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Opinion: 3 NBA teams that have surprised us

Daniel Romero-Salas
A month into the 2012-2013 NBA season, the New York Knicks, Memphis Grizzlies and Charlotte Bobcats have exceeded expectations coming out of the gate

Daniel Romero-SalasDaniel Romero-Salas is a lifelong NBA fan with an inclination to statistical analysis of the game. He graduated from the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, and strives to bring a refreshing take on one of the most popular leagues in the world. Follow him on Twitter: @danromerosalas

A month into the 2012-2013 NBA season, several teams have exceeded expectations coming out of the gate – specifically these 3 teams that have caught our attention for various reasons.

Here are the squads that have stood out for us so far, and have pleasantly surprised us.

What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments section below.

1) New York Knicks

The team with the oldest average age in NBA history plays exactly like an old team: slowly. In fact, they play at the 7th slowest pace in the NBA.

The amazing thing about the Knicks is that they still score the 3rd most points per game. New York has been absolutely on fire lately leading the league in 3-pointers made while hitting 40.8% of their shots from downtown. It is unlikely they can sustain this percentage but if Tyson Chandler, Carmelo Anthony and Raymond Felton continue to attack the rim, the 3-point shooters should continue to get open looks.

Anthony has benefited the most from the spacing. Along with a switch to the power forward position, Anthony is driving more to the basket rather than settling for jumpers from 16-23 feet. He is averaging a career low from that area while taking bigger forwards off the dribble.

The only foreseeable problem with the Knicks so far is that they’ve been winning by outscoring everyone. Their defense when playing small ball is around league average. Once the offense cools down a bit, will they be able to get as many wins?

The Knicks also have to deal with the return of Amare Stoudemire to the lineup. Stoudemire crowds the offensive spacing with Chandler and Anthony while providing poor defense. Last year, Amare’s defense was so poor that the team allowed 104 points per 100 possessions which would have tied for 25th in the league. When subbed out of the game the Knicks defense performed at a top 10 rate.

IMPRESSIVE KNICKS. The New York Knicks have been on fire this season to the thrill of their fans. Photo from the Knicks' official Twitter page.

2) Memphis Grizzlies

While other teams made big changes to their lineup, the Grizzlies were content to add to their core of Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley. Replacing inconsistent but talented OJ Mayo was combo guard Jerryd Bayless while 3-point marksman Wayne Ellington was traded for forward Dante Cunningham.

In spite of this quiet offseason, the Grizzlies have stormed out of the gate winning 8 games in a row after their opening day loss. They’ve built their success on the inside play of both Gasol and Randolph, but the big difference this year is their marked improvement from 3-point territory.

Last year, the team was on the bottom of all 3-point shooting categories. Memphis was 28th in attempts from distance, 27th in made 3-pointers and 25th in 3-point %. The difference this year is that they are shooting 37.4% from long range good for 7th in the league.

The Grizzlies still do not take many shots but hitting them keeps defenders out of the paint allowing their big guys room to operate. It is no coincidence now that Randolph is averaging career highs in both offensive and defensive rebounds per game while Gasol is averaging a career high in points along with leading all centers in assists at 4.9 a game.

In the past two seasons, the Grizzlies have been undone by injuries to Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay. If they can stay healthy and continue to play this way, they could make a deep playoff run.

3) Charlotte Bobcats

BETTER BOBCATS. The Bobcats won a total of 7 games last year but have really turned it around this season. Photo from the Bobcats' official Twitter account.

The Bobcats won a total of 7 games last year but have really turned it around this year. It has only taken them 12 games to win 7.

Even more impressive for such a young team is that they’ve managed to win all of their games that have been decided by 5 points or less. This, despite their captain and leading scorer from last year, Gerald Henderson, being injured. His return should add even more depth.

Last season, the Bobcats held the distinction of being the worst offensive team, shooting an awful 41.4 % from the field and 29.5% from 3. Not surprisingly, they scored the least points per game last year.

But new coach Mike Dunlap has focused on defense and his young Bobcats are listening. They are top 3 in steals compared to 29th last year. Plus the addition of journeymen Ramon Sessions and Brendan Haywood has given the team a tougher, veteran presence to counter the young talent of Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Kidd-Gilchrist has been especially fun to watch – his defense making him look as if he’s not a 19-year-old rookie.

It’s still early, especially for a young team. Their schedule will get much harder in the next few weeks, which will surely provide a real test for them. At the very least, there is progress that they can build on. –

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