It' s still very early in the NBA season, but there are some real trends and storylines starting to emerge. Aside from the Cleveland Cavaliers possibly finding their groove against the Denver Nuggets, several Eastern Conference teams are starting to show signs of what this season has in store, for them. As for the Cavs, Friday's win in Denver was highly encouraging. The ball movement that was promised to be a big part of David Blatt's offense showed for the first time and it was without question Cleveland's best performance to date.
Still, the Cavs move down due to the games that preceded the win in Denver. Wins of similar substance against the New Orleans Pelicans and Atlanta Hawks this week should give us an idea if the offensive improvement is here to stay. With that comes a rise in the rankings.
This week, Fear The Sword takes a look at three of those teams: The Chicago Bulls, the Charlotte Hornets and Boston Celtics. If there is a team you'd like us to write about next week, let us know below. Last week's rankings are in parenthesis.
1. Toronto Raptors (2)
2. Washington Wizards (5)
3. Miami Heat (1)
4. Chicago Bulls (4)
Like the Cavs, we are probably weeks away from being able to properly evaluate the Bulls. Chicago's roster changes were not nearly as sweeping as Cleveland's, but adding Pau Gasol and a healthy Derrick Rose into the mix was/is going to take some time. It hasn't helped that Rose is battling ankle sprains and Joakim Noah isn't quite 100 percent yet after having knee surgery this offseason.
Chicago, a historically excellent defensive team under Thom Thibodeau, also has struggled on that end of the floor so far. Through Saturday, the Bulls are allowing 99.4 points per game, although teams are only shooting 42.7 percent shooting from the field against the Bulls. A healthy Noah should guarantee the Bulls improvement on that end, just like having Rose back full-time should keep the Bulls from relying on Kirk Hinrich for offense late in games.
But like the Cavs, Chicago should start to hit its stride sooner rather than later. Rose has been brought back slowly as he should be and Noah will probably get healthy. In the long term, nothing has changed in terms of expecting a Cleveland-Chicago showdown in the Eastern Conference. Teams like the Raptors, Heat and Hornets (more on them in a minute) are going to be there and are more than capable of making a playoff run. But given time, Chicago should be reminding everyone why it was considered a title contender coming into the season.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers (3)
6. Atlanta Hawks (6)
7. Charlotte Hornets (7)
Come playoff time, the Charlotte Hornets might be one of the team no one wants to play in the first two rounds. In the middle, Charlotte has Al Jefferson, a center I imagine the Cavaliers will have some trouble stopping. Kemba Walker has had a strong start to the season and Charlotte has a group of young talents - Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, P.J. Hairston, etc. - that figure to get better by the end of the year. Hairston, in fact, has already supplanted Gerald Henderson in Charlotte's starting lineup due to his shooting ability. It helps Charlotte to have Steve Clifford on the bench, as he's done an excellent job so far this season pulling the right strings so far.
The key to the Hornets' success, of course, might be Lance Stephenson. The enigmatic guard has had an uneven start so far in Charlotte, but he's starting to look like the player he was in Indiana. Against the Hawks on Saturday, Stephenson hit a game winning 3-pointer (on his first 3-point make of the season, no less) and gave the Hornets a 122-119 win in double overtime. Stephenson has also been solid on defense so far and is starting to look comfortable with what is a stylistically different team than the one he played with in Indiana. His 31.7 field goal percent percentage should get better soon, as should the Hornets' offense that scored 92 points against the Los Angeles Lakers last night. As Stephenson gets better, so should the Hornets - so get used to seeing both on your TV screen.
8. Brooklyn Nets (8)
9. Milwaukee Bucks (11)
Beating the Memphis Grizzlies gets you some love.
10. New York Knicks (7)
11. Boston Celtics (10)
No one really expects the Boston Celtics to be good this season. The C's do have some good young talent (namely Marcus Smart) and a talented young coach in Brad Stevens still trying to find his footing in the NBA. And of course, there is Rajon Rondo and his uncertain Celtics future.
The problem, however, is that Boston has dealt with a number of injuries so far this season. Rondo, who was hurt heading into training camp, has already missed time and Avery Bradley dealt with a muscle strain earlier in the season. Perhaps most concerning was Smart's injury. He suffered a nasty ankle sprain against the Indiana Pacers last week and had to be taken off the floor in a stretcher.
This team has defined limits - when you are counting on Evan Turner replacing Rondo's production, that's a given. But when healthy, this team is going to still be bad, but intriguing as it works through its growing pains. Aside from speculation about Rondo's future, Stevens is free of expectations and can be creative with his lineups. He's already done so by experimenting with a three-guard lineup of Rondo, Smart and Bradley - a lineup that while small, is theoretically capable of being defensively terrifying. With those two things, plus a semi-intriguing frontcourt that features Jeff Green, Boston is a team that can give the NBA's best a run for their money on the right night.
12. Indiana Pacers (12)
13. Detroit Pistons (14)
14. Orlando Magic (13)
15. Philadelphia 76ers (15)
At least Joel Embiid can dance.