By Dennis Berry
We are about a quarter of the way through the 2012-13 NBA season. There is still a lot of basketball to go, but there have been some surprising NBA teams to start the year. Who knows if these teams will keep up their strong play all season, but so far they have been some of the best teams in the league.
New York fans always have high expectations for the Knicks; however, the past few seasons they have not lived up to them. This year has been a different story as the Knicks have been the best team in the Eastern Conference to start the year.
They have defeated the Miami Heat twice, both times by 20 points. They have also won at San Antonio and most recently beat the Brooklyn Nets in Brooklyn. So that is enough to say this team is for real.
It all begins with Carmelo Anthony. He is having a MVP type season. He is averaging 27.7 points and 6.6 rebounds a game. He is shooting 47% from the floor and 45% from behind the three point line. Since he came back from a groin injury that he suffered last season, he has been playing the best basketball of his career.
The Knicks have proven they are more than just Anthony. The 20 point win at Miami proved that. This team has veteran leadership in Tyson Chandler, Rasheed Wallace, Kurt Thomas, Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd.
The Knicks' hot start can be linked to their hot start. They are one of the top three point shooting teams in the league right now. They attempt on average 30 three point shots a game. They are shooting 41% as team from behind the arc.
The depth of the Knicks also helps keep the offense balanced. You have Steve Novak who can get hot at any time. J.R. Smith has also been better offensively by not forcing too many shots.
The Knicks will also be getting Amare Stoudemire back from injury soon. If they can work him into the lineup and keep up their good outside shooting, they will stay near the top in the East.
During the offseason the Hawks traded leading scorer Joe Johnson to Brooklyn. That led many to believe that the Hawks were about to clean house and start over. They did not and have remade themselves with the remaining roster.
When you talk about the Hawks, you first have to begin with Josh Smith. With the departure of Johnson, Smith has become the go-to man for the Hawks and has accepted it. His numbers are not eye popping, but they are solid. His is averaging 17.3 points and 8.1 rebounds a night.
The return of Al Horford, who missed a lot of the 2011-12 season, has been another reason for the Hawks' strong play. Horford gives them a legit post presence and plays great defense. His return has allowed Smith to play more on the outside, where he prefers.
The Hawks have balance scoring with five players averaging at least 10 points a game. Another big addition is Lou Williams who signed as a free agent this summer. After spending his first 7 seasons in Philadelphia, Williams has been a great addition coming off the bench.
The other reason for the Hawks' great play is the improved play on defense. Atlanta has turned into a top defense in the league. That is something that has been missing for the Hawks.
The Warriors are a young team, but that is not holding them back to start the season. Going into their game Wednesday night with the Miami Heat, they had gone 8-2 in their last 10 games.
The reason is that the Warriors are not fighting injuries. The only key player missing right now is Andrew Bogut, but they hope to have him back soon.
Stephen Curry is back to playing at a high level after suffering an ankle injury last season. He is averaging 20 points a game so far this year. David Lee is also healthy and contributing. Lee is averaging 18.8 points and 11 rebounds a game.
The Warriors are also getting productions from their young players. Klay Thompson is third on the team in scoring at 15.9 points a game. When Thompson is contributing, the Warriors have found themselves on the winning side.
Another young player stepping up is Harrison Barnes. He has been up and down this year, but he is starting to find his way in the league, plus he had the early favorite for Dunk of the Year in the NBA.
The Warriors are loaded with young players that will get better as the season goes along. If Bogut can get healthy, they will be a playoff team.
Most people thought that Memphis would be a playoff team. It would have been tough to predict the kind of start they have gotten off to.
When it comes to Memphis it is all about defense. They are one of the best defensive teams in the league. They only give up 91.4 points a game, which is the best in the league. They pressure teams and are able to force tough shots and turnovers.
Another reason is Zach Randolph. He has returned to playing at a higher level than we saw in the 2011 playoffs when he led the Grizzlies to the upset of the Spurs in the first round. He is much more active in the paint and averaging 17.6 points and 12 rebounds a game.
Rudy Gay leads the team in scoring at 19 points a game. His strong play has become as common as he is the best scorer in the team. His backcourt partner, Mike Conley, has been a big plus as well.
Conley is averaging 14.4 points a game – which would be the highest of his career. That is because he is shooting the ball well so far this season . He has improved his field goal percentage (46%) and three point percentage (45%). He is also averaging 6.3 assists a game.
The only concern for the Grizzlies is the lack of production from the bench. If they can find a contributor off the bench, they will be a tough team to knock off in the playoffs.