Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
Which supposed title-contender is leaving you coldest right now?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Let’s see, I already laid waste to the Knicks in another of today’s questions. I’m cutting Brooklyn and the L.A. Clippers some slack because it’s early for veteran-laden teams hoping to still be playing in June. I think Chicago and Oklahoma City are flawed but acknowledge certain undeniable strengths. Miami, Indiana and San Antonio are locked and loaded. That leaves me with Golden State and Memphis (sorry, Houston), and I’ve expressed doubts about the Warriors’ durability and two-way-ness before. But the Grizzlies seem neither to have improved much offensively (oy, that perimeter shooting) nor maintained what had been their disruptive defense. A lot of folks didn’t even rate them as contenders coming in, but that’s not how this edition of Memphis basketball was supposed to go. Mike Miller looking more spry than Tayshaun Prince is just one of Grizzlies’ many issues.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The team that used to play tough defense, shut opponents down and be the once-rugged, snarling Grizzlies. To quote Bob Dylan, I’m stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis blues again.
Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Hello, Brooklyn. But while I wait for Deron Williams to revert to his Utah days, allow me to suggest that Dwight’s Rockets already give me a headache. I know Dwight’s put up some monster rebounding games, but he’s only averaging 17.7 ppg and is shooting 55.6 percent from the floor, which just two weeks in would go down as his worst since his second season. I watch him in the low block and marvel at the bricks he puts up from 5-feet and in. There’s nothing close to a Dream Shake going on there. Worse, Dwight’s passive performance in the home loss to the Kobe-less Lakers was extraordinarily embarrassing as he literally ran away from L.A.’s Hack-a-Howard tactic. Where’s the killer mentality? Where’s the heart? I only see gazes of confusion. I predicted Dwight, set free from weighty decisions, would have a big year. Statistically, I suppose he’s on his way, but unless he ratchets up the intensity and the leadership, I don’t see the Rockets being a big, bad title contender.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com:With an emphasis on “at this point of the season” and understanding that they may have a week or two for a turnaround: the Clippers. The defense needs to get a lot better. Getting Matt Barnes healthy will help. Getting more time with Doc Rivers’ system will help. Underwhelming start, but the cold is not permanent.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Clippers. They’ll get better defensively as the season goes on, but they can’t even see the top 10 in defensive efficiency from where they are now (28th). And as good as they are offensively, that’s where they need to contend. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are OK, but not great on defense, and they’re depending on those two a lot more than they were last season, when they had two strong defensive bigs off the bench. I was curious to see if Doc Rivers could get them defending at a league average rate (at least), but the early returns have not been good.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: You must have identified a team as a “title contender” before now to figure out which one leaves you coldest right now. The Memphis Grizzlies (formerly the Hang Time Grizzlies … before they ran off Lionel Hollins) have me freezing right now. They played in the Western Conference finals last season and were supposed to be a team ready to take that next step this season with their core coming back and a new voice (Dave Joerger, who was hand-picked by the front office) leading them. After watching the Indiana Pacers, a team that made its own trip to the conference finals last season, take them apart Monday night, my expectations for the Grizzlies continue to free fall. You have to be careful in this league when you go tinkering with success. What Hollins brought to the table for the Grizzlies was truly something special. He had a way of pushing just the right buttons on a roster with so many unique personalities that I think folks inside (and outside) the team failed to realize it before he was ousted. Hollins wasn’t just the best fit for the Grizzlies, he was the perfect fit.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I’m not sure if anyone picked Houston to be a title contender, but of all the teams that people talked so much about over the summer and felt were in that upper echelon, to me the Rockets have several issues to address. Dwight Howard is either still bothered by the injuries that slowed him the last two seasons, or he’s just not the player he used to be. Houston’s poor perimeter defense wouldn’t bother me so much if Dwight was back there erasing shots, but he hasn’t been (he’s averaging his lowest blocks per game since 2006). Meanwhile Dwight’s shooting a career low at the free throw line, 47.1 percent, so Hack-A-Dwight is an obvious and effective strategy for teams to go to.
Philipp Dornhegge, NBA.com Germany: The easy choices might be Brooklyn and Chicago, but I’m not really worried about either team. The Nets will need a while to really develop some chemistry, and they’re not particularly interested in the regular season. The Bulls’ offense heavily depends on Derrick Rose, and he hasn’t been able to find his rhythm yet. The Grizzlies have been kind of underwhelming, but if we count Houston among contenders, the Rockets are my choice. Dwight Howard and Ömer Asik don’t fit together yet, they don’t have an NBA starting power forward and their defense has been awful. Lots of question marks in the loaded West.
Adriano Albuquerque, NBA.com Brasil:I expected Houston and Brooklyn to have some chemistry fine-tuning difficulties early on, and D-Rose just couldn’t come back at a 100% so early, but I definitely expected more from Doc Rivers’ Clippers. They are a powerhouse offense, but we were told Doc’s focus was making this team into an elite defensive unit, and that couldn’t be further from what it actually is on the court. On D, they look like a pick-up team right now.