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Best, worst stories in the East

While a certain Big Three in South Beach has hogged most of the national spotlight, our TrueHoop Network bloggers are here to dish on the under-the-radar storylines in the NBA that deserve more attention. Check out our look at the Western Conference here.

ATLANTA HAWKS

What upbeat story deserves more attention?

Before the season it seemed a question of when rather than if Jeff Teague would replace Mike Bibby as the team's starting point guard. Instead, Bibby, who is not exactly synonymous with movement, has thrived in Larry Drew's motion offense, consistently finding unguarded space on the perimeter, knocking down 53.9 percent of his 3-point attempts, and setting solid back screens to free his teammates.


What downbeat story deserves more attention?

The Hawks are (again) a mediocre defensive team because they are (again) a below-average defensive rebounding team. They've finished 24th or worse in defensive rebound rate for five straight seasons, yet the organization has not addressed this persistent weakness. Since drafting Al Horford third overall in 2007, the Hawks have used five straight picks on guards and filled out the rotation with poor (Josh Powell) or comically poor (Jason Collins) defensive rebounders.

-- Bret LaGree, Hoopinion

BOSTON CELTICS

What upbeat story deserves more attention?

Glen Davis is no longer getting his shot blocked at the rim, drastically reducing his blocked-shot percentage from 17.9 percent last season to 5.5 percent. With this change, Davis' offensive rebound rate has decreased (from 13.7 to 5.3), but his FG percentage at the rim has risen to elite levels (51.8 to 70.4 percent). Net result: Davis is posting the highest player efficiency rating of his career (13.16). (Stats: HoopData.com)


What downbeat story deserves more attention?

Last year, Rasheed Wallace garnered much-deserved criticism given his poor conditioning and shot selection. This year, his replacement, Jermaine O'Neal, has played in only seven of 20 games due to injury. In those seven games, O'Neal has averaged 5.6 points per game and 3.6 rebounds while Wallace averaged about 9 ppg and 4 rpg through his first 20. So, much to everyone's surprise, the now-retired Wallace has edged O'Neal in the "reliability" category.

-- Brendan Jackson, Celtics Hub

CHARLOTTE BOBCATS

What upbeat story deserves more attention?

Raymond Felton is putting up career bests in New York, so it may have slipped under the radar that D.J. Augustin is doing a fine job filling in for Felton back in the Queen City. For the year, Augustin is averaging 13.3 points and 6.7 assists per night, within 0.3 of Felton's career averages. And while Augustin's not the defender that Felton was, Augustin's more efficient shooting helps makes up the difference.


What downbeat story deserves more attention?

The Bobcats' slip from playoff team last season to mid-lottery hopeful starts and ends at the defensive end. After finishing last season ranked first in defensive efficiency, Charlotte is currently 14th in points per possession allowed, without comparable offensive improvement. Is it because Tyson Chandler is in Dallas (though he played just 51 games for Charlotte last season)? Is it Felton's departure? Or have the Bobcats started to tune out Larry Brown?

-- Brett Hainline, Queen City Hoops

CHICAGO BULLS

What upbeat story deserves more attention?

His body may look like pipe cleaners wrapped in silly putty, but Omer Asik has been a surprisingly effective backup. He's shooting 53 percent from the field and averaging 8.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per 36 minutes. According to 82games.com, the Bulls are plus-45 in net points when Asik is on the floor, one of the best figures on the team. If he can beef up and hit some free throws …


What downbeat story deserves more attention?

Even though Carlos Boozer missed the first 15 games of the season, James Johnson couldn't crack the rotation. He's already received nine DNP-CDs, and only two of his nine appearances showed much promise. There's no questioning his raw talent, but his basketball IQ and ability to put it all together are very much in doubt. When he's on the floor, he might hit a big bucket … or he might turn the ball over three times in a row.

-- Matt McHale, By The Horns

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

What upbeat story deserves more attention?

Daniel Gibson and Anderson Varejao are having excellent seasons on the offensive and defensive ends, respectively, and neither needs to control the ball to be effective. It's conceivable a contending team could want them at the trade deadline, which could help the Cavs begin rebuilding in earnest. Additionally, Antawn Jamison has been shooting well from the outside, and contenders looking for more firepower at the deadline generally covet forwards who can shoot.


What downbeat story deserves more attention?

Everybody expected the Cavs' offense to be much worse without LeBron, but the defense has been an absolute disaster. Nobody is playing good defense apart from Varejao, the team doesn't seem to have any sort of defensive game plan, and opponents have been getting the shots they want against the Cavaliers all season long. Given their lack of talent, the Cavaliers need to play defense to stay out of the cellar, and they haven't been.

-- John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog

DETROIT PISTONS

What upbeat story deserves more attention?

