star, and he ranks third on the all-time regular season scoring list. Historically, he's a bridge between the 1990s and now, the king of the post-Jordan/pre-LeBron NBA. He's the last of his kind and deserves every accolade he receives.

3. The Cavs are Good enough to Win the East, but Not Good Enough for LeBron James

Cleveland is off to a hot start with a 13-5 record. The offense has more flow, ranking fourth in assist ratio and third in offensive rating. Kevin Love is playing like he's back in Minnesota, and Mo Williams is doing an admirable job at point guard with Kyrie Irving sidelined. But if you were judging the team's success by LeBron James' reactions, you might think they were the 76ers. So far, King James has questioned his team's hunger in the media, alluded to the bigs (including his buddy Tristan Thompson) playing soft, and called more than one players-only meeting. Seriously, if players-only meetings were top ten pop hits, LeBron James would be Taylor Swift. No matter what they do, the Cavs simply cannot live up to his standards.

Isn't that a good thing? Haven't we all been waiting for the league's best player to be a hard-charging leader? This is the Jordan-esque approach the world's been demanding of LeBron since he broke into the NBA. Time will tell if James' new leadership style will result in the Cavs hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy.

4. Letdowns Abound

Several teams came into the season expecting to contend for a ring, but so far they haven't been up to snuff.
After a surprising run to the Western Conference Finals, the Houston Rockets are off to rough start. They're scoring plenty, but they're fourth worst in defensive rating and third in turnovers per 100 possessions. The Rockets' play has been so bad that, in what can only be described as a panic move, head coach Kevin McHale got the boot before Thanksgiving. In a tough Southwest Division (where Houston is currently fourth), it will take quite an effort for the team to dig their way out of the hole they're in. And frankly, it's fair to wonder whether James Harden, Dwight Howard and company are up to the task.

The only team behind the Rockets in the Southwest are the New Orleans Pelicans, who stand at 4-14 through the first month of the season. It's unfair to blame the Pelicans for not living up to expectations; they've just suffered too many injuries to overcome. Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon, and Ryan Anderson have fought the good fight for Alvin Gentry's squad, but injuries to Omer Asik, Norris Cole, Kendrick Perkins, Tyreke Evans, and Quincy Pondexter have the Pelicans reeling.

What can we say about the L.A. Clippers? After melting down to the aforementioned Rockets in the playoffs last season, Doc Rivers brought in Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith to give the bench some pop and he signed Paul Pierce to bring some grit to Lob City. But the formula just hasn't worked out. It's not that the Clippers are bad, they just look average. The Clips are middle of the pack in team plus-minus and pace. That's just not good enough for a loaded team with championship aspirations.

Moving east, what's up with the Bucks? After snagging Greg Monroe in the off-season and getting Jabari Parker back from injury, the table was set for Milwaukee to #ownthefuture, but it just hasn't panned out, despite playing the third-easiest schedule so far. All that length at the wings and in the paint hasn't translated to dominance, as the Bucks are third-worst in defensive rating, 23rd in points per game, and last in rebounding. Jason Kidd is a good enough coach to make all the pieces fit for the Bucks, but in an improved Eastern Conference, it might be too late.

Lastly, we have the 7-8 Washington Wizards, who are playing more like the Jordan-era Wizards despite boasting arguably the most athletic backcourt in the NBA. When they aren't in a fast-break situation, the Wiz offense looks disjointed, like the ballhandler isn't sure where his teammates are going to be. Maybe that's why they rank 25th in points per 100 possessions.

I know it's early and a team can't make the playoffs in November, but a lackluster opening month can make the difference between the postseason and the lottery.

5. The Youth Movement is On.

Is it me, or is this rookie class starting to feel special? Karl Anthony-Towns is soaking up all of KG's Jedi post tricks and leads all rooks in blocks and is second in boards. Jahlil Okafor, who tops all rookies with over 17 points per game, bulldozes defenders like a vet. Emmanuel Mudiay, Willie Cauley-Stein and Stanley Johnson are making significant contributions. Kristaps Porzingis has unleashed putbacks dunks so vicious they'll make your daddy cry.

In a few years, we could be looking back at one of the strongest draft classes ever. At the very least, these guys are gonna light it up in the Rising Stars Challenge over All-Star Weekend.

And now for some incredibly premature playoff projections. We convened in our secret lair inside of a mountain on December 1, 2015 and simulated the season 50,000 times. Here are the results. (Helpful hint: Division winners are bolded.)

Eastern Conference

1. Cleveland Cavaliers (56-26)
2. Miami Heat (53-29)
3. Indiana Pacers (51-30)
4. Toronto Raptors (49-33)
5. Charlotte Hornets (49-33)
6. Boston Celtics (48-34)
7. Chicago Bulls (48-34)
8. Atlanta Hawks (47-35)

Western Conference

1. Golden State (70-12)
2. San Antonio Spurs (60-22)
3. OKC Thunder (55-27)
4. LA Clippers (48-34)
5. Utah Jazz (45-37)
6. Dallas Mavericks (42-40)
7. Minnesota Timberwolves (41-41)
8. Phoenix Suns (39-43)

We're only a month in, but it feels like we've had a season's worth of headlines already. All that's left to do is strap in and see what December brings.