I've seen all but about 3 games this season (on TV). Really feel the need to breakdown the team on a player by player basis:
Kenyon Martin: The glue so far this year. Stepped up when Melo was out with injury, rebounding inches above his height, defense as usual, healthy, added some offense consistency to his game, toughness, there every night. He's got to be worth at least 5 additional wins this season. My favorite thing about Kenyon: He know's how much the team has needed him this year and has not backed down from the challenge.
Melo: Too soon to tell. First 1/3 of season he was an MVP option, 2nd 1/3 kind of fading a bit. Injuries slowed him down and his game has moved outside. Defense is a little better this year, dealing with double teams like an all star (like you don't even notice it's happening now). My guess is he steps up the last 1/3rd of year like an MVP. He's learned about the full NBA season and is pacing himself. Expect a big late season charge.
Nene: This is really his sophmore season. Last year was his first healthy year, so this year is the year we can start to "expect" something from him. You see his physical talent and potential and want to see him live up to it. He clearly has worked on his mid-range shot. He has a some more confidence inside (he loves that left hand), although not what you might ideally want. Rebounding has gotten a little better. Overall I see more consistency, a little more confidence, although not the overall agression we would like to see. My take: Nene has fragile but growing confidence. Normally a player at this stage of his career would have played most of his cards, we would be able to tell the end game. I think Nene though still has more upside-especially if we can ever move him to true power foward while pairing him with a big banging kind of center (a rare luxury in the NBA). Don't give up on Nene, I think he still has a shot to get to All Star level.
Afflalo: Karl's starting bench player gets thumbs up here. Much better than average defense, consistent effort, good offense and the ability to adjust mid-season and improve on his weaknesses. Also seems to have a good leadersip effect on the team. No non-sense approach and, again, consistent. Sure I miss Dante's humiliation of Chris Paul, but Afflalo might be a better defender on Kobe and he definitely keeps opponents more honest with his offense.
Billups: To me was a let down the first 1/4 of the season, then came on huge. If he keeps playing at this level we will be back to the western conf. championship with 50/50 chance of making it to the finals, really. One big reason for not making it last year was Chauncey was shut down the last few games of the series with the Lakers. If he can break through that this year it could be the difference. Not much analysis here. Billups rocks if he is on.
J.R. Smith: Horrible first 1/3rd. Just didn't seems to be there, blank look on his face, detached play. Then that blow-up with Karl happened (what was that all about?). Since then he has been the player I have always wanted to see. All the good qualities off the bench with none of the bad. I just watched Denver play OKC. We were taking advantage of OKC's lousy shooting by melo, kenyon, billups just throwing up crazy shots. Meanwhile JR was making the right pass, shooting open 3's, rebounding, playing 'D. So I'm in for now. If JR could play like this all the time I'd love him. Keep it up man, love the tough 'D, for the most part good shot selection, driving to the hoop, good passing, and (my favorite) good rebounding. I'm a lot more willing to forgive the lapses from JR when I see him doing the fundamental things well. Go ahead and jack up a few crazy shots if you also rebound and play 'D.
Ty Lawson: Hallelujah! The only thing bad I can say about this rookie is he's not 2 inches taller. So what! He is not a liability on defense. His strength and quickness offset the height, and at point gaurd he's not matched up against guys 6'10", He has even held his own OK against Deron Williams who IMO is the most challenge physically of all point gaurds in the NBA. My Favorite quality of Ty Law: Control. Quickness and strength are compensating factors, but his control at speed and with strength set him apart. He controls the ball while going full speed. My take is he will extend his personal control to control of the team over time as he becomes the number 1 and Chauncey retires.
Birdman: Is now 70's guy. It's OK. He's lost a little Mojo. For a guy who flies like a bird for a living, having tendinitis in the knee must be a downer. The bird has been grounded. Still, he's an important part of the team. Unless he gets full elevation back this year, he will need to just take care of the basics and be a solid back-up big man. He seemed to have the hop in his step tonight after a game off. Maybe the playoffs and the days between games will rejuvenate him. Still like him a lot and know many teams would take him off our hand today if they could.
The other guys: Kudos to the rest of the bench. Allen, Carter and Graham have all been there when called upon. We've kept a very respectable record together despite a consistent string of injuries and absences this year. We still have a winning percentage of .656 vs end of year last year of .659.
Karl and coaching staff: I've seen improvment in the main players. Melo, JR, NENE, even Martin and Billups. These guys know what they are doing, now let's see how they draw up an inbounds pass in the playoffs.
Last 1/3 of season: These guys are pacing themselves. Now is the time to step it up. I think you'll see a small uptick in winning percentage the last part of the year (I haven't looked at the schedule, any ideas?). My guess is we'll inch out the other contenders for 2nd to the lakers. The playoffs will be closer this year. The Lakers are older this year and we are more experienced. That will go 7 games and flip the coin for the winner to the finals. Not sure how Kobe will hold up. He wills himself excellence and sometimes the body does not comply with the will, we'll see. The Nugs will be ready to go that's for sure.
The Most important factor against the Lakers?: Rebounding. If we rebound we win.