Charlie Villanueva looked at his play last season and astutely observed he didn't live up to the five-year, $37.5 million contract he signed the previous summer. Then, he told that to everyone, upping the pressure on himself. After Villanueva spent the summer working out in Detroit, he's delivered. His numbers are only moderately better, but his defense and energy are markedly improved, and he's had the team's best body language.


What downbeat story deserves more attention?

Tayshaun Prince, whose jack-of-all-trades play earned him a spot on the 2008 U.S. Olympic team, has become largely two-dimensional -- and those two dimensions are making 2-point shots and openly feuding with his coach. His defense hasn't been "shutdown" in years, and his rebounding and passing are on the decline, too. A recent surge has lifted his scoring average into an acceptable range, but he's not making enough 3-pointers or free throws. Someone remind Prince this is a contract year.

-- Dan Feldman, Piston Powered

INDIANA PACERS

What upbeat story deserves more attention?

The continued evolution of Roy Hibbert's game has dwarfed everything else. In the offseason, the Darren Collison trade was expected to be the largest change in the team. That has been important, but it is Hibbert's improvement -- as a post scorer, as a passer, as a rebounder and, most importantly, as an athlete -- that has helped the team surprise people.


What downbeat story deserves more attention?

The team's offense continues to be, well, offensive. Around the country, every local broadcast team and not-paying-attention local writer warns opposing fans to beware of Indiana's potent, up-tempo, run-and-gun attack. In reality, the team has played better this season due to its stingy defense. The offense remains highly mediocre -- at best -- and not notably fast.

-- Jared Wade, 8 Points, 9 Seconds

MIAMI HEAT

What upbeat story deserves more attention?

When Erik Spoelstra was burning insane hours several years ago as the Heat's video coordinator, he probably never imagined that he'd be a central character in a drama with the suffix "-gate," starring LeBron James. As the buzzards began to swirl overhead, Spoelstra handled the scrutiny with poise. He's not endowed with natural charm, but Spoelstra emerged on the other side of that adversity looking like a hero in an Aaron Sorkin screenplay.


What downbeat story deserves more attention?

Speculators and professional brokers make up 40 percent of sellers in the secondary ticket market in most NBA cities. In Miami, they represent 70 percent according to StubHub -- and right now they're getting beat up pretty badly. Local TV ratings for the Heat don't match the Cleveland market's numbers from the 2009-10 season. While the Heat captivate national fans who either love them or hate them, south Floridians seem more blasé.

-- Kevin Arnovitz, Heat Index

MILWAUKEE BUCKS

What upbeat story deserves more attention?

While the Bucks' offense has been miserable all season, they've been able to continue to play the stingy defense that led them to the playoffs last season. Milwaukee's fifth in the league in defensive efficiency, and in the 13 games Andrew Bogut has played, it has allowed 100 points in regulation to only the Lakers, the league's No. 1-ranked offensive team.


What downbeat story deserves more attention?

From "executive of the year" to "what he was thinking isn't clear" is the fall John Hammond has experienced over the past seven months. The early returns on his acquisitions of Drew Gooden, Corey Maggette and Keyon Dooling and the re-signing of John Salmons have not been strong. Of that group, only Gooden is shooting better than 40 percent for a Bucks team that currently sits a very disappointing six games under .500.

-- Jeremy Schmidt, Bucksketball

NEW JERSEY NETS

What upbeat story deserves more attention?

Certainly the biggest positive difference between last year and this year is production at the power forward position. While Yi Jianlian was a black hole offensively and a revolving door defensively, Kris Humphries has been a pleasant surprise on both sides of the floor. His shot selection is much improved from previous years, he provides a solid body on defense, and some of his blocks have been downright nasty -- just ask LaMarcus Aldridge.


What downbeat story deserves more attention?

Brook Lopez has had a shockingly down year thus far. While he's still scoring -- averaging 18.7 points per game so far -- he's doing so much less efficiently, shooting only 43.6 percent from the field as opposed to 51.2 percent his first two years. His rebounding has also declined precipitously. Perhaps it's just the lingering effects of summertime mononucleosis, but after 21 games, the lack of effort becomes more and more inexcusable.

--
Devin Kharpertian, Nets Are Scorching

NEW YORK KNICKS

What upbeat story deserves more attention?

One story under the radar is the reemergence of Mike D'Antoni. Some questioned whether he was just lucky in Phoenix to have Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire, and some Knicks fans have been critical of the coach, enough that Donnie Walsh felt compelled to give D'Antoni a vote of confidence. But "Il Maestro" has adjusted the offense and shortened the rotation to make the Knicks a winner.


What downbeat story deserves more attention?

