How The West Is Won; Melo, Artest, and Other Stories

This should be the first in a weekly series documenting prominent stories in our conference.

Carmelo Anthony

Carmelo Anthony started his first 4 games ridiculously hot, before shooting 8-24 last night. It's ridiculously early, but he's drawn plenty of potential MVP talk nonetheless. A 31.1 PER, 36.2% usage, and 32 ppg will do that for you (well, unless you're Chris Paul, in which case it will earn you this). It's rather easy to see that Melo's base numbers are pretty unsustainable and a product of a small sample size. 47% three point shooting by a career 30% shooter. 12 trips to the line per 36 minutes vs. an average 8. A turnover rate slashed in half. Simple probability dictates that Melo will come down to Earth. But interestingly, his Nuggets team may truly be as good as they're playing. Chauncey and Nene have picked up where they left off. And like everyone but GM's predicted, Ty Lawson has been stellar.

Artest on the Lakers

I don't care that the Lakers have 4 wins in 5 games; they can't be happy with their play thus far. The offense has been downright mediocre, with offensive rebounding the only thing holding it up. Now Pau Gasol is out, but a team with Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom, and Ron Artest playing marginally better offense than the Clippers? They've squeaked by the Hawks, Thunder, Rockets, and Hawks, with a convincing loss to Dallas mixed in. And the initial returns on Ron Artest? Not good, despite what ESPN and everyone else wants you to believe. The one, monumental question all offseason was how Artest's efficiency would adapt, with a lower usage rate. Right now, he has the lowest usage rate of his career (16.3%), almost ten (!) percent lower than last season. And, huh, his PER has also plummeted to the lowest of his career by far. I assume Gasol's return will only serve to take further possessions from Ron. Yes, this is only 5 games, but Artest is not Ariza, no matter how much L.A. tries to stuff him into that role.

Steve Nash

Steve Nash is surprising a lot of people with the way he ages. He's still shooting and passing extremely effectively. As Hornet fans, I think we'll never truly appreciate Nash's game. Much of that is because we have a point guard who's way better than him, but has 2 fewer MVP's. So that bitterness will always persist. But Nash is playing basketball at a level that no 35 year old should be able to.. and minus Shaq, the Suns are actually watchable again.

Houston

The NBA statistical community has long had one very unsettled debate- what exactly is the value of shot creation? Everyone realizes that unefficient players could very well be undervalued by figures like PER, because shot creation is very much a basketball skill, in the style of speed or court vision. Everybody realizes that shot creation is valuable, but how valuable is another question altogether. In light of that debate, Daryl Morey has concocted the perfect test tube in Texas- a collection of high efficiency, lower usage (and lower shot creation) players. With Tracy McGrady out, this effect is just exacerbated. As Houston continues to force feed Ariza into taking shots, it's becoming more and more clear that Ariza is no #1 option. It's early, but the initial returns on Houston's experiment look positive. They've played the Lakers to within a point, played Portland close, and also beaten them, Golden State, and Utah.

Houston really isn't your typical anonymous team; their play this year could really change the way teams are constructed. Their first five have not disappointed.

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