NBA parity: Wasn't the NBA supposed to be top-heavy this season?

Monday, November 16, 2009

The top tier of NBA teams was supposed to be vastly superior to all other teams this season.

I would run down the offseason moves made to improve the NBA's elite, but you know them all. Shaq to the Cavs, Vince Carter to the Magic, Ron Artest to the Lakers, yada yada yada. You know what happened. You know the rich got richer and the poor, well, they stayed just as poor.

But did they really stay so poor? Suddenly, it seems as if the NBA has parity. Out of nowhere, the poor somehow got themselves a little money. It's very early still, but what in the hell is going on in the National Basketball Association?

With most teams only about ten games into the season, all the teams thought to be championship contenders have at least three losses. The Lakers, Cavs, Magic, Celtics, Nuggets and Spurs all have at least three L's. Not only are they losing, but each team has looked surprisingly vulnerable at times. The Celtics look old, the Lakers look soft, the Cavs look unable to adjust to Shaq's presence, the Magic miss their PED-abuser and Hedo Turkoglu, the Spurs defense is swiss cheese; the list goes on and on. The cream of the crop has not been rising as quickly or as often as most NBA observers thought it would.

At this point in the season, the only teams with two losses are Phoenix, Atlanta, Miami and Milwaukee. Huh??? If you told me today that you would have predicted those four teams as the teams that would have the least losses at this point, you'd be either a) a liar, b) a genius, or c) a dumbass. And there is no other option.

The Hawks and Heat were expected to be in the playoffs, but just as mediocre four or five seeds and maybe even worse. The Suns and Bucks, meanwhile, weren't supposed to earn a sniff of postseason play. To be honest, maybe neither team will. Maybe their hot starts are just that, hot starts, and not in any way indicative of how the teams will perform the rest of the season.

But does it really seem like that? The Hawks have had the best start of any team, and I'm not just talking about their record. They smacked Denver, took it to Boston (in Boston), and have the third-best point differential in the entire NBA (behind Boston and Portland). They not only look young, athletic and skilled, but they look like a hungry team ready to take the next step into the NBA's upper-echelon. Before the season, I would have disagreed vehemently (aka tell you that you were on crack) if you told me the Hawks would be the best team at this point in the season, but they have been. It's true.

And if Atlanta hasn't been the best team, it's been the Suns. They also beat Boston in Boston, have scored at least 100 points in every game so far this season, and their two losses are to Orlando and L.A. (The Lakers, not the Clippers.) The Suns seemed poised to enter another year of lottery ping-pong balls, but instead have regained the look of an offensive juggernaut that can compete with any team in the league.

The Heat and Bucks have surprised, too, but it doesn't just end there. Houston's a bunch of ragtag role players and bargain-basement bums, but they look like a playoff team. Dallas is looking better than expected, is suddenly a defensive-minded ballclub, and has done most of it with Josh Howard down to injury. Indiana looks at least formidable, the Kings have somehow, someway won four straight games, Oklahoma City looks like it might be a year ahead of schedule, and New Jersey looks like a viable playoff contender. (Just kidding about the last one. New Jersey is bad. Historically bad, perhaps.)

Anyways, what I'm trying to say is this: The top teams aren't as good as everyone thought they were. We thought there would be five or six teams battling to win 60-70 games, we thought those five or six teams would be far better than any other team, and we thought parity in the NBA was dead. From what's happened so far in this NBA season, we were all wrong. Almost dead wrong. Parity is back, and it's coming from unexpected places.

Of course, tomorrow the Lakers could go on a string of 30 straight wins, or Rashard Lewis' comeback could spur the Magic to greatness, or the Celtics could drink from the Phoenix Suns' fountain of youth and become the team they looked like during the season's first five games. Hell, maybe they'll all start to look like the teams we expected before the season.

But for now, at least, parity is back. And it's actually been pretty fun.


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