The gray cloud over this Knicks season is the poor play of Anthony Randolph and Bill Walker. These two players were prematurely tossed aside by their former teams, and were ideal for a rejuvenation project. Last season, Walker was an amazingly efficient scorer in a partial season for New York, but is currently out of the rotation. Meanwhile, the physically gifted Randolph is completely lost in the offense, shooting a miserable 27.3 effective field goal percentage.

-- Mike Kurylo, KnickerBlogger

ORLANDO MAGIC

What upbeat story deserves more attention?

Jameer Nelson has returned to playing at an All-Star-caliber level. When Nelson is at his best, he's one of the more efficient perimeter players in the NBA on offense. But the difference with Nelson this season is that he's passing the basketball at an excellent rate -- his assist percentage of 42.4 percent is a career best and ranks sixth in the league (ahead of notable players like Jason Kidd).


What downbeat story deserves more attention?

Chris Duhon has struggled as the backup point guard. Perhaps Duhon is still trying to get acclimated to coach Stan Van Gundy's offensive system, but his numbers across the board are way down and a cause for concern. It's still early and Duhon has time to right the ship, plus he's been as good as advertised on defense. But that's a storyline to keep an eye on.

-- Eddy Rivera, Magic Basketball

PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

What upbeat story deserves more attention?

Elton Brand's resurgence. After 2009-10, experts and scouts basically put Brand out to pasture and classified him as perhaps the biggest free-agent bust of the past decade. But with no rehab necessary for him during the summer of 2010, he worked on his conditioning and his game. In 2010-11, EB has noticeably more energy on the court while going for 15 points and eight boards per night. His signing should now be upgraded from bust to questionable.


What downbeat story deserves more attention?

The Dalembert-for-Nocioni-and-Hawes trade was a major mistake. Yes, Samuel Dalembert's attitude was horrible and he was a major issue in the locker room -- but if he had to go, they should have gotten more for him. Andres Nocioni has gone from starter to DNP-CD because the Sixers have too many wing players. Spencer Hawes is simply awful. How does a 7-foot-1, 245-pound man average only 4.4 rebounds per game?

-- Carey Smith, Philadunkia

TORONTO RAPTORS

What upbeat story deserves more attention?

The winner of the Toronto-New Orleans trade has to be Jerryd Bayless. The third-year guard is averaging 7.3 points and 2.9 assists playing 20 minutes in a backup role, and has a whopping PER of 23.6. He has improved the second unit's defense and is trying to shed his image as a shoot-first point guard by putting an emphasis on his passing and playmaking. Bayless fits in nicely with the youth movement already under way in Toronto.


What downbeat story deserves more attention?

After being handed the starting role on a platter for the second straight year, DeMar DeRozan hasn't delivered on the expectations -- in particular, his jumper, which was marked as his main area of improvement heading into the season, has been a problem. DeRozan is shooting 33 percent from 16 to 23 feet, down 5 percent from last season. This has left him no choice but to force his drive with a predictable spin move, all too easy to defend.

-- Zarar Siddiqi, Raptors Republic

WASHINGTON WIZARDS

What upbeat story deserves more attention?

Alonzo Gee, a four-year college player neglected in the draft, bounced from Austin (D League) to Washington to San Antonio and back to Washington, and it looks like Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld won't let him get away a second time. Gee starts at small forward and packs a hard-nosed, athletic punch to go with John Wall and Co. It's "Nothin' but a Gee Thang" in Washington, mostly because that's how you remember to pronounce his last name.


What downbeat story deserves more attention?

After Andray Blatche excelled last season, the Wizards signed him to a three-year contract extension in the summer. But the sad reality is that it's the same Blatche Wizards fans have always known, displaying lazy defense, poor decision-making and a lack of conditioning. With Blatche and JaVale McGee, the Wizards have a front line with a shortage of basketball IQ, and there's not much coach Flip Saunders can do but be patient and hope something clicks.

-- Kyle Weidie, Truth About It

EASTERN CONFERENCE

What upbeat story deserves more attention?

Settle down, Chicago. Derrick Rose won't be MVP this season, but I bet he'll take a true scoring presence in the paint instead. Carlos Boozer looks like a great fit with Joakim Noah in the frontcourt and should help Rose shoulder some of the scoring burden. A faltering offense has always been the biggest obstacle to the Bulls' success, but if the whooping Booz put on the Thunder is any indication, the efficient Alaskan makes the Bulls a contender right now.


What downbeat story deserves more attention?

Allen Iverson's contract in Turkey has often been portrayed as the forced exile of a once proud warrior. But $2 million per year to play in Istanbul, a city renowned for its beauty and culture, isn't bad for a 5-10½, 35-year-old ballstopper. Don't mourn his fate, instead count Iverson lucky that basketball's worldwide popularity afforded him this lucrative opportunity.

-- Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak