As a result of Frank's willingness to borrow collegiate (and high school) structures, driving machine Devin Harris is averaging nine more points per game than he did last season. During this transition, Harris has become the 17th most efficient (by numbers) player in the league; he was ranked 83rd last year. George Karl, Denver Nuggets: Sure, George's greatest maneuver was bestowing his blessing on a deal that sent Allen Iverson to Detroit for Chauncey Billups.
But while Billups was the player Karl needed to run his offense and provide at least a little resistance at the point of attack on defense, the commitment to guarding people was instituted by George in training camp.
So I'm giving tribute to Karl for (finally) stressing defense? Hey, the change may seem a lot more profound to those who've actually watched a team of wealthy NBA players practice.
For the record, the 17-8 Nuggets are giving up four fewer points per 100 possessions than last season. Nate McMillan, Portland Trail Blazers: After breaking even last year, McMillan and the Blazers are a modest five games over .500 as this is written.
McMillan deserves a wave of appreciation for boosting his club from 14th to second in the league in offensive efficiency even though Greg Oden provides a lot less on offense than many observers expected.
McMillan's also been obliged to blend five new players into a team that's still painfully inexperienced. Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs: One of the best coaches of this era has steered the Spurs into first place in their division despite the loss of Manu Ginobili for a dozen games and Tony Parker for another nine.
While two-thirds of the big three sat, Pop had the nerve to insert rookie George Hill into the starting point guard role and watch him evolve into another player who can make opponents edgy come playoff time. Jerry Sloan, Utah Jazz: Sloan's team is four games over .500 with Carlos Boozer (14), Deron Williams (13), Mehmet Okur (5) and Andrei Kirilenko (4) missing big chunks of the season's first quarter. That's all Sloan's case requires. Stan Van Gundy, Orlando Magic: Van Gundy has turned out to be much more than the presumed stunt double for Ron Jeremy (that may not be a bad gig, either).
With not much in the way offseason upgrades, Stan's team is 19-6. The fast start includes a pair of road victories accomplished while Dwight Howard nursed his sore left knee. Mike Woodson, Atlanta Hawks: Mike Bibby has been a Hawk from the jump this time, but it takes more than his presence for Atlanta to go 15-9 after finishing last season with 45 defeats.
Woodson has managed to have the Hawks play to their athletic strengths, and fight through a 6-6 patch while Josh Smith was down with an ankle injury.