Starting Five: Positive Start

Memphis HeaderEach week NBA Australia‘s stable of NBA experts, which includes Downtown’s Liam Santamaria and Tommy Greer, takes a close look at the big issues in the NBA.

Last week, the Starting Five assessed the teams that have disappointed them to start the 2014-15 season. This week, they took a look at those that have impressed.


Liam Santamaria: Indiana Pacers

At this stage last season the Indiana Pacers were a league-leading 16-1.

They were the talk of the basketball world and were setting themselves for a run at a possible Eastern Conference Championship and a trip to the NBA Finals.

This year the Pacers have begun with a 7-10 record and yet, despite the stark difference in win-totals, have been one of the more pleasantly surprising teams of the season’s opening month.

After losing star Paul George to that horrific injury over the summer, starters David West (sprained ankle) and George Hill (torn quadricep) went down during the preseason.

Then, to make matters worse, C.J. Watson (bruised foot) missed the team’s first 15 games and Rodney Stuckey (sprained wrist) and CJ Miles (sore calf) were each wearing suits for seven games during the middle of last month.

“I don’t spend time worrying about it,” Head Coach Frank Vogel said.

“You go with who you have and try to win a game.”

Well, what he ‘had’ was All-Star Centre Roy Hibbert, veteran journeyman Luis Scola and extra parts Donald Sloan, Chris Copeland, Lavoy Allen, Ian Mahinmi and A.J. Price. donald-sloanUnder Vogel’s masterful leadership, this rag-tag group of fill-ins secured November wins over Utah, Miami, Chicago, Charlotte, Dallas and Orlando.

They also took Washington to overtime and narrowly lost on the road to the defending champion Spurs after leading during the final quarter.

There are seven different Indiana players averaging at least 10 points per game on the season and, remarkably, 13 different players averaging over 17 minutes per game.

The return to form of Roy Hibbert – who has himself missed the past four games with an ankle injury – has been a particularly welcome sight for Pacers fans after his fall from grace last season.

Disregarding the seven minutes he played against Phoenix before getting hurt, the big fella has averaged 14 points, 8.5 rebounds and three blocks per game this season and has anchored an Indiana defence that has kept opponents to 95.3 points per game – good enough for fifth in the league.

The Pacers currently hold the eighth spot in the East and with the 17-foot Assassin, Watson, Stuckey and Miles all now back on the floor – and George Hill not too far away – they’ll be busting a gut to stay in the playoff race as the season advances.

Frank Vogel, take a bow.


Tommy Greer: Sacramento Kings

Although a few injuries to key players have slowed the Sacramento Kings hot start, this team of misfits, including the once pigeon-holed analytics nightmare Rudy Gay and Big Crazy himself DeMarcus Cousins, has impressed throughout the early going.

Tom Hersz said it best on Downtown recently in his “More Cowbell” piece on the Kings:

”In November 2014, the Sacramento Kings – a franchise that finished with a 28-54 record last season under Mike Malone – have won nine of their first 14 games [now 9/16]. They have already knocked off three of the four Western Conference semi-finalists from last season (LAC, SAS, POR).”

I did not hold much hope for this squad at the beginning of the season however a few key things have changed since last year contributing to Sacramento’s early season success.

Firstly, ‘Big Crazy’ is not so crazy!  demarcus-cousinsHe has kept his cool in some tense situations and he has actually been the voice of reason in calming down teammates – and even coach Malone – at times.

He is playing at an All Star level and is in contention to be the best C in The Association this year, battling the revitalized Marc Gasol.

Rudy Gay has slinked into his role in Sactown beautifully.

The Kings need him to score and be aggressive and Rudy has never had an issue contributing in those areas.

The difference, however, is that he is not forcing shots, partly due to the fact that the attention Cousins commands allows more open looks for the perimeter players.

Finally, Darren Collison is performing better than I expected.

Maybe the Kings front office knew something we all didn’t.

Collison had been given a number of starting roles in the last few seasons but had, for the most part, failed to deliver.

Collison is averaging near on 16-6-7 at 44 percent from the floor. His impressive play, alongside a calm and dominant DeMarcus Cousins and a focused Rudy Gay have been the major contributing factors to Sacramento’s hot start.


To find out which teams Leigh Ellis and the other members  of the #StartingFive have been impressed by, click here.


This article first appeared on NBA Australia.




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