2008-09 NBA Leaderboard, Part IIThe Celtics and Lakers bolted out of the gate with impressive records but the Cleveland Cavaliers are right behind them. Meanwhile, Dwyane Wade has continued to display the form that he flashed in the Olympics and he currently leads the NBA in scoring; if he stays healthy and LeBron James and Kobe Bryant continue to play reduced minutes due to their teams' success, Wade could claim his first scoring title.
Best Five Records
1) Boston Celtics, 18-2
2) L.A. Lakers, 15-2
3) Cleveland Cavaliers, 15-3
4) Orlando Magic, 14-5
5) Portland Trail Blazers, 14-6
The best holiday gift for basketball fans this year will be the Christmas Day showdown between last year's Finalists, the teams who currently have the best two records in the NBA: the Boston Celtics and the L.A. Lakers. That will be our first true glimpse of how focused the Celtics are on repeating and how committed the Lakers are on being tougher and on playing solid defense.
As I predicted, the Cavs are contending for the best record in the Eastern Conference. LeBron James is playing at an MVP level and his perennially underrated supporting cast is not only once again one of the better defensive units in the league but with the addition of Mo Williams they have more offensive punch than they did previously.
Point differential is usually a solid predictor of future success, so it is worth noting that the Lakers currently rank first in this category (+12.8), just ahead of the Cavaliers (+12.3). The Celtics rank third (+9.1). Those teams are head and shoulders above the next team, the young, upcoming Portland Trail Blazers (+5.5).
The Atlanta Hawks are tied for the seventh best record in the NBA (11-6) but they have cooled off after a hot start, going 5-5 in their last 10 games. If you just looked at the headlines, you would think that the team Atlanta is tied with--Detroit--is dead in the water but the Pistons have won three of their last four games, including a road victory in San Antonio.
At the other end of the spectrum, the 2-17 Oklahoma Thunder are playing at a historically bad level, as indicated by their -10.9 point differential, 2.7 ppg worse than any other team in the league.
Top Ten Scorers (and a few other notables)
1) Dwyane Wade, MIA 28.4 ppg
2) LeBron James, CLE 27.4 ppg
3) Chris Bosh, TOR 26.6 ppg
4) Kobe Bryant, LAL 25.1 ppg
5) Dirk Nowitzki, DAL 25.1 ppg
6) Devin Harris, NJN 24.8 ppg
7) Danny Granger, IND 24.4 ppg
8) Vince Carter, NJN 23.3 ppg
9) Joe Johnson, ATL 22.9 ppg
10) Amare Stoudemire, PHX 22.4 ppg
11) Kevin Durant, OKC 22.3 ppg
12) Dwight Howard, ORL 21.5 ppg
13) O.J. Mayo, MEM 21.3 ppg
18) Tim Duncan, SAS 20.9 ppg
21) Chris Paul, NOR 20.6 ppg
32) Paul Pierce, BOS 18.6 ppg
33) Ray Allen, BOS 18.4 ppg
42) Kevin Garnett, BOS 16.5 ppg
LeBron James took the early lead but recently he has been sitting out for entire fourth quarters as the Cavs blow teams out and that has enabled Dwyane Wade to seize the top spot. At this point, though, James is only one 50 point game from surpassing Wade.
The surprise name on the list--at least in terms of how highly he currently ranks--is Chris Bosh. Interestingly, despite his career-high scoring numbers Bosh's Toronto Raptors have been decidedly mediocre, resulting in the firing of Coach Sam Mitchell, who became the latest in a string of Coach of the Year award winners to get the ax. Whether or not you agree with getting rid of Mitchell depends on what you think are reasonable expectations for the Raptors; I picked the Raptors to be the sixth best team in the East and said that they are a notch below the elite squads, so the fact that they are currently in eighth place in the East--just one game out of sixth place--does not surprise me at all. Unless the new coaching regime can markedly improve the team's performance, the focus will have to turn at some point to Bryan Colangelo's personnel decisions and how he has constructed Toronto's roster.
Vince Carter is getting a lot less positive publicity than most of the other players who are in the top ten in scoring, even though his field goal percentage, three point shooting percentage and assists average are all above his career norms; once the media gives a negative label to a player it is very difficult to overcome that stigma.
O.J. Mayo continues to score a lot, shoot very well and have little impact in other areas as the Grizzlies lose game after game. It will be interesting to see how he performs if/when he is a member of a good team.
Kevin Durant has now played five games at his natural position of small forward, averaging 23.6 ppg on .481 field goal shooting, significant improvements over his previous numbers in both categories. His other statistics have not changed very much but it is becoming increasingly clear that two things that I have been saying all along about Durant are true: the main thing that he is going to do in the NBA is score and he is most effective as a scorer playing at his natural position.
Top Ten Rebounders (and a few other notables)
1) Dwight Howard, ORL 14.0 rpg
2) Andris Biedrins, GSW 12.4 rpg
3) Troy Murphy, IND 11.2 rpg
4) Emeka Okafor, CHA 10.9 rpg
5) Chris Bosh, TOR 10.3 rpg
6) Tim Duncan, SAS 10.3 rpg
7) Al Jefferson, MIN 10.1 rpg
8) Elton Brand, PHI 10.0 rpg
9) David Lee, NYK 9.7 rpg
10) Yao Ming, HOU 9.3 rpg
12) Pau Gasol, LAL 9.2 rpg
14) Dirk Nowitzki, DAL 8.9 rpg
15) Kevin Garnett, BOS 8.8 rpg
17-18) Andrew Bynum, LAL 8.7 rpg
17-18) Drew Gooden, CHI 8.7 rpg
19) Rasheed Wallace, DET 8.2 rpg
34-35) LeBron James, CLE 7.1 rpg
34-35) Jason Kidd, DAL 7.1 rpg
It did not take long for Dwight Howard to take over the top spot from Andris Biedrins and then build up a fairly significant lead.
As I predicted in the previous Leaderboard, Rasheed Wallace's rebounding average is declining after he initially was on a career-high pace in that category. (regression to the mean, because he has never been a great rebounder).
Top Ten Playmakers
1) Chris Paul, NOH 11.8 apg
2) Jose Calderon, TOR 9.5 apg
3) Jason Kidd, DAL 8.5 apg
4) Chris Duhon, NYK 8.2 apg
5) Steve Nash, PHX 8.2 apg
6) Baron Davis, LAC 8.1 apg
7) Dwyane Wade, MIA 7.7 apg
8) Rajon Rondo, BOS 7.7 apg
9) Chauncey Billups, DEN/DET 7.1 apg
10) Stephen Jackson, GSW 6.6 apg
11) LeBron James, CLE 6.3 apg
Isn't it ironic that Mike D'Antoni's old disciple--Steve Nash--and his new pupil--Chris Duhon--are in a virtual tie? Apparently, D'Antoni is worth 2-3 apg for his starting point guards.
The leaderboard in this department is almost always much more stable than the other leaderboards; the names, averages and rankings really do not change that much during the season. The main shift from last time is that Duhon moved up several spots and LeBron James just slipped out of the top ten because he has been resting during so many fourth quarter blowouts; James' departure enabled Chauncey Billups to move into the top ten, familiar territory for the 2004 Finals MVP.
Note: All statistics are from ESPN.com
posted by David Friedman @ 4:59 PM