Any blog post that discusses early trends, patterns and narratives in any sport must automatically be qualified with an "it's still early, but..." warning. That's because most pronounced trends tend to revert to the mean over time, becoming less notable as the season progresses and samples sizes expand.
But even in this young NBA season, as many teams approach the 1/5th mark of their 82-game campaign, there are indications that certain trends might be more than meager short-term anomalies. Plenty still has yet to be determined in the early stages of the 2015-16 campaign, with half of the league still within two games of .500. Then again, we have a team that still hasn't lost (Golden State), a team that still hasn't won (Philadelphia) and a team that finds itself 11 games away from its division leader (the Lakers).
So what the heck, why can't we take an early look at some surprises through the first few weeks of the NBA season? Sure, some of these storylines will probably look laughable with just a little bit of hindsight. But taking stock of the NBA at this early juncture can also shed interesting light on some of the changes that the league is going through and how this season is a little different than the ones that preceded it.
15 Atlanta Hawks
A 9-5 record over their first 14 games still puts the Atlanta Hawks shy of their 60-win pace from last season, but they haven't experienced the drop-off in performance some expected after losing DeMarre Carroll and Pero Antic. Kent Bazemore has done well to replace some of Carroll's lost production, averaging 12 points per game. Meanwhile, Paul Millsap is looking like a bargain in the first year of his three-year, $59 million contract, leading the club in scoring (18.1 points per game), rebounds (9.2) and steals (2.0).
14 Ish Smith
Believe it or not, Ish Smith is already in his ninth NBA season. The fact that he's also suited up for nine teams highlights how he's failed to really catch on and cement his place with meager averages of 3.9 points and 2.5 assists. Now with the New Orleans Pelicans, Smith might have found his home. After turning heads by getting votes for fastest ball handler in the annual GM survey, he has kicked off the season by averaging career highs in points (10.0) and assists (7.5)
13 New York Knicks
The Knicks are actually... competent? Instead of making a big off-season splash, New York instead engineered a patchwork job that netted them a handful of capable veteran role players. Guys like Robin Lopez, Arron Afflalo, Derrick Williams and Kyle O'Quinn have all offered solid production in supporting roles around Carmelo Anthony and a certain rookie phenom - whom we'll get back to later on - is taking the Big Apple by storm early on. Things could go either way for the Knicks, but early wins over the Wizards, Raptors and Pelicans offer encouraging signs.
12 Dwight Powell
All that is left from the Dallas Mavericks' disastrous acquisition of Rajon Rondo from the Celtics last December is Dwight Powell, a throw-in overshadowed by the other pieces of the blockbuster deal who Boston didn't even bother telling had been dealt. Now, Powell is setting out to bring the Mavs some value out of the deal, averaging 10.2 points and 7.9 rebounds while shooting 54.4%. The athletic 24-year-old has helped bolster a Mavs' front court left thinner after the club was jilted by DeAndre Jordan in a highly publicized free agent courtship.
11 The Warriors / Clippers Beef
It's not surprising that a pair of Western Conference title contenders and division rivals would foster a healthy dislike for one another. What is surprising is how deep the issue between the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers seems to run. It's unknown what sparked the ill will, but the feud might have origins from a Christmas Day game in 2013 when several on-court dust-ups led to technical fouls and ejections. Since then, the two clubs have played a chippy seven-game playoff series, have seen Blake Griffin and Draymond Green engage in a personal rivalry and, most recently, had Clippers coach Doc Rivers suggest that the Warriors were 'lucky' when they won the title last season.
10 CJ McCollum
That CJ McCollum has stepped up to fill in some of the production lost by four Portland Trailblazer starters flying the coop after last season isn't, in itself, particularly surprising. How effectively the 24-year-old has filled the void is. McCollum is one of just 19 players averaging 20 or more points, one year removed from registering just three games of 20+ points all season. Despite doubling his minutes played and nearly tripling his shot attempts, the Blazers' leading scorer has still improved upon his career field goal percentage.
9 Miami vs the West
Someone needs to tell the Heat that the Western Conference is supposed to be stronger than its East counterpart, not the other way around. Despite boasting just a .500 record against their own conference, they seem to have found a winning formula against the West. Beating the Rockets, Timberwolves, Lakers, Jazz and Kings in five of their six games against the West doesn't exactly amount to a murderer's row right now, but the Heat are beating those set in front of them - and doing so by more than 10 points per win. A six-game Western swing early in the new year will put that West success to the test.
