Portland Trail Blazers Success Illuminates Early NBA Surprises

One month ago today, the 2013 NBA season tipped off after much anticipation, with mystery and intrigue in the air. In the 31 days since then, the mystery has been replaced by shocking revelations and surprises. Now that our heads have stopped spinning after a Thanksgiving Day free of pro hoops, let’s take a look at our new reality.

Have you ever seen the iconic, yet cringe-inducing scene from the original Alien when the xenomorph bursts out of John Hurt’s chest and everyone just stares in complete shock? That used to describe the Portland Trail Blazers’ proclivity for drafting players whose body chemistry and bone structures ultimately sabotaged their careers. This season, it describes the shock received from seeing Portland in possession of the second-best record in the Western Conference.

Nothing drastic changed besides Robin Lopez getting shipped to Portland, but Portland's defense isn't much better than it was last season, and he's raw offensively so that's not it. Damian Lillard is continuing to pilot the offense at a cruising altitude while avoiding the mistake young point guards make of trying to play hero-ball. That may also be where his four years of college ball come in handy. LaMarcus Aldridge is spacing the offense perfectly by mastering the midrange game like no one ever has before and Nicholas Batum is a do-it-all toolman on the floor.

Meanwhile,Wesley Matthews is in a zone all by himself. In 33.7 minutes a night, he's averaging a cool 16.7 points per game, shooting 54 percent from the field and banking on 50 percent accuracy from three-point range.

Kevin Durant is looking like he has his sights set on placing the first MVP trophy of his pro career on his mantle alongside the Larry O’Brien Trophy he still obsesses over.

If there’s one aspect of the game he’s been derided for in the past, it’s that despite his scoring prowess, he doesn’t make his teammates better as a LeBron does. Durant spoke about scaling back his intensity before the season. However, any worries that it would have an adverse effect on his scoring have proven false. Durant leads the league in scoring, in addition to averaging a career-high 5.1 assists per game and he’s also threatening Jerry West’s single-season record for free throw attempts.

The jockeying for the title of most dysfunctional franchise is still a close one that’s been whittled down to two franchises in the early going.

James Dolan is still the George Bluthe of the NBA. Unfortunately, Mike Woodson is the only sane mind within that front office and may not survive the season after a 3-12 start. To the Knicks, sanity from the likes of Woodson is a foreign concept. Woodson’s predicament is akin to the designated driver for the night getting accused of being inebriated by his horde of staggering friends with slurred speech who don’t realize they’re drunk.

Conversely, the Cleveland Cavaliers are more dysfunctional today than they were when LeBron James opted to join Miami's Team USA roster three years ago. Their No. 1 overall pick is tanking his rookie season; the locker room is imploding from within, led by Dion Waiters, who is throwing landmines at the rim; Kyrie Irving is trying to win the NBA’s 1-on-5 tournament; Mike Brown is the Rex Ryan of NBA offensive coaching and Andrew Bynum’s knees act older than Hubie Brown. There’s no way LeBron wants any part of that, unless he now seeks the challenge of saving a moribund team in his hometown.

The Indiana Pacers have made “the leap” and Roy Hibbert has made as much of an improvement on the defensive end as Paul George has on offense

Michael Carter-Williams is looking like the runaway leader for rookie of the year and it’s not even close after he tanked the 76ers tanking operation.

Anthony Davis’ trajectory appears to have him on his way to nudging Kevin Durant out as the heir to the best player in the league throne. Not right away, but that day may be coming. It’s time to readjust our expectations for Davis. For all the disappointment that Bennett has caused Clevelanders, Davis is responsible for just as much endorphin-inducing emotion flowing through New Orleans. In addition to being second in blocks per game to Hibbert, according to mysynergysports.com, Davis is the top pick and roll scorer in the league and second most efficient transition scorer.

Monta Ellis has been the best new face in a new place this season. He’s putting up 23.5 points, 5.3 assists while shooting nearly 50 percent from the field, and proving that a culture change can positively impact the effectiveness of a volume shooter with an LAPD-like “shoot-first, ask questions later” mentality.

Even with Tim Duncan averaging career-lows in points, rebounds and minutes, the West-leading Spurs appear to have discovered a renewable source of winning. On the other end of the spectrum, the Bulls roster looks like a Cash for Clunker reject without Derrick Rose.

The Clippers could have used Kevin Garnett's defensive intensity, the Brooklyn Nets are just as much of a disaster as the 2012-13 Lakers and Jason Kidd will never endorse Coke.

Last year at this time, the New York Knicks were one of the NBA’s best teams and the Boston Celtics were two games under .500, so nothing is set in stone heading into December. By the time, most casual fans start tuning out the NFL and begin tuning in on Christmas Day, most of these shocking developments may be moot points.