Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
> We’re halfway through the season. Who or what has been the biggest surprise these first 41 games? And biggest disappointment?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Anyone around the league who claims they saw the Atlanta Hawks doing this should be selling cars or running for office. No bleeping way. Year 2 under coach Mike Budenholzer, Jeff Teague‘s blossoming, Kyle Korver‘s outlier first half statistically and a pass-first, ensemble approach is one of the NBA’s best stories. As for disappointments, I’m looking at the Brooklyn Nets. Even though they’re reaping what they sowed with big talk, overspending and acquiring some wrong guys, it’s disheartening to see the Brooklyn honeymoon fizzle so fast.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Two words nobody ever expected to be typing before the season began: Atlanta Hawks. Al Horford, Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver, et al have risen under the brilliant coaching job of Mike Budenholzer to become a stylistic clone of the defending champion Spurs and the best team in the Eastern Conference. To lift what has been a moribund franchise for more than three decades, is positively breathtaking. When it comes to disappointments, all conversations will begin and end in Cleveland, where LeBron James returned home to acclamation and promptly found himself knee-deep in team-wise cluelessness. But let’s not let Lance Stephenson off the hook for all he hasn’t done in Charlotte. Possibly the worst $27 million anybody has ever spent.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Surprise: Hawks. I thought they would be good. But like fourth-in-the-East good. Capable of winning a series or two, not at the elite level yet. This, though. To be 10-2 against the West along with 17-5 on the road, not to mention the long win streak of the moment, is filled with positives for an organization that really needed good news. Disappointment: Cavaliers. Easy call. I’m also disappointed in the 76ers. That roster should have the fewest wins in the league. Come on, Philly, don’t let the Knicks out-bad you. You worked too hard to be the worst.
Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Surprise to the Hawks, disappointment to the Knicks. Well, yeah, I can hear folks now: What about the Cavs? And that’s valid. However, I had a hunch the Cavs would need time (though not this much time) after blending in a new coach and three stars and also losing Anderson Varejao. LeBron said as much last summer. The Knicks are flat-out an embarrassment and, unlike Cleveland, have given up. As for the Hawks, they may be based in the East but they’re beating up good teams from the West. Unreal for a team that won 38 games last season and didn’t add anyone.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: My first answers are the Hawks and Cavs, for obvious reasons. But I’ll add the Bucks and Pelicans to mix things up. Milwaukee has taken advantage of the relative weakness of the Eastern Conference and doesn’t have a lot of quality wins, but I’d assumed that they would be one of the teams being taken advantage of (again). Jason Kidd has taken a young cast without a star and turned it into the most improved defensive team in the league. That was supposed to be New Orleans, with the addition of Omer Asik and development of Anthony Davis. But New Orleans has taken only the smallest step forward on defense and still ranks in the bottom six of that end of the floor. I didn’t think that they would make the playoffs, but with that frontline, I thought they could at least make a big jump defensively.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Until someone slows them down the Hawks remain the obvious and easy answer for the biggest surprise. No one saw this coming. NO ONE! But I think you could make just as strong an argument for the Portland Trail Blazers. Those 19 home wins and the way Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge both played throughout the first half of the season certainly fueled this team. They have some of my favorite role players (Nic Batum and the ridiculously underrated Wesley Matthews) on their roster, too. They didn’t add any star power over the summer or do anything to suggest they were ready for a leap into the top two or three of the West. Coach Terry Stotts has done a great job, but sustaining this flow becomes the challenge for the second half of the season. It’s tough to get up there to the top of the standings. It’s even tougher to stay there for the long haul. The biggest disappointment … the options are endless. Based on my own internal expectations, it would be hard to top the New York Knicks. Don’t get me wrong, I knew they were going to struggle with the transition. But the worst team in basketball, worse than Philadelphia or Minnesota? I didn’t see this face-plant coming.
Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Hawks are absolutely the biggest surprise, so much so that the other unforeseen performances – by the Warriors, Grizzlies, Rockets and Bucks – don’t seem so surprising by comparison. The biggest disappointment has been the Cavaliers: Not so much for their record as for the way they’ve reacted. I figured by now they would be showing more camaraderie and character and leadership, especially at the defensive end. And if there is any hint that their failure to pull together is the fault of the coach then further shame on them.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: The Atlanta Hawks have been nothing short of shocking. I say that as a native Atlantan and former Hawks season-ticket holder who watches every Hawks game and even wrote the NBA.com Hawks season preview. If I didn’t see a 33-8 start coming I don’t expect anyone else to have suspected it either. On both ends of the floor, night after night, the Hawks have been a total delight to watch, and they deserve every watt of the spotlight they’re receiving. As for the flip side of the coin, it’s not altogether their fault, but the Oklahoma City Thunder’s start to the season has been brutal. And sure, significant injuries to your two best players are always trouble, but the Thunder have to start winning consistently right now just to have a chance at making the playoffs. 20-20 is supposed to be the result of Russell Westbrook‘s fashion glasses, not OKC’s record halfway through the season.