8 Minnesota Timberwolves
Six losses in their past seven games has undone much of the goodwill accumulated during a 4-2 start, but NBA fans still got an early taste of the dynamic team the Minnesota Timberwolves are becoming. None of their top three scorers, No. 1 picks Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns and 2014 lottery pick Zach LaVine, have reached their 21st birthday. Wiggins and LaVine have made a significant jump from their rookie year production and Towns has fired his opening salvo in the Rookie of the Year race by averaging a double-double (16.0 points and 10.4 rebounds).
7 Paul George
A cautious optimism surrounded Paul George as the Indiana Pacers opened their 2015-16 on October 28th, just a few days shy of 15 months after George snapped his leg in a gruesome injury during a Team USA scrimmage in the summer of 2014. After returning to the court last April in limited minutes, even the glass half-fullest of Pacer fans couldn't have hoped for George to return to his All-Star form so quickly this year. The newly minted power forward has averaged career highs in points (25.3), rebounds (8.6) and assists (4.7).
6 The Rookie Class
Let's face it - the much-hyped 2014-15 rookie class hasn't gotten off to the start that many expected. Aside from Wiggins, injuries to Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid and slow development from guys like Aaron Gordon, Dante Exum and Marcus Smart has kept the class from the big returns anticipated. The 2015 class hasn't experienced that same kind of stagnation so far. Towns, Jahlil Okafor and Kristaps Porzingis have kicked off the ROY battle early, while point guards D'Angelo Russell and Emmanuel Mudiay are further along the developmental arc than many critics anticipated.
5 Houston Rockets
Few had Kevin McHale in any "first coach fired" pools heading into the year, but desperate times have called for desperate measures in Houston. The Rockets rode a ball-stopping offense and rumors of internal dysfunction to a poor 4-7 start at the time of McHale's firing. Last season's Western Conference finalists had just signed their coach to a lucrative extension, but GM Daryl Morey suggested that the club was not listening to McHale. With three losses by 20 points and two others by 12 or more, the proof seems to be in the pudding for the talented by under-performing Rockets.
4 Andre Drummond
If Steph Curry wasn't currently making a mockery of the rest of the league, you'd probably be reading early proclamations of Andre Drummond emerging as a viable MVP candidate in Detroit. Indeed, the Pistons' interior force is flirting with 20/20 averages, boasting a stat line of 19.3 points and 18.3 rebounds per contest so far this year. Drummond is one of the biggest reasons why the Pistons sprung out of the gate with five wins in their first six games this season. Detroit won their seventh game on Friday, a month and eight days earlier than they won their seventh game last season.
3 Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors
"Defending champions start well one season later" doesn't exactly constitute a particularly twist-y headline, but even after Curry's MVP season helped the Golden State Warriors secure their first title in 40 years, few realized that both player and team would be this good. As part of a 14-0 undefeated start featuring numerous beatdowns, Curry has jumped out to an unfathomable 33.6 point per game average while shooting 55.1% from the floor and 44.1% from three-point range, where he is averaging more than five made threes per game.
2 Kristaps Porzingis
Kristaps Porzingis laughed off the MSG boo-birds who offered him a rather rude welcome when he was announced as the Knicks' fourth over-all selection in this summer's draft, and now many New Yorkers are laughing with him. The 20-year-old Latvian has made an impact earlier than just about anyone expected, averaging 14.6 points and seven rebounds despite playing just 27 minutes per contest. Porzingis announced himself with a 29-point, 11-rebound assault on the Charlotte Hornets last week.
1 New Orleans Pelicans
It didn't take the most insightful NBA observer to anticipate a big step forward for the Pelicans as engineered by their blossoming MVP candidate Anthony Davis. New head coach and offensive mastermind Alvin Gentry was expected to further unleash the Brow, using him as the foundation of a dynamic offense. Instead, their 2-11 start has produced a middling offensive attack and a league-worst 108.4 points allowed per game. That porous defense has contributed to a stunningly flat start that has included an 0-7 road record and an 0-5 mark against the East.