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Unlike last year, teams began this season with the benefit of a full offseason and training camp. But several teams are playing like they could use another few weeks of practice.
The Lakers might be the best example. Mike Brown's club went winless in the preseason, and then dropped their first three games of the regular season. They might still be winless, if the schedule makers hadn't sent them a gift-wrapped W – in the form of the Detroit Pistons – on Sunday night.
(Incidentally, through three games, Detroit's Rodney Stuckey has made only one more basket than I have.)
The blowout win – while welcome – raised a number of concerns about the Lakers going forward. They played the game without Steve Nash, who has a broken bone in his left leg and will be sidelined for another week at minimum. Without Nash, the Lakers more or less abandoned their new Princeton offense sets and played last year's offense, with Steve Blake running the point and a dominant Dwight Howard (28 points, seven boards) in Andrew Bynum's place.
I don't like what that says about Nash's role in the offense when he returns.
I do like what I'm seeing from Metta World Peace, who was actually the Lakers' second-leading scorer in that game (18 points, 4 assists, 1 steal, 3-6 3Pt), and he may be the only player on the team who understands and is comfortable with his role currently.
Training camp didn't give Doc Rivers enough time to settle his starting lineup either. The Celtics coach is still debating the relative merits of Brandon Bass, Jeff Green, and rookie Jared Sullinger as his starting power forward. He may opt to play matchups with that spot for much of the season. The bigger problem in Boston is the center spot – the Celtics' defense is a lot less effective when Kevin Garnett is off the floor. Danny Ainge did a nice job adding depth on the wings, but I'm guessing he regrets losing Greg Stiemsma, whose shot-blocking presence would really help.
The Nets have the opposite problem with their center; Brooklyn's defense is much more effective when their starter, Brook Lopez, is out of the game. It's sort of remarkable how much Lopez' stock has fallen in the last two-plus years. (Good thing they signed him to that massive contract this summer.)
The Knicks have been absolutely dominant through their first three games, rolling over the Heat and Sixers (twice) with an average margin of victory just over 19 points.
Mike Woodson has been using dual point guard lineups extensively, starting games with Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd on the floor together and bringing Argentine rookie Pablo Prigioni off the bench. With that many passers in the rotation, the Knicks' ball movement has been excellent. Carmelo Anthony is off to a very strong start at both ends of the floor even though we've seen very little of the isolation-based attack that was their trademark late last year.
The Knicks are also playing excellent defense. Ronnie Brewer appears to be a great fit in that regard. But asking him to continue hitting threes at a 55 percent clip is probably not a good idea; he's a sub-30 percent three-point shooter for his career.
Picks for the Week
(All percent-owned stats are from Yahoo!/NBA.com. Your mileage may vary.)
O.J. Mayo (85%) – James Harden isn't the only guard proving he's ready to handle a starting gig.
Andrei Kirilenko (74%) – AK47 is getting about 30 minutes per game for the T-Wolves and making excellent contributions all over the box score. Minnesota looks like one of the deepest teams in the league, but Kirilenko should continue to have a significant role even when Kevin Love returns.
Chris Kaman (68%) – Darren Collison and Mayo are doing a really nice job of spacing the floor for the Mavs, which is helping Kaman get an awful lot of open looks. The veteran center has hit 16-of-19 from the field in his first two games of the season.
Dion Waiters (67%) – Waiters is still available in a lot of leagues, but won't be for long … not after Monday night's 28-point explosion. He may not reach that number again this year, but scoring in the mid/high teens with a couple threes and over a steal per game is a reasonable expectation.
Dorell Wright (59%) – Moved into the starting lineup while Jason Richardson (ankle) is out. Sixers coach Doug Collins prefers to keep Thaddeus Young in his regular second-unit scoring option role.
Marcus Camby (27%) – Should make his season debut on Friday against the Mavs after missing the Knicks' first three games due to a calf injury. Hard to say how much playing time he'll get initially – Tyson Chandler is battling the flu, but Kurt Thomas and Rasheed Wallace (see below) have played well thus far, giving Mike Woodson a very deep frontcourt.
Richard Jefferson (7%) – With Brandon Rush (ACL) lost for the season, Jefferson returns to fantasy relevance, though rookie Harrison Barnes could cut into Jefferson's playing time as he develops.
Dante Cunningham (2%) – Cunningham is splitting Kevin Love's job with Derrick Williams. Williams is the nominal starter, but Cunningham has been getting more minutes, and his role could be increasing.
Rasheed Wallace (1%) – Thought he was going to be the 12th man? Me too. But it appears Mike Woodson has other plans. Wallace has played increasingly significant minutes in each of the Knicks' first three games. It's hard to say how much run he'll get when Amar'e Stoudemire and Marcus Camby are ready to go, but Woodson clearly wants 'Sheed to be part of the regular rotation.
Alexey Shved (1%) Ð The rookie guard hasn't lived up to his reputation as a shooter yet, but he'll get plenty of opportunities, as Brandon Roy's comeback is hardly a sure thing.
Want to ask about a specific player? Hit me on Twitter @charliezegers or post a question below.