Even when sample sizes are small and records give no indication of anything worthwhile, the first week or two of the NBA season can still show audiences which teams are contenders and which are merely pretending.
The contenders, the teams that built off of either their offseason success as a result of keen free agency moves or those that are thriving off of the development of certain players, are already giving notice that they are a squad worth recognizing.
It’s early, I understand. Injuries and variables can play a role and prove me wrong, just as one of the teams that I predicted to be one of the worst can now be considered as one of the tougher teams in the league to beat.
Also, in terms of contenders, it doesn’t exactly mean championship contention. It could simply mean playoff contention depending on where the team stood last year and how far they’ve progressed over the offseason and in the first week of the regular season.
Meanwhile, the pretenders are already making their presence felt. They carry much of the same problems and predicaments from the year prior when they failed to execute their primary goals, or they made some unwise moves over the offseason that haven’t exactly paid off yet.
There’s still plenty of time to change. We are only a week into the season after all. But for some of these pretenders, old habits seem to die hard and sometimes adding on an All-Star doesn’t cancel out the fact that you need a team to win titles.
We analyze these pretenders and contenders with an overzealous look into the first week of the 2013-14 season.
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The only undefeated team left in the NBA after the first week of the 2013-14 season, the Indiana Pacers are living up to preseason claims that they were capable of dethroning the Miami Heat at the top spot in the East.
Indiana came a game away from their first NBA Finals berth in a decade, but ultimately faltered due to their bench, or lack thereof. With that in mind, the Pacers front office took to free agency and made the most out of it, acquiring power forward Luis Scola to replace Tyler Hansbrough and C.J. Watson to takeover for D.J. Augustin, two significant improvements that are proving wise with Scola coming off the bench to average seven points on 60 percent shooting and Watson taking over starting duties for the injured George Hill.
But Indiana has far more than a few solid pickups to credit for their hot start. They also picked up right where they left on priding themselves on defense. A year after leading the league in defensive efficiency, per Hollinger, allowing 96.6 points per 100 possessions, Indiana is once again No. 1, pacing the field with only 85.6 points per 100 possessions allowed.
The Pacers are allowing opponents to shoot 37 percent from the field and only 84 points per game, tops in the league by a considerable margin. In fact, no other team is allowing less than 93 points per game.
They’re not exactly holding cellar-dwellers to these low point totals, either. They allowed 87 points to an Orlando team that’s averaging 103 and 91 points to a Detroit team averaging 100. They have decimated the three divisional opponents (Detroit, Chicago and Cleveland) they have faced.
They’re also third in rebounding rate, the percentage of missed shots that a team rebounds, thanks to four players averaging at least six boards per. Roy Hibbert, naturally, leads the way at nine boards per, on top of being an early candidate for the league’s Defensive Player of the Year.
Per SportVU, Hibbert is allowing opponents to shoot less than 30 percent on an average of 11 field goal attempts at the rim per game, and leads the league in blocks per at over five. Per 36 minutes, he’s sending back over six shots a contest.
At a rebounding standpoint, Hibbert is also excelling, ranking sixth in the league in contested rebounding percentage among players who average at least 25 minutes and have played at least three games this season. More than half of the rebounds he grabs come as contested.
He’s not alone on the defensive front, though, as Paul George, who is an early candidate for the league’s MVP, is allowing opponents to shoot a paltry 15 percent on nearly three field goal attempts per game at the rim.
George is just one of a few players on this Pacers team that has started off the season by exceeding expectations. He’s averaging 25.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, four assists and 1.8 steals per game, while shooting 48 percent from the field and 44 percent from beyond the arc, and has played a key role in Indiana’s impressive start.
Second-round pick Lance Stephenson, passed over by many teams on account of character issues, has also come out guns blazing with averages of 16.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists per. He’s actually the team’s second-highest scorer at the moment.
The Pacers have flexed their depth, their size, and their physicality in the early portion of the season. They’ll need it for the postseason if they wish to become the first team since 2010 not named the Miami Heat to represent the East in the Finals.